I don’t consider myself to be a very nostalgic person, but after playing the MediEvil remake with my dad I’m getting the sense I might actually have a few soft spots.
Before I told him the real subject matter of this story I asked him to give me a rundown of his relationship with video games. I asked him what some key points were over the course of his life he could point to that mattered to him. I can tell you now, over the years my father never invested heavily in most of the games me and my siblings played with maybe two major exceptions: X-Men Mutant Academy, which spawned a several decades long love of that side of the Marvel universe, and Rock Band, which bridged musical generational gaps between all of us. But when I asked him about the games he played back in the day, he immediately referenced a game that he called his favorite, but didn’t call it by name. Instead, he referenced how it affected us as kids.
“My favorite was always that one y’all were kind of scared of,” he said. “That was my favorite one. Y’all would stay with me until [a monster] came out, then you’d run out of the room screaming.”
The game he was referring to was MediEvil, a PlayStation game from 1998 developed by SCE Cambridge Studio (a Sony studio that has since shut down). It was set in the fantasy world of Gallowmere, after a resurrected warlock named Zarok rose the dead and started wreaking havoc on the citizens. But in doing so he also revived Sir Daniel Fortesque, a soldier who history has made into his arch nemesis. Even if the truth of the situation wasn’t quite as glamorous.
My family was first exposed to Sir Dan’s adventure on Christmas Day 1998. It was the year our family made the leap to a new console and got the first PlayStation, having mostly lived off the original Nintendo Entertainment System before then. For me, MediEvil was a stepping stone to an attachment to PlayStation and video games in general, but for my dad it was the game that stuck with him for over 20 years to the point where, when asked what games he remembered playing with us growing up, it was the first to come to mind.
It is funny though, that his main memory of MediEvil is how much it scared my six-year-old self. Because yeah, okay, I’ll admit that when we got to one of the first major bosses in the game, a demon entirely made up of stained glass, and it jumped out at Sir Dan from a church’s window, my Kindergarten-aged self did, in fact, run away. But now that I’m an adult playing through it again I realize the game is really pretty silly, but its ability to set the spooky ambiance was, and still is pretty effective.
When that happened it ensured me and my siblings wanted nothing to do with the game but also set my dad on the path to finishing one of the only games he ever did of his own volition. As such, a lot of my memories of MediEvil are from my dad telling us about it after the fact, as I was too scared to be in the room for it. For my dad, his memory of the specifics are about as vivid as you can expect from someone who hasn’t played the game in 20 years.
“I remember a good bit, I guess,” he said. “I remember the hard parts about getting into the Hall of Heroes and beating that dragon (Zarok), or whatever he was. He was so hard to beat. Most of the other beasts weren’t that hard to beat, but he was almost invincible and I didn’t have a lot of ammo when I fought him.”
While I wasn’t in the room for a majority of that, I distinctly remember him gathering us into the living room to proudly proclaim he’d beaten Zarok, then doing it again so he could show us how the game ended. But while he watched me play through the remake on PlayStation 4, the specifics started coming back to him. Solutions, routes to take, and even that the stained glass monster was weak to Sir Dan’s throwing knives.
“I remembered some trails in the graveyard and I remembered how to beat the stained glass monster too,” he said. “But I don’t think I remembered it all well enough of it to be able to beat it the first time. I definitely don’t know if I could’ve beaten the stained glass monster for the first time. He even got you down about halfway through your life.”
Playing through MediEvil now, I can see it’s actually pretty tough. It’s given me a new respect for the fact that my dad, who typically didn’t play video games at all, was tenacious enough to beat it by himself. A lot of that challenge comes from some archaic design, including lack of real lock-on features for its hack-and-slash style, no real check-point system, and its levels are long enough that any death and restarted level will result in a heavy time sink should you feel the drive to go again. These issues might not have had names to my dad, but he seems to have appreciated how hard MediEvil was.
“We were pretty young back then with video games, and that was probably the hardest one we’d ever had back then,” he said. “I just remember how many hours we all put in working to get all the way through. After I beat that one I was ready to bow out and stick to the boxing and fighting games like X-Men.”
So now that I’ve basically been given a second chance to make my way through MediEvil myself, I’m seeing the levels my dad told me about, fighting the enemies he conquered, and finally seeing Sir Daniel Fortesque’s journey to the end. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to drag him into the living room to tell him I beat Zarok too. Then I’ll boot up my PS4 to show him how it all ends.