Is Using Save States In Old Games Cheating?

Sam wonders if using save states takes the challenge away from old games.

By Sam Stewart. Posted 01/30/2014 09:00 11 Comments     ShareThis

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link Screenshot

Recently one of my good friends managed to beat Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, a goal that I had deemed nearly impossible. I have been a Zelda fan all my life and have beaten all but four of the games in the series, Zelda II being the most daunting title on that short list. Inspired by his success, I grabbed my 3DS and started the game up, determined to finally make real progress in this infamous title. After a little bit of grinding I conquered the first palace with relative ease, and with the help of some guides I quickly made my way through the swamp and found the second palace. This is as far as I had ever made it in my previous attempts, and after a few tries it looked like history was going to repeat itself. After all, if you get a game over in Zelda II you are sent back to the start, and the trek back to your place of death is as tedious as it is disheartening. I was instantly reminded of my early days in Dark Souls, but at least in the world of Lordran there are bonfires acting as checkpoints to alleviate your stress.

Sadly there are no bonfires in Zelda II, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t improvise. This is when I started creating save states before certain sections, like tricky platforming rooms or difficult enemy encounters. I was able to preserve lives and complete palaces in far fewer attempts. It even allowed me to be more confident in my grinding, no longer needing to worry about losing experience. The game was released in 1988, but thanks to new technology I was able to play it more like a modern game. While this certainly isn’t the way the developers intended the game be played, it may be the only way I will ever defeat Dark Link and save Zelda.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link Screenshot

But it didn’t take long for the guilt to set in. As the game became more and more challenging I was creating save states constantly, sometimes every other room. I had to ask myself if I was spoiling the experience. Maybe the difficulty wasn’t just a product of the time, but an intended design. Super Mario Bros. had a continue feature built into the game, and both Zelda games are capable of creating saves so it is obvious that the developers knew the games were challenging and wanted to aid the player somehow. Still, these helpful features had their limitations (for example, if you continue in Mario you are kicked back to the first level of whatever world you died in), so I can tell the developers also wanted to maintain some level of challenge. Whatever they put on the cartridge was their final product, that was what they wanted the player to experience. Was it okay for me to abuse save states just to complete a classic game? Was I overriding the developers painstakingly crafted challenges? I started feeling like the save states were nothing more than a digital Game Genie, allowing me to cheat my way to an easy victory.

With all of that in mind it is hard for me to justify my use of save states, but there is one last factor that has to be considered: don’t the developers want me to play their game? I remember multiple instances over the past few years where an indie developer has given fans permission to pirate his game if they couldn’t afford to buy a copy (if I remember correctly, Jonatan Söderström even provided links to people who wanted to pirate Hotline Miami). A developer pours his heart and soul into his game and I have to believe at the end of the day most devs just want their game to be played more than anything else. The truth is I may have never beaten Zelda II without save states. It’s incredibly punishing and I likely wouldn’t have the resolve. But with save states I finally saw it through to the end and now count it among my favorites in the series. Save states allowed that to happen, and something tells me that the developers wouldn’t have too many problems with that.

So the question I ask you readers is this: Is using save states in old games cheating, or is it just another helpful tool allowing us to enjoy games more easily? Have you ever used save states to beat a difficult game? Tell us about it in the comments below!

11 Responses to “Is Using Save States In Old Games Cheating?”

  • 222 points
    PanurgeJr says...

    I’ve been thinking about this very topic, precisely because I’m in the middle of Zelda II and have been using save states constantly. I don’t consider it cheating for games that are so difficult that they become unfair. The first two Mega Mans come to mind. The first one is too hard because it is unfair; the second one is too hard because I’m not skilled enough anymore. Zelda II feels unfair, and only because it’s a Zelda game and I can use save states am I even playing it. Otherwise I’d set it next to Battletoads as proof that sometimes developers went too far.

  • 276 points
    Nicolas Vestre says...

    No matter how difficult the game gets, I can’t bring myself to use save states. When I was doing my buster-only run of the original Mega Man, there were plenty of times where I could have lightened the load by using save states. But no matter how many times Elec Man sent me to the Game Over screen (it’s way harder to take him down with just the buster than the Rolling Cutter), I kept coming back until I was victorious. Call me a masochist, but that’s just the way I like it.

    Now, if we’re talking about using save states to access New Game + type scenarios, like the harder version of Super Mario Bros. or Super Mario Land, or having an entire inventory of P Wings in Super Mario Bros. 3, then I’m all for that.

  • 745 points
    OG75 says...

    I feel a bit hypocritical on this topic, but it’s amazing how time and life circumstances can influence one’s opinions.

