We’ve all had a time in which, for whatever reason, we didn’t check out that one landmark work when it was released. Maybe you were too busy at the time and forgot about it until years later. Perhaps you weren’t in the mood to see what it had to offer. It could’ve even resulted from the decidedly strict limitation of not having been born yet. Whatever the case may be, I’m positive we’ve all had that experience in which we didn’t get into a work months, years, or even decades after the fact… sometimes to our detriment. Ever hear the phrase “You had to be there”? I feel that applies to certain works out there. It’s not to say they haven’t held up well, but for a lot of them, you miss out on a certain something by getting into them after the fact.
A lot of people argue this is true of music, but in all honesty, I don’t quite believe that to be the case. It’s true that what a big deal some defining albums were may be lost on later generations, but each era manages to be good in ways later ones couldn’t fully replicate. Indeed, what I believe is the medium’s greatest strength is that its artists find ways to be good on their own terms. They may take inspiration from their predecessors, but they tend to go in new directions with their own work. This means that the newer artists could claim to be more technically skilled, yet the older artists’ efforts aren’t invalidated. At the end of the day, the best artists of each generation made music people still want to listen to all these years later, proving the extent of their staying power.
I also don’t think I’ve ever had this experience with films, but one I can think of that would be subject to this phenomenon is Avatar. This film was an incredible technical achievement for its time, but a lot of that is lost attempting to watch it at home on a small screen. At that point, the hypothetical viewer would only judge the film based on its writing and characterization, of which it comes up short on both accounts. Having followed up the similarly subpar District 9, Avatar continued science fiction’s poor showing in 2009. In the end, it managed to impress critics by placing more of an emphasis on style over substance. The film then proceeded to generate an incredible amount of money in the box office only to have little impact on pop culture. As a result, I feel that had I not seen the film when it came out, I would’ve reached my current stance on it much faster.
When it comes to video games, on the other hand, I can think of a few examples.
The first one that springs to mind is Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I want to make it perfectly clear that I don’t think it’s a bad game – far from it. It’s just that a lot of people consider it one of the greatest games ever made when I just found it to be merely good. I think what didn’t help is that by the time I finally got around to completing Symphony of the Night in 2014, I had already played Dark Souls, which I consider to be a superior take on the Metroidvania formula. Even discounting having played Dark Souls before finishing it, my first attempts at playing Symphony of the Night in 2009 resulted in me being uninterested in seeing it through. By then, I had played Portrait of Ruin, which I feel had a better interface, though it was probably worse as an actual Metroidvania.
Another example I can think of is Cave Story. When this game was making the rounds on the internet in the 2000s, it was huge. Practically no other independent effort felt like a cohesive, fully fledged experience that a professional developer could have made – and this was created entirely by one person from scratch. Indeed, I feel a lot of the credit Braid gets as a turning point for independent gaming should be attributed to Cave Story instead. That being said, when I played Cave Story in 2010, I wasn’t terribly impressed. I hadn’t experienced that many independent efforts at the time, but the strange physics engine and occasionally unintuitive gameplay wound up throwing me for a loop. I probably would’ve been more willing to overlook the flaws had I played it when it was first starting to achieve popularity, but by 2010, I wasn’t. A lot of people insist that the lack of polish gave independent games from the 2000s/early 2010s charm, but while the AAA industry ended up adopting a lot of questionable design choices over the years, remembering to polish their gameplay isn’t one of them.
One last example that stands out to me is BioShock. Despite what most fans of Ken Levine’s work insist, I still believe it to be a superior effort to System Shock 2, but while it’s touted as one of the greatest storytelling experiences the medium has to offer, I didn’t feel that way when I played it in 2013. At the end of the day, it feels like they just crammed a satire into a first-person shooter without making sure it actually benefited from being in a game. Considering other storytelling efforts such as Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors managed to find ways to experiment with the medium to a greater effect, the divide between story and gameplay is jarring in hindsight. Granted, I do still give BioShock credit for remembering to be a game most of the time, which is more than what could be said of later AAA efforts such as Spec Ops: The Line and a fair chunk of Naughty Dog’s output that all try and fail to be films – often at inopportune moments. So while BioShock has a tendency to appear on many “Greatest games of all time” lists, I merely think it’s pretty good.
Now it’s your turn.
Do you feel as though getting into certain works late caused you to think less of them due to having missed their initial impact?