Gaming Memories: Saving Up for Super Mario RPG

It’s the beginning of fall, 1995. I’m twelve. My lifelong love of video games will increase exponentially in a couple of months, when I receive Chrono Trigger for my thirteenth birthday, but before then I am quietly becoming obsessed with a game called Super Mario RPG, for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

Cover

It didn’t yet have it’s subtitle, Legend of the Seven Stars, and I didn’t know much about it outside of what Nintendo Power had teased in recent issues. But I loved Nintendo and Mario games, and this one seemed more mature than Super Mario World. I had no money for games, though, and I couldn’t get the game for either my birthday or Christmas. Nintendo Power originally had it listed as a winter release on their release forecast, and at some point I’d read that it had an official release date in March of 1996. On New Year’s Eve I made a resolution to save up enough money to buy the game on my own. I’d never had very much luck with saving money for anything. Prior to this, after collecting a tidy sum of wrinkled dollars and loose change, I would inevitably succumb to the impure and ancient urges of middle school boys everywhere:  Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and Sprite. You might be surprised by how much junk food you could buy for $5 in the mid-90s.

But this time was different, I told myself. This was not some dumb pair of shoes that I wanted so that I could fit in at school, or a cheap toy that I’d eventually break or get tired of. This was a video game. A treasured, revered piece of technology that was worth far more than the plastic and metal that housed it. And I wouldn’t have to beg for it, hope that my begging worked, and then wait weeks or months for a birthday or Christmas. If I could save up the money I’d need, I could buy it on day one and have it to play all spring and into summer. The thought of it made me very serious about saving up the money, and I felt that it was something I should be able to do as a newly minted teenager. I had three months from New Year’s Eve to save up $50 plus $5 for sales tax. Let’s do this, I might have thought, if I was thirteen in 2015. But it was 1995 so I probably thought something like Totally tubular, dude, let’s do this, cowabunga, or something dumb like that.

I was off to a good start, considering I had a fresh, crisp five dollar bill, a Christmas gift from a relative. Where would I keep this glorious stockpile of cash, though? I knew it would grow to be a big pile of coins and small bills, and I didn’t have a wallet (too young) or a piggy bank (too old). Well, like any self-respecting kid in 1994/95, I was obsessed with Jurassic Park. I saw the movie seven times in the theater that year, and I had as many toys as I could convince my parents to buy me. One of these was a velociraptor egg with baby raptor inside. A part of the egg could snap on and off, allowing you to vaguely simulate that scene in the movie  where a baby raptor is born in front of our very eyes. More importantly, I could toss the baby raptor in a corner and fill the egg with my sweet, sweet stash.

301413-resident-evil-revelations-2-complete-season-playstation-3-front-cover
Source: https://www.therpf.com/showthread.php?t=63123

And so I did. For weeks, I did favors for family members for a few bucks whenever I could (we didn’t really get allowance money for chores or anything), I literally pulled apart our couch looking for stray silver change, and when I wasn’t hungry at school I’d save the three quarters I was given for a school lunch and toss them in my velociraptor egg. It was tempting to spend it all on Ring Pops and Fun Dip at first, but after a few weeks I was proud of the small fortune I’d saved (probably about $15) and became more determined than ever to see this through and get the game.

My obsession heated up, too, because I knew I was going to get it and was more determined than ever to love it. Nintendo Power had gone quiet about it. It was there, on their release forecast every month, but there was no new news or previews to satiate my hunger for the game. I imagined how it might play. Like Chrono Trigger, maybe, but with Mario. Would we learn more about Mario characters like Princess Toadstool and Luigi? Who were some of the other odd characters in the screenshots? I waited, and I dreamed, and I saved up dimes and dollars.

Release Forecast
Source: https://archive.org/stream/Nintendo_Power_Issue001-Issue127/Nintendo%20Power%20Issue%20079%20December%201995#page/n117/mode/2up

As unbelievable as cloning dinosaurs for a theme park might be, I might not have believed I’d be capable of saving up enough for a brand new video game at the age of thirteen. But like John Hammond, somehow I pulled it off. By the beginning of March I’d saved up almost $60. Half of it was loose change, but my mom agreed to buy it from me so I wouldn’t have to embarrass myself at the local Toys “R” Us by dumping a velociraptor’s egg worth of change onto the counter for payment. I counted the money again and again, making sure I had enough, and calculating for unforeseen emergencies like a sudden increase in sales tax. But everything was right and I was ready. I brought my not-so-fresh stack of wrinkled bills to Toys “R” Us and, not seeing a hanging tag for the game on their wall-o-games, proceeded to the video game area to ask if they had that hip new game called Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars in stock so I could purchase it with my very hard-earned money. “Uh, what game,” a young female cashier asked. I repeated myself. “Hold on a sec,” the girl said, and disappeared into the cavernous backroom (you bought games and electronics from a separate area than the registers, with a little window that opened to a stock area). She came back after a minute or two and said they didn’t have it. Can I pre-order it, like other games? “If you could, there would be a tag for it on the wall. Did you see one?” Uh, no. “Sorry. I don’t know when we’ll get it, then.” On the car ride home, I was confused but not dejected. I mean, I had saved up this long, and maybe it was just a week or two from release. I could sit on this egg for a little longer. It would all be more than worth it. But soon after this failure, I received this in the mail:

super_mario_rpg_vol82_cover

When I first saw the cover my pulse quickened. It was as if Nintendo had heard my nerdy prayers and sent its printed messenger to soothe my nerves. Except, well, for one little word.

