8 December 1999

The Final Fantasy diaries

Saturday, 3pm: I have been booked into a luxury hotel in a secret central-London location for the weekend. My mission: to play Square’s epic new PlayStation extravaganza Final Fantasy VIII, until I drop. My only sustenance will be a fully stocked minibar and infinite quantities of room service. Laughing, I plug in the console and turn it on.

3.05pm The game’s introductory sequence is a beautiful pre-rendered film of swirling feathers and an apocalyptic swordfight. My character, Squall, appears to be a student in some training college for magical mercenaries. Squall? I rename him Steve, which has a faintly ridiculous effect on proceedings.

4.30pm Together with my female tutor, who I feel is being somewhat flirtatious, I have defeated two giant blue bees.

5pm I eat a Kit-Kat from the minibar, knowing that it will cost Sony £3.25. I savour its cheap faux-chocolatiness, guiltily.

6.37pm Another battle, this time against a fat forest caterpillar. Cruelly, I summon my Guardian Force, Quezacotl, who is a terrific lime-green lizard-bird demon with fatal thunderbolts. That told him.

6.49pm After much fruitless wandering, I have finally found the Fire Cavern. My tutor explains how to “junction magic”, which involves a lot of statistical management on menu screens. Hello? Did I say I wanted to play with a spreadsheet?

6.53pm Room service. My bland hamburger comes with exactly nine French fries, arranged in three tiers of three. I think this is sorcery. The waiter looks askance at my decadent videogaming habits and opens a nice Bordeaux before scurrying away.

7.26pm How do you beat a fire demon? Cast spells that cause a large ball of ice to break on his head, that’s how.

9pm I just managed to get my two comrades killed. Luckily we have some Phoenix Down potions and they are resuscitated, just like in real life. Another glass of wine, I think.

10.07pm I have passed the test and become a member of the elite force, SeeD. But our captain Seifer hasn’t. I fear we may encounter him later as an enemy, if videogame tradition is anything to go by…

11pm In our academy are some sinister cowled and robed figures known as “Garden Faculty”. They seem to run the place more than our affable headmaster. Or am I being paranoid?

12.15am The searing visual effects in battle are gorgeous the first time you see them, but merely tiresome the hundredth. Perhaps a restorative Potion and a nice club sandwich?

1.30am The graduation dance — some more lovely pre-rendered film and a lot of tedious text conversation that can’t be skipped. I turn my bedside mood-lighting dial to purple and recline even further.

2.15am On a train, I have been given a copy of Pet Pals magazine. I trust this is innocent. Sleep overtakes me.

Sunday 10.30am A little man waddles into my room. Is he Garden Faculty? Shall I cast Confuse on him and then crack his skull open with my trusty Gunblade? Ah, no, I’m waking up in a hotel, and this man must be delivering breakfast. “Breakfast?” the man gibbers. “I just wanna check the minibar!” I send him away with a flea in his ear. Two minutes later, breakfast arrives. Why can’t hotels make decent coffee?

11.13am My comrades and I have all mysteriously fallen asleep. I don’t blame us. But in our “dream” there is a cheesy romantic subplot involving a woman pianist.

12.36pm Outside it is a gloriously sunny day in London, and people are probably having fun. Meanwhile, I am idly casting spells in yet another random battle.

2.17pm Met a princess and her dog. More “comically” halting adolescent romance in wooden in-game animation. Pet Pals magazine enables me to teach the princess’s dog new tricks. Confit of duck for lunch: tiny portions for the supermodel clientèle, presumably.

3.28pm We’ve just kidnapped a president on a train, but he turns out to be a zombie in disguise. Throw some holy water at him and he crumbles. Elementary.

4.56pm As predicted, Seifer has turned up again. Now he’s gone off with an evil sorceress. I must trudge on. You can play most of this game with one eye shut, randomly pressing X.

7.13pm Whew. A long and tiring battle against a Minotaur who hammered us with a spell called Mad Cow Special. Nasty.

7.56pm All right, I’ve had enough and am checking out of my cyberprison, having completed only about a tenth of the entire game. I could happily play the far superior Legend of Zelda or Tomb Raider: the Last Revelation for a weekend, but the dungeons-and-dragons ploddingness of FFVIII seems very much an acquired taste. Fresh air beckons…

11.05pm Just spent a happy two hours watching The World Is Not Enough. Old-fashioned and linear – and entertaining.