Game Review

Christmage Day 9: “A Holly Jolly Diamond in the Bargain Bin”


Kx18GL1dNEW  “The following is a contributor post by the Dapper Zaffre Mage.”

Discount bins are the juvie centers of video games. The place where things are sent for being so unabashedly bad, you weren’t comfortable sitting them next to the normal ones. If you’re ever bored enough, try subtly marking the case of any game sitting within the discount box at your local store and see how long it takes to disappear. You’d be surprised.
The budget of this title is proportional to how many S’s they had to cut back on.

Bargain bins are also purposely set outside the appropriate aisle because retailers want to be free of their piles of Petz, Dreamworks cash-ins, and assorted shovelware, knowing full well there are plenty a wandering parent who only have a vague grasp of what that box in the living room is called, and the fact that their kid wants something for it. These are fine targets to lure in with bright signs of ‘SALE!!! $7.99!’, because a lot of them happen to be the same kind of shoppers that will ask a food service worker “How much is the $5 special?”

subway 5 dollar footlongIt’s five, Edith. There’s even a hand.

So asking your parents for a game is a high-stakes gamble for a kid, because you use up a gift idea on something that counts as a ‘biggie’, for something that might turn out to be ‘Farming Adventures with Ted Danson’. And if you were a little soul whose parents thought every box near the T.V. was ‘a Nintendos’ and referred to your handhelds as ‘the Pokeymans’, you developed a great knack for risk-benefit ratios well before middle school. are real children who have felt this picture.

Fortunately, little Dap Zaf got the easier of it. My parents weren’t the most savvy about modern video games, but they still knew Final Fantasy VII was a solid choice for my brother. It was fantasy, with some kind of finality, and those words popped out of my brother’s mouth enough that it was at least a recognizable name to both of them. And while lately, the very title is a meme to some who only know it as the remake stuck in development hell, from a series with more spin-offs than weeks in a year, back then it was big news – probably on the same level as Kingdom Hearts 3 is nowadays. Back then, we didn’t have hours of scrolling through libraries of game previews, or months of trailers, leaks, and hype to ease in a new title. The games you knew were the ones you had and the ones you saw in stores – or maybe a magazine, were you in the right aisle at the market and your parents were taking forever at check-out, giving you a few minutes to steal a peek.

Pokemon prophecy from 16 years ago
But not before leafing through EGM for the Hsu & Chan comics.

So naturally, my brother asked for it that Christmas. And that’s how I knew for sure this was going to be a big thing, because there were always lots of games we got excited over, but very few of them were ‘we need to own this’ instead of ‘let’s grab it from Blockbuster for a few days’. I vaguely remember, far beyond my bedtime, sneaking out from our room at nighttime on December 24th, poking and prodding at the little boxes and bags under the tree, trying to figure out which one could possibly be a CD case. Not an easy task at all – Mom was savvy enough to stick small things for us in bigger empty boxes just to throw us off, or even stick ours among gifts meant for relatives, making the pile even harder to ruffle through. After a few minutes, I called it quits; I had knocked an ornament against the wall, and I could hear a T.V. switch on across the house. Somebody was probably awake, now.


Come the next morning, though, and you’d probably guess how this went: two kids staring at Final Fantasy VII in all its animated 3D, pre-rendered background, blocky character glory. It was such a monumental thing to youthfully-questionable-priorities me, and I knew it because our parents had even let us use ‘the living room TV.’ The ‘big TV’. The ‘Dad’s Price is Right and movie night’ TV. Of course, they didn’t get it back for the whole day, and I only stopped watching it myself because I had forgotten to actually eat something that morning, somewhere between my brother wandering around the Train Graveyard and explaining to me how Cure and Potions hurt ghosts. (“Because they’re dead, and those make things not dead.”)

It was a good time for everybody.


…But then came one year where things were going to be a little sparse.

