When the thought of a videogame can bring you back to a specific time and place, you can say that it’s been saved to your “Memory Card”. In this column, we take a look at these saved states and the games that take us back.
The year 2000 had really set me up to love robots. After returning to Florida following our last installment, I watched my VHS recordings of Gundam Wing and enjoyed the show for a reason that’s still unknown to me. At the same time, BattleBots was playing on Comedy Central in between commercials for Girls Gone Wild. And last but not least, in the final days of ’00, there was Xenogears.
It was Christmas Eve. I had spent most of the day lounging around with my family, making Chex Mix and watching the Battlestar Galactica marathon on the Sci-Fi Channel. As the evening rolled on, the time finally came for our family tradition of eating snacks at midnight before opening one present each. After filling up on shrimp and fried cheese balls, I went over to the tree and picked the smallest package with my name on it.
Xenogears. While I’d wanted the game, I hadn’t actually asked for it. Maybe my brother had noticed me repeatedly playing the Xenogears demo that came packaged with Parasite Eve, or maybe he just knew I was a fan of robots that hit each other. Or, maybe he wanted to play it himself and decided to kill two birds with one stone. Whatever the reason, the game was mine! While everyone else headed off to sleep, I grabbed a blanket, a Mountain Dew, and a bowlful of Chex Mix and got ready for a night I would never forget.
I have to say, I feel bad for anyone who started Xenogears for the first time while it was daylight out. The cold of a winter night, the silence of everyone else being asleep, and the excitement of getting a game I’d been wanting all built up and came to a head as I watched the game’s opening sequence. The sci-fi mood I was in after a day of watching Battlestar Galactica probably helped, too. I played the game until it was almost morning, only going to bed so that my parents wouldn’t know how late I had been up.
There are still times I feel the urge to play Xenogears during the Christmas season, but I can hardly force myself to play past the second town. Outside of the nostalgia factor, the game is honestly pretty terrible. The plot is some sort of overblown Evangelion knockoff that tries way too hard to mix religious, psychological, and political overtones into a game about robots that hit each other. The combo-based battle system seems cool at first, but actually just ends up being repetitive and pointless, especially when the later parts of the game are full of boring robot battles that ignore the combos. Fully-animated opening aside, the graphics haven’t aged particularly well, either.
This memory is a testament to the power of atmosphere. I imagine I’d have still enjoyed the game if I’d opened it Christmas day, but I doubt I’d have been as immersed as I was, what with all the daytime distractions around. If only I could have formed an emotional attachment to a game that was actually good.