30 Years Ago, the Super NES, Final Fantasy 4, and a Broken Jaw Changed My Life

30 Years Ago, the Super NES, Final Fantasy 4, and a Broken Jaw Changed My Life

How the SNES kept me weird but happy during a rough spot in my life.

Tomorrow marks the 30th anniversary of the Super Famicom, which came to North America as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) in August of 1991. That's my cue to hop on Twitter and belt out reasons why the purple-and-grey joy box is the best video game console ever made, but I won't wander into that forest of discourse. That's where the Ghost of Wasted Time lives.

I will say the Super Nintendo is the console that's most special to me. That's not a surprise; it was my main method of entertainment from when I was 13 years old until I hit 17-ish. Those are major formative years, and I was a strange kid. I had friends, but I wasn't interested in social gatherings, make-up, parties, or boys. I just wanted to sit in the living room, on the awful red shag rug, and absorb the stories SNES games fed to me. Especially the RPGs, and man, there are some great ones.

But sometimes a game becomes much more than a fun distraction. Sometimes, unusual circumstances cause said game to get its tendrils all tangled up with your soul. When you play a title that just hits you where you live, its memory, its essence, stays with you for decades. Does a certain scent remind you of the first time you played through The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past? Does a certain song remind you of the first time you struggled to get through Super Mario World? You're not the only one. Those cross-associations are common.

Here's one of mine: I associate Final Fantasy 4 with cheesecake.

I spent the summer of 1995 with a busted jaw. It was by design; I had a massive overbite that couldn't be fixed without the lower half of my face being broken, reset, and wired up for a time. It was a pretty serious surgery that earned me some time in the ICU, where a bad reaction to the anesthesia let me experience the joy of vomiting while my mouth was clamped shut. (I developed emetophobia afterwards. I can't imagine why.)

The hospital had a Super Nintendo, which was wheeled into my room. You'd think this is the part of the story where I had a beautiful connection with a special game that eased me through my hurts, but nope. The hospital had one game: Mario is Missing. It was terrible. I suspect it stalled my recovery.

Things improved when I was home and settled, but I was still in for a long healing process. My face was swollen to twice its size and painted in sickly shades of purple and yellow. (Fun fact, actor Andrew Keegan was filming at the hospital, and when he popped by to visit some patients, my horror show of a face fascinated him.) My jaw was only wired shut for two weeks—screws held my face together through most of my recovery—but I was still not allowed to eat solids.

This was an interesting challenge because I generally don't like super-mushy foods like puddings or applesauce. I don't like meal supplement shakes like Ensure. My mother tried to get me to eat baby food, and I still gag at the memory. I do, however, love mashed potatoes. My deeply rooted Irish genes kept me from starving. At some point, someone suggested I ought to eat cheesecake too, since it's soft but not too mushy.

So that was my cuisine for the summer of 1995: Mashed potatoes and cheesecake. When post-op depression hit me like a Mack truck, my parents made sure I had lots of opportunities to rent SNES games. That's when I picked up Final Fantasy 4 for the first time. The classic 16-bit RPG and its storybook struggle of good versus evil would go on to become one of my favorites even though I'd already played and finished the much more complex Final Fantasy 6.

Final Fantasy 4 was revolutionary for its time. I quickly learned the gameplay improvements its successors made didn't erase Final Fantasy 4's achievements, which includes the birth of the genre-changing Active Time Battle (ATB) system. The ATB system was already old news to me when I played Final Fantasy 4, but it still brims with classic tropes any RPG fan can still appreciate, no matter how old and "used" they are. Cecil's dangerou climb up Mount Ordeals and the dramatic struggle against himself that follows is still one of my favorite RPG moments.

I admit my surgery is part of the reason I maintain a strong emotional connection with Final Fantasy 4. I played it and enjoyed it during a difficult time in my life; no wonder it means a lot to me. But of all the games that have affected me on a personal level, no gaming experience imprinted on me as hard as the summer I stayed up until 2 a.m. every night, eating mashed potatoes and cheesecake, and journeying to the actual honest-to-god moon with Cecil and his friends. I can still see, taste, and hear every detail: The TV screen glowing in the darkness of the living room, the smooth, cool filling of the cake, and the eerie music that follows Cecil as he walks across the moon's barren landscape. I even remember the random tingling feeling that'd crackle across my face from time to time as the swelling subsided and my nerves knit themselves back together.

I also remember sharing one of those magical nights with the biggest centipede I've ever seen in my life, but I'll spare you the skittering, crunching details.

The complicated launch of the Xbox Series X|S and the PlayStation 5 is causing me to think back to the tidy simplicity of the SNES. There were no lengthy system updates, no delayed patches for promised features, and no vaping consoles. I'd just turn the TV to channel 3, plug in my game, and hit the "on" switch. It's kind of humbling to look back on the lightweight system and consider how the $200 hunk of plastic and a $10 rental changed me. Also, yes, you need to get off my lawn. Thanks.

Negative. I am chronically GP-deprived. | Square Enix

I didn't tell anyone about my deep link between Final Fantasy 4 and my surgery. There wasn't anyone I could tell, really. The internet was completely unknown to me, and in the '90s, parents were paranoid about video games altering kids' minds. Talking about your intense "video game feels" could earn you a trip to a psychologist. I doubt my parents would go that far, but I still couldn't comfortably relay my feelings to them.

So, I kept my bond bottled up until now, a time when people freely admit certain video games affect them on a psychological level. I now know I'm not the only person who lets beloved games live in their heart, mind, and memories rent-free. I'm finally comfortable talking about my "Cheesecake equals Final Fantasy 4 (and Centipedes)" soul-link with all you equally strange people. And what better day to spill my guts than the 30th anniversary of the console that means so much to me, to all of us?

Happy anniversary, Super Famicom. Now's a good time to start implementing prunes into your diet; they'll keep you regular.

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Nadia Oxford

Staff Writer

Nadia has been writing about games for so long, only the wind and the rain (or the digital facsimiles thereof) remember her true name. She's written for Nerve, About.com, Gamepro, IGN, 1UP, PlayStation Official Magazine, and other sites and magazines that sling words about video games. She co-hosts the Axe of the Blood God podcast, where she mostly screams about Dragon Quest.

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