Renting games as a kid was frequently the only way I could play many new games. I was lucky that I’d typically receive a game for my birthday and for Christmas, but the rest of the year, games were expensive and out of reach through any other method than renting. It was the 1990s and the idea of cheap digital downloads to stave off the lack of games seemed unfathomable.
The advantage to renting games is I had the opportunity to experience many more games than I ever would have risked asking for as a gift. The disadvantage? The competition involved in acquiring the game I was after.
That was the case with 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, also known as Beyond Oasis, was harder than actually playing the game. My local Blockbuster (remember those? No? Oh) had two copies. It looked thrilling. It had one of those newer Mega Drive boxes that had a thick blue line down the side of it. On the one hand, that meant that the game would have superior graphics and other bits and pieces. On the other hand, that meant the Mega Drive was getting a bit long in the tooth and my days of owning the latest console were very numbered. To put it into context, in Europe, Story of Thor came out the same year as the PlayStation 1 launched. Change was coming. Fast.
Most of my local area seemed desperate to try the ‘new’ games – the ones with the blue line – so Story of Thor was very popular. I’d 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 though. The game was one of those ‘fancy’ games that enabled you to save your progress on the cartridge. Something that felt like magic back then and saved a lot of time previously spent writing down excessively convoluted passwords. Of course, remember there were two copies? That made finding the right copy hard, before you even factored in the risk of your save file being overwritten. It was risky.
I spent some time trying to figure out how I could identify each cartridge and never really determined a good method. In hindsight and having stumbled across someone with the same predicament on YouTube recently, I could have just written a note in the manual or left a sticker on the cartridge to ask 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 replayed the start of Story of Thor. A lot. There may have been four save files but seemingly no one (other than me) cared about the previous player. Having played it again recently, I think I actually prefer the early stages compared to later on anyway.
Initially, Story of Thor seems very Zelda-esque. You play a hero called Ali who conveniently washes up on strange shores in a very Link’s Awakening-like turn. However, while you roam lands hacking and slashing and exploring dungeons, the game is far more combat-focused than Link’s tales. It has some puzzles, but they’re rarely as intricate as anything you’d see in a Zelda game. As a young player keen to read fascinating stories yet also adoring a bit of hacking and slashing and punching and…you get the idea, it was the ideal mix.
Very early on, you have to defeat a huge scorpion-type beast in a fairly squashed dungeon room. There’s a knack, of course. There’s always a knack with these things, but it took me a while to figure out. From there, you unlock a water spirit that proves invaluable throughout the game. Not that I’d see much more of the game very often.
Once in a while, I’d play sufficiently so that my character would end up stowing away on a ship then discovering new caves to explore. There was always that sense that I never quite got to the meat of the game though.
That was the trend with Story of Thor. I was a fairly active kid and also wasn’t very good at action RPGs. With little insight into what I was meant to do or where I should go, I ended up retreading familiar territory a lot in the game. And that’s even before someone wiped out my save file the following week.
So, I worked on perfecting the areas I participated in before. I sought out every piece of meat in the game. (Meat being the main source of health here and looking far more appetising than any meat dumped on the ground should really look.) I also worked on defeating each enemy in some kind of flawless fashion. I’d learn their moves so I could kill them without taking a hit, which sounds really skilful, doesn’t it? Not really, though, because somehow I don’t remember transferring those skills to the actual difficult enemies – aka the bosses – in the game.
Instead, I’d run out of time and the game would go back. The time loop would continue once more, maybe the following weekend or maybe a bit later. I’d never finish the game. Not until now. I returned to it and was a bit bemused at how quickly I reached areas that felt like they took forever in the past. It’s far easier than I remember now and probably not as good.
Still, it’s the fondest memory I have of renting games in Blockbuster during that era. I know I rented other games but I’d struggle to name anything more than Earthworm Jim 2 (blue line cartridge again). With Story of Thor, I can still pinpoint exactly where it was in the long closed-down store and I remember the sun shining on it. Probably slowly fading the cover of the game. I worked at the store many years later and secretly hoped I’d find it hidden away in a stock room. It wasn’t there. If I had been, I bet it wouldn’t have had my save file on it.