Pedantic Semantics

Not at all pretentious

20 Years Strong Part 1

Posted by Paul on August 24, 2011

Gamers, like music lovers and movie buffs, love to define themselves by the output of their chosen medium that was popular while they were growing up. My history is problematic, in that I was at that influential age during the  transfer of power from the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) to its successor, the  Super NES. I seem to have gravitated towards the latter as my defining system. The Super Nintendo was not only the system I enjoyed during my teenage years. It was the system that saved my teenage years. To be fair to my parents, it’s not their fault they felt video games were destroying me and my brother as well, and my entire generation. The media told them so, and if there is any group most subject to media fearmongering, it is parents. But the truth is, if it weren’t for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, I don’t know what I would have done with myself.

I still remember when I first encountered the system. I had been playing Nintendo for a while, and I still consider the NES as the greatest gift I have ever received. However, when I saw Super Mario World on the commercials, I knew I had to play that thing (although a kid at summer camp telling me that the “sequel” [the game was actually the fourth in the series, but the second released here] to that beloved discovery Final Fantasy would be SNES only sealed the deal). We managed to rent a Super Nintendo at some point soon after its release, and played Super Mario World. I remember my first exposure to Super Mario Bros., and it was magical, but my first experience with Super Mario World is, I think, where I truly considered this video game thing as something that was worth staying with. After that came Pilotwings (frustrating), Populous (awesome), Sim City (even more awesome) and Drakkhen (yawn). But it wasn’t until that one game came along that I became a gamer for life.

Yeah, that may not look like much, but when spring break 1992 rolled around, and I wasn’t allowed to take my NES to my mom’s house from my dad’s, I was instead allowed to rent this. I thank my dad and stepmom every day for this, for if any video game could be said to have changed my life, this is it. Before Final Fantasy IV (II when it was first released, because the real II and III weren’t given to Americans until much later) I merely played games. Now I was a Gamer. Just watch this video and try to imagine the effect it had on an impressionable thirteen-year-old boy and his six-year-old brother, used to eight-bit graphics and beeps and boops telling the story. In fact, the idea of any kind of real “story” in a video game was an alien concept to us until Cecil and company came along. This game was truly something different. I spent seven months on Final Fantasy “II”, mainly because I didn’t own a Super Nintendo until my birthday of that year (it was all rentals). It involved lots of power leveling and naming the characters “Don’t Save Over This Game”. Eventually I beat the big bad, in what I remember as my “SNES Weekend”. You see, I beat this game Friday night, spent Saturday completing The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and watched my friend beat Super Mario World on Sunday. It was glorious. The thing is, it didn’t end there. Final Fantasy II (IV) kept me sane through some upheavals in family life. And then there were two games like Zelda, but incredibly different that helped me through later on.

The first was Soul Blazer, the first game in the “Heaven and Earth” trilogy, and a game that I would truly learn to appreciate later in life. The other has to do with that picture up there. Secret of Mana was a revelation almost as powerful as Final Fantasy II. At the time, I was living in a house I was not entirely used to calling my primary home, and playing this game and sharing it with my new friends that lived nearby (one of which is one of two of my closest friends ever) helped me adjust. It was a horribly flawed game, but fifteen-year-old me didn’t know that, and besides, the environments were amazing and  just listen to that music. Secret of Mana may very well define the period I spent living in Kent, as opposed to where I was used to living, Seattle.

But where Secret of Mana defined that time at my dad’s, Super Metroid defined the parallel time at my mom’s on alternate weekends. Exploring Zebes with my friend and my brother was a semi-monthly project, and seeing the true ending, while we knew Samus’s true gender, was still pretty cool, since none of us had beaten the original Metroid legitimately (I still wonder whether anyone has), and no one played Metroid II until the Super Gameboy was released. To put in perspective for non gamers the importance of Super Metroid for me and everyone else that has ever played it, the first two Metroid games featured really great ideas marred by horrible execution, while Super Metroid is in the top five of every greatest game list ever (and is usually number one or two). The greatness of Super Metroid held me over, along with FFII and Mana, until another game localized by Squaresoft (makers of the two aforementioned games) eclipsed them. Looking back, it probably shouldn’t have. But it did.

Breath of Fire was a decent game. Nowhere near the level of the games I mentioned before. Or even Mega Man X, a game released the same year as this game and Super Metroid (1994) that was somewhere between the two in quality. However, in that year of 94, Squaresoft was in full advertising blitz mode, and Breath of fire was something I could not ignore. I remember begging my mom for it that August, and when she got it for me, I did not regret debasing myself. It may not look like much, but it was an incredibly fun battle system, with great music and incredible atmospherics. I replayed it recently, and while it’s not as revelatory now as it was then, it was the first game I stayed up until four in the morning for. It would be far from the last.

While Breath of Fire induced begging, Final Fantasy III (née VI) induced what was near froth. I was turning 16, and I would have nothing less than the best. And while FFIV holds a closer place in my heart, FFVI is arguably one of the greatest games ever made. I remember my first encounter with the Lete River and party splitting. I remember watching the world destroyed and remade. I remember the epicness of the final battle. I remember that even when I watched the first girl I ever kissed move away, when I was moved to a home I was not ready for, and even as a teenage runaway, Final Fantasies IV and VI were the glue that held me to sanity. That is why the Super Nintendo means so much. That and more, as you’ll see in part 2. For now, here’s a fun Zelda gif I found on Cracked.com (click the picture to see).

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