It’s time for Ask Kotaku, the weekly feature in which Kotaku-ites deliberate on a single burning question. Then, we ask your take.
This week we Ask Kotaku: Have you ever lost an important saved game?
Perhaps you are familiar with a story I wrote in 2017 called “My Beautiful, Perfect Child Deleted My 40-Hour Persona 5 Save.” I won’t spoil what it’s about, but I will say my son Seamus is nine now and I still haven’t fully forgiven him.
Before that tragic day I’d managed to keep my save games intact, save one. One day in late 2003 I was kicking about in my car, about to return to work after a quick lunch and a few battles in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance on my Game Boy Advance SP. The game was a lunchtime ritual at my then website coding job. Also a bathroom ritual. And a when-I-was-supposed-to-be-working ritual. Rituals are important.
Anyway, I stopped at the gas station for a pack of smokes (I’ve since quit) and a soda. Since I was just running in, I left the car’s windows down. When I came back, the Game Boy Advance SP was nowhere to be found.
The console loss was no biggie. I was making good money and hardly paying rent at the time, and had a new Game Boy Advance SP later that evening. However, the copy of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, which I’d invested nearly 50 hours into, was irreplaceable. I bought a new copy of the game, but my heart just wasn’t in it. Maybe one day, in the distant future, I’ll drag it out of storage and play a little catch-up.
Another Ash contribution, another story about Final Fantasy VIII. It’s a testament to how traumatic this experience was that I’m able to recall it some 20 years later.
Squall and I were in Lunatic Pandora, the part where you have to rescue Rinoa from the clutches of the sorceress Adel. There are a couple of boss fights before the final one against Adel, and they were all hard as shit. Maybe I was under equipped or under junctioned — can I segue for a moment to say the junction system is the premier progress system of any Final Fantasy, because it is? — but I was having a devil of a time downing the Mobile Type 8 boss. I was in the middle of the fight boosting my Quetzalcoatl’s damage like crazy because the boss was weak to thunder but then, in medias boss fight res, I had to stop. Dinner.
This was the run, I knew in my spirit this was going to be the time I downed this boss. So I paused the game and turned off the TV, thinking once dinner and dishes were done, I would resume (leaving the TV on would have prompted my mother to tell me to turn off the game completely). I came back to find the PlayStation powered off and disconnected from the TV. By whom, I have no idea. It will forever remain a mystery for which I will carry a grudge for the rest of my life. That felt like my one best chance to finally beat the boss I’d been struggling against and maybe, just maybe, go on to beat the game. Even though I didn’t lose the save, I might as well have because I was so upset and disheartened at losing my godly boss attempt that I wasn’t able to go back and finish the game until well into my late 20s.
The mainline Pokémon games notoriously support just one save file per game. Back in the day, before the magic of switching between multiple Switch profiles became a thing, if you wanted to start a new save, you’d have to buy a second cartridge. Otherwise, you’d have to overwrite your original one, which you could easily do by choosing “new game” from the title screen.
When I was five, my great uncle gave me a copy of Pokémon Blue — my first video game and, if we’re being honest in a butterfly-effect sort of way, a gift that put me on track to where I am today. I played the shit out of Pokémon Blue. I think I got to the Elite Four, but my memory is fuzzy, because, again, I was five.
Soon after I dedicated my life to melting Lance with my kickass Charizard, my family drove down to Long Island for some sort of festivity at my grandparents’ house. My grandmother’s best friend (or my “aunt,” to use the official New York Jewish term for such a relationship) brought her granddaughter, also five. At one point, this young woman, who we’ll call Misty, like the second gym leader in Pokémon Blue, got a hold of my GameBoy. She wanted to play this new Pokémon game everyone was talking about, so naturally hit that “new game” button. Innocent enough, right? To start a new game, you hit “new game.” And she didn’t want to mess up any of the hard work I so clearly put into my primary file.
Apparently, according to every family member present, I called her an “idiot.” Apparently, according to every family member present, I made her bawl on the spot.
Of course, I instantly moved on, started a new save file, and raised an even more kickass Charizard. Misty and I, however, haven’t spoken in years. I have had various “aunts” tell me that she does PR for a billion-dollar liquor brand, that we should connect, that, oh, she’d love to see me again, that, oh, you’ve sure grown up nice, and hey, do you remember that time you made Misty cry? My, my, that was so funny.
To date, I have never received a free bottle.
Not in a way that matters. I did lose a hard drive as a teenager, which felt very distressing at the time, but I don’t remember any gaming-related fallout stemming from that. A rental copy of LandStalker always inexplicably blanked itself like halfway through the game; I have still never beaten it. And years later, my copy of the ironically named DS game Lost Magic fell out in an airport taxi. Which was fine, because I wasn’t digging it much. Maybe the driver liked it.
But otherwise yeah, nothing serious. I attribute that to a couple key strategies, including being extremely lucky, not having siblings who liked games, and always avoiding third-party memory cards. Those things had a seriously bad rep, promising features like “4x storage” and switchable banks that very often seemed to translate into “corrupting your damn saves.” OEM cards always served me well, and I even have some of them backed up on my PC now.
Most importantly (!) I always held down reset whenever I turned off a battery-backed NES game. …That’s what Nintendo always advised. I don’t know if it actually helped much. But I tell you what, blowing into the cart absolutely helped the things boot, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
In the fall of 1999 I got the just-released Pokémon Yellow and a magenta Game Boy Colour to play it on. I remember sitting in the corner playing it all Christmas day, marveling at having an entire weird and whimsical world hidden away in the palm of my hand. I had my Pikachu, and soon captured a Caterpie, followed by a Nidoran, and eventually a Mankey. But it was the man in the Pokécentre on Route 4, right before Moon Mountain, that changed everything.
For $US500 ($705) he sold me a Magikarp, and for dozens of battles against Geodudes and Zubats he splashed and splashed, soaking up XP as I swapped in other Pokémon to finish the job. By the time I came out the other side it had evolved into a Gyarados. I’d nicknamed the Magikarp Iliad because I imagined it swimming just off the beaches of Troy and because I’m a huge dork. Iliad proceeded to tackle, bite, and bodyslam every living thing that stood in my and Pikachu’s way until we became Pokémon champions.
A few years ago I broke Pokémon Yellow out of storage to check back in on the mythological serpent, but Iliad was nowhere to be found. Neither was Ninetales, Alakazam, or the rest of my team. Turned out the battery in the cartridge was on its way out, and could no longer hold a charge. Pokémon Yellow featured a warning on the back of the box about the game requiring “basic reading skills,” but unfortunately not one about my pocket monsters ceasing to exist one day when the cartridge battery went poof. RIP to some real ones.
How About You?
Kotaku’s weighed in, but what’s your take? Have you ever known the bitter taste of untold gameplay hours vanishing into the void? Or are you one of the lucky ones, blessedly untouched by file corruption and programming bugs? Have your say. We’ll be back next week to deliberate and debate on another nerdy issue. See you in the comments!