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The Memory Card .49: Saving Santa

2:00 PM on 12.25.2008 // Chad Concelmo

Ho, Ho, Ho! Welcome, everyone, to a very special Christmas edition of The Memory Card.

Holidays and videogames are strange bedfellows. While Christmas is a huge holiday and celebrated by millions of people all around the world, it is not featured in very many videogames. Sure, there are hundreds upon hundreds of traditional “snow” levels that may throw in a requisite present or two to jump on (I’m looking at you, Banjo-Kazooie), but in general Christmas -- and all other holidays -- are primarily ignored in videogames.

Once and a rare while, though, Christmas makes a notable appearance and, in the case of this week’s Memory Card, fits in rather awkwardly with the game’s overall setting. While this is not my favorite Christmas-themed videogame moment of all time (grab a hankie and click here for that honor), a special holiday sequence in Super Nintendo classic Secret of Mana easily ranks a close second.

Jingle those bells and hit the jump!

The Set-Up

I am obviously preaching to the choir by saying that Secret of Mana is a masterpiece and easily one of the most beloved games on the greatest console of all time, the Super Nintendo. Its interesting mixture of role-playing elements with an almost Zelda-like presentation makes it one of the most unique games to ever be released by Square and one that I know all gamers would love a true update to.

In the game, you play as the generically named “boy” who, at the start of the game, stumbles upon a mysterious sword lying alone in the middle of a river. Upon taking this sword, the boy unwittingly releases monsters all over the world, some even attacking his home village of Potos.

Because of this attack, the citizens of the small community cruelly banish the boy from the village.

Saddening by his ousting, the boy is approached by a knight named Jema that tells him the sword he pulled from the river is actually the legendary Sword of Mana. This sword, Jema informs him, has the power to revitalize the great Mana Tree and restore life to the various Mana Seeds scattered around the world.

With a new quest to take on, the boy heads off in an attempt to, literally, save the world.

Along the way, the boy meets up and is joined by a sassy “girl” and the completely androgynous ”sprite.”

After journeying through a series of towns and challenging dungeons, the trio eventually makes their way (via Cannon Travel!) to a part of the world covered in snow.

It is in this ice-covered setting when the next Memory Card moment occurs: saving Santa.

The Moment

After visiting a town occupied by strange walrus creatures, the boy and his party make their way into the surrounding winter forest.

While battling white wolves (a great source for experience points) the group stumbles upon a small house seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

Upon entering the house, the boy realizes it is empty! Where could its owner have gone?!

Outside the domicile, though, a reindeer with a familiar red nose paces back and forth. Apparently able to talk, the reindeer exclaims to our confused heroes:

“Heeelp! My master’s gone! No one’s in the Ice Palace except a monster! The monster’s got Master! Heeelp!”

Since, coincidentally, the Ice Palace also houses one of the world’s Mana Seeds, the boy and his allies agree to help Rudolph the reindeer and rescue his master.

Being one of the toughest dungeons in the entire game, the Ice Palace puts up quite a challenge for the party. Eventually, though, the boy, the girl, and the sprite make it through and confront one of the meanest bosses yes: the dreaded Frost Gigas.

Once defeating their enemy, a white flash fills the screen and the Frost Gigas transforms into a human.

Standing in the ice giant’s place, dressed in his classic red suit, is Santa Claus (yes, the actual Santa Claus), happy as ever to see that someone came to rescue him.

Before he has a chance to thank the boy and his companions, Rudolph comes galloping in.

The dialogue between the two reunited friends is classic:

Rudolph: "Master! Santa Claus! Are you all right?"

Santa: "Oh! Rudolph! Sorry to have worried you! I’m fine, now! I turned into Frost Gigas because kids just no longer believed in me. When Mana fades, kids lose their hopes and dreams. I wanted so badly to bring back off of their dreams ...
Then I heard that Mana trees grow, instantly and become huge. I set off to find a Mana Seed, thinking I could grow a huge Christmas tree! But it was the seed that changed my body, and turned me into that monster! If the power of Mana is abused it can become very dangerous.
Here, take the Fire Seed. You need it, right?"

With that, Santa hands forth the Fire Seed to the boy and he and Rudolph return to their cottage hidden deep within the snow-covered trees.

You can watch the boy and his friends meet Rudolph and eventually save Santa here:

The Impact

Saving Santa in Secret of Mana is strangely one of my most vivid gaming memories. I still don’t know if it is because of how amazing the actual game is or because of the ridiculously odd appearance of Santa Claus and Rudolph in a fantasy role-playing game from Square.

I am guessing it is the latter.

Seriously, think about how odd this whole sequence really is.

Up to this point in the game, Secret of Mana had presented nothing that connects the story to events that happen in the present day real world. It’s a fantasy game, for crying out loud. Then, all of a sudden, when traveling through the traditional snow world, you are asked to save Santa Claus who has mysteriously turned into an ice giant because the dissipating Mana  makes kid forget about their hopes and dreams.

The whole thing is beyond strange.

Whatever the reason for his inclusion (and, man, I would have loved to been a fly on the wall in that meeting), seeing Santa Claus in Secret of Mana was always such a neat thing for me. At the time I wasn’t young enough to still believe in Santa (yes, I am old), but I still appreciated his in-game connection to his real world mythology. If I was younger and did believe in the jolly fellow, how cool would it have been to reach this part of the game? Oh no, kids are not believing in Santa and he needs me help! I’m COMING TO SAVE YOU!

So amazing.

Sadly, the child-like wonder that moments like this elicit has slowly been lost over the years as videogame technology has improved. Luckily, the memories of this classic sequence will always remain with me for the rest of my life.

And when I have children of my own someday I will be sure to instill in them the story of Santa Claus, the Mana Seeds, and what happens if kids stop believing.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

The Memory Card Save Files

.01 - .20 (Season 1)
.21 - .40 (Season 2)
.41: The tadpole prince (Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars)
.42: Pyramid Head! (Silent Hill 2)
.43: Waiting for Shadow (Final Fantasy VI)
.44: Solid vs. Liquid (Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots)
.45: The birth of the cutscene (Ninja Gaiden)
.46: Insult swordfighting (The Secret of Monkey Island)
.47: A castle stuck in time (The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker)
.48: 'That's the magic flute!' (The Wizard)

Chad Concelmo,
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