Have you ever lost a game save that was so important to you, so precious, that thinking back to its loss gives you a case of the galloping shudders? I believe we all have, even if we don't want to drag those painful memories back into the light. But let's not suffer in silence any longer. It's time for a focus group.
Last week on Twitter, writer Andy Kelly asked, "What's the most devastating save file you ever lost?" He goes on to recall how he was 35 hours into Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic when some nogoodnik broke into his house and lifted his Crystal Xbox.
What's the most devastating save file you ever lost? I was about 35 hours into Knights of the Old Republic II, right at the end, when my house got burgled and some prick stole my crystal Xbox.— Andy Kelly (@ultrabrilliant) April 17, 2019
That's a real "ouch" moment for Mr. Kelly; no arguing that. But it also got me thinking about how game saves are much more secure than they used to be thanks to internal console media storage and cloud saves. The aforementioned Knights of the Old Republic save only went missing after a jackhole lifted the entire Xbox (the Xbox was the first console with a hard drive). By contrast, saving to cartridge batteries and memory cards was a dangerous game, so to speak. Heck, saving to an off-brand PlayStation memory card back in the day was as iffy as sticking a fork in an electric socket before checking the main breaker. Sure, you'd get dozens of game save slots instead of the mere 15 the official memory card afforded you, but at what price?
A fifty-fifty chance of turning on your PlayStation to find out your 60-hour Final Fantasy 7 Gold Chocobo game save was demolished by gremlins overnight. That's what price.
As kids me and my sister had a few arguments. One time she flushed my ps2 memory card down the toilet.— Jax SENTRY Champion (@JumpAndXp) April 17, 2019
My personal heartbreak dead game saves started long before the age of bootleg PlayStation memory cards, however. As a life-long fan of RPGs dating back to the '80s, I was something of a test subject for battery saves, a new-fangled way of saving your progress in lengthy NES and SNES games. Battery saves were often used in place of password systems, but the trade-off was double-edged. Sure, you didn't have to deal with the nightmare of copying lengthy passwords full of confusing characters (Is that a capital "I," and "L," or a "1?" Look carefully; hours of Castlevania 2 progress depend on it), but battery life is finite. When the cartridge's battery loses its charge, poof goes your game saves. If you're really unlucky, the battery might even corrode and ruin the game's circuit board.
It's impossible to predict when a storage battery will give up the ghost. I don't doubt there are some old cartridge games out there still faithfully clinging to the data they were entrusted with. Sadly, my SNES RPG library is filled with more heartbreak than stories of dogged loyalty. Losing my Final Fantasy 3 / 6 save in the mid-Aughts was particularly painful. I bought the game close to launch day and put over 60 hours on my main save, which had all its characters named after the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers (look, the franchise took off around the same time and I had a massive crush on Tommy). That's a lot of effort to get flushed down the john, to say nothing of them memories I accumulated going through what eventually became one of my all-time favorite games.
I worked at Woolworths n played on a shop copy of Animal Crossing DS for months. I was too poor to buy it so I just hid it in an old Most Haunted DVD box. Came in one day to find someone had bought ALL our Most Haunteds n with it my Animal Crossing with 100s of hours on it.— Gav Murphy (@cymrogav) April 17, 2019
Less devastating but no less annoying was renting an RPG and discovering its save battery was banjaxed. This happened to me often when I was a kid who rented (expensive, hard-to-find) NES Dragon Quest games instead of buying them. I put several hours of work into Dragon Quest 2, then sat slack-jawed in front of the screen the next day when I discovered my option to "START A NEW QUEST" or "CONTINUE A QUEST" slimmed down to "BEGIN A NEW QUEST." Then it happened again. And again, because I was the kind of kid who'd slam her BMX into a brick wall twice just to make sure it still hurt the second time around. To be fair, I had no idea that a faulty save battery was my problem, and I should've just returned the game to the rental store right away. I sure remembered "bad save batteries are a thing" after that Sisyphean experience, though.
Going back to Andy Kelly's initial topic of discussion: Feel free to air out any deep psychological wounds you suffered from your own lost game saves. Let's also give thanks to how the problem's been nearly wiped out by hard media storage backed up by cloud saves. Granted, the industry's shift from cartridges and CDs to digital has been disastrous for game preservation, but I guess there's no great loss without some small gain.