Preview

But, how? The game was supposed to be released this month! Previews were normally printed two or three months before a game came out! This should be a review! Wait, maybe that was it. Maybe this was a review, but the cover was a mistake. I quickly flipped to the feature and-

May

No. How could this be? What astronomical alignment had cursed me with such a fate? May? That was two whole months away. That was almost as long as it had taken for me to sacrifice every shred of dignity and self-restraint I had to scrape together the money for this game. Do you know how many Flamin’ Hot Cheetos I could have eaten? How much Sprite I could have guzzled down? I could live in a castle made of the Laffy Taffy wrappers I could have gone through with all of that money. Two months. Now, at the ripe old age of too-damn-old, two months is nothing. I forget and remember people’s names in the span of two months. I might buy four or five games in that span. But at the age of thirteen, two months is an epic, stretching eternity. Two months is 1/78 of a thirteen year-old’s whole life. Two months would be 1.3% of my whole life that I’d already lived up to that point. At my age now, it would .5%. Do you see the difference? Two months might as well have been two forevers. I had a stupid egg filled with stupid, useless money that took way too long to save up.

So I bought a Dennis Rodman jersey with it, and used the rest on Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and Sprite. Yep. Not worth it.

 

This Magic Moment

When I was writing my top 20 list for this site, I was constantly wavering between games that I thought were objectively great and games that I had a special, personal experience with. I struggle with that every time I make a list or share my favorite video game/movie/book with people, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot as I make my way through Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate.

Syndicate

So far, Syndicate is as good as I’ve come to expect from an Assassin’s Creed game. The graphics and dedication to environmental detail is superb, the controls are fluid and intuitive, and the combat feels like a well-choreographed dance (when I get in the groove, anyway). With two years and as many AC games between it and Black Flag, it should be a better game. It is, arguably. The graphics are a bit better, the interface is slightly improved, there are some new features. It’s not hitting me as hard as Black Flag, though. I can play Syndicate for a couple of hours and be satisfied with putting the controller down. With Black Flag, I didn’t want to stop playing. Like, ever. I would play for hours, convincing myself I needed to sleep and maybe shower before jumping right back to my swashbuckling adventures. I thought about playing it when I wasn’t playing it. I dreamed about it. I was legitimately sad when I approached 100% completion.

So what is it that’s so different? Black Flag does have the advantage when it comes to setting. As gorgeously rendered as Syndicate’s Victorian London is, it’s, well, Victorian London. Dim, dirty, and drearily urban. Black Flag had some urban areas, but it was the vast, bright, sparkling Caribbean seas and islands that I most vividly remember. I could do all of the same building hopping and street stalking I can do in Syndicate, but then I could hop on my very own pirate ship and sail into the eye of a vicious tropical storm.

AC Black Flag

But can setting really impact my experience with a game that much? It could also have been when I played Black Flag, which was the winter break just after buying my PS4 at launch. So it was an exciting time, because I had time to devote to games and Black Flag was one of my first of the new generation of consoles. Sometimes I can feel pressure to rush through as many games as I can during the breaks between semesters, but I only had a few PS4 games so I gave myself plenty of time to dedicate to playing them. How much does this ‘right place, right time’ factor affect my reception of games? A lot, I would venture to guess. When I reflect on games that I’ve had a strong reaction to (Dragon Quest VIIIFallout 3Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic), I remember the actual act of playing them in addition to the games themselves. The time surrounding their playing seems special in some way. There was a sense of freedom and excitement, despite what my life was like surrounding the game. If I had played any of them, or Black Flag, at a different time, with different expectations/priorities/distractions, would I have become as invested? It seems impossible to know, but the logical part of my brain says that I probably wouldn’t have been ‘pulled in’ or immersed as deeply in some situations. I probably would have liked them, sure, but if I hadn’t had hours to spend playing Dragon Quest VIII while I was on leave, or Fallout 3 when I was job hunting, or Black Flag when I was on break, I probably would not have become as obsessed and overwhelmed by the worlds they presented me with.

Much of this is pointless, I understand that. Who really cares what makes a game a favorite? But it’s interesting to think about, and I do so pretty often, especially as I age and talk with younger gamers about experiences they might not be able to fully appreciate (the transition from 2D to 3D games, for instance). Someone could play Mario Kart 64 and Mario Kart: Double Dash back to back and make the obvious judgement that Double Dash is a better game. It’s a much smoother experience, thanks to improved frame rate, the graphics are much improved, there is more diversity in the gameplay, etc. And I would agree with them. Double Dash is a better game. But there is too much magic surrounding the time I spent with Mario Kart 64 for it to be that simple. I liked Mario Kart 64 more in the moment. If I hadn’t played it when it came out and played it just before I tried Double Dash, I’m sure I would had a completely different opinion of it.

Mario Kart 64

I don’t have a point that I’m working toward here, I’m just sort of talking (or, uh, typing) to myself. The question that often spawns these types of thoughts for me is “what is your favorite game of all time?” Will any game ever unseat my current favorite, Chrono Trigger? I have played better games, probably. I will play better games. But time and nostalgia and that nameless sense of timeless magic will likely prevent me from ever ‘liking’ a game more.