Nostalgia is, in some ways, much like wine. It can greaten with age or sour like vinegar, and yet we still get intoxicated by it one way or the other. Nowhere is this more tested than in our love of games.
Now, I’m not just talking about how those old graphics have become laughable, or how the lack of an online presence may appear primitive; those factors are often pushed aside when we think of the games that captured our imagination when we were kids. And captured us they did, as some didn’t quite let go. Either we feel the warmth of their impression on us years later, or we see the marks they made on our memory like hideous scars.
It’s with this kind of scrutinous reflection that I’ll be writing these articles, going through some of the unsung heroes and renowned champions of the games that spiced up my childhood. That doesn’t mean I’ll be blindly hailing Goldeneye 64 as ‘teh gr8tst shootr eva’ or any bull like that, instead I’ll be reliving my childhood with games that, more than once, have conjured many a cocked heads and confused glances.
So let’s put on those rose tinted glasses and see if nostalgia ends up forcing thorns in our eyes, or if there really is something glimmering beyond the lenses.
At a Glance
First of all, yes, I know, the PS1 was 32-bit but I grew up mostly praying at the shrine of the N64. So sue me. Anyway…What with all the recent commotion over Pokemon Go lately (okay, there was at the time of writing, it’s most likely dead and buried by now but whatever, get off my back) I can’t help but feel a warmth in my heart over the stunted little brother of the 90’s miniature monster slave trend; Digimon.
Of course, even without hindsight people would have been wise to say that Digimon was to Pokemon what Hershey’s is to Dairy Milk (and if you think that comparison is wrong then you’re wrong) and was doomed to fail. But hey, Digimon is still churning out TV shows and games, much in the same way that the Russians lost the space race to the Yanks, but they’ve got rockets now, don’t they?
Anyway, as I was supposed to be saying, my memories of Digimon have been kicked up like a cloud of dust by the social stampede that is Pokemon Go, so I’ll begin my little stroll down memory lane by discussing what is to this day quite possibly one of my most favouritest games of all time (or, y’know, the last 25 years), and that game is the very first (and in my eyes, last) Digimon World.
So the magical adventure into cyberspace kicks off with one of those little Digimon toys/pedometres things gaining sentience and choosing to use its new found intelligence to drag some clueless kid (aka, you) into the Digimon world, which frankly sounds like something the toy developers should have warned people about.
As Anonymous Alan comes too he finds himself in a crude parody of the real world, with talking virtual monsters surrounding him like a group of robed priests about to start a human sacrifice. After some internal debate the creatures seem to be okay with letting you live, so they do the polite thing after irreversibly ruining someone’s young life and ask you what your name is. It’s at this point you are introduced to your very own Digimon, who is either that fire lizard guy, Agumon, who is totally not a rip off of Charmander, or the seal clubbing horned baby wolf thing, Gabumon, depending on whether you said you preferred day or night when loading the game up for the first time (oh yeah, that, I forgot to mention that vital, game-changing detail earlier).
When your protagonist feels comfortably synced with the situation and can confirm that they are not suffering from a concussion, you are told that there’s some evil shit going down in their world (naturally) and it’s up to you to fix it (again, naturally). You’re also informed that this huge village once housed a lot of other weird, just-different-enough-to-not-be-Pokemon monsters, but they all went crazy (or something) and fucked off, so would you be kind enough to ask them to come back? You know, when the whole homicidal rage thing wears off. And so begins your journey to save the world, win over the hearts of your enemies, and discover how the hell meat grows like plants (because yeah, it sprouts from the ground here, read into that how you will).
Okay, at this point you may be thinking; “What’s with this negative spin, you cynical bastard? I thought you liked this game!” And yes, you’re right, I started this with good intentions to portray this game as wonderfully as possible, but come on; it’s a Japanese ported game, so of course the story is going to be ridiculously retarded. That wasn’t what snagged me as a kid, or any other time I bought the game later on in life (which as I’m writing this, is a total of seven times), but the gameplay was.
Naturally the focus of Digimon World is the Digimon; namely your Digimon. You’re more than welcome to form a bond with the miniature biological weapon plodding uncomfortably close to your heels, but damnit if the whole world isn’t trying to kill each other, and you don’t fend off a fireball to the face by playing nice. So, in a good old fashioned RPG way, you must empower your little ray of sunshine and death, get them nice and strong, and force them to completely reconstruct themselves into some new, slightly larger monster. This is mostly done at the gym next to the starting village, which has been outfitted with enough decrepit looking equipment to fuel a movie trilogy’s worth of training montages.
This is when you learn that despite being made of 0’s and 1’s, this creature hammering away at a log post is still a creature; one with wants and needs. Thankfully, love isn’t one of them, because it’d inevitably be heartbroken after being forced to exercise day and night. No, much like a hamster with a butcher’s knife strapped to it’s back, this dangerous animal still needs to eat, sleep and, well, shit. And despite being comfortable sleeping on the cold hard ground your Digimon needs to use a toilet when simulated nature comes a’knocking.
