I’m not one hundred percent sure who the “they” is, but they often say you can’t go home again. It’s a phrase I think about a lot, with plans to eventually draw a short little comic involving children, forest monsters, and cranky parents about the notion. At 31, with my life going through unexpectedly grand changes and my head occasionally thinking the worst of worst thoughts (a taste), all I truly desire is to go home. For comfort, for repose. My home now, meaning the one where I eat and sleep and sigh and take pictures of my cats, is characteristically cold and full of empty rooms. No, the home I’m talking about is the one I grew up in, the red-bricked, two-story structure that sat square in the middle of a T-cross section in a small, neighborly town. From my bedroom window there, I saw all kinds of traffic: vehicle, foot, animal, love.
The idea of returning somewhere can be both physical and mental. I physically want to go back into that house and sit on my childhood bedroom’s floor, my back against the wall just under the windowsill, the same way I’d sit for hours either on the phone with my high school girlfriend or killing time by playing the guitar and scribbling down mopey song lyrics. This is something my body is calling out for, a hunger pain. I also mentally want that time back, that feeling of safeness and irresponsibility, even if I rarely acted on it, and those voices, the sounds from below. It can’t really be replicated, at least not when it is constructed entirely around emotions and personal experiences, but going back, if I’m to believe A Separate Peace, can be healing.
Turns out, videogames occasionally make a good effort at bringing the player back “home.” I was recently taken aback by this, and the feeling it gave has been stuck in me, just under my skin, for a couple months now, itching to be scratched. I thought I’d write a bit about it, as well as some other games that have attempted to bring things full circle over the years.
Let it be said, and let it be said in red lettering, there be major spoilers ahead for the majority of the listed games. Read at your own risk.
Assassin’s Creed II
Let’s start with the game that gave me this blog post topic to begin with. Again, I’m coming to Assassin’s Creed II late, having only played the bread parts to this meat sandwich of stabbiness. Anyways, after completing some assassination missions and then training in a current day warehouse with Lucy, something goes wonky, and you find yourself back in Acre, the setting for the first game in Ubisoft’s now long-winded series. Not only have you returned to where it all started, you also are in control of Altair, not Ezio. Your mission is to follow a figure running away from you, and that includes climbing up a tall tower and seeing the city for all it is.
I had a moment of hesitation, believing this to be a dream sequence, the sort that you watch unfold, but take no part in. Eventually, I strode ahead, and it was business as usual, but tingling surfaced as I jogged past people from another game, another time period. I wouldn’t say I recognized anyone or any building in particular, but the feeling remained nonetheless–I’ve been here before. Strangely, if I had popped in the game disc for Assassin’s Creed, I might not have felt the same way, and I guess that says something about sleight of hand, of transportation.
The ramshackle town of Fyrestone in the original Borderlands is where it all started for your choice of vault hunter. You return there in Borderlands 2 to find it a changed place. Handsome Jack, everyone’s favorite man to hate, has turned Fyrestone into a slag-soaked junkyard since Hyperion moved into the area. At his orders, the town was renamed to Jackville and preserved to mock the original Vault Hunters, although robots were also sent in to kill any remaining inhabitants. The layout remains very much the same, but it’s darker, drearier, and, most importantly, more dangerous.
You don’t approach Fyrestone the same way you did in the first game, only realizing where you are once you are in the main area where you used to shop for shields and new guns and turn in missions on the job board. It certainly took me by surprise, but I didn’t have much time to stand around in awe as angry robots began to occupy my attention.
Oops, I already wrote about this moment.
It’s a short, but powerful moment. At the very end of BioShock Infinite, Booker finds himself in Rapture, the underwater utopia-gone-to-Hell from the original game in the series. Having recently replayed the game over the Christmas holidays, the moment did not feel as impactful as it first did, but when you don’t know it’s coming, it packs a doozy. There’s not much to explore or see while in Rapture a second time–it is, after all, just another doorway, and the game is over at this point, so no more combat to be had–but after spending a solid number of hours in the clouds, knowing you are deep underwater, in an oh-so-similar world once more is a thrill.
Okay. I’m stretching it here with Chrono Cross, considering it all happens within the same game, but visiting the same location in different, alternate timelines still does give off a nostalgic tingle. Like, it’s both the same and changed, a feeling of being out of place somewhere deeply familiar. There’s Home World, and there’s Another World. I love it. Plus, just before you go off to fight the Time Devourer, you do stumble across the Ghost Children, which are the ghosts of Crono, Marle, and Lucca from Chrono Trigger, so it’s a blast from the past, though a bit somber.
Got any other examples of returning to locations from previous games? If so, shout ’em out in the comments below. These were all I could think of and have actually experienced thus far, but there’s gotta be more. I can’t be the only one that wants to go home again.
The Normandy from Mass Effect comes immediately to mind, but i always thought Resident Evil 3 did a good job of taking you through familiar locations from a different angle or perspective. Its in a lot of ways why i took to the Mercenaries spin-off mini game – it was comforting to go back to areas of games i loved and still have something to do in them.