Seven things that remind me of my childhood

What is it about nostalgia that’s so popular? It seems like it’s always been a thing to look back fondly on certain aspects of the past. You can probably go back to ancient Sumeria, assuming you have the means, and find people talking about how great the 2230s BC were and how kids these days just can’t appreciate the songs from back then. Nostalgia is also part of why I write on this site — not the entire reason or even close to it, but sometimes I do dig back into my own past to get some ideas about what next to watch/read/play/listen to, though, and on occasion a new game or anime series will even make me remember some long-forgotten piece of that past.

Just as a break from the usual, and because I don’t have my next posts prepared anyway, I’ll write about some things that give me those nostalgic feelings. Starting with…

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

That’s how old I am now, yeah. I don’t hate the 3D games or newer games in general like some people do, but to me the Genesis/Megadrive Sonic titles will always be the best (and Sonic Mania is up there as well, though a lot of that might have to do with how much of the spirit of those games it captures.) In particular, Sonic 2 brings me back to my days as a babby gamer — one of my first game-related memories is playing as the invincible 2-player mode Tails running behind my older cousin, who always insisted on playing as Sonic, and helping him beat Dr. Robotnik.

I guess that’s not the Floating Island in the background, is it? Just some other island. This used to confuse me as a kid, since Sonic 3 & Knuckles also had an island setting.

The music also has a lot to do with those feelings. I think this is really the first game BGM that was burned into my brain. I’ve written about a bit of musician and composer Masato Nakamura’s work on the first two Sonic games here before, but it’s worth revisiting for how damn catchy and good it all is. I also love the soundtracks to the following Sonic CD, Sonic 3, and Sonic & Knuckles, but I think Sonic 2 will always be the standout for me in terms of music, even if I have to give the best game award to the combined S3&K (my favorite platformer period, even more of a favorite than any of the Mario games from the same period, though I love those as well.)

OutRun

This wasn’t by design, but it seems now like a lot of the games I write about fall under the Sega umbrella. That became especially true after Index Corporation dissolved, causing a bit of a freakout among fans until Sega bought Atlus, creating a new subsidiary also called Index Corporation that also became the parent corporation of Atlus and then was renamed Atlus itself and merged into that company (or something like that.) So now all my MegaTen stuff on the site is technically Sega-related as well.

OutRun is another Sega game I remember playing in my faraway distant childhood. This racing game originally came to arcades in 1986, but it had a very long life and was still popular by the time I came around and got coordinated enough to understand and play a game like this. I was lousy at it and I still am, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have nice memories of it that take me back to the early/mid-90s. Once again, the music is a big part of this nostalgia trip — the original BGM is very short, consisting of just three main racing themes and a short high score screen theme that you can’t hear all the way through during normal play because of the 30-second “insert your initials” timer. But I’m not alone apparently, because for a while there’s been a whole subgenre of music called “Outrun” that seems to take a lot from 80s electronic, creating a kind of retro-futuristic sound. A bit like future funk, which I really like.

Playing OutRun in Yakuza 0 has only reminded me how fucking bad I am at it.

Neon Genesis Evangelion

It’s been a long time since I actually watched Evangelion, but I still have fond memories of it as the first anime series I ever watched in a serious way. This might be hard to believe, but before this show, I really wasn’t into anime at all. Admittedly, I was way too young back in 1998, when I watched Eva through 100% totally perfectly legal means and not in Winamp in 360p, to get all the themes Hideaki Anno probably meant me to get. Back then I really just liked the style, the massive robot fights, and the weird religious symbolism. Eva also introduced me to my first fictional sort-of crush in Captain Misato Katsuragi, years before “waifu” became an English-to-Japanese-back-to-English loanword.

Classic waifu. I miss that 90s anime look sometimes too.

Winamp

Yeah, speaking of Winamp, that reminds me of my childhood too. It’s still the best Windows media player program in my opinion, even if it has been dead for several years now. Remember all those skins?

