Christmas Memory, Jerel Levy: The First Final Fantasy

Being the youngest in a family is not always easy. Sure, people will call us the baby of the family and say we always get what we want, but if you're the youngest, you know the truth. You can quickly become the hand-me-down recipient and, frequently, the final purchase in the tier list when your parents go shopping.

My older sisters are twins, meaning I'm further down the tier list of presents. After my brother and my sisters, next up is the allure of the twin thing, the matching outfits and Christmas presents, and the cuteness of the two of them. Then there's me, the baby, which means my older siblings greatly relegated my Christmas.

That's not to say I didn't have a great time as a kid; I had some damn good Christmas moments. I was easily satisfied and got the leftovers my sisters didn't want. It led to some group purchases for us kids, but they always got double, and I always got something for myself and whatever extra they didn't want. This means I got away with a few extra Christmas gifts.

Aside from the group gifts, I took the second doll in the doll set when my sisters got identical dolls but didn't need two. I was making worlds and stories with their leftover Barbies, learning to be independent since I didn't have the built-in best friend of my sisters. My dad encouraged me to play with whatever made me happy, but he didn't really know what to get me.

Finally, one of my sisters got into gaming, and we got a Sega Saturn, Nintendo 64, and the like. My parents figured this was the avenue to take with me for Christmas, and when they could afford it, we got new consoles. It was justifiable as we could all share one big gift and have a good time.

As the years went on, I took over the consoles, playing Yoshi's Story, Crash Bandicoot, and Spyro the Dragon, with them taking on the more complicated challenges I couldn't. Then eventually, my sisters stopped playing games altogether. The five-year age gap meant the older they got, the less integrated I was, and the less we had in common.

Then one fateful day, I was walking in Target with my sisters and saw a game's box art that I'd never seen before. A character on the front was staring into the sky with this magical sword made of water. An island in the background and beautiful artwork of a dancing woman around a game called Final Fantasy. This looked nothing like the platformers I'd been playing. The back of the box was just as beautiful, a woman swirling a staff in water set to a pink sky. I had to have it. I wanted to go on this adventure.

I'd never asked my sisters for anything before this, but I wanted to know this story. I wanted to be a part of this world. I asked if I could get the game for Christmas. They bought the game then and there and had our mom wrap it under the tree. I knew what I was getting, but I didn't care. I was anticipating the adventures I'd go on with these unnamed characters.

Christmas morning, I opened up Final Fantasy 10. My sisters were excited that they'd done the gift-giving this year along with my mom. I popped the game into the PS2 and quickly realized I'd never played a game quite like it. The game was a whirlwind of emotions, and I got lost in Spira for weeks after.

Tidus was an outsider in a brand new world who had lost his father. My parents had divorced by this time, and my sisters and I didn't game together or hang out as much anymore. Through his frustration, Tidus joins a new band of fantastical characters; they create a party and set out to save the world. As a character, Tidus was hurt. He would sometimes distance himself from the others, and they'd upset them. He resented his father for leaving; he hated that his friends kept secrets from him to shield him from the truth, letting him live obliviously until it got too late and shit hit the fan.

Though he felt strongly about situations, he learned to laugh through the pain and to love. If you're guessing there are parallels between Tidus's story and my life at the time, you'd be right. This gift was the missing link. I learned video games could be much more than what I'd been playing.

There was an intrinsic story of love, loss, and preservation, about changing relationships, growing up, and breaking cycles. It was the first time a video game had ever made me cry. Final Fantasy 10 changed the trajectory of my gaming interest and, that Christmas, helped me contend with emotions I didn't know I had. It will forever be one of the most impactful Christmas mornings I've ever experienced. In between sessions of Final Fantasy 10, I was also playing my first Pokemon game (yes, I got the game late), Crystal. Another defining moment, but Jade does a great job explaining what it means to her, so I won't take that moment too. It was the year of JRPGs, and my lifelong love for the genre was cemented back in 2001.

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