Of all the game universes I could sink my time into recently to avoid the news, the Final Fantasy games have been most effective. Each game presents a bespoke apocalyptic scenario with different characters and continents to explore. However, every game shares a collection of universal Final Fantasy motifs that create a comforting fictional continuum. I have successfully lost myself in those worlds for hours recently.
The heroes are different; the world-ending threats are different (though normally some sort of meteor controlled by someone with wild hair), but I get the same sense of calm from Aeris' garden in FF7 as Zidane's gang HQ in FF9's Lindblum. There are some obvious consistencies, like Nobuo Uematsu's memorable soundtracks of course. There are no unobtrusive, apologetic ambient strings here. These are bangers you can sing in the bath.
Strong theme tunes can trigger powerful associations. The prelude gets me every time. Sometimes, I'm almost ashamed to admit, the victory fanfare plays in my head sometimes when I complete a task. I've got it bad. It seemed inevitable that Final Fantasy would move to licensed tracks as the series moved away from the days of MIDI keyboards, and the use of Stand by Me at the start of FF15 felt totally right. Final Fantasy always done a great job of showing friendship in moments of calm downtime between apocalyptic battles.
The series has mascots too. Chocobos, and the returning god-like entities that serve as summons—Ifrit, Shiva, Bahamut, Odin. When they pop up I enjoy a moment of recognition, even if they're here to raze a city.
That's the other thing. Hundreds to thousands of people tend to be killed in the opening hours of a Final Fantasy game. Entire towns get blown up. Families are torn apart. At the moment I'm playing FF7, 8, 9, and 10 at the same time, and the murder count is quite extraordinary. The series has another constant that softens the blow: relentlessly hopeful citizens. Even the old Final Fantasy games are busy with NPCs who will feed you one or two lines about how everything is awful but we might just get through this together.
These low-poly NPC heroes have to put up with the worst nonsense. A giant whale squashed your family? A maniacal emo man set fire to your village? A guy with spiky yellow hair came into your house and stole all your Hi-Potions? Tough luck, you're living in a Final Fantasy game.
And do they complain? Yes, all the time, but with good grace. Often when you revisit stricken towns the people left are already busy rebuilding and trying to sell you a Phoenix Down at extortionate prices. I respect their hustle. When I ride back into town on a Chocobo, the music kicks in, and I start chatting to the locals, I always tend to leave feeling a little bit better.