A New Direction: Side Stories

It’s been a fun few months with Jon and myself sharing our own thoughts on classic games and their impact on us growing up. From clunkers like Robocop to a week of beat ’em ups or adoring our first Final Fantasy games. When we originally set out to A Wink to the Past we had the aim of it being a community project. The warm fuzzies we put to digital paper made their way to you in hopes of inspiring your own memories to bubble up. Some of the conversations we’ve had spawned from those have been great. With the latest focus on the Legend of Zelda and all the guests we had we realized this was more of what we wanted to do. While we both love sharing our own tales of yesteryear, it went to a whole new level when we were hearing from you all how games impacted you. Either right time right place, or just by being a constant in your life throughout. It’s great to be reminded there’s more going on with people when they play than just zombing out in front of the ‘tube.

Going forward we’ve now been subtitled for phase 2 of this project. I’d like to welcome you to AWttP: Side Stories

So what’s it all mean? No more Chris or Jon? No more retro lookbacks? No more goofy bits of how games turned us to rampant delinquency? Not quite.

Today we’re putting out a call to anyone that wants to put their thoughts out there in a communal tome of video game memories. If you’ve had an interest in writing but have never done it before it’s a great place and an open floor for you here. If you want some coaching and enjoy what you’ve read at AWttP previously we’d be more than willing to proof what you wrote or help structure it. The key thing is we want to hear from you around this water cooler we call the internet.

Kind of like this, except it’s you and me instead of giant robot warriors.

Why Side Stories? I’m a firm believer that games are something you do while other things are going on in your life or in your head. Whether subconscious or on the surface I’m sure you’re sorting stuff out while you go into hour 3 of your game session. Figuring out your weekend plans, remembering the first time you played a game in that series, matches with friends online and goofing off, or binging on an RPG to escape life’s complications. They’ve brought you joy, solace, laughter, or introspective among other experiences. You’ve had odd revelations through games (“Did you know Sephiroth is are the revelations creator’s will in Kabbalah?! Dude, they totally named him in reference to that!”), or a simple thought about how Bimmy and Jimmy would have made for better hero names and you redubbed every other character in the game “__immy” to follow suit. The games we’re all playing are cool, but we really enjoy the magic of what’s going on while you play… the Side Stories you organically created that accompany the game.

As with all user-generated content the risk we run here is the strength of this will come from people willing to share. So if you have something and want to bring it over we’d love to have you. Multiple pieces are cool too. Only real guidelines we have are at least 300 words, a few words about yourself, and keep it personal. We’re not looking for retro game reviews as much as we’re looking for retrospectives as to why those games are lodged into your brain. This also means we’re looking to scale back how often we post so we can sustain a consistent schedule. Likely to be about one post a week is what we’re looking to do. So if you or someone you know wants to share with the world in this communal camp fire of video game adoration, to bring to the table their Side Stories about what’s going on within them while mashing those buttons to save the princess, send an e-mail to PunkrawkBbob@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter at @PunkrawkBbob and we’ll work something out.

In the meantime, Jon and I will continue writing to fill in the gaps when we don’t have guest writers. We thank you all for your support and look forward to spending more time reading and talking about how games keep making a lasting impression on all of us.

Legacy of Kain (PlayStation)

Today we have a guest writer, James Archer (@LeonBelmontX). James is a self-confessed video game addict who is constantly fighting a never-ending backlog. His favourite series include The Legend of Zelda, Kingdom Hearts, Yakuza, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid and Legacy of Kain. He also writes a blog about his experiences as a gamer who suffers with anxiety.

I can’t even say what intrigued me about Blood Omen on the PS1 when I first picked it off a shelf in a rental shop when I was just starting secondary school. It’s cover art was never anything special in my eyes, and I didn’t know anyone else who had played it. Still, Kain would argue that this was fate, the start of a series of events that lead to my writing this very article.

