As a kid, borrowing games was often the only way to play lots of new games. I was lucky enough to usually get a game for my birthday and Christmas, but the rest of the year games were expensive and unobtainable by any method other than renting. It was the 1990s and the idea of cheap digital downloads to stave off the game shortage seemed unfathomable.
The benefit of renting games is that I’ve had the opportunity to experience far more games than I would have ever risked asking for as a gift. The disadvantage? The competition associated with acquiring the game I was looking for.
That was the case with the not-quite-Zelda-clone-but-it-is-basically Story of Thor on the Mega Drive. In many ways, competing for a copy of Story of Thor, aka Beyond Oasis, was harder than actually playing the game. My local Blockbuster (remember those? No? Oh) had two copies. It looked exciting. It had one of those newer Mega Drive boxes with a heavy blue line down the side. On the one hand, this meant that the game would have superior graphics and other odds and ends. On the downside, that meant the Mega Drive was showing its age and my days as the owner of the latest console were very much numbered. To put it in context, in Europe, Story of Thor was released the same year that the PlayStation 1 was launched. change came. Quickly.
Most people around me seemed keen to try out the “new” games – the ones with the blue line – so Story of Thor was very popular. I would fight for a copy by getting my parents to drive me to the local store as early as possible on a Saturday morning. The challenge didn’t end there, however. The game was one of those “fancy” games where you could save your progress on the cartridge. Something that felt like magic at the time and saved a lot of time previously wasted writing down overly convoluted passwords. Of course, remember that there were two copies? This made it difficult to find the right copy before you even considered the risk of overwriting your backup file. It was risky.
I spent some time trying to figure out how to identify each cartridge and never really found a good method. In hindsight, and having recently stumbled across someone with the same predicament on YouTube, I could have just written a note in the manual or left a sticker on the cartridge asking them not to delete the save. But hey, I was a kid who clearly could only solve in-game puzzles, not real ones.
So I reenacted the beginning of Story of Thor. A lot of. There may have been four backup files, but nobody (except me) seems to have bothered about the previous player. Having recently played it again, I think I prefer the early stages to the later ones anyway.
At first, Story of Thor looks very Zelda-esque. You play as a hero named Ali, who is conveniently washed up on alien shores in a very Link’s Awakening-esque round. However, as you roam the lands, hack and slash and explore dungeons, the game is far more combat-oriented than Link’s stories. It has some puzzles, but they’re rarely as complicated as anything you’d see in a Zelda game. As a young player who wanted to read fascinating stories but also loved a little bit of chopping, batting and hitting, and… you get the idea, it was the ideal mix.
Very early on you have to defeat a giant scorpion-like beast in a rather crushed dungeon room. There is of course a hand. There’s always a knack for these things, but it took me a while to figure it out. From there, you’ll unlock a water spirit that will prove invaluable throughout the game. Not that I see much more of the game very often.
Every once in a while I’d play to the point of my character ending up as a stowaway on a ship and then discovering new caves to explore. I always felt like I never quite got to the heart of the game.
That was the trend with Story of Thor. I was a pretty active kid and wasn’t very good at action RPGs either. With little insight into what to do or where to go, I’ve retreaded a lot of familiar territory in the game. And that was even before someone deleted my backup file the following week.
So I’ve been working on perfecting the areas I’ve participated in before. I’ve searched every piece of meat in the game. (Meat is the main source of health here, and looks far more appetizing than any meat thrown on the ground really should look.) I’ve also worked on defeating each enemy in some sort of flawless manner. I would learn their moves so I could kill them without getting hit, which sounds really handy doesn’t it? Not really, because somehow I don’t remember transferring these abilities to the really difficult enemies – aka the bosses – in the game.
Instead, I would run out of time and the game would go backwards. The time warp would continue once more, maybe the following weekend, or maybe a little later. I would never finish the game. Not until now. I got back there and was a little confused at how quickly I reached areas that felt like they had taken ages in the past. It’s a lot easier than I remember now, and probably not as good.
Still, it’s the fondest memory I have of renting games from Blockbuster during that time. I know I’ve rented other games, but I’d struggle to name anything other than Earthworm Jim 2 (blue line cartridge again). With Story of Thor, I can still pinpoint exactly where it was in the long-closed store, and I remember the sun shining on it. Probably the cover of the game is slowly fading. I worked in the shop many years later and secretly hoped I would find it hidden in a storage room. It wasn’t there. I bet if it had been me it wouldn’t have had my save file on it.
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