During this week's Nintendo Direct, I had the startling realization that the Game Boy Advance is where my intense nostalgia begins. It wasn't the first console I ever played — that was my older sister's Sega Genesis. It wasn't the first console I owned — that was the N64. It wasn't even the first handheld I owned — that was a Game Boy Pocket.
I don't know why, but Nintendo announcing the addition of GBA games to the Nintendo Switch Online – Expansion Pack is the first time one of these updates has filled me with warm memories of childhood, and not just the usual thoughts that, "Oh, I liked that game," or "Oh, I never played that one, I should check it out."
One moment in the presentation was the most helpful clue. When the box art for Fire Emblem (also known as Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade), the first in the series to get a western release, was shown as one of the future titles coming to the service, I was overcome with nostalgia for my childhood.
The strange thing about my nostalgic feelings? They're for a game I never played. I liked tactics games as a kid and, between Shining Force: Resurrection of the Dark Dragon and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, I played a few of them on the GBA. But, for whatever reason, Fire Emblem passed me by until Three Houses.
No, the GBA Fire Emblem is nostalgic to me because of advertising. I was a big Nintendo Power reader at the time, when I was between eight and eleven, so the GBA games that had ad space in that magazine are as burned into my memory as anything I actually played at the time. That box art — and the box art for the follow-up, Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones — are as key to my childhood gaming memories as the games I actually played.
There are other games Nintendo showed at the Direct that I didn't play, but have always wanted to check out. I'm a big Zelda fan, but I missed The Minish Cap. The same goes for the Mario & Luigi series. I played the DS sequel, Partners in Time, but missed the GBA original, Superstar Saga. Despite not playing these games, they feel like childhood to me. I guess it's the same way it makes me feel like a kid again to see the old Pepsi or Mountain Dew logos. There's nothing inherently good about nostalgia; it's just a chemical reaction in your brain. But, I can't deny that the Game Boy Advance makes that dopamine hit.
Aside from the games, the GBA itself is nostalgic. This section of the Direct began with a GBA booting up, playing the iconic chime I heard each time I clicked the thing on. I had the translucent pale blue GBA, but the matte purple one featured in the presentation was a fixture of those early years, too, at friends' houses, and in magazine and TV ads.
I think something that gets lost in discussions about nostalgia is the ways in which the ephemera of an experience can be just as potent as the essence. I spent hours playing Pokemon Sapphire as a kid, but the box art for Mario Kart: Super Circuit (a game I never played) is just as bound up in my nostalgia for those elementary school years. Nostalgia isn't a good or bad thing, in and of itself, but I know the contours of mine better after that Direct.
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