I was really too young to understand it all at the time, or the impact it had on our family. Income and budgets are a hard concept for a kid who thought a three-inch plastic Jack-O-Lantern filled with pennies was a fair amount of money sitting in his room. All I knew at that time was something bad happened. Adults talked adult things all the time now. We cut back a little here and there on ‘extra’ stuff. My school even started offering me really cheap meals. A whole 45 cents a day for lunch, 35 cents for breakfast! Neat.

Soon after, my father finally had ‘that’ talk with me.

(Not that talk.)

I don’t remember most of it exactly, but even at the time I could tell it was more serious than other talks that just kind of popped in his head from time to time. There were (plenty of) talks where he just loved the sound of his own voice, and I’d kind of stare blankly at a wall off to his side until he finished talking Dad-speak. Then there were ones where he lowered it and stumbled on his words, like he was puzzling it out himself as he spoke, or wasn’t sure if what he was about to say was something I’d get. A tone he didn’t use often. The gist of it was, ‘Cash is a little short. Please try not to ask your mom for too much, okay?’

And to be honest, I didn’t mind that. I had a Game Boy, Pokémon was still hot stuff, and what games we already had were more than enough. Not just that they were enough; I had somebody to play them with that was just as happy to revisit the faves.

This screen single-handedly created a back-log of three years.

So I was actually surprised when, come that Christmas, there was a little case-shaped box under the tree. And it wasn’t even my brother’s this time, this one was 100% me, which was even weirder; save for that purple Game Boy Color and copy of Pokémon Red, consoles were generally under his care and I was just a happy borrower. Even more of a surprise, this case was thick – almost like a double-case, but not quite? That was odd, nothing I knew of needed a ‘big’ case like Final Fantasy VII.

It was two games taped together- and not a ploy from my mother to throw me off, but actually two games with a sticker holding both together on the left side. A 2-for-1 pack, it said, with both games having their own single case and titles listed. A $9.99 deal if I remember the yellow tag right. The first one looked to be something space-ish; a win already, because thanks to games and a little rotating lamp in my room, I was a pretty big fan of anything ‘space’. And then the second one: Battle Hunter. A cover you wouldn’t glean too much off of, but had a colorful assortment of characters on it.

File:BattleHunter cover.jpg
A cyborg, samurai, and vampire hunter all walk into a bar…

Iiiii abso-lute-ly loved it. I loved it so much, I hardly touched the other game it came with, and can’t even remember the name of that one nowadays. I was so attached to it, you’ve already heard me babble about it on this very site before. It was such a wonderful gem that years later, thinking about it, the hours of play I’ve racked up with friends, and looking it up on the internet, I was surprised to find out it was bargain bin fodder in the first place.

But the best part of it all was that I liked it so much that my parents knew I did. I’m a quiet one when it comes to stuff like that, and they always had to prod and poke around to see what I liked or wanted. (Or more often, bug my brother to spill the beans.) This gift was one of the few I didn’t shut up about; I can still remember explaining the plot to my mother as we put up our Christmas tree a few weeks later, with her giving the ornaments a humored little tug as I recalled how my brother and I teamed up against the computer opponents.

bh.pngProbably shouldn’t have mentioned the part where you mug opponents.

I still have that game. Don’t know where or even what happened to the other, only that it wasn’t terribly fun, and it certainly wasn’t Battle Hunter. And when the mood strikes, and I dig it out for another go at 100% completion, I still can’t help but think about how I wound up getting it that year, by sheer chance. I looked it up. There were several of those 2-for-1 packs by same publisher. Most of them look to be pretty ‘meh’ at first glance. Mom could have grabbed any of those instead – or maybe not at all, more practical gift ideas abound.
Let’s be fair, at this age, socks are 100% a solid gift.

Despite all that, my parents still decided to aim for what they thought I’d enjoy.

