Thursday, November 21, 2013

You can't go home again

In life there are many times where the second, third, or the hundredth time you experience something is actually much better than the first.  For example the first time I got drunk was not memorable at all, but I recall many times after that initial sip of beer where drinking was so fun!  Falling in love is another good example, it might take a few relationships until you meet that perfect someone.  

Video games are not like that, though.  I can't recall a single game that I've played (not counting silly little games on my phone to pass the time, I'm talking about a 40+ hour commitment epic-feeling games here) where the second play-through was better than the first.

Don't get me wrong, the second time you play a game may be easier since you know better what to do and it may have more things you can unlock after beating it for the first time.  But that epic feeling, that tear-welling emotional moment when you finally watch the ending is never there the second time around.  You just can't go home again.

The first game I ever really seriously got into was FF7 (which will always be, to me, the pinnacle of RPG perfection and the benchmark standard for all time).  I was so hooked on it and I spent over 100 hours of gametime (likely a lot more, but the counter only goes up 99:59:59) doing everything in the game - beating all the minigames, breeding the gold chocobo & winning the races, killing all the weapons, collecting every materia, etc.  And when I finally killed Sephiroth and beat the game, well...words can hardly describe how it felt.  Despite the crappy, polygon-ed quality of the ending cinematic (it was 1997, ok?), it was so beautiful.  FF series, overall, are also renowned for amazing in-game music so that had something to do with the beauty as well.  I wept over the fact that I saved the world, and Aeris's sacrifice had not gone in vain.  I was an epic hero and I saved the world.

Almost immediately I made a new file and played through again.  But the second time, while fun, wasn't as great as the first.  Everything was too easy, for one.  And discovering a random treasure chest or a hidden item in the world didn't feel as fun because it wasn't a surprise anymore.  The long dialogue-filled cutscenes felt boring.  The plot twists didn't catch me off-guard.  It was like seeing a really great movie the second time around.  And when the ending cinematic rolled through the second time?  I hardly even felt like watching it all.  It just didn't feel the same as the first time.

The same deal with the scores of other storyline-based games I've played - FF6, FF8, FF9, Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross (amazing game, definitely #2 on my list), Breath of Fire, Neverwinter nights, Skyrim, God of War, Devil May Cry, etc etc.  Most of them were awesome games and I'm not afraid to admit that I cried while watching the ending cinematic to a couple of them.  But the second play-through?  Half of these games I never even had the motivation to see the ending again, and if I did, I certainly didn't get emotional about it.  

And that's the thing about games.  A lot of games tout it's "replayability", saying that even after you beat it once, you an go back through on a different difficulty level, or unlock hidden secrets, or just to earn some more achievements.  And while that might be fun, that amazing, emotional, overwhelmingly epic, "I-did-it-I-saved-the-world-from-evil" feeling is something you can never capture again.  

If only I could selectively wipe my memory.  I'd happily play FF7 over and over again...

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