Here’s to you, Arpee: An Earthbound Memoriam

I was hoping to wrap up EarthBound tonight or tomorrow – I was on the final leg, so only a few hours away. I’ve heard the ending is especially great. I was hoping to sit down afterward and write my first blog in ages about it; rarely do I pull out my SNES to start a game I’ve never played before, rarer still do I finish it, and rarest of all does it live up to 16 years of hype. (Actually, rarest of all do I blog – rimshot!)

But instead, I’m writing from a place of quiet devastation, of a “what do we do now” moment. Granted, one that probably belongs on as much as here, but if you’re reading this I’d like to think that you’ll sympathize. Earlier this evening, I fired up the game for a session, excited to tackle the Major Psychic Psycho that killed me last night in the lava dungeon. I was down in the Lost Underworld, you see, where your party of characters appears super tiny on the map while huge dinosaurs stomp around you. It’s awesome.

So awesome in fact that I made a point of showing my girlfriend, who was standing to the right of the TV at the time. And then she walked left, accidentally tripping over the SNES controller cord and yanking the unit out of its resting place by an inch or two. The screen went black, and I let out an annoyed grumble. I went over to reset the system, which oddly took a few tries to get going (I have a sturdy model 2 SNES that had never failed me before). After finally getting it to the title screen, instead of the usual three save files displayed (the first two, lvl. 82 and lvl. 25, from whomever mysterious persons(s) owned the cart years before me, and the last one, mine, at lvl. 68) I was greeted with this:


Like I said, quiet devastation. 30+ hours of progress, gone. But more much importantly, my characters – with their own names, levels, items, and experience(s) – and their adventure, gone. Erased from time, and tucked back under the bed of the child-like spirit that was compelled to pick the game up after missing it the first time around. I know that I could probably find an approximated save file and replay it on an emulator, but we both know that it’s not the same. And that’s what’s special about video games. They’re so fucking inseparable from the personal experiences and interactions that you have with them. Defined by their interactivity, even. I could restart a movie, or find another copy of a book. But this feels like someone tore the book out of my hands 30 pages from the end and burned every copy on the planet. I had relationships with those characters, I was invested in that world. It was MY experience. And even if you tell me how it ends (and please don’t), MY experience didn’t end that way. MY world just…disappeared.

And that’s also what’s special about EarthBound. That it can create such a world where you’re a kid destined to save the galaxy, but one who has to call his mom from time to time lest he get homesick (actual status effect). My kid was named Arpee (as in Arpee-G, har har), but it’s the first RPG I’ve ever played where you didn’t have to erase the characters’ default names to substitute your own in. You’re encouraged to put your own stamp on it at every turn, and for the first time ever, I did. Arpee, Ladee, Buddo and Otail were having a grand adventure, and I was at the helm. It’s a small touch, but a very forward-thinking one in a very forward-thinking game. I was shocked at the innovation around every corner, and perplexed why so much of it hasn’t been carried forward into modern RPGs.

Another story: I was outside of Best Buy at 6am in line for the PS2 launch, and missed one by six people. It was three months after that that I finally got one, and only two weeks after that when my mom tripped over the cord, pulling it out of its nesting place and breaking the fan. But that was only time and money. This was the investment of adventure.

So I bid you adieu, Arpee; you were close to my heart, and your game is and was phenomenal. I know that you had it in you to save the world. If I can bring myself to start things over with another kid, weeks from now, I might…but I probably won’t. I’ll likely move on to a new game after I finish this post, and I imagine that I’ll like it just fine. But you won’t be there, and neither will the others, and everyone will be a little sadder for it.

Published in: on April 27, 2011 at 10:34 pm  Comments (8)  

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. All great art is born out of pain, Nick. With that in mind, excellent blog post.

  2. Take a break from it, then return to it. The ending is worth it, and Arpee2 deserves a chance to live.

  3. I can’t stand older tech. I’m sure it was cutting edge at the time, but it can be so cruel.

    Which is the main reason why I wish all PS3s played old PS games… the save system.

  4. I can sympathize. Not too long ago I lost my one an only Gamecube memory card, which had amassed about 10 years worth of game progress. To be fair, I was pretty much done with most of those games, but it’s saddening not to have the option to go back to any of them.

    I agree that you should set Earthbound aside for a while, then come back to it anew. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it (perhaps in podcast form? *hint hint*).

  5. Hello Suttner,

    My name is Catherine Meyers, I’m the admin of a modest games site and high traffic blog directory, I’ve been checking your blog and I find it very interesting, also, I’m sorry for your loss but a new game is always a new experience and a new relation with your characters.
    Also, I thought you could be interested in a link exchange, (no money involved), with my sites, this might help increase the visits to your blog and get nice comments and feedback. Let me know if you are interested to send you the links to my sites.

    Kind Regards,

  6. Missed the Mr. there, Mr. Suttner.

  7. I recently did the same thing (went back to finish Earthbound). I’d played the game many times as a kid, but never finished it.
    I cracked the thing open and played for about 6 hours straight. When I came back the next day the thing had lost my save and all my progress. I was pretty devastated… but I decided it was too great a game and within a few days I ran some tests and made sure that it would keep my save, then started up another round. I played less long this time and the next day it didn’t keep my save again! I was pissed.
    A little more backstory– I had recently changed my collection of SNES games over to a compact flash card that lives in a special cartridge. Now the system for this was a bit complicated, but the gist of it is- I wasn’t turning the system off in my tests, and it would save the game through a soft-reset, but not a hard-reset. I figured out how to save (Finally!) and then started my trek again.
    I finished the game and boy was it worth it! Hilariously enough, the last time I tried to play through the whole game I had gotten pretty close– right around where you got. I can’t stress it enough– the end is amazing! Don’t give up hope. You’ll get through the earlier parts much quicker this time!

  8. Did you ever finish?

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