Going back and replaying old games I used to love just for the sake of nostalgia is always an interesting experience. Either the game is just as good as I remember it or it’s just, yikes. But the one thing that really flares up my nostalgia is starting a brand new save file and proceeding to explore the initial starter town. Starter towns, starter levels or starter area’s it doesn’t really matter. As long as it’s the initial area where the game begins and you have full control over the character. A lot of the time this is also where you usually go through some kind of tutorial in the form of meaningless tasks to familiarize you with the game. However, besides teaching you how to play starting areas also provide another vital role for the player.
You see nine times out of ten the starter town is where you’re introduced to the theme of the game. Depending on how it’s done this can set the whole tone for the journey that awaits you. If a final boss fight in a video game is the last chapter of a book then the starter town could be considered the hook that draws you in at the beginning of the first chapter. Everything from the music that’s being played to the NPC’s you interact with it, it all helps to build up that anticipation to dive in and see what’s out there waiting for you to explore.
For example, one series that always manages to knock it out the park in this regard is the Pokemon series. The Pokemon games have some of the most memorable and nostalgic starter towns when it comes to RPG’s. At least to me anyway. When you walk out the door and take your first steps into Pallet Town and that iconic theme song starts to play, that is some good shit. But besides the clean ass music, something else starter towns in Pokemon do really well is getting you excited to start your journey to become a Pokemon master. The town is usually full of super supportive NPC’s that only want to see you do well. And even after you’ve collected all the badges and become the Pokemon master you set out to be, coming back to your old town just to visit your mom that’s some emotional stuff. I don’t know what it was but as a kid once I completed both regions in Pokemon Silver coming back to New Bark Town I felt older. As if the character I was playing as actually aged. Maybe I’m the only who felt that way. Maybe I was just a lonely weird little boy who spent too much time playing video games.
There’s just something so magical about starting a brand new game and being in that initial area. It’s kind of like the calm before the storm. Right before you start slaying badass monsters, and collecting cool ass weapons, you have to find your little sister so you can celebrate your birthday. Zelda also has some classic starting areas. I swear I must have beaten Ocarina of Time dozens of times yet Kokiri Forest just never loses its charm. In the same way, Clock Town from Majora’s Mask invokes this energetic feeling of positive energy that makes you feel like you can do anything. From the hustle and bustle of the NPC’s and the once again fantastic musical works of one Koji Kondo. It all mixes together to form a feel good nostalgic environment. At least on the first day.
But it’s not just RPG’s that can capture the allure of a starter town. Grand Theft Auto 4 does this in a big way. Stepping fresh off the boat and into Broker players get access to an entire New York borough from the start. Rockstar really managed to sell the idea of the American dream. Where you start from nothing and grind your way to the top. The first time I played this game I couldn’t believe how well Rockstar captured the essence of New York City. The skyscrapers, the traffic, the people, and even the street vendors. I felt a little overwhelmed but at the same time excited to explore the rest of the city. And Honestly that feeling never really went away as I played through the rest of the game, it always felt like there was something for me to do. The city felt alive as if it existed independent of me being there.
The Citadel in the Mass Effect series is another initial starting area that just holds that special feeling to me. Returning to the Citadel After I’ve murdered an immeasurable amount of alien species far out beyond the stars I get excited to see what’s changed since my last visit. Catching up with crew members in different locations like the bar, a club or just outside having lunch. It’s like some sort of homecoming every time I go back. It made it seem as if there was a real passage of time. God damn, I love that series.
So to recap I think a lot of people overlook the beauty of starter towns. We’re always in a rush to just get out there and get past the tutorial island. But if you just stop take a look around you might find something that can really resonate with you.