People say life is short and I guess on a cosmic level that’s true but try standing in line for a t-shirt at a Guns n' Roses concert and see if your concept of quantum theory doesn't shift toward "just kill me already". Still, when people say it I briefly panic. I think of all the things I intended to do with my life like visit Europe, write a manifesto about starting a cat cult, or lose enough weight so that my belly doesn’t jiggle uncontrollably when I brush my teeth. There’s also video games I meant to play and big ones too. I’m all about backlogs and beating or at the very least playing and experiencing big time titles that have impacted the gaming medium the most. If I died today, kicked the bucket so to speak, there are some games that I never got around to beating that will shame my name for an eternity or at least until my remains are completely removed from the cult's sanctuary and my family is officially told it was a "boating accident". The following games are on my bucket list, no doubt, I just haven’t gotten around to finishing them yet.
Super Mario Bros 3
People say to me all the time, “Travis, you’re a stupid idiot” when I tell them I haven’t beaten this game. Don’t get me wrong though, I’ve played it. Who hasn’t? I’ve made it fairly far even, maybe halfway or more. I just haven’t achieved credits! But I feel real, authentic, adult shame as it’s routinely listed as the #1 game on my favorite all-time console, the NES, and I haven’t beaten it. To be fair, I only recently beat the first and second games within the last year or so and I only did that to officially say that I had done it, not because I necessarily wanted to. Those games are a rite of passage. The original game haunted me as a kid as I watched my dad and sister beat it while I was five and still figuring out what thumbs were for. Until then, they were just an extra thing to get sticky. By the time I was old enough to have the thumb control and patience to beat it, I had moved onto newer consoles and Mario on the NES was old-hat. I mean, I still picked my nose in public and had to be asked if I needed to use the bathroom before I left the house but I had moved on from Mario as all kids eventually did. The second Mario game never interested me because it was so different than the original and it seemed more cryptic and ambiguous. My recent play-through of the second game was enjoyable though and I might even rank it above the original in terms of fun but nothing beats the first game for nostalgia and the overall impact it had on gaming as a whole.
In summary, the hold up with this one is just interest. There’s nothing to discover with it – I’m so familiar with Mario and the ins-and-outs of the world that the thought of playing the game to beat it doesn’t excite me even though I know it’s a fantastic game. Again, I’ve played enough to know that but achieving those credits someday will close a chapter on the original Mario trilogy that shaped gaming for a generation.
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
When people ask me what my favorite all-time gaming franchise is, I like to stand up and shout to them proudly, “LEGEND OF ZELDA!” They then tend to bring up Ocarina of Time and tell me how that is their favorite game ever and I have to stop them… “Woah woah whoa,” I say. “I’ve never finished that one, don’t spoil anything.” And they’re like, “Travis, you’re a stupid idiot!”
I don’t have any real excuses for this other than these three very valid ones:
1) I didn’t have a Nintendo 64 growing up. I borrowed one from a friend when I was in middle school and played the games HIS parents bought for it. My parents weren’t going to buy me a game for a console I didn’t own. So I played a lot of Pilot Wings and Super Mario 64. It was fun. But Ocarina of Time was not accessible to me for years. Renting it wouldn't have made sense, I wanted this one for the long haul.
2) When I did play it – it was too different from the original and I didn’t like it. Many years later, maybe early college, I emulated the game like all kids who finally got high speed internet in 2003 did by downloading everything available on the internet to their 3gb hard-drives on their Compaq Presario’s. I love the original Legend of Zelda more than I’ll probably love any other game until I die. It’s covered in a thick layer of impenetrable nostalgia and to me the game still holds up wonderfully. Turn that into a blurry 3D landscape with talking trees and a fairy that just won’t let things be and I realized we’re not having the same experience anymore. Sure, same character, same world, and almost the same story but the shift in perspective was not for me then.
3) I played about ten hours of the game before I lost my save. Nothing burns me from playing a game more than the idea of redoing long sections of something. Even if I enjoyed those sections, the idea of redoing ANYTHING bothers me. People re-read books or re-watch movies. I hate it. I sometimes take a different way to work five days in a row just because repetition causes my mind to become so impatient and restless that I’d rather swerve into oncoming traffic just to give the day a little excitement. So, I haven’t had the gall to jump back in and start all over again… for a 6th time. That’s right, I’ve started this game so many times over the years and lost interest right around the time I’m supposed to find a bunch of chickens that it’s literally not at all funny.
So in summary, restricted access, stylistic indifference, and mental hurdles have caused me to stray from it. Occasionally I get the itch and one day I’m sure I’ll dive back in and finally graduate to legit Zelda fan. Until then I'm a Zelda charlatan I guess.
