Birth of a Backlog

I’ve felt pretty fortunate lately. For the last handful of years I’ve always been behind on new releases, still catching up on games that came out months ago while reading about the latest, most exciting releases. I was able to catch up at some point, so I’ve actually been playing new games as they release these last few months, and it feels nice to do something as simple as tweet a screenshot to a game that people are actively still engaging with.

That’s not to say I don’t have a backlog. I do, and its shadow is long and looming. I chip away at it, when I can. I’m getting ready to start the Assassin’s Creed III remaster, in fact, which will check another game off of ye’ olde list. But I also keep adding to the stack, stretching the shadow out ever longer. I’m probably not alone in this, but I sometimes fantasize about retirement and how I’ll not only have time to travel and read books ‘for fun’ again, but I’ll also have time to actually sit down and start methodically working my way through all of the many games I bought and never got around to playing. And there are a lot of them. If I glance at even just my Nintendo Switch games, I see Civilization VI, Disgaea 1 Complete, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, and Octopath Traveler. That’s like half the games I own for that platform. I just realized that and now I’m even more shook, as the kids say. Well, they don’t say it like that, but… you know what, let’s move on.

So the list is long, but where did it start? I’m a casual collector, so I have Atari 2600 and NES games that I haven’t played, but I bought them years after their release, so they haven’t actually been on my backlog for that long. My family didn’t have much money growing up, so new games were rare and I played every game I got, even if I didn’t much like it (looking at you, ESPN Sunday Night Football). Even when I got my first job, during the late N64/PlayStation era, I was careful with what I spent my meager paychecks on. It was somewhere in this period when it began, though. The list.

Secret of Evermore was released for the SNES in 1995, the same year Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy III, and EarthBound made me fall in love with JRPGs. I’d received Chrono Trigger as a gift, I repeatedly rented Final Fantasy III, and I was lucky enough to find EarthBound on clearance at Best Buy, so a brand new JRPG just wasn’t in the budget for that year. No, it wasn’t until a few years later, with the money from my first job, that I excitedly bought a copy of Secret of Evermore, having waited since its release to play it. I was so in love with Chrono Trigger that this game, being from the same publishers and having similar promotional art, seemed like a perfect game for me.

Secret of Evermore Screenshot small

So how did it end up on my backlog? I had been excited to play it for three or four years, I spent a fair chunk of money from a meager paycheck to buy it, and then… I didn’t play it. Ever. It’s been 20 years and here it sits at the bottom of an ever-growing stack of games that I have bought and want to play. To start, I think it had something to do with the fact that by that point I’d had both an N64 and a PlayStation, and while it’s easy to slip into a classic 2D 16bit game now, at the time it felt less exciting than Final Fantasy VIII or Chrono Cross. Then, in that same year, news of the new Nintendo and PlayStation consoles started spinning up, so I got caught up in the excitement of that, which made sprite-based games even less enticing and easier to hold off on playing until I ‘ran out of things to play.’ I should have known that day would never come.

Once I got a PlayStation 2 and, eventually, a GameCube, it was over. I had a job (at one point, two) and no bills, so I bought a lot of games that I was excited about, even if I had more than I could play at the time. The most egregious was Star Wars Rogue Squadron III: Rebel Strike. I’d played and loved the first game in the series on the N64, and Rogue Squadron II was the very first game I bought for my GameCube at launch. I was in full Star Wars obsession at that point, and in the third game in the series you could pilot ground vehicles like an AT-ST for the first time. An AT-ST! That was so exciting at the time. And so I bought it and, of course, never played it.

Rogue Squadron III screen small
Source: Wikipedia

There are more of these kinds of examples, and there are other stories where I’d buy a game because it’s cheap or I’ve heard good things, but it’s situations like these, with Secret of Evermore, that make the backlog a painful thing, because the further I get from older games, the less fresh and influence-free my experience with them will be. When I play Rogue Squadron III it will have been after years of newer, probably better Star Wars games. This blog is not an attempt to solve this problem, nor do I have the desire to go through every game on what is now an extensive list spanning five console generations. This was mostly my way of excavating the earliest fossil in the pile and attempting to answer that question of “how did I get here?” But, you know what? I did just begin my winter break, and writing this entry has made me determined to play Secret of Evermore at long last. It’s about time, I think.

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