Friday, December 31, 2010

I like to gift...

December 30 – Gift Prompt: Gift. This month, gifts and gift-giving can seem inescapable. What’s the most memorable gift, tangible or emotional, you received this year?
(Lots and lots of non-writing-related posts this month. I'm adding another goal to my 2011 goal list: do more writing-related post.

Also: Do more writing so I have writing-related things to talk about.)

Emotionally (even if the giver doesn't realize it), it was that broccoli and cheddar soup I keep talking about. Tangibly, I'm going to go blatantly materialistic and direct you to this rant I did in another blog a day or so ago, as it explains the gift and why exactly it was so memorable.
It starts in 2006. My younger brother brought home a Game Cube and a box of games he had bought second-hand for fifty hard-earned dollars. 

We had never owned a game system before. Sure, we did some computer gaming, and I think my other brother might have had a Game Boy Advance by then, but consoles had been something we had only dreamed about. Our childhoods had been simple. I'd played Mario Bros. on my cousin's Nintendo before and some sort of racing games on my other cousin's PlayStation, but this was a huge step for us. 

I wasn't interested at first. The box had been full of first-person shooters, and some hack-n-slash and racing games, typical fare for the twelve-year old who had sold my brother the system. I didn't find video games all that interesting (though Mario Kart was awesome), being much more of a book/movie/writing person. But at the bottom, in practically unopened condition, was this:


It was intriguing. I hadn't gotten into anime yet and so the art style was the first thing that caught my eye. It was colorful and delicate and promised something epic, in contrast to the likes of Need for Speedand 


I was even more intrigued when my brother popped in this strange game on one particularly boring afternoon. We had just moved into our new house and the television was in the living room, the center of high-traffic in the house. We don't have cable and we didn't have internet hooked up yet, my books were in the process of being unpacked and my brother was using the TV, so I plunked down next to him and watched. 

This greeted me. I mean, how can you not be impressed by that?

So he started to play. 

This is where it gets a little funny. I started a game almost immediately after he did and so for a while, we were neck and neck with game progress. But we had hit a snag. The first boss was hard. I mean, likehard, what with us being complete RPG newbies and all, not understanding the concept of leveling up. So my brother restarted his game (don't ask me why - it seemed like a good idea the time) and played all the way through to that boss again. And again. And again. He must have done this like five times. We had the opening narration memorized, down to inflection and timing. My game sat dormant, waiting to see how my brother would fare. 

Eventually, we broke through the boss and plowed ahead. From then on, I overtook my brother's progress in leaps and bounds. I could literally sit there for hours and watch the story unfold in front of me. And what an epic story it was.

Apparently, I hit the jackpot with my first role-playing game. Not to knock Zelda (because I will myself admit that the only Zelda game I've played is a few hours of A Link to the Past) but Tales of Symphoniahas character development and story galore. It starts out as a bit of a cliche storm in terms of a fantasy novel's "You are hero. Go save the world", but the characters are so engaging, their lives so wonderfully explored, that I kept on playing (that, and I had no experience with anything else in gaming, so I was hooked). Later on, the "quest to save the world" takes a turn for the dark and crazy and no matter how troperiffic the story or cliche a twist might be, you somehow don't see it coming. I had moments of actual physical shock at twists in this story (and one that I totally jokingly predicted not two hours into my first time playing the game that, when it played out exactly as I had predicted, made me fistpump at my own genre-savviness). I came to genuinely care about these characters, just as much as I would favorite characters from a movie or book. 

It took me over fifty hours to complete ToS. Two discs of sheer awesome. I remember, about mid-way through the first disc thinking "This is it? This is the end. But there's a whole other disc. What is going on?" and then a twist came and a character was introduced and I was like "Oh, I can see how there's going to be another disc." And I rabidly looked forward to it.

The story changes several times over. You think you're going to do this one thing, that this one task is what you are going to spend the entire story doing. Then it isn't. It just leads to a completely different task, one equally important. And the change is seamless. It wasn't like 
and off to something else. The characters would come to what they thought would be the climax, only to see that it wasn't what they thought it would be. There was something wrong with it. They needed to change it. So off to fix this problem with you hardly realizing that you haven't finished yet. It just seems like such a natural progression. Everything builds and builds, getting more and more tangled, until the end, when it all pays off. 

Everyone in the reviews always talks about how innovative the battle system for this game was and everything, but that was always secondary for me. I wasn't a RPGer. I wasn't even a gamer. I was playing for the characters. 

This game ruined me for a lot of other role-playing games, and indeed, games in general. In the years since finding this game, I've yet to be as impressed by anything else. Granted, I'm still a gaming n00b. Everyone tells me that Final Fantasy brings in the stories and characters as well, and I'm playing IV and own X (got that for Christmas too - haven't played it yet), but haven't yet found one that connects with me as much as ToS did. A lot of everyone tell me that I should play Kingdom Hearts. My brother owns 1 and 2, but I just can't seem to get into them. Maybe it's a matter of muscling through to the good stuff, but I've been stopped in the first half-hour multiple times just because I found it boring. In the ever-present conflict between "character-driven" or "plot-driven", I swing very heavily towards "character-driven". Plot grows from character. And hoo-boy, does ToS deliver immediately.

