Sitting around, shooting the shit with your friends and somehow or another an old game gets brought up. “Man, Final Fantasy VI was such a good game.” “I dunno, I haven’t played it.” “Why not? It’s one of the best FF games, if not the best FF game, ever. You should give it a try.” “Can’t do it. I can’t go back to old games. It just looks so old.” This happens to any game you bring up from the SNES generation, PS1/N64 Generation and the PS2/Xbox generation. For many, there’s a window that first time-players are willing to try a game and once that time passes, it’s hard for them to give it a try. This even happens to people who have played it long ago, but I think the window for replaying it lasts longer than for those that didn’t play it during its original time, but without hard numbers its only speculation and I might try to find this out in a different article.
Then why are some games easier to go back to than others? Funny enough, it seems easier to go back to games from the NES/SNES and even some PS1-era games than PS2-era games. Does this mean that the older a game gets, there’s some magical threshold that makes it easier, more desirable to try it instead of less? Well, I wouldn’t say that. Most of the games that I tend to find myself and find others going to play and replay are games that are closer in creation to SNES/NES type games, meaning 2D-Platformers and RPGs. I think the big ingredient to longevity is what was found in the many games of this generation of consoles.
The big problem with going back to older games is that you have the philosophies in evolution and implementation of contemporary games to compare older games to, e.g. gameplay elements that you like, fluidity in control, e.g. movement and combat, faster paced gameplay, immersive sound and level designs, such and such. Our metrics for measuring a game become more refined and attuned to the tastes of the games that we interact with so when we go back to older games, we try and judge them with the criticisms of today, not with the criticisms of its inception. 2D games have the upper hand with this fact because 1) they haven’t changed considerably since we left 2D games during the PS1 era and 2) during the SNES/PS1 era, 2D game design plateaued in most aspects (sound design, level design, gameplay) making the games of the past just as fun to play as modern games. Even with modern criticisms, 2D games tend to hold up to its contemporaries, something that’s hard to say for the 3D games of its time. The only real criticism that you can have is that games weren’t as fast-paced as games of today, often suffering from major slowdown when too many objects had to be managed in-game, but modern games usually don’t suffer from this problem unless they’re drawing too much glitter on screen.
Maybe this is why a game like Chrono Trigger held my attention as a game that I didn’t play in my childhood, but instead enjoyed the game more recently for the first time and could still appreciate the game for everything that it did right. A game that I felt no nostalgic connection to because it never attached that umbilical during my growth, being able to dampen my expectations from the countless others that did play and prophetically exclaiming their love of the game, I was still able to play to completion and enjoy wholeheartedly enough to make it one of my favorite RPGs. Other games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night still hold up extremely well, but become harder to gauge just how well because this is a game that I did play in my more formative years. I can analyze all of the good points about the game and why it should be considered a good game, and I have done so as far as musical atmosphere goes in another article [link later], but all of this can still be argued as a Nostalgic connection making it feel better than it is. This connection means games like Final Fantasy VII, Goldeneye64, Super Mario 64, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time are games that while always remembered for being great games and many of which will be replayed from time to time, but will suffer from having varying degrees of fun and completion. FFVII and Goldeneye were great for what they started, a kick start and inertia in the development and creation of JRPGs games and the FPS-genre games with a focus on multiplayer in consoles. That being said, it’s almost impossible to go back to these games and get a high level of enjoyment out of them without the help of that nostalgia umbilical cord. The blocky faces, primitive controls, contemporarily rudimentary level layout, basic enemy AI makes it hard to take the game seriously. Because we’ve become so attuned to the depths of immersion that contemporary games have developed and perfected thus far, it makes it hard to pull our attention towards these games; every time something occurs in-game that is so disconnected from how it’s done these days, that dissonance pulls us out easily, making the game feel long and troublesome instead of fun and immersive. We never reach a flow state, having fun and being challenged in a trance-like state, doing but unaware of just how much we are actually doing.
What does this all mean then? It means that we’ve found a peak in 2D gaming making it easier to play games from the distant past, but are still working on our peak in 3D gaming. So when more advanced games come out with better graphics, more immersive scene-scapes, more fluid controls, it shrinks the window of enjoyment from games of the distant past. Nostalgia becomes less of a factor in 2D games unless the leap in gameplay is dramatic between it and the pinnacle. We can see small peaks in genres when comparing contemporaries to games like Bioshock, Halo, League of Legends, but still no plateaus yet.