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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Timeless

No fanfare, no reviews of what I'm currently playing, just jumping straight to the point.

By "timeless", I'm not talking all-time great games.  I'm talking about games that stick with you, long after you've played them.  Games that have infused themselves into your perception about games.  It could be a game that had fantastic mechanics, stellar music, an interesting world, or a gripping plot.  It could be the whole, overarching game, or it could be a specific moment that defines that game for you.

It's interesting to think how these stay with us.  How someone can hum a bar to a familiar game tune, and have someone else join in.  It's similar to sharing regular, over-the-air music with someone else, but when you look at video game music, it's not just the music you're thinking of.  It's the setting, tone, and everything else that surrounds that music.  When I think of Balamb Garden's theme from Final Fantasy 8, my mind goes back to playing every person on campus in Triple Triad for more cards, it was heading to the training facility to farm Sleep Magic for Status Attack Junctioning.  It's such a peaceful song, and it invokes this carefree attitude the game gives you at the start.  Sure, you're training to be a hired soldier, but damn it all if it isn't going to be fun.

Anyone who's read any of my works on this blog know that I have an infatuation with Alpha Protocol.  I can look past a lot of its issues because I love the concept of the game.  A spy themed RPG Third Person Shooter, with a dynamic conversation system, and a labyrinthine cause/effect tree.  It felt so goddamn ambitious in everything that wasn't the combat system that it could carry it past standard TPS mechanics.  I love seeing things like this, and that's why this game has stuck with me for so long.  It felt different than a lot of games I had played up to that point.  It took a core system, said "this is good enough, let's put our focus into other things" and then did it.  Sure it was buggy, and the combat wasn't terribly exciting, but there's just something about being a super-spy that's just fuckin' COOL.  The gadgets, the guns, the undercover espionage, double-crosses, just... everything about the genre just lends itself to video games.

Final Fantasy 6.  Immediately after you wake up in the world of Ruin.  Celes clifftop scene.

'nuff said.

For those unaware, here's the premise.  Spoilers to follow, so, well, it's a 20 year old game.  whatever.


Kefka just succeeded in gaining god-like powers.  He's using that power to A) Blow shit up B) destroy towns who oppose him (also part of A) and C) Make himself, ya know, a god.  All the warriors you gathered to fight him have been scattered throughout the destroyed world.  Celes is on a small island alone with her ill uncle, who's partially responsible for Kefka's rise to power.  Now, her uncle's condition gets worse, and eventually, he dies*.  This acts as the straw that breaks her back, having lost people who treated her like a person, people who didn't want to use her for experiments, or as a weapon.  People that became her friends.  She has no contact with the outside world, so she doesn't know if they're alive or dead, following Kefka's rise.  After losing her uncle, her grief overwhelms her, and she throws herself off a cliff.

This is a SNES, 16-bit game, that conveys an emotion in one of the best ways I have ever seen in a video game.  That is a scene that's stuck in my head ever since the first time I've played the game.

* Yes I'm aware you can save Cid if you catch the fast fish, I just posted the more common/easier to obtain result.


One last moment, I'd like to share before concluding.  Saints Row 2, Brotherhood storyline.  In Saints Row 2, after you are laid up in a jail's hospital, 3 gangs have moved into Stillwater, broken up the Saints, and split up the territory.  One of these gangs is the Brotherhood; a gang of rough and tumble, no-subtilty, take-what-we-want people.  Their leader is Maero, a very large man, tons of tattoos, wields a minigun, and drives monster trucks as a hobby.  When the Saints come back, and start to step on their toes, they respond in the only way they know, unrelenting brutality.  They kidnap one of your Lieutenants, your group of trusted leaders to handle operations, Carlos.  Carlos was the first friendly character you meet in the entire game, as he's the one who helps you break out of prison, and gets you back to Stillwater.  Maero has his goons chain Carlos' hands together, and attack the other end of the chain to the rear bumper of a truck, as they careen through the streets of Stillwater.

Even if you succeed the mission, you end up putting Carlos out of his misery, as he was suffering, from having been drug on his face and torso for a long time.  Each mission that follows is a step up in retribution against Maero, from kidnapping his girlfriend, tossing her in the trunk of a car, and parking the car in the middle of a monster truck rally, where Maero crushes said car, to burning off the hand of his second in command to find out where Maero's huge shipment of weapons is coming.  It all caps off with a difficult, yet VERY satisfying boss fight with the man himself.

I felt vindicated.  What was dealt to me, was returned in spades.  I believe the first time I played Saints Row 2, after the aforementioned mission, I didn't do any side quests, or other gang quests until I had put Maero in his place.


These are just four games, out of the many I've played in my life, that demonstrate the timeless quality.  Final Fantasy 8 is considered a black sheep by some, Alpha Protocol was a game that didn't deliver to many, and Saints Row 2 is considered a juvenile GTA Clone, but there's still something redeeming in those games.  What's amazing about games is that these feelings are not universal though.  I could ask a friend who's played Final Fantasy 8, and get different answers, and thoughts, even from the same event.  When people can go into detail about things that they've experienced in a game, you can tell that it's something that just stuck with them, it's something that's affected the way they look at other games, and maybe even beyond that.  All of those feelings I mentioned that I felt at the time of playing, I still recall them.  I can still see the scenes playing out, and they can still elicit a reaction from me, years after I last touched the game.

Some people may say that a game is Timeless because of it's quality in execution, but what really makes a game timeless, are the feelings, memories, and moments you create when you play.