So I finally got around to playing Final Fantasy 7 again. It has been well over a decade since I left Cloud and company in their adventure to save the world and I was eager to get back in the saddle and 100% this puppy. As it loaded up, it felt so familiar, so inviting. It didn’t judge me for abandoning it for better graphics or the next seven games in the series. It knew its place and that time had swept it behind the couch to eventually be found again. Well, it is back and I’ve been playing it obsessively, trying to get all my limit breaks, enemy skills, and proper materia as quickly as possible. But is this all nostalgia? Am I missing out on more recent releases because I feel emotionally attached to a game released in 1997? There is something interesting to explore in these questions.
For me, gaming has been an important aspect who I am even since I was able to fully work the buttons on my SEGA Genesis and get a little blue hedgehog to turn into a ball and beast through Green Hill Zone. (Sonic and I go way back!) I can distinctly remember struggling to complete the old games and how satisfied I was with myself when I finally beat a hard boss or acquired a new party member. Those were the good ol’ days. Today, games get by on weak or overused stories, poorly planned and exploitable mechanics, and high-resolution graphics. Where will the memories be made?
Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed playing nearly every game I’ve finished in my long gaming career, but most games don’t resonate with me like the early ones. Fallout: New Vegas is probably the closest thing I can recall. Patrolling the wasteland as my unnamed Courier, deciding who lived and who died, collecting loot, uniting factions. It was all there for me and I look forward to playing it again in a few years, visiting familiar friends and locations. On the other hand, I wanted so badly to be attached to Ellie and Joel in The Last of Us, but I just couldn’t make that attachment. They were just characters to me and I feel like I missed out on what should-have-been an awesome experience. I felt robbed of the whole thing.
Mario and company are also on this list for me. I got the chance to play Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel with my nephew recently and we spent way too many hours collecting all the stars with both Mario – and Luigi once we unlocked him. It was fun, but it wasn’t the Mario I remembered or grew up with. I wished for the 2-D side-scrolling quests I knew and loved. I even went and bought an NES that same weekend just to get my fix. The draw was too strong and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to introduce my nephew to the challenge that made it possible for me to get through these new games without batting an eye.
So after all this, where does nostalgia fit in the gaming world? Many of us keep coming back to older games that we played growing up. Indie developers are making games in the same style or using classic mechanics and character development to make games as great as they remember. But this doesn’t stop the Call of Duty series from being one of the most popular and repetitive titles on the market. So we might be on our way out of the dark ages of interactive movies and back to making memories, but we aren’t there yet.
Like Cortana, our favorite games will always be there, just waiting for us to come back. “Wake me when you need me…”