I’m still very much an unintentional pain in the butt to shop for nowadays. Thrifty to spend, but also thrifty to receive, not really asking for much, and more often than not, dodging questions about it. I hate trying to figure out what I’d like this time of year because lil’ numbers-guy me instantly estimates a cost that I’d be incurring on somebody else, and it feels weird, bad, or both. I thought maybe by this age, I could get over that awkwardness, but no, here I am, using a USB mouse my dad spent a day picking out only after I accidentally let slip I needed one. I’m typing this as I check on Draglia Lost and Pokémon Go on a new phone both my brother and mother conspired to hand over to me so I can finally stop using a cracked hand-me-down that I swore up and down still had at least two years in it. And to my left, a 3DS from five Christmas’s ago, sitting atop a Persona Q case from four, loaded up with Theatrhythm from three.

Every year they still figure out exactly what I’d like, even when I don’t tell them a thing, because they just know.

There’s no discounted price tag you can put on that.




The Dapper Zaffre Mage is a beleaguered purveyor of positive vibes and merry thoughts, who was once described as a cinnamon roll for reasons beyond his ken. Occasional exasperated ramblings and odder oddities can be found over at his Twitter.


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4 replies »

  1. What a great story! You had me laughing and on the brink of even shedding a tear, such a heartfelt recollection. I think this is a great sign of what Christmas is really all about, giving from the heart and not just the wallet. This time of year can be hard on all of us financially and a story like this is really inspiring to show its all about showing that you care and not just blowing your entire savings on your loved ones.


  2. I remember those 2-in-1s. I think I got Top Shop in one of those bundles, and even though I didn’t fully understand the rules, I played the heck out of it.
    But it’s so sweet that your parents tried to add to your collection even in tough times.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s been a cool minute since I’ve read your writing and I forgot how well you balance hilarity with seriousness. Man, there’s great impact of humor at the start of this but you really dug deep and got me in the feels with that dad-talk. I didn’t grow up in a home where we got the newest thing either and that expectation followed me into adulthood. In a way, it’s great as it can potentially lead to not being entitled, I guess? Besides, it made the year they did buy me a new console, PS1, really astounding!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. “The talk” brought back some memories. August of 1971. I was 8 and my sister 6. Dad loaded us up in the car for a trip. We were going to a place called Florida, it was a long drive. Interstate 95 was not like it is today, there were points we had to drive on US 1. They loaded us into the car well before dawn, drove from New Jersey to South Carolina, with a stop at South of the Border to see the big train they had. We stopped at a motel, we were allowed to go swimming in a pool. This was a big adventure. We got to Orlando the next day, drove to our destination. And saw the Disney World welcome center. Disney World was not open yet. My sister and I didn’t mind, we watched the movies showing all the things that were coming. It registered on me that my dad looked sad, but he didn’t let on. He drove us all to West Palm Beach, we stayed at a hotel on the beach for two days, mom took us to the beach and we played in the sand and swam in the warm water. It was a great adventure. We drove home the next day. Mom and dad were quiet, he drove straight through, we got pulled over for speeding at one point and I vaguely recall my dad talking to the state trooper. He let us go with a warning. We got home, and life for two kids went on. Christmas was not filed with lots of toys. We didn’t mind. We were too young to know the difference. Santa left us a few board games and my sister got a Barbie.

    Many years later I was thinking about that trip, and as an adult, pieced together what really happened. The building we stopped at before we left was for my dad to get his unemployment check cashed. The trip to Disney was for us partly, but also because my dad had a friend in Florida who thought he could give him a job. He had met him the morning we went to Disney and been told sorry you made the trip down, the position was filled, but he had a buddy that worked for a company in West Palm that was doing work for NASA. That job didn’t pan out either. He drove us straight through from there to home. About 1200 miles, because we didn’t have the money for a hotel room.

    I give him a lot of credit for doing what he could to make sure his kids had a wonderful summer vacation and to shield us from the realities of the real world.

    Liked by 2 people

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