For almost every gamer who grew up in the 32-bit era, hearing the name "Final Fantasy 7" conjures up vivid memories of a special time in gaming. Whether it was your first RPG, or just the first one you played on a "next-gen" system, FF7 was the game you were talking about in '97. While most who played it carry along with them those joyful moments of exploration and conquest, a few unlucky souls like myself harbor the agony of losing more than just a party member. We, unfortunately, nearly lost it all.
During the summer of 1997, I distinctly remember gearing myself up for the September release date. I read countless articles, pored over hundreds of images, and got myself a reservation and limited-edition T-shirt from the local Babbages. For me, local was about an hour away. Also, I was 10. As you can tell, I was a little bit more than excited for the game to come out.
I knew the most important thing, however, was that I get a memory card to save my progress. At this point, the idea of saving data to a dongle was pretty foreign to me. Every bit of save-data I ever recorded was battery-backed-up and constrained to a cart. It seemed a bit funny to my young brain that I would need something other than a console, game, and controller to get my full money's worth. Regardless, I saved my allowance and went to my local electronics retailer, Wal-Mart, and purchased a brand new, totally legit Performance-brand memory card. It was cheaper than the official Sony cards, but hey, it was going to work just fine, right?
And for a while, it absolutely did! Disruptor, Alundra, Tekken, and a host of other titles all saved perfectly, safe and snug in their little memory card bunk beds. In fact, I felt like I'd pulled one over on Sony! "Heck," I thought. "Officially licensed? More like offically LAME!" I'd used plenty of third-party and off-brand peripherals throughout the years, and all of them (more-or-less) worked great! I figured this card would keep my games happily saved for many years to come. I, naturally, was completely wrong.
As soon as the release day arrived, I begged and pleaded with my parents to load up and take the trip three towns over to pick up my precious copy of FF7 so that I could dig my grubby child hands into all of its dark recesses. My parents, Ajora bless them, heard my cries and took me to pick up that which I had waited for so long. I donned my XL tee, threw in the first disc (carefully!), and started down that long and winding road of RPG obsession.
I dug in hard. Considering that this was my first "proper" playthrough of an RPG, I was taking in all the sights and sounds, grinding away at early enemies, and using all the guides I had at my disposal to pick up any easily-missed trinkets. I wanted to experience every morsal the game had to offer, so it took me a few days of playing after school to finally finish off Rufus and escape the Shinra tower. I blinked in awe as I was finally able to explore the game world proper. But, it would have to wait. Dinner, a bath, and school were waiting for me. I had to save and put it off until the next day.
I couldn't think about anything else while I was at school. The day crept along until the bell rang and I was whisked back home to plunge headfirst back into the world. I booted up the game, selected my save data, and saw an unfamiliar phrase pop up onto the screen. "Data has been corrupted." The accompanying error sound still echoes in my heart. I was stunned. I'd never put so much time into a game, only to have it all stripped away from me. What would I do now? Start over?
After a nice melodramatic cry, I deleted the bugged-out data and started over. It hurt, but it would have hurt more to not keep playing. Using my previous knowledge, I managed to get back to the same spot I was at in one night! I was thrilled. Naturally, I pushed on until it was time to sleep, so I saved and got ready for bed. The next day, I came straight home, pushed the power button, and got right back into the game...for about 30 seconds. I was once again greeted by the angel of data Death, and had to kiss my progress goodbye for a second time.
So I did what anyone would do in this situation: I threw that card away and bought a better one! And oh my stars and bars was it better! I actually could save and load at my leisure! It was a whole new world, minus the flying carpet. I tore deep into the game, and drank greedily of its wounds. I played day and night, working my way up to the final disc. I was knocking at the door of destiny. But, destiny had one last dirty trick for me.
Literally the next game session, I was greeted with that awful, disheartening message: "Data has been corrupted." I was too far in to start over. I was a broken child. With my dreams of finishing the game dashed, I could only watch my best friend's brother complete his playthrough and wish that it was me saving the world from Sephiroth. It suddenly dawned on me to ask his brother for the unthinkable: his save data! I mustered all my young courage and begged (on hands and knees!) for a file of his that was close to where I had last left off. He rummaged through memory cards and different save data, and found a save just before the Carry Armor, near the end of disc 2. His party was different and his materia unfamiliar, but it was salvation! I could finish the game! But first, I had to get a first party memory card.
With new card in slot and the data transferred, I was able to finish the game that defined my gaming habits for years to come. It was a bittersweet victory, knowing how many times I had to walk those same roads, only to be sent back time and time again. But pain and defeat can teach many lessons, and I learned the importance of first-party peripherals in an era of shoddy and overpriced third-party crap. It's a lesson that, like my memories of Final Fantasy 7, I will remember forever.