For its Japan Special, HYPER magazine asked its writers a very simple question: "Which Japanese video game has had the most profound impact on you?" Its writers came back with stories of the first game they ever played, of JRPGs that helped them through relationship breakdowns, and of the times when a Japanese game blew their minds. Kotaku editors Mark and Tracey have decided to share their stories here.
Street Fighter II -- Tracey
The first of many lessons was learned that day: if you think it’s broken, jiggle the cable; if there’s something wrong with the cartridge, blow into it, hard; and if pressing one button does one thing, pressing all the buttons won’t actually do everything.
The glow of Street Fighter II on the boxy CRT TV lit up the room and my older brother and I, dressed in Looney Toons t-shirts, held Famicom controllers in our hands, poised for battle. He was Ryu, my four-year-old self was Chun Li. As the game loaded our characters appeared on opposite ends of the screen, gently bouncing on the spot, floating like pixelated butterflies ready to sting like pixelated bees.
ROUND 1- FIGHT!
My brother tapped at the buttons trying to figure out combos and moves. He must have heard through friends at school that these characters were meant to be able to do things beyond throw themselves at each other, so once he had figured out kicking and punching he began trying combinations: hadoukens, shoryukens, high-kicks, low-kicks, and blocking. Having only recently mastered the skill of not soiling myself, figuring out combos was beyond me. My clammy hands grabbed at the controller and mashed buttons like it was the thing to do: if one button made Chun Li kick once, then pressing all the buttons must make Chun Li do all the kicks all the time!
Sometimes I would win through the sheer franticness of my mashing. Mostly, I would lose because of the sheer franticness of my mashing. My brother would switch characters, figuring out the attacks and combos of every character while I stuck with Chun Li, discovering that if I pressed this one button really fast and really often, her fat thigh would “catch fire” and I’d have a flaming leg to swing around in battle.
Street Fighter II was one of the earliest gaming experiences for my brother and I, and it was at a time when even he was still learning about games. We played each other as equals who both knew and understood little but were open to experience everything.
My brother eventually got better at Street Fighter, acquired more games, grew up, and realised that as a young boy and then a teenager he was obliged to be a jerk to his younger sister. And so began a decade of both of us believing the other had gender-specific germs, the refusal to interact with the other person, his reluctance to let me anywhere near his games lest I break them, and only allowing me to (occasionally) watch him play PC games while sitting at least two meters away from his computer and not saying a word.
Eventually, games became a thing we each enjoyed without the other person, our gaming paths seldom crossing, and memories of us gaming together -– let alone of us once being equals -- became a very distant, almost forgotten memory.
Two years ago, having now mastered the skill of not soiling myself for 17 years and understanding how to press buttons for a bit less than that, I brought home a copy of Street Fighter IV. Sitting in front of my HD TV, I fired up the game.
My brother returned home from work, smartly dressed in the way people in the corporate entertainment industry do. He looked at the screen. Putting down his bag, he asked for the second controller. We sat in the living room, Xbox 360 controllers in hand, as the new and flashy character selection menu appeared: I was Chun Li, he was Ryu. When the stage loaded, both characters appeared on opposite ends of the screen, bouncing gently on the spot.
ROUND 1: FIGHT!
Secret of Mana -- Mark
Sometimes I forget that games can be worth more than the mechanics that drive them. Even as a youngster I was obsessed with the way games worked, and I was probably about 13-years-old -- supremely self-indulgent, arrogant; greasy, dotted with plukes -- when I first played Secret of Mana.
My favourite game was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and its methods were gospel. The mechanics, the feel, the dungeon design; the seamless way it slipped between parallel worlds. The sense of exploration, piece by piece -- the bare bones story, the way it belonged to you, how you could clutch at it, the feeling that the gaps meant something.
And it was for all these reasons that my first experience with Secret of Mana left me overwhelmingly disappointed. Nowadays Squaresoft's opus most likely feels stripped back and simple compared with others of its ilk -- but as my first experience with a proper Japanese RPG, it felt stupidly bloated. Endless menus I didn’t understand, the slack feeling of movement; the simplistic, non-existent level design. Bleh. It wasn’t Zelda, and that was the experience I so desperately longed to relive.
If Secret of Mana was released today I’d probably treat it with the precise same disdain I’ve slavered on every JRPG released since, but back then I was 13. Homework was done in minutes, not hours. I was given a couple of games at Christmas and that was it. So I stuck with it, against what I thought was my better judgement, determined to get my Mother’s money’s worth.
The moment it clicked is lost in time and memory; I actually have no honest recollection of ever truly loving Secret of Mana, except in hindsight. I remember being drawn in by the story, which probably seems trite now. I remember becoming invested in the characters, which were mostly projections of my own crude making.
Most of all I remember the music -- the most direct route to that addictive, relentlessly destructive nostalgia that leaves us all vulnerable. That time machine whose destination is not a real place, or a genuine feeling you once had -- more like a hollow echo, a sense of looking back at the person you once were, for better or worse, and being trapped in an empty shell of what it used to be. A shell where the details just drizzle and you’re left with just a vague sense of it.
Those words may seem self-indulgent, but it's something we can all relate to -- part of us wants to shake off the malaise and push forward; another part clings to it desperately.
Every now and then I do a search on YouTube -- 'Ice level Secret of Mana', that's what I type. Then I listen.
My brother is annoying and wants to play, but I don’t let him because it’s my turn. I got 19/20 in my maths test but I don’t like school, because it's so stupid. My sweater is too big for me, but I have to wear it. It itches. My Dad is outside walking the dogs and it's freezing in here. I wish my Mum would stop vacuuming all the time, it's too loud and I want to play Secret of Mana.
HYPER magazine's Japan Special is a celebration of Japan's contribution to the world of gaming. This issue goes on sale today at newsagents all around Australia and New Zealand.