Gaming Memories: Death Peak

One of the reasons I started this site was to archive some of my personal memories with video games. Memory is a fleeting thing, so it brings me pleasure to not only relive choice gaming experiences, but also to record them in some way. This, my first entry, will be about my favorite game of all time, Chrono Trigger. My memory of receiving it as a gift is under my Top 20 page, but there are plenty more to go around.

chrono3

The weather here in Illinois has been unseasonably warm lately, but when I left class earlier tonight it finally felt like November. Every year, around this time, I have flashbacks to my first time with Chrono Trigger. I got it as a gift 21 years ago today, actually. It’s hard to believe it’s been so long.

chrono+trigger-+trial

As the weather got colder that year, I was grateful to have something so engrossing to entertain me while I kept toasty inside. The snow fell early and hard, and I remember it coinciding with my arrival at Death Peak in the game. Death Peak is a large, snow-capped mountain with ravaging winds that you must traverse with the game’s supporting characters in your quest to revive Crono, the main character (or yourself, if he is an avatar for the player). The constantly falling snow whips in every direction, and the frequent gusts will blow you off the mountain if you don’t take cover behind a tree or outcropping. I’ve always had an active imagination, so I fully embraced this mini-game, mentally huffing and puffing as I made my way from frigid shelter to frigid shelter.

I first truly realized I was in love with the game as I trundled home from school the day after starting up Death Peak. In a coincidence cooked up by serendipity, there were two or three feet of fresh snow on the ground and gusty winds pelted my face with newly falling flakes. I took the city bus home at the time, so I had about a mile to walk to get to the stop. The sidewalks were unshoveled, so I decided to cut across the long, broad fields of a local high school. The wind bit my cheeks and my eyes welled with tears as I dragged my snow-crusted legs through the drifts. I remember feeling like I was on Death Peak. There were no trees to hide behind, but my imagination conjured up the swooshy wind sounds and the epic soundtrack as I squinted against the blinding storm. I wasn’t on my way to rescue anyone, only to return to the warm, dry shelter of my living room, where I could huddle under a blanket and return to my quest to save myself (as Crono) from death. It was all I could think about, and all that I wanted to do.

It’s a simple memory. There’s not much to it, really. But it lives on vividly in my mind, and I treasure it deeply. I’m playing Chrono Trigger again right now, actually, and the warm places in my heart are being rekindled all over again. I’m sure the snow will be falling again soon, in real life. Bring it on.

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.