My issue is that I grew up poor which meant I kind of never packed my retro consoles away, I just kept replaying my favorite games. And when the consoles did finally get put away, emulation was there to pick up the slack.
So, for example, I’ve replayed the original Donkey Kong Country just about every Christmas since it came out. I cannot count the number of times I’ve played Sonic Adventure from beginning to end, particularly because when I got it, I bought a third party VMU with it that had a tendency to erase my save file – meaning that for the first, two years of owning that game, every time I’d load it up my file would be gone and I’d have to start over from scratch.
A lot of my nostalgia for these games entered a kind of arrested development where I don’t have wistful memories of any kind of specific time or place. If I really squint, really focus down, I can get sort of a flash of what it felt like playing these games for their first times. For instance, going back to Donkey Kong Country, that game was one of the last times I ever peeked at my Christmas presents, because I knew my Mom hid them under her bed.
I’m willing to bet Final Fantasy VII would definitely do it, if I ever got back around to replaying it. That game was my life for a whole year. This was a year or two before we got the internet installed in our home, so I had to finish most of that game on my own – especially given that I turned to Gamepro magazine to help me out only to find out they were patently wrong about a lot of stuff. I’d sworn by Gamepro years earlier, with their ProStrategy guide for Sonic 3, but when it came to Final Fantasy VII, it was obvious they’d only played a preview version of the game that was missing a lot of stuff.
I’d gotten Final Fantasy VII (and a PS1 to play it on) for Christmas in 1997, you see, and my Mom didn’t realize a memory card was basically essential. So I had a whole 24-48 hours where I could play my games, but I couldn’t save any of my progress. And since what I really wanted to do was play FF7, that meant leaving the console on, even while I was not actively playing the game. Gamepro had said disc 1 ended when you left Midgar (about 7 hours in to the game), so I figured that would be a good stopping point.
Much to my surprise, the game kept going. And going. Eventually I realized I was never going to hit the “end of disc 1” message and that Gamepro was wrong.
Previously, when Gamepro had begun printing a “ProStrategy Guide,” it meant they were going to cover the whole game, too. Maybe because of their screw up with the discs or maybe because Gamepro itself wasn’t doing so hot in those days, but their Final Fantasy VII guide never continued on beyond that first part.
So, I did it the old fashioned way. I’d meticulously comb through every town, talking to every NPC not just twice, but often five or ten times over the course of the game just to see what had changed. I’d consult friends on what they did (to which one very casually spoiled me on the fate of Aeris and began my hatred of spoilers). And I’d just wander the world map, humping every rock, tree and shore in the hopes of finding a secret entrance to somewhere new.
Final Fantasy VII was my first “real” JRPG. I’d owned Final Fantasy II (IV), but I was young enough that JRPGs were difficult for me to wrap my head around. Thankfully, I had a Game Genie, so it was as simple as looking up the “infinite exp” codes in various codebooks that were sold at department stores and supermarkets. I happily breezed through games like Chrono Trigger and Earthbound at level 99. Super Mario RPG was the first time I played a game that really stopped to explain what was going on, and Final Fantasy VII was my first actual test of that understanding.
By the end, I was toting a 100+ hour save file with most of my group at level 99, all limit breaks, all master materia, a max-level Gold Chocobo, and everybody’s ultimate weapon – except for Cloud, whose Ultima Sword was eaten by a Magic Pot as I fought my way back out of the final dungeon. I’d beaten both the Ruby and Emerald weapons, too, and even figured out a weird way to break the game in to letting me cast Knights Of The Round in an endless loop for zero MP. (I don’t remember how to do that now, it was some combination of W-Summon, Mimic, and reflecting spells off other characters).
When we finally got the internet, I became obsessed with investigating theories for resurrecting Aeris. I kept half a dozen save files at different points across the game. I had my own website on my high school’s web server dedicated to reporting my findings. I’d even briefly written my own Final Fantasy VII fanfiction.
With the world map fully explored and theories drying up in the wake of Final Fantasy VIII, I stopped having a reason to obsessively play VII anymore. So I moved on, and haven’t touched the game since.