My Policy on Save Scumming and Why Rewinding Does More Good Than Harm


I’ve only recently been playing the NES and SNES games that come with Nintendo Online long enough to really use the rewind feature Nintendo introduced a while ago. On one hand I kinda do think it’s cheating when overused, but on the other hand the level of simple convenience it provides probably outweighs that.

Rewinding — wherein players can literally turn the game back to where they were from a few seconds to around a minute ago, is really just an extension of save states and the danger of save scumming that comes with it. It pretty much just builds a new save state every couple seconds. I’ve actually been playing quite a few ROMs on various emulators recently, and over that time I’ve come up with my own policy on save states that pretty much applies to rewinding too, but rewinding has a lot more uses that I wish were feasible in more modern games.

Games from the old days, the kind that you typically play on emulators with save states, were just plain harder than just about everything else out today. Games of the 8 and 16-bit eras were still designed like arcade games that were built to siphon quarters from consumers. It was usually a game of pattern memorization you went through by dying over and over again. Games today don’t expect you to put up with failure nearly as often unless you’re playing Dark Souls.

So, it’s natural that companies like Nintendo would use save states as a blanket method of enforcing today’s failure rate standards onto yesterday’s games, even if some argue it  breaks those older games. If you look all the way back to Virtual Console on the original Wii, Nintendo has actually been doing this in incremental steps. VC games on the Wii only had what were essentially temporary exit saves — they’d create save states only when you exited a game and only load them once. They only gave you the convenience of exiting a game whenever you needed to without losing progress or upsetting the game’s original difficulty. Real save states you could create at will only came with the 3DS and Wii U. Rewind on the Switch is just the next step.

My policy with save states is essentially to accept that these old games are about dying repeatedly until you master each level, and that’s what I still try to do. What frustrates me though is mastering a whole level — getting through it without taking damage and finding every secret, only to get stuck at the boss or some other final challenge. So now if I determine I’ve mastered a particular level of section to the point of getting through it flawlessly more than once, I’ll save at the end of it, because it’s useless for a game to make me repeat a challenge I’ve trivialized. This way I spend all my time only repeating the parts of a game I still need to master.

Other than that, there might be specific parts of games people have simply agreed are unreasonable, which I’ll save scum. A poster example might be level 6-2 from the original Ninja Gaiden. If you don’t know, this is a fun video on what’s wrong with it. I got to 6-2 legit on the original Wii but basically stopped there. I got past 6-2 a couple times, only to die on 6-3 or 6-4 and have to start the game from 6-1 again — a policy Ninja Gaiden only adopts for level 6. It’s just proof that even the best games have blemishes like this — stupid difficulty spikes. Save scumming and now the rewind feature in particular though I’ve found can also help with older games that committed grievous sins of game design before they were really recognized as such.

As I write this I’m playing Breath of Fire II, which has some pretty tough bosses. For the most part I’m trying to stick with this game’s intended difficulty. The series (as far as I’ve played) has a pretty neat quirk where when you die you lose money but keep all the experience points you got since the last time you saved, and you can store money you  don’t want to lose. The problem this game has though is all the bosses seem to be preceded by unskippable dialogue and cut scenes you have to repeat every time you retry that boss.

One boss in particular I unintentionally made harder because of a storyline choice I didn’t even know I was able to make, because the game didn’t do a good enough job indicating when I had regained control of my character during a scene. Not wanting to watch the same cut scene repeatedly or spend potentially hours grinding levels and money, I simply rewound each turn of the boss fight until the RNG carried me through it.

Difficulty isn’t the only thing rewinding helps with though. If I wasted time walking somewhere to check something in a game and I don’t wanna waste more time walking back, I can just rewind. Another cool use is I can rewind a cut scene if I’m not quite sure what someone just said. In a lot of ways today’s emulators are just bringing more of the convenience of movies and books (and PC games honestly) to classic video games.

I know people see save scumming and rewinding as an affront to the original work, but a lot of games back on the day were messy, real messy. Game designers have definitely forgotten some things from that era, but they’ve learned things too.


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