It’s happened to every gamer. That horrible moment of realisation that all of your hard work and long hours of progressing towards a particular goal has simply disappeared. Losing a video game save is a heart-breaking situation, not only taking away something you’ve invested in, but leaving you with the dilemma of where to go from here.
Is it as simple as restarting and catching up to where you left off? What about a game that requires choices to be made? Do you choose differently this time to view alternative outcomes or stick to the same route to keep the file as authentic to the original as possible? That is, if you are even remotely interested in starting anew. Many are simply and understandably put off for life, with the loss somehow tainting their experience as a whole.
Joseph Morris, a 24-year-old student from Sheffield, had the opposite outcome when he accidentally overwrote his older brother's Final Fantasy VII save.
“My brother had been playing Final Fantasy VII and I thought it looked like the best thing in the world,” says Morris.
“He decided that I had "ruined everything" and threw away all of his hard work. He vowed to never play it again, which felt like he was trying to make me feel bad. The reality is that it meant that I could play Final Fantasy VII and not have to worry about him again… the game would go on to be one of my favourites of all time.”
To this day, Morris believes his love of JRPGs stems from his wiping that file.
When researching for this piece, to little surprise, one of the most common cases of losing a video game save was connected to the early Pokémon entries, which only had one save slot. Reasoning for this could likely be linked to so many young players discovering the hobby via the pocket monsters, as well as their naivety surrounding the save process – I too am guilty of the same negligence as a child.
Two particular examples from fellow trainers stand out. Kurt Bopp, a 31-year-old digital director from Pennsylvania, shared his fourth-grade experience of betting his prized Charizard against a rival’s Blastoise, where the loser forfeited their Pokémon.
“I was inspired by the show where Pikachu could win despite type advantages and thought my bond with my Charizard – my first and favourite Pokémon – was enough to overcome its weakness to water,” recalls Bopp.
Sadly, this wasn’t a heroic moment for Bopp. Instead his Charizard went down in flames rapidly and the dragon was subsequently traded to his nemesis, whom we shall call Gary (some names may have been changed). To worsen the blow, Gary persuaded Bopp to lend his game so he could “withdraw a new Charizard” and prevent a restart. In fact Gary simply cleared the data and began a new file with Squirtle as a starter.
“When I got home, I immediately erased the new file he started and began my own once again – with a new Charmander leading the team,” says Bopp. “But even with the new game all set up, I was still too mad and frustrated to put much effort in. It just wasn't the same!”
Despite this Bopp eventually restarted, going on to catch and re-catch all 150 Pokémon, falling in love with the game all over and more importantly learning a major lesson about gambling.
Then there's Ben Tarrant, an assistant producer who resides in London, and his copy of Pokémon Emerald. On return from Singapore his grandparents gifted him a copy of the game. Tarrant played the life out of it, only to realise that once the Elite Four was conquered and the credits roll, the save file was also wiped from existence.
“It actually turns out this is a typical hallmark of bootleg Pokémon games, which in hindsight, Game Boy Advance games from an unnamed store in Singapore are more than likely to be,” Tarrant says.
As the online games community began to boom, more and more similar stories caused by knockoff copies started to emerge. And while it's all well and good to say 'pirates get what they deserve' most of these stories come from kids who were given dodgy carts by a relative. “It’s especially cruel that it was utterly indistinguishable until essentially beating the first half of the game," says Tarrant, "blocking you out from what many will agree is the best bit of any Pokémon game.”
Another bug that ruined a playthrough for 25-year-old Atlanta-based writer Austin Wood was regarding an infamous game-breaking glitch in Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. The issue would appear if players reached the Main Research room, then continued after destroying one sonic emitter yet leaving the rest untouched, only for their path forward to be blocked perpetually.
“For whatever reason, I left the room after destroying just one sonic emitter - and to make matters worse, I also immediately saved meaning I couldn't reload an old save to get around the glitch,” says Wood.
12 hours in, Wood was reluctant to start over with the internet only offering a speedrunning technique that required more time than it was worth.
“I put the game down for a few years, but I did eventually come back and beat it: making sure to save before entering the Main Research Room,” Wood recalled.
Sometimes, a problem can be serendipitous for a number of reasons. Joanne, a 24-year-old insurance agent from Toronto Canada, was part of the Black Wolves Saga community that banded together in 2014 to solve a widespread issue that resulted in her losing 40 hours’ worth of progress. How it worked was, when users began the save process, the game would give the appearance of your data being preserved but would be gone by the time users returned.
“Luckily someone saw my comment, uploaded their working data file and told me to replace mine with theirs,” says Joanne.
“Of course, this ended up unlocking all the content they had already viewed, but it permanently fixed the save problem. This turned into a web of people emailing and linking other commenters to their data files so that we could all play. I thought that was really kind of the community to come together and help fix everyone's problems.”
It's hard for something like a video game save to be looked at in a light other than disappointing, frustrating and infuriating. Still, for New York web developer M. Wan a charming story materialised on her 10th birthday when she was given Harvest Moon: Friends of Town.
“I was somewhere between 50 and 75 years into my third save file when the cartridge somehow got corrupted. My beautiful home, beautiful wife, child, and boatloads of money were all gone,” says Wan.
The next day, Wan played through an in-game year from scratch using all of the best routes, crops and gifts to rebuild her wealth. As the play session ended Wan returned the next day to find the data had erased once again. Not discouraged by the error, the wannabe farmer kept restarting the experience and repeating the same a good number of months because of her love of the game.
“I always married the same woman (Karen) and named my first animals the same names Harry the horse, Fido the dog, Bess the cow, Marie the chicken, and Cristobal the sheep, while planting the same crops - sweet potatoes every autumn, without fail” Wan says.
“I was still upset about losing everything, of course, but what could you do? Come to think of it, that willingness to perform the same tasks day after day is probably what drew me in to Harvest Moon to begin with.”
13 years on, Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town is set to be remade for a new era, nevertheless Wan plans on picking up a Nintendo Switch, revisiting the game she holds so dear and marrying Karen all over again.
There's nothing quite like that emptiness, the void that suddenly appears in your stomach when a save file corrupts or goes missing. The first reaction is denial, as you desperately click around the meagre options or search your PC's folders looking for some kind of explanation, which swiftly turns to a heady mixture of anger and, depending on the save, utter desolation.
Saves are comforting. There's an element of pride to them, that little glance at the ever-increasing hours counter as you start yet another session, the feeling that all of your experiences and items are somehow preserved in aspic. It can make people do strange things. Kotaku UK's Rich Stanton, for example, has a PS1 memory card with everything in FFVII completed and the whole party maxed out. He also doesn't have an original PlayStation anymore, so the object is more of a fetish rather than anything functional. Who knows if it even works anymore? [That's enough - ed]
When I've lost saves, the reaction's always different. In very rare cases, it almost feels like an opportunity for a do-over, something that is annoying but ultimately leads to another great experience. Most of the time, it's a more horrible feeling about the dozens, maybe even hundreds, of hours that have somehow vanished into the ether. Sometimes it even sends you on a wild chase where you find a replacement save file online, and realise you're far from alone.
It's funny but, wherever along that spectrum it falls, the potential for a save disaster gives a common phrase some vaguely menacing air. Most games ask 'would you like to save?', or words to that effect. Yes, I think, I would like to save. But what exactly are you suggesting here?