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 successfully returned to an ancient save file?
Short answer: No, it’s never worked.
Long answer: Last summer I tried to go back and finish Kingdom Hearts II using my original PlayStation 2 save. I think it was located just prior to the Battle of the 1000 Heartless, though I’m not 100% sure because even now I can’t decipher what the hell that was about. Suffice it to say Donald, Goofy, and Sora were navigating mountains and carving through Heartless and the game’s controls instantly made me want to throw up. The way the camera spins, the hybrid action system for choosing commands, none of it was meshing with my brain. I persevered for a few fights, died, and then gave up. Thank god for YouTube.
I’ve tried picking up other abandoned JRPGs in medias res a few other times over the years and the results have always been similarly disastrous. There’s nothing quite as hopeless as loading up Wild Arms 2, coming to just outside a dungeon in the middle of the desert, and having no idea if you saved there ‘cause you just finished it or still need to go in. I still have my original Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together file stashed on a PS1 memory card. Despite my 0% shooting average I still have hopes of one day going back and finishing the game’s last three battles. At least that’s what I tell myself.
I still remain in a state of shock that I managed to be organised enough to carry over the same save file through all three Mass Effect games. (Yes, there are only three. No.) I’m the sort of person who scatters things across the six or seven hard drives dangling out the sides of my betentacled PC with little care or sense, because I’m contemptible. My Steam installs are genuinely spread across three drives, which is just beyond stupid, and with the frequency with which any one of so many drives will just randomly go kaput, it’s like a physical manifestation of the chaos within my brain. So yes, somehow having the same save survive all three parts of the trilogy still stands out in my memory.
More recently I was utterly blown away to discover I’d at some completely forgotten moment had the good sense to back up my Dragon Age saves to BioWare’s nifty little online system, which came in handy when I finally decided to actually give Inquisition another go. (I bounced off for yet again, because it’s all zoomed in so far I can’t see a damned thing and find it vastly too frustrating.)
But more generally, when it’s about picking up an ancient save in a game I’ve long abandoned, even if I still somehow have it stored somewhere, it never works for me. I can’t do it. I don’t have the memory to bring back everything I’d done to be at that point in a game, and find it all too distracting and disjointed to continue. Meaning I’ll either start the whole thing over, inevitably stopping again around wherever that last save was from, or just walk away from my PC like a confused child.
I come back to games all the time. It’s usually the only way I finish games at all since I’m terrible at just playing a game straight through. Often I’ll just restart from scratch, but I’ve gone back to plenty of longer games or games like Stardew Valley or Animal Crossing that are meant to be played for hours to truly get the entire experience.
Video games have a shared language. In an action game, you hit square to attack. In a first-person shooter, you hold down the left trigger to ready your gun. On Xbox “A” is jump, “B” is crouch or duck or take cover, and that button in the centre pulls up the menu. I’ve been studying this language for, oh, however many years I’ve been alive, so you’d think I’d have a grasp on it by now. Ha! Good one. Whenever I try to go back to an old game, it’s like trying to get back together with an ex. Everything’s peaches and gravy for a minute, and then you remember, with startling clarity, why you parted ways in the first place.
I was tripped up most recently by Horizon Zero Dawn. After beating Ghost of Tsushima (a terrific open-world adventure), I wanted to lose myself in another terrific open-world adventure, so I dug out my copy of Guerrilla’s dino-robot-apocalypse game. One thing’s for sure: I was certainly lost. How’s this tripwire thing work? Wait, seriously, that’s the climbing? After about an hour, I gave up.
Good thing there’s a sequel incoming, where I’ll be able to re-acclimate to Horizon’s systems from scratch. I’m less hopeful about returning to the games I’m only partially through. I put Cyberpunk 2077 on pause, for instance, while waiting for that next major patch, which might make the game playable on console. (We’ll see.) It was initially planned for a February release, but was delayed to the second of March earlier this year. As of this writing, we still don’t have a date. Each day that passes makes a successful return a little less sure.
Checkered history here. More often than not I drift away from complex, modern games before quite finishing them. I play very slowly and methodically, so I may only be halfway (or a third!) through a game, but my hour count will match those of folks who’ve finished it. When, five or ten years later, I finally get the urge to pick it back up, I usually don’t want to just abandon all those hours I invested before, even if I barely remember a damn thing about what I was doing or how to play. So my eternal challenge: Can I successfully get back up to speed?
Sometimes, if I’m lucky. But it’s by no means guaranteed.
One thing that can really help is if a game provides some sort of running history I can look back on: a list of quests finished, old help messages, story synopses, audio logs, that sort of thing. These can all jog my memory and re-build the context of whatever I’m supposed to be doing.
My latest challenge is BioShock 2, which Steam says I haven’t played since 2015 or so. I loaded it up the other night and found myself mystified as to what I should be doing, how powered up I was (a lot), why I’d want to use certain weapons when, etc. I looked up the area I’d stopped at, and it turned out there were only two major areas after Fontaine Futuristics. I made it so far! But perversely, that meant I had more to catch up on.
I’m not exactly thrilled by the prospect of spending an hour or more just re-listening to every audio log, testing all my weapons and plasmids, rebinding keys, and re-learning what hacks I need to use to fix up the ramshackle PC version. (I keep good notes on that, thankfully.) But on the other hand I do want to finally be able to say I’m done with this one, and maybe, if I’m ambitious, move on to the well-regarded DLC. So I might put in the time.
I’m certain I’ve succeeded at this with various games in the past, but can’t think of a single concrete example. Which, again, is why it’s so hard to go back to abandoned games. I’m particularly intimidated by Final Fantasy XII: International Zodiac Job System, which I put 60+ hours into in 2012. I think I’m just gonna start it over, because it’s a rad enough game to be fun fresh. Well, semi-fresh. Of course, starting over makes me worry I’ll burn out even sooner this time, since it won’t feel totally new. Maybe I’m doomed.
I’m pretty awful at finishing games and have a poor memory to boot, so in the off chance I end up wanting to return to something down the line, I usually just restart back at the beginning.
I do have a very vivid memory, however, of returning to someone else’s save file in Super Mario RPG. I saved up my money as a kid to buy a copy at the local play-n-trade, and the cartridge still had the previous owner’s end-game save file. Before even experiencing the game myself, I dove into their playthrough
Needless to say, it was weird! Areas were unlocked, quests were completed, bosses were dead, and there wasn’t much to do but talk to the NPCs who were left behind. It was like exploring a world where something monumental and fascinating happened in every city but I got there just a few minutes too late every time.
Due to the way games save now, this sort of thing isn’t really possible anymore, but it gave me an interesting perspective on my own Super Mario RPG adventure when I finally jumped into the game myself.
How About You?
Kotaku’s weighed in, but what’s your take? Have you ever had a successful return to the fray, or do you resign yourself to a restart? Or maybe you’re just very special and finish every game you ever begin. Have your say! We’ll be back next week to deliberate and debate on another nerdy issue. See you in the comments!