Hold A and B to Start

Memories and bravery may get us far, but both are second when the world is a bottle of chaos and you’re stuck somewhere on the inside, shaken up and shaken apart. I tend to feel like this at the end of the semester. It’s all just a messy blur of moments and meaningful if miniscule messages of all the things I’ve learned. Dizzying, stomach-churning, exhaustive. That’s the life of a modern-day full-time college student with multiple jobs, a family, and oft-forgotten hobbies.

Alas, hobbies!

People like to ask what I do in my spare time. I grin a bit (I swear my eyes must sparkle with mischievous light) and I ask, “What time?” Torn between studying, working, family, friends, and sleeping (as much as I’d love to go without it, physiology says I can’t), there is no time. Not until break. Or more specifically, not until the semester ends (those breaks in the middle? They’re for catching up, nor for resting, what did you think?).

Free time. Sometimes I don’t know what to do with it, but when finally I’ve remembered how to use it, well, it’s the best thing all winter. Forget holly and mistletoe. Forget eight nights and everlasting light. It’s the free time that I’m thankful for today.

A long while back I spoke about my thankfulness for video games. How they’ve taught me valuable lessons about life and living, how they’ve given me relaxation and entertainment, how they’ve been the source of inspiration and friendships for as long as I’ve played them. Sadly, being in college, I don’t often get the chance to play video games anymore. They just take up too much time, and I’m hardly at home anyways. I can sometimes manage to keep a good handheld going, but beyond that… console games? Out of the question.

This changed a bit when I got the Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword a month ago. Then again, for Zelda, why would I have it any other way? My history with Zelda goes all the way back to when I was ten or eleven, maybe twelve, when the Oracle games came out on the Game Boy Color. They looked awesome! So I got Oracle of Seasons for my birthday (or was it Chanukah? It was one of them). “Want the strategy guide?” asked the clerk at EB Games in the mall (since vanished and replaced by Gamestop). I shook my head, adamant to do it on my own.

A couple weeks later I got the strategy guide in Harris Teeter. Only then was I able to proceed past the first dungeon. Le sigh…

Only about a year or two ago did I finally get the chance to play Oracle of Ages. Awesome! I found a used copy and relived one of my most defining gameplay experiences ever, after Pokemon, at least. Playing them both to completion (without resorting to strategy guides) was incredibly satisfying and definitely worthwhile.

Of course, that’s skipping a few years. First I played demos of the Wind Waker at Walmart, my craned neck painful as I looked up at the screen. I liked it, barely any good at it, but it went on my wishlist. Never got it. Then after my friend’s bar mitzvah one year, we went to his house and played Super Smash Bros. Fell in love. Bought it for myself.

That’s when my love affair with Link really began, though it’d still be years before I got to play the Legend of Zelda classics. I came across a used copy of the bonus disc that had come out with The Wind Waker, the game pack containing not only the first two Zelda games from the NES, but also Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. I played both of them, falling in love slowly, but surely. The Wind Waker? Best game I’d ever played–second only to Tales of Symphonia, which I’d gotten for my birthday one year and have since played three or four times.

This is all getting somewhere, I promise.

I became a frequent poster on the Legend of Zelda boards on Nintendo’s now-defunct NSider forums, where we wrote fanfictions and theorized about the Zelda canon and possible timelines. When Twilight Princess was on the horizon, we spent weeks discussing theories and dissecting video clips, breaking it down to second-by-second analyses of what was forthcoming, if it followed the timeline of adult Link or young Link (a distinction I still adamantly refute), whether the Sheikah were involved, where the Sacred Realm came into play…

When Twilight Princess finally came out, I bought it. It was still some time before I had saved enough to buy my Wii, but when I had them both, and played them both, well, what could I say? It fell short of expectations. Good game, sure, but the build-up and repeated delays made it impossible for the game to even dream of achieving all the hype Nintendo had helped us create. I’m eager to play it again after finishing Skyward Sword, but it’ll be some time before I do.

When I heard rumors of Skyward Sword, I was lax to get my hopes up. Once bitten, twice shy. Or something like that. Besides, with NSiders gone and my time devoted to college, how would I keep apprised anyways? Yet when I saw previews for the game, I knew it was something special. I preordered the deluxe edition immediately.

When I finally got it, I sacrificed sleep to play it. It started off nicely, a little slow on the uptake, but as it continued, as I became more and more deeply entrenched into the story, I began to feel for the game something I hadn’t felt for a Zelda title since playing the Wind Waker. This was something original, something catastrophic and mind-blowing. The temples were designed with the utmost care, each of them unique and wondrous… The controls were flawless and immersing… And the difficulty, though classic, was the most challenging yet.

When school let out, I could finally throw myself into the game wholeheartedly–and I did. And then, last night, I fought for the last three Heart Containers, and fully equipped with all the survival mechanisms I could muster, I plunged myself into the final battle–and won. I beat the game. And I was overjoyed and close to tears at how beautifully, at how magnificently, Nintendo had wrapped up the game and set the scene not only for Ocarina of Time, which directly follows this one without dispute, but for the entire Legend of Zelda series.

I’m still touched in a deep place inside my soul just thinking about it. How I’ve felt about this game I’ve felt for no other. It falls far short of the intensity, length, and story of Tales of Symphonia, but my gosh, it stands on the same tier in my mind. Skyward Sword and Symphonia: The two best games I have ever played.

Add in Pokemon: Soul Silver and you’ll have the trifecta of flawless games, the triumvirate of video games that define me and my gameplay history entirely. If you have yet to play all three, I pity you.

In any case, today I began playing Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World. I picked it up used months ago, but simply hadn’t gotten around to starting it due to school. I played for more than an hour straight, slowly slipping back into the childhood hours I spent engrossed in the worlds of Tethe’Alla and Sylvarant. When the opening cinematic rolled to an end and instructed me, Hold A and B to Start, I trembled as I pressed in the buttons and the real game began.

My… Lloyd, I thought in the opening scenes, holding my breath as I watched, what have you done–what have you become?

Earlier this morning I was in bed reading my religion textbook. Not for any other reason than I want to learn about these faiths we didn’t cover in class; I’m genuinely interested in studying these systems, and I’m happy to finally have the chance. I’ve woken up early the past few days and just stayed in bed reading. It was incredible. So often I wake up late and have to jump out of bed right into my clothes, but now, being able to lay back and read and relax? It’s an amazing feeling.

Last night I stayed up reading about Congress in my American Government text. Again, I’m interested in it and I’m enjoying completing the course book. Then I spent a few moments with a sudoku puzzle before turning out my bedside lamp and going to sleep.

I’ve still got a list of things I want to finish before school begins again, but I’m enjoying my free time. These goals I can get to whenever I get to them, and because they’re things I want to do, I know I will get to them. I’ve forgotten how much it means to be able to lie in bed and read or go downstairs and immerse myself in imaginary worlds or just set some goals and know I can get to them whenever I want to, and that I will get to them, because I want to get to them.

I’m so thankful for this right now, I can’t even express it. So to finally answer all those who question, what do I do in my free time? I play video games. I read. I express myself. And let me tell you, there is no greater gift this holiday season than being able to do all of this.

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