Dark Cloud 2
People sometimes say to me, “Travis, I heard you love Dark Cloud?” to which I reply positively. “Dark Cloud is amaze-tits!,” I proclaim with the air of British general from the revolution. Any British revolution, really. Pick your own. They then ask, “So, how’s the second one?” And I say, “Well, you see, I haven’t finished it but…” and they cut me off sharply by saying, “Travis, you’re a stupid idiot!”
Well, let me explain. First of all, the original Dark Cloud IS pretty awesome. It’s probably heightened in my mind because I felt like I discovered it. I saw it in a store, the guy on the cover looked like Link and I loved Zelda (see previous entry) and thought I’d give it a whirl. As it turned out, I loved it but no one else had played it so I had really no one to talk to or share the experience with. So when the game did come up, I would hype the hell out of it so others would take a chance on it, play it, and talk to me about it. I still think the game is fine, lots of fun, but I agree it’s probably not the greatest thing ever made even if I’ve made it seem that way.
When Dark Cloud 2 was announced I was all over it. Picked it up, got used to the art style, and played the crap out of it. THE CRAP. I put about 50-60 hours into it and spent a lot of time inventing items and taking pictures. These were parts of the sequel that were not in the original that I found sometimes arduous but enjoyable enough. Then my oldest nephew came over and my mom told him he could play my PS2 for a bit even though I wasn’t home. He was probably 8 or 9, maybe younger. Old enough to be innocently stupid and exempt from being tossed out a window or burned to death as punishment. He turned on the PS2 which had Dark Cloud 2 in it, loaded my previous save, immediately went to save and saved over it. He then did that to the remaining two saves effectively erasing all my progress. He didn’t know what he was doing, he didn’t own a PS2 (or really anything, he's 8)(or 9?)(IDK)(Young...), that’s why he wanted to play mine. He was just button mashing in the menus trying to figure out what to do but alas all of my hard work was gone. I was heartbroken. It was so much of my time that now no longer existed. It’s been almost 13 years now and I still haven’t had the heart to go back to that game. And you know how I am about repeating things. I also fantasize about engulfing him with fire ants on regular occasions but I convince myself that he was just a boy at the time.
Final Fantasy VII
Everybody has a nemesis. Whether it’s the cuter girl at work, the friend that just won’t let you have your own opinion, or a video game that mocks you just by being on your shelf – we all have inner struggle, inner-conflict, and tough-to-swallow failures in life. One of mine is Final Fantasy VII.
I started playing FF7 a few holidays ago. I work for a university and it shuts down for a couple weeks during the holiday season as all the kiddies go home to their parents. It’s a perfect time for me to clear out the backlog and so tackling a big RPG like FF7 seemed smart. Things were going well, I met a lot of folks on my journey, leveled up, grasped the story and appreciated the game. I told all my friends that I “GOT” FF7 meaning I understood what made it so great and so revered by those who played it twenty years ago and I totally got why it’s a classic today.
Occasionally people will ask me, “Did you ever get around to finishing Final Fantasy VII?” to which I say, timidly, “No”. Without missing a beat, they always come back with, “Travis, you’re a stupid idiot!”
See, I got really far in the game. Maybe… too far. This won’t spoil anything but near the end you descend into cave that’s built much like a labyrinth with only one chance to save in your pocket. Was that a spoiler? I might have used the chance to save too soon and now I find the troubles that lie ahead of me to be insurmountable. Per my research, I’m a door away from Sephiroth, the game’s ultimate villain and final boss. Unfortunately, I’m ill-equipped and underpowered for any final boss much less the penultimate bastard blocking the doorway. I can’t really farm in my area and level up as I have nowhere to re-save or lick my wounds. I could backtrack but I don’t really want to. Unfortunately, it appears to be my only option. The replaying thing is a big deal for me, if you can’t tell.
There are four decent games that have strong personal ties to me and have left big marks on the gaming industry. I hope to one day finally finish these as doing so would remove "small", self-imposed burdens. Some others that need my attention include LoZ Majora’s Mask and Skyward Sword. On the Super Nintendo, I’ve not even finished Super Mario World, Earthbound, or Chrono Trigger though a couple of those are cost prohibitive unless I want to emulate or play on a different system – which I don’t really want to do. That’s my problem though. For Genesis, I’ve not finished Sonic 3 or any Sonic featuring Knuckles. I want to one day complete Shenmue on Dreamcast or play Snatcher on the Sega CD. There’s so many games, so many GREAT games, that I’ve not played or had the means to play. LoZ Breath of the Wild is another one I hope to get to someday… but the pile grows and grows.