Going through the nostalgia lane

The narration of Icewind Dale chapter 1

Recently, Syl linked this music video from Chrono Trigger. Besides this giving me some warm, fuzzy feelings it also made me want to replay Chrono Trigger. The last time I played it must have been about 20 years ago, when I was still a teenager. Back then I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should, just like many games of the time. I mean, I knew it  was a good game back then but due to a combination of factors I just treated it as just another game to be played. There are a few reasons for that I think, the first is that like all things at a certain point in time we never consider that it may change. In this case, I never ever stopped to think there might never be other games like Chrono Trigger. I thought games like that would end up being made until the end of time. Or at least they would only get better and better. That the games that would be developed from that point, that even my tastes and gaming systems would change so much over the years were not something I ever considered.

Then there were the fact that I don’t think my english (which is my second language) was still very well developed back then. Mix that with it being a rental that I would only keep for a day, maybe two, didn’t give me much of a chance to appreciate the story or the characters.

All that makes me think of how much I missed, not only of the games I did play and forgot so much about, as well as a lot of other games that for a reason or another I missed.

Now, I know there are people who don’t see much point in revisiting these old games, that think that they are just spoken so fondly of due to pure nostalgia. That if they were just released today they wouldn’t get as much acclaim. Although I do agree with that in large part, I also do believe that it is worth revisiting them. Playing them again doesn’t necessarily mean trying to relive a past gone by or recapture a certain enjoyment we can’t find anymore. It can also be a way to find new appreciation for something that you already loved, to notice details and other aspects of the work that you never perceived back them. It is to see a piece of work with different eyes, a different history, different circunstances.

To give a concrete example, not too long ago I decided to replay Icewind Dale, the original version. All I could remember of the game, besides that I enjoyed it back in the old days, was the start of the game, the end of it and that my characters were all made with my terrible teenage (pre-teenage maybe?) sense of humor. Everything else was a blur. So my expectations when I started this revisit were that there would be just some initial story in the beginning then lots and lots of combat right until the end where there would be a bit more of story just to wrap things up. Maybe some bits of story in between just to explain why the party was at a certain location.

Much to my surprise though there was more story than that, perhaps as much story content as modern day RPGs. I haven’t really finished it again to be sure. It also had quite a bit of environmental storytelling that you can find out by hovering your mouse over certain bits of background and even some actual role play opportunities! Like that time where my paladin preached on about his religion to some townsfolk (and even got some measly XP from it!). Or the time a shady innkeeper tried to deflect his guilty in a crime by pointing out my paladin got the evidence by less than legal means.

These all made me think about how storytelling in CRPGs have changed, how I feel about it and how I wish it would develop in the future. If didn’t start replaying Icewind Dale all I would remember is that it was a fun  game where my party had terrible names that I found funny at the time. I would still think that storytelling in games didn’t change all that much, besides being more reliant on cutscenes and voice acting. And I am pretty sure if I decide to play this game again in 10, 20 or even 30 years from now I will find new things in this game that will make me think and make me like it even more.

This I think is the best reason to replay some old games, not only to rediscover the parts we loved about them but specially to find new things to appreciate about a piece of work we already cherished.

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