For most, the seminal cinematic moments of their childhood can still be easily visualized, and those same emotions from decades ago can be just as readily mined while reflecting upon anything from the tragedy of Bambi's mother to the majesty of E.T. and Elliott seemingly flying their bikes past the moon or the first time they saw the words "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" accompanied by that bounding John Williams score. One of the most vivid and cherished silver screen memories of my early (or some might say "Wonder") years involves a whole lot of Fred Savage and some heavy product placement from one of my favorite brands of all-time, Nintendo. I speak of course of the surprise Super Mario Bros. 3 launch that sets up the climax of one of 1989's proudest accomplishments - The Wizard. Despite being shocked by the Beyoncé-esque drop of one of the greatest games of all time, our hero doesn't falter and secures legendary "Video Head" status with a staggering 81,520 points to smoke the competition. Now, over two decades later, I have made it my life's goal (read: one random Saturday night's goal) to see if all these years of gaming have finally molded me into a supreme gamer who is worthy of being crowned "The Wizard".
Over the past couple of years, one of the most unexpected yet welcome additions to video games has been a rise in game developers utilizing pinball mechanics in non-traditional ways for exciting new takes on well established genres. Starting with the sublime marriage of pinball and Metroidvanias in 2018's Yoku's Island Express and further expanded in last year's dungeon crawler, Creature in the Well, the love poems to pinball may have reached their peak with the brilliant and addictive Peggle meets Slay the Spire magic of Roundguard.
After surviving 60 hours of brutally punishing bosses in Bloodborne, my first instinct was to move on to some far less stressful and easier, breezier fare. In the ensuing days, every time I booted up my PS4, I saw that Bloodborne icon and tried desperately to convince myself not to give into the temptation of initiating a sadistic New Game+ run just to see how skilled I had become. For a few nights at least, I kept the siren's calls at bay, but the following Saturday night while bored, I thought "What could possibly be the harm?" in checking out the latest FromSoftware Opus, Sekiro, which had been sitting on my Playstation since a super holiday sale last year. This compromise of playing something new would surely placate my desire for a challenge and allow me to move on with my gaming life. Naturally, this quick peak into the world of Sekiro soon blew up into a month of repeatedly dying until I could once again add another gaming badge of courage to my collection that can only come from defeating a Soulsborne game.
If the past few years of having this blog have taught me anything about my gaming habits, it's that I tend to blast through games as quickly as possible just to get to the next in an ever-expanding backlog of titles I've convinced myself I absolutely must play. Without such a "gaming ethic", I never would have been able to get through the 70+ titles I have each of the past two years. As a result, everything feels a little rushed, and I never truly appreciate the marvelous works unfolding before me.
The true highlight of any FromSoftware game is its massive and crushing boss battles. With each passing boss, I found myself more and more absorbed in the game's intoxicating cycle of death and learning. There's an unbelievable sense of accomplishment that comes from finally adapting to a boss's patterns and besting them after they've taken so many lives from you that makes the hours of building yourself up and cursing the nightmare of Yharnam worth it.
Part of the undeniable charm of the JRPG genre is the inherent weirdness that it bestows upon our boring, AAA-loving Western selves. By adding a dash of the unexpected and sometimes nonsensical to the mix, these games inspired a wealth of creativity in game design for all genres, and their success convinced other markets to take bigger, bolder chances that have paid off in spades with recent triumphs like Untitled Goose Game. This endearing ball of oddity shines the brightest in the frequent use of random-ass minigames or mechanics that break up the repetitive grind of neverending enemy encounters. Perhaps the brightest beacon of the delightfully strange minigame can be found in the 1997 masterpiece Final Fantasy VII where you can revel in over 20 amusing diversions from the impending end of the world and the pain of lost beloved characters. Hell, they even constructed a theme park, the Gold Saucer, devoted to these mesmerizingly short but sweet gameplay changeups.
In my 30+ years of playing video games, many moments have stuck with me. Whether it's the wonder induced by the first time finding a warp pipe in the OG Super Mario, the shock of traveling forward 7 years to a world of ruin in The Ocarina of Time, or the sheer terror instilled by zombie dogs crashing through windows in Resident Evil, video games have provided a treasure trove of new experiences and emotions. No moment, however, has had as big of an impact on me and my view of what video games can be as the death of Aeris in the greatest JRPG of all-time, Final Fantasy VII. While it's importance has remained strong over the past two plus decades, my relationship and reaction to one of video game's greatest tragedies has evolved.