Not to mention it's pretty. I mean, the graphics aren't always perfect, but it's pretty to look at. The music is gorgeous, the colors are beautiful and the voice acting is great. Even the worst of the performances is only minimally annoying. And the best of the performances manages to tug at your heartstrings. 

I've played ToS several times. No joke. This game that takes something like thirty hours minimum to complete has forced me to complete it at least three times. It sounds sad, it sounds lame, but I love this game that much. Not to mention that there are several slightly different endings you can get depending on your characters' interactions with one another. My brother ended up giving me the game because I was practically the only one who played it (though my siblings would gather around during my sessions to watch it all go down, as if they were watching a movie marathon). 

What does any of this have to do with Christmas?

Since that first purple lunchbox of a Game Cube came into my brother's life, he had lusted after a more advanced system. I didn't really care. I still wasn't much of a gamer and between Mario Kart Double Dashand Tales of Symphonia on said lunchbox, my needs were more than satisfied. I'd leave gaming alone completely for months, even nearly years, at a time, then pick it back up for a month or two, then go away again. I had other things to occupy my time. 

Not so with my brother. He upgraded to a PS2 the minute he had the funds to buy another second-hand system from another friend. What he really wanted was the XBox 360. 

Flashforward to the release of the Nintendo Wii not to long after the Game Cube wandered into our house. I was still my un-gamer self and I though the whole thing was kind of stupid. I mean, in the beginning, the choices for Wii were pretty minimal, certainly not appealing to someone who had been spoiled on ToS. It hadn't been that long since I'd gotten it, after all. 

Then, a little later, I saw an advertisement for this

A... sequel? Cue the drool. 

It wasn't that I instantly wanted a Wii because of this one game. It was more like I hated the world for not giving me the ability to play this game on a system I already owned. 

Time passed. I slowly got into anime and games, mostly thanks to my discovery of TVTropes (which I wish, for the life of me, I could remember how I got into). A lot of it, if not most of it, happened this year and last year. I bought myself a DS and began my slowly-growing collection of GameBoy Advance and DS games (total count: 6). I bought myself Tales of Phantasia, the first game in the Tales Series (a group of unconnected games, similar in concept to the FF franchise), mostly because ToS is a long-distant prequel of sorts to it. I bought Tales of Legendia, another game in the series and am working my way through it (though the voice-acting is getting on my nerves in quite a few places).

I'm slightly frustrated ("slightly" being one of the understatements of the year) that there are several Tales games for the DS (which, being the DS, is much more convenient for me than a console) but none of them have been localized in the US yet. I wouldn't say I'm obsessed with the franchise, but it's like finding out that your favorite foreign author had one brilliant book in your language, but none of the others had been translated. You know they're out there and you want to try them out, but they don't exist in a form you can digest.

What does any of this have to do with Christmas, Gryph?

Well, for Christmas, we got a Wii. It's been long overdue, seeing as how we kids had pooled together the money years ago, but hey, we got it. And Christmas morning, I came upstairs to have this exchange with my sister and brothers (who had been up since four in the morning and had, as such, been through everyone's stockings already).

"Hey, look in your stocking!" they clamored, crowding around me as I flopped on the couch.

"I thought we weren't opening presents until after church?" I was grumpy, mainly because I was trying to be a good Jesus-lover and put him before my own wants. It was hard.

"Just look!" They shoved my stocking at me. 

I tipped out the contents of my stocking and then let out a very undignified squeak (I swear, a legitimate, uncontrolled squeak). 

There lay Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World in my lap. Cue the drool.

I had asked for it, sure. I'm notorious among my family members for being vague about what I want for Christmas. Sure, I nerd out about everything I love, but honestly, with money of my own, I'm willing to buy what I want. If I can't afford it, I don't need it that badly. Not to mention that despite the fact I've pointedly asked for a DVD of Labyrinth for the past three years, it's never come. But, when the pressure came from all sides this year, I grudgingly wrote a list. A very specific list. Title drops galore.

I should have put down Labyrinth this year, but I was jaded. Foolish, foolish me.

I got everything on my list. Granted, it was just two games, a sweatshirt from my old high school and that final push for the Wii, but I didn't really expect to get the actual things I asked for. I've always been happy with my gifts at Christmas, even when they aren't what I ask for (not to mention that I actually bought myself presents this year, including, but not limited to, the complete DVD collection of Princess Tutu).

But this time I did get what I asked for. And I was a happy Gryph.

Been playing through it for a while now and I have to say, nostalgia city. I would not be surprised if, after completing the game, whenever that happens, I go back and do another run-through of ToS. Just hearing the music is making me all warm and fuzzy, not to mention seeing my favorite locations from the original in their new Wii dressings. The main characters are new to the game, the original band of protagonists being more secondary (and I have to admit that I am trying to avoid fan!rage about the voice cast changes for some of them), but every time I bump into a familiar face, I get this big stupid grin on my face and happily ramble about it to whoever's in the room until they tell me to shut up and get back to playing. 

My siblings are again sitting around me, watching the story unfold as if it were a movie rather than playing it themselves, and that's as much of a nostalgic kickback as the game itself. 

Happy Gryph. Happy, happy Gryph.  

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