Trust me, you want to comply with that desire as much as possible. If forcing a creature to run around a track relentlessly seems cruel, imagine how much of a bastard you’d be demanding they raise their knees and go faster, faster damnit, when they’re constantly tripping over their own faeces. Besides, if you don’t let them go and do what they need to do then you’ll get a horrendous surprise, which I’ll touch upon later. Anyway, you train them to hone their strength, agility, intelligence, and what not until they get halfway passable to fighting other digital mons, and thus the fun begins.
Upon exploring the world you’ll encounter both the aforementioned temporarily insane (or amnesiac, it varies from time to time) Digimon that left home as well as slightly different coloured cannon fodder doppelgangers. Finding the runaways is an immensely diverse and entertaining endeavour, as certain times of day, conditions, and a whole mess of variables decide whether or not a certain area will house one of the guys you’re meant to drag back to the village. When you run into them, or indeed any hostile and feral creature, a battle will begin, revealing a battle system that appears to be mostly random, yet actually requires careful planning.
..Okay, it doesn’t really at first. Chances are by the time you’re brave enough to venture out into the wilderness your companion will still be as smart as the log you made it hit for a week on end, so it won’t understand any commands and simply run around in circles arbitrarily firing off attacks. You ‘control’ your partner by shouting out attacks, such as ‘Do that thing where you melt the guy’s face off’ or ‘No, not that you fucking moron, that other thing’, or strategic maneuvers, like ‘Get some distance between you guys’ and ‘There, it’s had enough space, go see if it wants to go out for a drink now’. All of this is, undoubtedly, a confusing affair yet the stronger and smarter it gets, the more likely it’ll actually understand and obey you.
Kill enough enemies, I mean, knock out enough foes and then watch them run away, and eventually your Digimon’ll digivolve. Digivolve…Man, even writing that feels wrong, but you know that whoever thought of that tagline would have gotten a raise. Anyway, the process is a combination of really awesome and deeply alarming, as the camera focuses on your faithful friend, when suddenly their skin explodes. Yeah, it explodes off their frame, leaving the wire model exposed. As I said, it’s pretty cool, but if I were that kid I would have been screaming whilst scrambling to pick up the pieces of their discarded husk. You let them do their thing then eventually a bright light will engulf them, and when the dust has settled your new Digimon is standing before you, in all it’s glory.
Or, at least, that’s the intended effect. A plethora of petty reasons can drastically alter what your partner metamorphosizes into; anything from a single point of strength to that one time you starved them a little. And then there’s whether or not you let them use the toilet…If you don’t then you have to live with your shame for quite sometime, as your beautiful companion with petals protruding from it’s head could suddenly transform into a giant, living piece of shit. Literally, a giant yellow piece of shit that jumps around behind you. And it even eats shit, almost as if it’s trying to erase all of the reasons it ever mutated into the fowl freak that lurks behind you. When you get that not only do you pray for it to die, you want to die with it. Yet you’ll know that that huge, conscious piece of filth is your fault, and your responsibility.
That, however, doesn’t make it any less enjoyable when you watch it grasp aimlessly at the sky and finally fall of this mortal coil. At this point, kid me was taught about life and death, and oddly, reincarnation, as when your partner expires, either through being beaten up too much or natural old age, it deteriorates like a feeble flower in a hurricane. In the place of a discarded pile of virtual flesh, however, is an egg, and you get to start the whole process all over again. Birth, training, fighting, death; rinse and repeat. Even as a child I felt bad that I was making this animal rise from it’s own grave time and time again for my amusement.
But your guilt will soon dissipate, or at least mine did, when you realise you have a blank slate once again. Having learnt from your mistakes, you get to charge straight back out into that big, wide open world (or, y’know, back to the gym again. Don’t tell me forcing a newly hatched baby to push a huge boulder is ‘morally wrong’ or ‘the worst thing you’ve ever heard of’) and see what you and your partner can achieve. Not really, you’re still a dopey kid shouting at a creature with Stockholm Syndrome.
Those Finishing Touches
There’s so much more to say about Digimon World, but I’ve rambled enough as it is. Mostly about that genuine, not figurative but actual piece of shit Digimon; I just can’t get over it. But there’s more to the game, both beautiful and bizarre, that simply demands to be played first hand. Mini games, mind games, a rich world and wonderful, albeit weird, characters. And even if you don’t care for the obscurely translated dialogue that that weird monkey man monster is spouting, you can simply kick off. Just have your gigantic, skeleton of a friggin’ tyrannosaurus rex burn it alive merely by breathing on it, it’s breath of which is a potent fusion of rum, gasoline and an exposed flame.
It’s got a pretty overarching story going on, with your power being something that’s required for salvation, or whatever. And yet, you don’t care, you just managed to get a goddamn wolf with ice for blood rend an angel’s wings out. Sure, the graphics (and the PG age rating) don’t allow you to see half a bloody wing clamped between a frozen, rabid beast’s jaws, but it doesn’t matter; it’s fun, and if it were a real fight you know it would be brutal.
Digimon World manages to create an experience quite unlike, and often better than, the white horse of the metaphorical creature market. Sure, Pokemon won, and honestly I can’t say a bad word against it. Yet this game made by ragtags clutching onto a rival’s coattails is a true hidden gem on the PlayStation. That may be a bold claim with so much else to consider, yet no game (or, perhaps no 18+ game) has managed to entertain me for so long, so consistently, and so absolutely.
By Tom Simpkins