Is Nostalgia Enough?

A few days ago a friend of mine was telling me about this study conducted on my generation (we self identify as “90’s kids”) to identify why our sensations of nostalgia are so incredibly strong. You don’t have to spend a long time on Facebook to see it; there are plenty of twenty-somethings posting about old cartoons they used to watch, the old games they used to play, and sharing every post about any 90’s pop-culture icon that happens to have been in the news recently. We live in a world where Powerpuff Girls is being remade, Teen Titans has been remade, and multiple 3DS games are remakes of something we played on the N64 (Star Fox, Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask). Nostalgia is so prevalent for my generation that people decided it was worth studying.

Now this friend said that to his understanding, what the study has found so far is that it has a lot to do with two factors: the rapid change in technology that 90’s kids have experienced, and the sudden loss of innocence they experienced at a young age with the 9/11 terrorist attacks. And that explanation does make sense. Our world changed really drastically, really fast, and as a result all the things that came before feel so very far away. This generation has gone from cassette players to iPod 11s (I know there aren’t actually that many, hush), VCR to Blu-Ray, and the SNES to the Wii U, PS4, and X-Box One. Combine that adjustment with things like political strife, military conflict, economic despair, and the fact that we’re paying bills for the first time, and it’s no wonder that my generation pines for a simpler time.

For me, a big part of my nostalgia comes from two places: games that I loved when I was younger that I can no longer enjoy as I once did, and series that are still ongoing but no longer hold the magic they did when I was a kid.

In the first category are one-and-done titles for the N64 and PS1. Stuff like Mischief Makers, Mystical Ninja, Quest 64, Legend of Legaia – all of these games were a big part of my childhood and while one or two had sequels, these games have been out of my life for a long time. Particularly frustrating to me are the latter two: I never ended up beating Quest or Legend of Legaia, and now it’s rather unlikely that I’ll ever get to experience the endings for myself. And while I’m sure there are titles out there right now that are as quirky and fun as Mischief Makers and Mystical Ninja, I don’t exactly have the budget to spring for every weird game that comes out in hopes that one of them will be a gem.

Also included in this first category are series that fell out more recently, but don’t look like there’s much hope for a return. Mega Man and Golden Sun are particular favorites of younger me that don’t appear to be making a comeback. I mean, Mega Man Legacy Collection did just come out last year, but the thing is that a NEW Mega Man game hasn’t been released since what, 2010? It’s all collections these days, and as someone who preferred the spin-offs (Battle Network and Star Force in particular) I definitely don’t think there’s any hope of me getting to experience Mega Man in the near future. There’s a whole post about my feelings for Golden Sun and my concern that it won’t be coming back, so feel free to click on the link if you’re interested in that. While previous long gaps between titles were eventually resolved and ended in a new game, I don’t believe there’s much hope for that this time around.

Now in the second category are series such as Paper Mario, the Tales games, and Harvest Moon. These series have not gone away. Paper Mario: Color Land Kingdom Paint Splash or whatever is headed to the Wii U, Tales definitely still has stuff going on, and I actually have the most recent “Harvest Moon” game, Story of Seasons. But just because these series are still going doesn’t mean that they have the same feel as the games I played back in the day.

With Harvest Moon, I enjoy the games less and less when the goal becomes more and more vague. One of my favorite Harvest Moon games is still the very first one: you’ve got two years to take a run-down farm and turn it into something good. Succeed, and your parents won’t think you are a total failure. Fail, and – well, that’s probably obvious. You’re given a time limit and a goal, and you just go from there. Another favorite of mine is Magical Melody, where you have to gather musical notes in order to revive the Harvest Goddess. 50 of 100 gets you the first ending, while finding all 100 gets you a special ending. With that, you have a goal: get a specific number of music notes. These notes are gained naturally as part of your farm life – you don’t necessarily have to go out of your way or do anything crazy to get them. But with a way to actually beat the game, you have something to keep you motivated.

Perhaps because the games are simulations, as the series has gone on the games either have broader goals, or don’t have goals at all. There’s nothing to “beat” – the game just keeps going and going and going. And while that works okay for me with an open-world, adventurous game like Skyrim, I really need something to work towards if I’m going to spend my day farming, mining, and fishing.