    A few years ago, I would have been 100% AGAINST using save states. I would have considered myself a “purist” and turned my nose up at the thought of save states.

    As a gamer who received an NES for Christmas in 6th grade and has beaten many games through the years without a save state, game-genie, etc. (including every Zelda except the CDi ones) I know the immense sense of joy and accomplishment that can be had after finally conquering a game. I remember not beating Zelda 2 until I was in high school and my NES had taken a backseat to my SNES. Even though I was knee-deep in “A Link To The Past” at the time, Zelda II had been taunting me from my bookshelf. I couldn’t ignore it. The feeling of finally beating it was HUGE!

    Would I have such fond memories this many years later had I been able to “save-state” my way through it? Probably not. But….

    Fast forward to 2014. With a wife, two young kids, and full time work, I think save states are AWESOME! Like I said, I feel a bit hypocritical. However I really do see both sides of the coin.

    For example, I’ve always wanted to play through Ninja Gaiden III, but never had the chance back in the day. Then it pops up on Virtual Console…. Could I beat it without save states? YES! Would I enjoy it more and have a bigger feeling of accomplishment if I beat it without save states? YES! Do I have time in my day to devote to beating it without save states? No, I have other priorities, but Save-States have allowed me to go back and check out what had been a gaming curiosity of mine for over 20 years.

    I while I don’t think save states are “cheating” I do think there is potential to take away joy and feelings of accomplishment in beating games. However, if you either don’t have the time, or are just “touring” a game (did I just make that up?), save states are great.

    To each their own!

  • 702 points
    Matthew Tidman says...

    As a gamer who has beaten Zelda II both without and with save states, I have to say this really is a personal call. There are a lot of classic NES games that are just unfair. I don’t know how many controllers I threw while shouting “that game cheated” when I was younger playing through things like Mega Man or Contra. And that was a product of the times. Games were an offshoot of arcade games where difficulty equaled more quarters.

    So save states help reduce the difficulty inherent in these games, giving what would otherwise be an extremely difficult game more playable. Save states can help, but it’s up to the individual gamer whether they want to utilize them or not.

  • 3 points
    Tjean says...

    I don’t have the time anymore to play games over and over and fight with the difficulty level or having to grind my way back to boss just because I barely fail to kill him.

    Save states is a great system that allows you to enjoy these old game without having to do the pointless level replay. Save states are completely optional and beside if it can add to your enjoyment who cares if its cheating your playing a game that’s probably over 10 year old game.

  • 9 points
    Osiris11235 says...

    Ultimately, who cares what the developers want? When playing a game, you are supposed to have fun. If playing a game the way the “developers originally intended” isn’t as fun as using a feature like save states, why does it matter? Play it the way you want to play it.

  • 258 points
    Joshua A. Johnston says...

    Maybe it is, but some old games are so horrifically difficult that the only way to experience the endgame for yourself is to cheat. I played Spider-Man and the X-Men for SNES back in the day and could barely get through 10% of the game. Later on the liberal use of save state (there are pretty much no cheat codes for that game) was the only way I was able to see the ending… albeit an underwhelming ending.

  • 143 points
    oldmanstauf says...

    Maybe not “cheating” per se, but you are completely ruining the experience and sense of accomplishment. I agree Zelda II was tough and it took me years to finish it on the NES back in the day, but it was very rewarding to have done so. But someone who finishes it now using save states almost constantly is no longer really completing one of, if not the hardest Zelda title. The game is being altered. I grew up in the NES era, so maybe I’m set in my ways. Do I use save states at all today? Yes, but only when I have to drop what I’m doing suddenly and don’t know if I’ll be able to come back and play. Not because I’m afraid of failing and having to redo something. I’ll also use it at password screens so I don’t need to bother writing something down.

  • 12 points
    Sunnyleafs says...

    I recently finished Ghosts ‘n Goblins on Wii U Virtual Console (true ending) using save states liberally. I regret nothing.

  • 1291 points
    Robert Marrujo says...

    I personally don’t use them. I figure if you were meant to die a thousand times when the game came out, you should die a thousand times now. Still, I don’t begrudge anyone for using them themselves.

  • 267 points
    decoupage says...

    I’ve used save states quite a bit in Earthbound (a game I’ve beat dozens of times) and Zelda (A Link to the Past), the reason is usually to go and live my life. The other reason is that backtracking to save points is obnoxious and doesn’t add to the play experience.

    Having fun, or challenging my skills in a level (Donkey Kong Country games accomplish both)are instances where I wouldn’t “cheat” by saving in front of the tough area.

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