What we USED to know: She died. And as much as we like to poke fun at the now overblown legacy of that moment, it really was kind of a big deal back then. Unlike other tragic Final Fantasy heroes, Aerith didn’t choose to nobly (and predictably) sacrifice herself for the greater good. She was murdered. As that scene’s writer, Yoshinori Kitase, explained in a 2003 interview:
“In the real world things are very different… People die of disease and accident. Death comes suddenly and there is no notion of good or bad. It leaves not a dramatic feeling, but great emptiness. These are the feelings I wanted to arouse in the players with Aerith.”
What we know NOW: “Emptiness” is clearly a relative term, and videogame death remains as clichéd and meaningless as ever. Aerith may not have returned to life since the events of Final Fantasy VII, as so many fans have wished and even demanded, but she has been resurrected to a great degree. While her younger appearances in Tactics and Before Crisis are understandable, and her alternate universe cameo in Kingdom Hearts is forgivable, her spiritual appearances in Advent Children – peaceful, flower-strewn dream sequences in which she comforts Cloud and gives him much-needed closure – are the antithesis of what the game designers claim they were trying to achieve. Sentimentality won out over finality.
What we USED to know: Before Mario became the universally beloved, globally recognized symbol of not just Nintendo, but videogames as a whole, he was nothing more than a dude in overalls. And we liked him that way. Whether a carpenter in the original Donkey Kong, or a plumber in the original Mario Bros, he was a decided everyman, relatable to the average player even while battling turtles and riding dinosaurs.
What we know NOW: We picked on Sonic for his lame cast of supporting characters and shameless spread onto incompatible genres, but guess what? Mario’s pals are pretty damn lovable, and his non-platforming games are pretty damn enjoyable. What we wish we could erase is the origin story told in Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. Why is our supposedly blue-collar everyman suddenly a Mushroom Kingdom native… a magical infant born, raised and kidnapped in the fantastical world we assumed he’d stumbled upon as a hard-working Italian-American adult? Sure, the information makes our hero a little more interesting, but at the same time, a little less iconic too.
What we USED to know: To be honest, this honeymoon didn’t last long. For a few blissfully ignorant months of preview appointments in 2006, however, we thought the candy-filled creatures inhabiting Microsoft’s Viva Pinata were – despite their bizarre and boldly colored appearance – much like animals in the real world. They hunted, they grazed, they slept, they mated, they raised offspring and, most importantly, they didn’t speak.
What we know NOW: As soon as we received a retail copy of the game for review, we learned how wrong we’d been. Oh yes, they speak. Oh man, do these obnoxious kid-pandering clowns love to speak. In the game itself, they’re just what we’d hoped – wild beasts with unpredictable needs and no direct way of telling you, their caretaker, how best to tame them. But for the introduction, and for the synergetic tie-in television series, the piñatas are given full, irritating voice, as well as cliched Saturday morning personalities.
That majestic horse? He’s Hudson Horstachio, a celebrity with sunglasses and an agent! That mysterious fox? A Southern gentleman who loves to cook! That feral bear? A laidback surfer with stereotypical accent to match! And just like that, a surprisingly good game becomes surprisingly unplayable.