Speedrunning a long role-playing game requires both concentration and stamina. There are endless menus to navigate and character builds to optimise, and doing everything fast means knowing the game's secrets like the back of your hand. Speedrunning an RPG can be gruelling for even the most accomplished player. So naturally, one guy wants to speedrun three of them at the same time.
Oscar, a 27-year-old streamer who goes by the name Elbody (and asked that we not use his full name) and lives in Madrid, Spain, is setting off to speedrun Final Fantasys VII, VIII, and IX simultaneously. He plays them all on a single screen using a single controller that outputs commands to all three games at once — so when he hits the X button in FFVII, he'll do the same in FFVIII and FFIX. He tried it for the first time yesterday. Things didn't work out.
The moment when everything came crashing down was equal parts funny and tragic. Elbody was doing quite well, all things considered. He was seven hours in and doing better than he originally expected. In one corner of the screen, Cloud Strife was buying Materia in North Corel, while in the opposite one, Squall Lionheart was searching for the mechanism to make Balamb Garden fly. That's when disaster struck in corner three, where a critically injured Zidane Tribal got into one random encounter too many in the tunnels of Fossil Roo. An Abomination appeared on screen and promptly blasted Zidane with a Fira spell, initiating the game over screen.
Everything stopped in the other two games as Elbody digested what just happened. The last save in his Final Fantasy IX run was from over an hour ago and besides, the point of this marathon was for him to get through the games quickly, not get bogged down in sub-optimal strategies and do-overs. So he called it. Time of death for his first Tri-Fantasy attempt? 7:09:35.
"It was unexpected," he said in an email. "I didn't consider saving before since that's usually an easy segment on the speedrun. The screen where I died is really small — one would just pass it with no problem — but since I was focused on the other two games at that moment, an encounter appeared on FFIX while I was low HP." Still, given that it was his first time trying this new challenge it wasn't completely unexpected.
Elbody first got the idea for trying to speedrun all three games simultaneously after watching an older clip of his. Three years ago, he'd marathoned four different playthroughs of Final Fantasy VIII at the same time. The setup wasn't ideal, and although he found it to be a fun, interesting experiment, it suffered from lost of input lag and dropped commands as his computer struggled to run all four games at once.
Since then, Elbody has built a better setup and gotten more practice with the games in question. Moving from speedrunning the individual games to relay sessions where he completes them back to back across extended weekends, Elbody has been practicing speedrunning routes in all three games for years. Doing so has garnered him a small but loyal audience, he says, and he says it allows him to make a "very small living, nothing fancy." He's decided on trying to complete the Tri-Fantasy challenge as a next logical step in his career.
Normally, Steam won't let a user run more than one game at the same time, but using offline mode allows Elbody to get around that. He's able to run both FFVII and FFVIII in Steam while emulating FFIX. (Technical hiccups he's experienced with the Steam version encouraged him to do it that way.) He then uses a PS4 controller to control all three games at the same time. When he presses up in one, he's pressing up in all of them. Not surprisingly, he finds simple movement to be the hardest part.
"You want Cloud to move to the north, but Squall finds walls if he goes in that direction for example," he said. "You end up having more encounters than you would in a normal speedrun and that is something that creates a burden."
The key to getting around this challenge is to take advantage of extended dialogue sequences. In games like Final Fantasy, those are a dime a dozen. While characters are speaking in one game he can move around freely in the other. In this way the Tri-Fantasy run is sort of like a personal relay race, where Elbody's constantly handing the baton off to himself.
What's really tricky is when Elbody has to fight multiple battles at the same time. "Some boss battles are difficult but exciting," he said. "At one point I was doing a Beatrix battle [in FFIX] versus a Tank in FFVIII. One action messed up the other game completely, but that made it fun."
"Or situations in menus like, 'Oh, I need to heal Tifa,' but when you do, you accidentally unequip Vivi." These wrinkles have led Elbody to speculate that completing the marathon would take somewhere around 20 hours, or about double the time it would normally take him to speedrun each game individually. (His records are 3:39:05 for FFVII, 7:25:26 for FFVIII, and 9:5:27 for FFIX.) While that might seem optimistic, his timing in the latest attempt actually tracked slightly ahead of schedule.
"For example Midgar takes one hour and 40 minutes to beat usually," he said. "I finished in almost 3. Later on is a bit more difficult so it might balance things out a bit more but I am positive I can do better next time."