Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Video Game Memories

I have countless Christmas memories that are tied to video games, or would that be countless video game memories tied to Christmas? Either way, when I think of fond Christmases past, the thought is usually accompanied by memories of playing a certain game either on Christmas day or sometime around it. There are numerous titles that are “Christmas games” for me, but I’m going to focus on two specific memories (involving three games) in this post.

                One game whose opening moments I will always equate with the rapturous jubilation of Christmas morning is The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. To this day, I have probably never been more excited for a game than I was for that one. Back in December of 2006, I had just finished my first semester of living away at college and my life was in a huge state of change. In the span of about four months, I’d felt like so much in my life had drastically changed. It was jarring to be thrust out of my comfort zone and into a brand new world with brand new people and brand new experiences, but before heading off to college I knew however it went there would be Zelda waiting for me at the end of the year. Twilight Princess was significant because it was the first major console Zelda release to come out after I had fallen in love with the series at the release of The Wind Waker in 2003. The years and months leading up to Twilight Princess was the first time I got to experience that sweet, sweet Zelda hype and I drank in every ounce of it (perhaps to a fault, in retrospect). Despite the fact that my life was in a tumultuous state, getting to dive into that game on Christmas morning and through the night made me forget all about everything around me and it was just like any Christmas past when I was an elated kid with a new game. It really was a magical experience. I remember my Mom was disappointed that she wasn't able to get me a Wii with the game (she actually got me both the GameCube and Wii versions of Twilight Princess; I believe she'd bought the Wii version first and was planning on getting the console and just ended up giving me both versions when she wasn’t able to find a Wii; I ended up liking the GC version better anyway), and I remember telling her how much I really didn't care, I was just so happy to have the game. I had a big, goofy smile on my face and all I cared about was playing Zelda. And play Zelda I did. This song will forever remind me of the pure, peerless excitement of Christmas morning, and I wandered around Ordon Village that morning in a sense of awe and disbelief that I was actually finally playing this game. I vividly remember first stepping into the open area of Faron Woods with all the Bokoblins running about and being filled with joy at the first small cave I found. Stepping into the twilight for the first time later in the day, meeting Midna, being completely baffled at the weirdness going on in the game with the giant goat light spirit and this odd triangle-headed villain, and finally conquering the Forest Temple Christmas night. After taking my first steps onto Hyrule Field, I knew that my adventure was only beginning, and over the next two or so weeks, I devoured Twilight Princess. My ultimate feelings on the game ended up being mixed (to put it as simply as possible), but there is no denying the fond memories I have of finally getting to immerse myself in the newest Zelda epic that Christmas vacation.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
                The second game-related Christmas memory I want to talk about predates my Twilight Princess experience by a year and actually involves two games, and it’s a bit of a strange combination: Soulcalibur III and Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King. I don’t talk about the series much, but I was a big fan of the Soulcalibur games back in the day (before losing touch with the series when the HD era came around, mainly because I didn’t get a PS3 until a bit later in its life-cycle when there were many other games vying for my attention). I loved the atmosphere and detail put into the Soulcalibur games, and also loved the adventure mode present in Soulcalibur II and III (and maybe the first Soulcalibur as well; I can’t remember exactly) that almost felt like an RPG of sorts. Dragon Quest VIII (to this day the only DQ game I’ve ever played through) was a title that I had been greatly anticipating due to its beautiful-looking art design and also because it just looked like a great traditional JRPG that would be right up my alley. I received both games as gifts on Christmas morning and moseying about DQVIII’s first village, with that tranquil orchestral music playing, on a sunny Christmas morning is a wonderful memory that I have. I also remember sneaking away from my relatives whenever I could throughout the day to play Soulcalibur III. The following week I sunk a ton of time into Soulcalibur and although I don’t remember much about the game right now (except, oddly, for a scene involving a clock tower and that big dude with a giant scythe…I guess I’ll just leave it at that), I do remember having a blast playing it. But there was also Dragon Quest, and that’s one I certainly, absolutely do remember. I adore Dragon Quest VIII; it’s one of my favorite video games ever and one of my fondest gaming experiences. Similarly to Twilight Princess, I remember just immersing myself in the breathtaking, pastoral world of Dragon Quest that Christmas vacation and the days and weeks (and months perhaps) beyond it. I’d never experienced adventure in an RPG or a video game in general quite like in Dragon Quest VIII, where a sprawling fantasy world was laid out before me; not a zoomed-out map with a small avatar running around on it, but an up-close, fully rendered world for me to hoof about in. Dragon Quest VIII is very “traditional” in its approach to fantasy adventuring and it does this so, so well while oozing charm around every polished corner. The first dungeon in the game is a dank cave that the player explores with a burning torch in hand, fighting monsters and looting treasure chests. It just doesn’t get any more classic and charming than that, and DQVIII delivers this kind of experience perfectly. And really I mean that: perfectly. I remember there was a moment about halfway through that Christmas break when I was exploring the massive world in the game and I came to the ocean. A sprawling seaside vista spread out before me with a path bordering the ocean stretching in two directions and hills rolling down to the seaside with rocks and cliffs dotted about. I felt free in that moment, felt inspired and full of joy. To have that kind of adventure when I was younger was simply sublime and I cherish the memory to this day.

Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
                There are many other Christmas video game memories I could talk about: the year I received my GameCube and Super Smash Bros. Melee (and Luigi’s Mansion!), or the year I got a Dreamcast and Sonic Adventure (and how much that game blew me away back then), or when I experienced my very first Metroid games in Metroid Prime and Metroid Fusion one year. I’ve been fortunate and some (myself included) might even say spoiled to have parents who have delivered so many wonderful experiences to me at Christmastime that have consistently supplemented many other lovely memories I have of spending Christmas with my family and friends, especially my Nana, who has now passed away, but who was always an anchor of happiness for me at this time of year. I try as hard as I can to not take how lucky I’ve been for granted and look back on all the happy Christmases that my parents, my brother, my relatives, and my friends have brought me. With my love for Winter and snow and my birthday right around the corner as well, this time of year has always been a source of great joy for me, and I’m incredibly, enormously thankful for it.

To anyone reading this, I can only hope that you find some of the joy that I’ve experienced around this time of year and I wish you a heartfelt Happy Holiday.

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