I was born and raised in a very traditional and conservative family in Mexico -- growing up was indeed difficult. Liking videogames raised more than a couple of eyebrows, and even my parents found it odd that I, as a girl, liked them. Those were the times!
Even now it's very uncommon for parents here to play videogames with their children. The attitude in Mexico is that video games are a waste of time, and youngsters that play "Nintendos" -- as folks call them -- are juvenile delinquents in the making. Despite all of this prejudice, some of my happiest memories from childhood were playing games with my dad.
We didn't have much when I was little. I didn't even know consoles existed until my cousins got both a NES and a SNES, on which we spent hours playing Dr. Mario. Whenever they got grounded, my uncle would drop by our place and leave their SNES with me. Cheers to strict Mexican parenting! I was very young, probably three or four years old, and I was really into those weird "square" looking characters, with vibrant colors and funny noises.
The attitude in Mexico is that games are a waste of time, and youngsters that play "Nintendos" are delinquents in the making
Somehow this childish enthusiasm rubbed off on my dad as well. We didn't own any system until 1998, when a family member brought us an N64 from the US. Then, the following year, my dad bought us a PSOne Slim and with it came many many hours of joy in front of the TV.
We played several different games before discovering The Legend of Dragoon. When we got it for the first time we didn't know what to expect from this four-disc box, except that it would be lengthy. As soon as we turned it on, we were rewarded with a beautiful song and a mysterious cinematic intro. My dad wasn't that excited since all Japanese RPGs at the time had a very anime-esque art direction, which wasn't his cup of tea. Setting his bias aside, we gave it a go and never looked back. We found that the rich and complex fantasy plot was a perfect middle ground, a safe space for both of us to be and bond as father and daughter.
The Legend of Dragoon is a 1999 JRPG game, developed by SCE Japan Studio, and brought to America in 2000. It is loyal to the genre, featuring a party of heroes with classic roles, a turn-based combat system, magical abilities, and, of course, a dramatic and complex plot driven by fate. The story follows the protagonist Dart who starts his journey by pursuing the "Black Monster" in order to avenge his family. Soon enough he finds out that he's able to transform into a Dragoon using an ancient power that leads him to new mysteries in the cosmogony of this universe.
The plot is divided into several chapters that reveal the characters' pasts and how they're moving forward in this adventure. While most cutscenes are created with low-poly assets, there are a few cinematic ones as well. As in most JRPGs from that time, backgrounds are pre-rendered and the illusion of depth is created through panels and perspectives. Battle areas are a lot wider, with spacious arenas where you fight against foes and monsters. Sometimes mid-battle bosses would throw in some dialogue that caught you by surprise, making the experience a lot more engaging.
We started to appreciate its details. For example, the city designs had their own atmosphere accompanied by distinct music and environmental sound design. Story and context were given away by the NPCs, which brought the history and customs to each area, making this universe feel timeless and unique.
Other family members mocked my dad for liking a "children's game", but that didn't stop us from playing
Although the chronological events of the game were laid out in front of us, we struggled together since we didn't understand some of the English from the cutscenes. Still, the well-written dialogue and intricate story were captivating. My father would point out that the game didn't look like other JRPGs. He used to say that it made him feel as if he was watching an epic fantasy TV series. We were both were amused and fond of the characters, the picturesque villages and environments, which made us wonder about the vast world offered by The Legend of Dragoon.
Coming from a conservative Catholic family, the game's cosmovision about divinity did feel familiar to us. We admired the stylistic choice of weaving the fantasy ominosity of ancient gods through Renaissance like paintings. The blend of medieval codex and Mesopotamian art made the experience feel even more whimsical. Ironically enough, we were both agnostic.
We were so fascinated by the game that during a spring break holiday we took the PSOne on vacation to visit my grandparents. We were in the middle of disc two and we couldn't leave it hanging. As we anticipated, other family members mocked my dad for liking a "children's game", but that didn't stop us from playing. We spent each morning at my granny's playing for a couple of hours and then back to our planned activities.
It took us a while to beat it, but when we reached the ending and the beautiful song from the intro played again, I remember holding back tears. I couldn't let myself cry in front of my dad. I didn't feel comfortable showing my emotions, but I knew deep down he was moved by the conclusion of our epic journey as well. I remember him saying with a smile on his face "este juego sí estuvo muy bonito", which translates to "this game was indeed beautiful."
My father was a very joyful guy, practiced lots of sports, and was into movies and music, too. I was a shy and nerdy tween so we struggled to get along. He was stern with me since I was the eldest and I always felt judged for my choices. Sadly, he grew up in a very macho culture so, as a girl, I rarely felt understood. He passed away ten years ago due to a work accident, leaving us all heartbroken. There was a lot we couldn't work out together that still saddens me, but I know that he'd be very excited to know that I decided to work in the video games industry. I know for sure that if he was with us today he would be stubborn enough to try becoming a game developer as well -- this thought makes me smile.
I'm left with happy memories of us playing together. It bonded my whole family. My mom and siblings have their own stories about him and his passion for gaming, and how we all ended up sharing and learning from each other through it. Since I started working on the Lunch A Palooza project I have witnessed firsthand this connection between parents and children. Watching them discover and share their joy and excitement while playing our title leaves me very motivated and happy.
It also makes me hopeful that there's a chance my work with games can bring families closer together. I hope that Lunch A Palooza does for them what The Legend of Dragoon did for us.