Saturday, May 9, 2020

Sikyu: The Great Equalizer

She doesn't die in the remake... yet

A few days ago, I was reading the most recent chapters of Tonikaku Kawaii when I came upon this panel of the manga – which, if you are a gamer, you would immediately recognize as being an obvious reference to Final Fantasy VII.

Here’s a confession: the online nickname I use, “lordcloudx” is actually a reference to FFVII’s main character, Cloud Strife. Back when I was playing the game in early 1998, the internet was experienced via unreliable dial-up modems and you paid by the hour to view pages that sometimes took anywhere between 5-10 minutes to load a few text and images. Therefore, looking up spoilers on Gamefaqs (yes, it existed) was actually the least of my concerns.

Anyway, me and a few High School buddies were actually taking turns playing the game (on my save) at home when we reached the Forgotten City where Aerith (then known as Aeris by default) was praying, and we were just rushing to get to the end of the first disc already. Imagine everyone’s reactions when the dreaded thing happened: to everyone’s shock, one of the game’s sweetest characters suddenly met a violent end – run through from behind with a sword by the game’s main villain, Sephiroth. It was a heartbreaking moment for everyone – and yet, because we were all guys, we started jostling around and teasing each other with stuff like “Hey, hey don’t you cry now,” and “What? Who’s crying? Hey, is that a single tear in your eye there?” The truth is that at some level, we were all probably grieving for Aerith on the inside.

Of course, if you were to play this game today, it’s highly unlikely that it would have the same impact that it did back then. After all, spoilers abound all over the internet and the original game’s blocky 3D graphics have aged pretty badly to the point that modern gamers would probably have a hard time looking past them, which is why I’m actually fine with the pseudo-sequel twist that the new FFVII remake is taking… though I doubt I’ll be playing it anytime soon because I don’t have/want to buy a PS4 just yet. 

In the same vein, there are some experiences from childhood that need to be experienced first-hand in order to truly appreciate. Unfortunately, the secrets of time travel elude me and audio-video recording technology was not yet as advanced back in the nineties as it is right now (obviously), so all I have to offer you are these disjointed, unreliable, probably idealized and sometimes wildly inaccurate ramblings of a middle-class almost rich-kid from the nineties.

As far back as I can recall, this is a story that took place sometime in 1993 – and it is based upon a game that probably dates back to many generations before our time. After all, I saw my sister playing this game with her friends when I was only in preschool and I’m sure my parents are familiar with this game as well. 

The game I’m talking about is known as “Sikyu,” which is a colloquial term that we use for security guards here. How this also came to be the name of the game – is something for historians to figure out and not me.

As you may recall from my previous posts, I was a transferee to Iloilo American Memorial School when I was in Grade 3. While I had a bit of a love-hate relationship with my classmates at first, I was gradually accepted as part of the group and got invited to play along with everyone else. At some point, Sikyu became one of our choice games because it was strategic but easy to play – and I’m not really sure how, but it felt like a game that equalized any physical differences between the players. This is why a boys versus girls match of Sikyu during recess time was pretty common. It never felt like we boys had a huge advantage in this game when compared to other games like lagsanay (tag) or ins (not sure if there’s a western equivalent for this game) where footspeed and physicality really play a huge role.

Sikyu is always played with two teams. Each team can have 4 players or more and depending on the rules agreed upon, you can actually have either an equal or unequal number of players for each side like 5 v 5 or 8 v 10. 

The mechanics of the game are pretty simple. Each side chooses a base that should be visible to each other, but a good distance apart. 300-400 meters is ideal. The goal of the game is to simply touch the base of the other side to score a point for your team. You protect your base by just touching/tagging any would-be attackers. The rule is that the person who last touched their own base has priority in tagging someone. It sounds a lot more complicated than it seems here, so I’m going to give you an illustration -- with Nagi’s help. 

Pants Nagi: I've got you!
Pants-Nagi: Uhh...
Skirt-Nagi: My turn!
As you can see from this series of images, assume that skirt-wearing Nagi has just attempted to attack pants-wearing Nagi’s base and thus, pants-Nagi is attempting to tag skirt-Nagi. Skirt-Nagi’s base is the alcohol bottle. When skirt-Nagi touches her base, the tables are turned and now she’s the one with the priority to tag pants-Nagi. This is why a 1 v 1 game is pretty rare in Sikyu. It simply results in a stalemate with neither side being able to get close enough to score.

When someone is caught/tagged, then that person becomes a hostage at the enemy base and has to hold on to the base – however, it does give the hostage’s team an advantage because the hostage’s body is now considered a part of the base. If another hostage is tagged/taken, then they hold hands and form a chain extending outwards – making it even easier to score for their team. 

With this in mind, there was one particularly memorable game of tag that I remember quite fondly. It was a game between the Grade 6 versus the Grade 3. One of my classmates was so confident in our abilities that he challenged the older Grade 6 to this game. 

Now I know I said that physicality doesn’t offer that much of an advantage in this game – but clearly, this doesn’t apply when most of us were just chest-level with the Grade 6. Still, we accepted their challenge, but on one condition: a handicap. We would get 2 points each time we scored while they would only get 1. Of course, the larger, stronger, faster Grade 6 students simply scoffed at this and let us have our way. After all, there was no way that a bunch of little kids were even going to get a single point off of them.

Well, the truth is that they were actually correct – for a little while. We were wildly confused at how they played the game. At the very beginning, they swarmed around in all directions on the field attempting to score and tag us while our fastest runners tried their best to keep up with them. Personally, I was just bewildered and couldn’t even catch up with what was happening. Before we knew it, the score was 4-0 in favor of the grade 6.

It was then that an idea hit my mind. I found a quiet place to survey all the ruckus from and took a head count. I discovered that the Grade 3 players actually outnumbered the Grade 6 by almost half – they were just so much bigger that it seemed like there were more of them.

I called for a timeout and used this moment to inform everyone of a plan I’d been brewing in my head. It was really quite simple: I called upon our largest, tallest players and told them to run straight into the enemy base and attempt to score if they could, but the real goal was to let them get caught. Then I told our fastest runners to find a place to hide and wait in ambush near the Grade 6 base for a bit.

When our tallest, longest players had been caught, they actually formed an extremely long chain that proved difficult to protect, even for our faster and more physically able adversaries. It was at this point that I signaled for our fastest runners to launch their attacks all at once for an easy score.
This strategy took the Grade 6 completely by surprise and in the end (which was decided when we ran out of time at recess), we won with a score of 4-8. In reality, both sides only scored 4 times each, but we did have that handicap we agreed on at the start of the game – it was a technical and moral victory for our side.

There were no hard feelings after the game. One of the grade 6 boys even complimented me for the idea. Of course, that was a one-time deal. It wasn’t a sustainable strategy that we’d be able to use against them anytime soon and as expected, in subsequent rematches we were never really able to win again – especially since they decided that we didn’t need a handicap anymore. The countermeasure is pretty easy: just don’t capture all attackers to the point that you make the human chain in your base impossible to defend.

Still, it was the thrill of the moment for me – for us, hopefully. It may not be something that we would ever be able to replicate again, but for that one important moment, we were united as a team. Together, we were the Grade 3 girls and boys and our hearts were soaring with the pride of being the victorious underdogs.

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