This is something I’ve been struggling with for most of this generation: whether or not I want to replay some of my favorite titles before moving on. Games like BioShock, Grand Theft Auto IV, and The Last of Us; but especially epic trilogies like Dragon Age and Mass Effect.
Traditional thinking would be that of course you should experience your favorite games again and again! Bang for your buck! Know every nook and cranny! And being that familiar with Final Fantasy IV (a game I played through maybe a dozen times) didn’t at all reduce my love of the DS remake so there’s personal precedent that that may be true. But there’s a big part of me that feels like in this day and age familiarity breeds contempt.
As the old winking axiom says, you never forget your first time and my first time playing BioWare’s games in particular were so overwhelmingly great it almost feels like a disservice to revisit them in their entirety. I played through most of them right after my “real” playthrough just to do the opposite of what I did before, but when you’re doing that, it’s just not the same. I ended up quitting before the end almost every time, which is a sign that something wasn’t quite clicking.
When you’ve spent 40+ hours doing everything you can do and squeezing every last drop of awesome out of a truly great in-game universe and its story, there’s arguably nothing more satisfying in my experience as a gamer. Sometimes I feel genuinely sad as the end credits roll on a game knowing I’ve already experienced pretty much everything there is to experience and I want to hold onto that feeling that I’ve just completed a true interactive work of art. Going back to dick around and use cheats and act like a jerk and skip the cutscenes risks making the game feel less special in the long run, you know?
One of my favorite games of the last gen was Catherine. I loved it so much I became determined to achieve every ending. And I did. But after that first memorable, hard-fought playthrough my dislike of puzzle games kicked in and I turned the difficulty down and super-jumped my way through the nightmares, made choices only based on what ending I wanted with the walkthrough in my lap, and skipped through the cutscenes whenever possible, only caring about seeing the end result.
I loved seeing all the different endings, but my behavior in getting them seems like I was selling one of my favorite games short. Games are meant to be fun, challenging, and engrossing rather than just something you do to get a certain result, yeah? The repeat playthroughs felt so impersonal, like I was just on auto mode until the ending cutscene.
Anyways, back to BioWare. I keep telling myself that I’m going to download the DLC I have yet to experience and play the entire trilogies in their entirety front to back. And why wouldn’t I? They were hands down my favorite thing from the last decade of gaming. But some other part of my brain is screaming that this would somehow diminish my rose-tinted memories.
How many times have I watched the Star Wars trilogy? Plenty. Recently I was watching it yet again with my son and I noticed something disturbing: I wasn’t experiencing that joy I remembered. I was picking apart the dialogue and the costumes and little technical storytelling flaws and not experiencing it like I used to. I’d seen it all before and loved all of the love. All that was left was looking for something to hate. That’s a crummy feeling.
Video games in particular suffer from this because the involved technology improves so constantly and dramatically. Remember when Final Fantasy VII seemed like awesome graphics? The smoothness of controls and other subtle luxuries we’ve become slowly accustomed to in past years often makes successfully revisiting classics really dependent on nostalgia. It usually takes decades for films to age and seem quaint, but in gaming it only takes a few years.
And here we are just getting into Dragon Age: Inquisition. Another trilogy I adore is coming to a close and another one I’ve vowed to replay in its entirety. But after I finish what early reviewers are saying is the best iteration of the franchise, if I go back to play the first is it going to seem lame in comparison? Am I going to get bored or clinical and have that be the way I remember a game I enjoyed so much in its day?
I’m never going to get that feeling of meeting my favorite characters or being surprised and delighted by a particularly funny sidequest for the first time. I’ve already formulated my delta attack of grease bomb/flames/earthquake and laughed my evil laugh as my foes fall down, burn, then fall down and burn some more countless times. I’ve already raged that those abilities weren’t available in the sequel and loved it anyway. With so many great Dragon Age memories, shouldn’t that be enough? Do I really need to play those games again when there’s nothing left to prove?
And with so many possibilities in Mass Effect should I do what I did the first time and play “my” trilogy again, just making minor adjustments to fix mistakes I regret (I’m sorry, Legion and Yeoman Chambers. SO SORRRYYYYY!) and get my perfect result knowing what’s going to happen with no consequences in store or should I really commit to a new path and try to experience the story in a different way without being clinical and ruining the magic? Oh shit, I think I’ve already done just that by thinking about it too much. It’s the dreaded lose-lose!
But what if they overhaul the old games and upgrade them to bring them into the next generation with all of the DLC already on disc? Should I wait for that? It seems a likely possibility seeing that nobody seems to want to make any new games for the next gen consoles.
In my day, you bought a simplistic game about jumping and/or shooting abd punching, played it again and again until you couldn’t stand the site of it and moved on. But now we’re all sophisticated and junk. Games are art and can actively engage us on an emotional and intellectual level, but only so far as we can stay engrossed in the interactive world.
There are some films I love that I’ve never watched twice because the original was so memorable and surprising when I first saw them that that’s the way I like to remember them. Have games finally reached the point where they can invoke that kind of intellectualized protectiveness? Looks like.
I have a feeling whether or not I ultimately decide to dig out some discs and begin my favorite adventures from the past generation anew will be decided by time more than anything else. Part of the problem is the constant wealth of new games tempting me, but once I’ve squeezed the last of the untasted juice out of my PS3 and 360 and if their successors are still not impressing me, maybe, just maybe I’ll find out I’ve been wrong about this and it’ll turn out I can recapture the magic that makes a modern classic a classic. We’ll see.