Boss Fight Books: Final Fantasy V (#18) – Chris Kohler

5 out of 5

I mark out how I read my books and comics by chapters. I see how the book is divided, figure out about how much reading time I want to allot to it, and regiment “X chapters per day” to myself. This is just something that works to keep me engaged (not every book is enthralling on every page, but might be worth getting through), and also makes consuming a lot of media more manageable. So when I flipped through Chris Kohler’s Boss Fight entry on Final Fantasy V and found there to be essentially no chapters for its 150 pages – there are a couple of larger sections, and some smaller breaks, but otherwise nothing – I was, admittedly, not looking forward to it. I’ve never been able to get in to FF, so reading about it in the first place wasn’t necessarily a draw, and when books don’t offer these more easily marked stopping points, it can make it harder to get into it, in a way – like it suggests that thoughts and points will be long-winded. On the plus side, I’d run in to Kohler’s work before, primarily through Kotaku, and appreciated that he generally brought a very informed, very gamer-enthused, unique point of view to things. Mixed bag.

And then what I found, pretty much from the starting pages of the book was that I liked not having said stopping points, because it meant (in my world of self-imposed rules) I could keep reading… which I absolutely wanted to.

FFV doesn’t really break from the BFB structure of tying a playthrough of the game to (hopefully relevant) personal anecdotes and factoids, but it’s that grounded and informed, but excitingly emotive style of Chris’ that really makes it work. His passion for the game matches similar passions expressed in other Boss Fight entries, and even his personal stake in the series – having been co-author of one of the first English language FAQs for the game, drafted when he was a kid, and released in to the still-evolving wilds of the 90s internet – isn’t unusual, per se, as a lot of BF alumni have impressive bonafides; however, the way he relates the drive to track down a Japanese import of the game way back when – tearing out tabs on his SNES; convincing his parents of the worthwhileness of the investment – and the dedication to just experience it, even when games chronologically after FFV had been released, is thrilling to read about, swirling, at least for me, thoughts of things that’ve triggered that same kind of pursuance in my own life. It’s infectious, and it makes the deep dive into the researched stuff thereafter – the game’s creation, how it fits into the Final Fantasy lineage, its localization tribulations, its legacy – a logical extension of what we’re reading: like, Chris, the kid, needed to know more and it eventually grew into this book decades later, and as we’re dragged along on the memory, we feel that same need. Everything we learn thereafter enhances that, and where some other Boss Fights seem to sometimes be going through the steps of “okay, now we’ll talk about the music,” here, it’s all important for painting the picture of why FFV still sticks out for Kohler, and why it’s notable even beyond that personal connection. That, perhaps, is the most astounding accomplishment of this piece, and is something only the best BF entries have achieved: make me understand why it was necessary to write a whole book about this.

Chris Kohler did, and after getting over my chapterless shock, there wasn’t a page throughout that didn’t reconfirm that necessity.