The game left a lasting impression upon me. Compared to most games I had played at that point, the game was dark, broody and atmospheric. A 2D top-down game – in many ways reminiscent of the classic Legend of Zelda titles – Blood Omen was set in the gloomy world of Nosgoth; a grim, medieval world devoid of any sort of joy or happiness. Townspeople lived in fear of the creatures that stalked the world, cities were ravaged by the plague, and a depressed king let the world slip into ruin at the loss of his only daughter. The game’s protagonist, a nobleman named Kain, was inexplicably murdered whilst travelling and then offered a chance at revenge by a Necromancer named Mortanius. Reborn a vampire, Kain set off on a warpath to enact revenge on those that had organised his assassination.

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The Legend of Zelda (Series)

As all great things come to an eventual end, so does our celebration of Zelda here at A Wink to the Past. We had some great contributions from friends of ours here and strongly recommend you go back to check out any you might have missed…

As much as we covered there are countless more stories of everyone out there and their time spent in the various lands of Hyrule. While I loved sharing what semblance of peace Link to the Past brought me, I could have just as easily talked about Link’s Awakening on Gameboy where I gleefully stole it from a classmate… only to return it guilt-stricken after stealing from the shop in the game and being renamed THIEF on my save file. Then there was how A Link Between Worlds was so engaging both my wife and I finished it within a week back to back for the smoothest 20 hours of gaming either of us ever experienced. The Legend of Zelda has been around for over 30 years now, telling it’s tale across 10 platforms and 18 games (or 11 platforms and 20 games if you count those which are not to be spoken in pleasant company). That’s a lot of opportunity to reach a variety of players across it’s 75 million sales in the series.

Legends always vary slightly, as does Zelda herself.

We’re usually not big on talk about numbers at AWttP though. Data is cool and all but that doesn’t really give an accurate idea if anyone gives a damn. Remember the record setting film Avatar? Yeah, no one does. The cultural impact of this series isn’t something you just can’t ignore with the Legend of Zelda though. Step into any retailer that sells pop culture apparel and you’re guaranteed to find something marked with a Triforce or Master Sword design. I’d put money on the chance that a quarter of all game related tattoos bear the mark of a Hylian Crest, a flit of light with wings for a fairy, or any of the dozens of icons found within the series that are instantly recognizable. As we explored with the stories we had here there’s a connection that’s made between the player and the game that’s intrinsic to the journey you take with Link. Yes, I realize there’s a good possibility that’s why they’ve named him Link. He serves as our gateway to the world of Hyrule, our avatar in this fantasy realm of prophecies, despair, altruism, corruption, destruction, hope, and balance.

Speaking of Hyrule, that in of itself leads to something miraculous Nintendo manages to do with each entry. Reinventing the world nearly every single time, even if it’s one of the few instances where it’s a direct sequel in the timeline. Each time we venture into the world of Zelda it starts with a shifting of that power. Normally Ganon plays his cards in an attempt to steal the entirety of the Triforce which sets the events into motion that begin our time in Hyrule. If the world doesn’t already start in a state of ruin, it will enter it shortly after… yet somehow the game remains wonderful the whole time. With Link being the carrier of the Triforce of Courage it’s nice to know your quest is one of hope and restoration after nearly all has been lost. Seriously, in any other franchise it would be an oppressive grueling test of willpower to just make it through the to the next story beat. You’d have meters indicating your stress level, have to reclaim areas of land in bizarre turf wars, or maybe even just have every NPC you come across remind you how miserable existence is. Somehow LoZ overcomes the hurdle of a sulking on a fractured kingdom and embraces a world of potential, a future to be saved, instead of beating you over the head on how god awful everything has become. Either a calamity has ravaged the lands, Hyrule’s… rule… has been overthrown by Ganon, the entire kingdom had sunken to the bottom of an ocean, or the land is gripped in a state of engulfing digital nothingness. Railing against that broken world you have lush colors, upbeat music, a jaunty Link traversing the fields and mountains fully content knowing we’ll all float on alright. Don’t worry. (yes I’m listening to Modest Mouse right now). I’m genuinely impressed with how contagious the joy can be bleeding out from it all. It’s hard not to walk away feeling inspired and uplifted after putting in a good session of play.

