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A big lover of all types of media, from Movies to Video Games, Books to Music, Television to Stage.

February 3, 2011

Growing Up On Nintendo - Part Three, What Has Kept These Titles Alive For A Quarter-Century?

That is really a long title.  Maybe I should shorten it, but it certainly asks the right question:  What is it exactly about the titles I've been mentioning over the last two days that makes the older titles classics, and the franchises continue to add more games to current systems?  I'm going to try and answer that today, and we'll see if I'm right.

First off, every game that I mentioned has at least one musical theme that is instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever played the games I've listed.  This is going to be a video-heavy posting, so be ready to open YouTube videos as go along here, so that you too can hear and see what I'm on about.  First we have the Mario franchise.  The music from the original game has been used so frequently throughout our society that even a recent (within the last 6 months) episode of "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" had The Roots playing it for someone coming onstage for an interview.  Here's the original music:
Brings back a lot of memories, and every title in the Mario series up to and including the "Super Mario Galaxy" titles include at least one location where the original music, maybe with a full orchestration, can be heard.  Other samples from the original game can usually be found at various locations in the later titles.  Additionally, since the introduction of water- and air-level music in "Super Mario World," any level in games released since have added that theme to any 'swimming' or 'up in the clouds' type levels.
As you can see by the title, that was the swimming world music, and the air level music follows:
Mario isn't the only franchise that has music that is exceptionally recognizable to gamers.  "The Legend Of Zelda" and "Final Fantasy" both have music that is considered for inclusion in one form or another in each and every new title in their respective franchises.
The music from this Overworld area is considered the main Zelda theme, important enough to be played majestically at the end of "A Link To The Past" almost as a gift to the gamers so in love with the series.  The next clip is long, but the theme will be recognizable when reached, at 1:53.
The "Final Fantasy" theme, to my knowledge, doesn't actually appear in any of the games, except perhaps in menus.  The theme itself, titled 'Prelude,' is gorgeous, an endless loop that repeats, and is generally found at the beginning of the games when starting a new character.
The music featured above for these three titles have so saturated the public awareness that I would be completely surprised to meet someone in a developed country that hasn't heard at least one of the themes placed above.  Even the titles I have not included videos for, most notably "Metroid" and "Dragon Warrior" have themes and musical cues that have carried over from title to title over the years, and it is these aspects that endear them to the followers of these franchises.

Another aspect that all these games share is rich storylines that do not require cutting edge graphics to relate.  This is especially true for the first Zelda and Final Fantasy titles.  Let's be totally honest, you were controlling little squares and rectangles conjoined in such a way that if you squinted you could suggest they resembled something akin to a human being.  A green circle was a bush; a black curve was a boomerang.  These titles left more to the imagination than do the titles of current systems, and that may have been the entire point.

The games were also heavily text-based.  Not as much as "Zork," mind you, but they had a lot of text included in the title as a way of conveying all manner of information and humour to the player.  Nowadays, voice acting with subtitles is the norm, but it is a knife that can cut both ways.  What may be arguably the best 2D side-scrolling game ever made for any console, "Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night," is marred by exactly one glaring problem, and that is the voice acting.  It is terrible, it is ridiculous, it actually refers to an item as 'The jewel of Open' because it opens doors, it has been the butt of jokes for years...and it isn't the only one.  "Resident Evil," a game that has inspired tons of sequels as well as a movie franchise, contains a voice-over in the popular re-make of the original game that required someone to say the line 'I am the master of unlocking.'  These two titles are also considered classics, but we're talking the first two Nintendo systems, so we'll get to those in later posts.  The point is, today's games follow the line from Jeff Goldblum's character in "Jurassic Park:"  '[The developers] were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should.'  Just because you can make a game look pretty or sound better doesn't mean you should, especially at the expense of gameplay.

Which leads me to the third and most obvious loss in games today: solid playability.  This is not to say that the games today are unplayable, far from it, but it is strongly advising that except for a few stand-out titles the games of today are either way too easy to master or are deliberately convoluted and purposefully challenging with no real basis for it.  There are way too many examples to be laid out here, especially due to the fact that this post is not meant to bash any particular system on the flaws inherent in the parent company's attempt to screw over the consumer, but suffice it to say that old games were more fun overall.  They had more ingenuity, more thought put into them.  Name a game that has you having to learn an operatic score in order to progress.  Can't do it?  You haven't played "Final Fantasy 3."  Name a game where music being played correctly to bring a girl's memories back to herself is the only way to successfully defeat the title's final boss.  No?  Then you've never played "Lunar."  Like the Castlevania title I mentioned earlier, these are on another system, but the point remains: Innovation in today's games is more about the cool controls, the neat-o graphics and the wonderful special effects and booming bass.  They forget to add fun.

This is not true of all titles, of course it isn't.  However, I can honestly say that in comparison to today's multitude of titles, very few strike me as direct descendants of the incredible adventures of old.  Sure, they made you work for 100% completion, but they didn't take 80 hours, they didn't take doing things that you would never have considered doing through the course of a normal game, and they didn't come with flashy guidebooks to tell you how to do things.  Hell, I remember playing the original "Solomon's Key" on the NES, easily the hardest game I have EVER come across, and having to call the Nintendo Hotline in order to sort out how to get through many of the levels to the good ending.  There was no GameFaqs, there were no strategy guides, and the controls only consisted of two abilities: jumping and creating/destroying magic blocks.  That was it, the entire game's controls.  Two buttons.  One, actually, since in order to jump you pressed up on the control pad.  A one-button game that is easily the hardest one I've ever come across, and yet each and every puzzle within the 50 odd levels was also fun.  Graphics sucked, sound sucked, controls only the basics, and I remember that title better than most.  Why?  The storyline, the music, and the fun.  Three ingredients.  Tell the developers to get cooking again.

Until next time, when we start to look at Nintendo's only competitor in those early days, Gamerscore ho!

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