A bunch of crazy-yet-amusing people over at 1UP.com do this thing from time to time called Retronauts, where they talk about older games – that is to say, the 8 and 16 bit era games – the games I grew up on, in other words.
I have a lot of fond memories of those days – and since that’s all I need to start rambling, here I go.
I’m going to be up-front and say I never owned a lot of games for my NES console. Oh, we had games – and we played them over, and over, and over again – but we never had a lot of games for the NES. But there were some favorites – and The Legend of Zelda was probably #1.
My brother and I used to play through that game on weekends, holding our own “Video Game Championships” to see who could beat the game without dying once, or other such things. Eventually we had to restrict ourselves to the 2nd quest, because we both could beat the 1st quest without dying quite easily.
The NES also introduced me to platformers (although they weren’t called that back then) – and I still prefer platformers over 3D games to this day.
One glorious Christmas, my siblings and I opened up a present addressed to all of us, and inside was a brand-new Super Nintendo (SNES). Thus began the golden age of game playing for me.
Although there were dozens of games I played on the SNES, to discuss them all would take forever, so I’ll just limit myself to a few top pics – ones that were inspired by some recent podcasts from those Retronauts people (who inspired me to write this post in the first place).
The first one I’ll mention is a game that I still re-play to this day: Secret of Mana. When I first picked up this game, it was hard. In fact, it’s still a challenge to me, even today.
I remember renting this game at first, and then buying it later. I remember getting stuck very early on – I usually managed to make it to the Upper Land, but then got lost in the forest. In retrospect, it seems so easy – but at the time, I just couldn’t figure it out.
In tribute to the fact that I played this game with my siblings, I used to name the characters (which in the US version came with no default names) after myself, my brother (for the sprite, who I still say seems more male than female), and my sister (for the girl, of course). The multi-player facet of this game was unheard of at the time – and it was incredibly enjoyable. (I wish I had someone to play with today!) The haunting music and title card for this game still gives me goosebumps when I watch it to this day.
The next game I’ll mention came out after Secret of Mana, but I didn’t actually own it until much later. It still stands in my mind as one of the greatest games EVER – even after, what, 12 years now? That game, of course, is Chrono Trigger.
This game really wowed me when I first saw it – even just from the title screen! The intro plays like the opening for a movie, with dramatic music, credits, and a “wooshing” effect that was just… well, it was really cool, at the time. And I still smile when I watch it.
I can still remember how I felt the first time I played and I jumped into the time portal and watched those psychedelic colors come flying at me – I just thought “WOW! It’s amazing what they can do with games these days! Just look at these graphics!”
This game was just so innovative that I couldn’t help but be impressed. Time travel (a favorite subject of mine), the non-random battles (well, sort of), and the well-developed story & characters all just combined to create a game that resonated with me. Not much since then has touched me the way this game did, and that’s the honest truth.
Although I never did like the racing mini-game – I sucked at it!
Still, I really felt connected to the game, its story, and the characters – and that’s hard to do.
The ending for this game was also a real treat. After the huge emotional investment you make in a game like this, a great ending just makes you feel like it was all worth it. And the New Game+ mode that you unlocked was a boon for replaying the game – I know I didn’t rest until I had seen all the extra endings!
Needless to say – a great game. It helped define what I expect from a great RPG to this day.
Speaking of RPGs… there was one other game I wanted to mention. It’s kind of been talked to death by other people on the ‘net, but I can’t not mention it. I have too many memories of this game – memories of driving around with my brother, through used game shops, trying to locate a copy of this game so we could buy it for ourselves.
I can also remember watching the intro to this game in the morning, before I went to school. I had a TV up in our play room, and a makeshift stereo system, and I’d just let the intro play with the music turned up.
At times, I’d do the same thing with the ending of this game – I had it timed just right so I could watch the ending (which was very long) and still get to school on time. And this was in the days before “save states,” so every time I wanted to watch the ending, I had to beat the final boss!
In case you hadn’t guessed the game yet, it was Final Fantasy III/VI.
I don’t really remember how we found ourselves with this game… but it was a beauty once we had it. Probably the longest game I’d ever played – and re-played – I just could not get enough of it. The story, so epic in scope (yet starting off so seemingly small) just drew me in.
Interestingly, because I had owned/played Secret of Mana prior to this one, I was used to re-naming characters, so my brother and I didn’t use the default names for (almost) anyone. Terra became Rydia (astude Final Fantasy fans will note the homage to the previous title), Locke became Juno, Edgar became Calvin, Sabin became Hobbes (I loved Calvin & Hobbes, what can I say?), Celes became Millie, Cyan became Ryu, Setzer became Jack (a blackjack reference) and Gau became… OJ. (The Oj Simpson trials were going on at the time, I think.) I think all the remaining characters kept their original names (you can’t do better than Shadow for a ninja, after all).
This was (and remains to this day) the only game to actually bring me to tears.
I used to play through the Opera Scene again and again – I mean, you’d just never seen anything like it before, at the time! Who knew that the SNES could do such things?
There were just so many great points in this game that I can’t list them all… but I’ll try! The little in-game bits, like “MMMMM…Magic!” and “son of a submariner!” The dream sequences with Shadow… the dream sequence with Ryu (sorry, Cyan)… the twist where Millie (sorry, Celes) betrays the Empire and is saved by Juno (sorry, Locke)… all the crazy battles with Ultros… the whole Oj/Gau story… Not to mention the fact that the world basically ENDS half way through the game… just when you think you’ve won!! What a heart breaker that was the first time I encountered it!
Ah, the memories. Every so often I’ll work up the urge to play the whole game again – usually over a weekend (or two or three). But is IS a very long game, so I don’t play it often.
During the day, I usually listen to Radio GOSU so I’m often hearing songs from all these games mixed in, and it makes me pine for the “good old days” sometimes. Ah well, I guess you can’t have everything. (Though there have been a few good games for 32-bit consoles… but that’s another post.)
Feel free to share your own thoughts & experiences in the comments.
Images courtesy vgmuseum.com.