Perhaps that’s the point of it all? An eternal struggle of influence in our life will bounce us from our personal golden age to bad times that become eventual emotional ruin. Yet if we keep on with a perky overworld theme to carry us on, to not be afraid to ask for help when we need it. Maybe we have to work a bit to rebuild what’s been lost. To help others in need to help rebuild a better world around us. The Legend of Zelda’s origin comes from the idea of “saving the princess”, which itself is based in altruism. Link has nothing to gain from these acts beyond doing what’s right and a shared interest in the world he lives in. If that isn’t a point we can connect with and take meaning from I don’t know what is. When I sit back and think about everything that’s good about this series 18 games deep, it’s that there’s good in each and every one of us playing it. As much as we’re drawn to shoving fairies into bottles or chasing stupid monkeys, I honestly think every one of us playing has the desire to save the princess and make things right above all us.

I really hope you’ve had an adventure with Link, Zelda, and Ganon at some point in your life. If not, the time has never been better with the sprawling epic of Breath of the Wild having just released. Beyond the latest entry in the series you can look to Wii U where you have access to nearly every console release (and several portable titles) within the series, serving as the ultimate Legend of Zelda machine. If you already own a 3DS you’re in pretty good order too as it serves as a gateway to all the portable releases and the first fifteen years of console games. Any way you want to ‘hyah huh HYAH’ your way into Hyrule at this point you have plenty of options. We hope you find an your way there when you need it most, because that’s when the Legend of Zelda series shines brightest.

A Link to My Past

The Legend of Zelda was the first video game I ever truly loved. Don’t get me wrong, I also “loved” Super Mario Bros. and I played that long before I ever tried to tackle the daunting, open world of Hyrule. I liked Mega Man. I had a good time with Double Dragon. Contra and I were simpatico. But I loved Zelda.

Through the years, Zelda has grown up with me. The series has increased in complexity and richness, not unlike my own life, so when I first played through Skyward Sword, it was something of an emotional experience. It happened to come out in a week where I was due out of town for work, so I obviously had no choice but to pack it and the Wii in my bag and rig the hotel TV to be able to play it. Before and after office hours I indulged in sweet, uninterrupted Zelda time.

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Majora’s Mask (Nintendo 64)

In celebration of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s release we’ll be sharing a few Zelda stories over the next two weeks from ourselves here at AWttP and guest contributors. Today’s story comes from a friend of ours here at AWttP – Ian (a quite different Ian from last week!), as he shares with us how Majora’s Mask left him enthralled and bewildered as his birthday wish left his fate uncertain…

Ian likes to look at games in a more academic, sometimes abstract way.  He graduated with his Masters in Art History in 2013 where he specialized in the study of interactive arts and digital media: ultimately video game studies.  He always has an eye for how games as an experience affect the player as that is a very important part of the whole gaming experience for him.  He also has a very endearing and personal relationship with the Legend of Zelda series: his favorite gaming series of all time.  You may as well call him a Deku nut 😉

The year was 2000.

I was a pre-teen about to experience my 13th birthday that November.

I just started my 7th grade year in Middle School in the Fall of 2000.

I was a gamer and had been all my life, but at this point I was just strictly a Nintendo fanboy as much as I ever could be. I had a Nintendo Power subscription, I had a Nintendo 64, a Gameboy Color, and I would sit at the lunch table with my gamer friends during school hours. While eating we’d either pass around the recent issue of Nintendo Power to read or we would discuss the video games we were currently playing. Most of us were playing the same video game so it was always fun to look forward to that time during the day to talk about them.

In this group of friends I had one particular best friend and his name was Ken. We shared the same passion for The Legend of Zelda series and we were both foaming at the mouth on any info that was released about the upcoming sequel to Ocarina of Time which was called The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask – a direct sequel to the 1998 masterpiece.

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A Link to the Past (SNES)

An opening scroll of text. A flurry of images suggesting lore. A young man thrust into a world much larger than himself. Thus began the Legend of Zelda and my descent into video games proper from that point on. Sure I had dabbled with the NES incarnations of Legend of Zelda and Adventures of Link, but at the time I was simply too young to understand what they were beyond some green dude running around with a sword that shoots lasers when you have full hearts. When I got my hands on A Link to the Past at a respectable age of like… nine years old, suddenly those stupid mazes and creepy dungeon hands falling from the ceiling were pieces of a larger tapestry that I could look over for days in awe and wonder at the richness woven into it.