I first experienced the Tales universe playing Tales of Phantasia on the GBA. After that, I started looking for Tales of Symphonia but could never seem to find it. I ended up grabbing and playing Dawn of the New World first, but once I finally got my mitts on Tales of Symphonia that immediately became my favorite game in the series. Since then I have played the 3DS version of Tales of the Abyss, and I’ve played Tales of Graces. Both of those games had a serious problem that for me was ultimately a turn off for the entire series – at least until I read a review about an entry that doesn’t feature this.

The problem is what I call “Artificial Story Augmentation.” That’s a really fancy way of saying that in order to make the game longer, these games feature epic boss battles against the game’s main villain, and then through some kind of deux ex machina undo all the damage and the villain gets away so you have to fight them (and probably all of their biggest allies) again. In both games, there was no reason for this. The RPGs were already 30-40 hours long, with most if not all of the major plot points and side stories resolved. Why bother extending the game by another 10 hours by simply bringing back the same villain for no reason? It’s poor writing and it makes the game nearly impossible for me to finish. This is the same sort of problem present in Bravely Default – the only difference is that in Bravely Default it actually made some kind of sense. Of course, I still hate the ending of that game too. Bottom line – do not make players repeat the same villains or segments of the game unless you bring back the villains in a sensible way and there is a significant change in gameplay that prevents the repeated area from feeling, well, repetitive.

When it comes to Paper Mario, I have very strong feelings, feelings that I have realized make it difficult for me to speak about the series in a calm, objective manner. So let me just say this. As someone who has been playing the games since the original Paper Mario came out, I have been waiting for over 10 years for a proper sequel to The Thousand Year Door, one that captures both the spirit and the gameplay of the original two titles. That sequel never came, and by the look of things Color Splash is not going to be the answer to my prayers. Perhaps it will come out and surprise me – but I doubt it.

“Well, Grumpy,” you might say to me, “if you miss all these old games so much, why don’t you just play those?”

I do. I probably replay Thousand Year Door once a year, maybe once every couple of years. I played through Tales of Symphonia again a few months back, and while my replays of games like Harvest Moon: Magical Melody, Mega Man Star Force, and Golden Sun: Dark Dawn have not been quite as recent, I still do revisit them and have done so ever since their release.

Here’s the problem. At some point, even the strongest feelings of nostalgia cannot cover up the fact that YOU HAVE PLAYED THIS GAME 100 TIMES! Eventually, weariness sets in and the mind wants something more than reliving memories of the same great experience. Either something new has to come along, or you simply have to accept that the franchise has died. You pay your respects, you grieve, and you move on.

Now if I’ll ever actually be able to do that will depend a lot on the series. Harvest Moon, Tales, even Golden Sun I can see myself just letting go. Mega Man will be tough, as it has been in my life way longer. As for Paper Mario…man, I may never be able to let that go. Only time will tell.

What about you, adventurers? What games do you have serious nostalgia for, and do you think there’s any hope that a new title will allow you to bring all of those happy memories back into the present? Is nostalgia enough, or do you long for something more? Discuss it in the comments so we can all reminisce on the wonderful games of the past.

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One thought on “Is Nostalgia Enough?

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  1. Have you heard of Stardew Valley? PC game that’s supposed to be a modern version of Harvest Moon. I haven’t played it, but I’ve heard good things.

    I’m not a very musical person, but almost all of my video game nostalgia is tied into game music. Sonic 2, Fantastic Dizzy, Ecco the Dolphin: Tides of Time, Shinobi III, Ninja Gaiden III (Atari Lynx), Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, Age of Empires, Goldeneye 64, Starcraft, and Halo all spring to mind, because as soon as I hear a few notes from their soundtracks I immediately feel that wave of nostalgia wash over me. Similarly, any time I hear songs from Relient K’s “Two Lefts…” I think of Perfect Dark, because I’d stay up late listening to that CD on loop and playing round after round of me vs. MeatSims.

    But yeah, sometimes nostalgia isn’t enough. I recently was planning on working up a speedrun for Fantastic Dizzy, which is a game from my childhood that I love, and I’ve tried starting it up and playing a handful of times, but…it’s just not grabbing me the way it used to. At the same time, I’ve been playing a hacked Russian version of Halo 3’s online multiplayer and loving it, so…it probably varies heavily on mood and what else the game offers 🙂

    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

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