Why Nostalgia can be Both a Good and Bad Thing for Games

One double-edged sword that needs proper care when swinging


Nostalgia. It’s a finicky, fickle mistress. It builds up good memories of games that you absolutely loved when you were growing up to the point that you end up forgetting some of its flaws, only to drag you back down again when a modern game tries to bring back the spirit of it and fail. Nostalgia is basically a distortion of your memories of anything that was good at the time, but if you tried to bring it back now to modernise it you’d probably only find that a select group of people would enjoy it for the old memories while newcomers might find bewildering. 

Now I’m not saying its a bad thing. If there is any series that has grab nostalgia with by the horns and ran with it, I’d say its the Legend of Zelda. I didn’t particularly enjoy the Ocarina of Time game since I came to it fairly late, but I have extremely fond memories of Wind Waker. It’s the one game that I’ll find myself going back to on occasion, even though I’ve played and completed it at least three times now, even though I know every route through every dungeon like the back of my hand, even though I can beat nearly every boss battle with either no to little damage done to our blond mop-haired green-garbed hero. And even since I’ve played other additions to the series, the mysterious tinkling crescendo announcing to the world that you’ve found the Master Sword still causes chills to go up my back and my heart to beat a little quicker.

No matter how many times I’ve done this, finding the Master Sword in a Zelda game never gets old.

But here’s the thing. The reason why that nostalgic feeling of euphoria caused by getting the Master Sword works every time is because its one of only a few familiar things that always turns up in a Legend of Zelda. Each new addition to the series will always have a Link, a Zelda, a Ganon in some form or another, the land of Hyrule in some shape or form, and of course familiar enemies, races and the Master Sword. However, rather than always having the same old course of ‘Ganon kidnaps Zelda because of some Triforce McGuffin reason and therefore Link must go rescue fair damsel in distress’, each game experiments with something new. Wind Waker had you controlling the wind and sailing the seas, hence the title. Twilight Princess had you running around as a wolf in a newly introduced twilight environment, hence the title. Skyward Sword, you could fly in the sky on a massive bird and your hub world was an island in the sky. Breath of the Wild, Hyrule is bigger, brutal, and much wilder. You get the idea; the clue to the experiment is always in the title.

Because the team behind Zelda are always experimenting and trying new ideas, elements that could feel stale and overused never do. Its why that little chill and flicker of excitement never fails to activate when familiar dulcet tones do sound, regardless if its orchestral fanfare or softly muted. What’s even better is that the characters always have new iterations as well, meaning that even they don’t feel outdated even though they are old friends to us. This is how to use nostalgia to your advantage. That is why Breath of the Wild is considered a masterpiece of this console generation, and why Nintendo is finding a lot of success with a console that hasn’t got the strongest of launch titles to back it.

But sometimes trying to capitalise on nostalgia for an old favourite can go the other way.

Another game that I have fond memories of is Assassins Creed II. Like with every Assassins Creed game that I owned later on, I’d spend hours just running around the map like a looney, ignoring fetch quests and cut and paste tasks all the merry while (mostly I was looking for precious, precious treasures and collectables). But it was Ezio that really made the game. With all his roguish charms, this was a character that to many was flawed perfection.

AC’s poster boy and perennial favourite Master Assassin, he’s been a tough act to follow after starring in three main line titles.

The only problem really was that Ezio’s saga spanned three games, one short animation and a prequel short film that mostly concentrated on his father, and a cameo appearance in Assassins Creed Chronicles: China, and that’s not mentioning some of the literature. Why was this a problem, I hear you ask? Well, this is the thing; Ezio is now looked upon fondly because we spent so much time with him. Our memories of him are so nostalgic now because he’s someone that we saw grow up from a young man to an old mentor. We became emotionally invested in him. He’s also currently the only main player character we’ve canonically see die in the series, even if just in the short animation Embers (and no, I’m not including Haytham, even if we did play him for a good chunk of time at the beginning of Assassins Creed III, and I’m not including Altair either. Spoiler Alert: even if we did see him seal himself in what effectively became his tomb, we don’t actually see Altair pass away), which definitely warranted a response from me. As a result, Ezio is the yard stick. He has become the standard that all future Assassins have to measure up to. Which I think is one of the main reasons why the series has been tanking in recent years; with Ezio having such a firm place in the fan’s heart, its a hard act to follow for the main timeline heroes. Of course, there are other problems; interesting time periods really becoming set dressing rather than playing an actual part in the story, mediocre storytelling, no real changes to the formula despite the fact that you get new toys to play with in every game as technology moves forward, and while maps have become bigger, you’re stuck to the one main map, with maybe one or two extra maps thrown in separate to the main meat of the game, with just the same old tasks, the same old collectables. Seriously, the only good thing to come out of Unity in my most humble of opinions were the murder mysteries. I actually had fun working them out, so I was really glad that they made a return in Syndicate. Seriously, it was about time that Ubisoft gave the Creed a much needed rest, though I’m dubious about its decision to go back even further in time to Egypt. Hey, I could be wrong in my fears, though I seriously think they need to make sure that the story is watertight and interesting rather than just relying on Precursor McGuffins just existing for Templar temptations and Assassin justice meting. (Seriously, Ubisoft, have I got AC stories for you to use.)

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Basically, nostalgia is a double edged sword. Those that wield it well not only just make it fun for veterans and long time fans, they make it accessible for newcomers as well. Those that don’t tend to cut their fingers and toes cut off with lazy design and an expectation that everyone will know the backstory when not everyone does. That’s why I’d recommend games that feature the likes of Mario, Link, a character with a hairstyle not out of place in a Final Fantasy game, or even Pikachu to people who have never played the respective types of game. It’s harder to recommend games like Assassins Creed because there is a heck of a lot of backstory to get through for a newcomer, not to mention that what you enjoyed back when it was all new and sparkly, it might have lost its sparkle in comparison to the games that have sprung up as time and technological advances march on.

Still though, there is always hope. The remade version of Final Fantasy VII is still looking good, and it looks like the team behind Crash Bandicoot’s revival is taking it very seriously. Only time will tell if the games that the nostalgic are waiting for with bated breath are worth the agonising wait.

Over to you guys. Are there any games that give you the warm fuzzies every time you think of them? Would you recommend these games to someone who had never played them? Are you excited for any remakes, reboots, etc.? Leave a comment down below! Thanks! See you Friday!

Author: galgamerplays

Just a gamer that happens to have a way with words. May be just the tiniest bit obsessive.

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