The Beatles Past Masters Vol. 1

Now all right, I’m not so old that the Beatles are from my childhood. But I did grow up hearing a lot of them as a kid in the 90s, because they did come from my mother’s childhood, and she played the hell out of the above compilation. Later on I got into the Beatles’ more artsy out there stuff starting from the 1965 album Rubber Soul on, but as a kid I knew them from their early poppy stuff, which is exactly what Past Masters Vol. 1 contained. And the songs are still really good, even if they don’t have that weird edge. Nothing wrong with some good pop music like A Hard Day’s Night, even if I’ve heard it so many times I never need to hear it again in my life.

Unfortunately, it didn’t contain any of that later stuff, not even the 1965 ones before they really went artsy like Paperback Writer (a great song with a very dumb nonsensical story in the lyrics, but still fun) or Drive My Car (also the theme to the local news morning traffic report, specifically the “beep beep, beep beep, yeah” part. I don’t even know why I remember that. More nostalgia at work I guess.) Still really good, though.

Churros

Moving into the realm of food now, something I almost never write about here, but taste after all figures a lot into nostalgia and childhood memories, at least from what I understand. Churros originated in Spain and from there went off to Latin America and then up here to the States. As a kid, though, I didn’t know this history — I only knew them as those fried dough sticks with sugar on them that we got at the state fair I went to every year. Along with corn dogs, churros are one of my old, very unhealthy childhood favorites for just that reason. They are excellent, and I regret that I haven’t had one in years now.

Source: Licensed under CC BY 2.0, by Jude Adamson, a guy who took a photo of this churro in something called Catalan cream alongside a dessert wine. Not how I consumed it as a kid, but it does look good.

Open fields/plains

Here’s a strange one. I grew up in the suburbs, but on the very edge of them — outside the development I lived in, there was a whole lot of nothing stretching for miles, so far you could see mountains on the horizon. Since leaving that place as a kid, I’ve almost always lived in large cities, so maybe seeing an open plain like that just reminds me of the stark difference between that part of my childhood and becoming a teenager and ultimately an adult. But it might also have to do with this liminal space concept I found out about a while back, in which depictions of places you’ve never even been are supposed to remind you of distant memories or something. Obviously I don’t understand it very well, but it seems interesting. This YouTube guy made a comprehensive video about the concept. (His video on the bizarre complications of creating a real-life anime girl is also quite something, though I do disagree with him about what he sees as the more negative aspects of escapism through future technology. Still interesting, though!)

I don’t look back too often to my childhood in general — it was fine, I can’t complain about any of it; it’s just something that happened, and while being an adult has its own challenges, I can’t say I’d want to go back and relive the 90s or anything. But it’s still nice to reminisce sometimes. Now that I have it out of my system, though, I’ll go back to trying to make high-effort posts instead that take actual planning and work. Unless you want a line-by-line breakdown about why the story to “Paperback Writer” makes no sense at all, and nobody wants that. So what are you nostalgic for? Please leave a comment and join in if you feel like it.

(My) top five most nostalgic video game tracks

For those of you who were wondering, I’m still alive (I know one of my recent posts might have put that into question.) Since I quit my last job, I’ve been working as a contractor, which a lot of people don’t realize is something a lawyer can do. I’ve been told this work will be a black mark on my resume, but I don’t care. I’m not that suicidally depressed anymore, and I’m making just as much money as I was making before. What the hell is wrong with that?

Since I’ve been driving around a lot, that time mostly spent sitting in big city rush hour traffic, I’ve also had time to listen to a lot of new music. And since I attended a con last month and bought a stack of imported albums, this arrangement has worked out nicely for me. I’ll be writing some posts about the albums I picked up and why you might or might not want to check them out yourself, but first I’d like to share a list of video game BGM tracks that hold a lot of nostalgic power for me. These aren’t my favorite game tracks ever, but rather those that take me back to a simpler time when I was still pretty miserable, but in a different way than I am now.

1) Phantasy Star Online – Image of Hero

Anyone who played the Dreamcast MMORPG Phantasy Star Online has this song permanently stored in his head like I do. It’s one of my favorite character creation menu themes ever (or at least one of the few I remember, which says a lot in itself.) The soundtrack to PSO is an all-around great one, especially for the level of pure atmosphere it adds to the game’s environments.

