We are now into October, and while this Fall's storm of new releases might not be as violent as last year's, those who enjoy riding the new release train face a daunting task.
The tension between time, money, and games was thrown into sharp relief last week, when Jorge and I discussed the Fall lineup in detail. I realized that, even after discounting all of the Lego games, rhythm games, and Lego-rhythm games, there is still a sizable list of titles I want to experience. Some, like Assassin's Creed 2, are basically double the commitment, as my own personal neuroses prohibit me from playing the second game before the first one. Others are unexpected surprises like Brutal Legend or Demon's Souls. There are also games that I have been anticipating for months, like New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Modern Warfare 2.
On top of this, there is my pile of shame to attend to: I've been stuck on the last boss of Henry Hatsworth for weeks. I've been a quarter of the way through Killer7 for months, and I have yet to even finish a Halo game! How can I possibly alleviate the pressure to keep up and the anxiety of knowing that there are games out there that I am missing. My only recourse is to lock myself inside, order ten cases of BAWLS, and power through the entirety of my back catalogue.
On second thought, perhaps I'll just play Secret of Mana instead.
Since its release in 1993, Secret of Mana has become one of the few games that I revisit when life gets hectic. A combination of its gameplay, its presentation, and its nostalgic cache have kept me coming back for the past fifteen years.
Secret of Mana's battle system stands out as unique, even after all this time. While character movement and attacks take place in real time, the implementation of an attack meter prevents combat from devolving into button mashing. Cool-down time between attacks and optional charge-up techniques must be weighed carefully against the need for immediate action. While spell selection pauses the battle, casting is done in real time, allowing the player or enemies brief opportunities to counter-attack.
Unlike most other JRPGs, Secret of Mana's combat is integrated with its landscape. The random enemy encounters found in games like Breath of Fire and Final Fantasy IV whisked players into contrived arenas made to look, feel, and sound different than theoverworld areas. Secret of Mana always made me feel like I was exploring an actual world, as the land in which I encountered beasts and the land in which I explored for treasure were one and the same.
The game is not without its shortcomings. The plot is best described as cornballs served with a side of cheese, sprinkled with genre conventions. The heroes are a young boy who finds his destiny in mysteriously intertwined with a magical, a rebellious princess whose moxy hides a sentimental side, and magical sprite robbed of his identity by amnesia. Plot twists can be seen from a mile away, and certain parts of the localization are a bit suspect.
In true 1990s JRPG form, menu tweaking and EXP grinding were often the order of the day. The game could be played by up to three players simultaneously, but solo adventurers were left to grapple with the AI. Computer controlled characters often fell victim to the most dastardly of traps: the corner!
Despite all this, I am continually drawn back by the game's ability to evoke a sense of exploration. When I first played the game, Google, YouTube, and rabid fans had yet to create the exhaustive amount of reference material that exists today. Because of this, Secret of Mana lived up to its name; the title screen itself teased the end of the game, challenging players to find their way to the Eden pictured in the opening credits. When my nerdier friends and I would gather on the weekends to exchange tips on weapon upgrades and discuss the best spell combinations, we would often veer off into conversations about the game's fiction and begin theorizing about the laws that governed this fantastic world. Even today, that haunting opening song brings me right back to the first time I played it.
I cannot be the only one inclined to wax nostalgic about old games, so I will turn it over to you folks: What are your "security blanket" games? Which titles still have the power to trump the newest, shiniest new releases? Did anyone else get a few goosebumps while watching that last video, or is that just me?