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Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64)

In celebration of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s release we’ll be sharing a few Zelda stories over the next two weeks from ourselves here at AWttP and guest contributors. Today’s story comes from a friend of ours here at AWttP – Brett S, as he shares with us how even in the darkest times games can give you the strength you need to get through.

Remember that time that Zelda: Ocarina of Time saved your life? I do. About 17 years ago I thought I had everything figured out. I had a girlfriend, casually attended college, was in an amazing indie rock band, and had a killer job working at the best thrift store in the world with a bunch of my friends. It was my birthday, and I had just saved enough money to buy a Nintendo 64 and Zelda.

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Majora’s Mask (Nintendo 64)

In celebration of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s release we’ll be sharing a few Zelda stories over the next two weeks from ourselves here at AWttP and guest contributors. Today’s story comes from a friend of ours here at AWttP – Ian Menard (@IanMenard), as he shares with us why Majora’s Mask felt so special to him when he discovered it all those years ago.

A bit about Ian? He’s a graduate student from Texas, where he studies pop culture. He once misspelled “weather” during a spelling bee, and it haunts him to this day.

When I was four years old, my family moved from a small town in Texas to Dubai. Or rather, when I was four years old, my mother, my two year-old brother and I moved to Dubai, where my dad had moved ahead of us. Faced with the prospect of taking two young children on two separate plane rides (roughly 16 total in-flight hours, plus layovers), and hoping to do so as peacefully as possible, my mother (understandably) turned to technology – specifically, to the original GameBoy. Over the course of my childhood, my family made innumerable international flights, and that GameBoy (or one of its successors) remained in my carry-on, as did a few different entries in the Legend of Zelda franchise.

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Playing With Power

There’s something about a new console launch that gets me every time. The anticipation starts months before, of course, with vague PR whispers and dubious spec leaks. But before long we get that typical, enticing trickle of details. Tech specs, software in development, what the box looks like and, most fascinating to me as a Nintendo fan, what the controller looks like. And there’s a small window of time after we know the necessary details but before the thing is actually out where our brains are salivating at the pure potential of it all. Sometimes you get it right and sometimes you don’t, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is how it makes you feel, and if you don’t believe me, go back and talk to the kids who bought a Jaguar or a Virtual Boy or a 3DO at launch. They were riding high right up until they weren’t. But man, those heights.

With Switchmas™ fast approaching, I can’t help but he reminded of all the other console launches in my life. And of all of them, maybe none was so memorable to me as the Super Nintendo.

“We’re not buying you another Nintendo,” my dad said.

My parents had called an informal meeting after my 1991 Christmas list contained one item and one item alone. You guessed it, a Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

I was almost 10, and I tried not to cry.

“Okay.”

My dad must have sensed my obvious distress because his tone softened.

“It’s a lot of money, buddy, more than we spend on almost all the kids combined.”

I swallowed hard.

“But how can I get one?”

“Well,” my dad replied, “You can work and save your money and once you’ve saved enough we can go get one.”

The object of my affection. Still got it.

 

There was more to it, but that was the gist. I had walked into that meeting a boy but I walked out of it a … well, still a boy but more mature or something, and determined to save enough for a Super Nintendo or die trying. And before you scoff at the idea that this was less than a Herculean task for a ten year old, keep in mind that this was $200 in 1991 money, which put it closer to $400 today and the truly lucrative jobs were just not available to me. In a few years I would be babysitting and mowing lawns at $10 a yard but for now I was relegated to washing cars at $2 a pop and selling trinkets for commission through some scam out of Boy’s Life magazine. That’s a lot of cars and a lot of baubles.

But the thing was, I didn’t have another option. I could wait four years for a price cut or I could get to work now. So I got to work. Every Saturday I was out knocking doors, either to solicit car washes or pitch expensive chocolates and novelty mugs to my neighbors. Did I mention I grew up on a military base and most of these people didn’t have extra money to spend on junk like that? Nevertheless, with an optimism born of desperation, I persisted.