BONUS SONG/GAME FACT: The first character I made while hearing this song for the first time was a FOnewearl (basically PSO-speak for a female elf mage) because I thought she was cute. Turns out she was perhaps one of the hardest characters to figure out how to use, so I switched over to the boring default HUmar. The FOnewearl is still cute, though. Especially in PSO2, which I can’t fucking play because it’s all in Japanese and you have to run it through a Japanese proxy and I can’t figure that shit out.

hella cute

2) OutRun – Magical Sound Shower

I’ve written about the OutRun BGM before, but this particular piece packs the biggest nostalgic punch for me, maybe because it’s the default track that plays when you start a race. The other two racing tracks on the BGM are just as good, though. There’s something about the Genesis sound chip that gives the best music made with it this classic 90s feel. There’s also plenty of really godawful shitty Genesis songs that are trying to be funk and failing miserably for some reason.

BONUS SONG/GAME FACT: A vocal version of “Magical Sound Shower” was included in the PS4 rhythm game Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Future Tone sung by Miku herself. SEGA owns both properties, so they presumably didn’t have to pay for the rights. Here’s to saving money on licensing fees.

3) Final Fantasy VII – Still More Fighting

Final Fantasy VII is not my favorite game ever. It’s not even in my top ten or top twenty. It’s a good game, but it’s not the best FF title, and it’s definitely overrated. But I still listen to FF7’s soundtrack. Uematsu is a damn genius, and watching my older cousin play this game on Christmas 1997 was the first I heard his work. I have a special love for this track, basically the game’s midboss theme. Sounds extremely early 70s proggy, somewhat like Emerson, Lake & Palmer. I’d say that Final Fantasy music even played a part in getting me into 70s prog and fusion in high school. Yeah, I was a pretty popular kid.

BONUS SONG/GAME FACT: Cloud’s Buster Sword is stupid and impractical but it’s still cool.

4) Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – Chemical Plant Zone

I’ve written about this song in particular before, but I’m doing it again. The classic Genesis Sonic games (1, 2, 3&K – Sonic Spinball is a mediocre mess with a bad-to-middling soundtrack) will always hold a special place in my heart.* These are some of the first video games I ever really played in a meaningful way, exploring levels and finding ways to exploit the mechanics. Each game also has fantastic background music. The BGM for Sonic 1 and 2 was written by Masato Nakamura, songwriter for Dreams Come True, a Japanese pop/rock band, and he clearly put a lot of work into projects that might have been otherwise dismissed as music for some dumb kid’s games. “Chemical Plant Zone” is maybe the piece of his that’s most ingrained in my mind.

BONUS SONG/GAME FACT: Michael Jackson did not write this song, in case you didn’t read the above paragraph. Mike is rumored to have written some of the Sonic 3 soundtrack, though.

EXTRA BONUS SONG/GAME FACT: The background to Chemical Plant Zone is used in the intro of Red Letter Media’s parodic “Nerd Crew” Youtube videos. It also makes for a good wallpaper, courtesy of this guy on Reddit:

Is this vaporwave? I can’t tell anymore

5) Grandia II – A Deus

This last entry is a little different from the rest in that it’s a vocal piece. The limited technology of the late 80s/early 90s consoles wouldn’t have allowed for this kind of track in a game, but the Dreamcast did. This piece is very closely tied to the plot and characters of Grandia II, a god damn classic that I reviewed here – it’s a hymn sung by Elena, one of the game’s central cast. In fact, it’s player character Ryudo’s first introduction to Elena, which turns out to be a real “jaded sarcastic bounty hunter meets bright-eyed innocent girl” kind of situation. The lyrics of “A Deus” are in Portuguese, which from what I understand is mangled pretty badly by the Japanese singer. But she still has a beautiful voice, and it’s still a beautiful song.

Later on in the game, this happens. I don’t remember the context.

BONUS SONG/GAME FACT: I miss my Dreamcast.

* Specifically the left ventricle.