I grew up in a small, New Jersey town known as Smithville, which is historic, quaint, and brimming with flesh-biting bugs in the summer. It’s the sort of place many know not, and I’m okay with that…mine forever more, as they say. I lived on a street that “ended” with two cul-de-sacs, and it was the kind of place where families raised their kids together at the same time, meaning I grew up with my neighbors’ kids at pretty much the same pace. We were all right around the same age, same grades, same what-have-yous. We hung out after school and on weekends, we went to planned BBQ parties, we fought with each other and made up, and had to deal with bullying and betrayal and boring bus stops in the morning. And through all of this was our parents, watching over, making amends, playing host to sleepovers and carpools, and one parent stands out to me especially in terms of today’s 30 Days of Gaming post: Mrs. B.
Mrs. B and her family lived directly across the street from my house. My family and hers were very close, as well as strangely similar in terms of kids; she had two daughters and a son, same as my mom and dad, and we were all pretty much four years apart too. We were destined to interact with each other. Anyways, Mrs. B worked the nights at the KayBee Toys in our local mall, and her son mentioned to me one day that she was able to get some great deals on the latest PlayStation games thanks to her employee discount. I believe he got Frogger 3D and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater that year for Christmas. Luckily, I was able to work out a deal between my mother and Mrs. B to obtain a copy of Suikoden, a game coming out shortly before Final Fantasy VII that impressed me greatly from a preview article in some long-lost gaming magazine. As a youngling, I didn’t purchase many games so the ones i bought had to matter. I don’t remember where I got the cash from, but I do remember handing it over to Mrs. B with boyish excitement. And then I waited, and waited, and waited, and finally the game came back to me with a nice little note, too.
Suikoden is a game I can talk about for many paragraphs, but we’re not here to talk about the game itself. Instead, a single character from it still lives in my head, falling down countless times, truly living up to his Star of Destiny, churning my stomach into knots. Yup, my favorite character is Gremio:
Servant to the McDohl family after one of Barbarossa Rugner’s Six Great Generals, Teo McDohl, saved his life, Gremio helped raise the general’s son Tir. He ended up playing both the role of a servant and a parent since Tir’s father was constantly away and his mother died some time after giving birth. He becomes a permanent party member for much of the beginning of the game as Tir escapes pursuit and begins to build his own rebellion army. At one point, Tir and company rescue a famous doctor from the prison operated by Milich Oppenheimer, another one of Barbarossa’s Six Great Generals. Before escaping, Milich traps everyone in a room and releases flesh-eating spores, which threaten to consume the entire party. Gremio is able to open the door, granting everyone freedom, but then locks himself in the room, afraid to let the spores get out. Here are his final words to Tir:
“Young Master, can you hear me? I’m sorry I can’t protect you any more … But now that you’ve grown up, you no longer need my protection. Young Master…You make me proud. I wish Master Teo could see you now. Young Master. I think it’s time to say goodbye. I can’t see anymore. Young Master. I’m proud of you. Promise me you’ll always follow your heart. That is my first, and final…request…”
In battle, if Tir’s health falls too low, Gremio will actually protect him from further damage by using his own body as a shield. Outside of battle, all the way to the end, he continued to protect his young master, no matter what the cost. It’s no wonder why Gremio is the Tenei Star (Heroic Star). What’s really sickening is that Milich can be recruited after all this to join Tir’s fight in the Gate Rune Wars.
Aerith’s death in Final Fantasy VII did not affect me as much as Gremio’s did. Both were surprising, sure, but his more so. It did not feel like a “great character death” sort of moment, just another prisoner rescue mission. I even remember loading him up with the best items before getting ready to leave the prison, only to not have lost just him, but everything he was carrying. Tir already loses his father early on in the game, and then shortly after he loses the man he called both father and friend. Suikoden is all about tragic losses actually.
I didn’t find out that Gremio could be resurrected before the final battle for many months. To do so, you simply have to recruit all 107 other Stars of Destiny, which, at the time when there was little Internet access and only magazine features to go off of, was very difficult. But I did it, and seeing him and Tir reunite just as the emotional cup overflowed really cemented his potency in my mind. It only made defeating Barbarossa all the more sweet.
Gremio is the sort of character easy to bond with. He’s caring, careful, and stubborn where it counts. He also makes a mean special stew. Thanks, Mrs. B, for letting me get to know him, if only for a little while.