Slowly, painfully so to my ten and then eleven year old mind, the dollars began to add up. And then, one Saturday, we saw an ad in the paper. Kmart was having a sale on Super Nintendos for $179.99. I had $180.

“Mom, can we go?”

“Yes!”

I don’t think my parents were more excited than I was, but they were obviously proud. Hell, my dad tells people the story to this day.

The SNES was like a greatest hits machine. So much quality.

 

In any event, my mom and I piled into the car and sped down to Kmart. After speaking with the cashier in the electronics section, he let us in on a Super Nintendo that was an open box item, and for this purpose was marked down an additional 10%. I could cover almost all of it, including tax. It was the sweetest single purchase I’ve made before or since. I had toiled, and sweated, and sacrificed and later that day, playing Super Mario World, or even years down the line experiencing the magic of Final Fantasy VI, or Chrono Trigger, or Mega Man X, or Super Metroid, or a Link to the Past, or any number of games, I can look back and tie it all to the work  culminating in that moment.

Best. Console. Ever.

The Ties That Grind

Gaming as a kid is different than gaming as an adult. I know that sounds self-evident, but hear me out. First, as a kid I got maybe three games per year. I mean, yes, we traded around and rented games, but games that I owned that were mine were few and far between. Second, that meant that I considered my purchases carefully and I wanted the most bang for my buck. A game that was over in two hours or a game that lasted for forty hours? Talk about a no-brainer. And third, I didn’t have that many competing interests, i.e., work and wife and children. I didn’t have to worry about teaching a two year old to speak while helping an eight year old with his homework and simultaneously jumping on the trampoline with a four year old. It’s just a question of time.

And all of these things, the scarcity, the value proposition, and the time meant that when I finally did settle on a game, I went deep. All the items, all the secrets, maxed out levels, every side quest. I’ve forgotten more about Final Fantasy IV than most people will ever remember. You ever get the Imp summon? I did. Did you ever call the Nintendo Hotline to inquire about the handaxe weapon listed in the manual but found nowhere in the game? I did. Did you ever, by hand, map the levels at which Rydia learned every black magic spell? I did. Did you ever get the Adamant armor? I did … not. But not for lack of trying! Damn you, pink puffs!

RPGs in general were a natural fit for my game-buying equation. Also, my brother had no real interest in playing them, which meant he would bug me less often about sharing them. Bonus! However, starting in my mid-twenties, I began to cool on the genre. Thirty hours was a great length. But sixty? Ninety? I just couldn’t be bothered to learn all the crazy new fantasy names and words, job systems and magic rules. It just felt like a … grind.

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The hero, the innocent, the pro, and the knave. Classic.

And then, somehow, that love was rekindled by none other than the weirdest-named game of them all: Bravely Default. This title makes no sense whatsoever. The plot includes multiple realities and a world-devouring Ouroboros. A job system is heavily featured as the way to build up your party and it has all kinds of new terms and rules. But, man, it sucked me in. In 2012 I put every eighty hours into Bravely Default. And I wasn’t bored for a second. Why? Because Bravely Default made some radical changes to the way you leveled up your team. Not only could you increase the literal speed of battles, you could basically put them on auto-pilot. You could pre-program your characters to follow a certain pattern, and with the 4x speed, this made learning abilities and leveling up a breeze. I could grind while watching a movie or reading a book, and then spend my attention on combining the new abilities and having fun with the story and the combat. It’s a game-changing mechanic that should be in every similar RPG going forward. It made me fall in love with the genre again.

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Every town was unique and beautifully realized.

Aside from that main difference, Bravely Default is a special cocktail of things I love. For example, the world of Luxendarc revolves around the power of elemental crystal that have begun to darken and must be restored to light. Get it? “Luxendarc”? The staple RPG character who loses his memory is named Ringabel. That trope ring a bell? Aside from puns, the costumes and abilities tied to different jobs are fun and varied, the dialogue is lighthearted (mostly) and fun, the story is epic and crazy but not crazily obtuse. I had lost that lovin’ feeling, but Bravely Default assured me that it’s far from gone.