Golden Visions: On Xenoblade and Nostalgia

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

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I want to call attention to moments we’ve all faced as people who genuinely enjoy video games. What I have in mind goes far beyond games to encompass all forms of entertainment, but as some of us begin to put the finishing touches on Xenoblade Chronicles, moments like this become clear.

Whenever a video game, film, book, or even a piece of music profoundly impacts someone, something special happens. The synapses in that person’s brain explode with the realization that they have just witnessed a new paradigm in their preferred form of entertainment. You know something is powerful when your initial reaction to its end is just to walk away, taking however long you need just to let it all sink in.

Everyone here has experienced something like this, no doubt. But after pouring my heart into over eighty hours of exploring the world of Xenoblade Chronicles and finally seeing its rich story draw to a close, I realized something…

It’s been a really long time since I last felt like this.

I’ve been mesmerized by the experience that video games provide since I was so young that I could barely hold my NES controller. I grew as technology evolved, and I’ve played through titles most consider to be “the greatest games of all time”. As I put down my Classic Controller Pro and slowly walked away from Xenoblade, I couldn’t help but hear the echoes from the past…a comfortable, familiar wave like the one that enveloped me the first time I beat Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VII, or Phantasy Star.

I’ve waited so long for a game to genuinely impact me. I’ve indulged in some of the greatest games on Wii over the six years that I didn’t own any other gaming console. And since I bought a PS3 last winter, I’ve been quick to catch up on all the wonderful Triple A titles I’ve missed. In spite of all of this though, while many of these games impress me, it’s very hard for me to place Super Mario Galaxy 2 as highly as Super Mario World or Super Mario Bros 3, for example. I think many developers are desperately trying to capture the same lightning in a bottle as they did when they created some of the games that define the medium. Aonuma has said over and over again that he’s been trying for over a decade to surpass The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, after all. Tetsuya Nomura has said in a recent Famitsu interview that rather than remake Final Fantasy VII, he is more concerned with creating a game that can manage to surpass it.

There are titles bound to each of us, games from generations past that we consider to epitomize the pinnacle of their respective genres. Has “the greatest Final Fantasy game” from the SNES or PSX era truly aged well when compared to something of the visual scope that Mass Effect 3 has?  Or is the more appropriate question to ask—will a polished RPG experience from this console generation truly persevere against the golden visions of games from our past?

Xenoblade Chronicles dares to answer that question with “yes”. Despite its graphical shortcomings when compared to games of a similar vein that remain exclusive to the Xbox 360 or PS3, reviewers and the gamers they influence still consider Xenoblade to be “the greatest JRPG of this console generation”.

I want to know your definition of great. I want to see the golden visions from your past, and hear what titles you believe come anywhere close to competing with the memories of youth.

Has creating a great game truly fell to the wayside in a developer’s personal folly to surpass his greatest creation from the past?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.