Winter is a time for reflection, but you know what winter really makes me think of? All the fucking wonderful video game memories I have from Christmases and winter vacations past. I don’t expect these stories will touch you in the cockles with Christmas magic, but they are precious as hell to me.
5. Final Fantasy XIII and Howard Stern
December, 2010: I had a 360, and I had Final Fantasy XIII for it. I pined for this game for a year before it finally came out on a system that I owned. Winter vacation was coming, and for a few days I had the house to myself. I played hours upon hours of this game on our beautiful TV, sitting under the quilt of a heated Japanese kotatsu table, drinking shochu and listening to The History of Howard Stern documentary on Sirius radio.
This was also the winter vacation that I finished Fallout: New Vegas just before sitting down to Christmas dinner with our friend’s family.
This was also the winter that the 360 broke just after New Year’s and created a dark, burning hatred for all Microsoft products that smolders still. Never finished FFXIII on that system, and I am still bitter about it. That’s why this is #5.
4. A PS2 from Mrs. Epicuzi
It takes a very special person to gift you with something like a new video game system. And in that first Christmas together, I never expected to be given a brand new Playstation 2. It was an astonishing gift, because I hadn’t even been hinting at wanting one or planning on acquiring one. I really thought I was going to ride out my great exile to Japan on a shiny silver Game Q, playing Smash Bros. and catching up on a generation of Gamecube games that I never got to play when they were current. But a PS2 was in that box, and suddenly I had access to a massive trove of games that only required my purchasing them. I think I first bought The Bouncer, because it was cheap and made by Square, and soon after abandoning that heap of garbage, found Final Fantasy VII at the Book Off, enticed by the paper display blurb on the shelf that said, “Why not spend the New Year playing Final Fantasy VII?” And for something like ¥1000, that’s exactly what I did.
The woman who gave me that PS2 became my wife because as you can plainly discern, she’s fucking awesome.
3. A dope experience with Kingdom Hearts 2
Fast forward a few Christmases, and I was given Kingdom Hearts 2 for Christmas the year it came out. Now don’t ask me how I came by it, but I also had a gram of hashish just begging to contribute to the holiday cheer. My wife was still working and we didn’t have any kids, so that winter vacation, I would wake up late and fire up the one-hitter while questing through one of the most colorful and beautiful games ever made. I don’t remember tons and tons about that game, it would so happen, but I remember being in a state of childlike wonder of the stunning environments and insect-like panic during one particular episode in Disney Castle when you have to hack and slash your way through to the throne room. I seriously feared for a moment that I might go mad then. There were strong enemies spawning, attacking, bursting into green and gold Munny spheres and respawning, Donald was barking his duck-wail everytime he got hit, Goofy shouted something incoherent as he used up all my potions, and Minnie Mouse continually screamed “MATTE!! (WAIT!)” as we did our goddamndest to press forward and the stupid bitch couldn’t even keep up. I think I called her a “cunst” in the spaced out blog I was keeping at the time.
I’ll admit it now that I had a slight elitist complex about this game, playing it before most people ever would. I’ll also admit that playing new games before everybody else is a serious benefit of living in Japan, and there’s nothing like your bitter envy to make my 2007 self feel like I was succeeding at life.
2. Getting back to The Roots with Chrono Trigger
One winter, we visited our aunt and uncle in Kankakee, Illinois, and they had an incredible upstairs den where we would usually amuse ourselves by playing games on their Apple II. But this particular winter, I felt like revisiting Chrono Trigger, so I brought my SNES with me to play on their sizable TV up there. It’s not necessarily the nicest thing to do, visit your relatives, hook up your shit to their shit, and ignore them to go kill Lavos save the world, but as a sullen 16-year old, I was straight up in my environment. At this time, I was listening extensively to The Roots’ second album, Do You Want More??!!???!!?? on repeat, even and especially while playing Chrono Trigger. To this day, when it gets cold, I always get the urge to bust both of these titles out and play them together. There are many game/music combinations like this that just work and make you reminisce, and you undoubtedly have many of your own. What are they? For me, it’s Dragon Warrior and The Dead Kennedys, Secret of Mana and Ween, Super Mario: The Lost Level and The Beavis and Butthead Experience (also best during winter), and Chrono Trigger and The Roots to name a handful. I doubt I even finished the game that year – just played it some; a tradition that continues to this day with(out) fail.
1. Super NES for Christmas, 1991
Have I ever told you how awesome Santa Claus is? He is such a nice and awesome fucking dude, and I just love his ass to death. You might think that his 1988 gifting of the Nintendo Entertainment System was greatest testament to his benevolence, and at the time you would have been right. But in 1991, he topped that with a Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and it was just the greatest thing a boy-to-dude could get on Christmas morning. To this day, I adore everything about the Super Nintendo. Its sound, graphics, and playability don’t age like the goddamn 64 or even the NES. The system came packaged with Super Mario World, which I believe I ended up finishing the morning of New Year’s Day, 1992. Ah, life was just beginning in many ways, but this watershed moment of my childhood would end up defining the person I would become. I was at a crossroads in some ways, and remember very clearly dying to be invited to the parties that kids in my sixth grade class were all throwing. Once, when I was oh-so close, I suggested, “Yo! (it was 1991) If I end up getting a Super Nintendo, maybe I’ll bring it to the party!” The kids then gave me a kind of sad, disgusted look and said, “Um, it’s really not that kind of party, you know,” and the invitation was never extended. I guess they were all into dancing to MC Hammer or some shit, and though it hurt to be excluded, I still had real friends, and we congregated around that SNES for years to come, playing Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and a slew of other games that solidified not only my love for that system, but gaming itself.
Final Fantasy IV through VI, for god damn it’s sake (well, only “II” and “III,” but you know what I mean)! I will be eternally grateful and full of warmth during the holidays, and my heart gladdens at the season in spite of the cold, in spite of the expenses, in spite of the fact that I can never go back. Merry Christmas to all, and holy shit I put this article off too long and now it’s 2013.