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.
When I have an idea for this column, it’s generally something from my childhood. A tale from ages past that only exists as a hazy image in my mind—a story whose tangible reality is not much different in your mind as the reader as it is in my own.
Today’s entry is a little different, though. This memory is a story of Christmas, but from 2014 rather than 2000.
For the past several years, I’ve taken care of my parents’ house while they lived in New York. I wouldn’t exactly say that it’s the house I grew up in, but after living here for nearly 20 years, maybe I should reconsider. I survived middle school and high school and college all in this house, as well as my career as a professional web programmer and my beginnings as a game developer. My brother had been in and out of the house on occasion as well—but, after he moved to San Fransisco a few years ago, that all stopped and I’d been the house’s sole occupant.
It was little more than a month ago that my parents finally sold the house in New York and moved back to Florida, and they were still settling in when my brother decided that he was coming out to spend the week of Christmas with the family. Before I knew it, the house was full of people again.
My entire family.
24 hours a day.
It wasn’t long before my brother asked me to dig out the SNES. Was I suddenly back in high school? Between various holiday-related activities with our parents, I watched on and off as he played through Super Mario World, Soul Blazer, and Act Raiser. After that, we took turns on Arcana until I took a risk an ended up dying. There weren’t many good, working games left in our physical collection—and, he refused to play Lagoon or Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. Honestly, I had to agree, as Lagoon is a chore to play and Mystic Quest didn’t hold much interest for me at the time.
There was one game, however.
My brother groaned as I popped in The 7th Saga.
This is not a game for the faint of heart. It’s been said that the game was purposely made more difficult for the Western market, and I don’t entirely doubt it. Even if you know your way through the confusing and nebulously explained plot points, you’ll always be forced to spend hours grinding for levels. If you happen to be one of the unlucky souls whose companion ends up running off with all of the runes, you’d probably be better off starting a new game than trying to fight them and take the runes back.
I knew what I was getting into. I’d played the game before. Still, I had only 40 hours before my brother would be on his flight back to California. Would I be able to make it? The two existing saves on the cartridge were at 24 and 28 hours—one was near the end of the game, and the other was barely halfway. The only thing I could do was try.
I chose Lux, the
robot Tetujin. He’s powerful and doesn’t require equipment, so he should be good for a quick playthrough, right? I shot through the first few areas, knowing all the spots to pick up hidden items. I got together with Valsu (the healer; a good match), beat the traitor apprentice after only three tries (Kamil’s not too tough), and by 8pm I was well on my way to the second continent!
That’s where things slowed down. I normally give up at the battle with the traitor apprentice, so the story after that is a little blurry for me, not to mention that it’s different depending on which character you are. Progress slowed to a crawl and I spent most of my time trying to level up as I could barely survive one battle in the new area. The game was becoming a pain, so I decided to go to sleep.
The next morning didn’t go much better. After a modicum of progress, I still found myself dying to enemies that had been killing me five levels earlier. My brother peeked at a walkthrough and confirmed that I was in the right area…but about five levels behind. I spent another hour just leveling up, but I was still dying from enemies that were barely worth the EXP.
My brother had 16 hours before his flight and I was only maybe halfway through the game at best. It was incredibly unlikely that I could get my levels on track and be anywhere near the end of the game. Frustrated, I set down the controller, turned off the machine, and went to get some lunch.
What was it about this game that always got me? What drove my desire to play this game?
The story is practically nonexistent, it’s an unapologetic grindfest, and half of the challenges were made impossible during localization. There are games with way better stories that I’ve abandoned for having half the number of technical issues.
There’s just something about the atmosphere. There’s something about the lonely world, where talking to potential companions could just as easily get you killed as gain you an ally. There’s something about the music, never quite cheering you on. There’s something about the battle system, bringing you down to ground level as you fight face-to-face with nightmarish creatures in a harsh wasteland.
It’s the experience that I enjoy. This is the feeling I want from a game, even if this is not the game that I want. I want a game that pulls me in, and that’s the part that 7th Saga somehow does right even while it does every other thing wrong.
I decided I should go back out and give it another shot. If I can’t beat the game today, I might as well be ready to try the next time my brother’s in town.
When I went back out, however, I found that I was further ahead than I thought. My dad had apparently taken over when I went to get lunch, doing nothing but walking in circles and leveling up. Was this my chance? Would this give me the boost I needed to beat the game before my brother left?!
Of course not—but really, it didn’t matter. I spent the rest of the evening with my father and my brother, playing an old SNES game and talking about classic RPGs. A game that succeeds in making the player feel alone was now bringing us together, and that’s all I could really ask for. I gained a few extra levels and we drove my brother to the airport in the morning…and, maybe the next time I see him, we can try again for Round 2.