Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Most Influential Video Games: A Look Back

Recently I was asked to come up with a list of my top ten most personally influential video games. At first I thought, "Well that's easy. I've already got a list of my top ten all-time favorites." But then I slowed down for a second and thought about it. Being personally influential is different than being a favorite. And the more I thought about it, the two lists are pretty similar. After all, with games it tends to be one game in a series grabs your attention but a sequel down the road does everything better and really hits home. I also realized how well I remember who I shared my gaming experiences with, and the things that were going on in my life at the time.

Anyway, here we go.

1. Final Fantasy Legend (Game Boy)
This little gem for the Game Boy started my love affair with the Final Fantasy series. Funny, because it’s not technically part of the series but was renamed in the USA to improve marketing. But there was no Internet in 1990 so how would I know? It worked. As a 14 year old stranger to DeLand, Florida meeting new people, new to high school and getting in my own adventures, this was a pretty amazing side quest to real life.

2. Super Mario World (SNES)
The chase for 120 stars! It’s not my favorite Mario game - that honor goes to the almighty Super Mario World. But this beast revolutionized 3D platforming and made me dump way too many hours into my N64. I loved the gameplay and it still holds up, even if the polygon graphics don’t. And for better or worse this gave us “It’s a-me, Mario!”

3. Resident Evil (PlayStation)
I remember working at Domino’s Pizza listening to a coworker trying to describe this game. Something about fixed camera angles and shooting a huge monster with a rocket launcher on a helipad. When I finally got my hands on a copy it was totally unlike anything I’d played before. I love bad horror movies and this game has all the tropes, complete with shitty acting as the icing on the cake. The sequel is the best but Resident Evil is an absolute classic that started something huge.

4. Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (NES)
Simon’s Quest is like the Flash Gordon of video games: awesome soundtrack, fun premise, painfully executed, and so many things wrong with it. Yet it holds a special place in my heart. For all its


annoyances, this game was still a big hit when I was in 7th grade. Before the Internet you had to know someone with a Nintendo Power subscription and have daily discussions between classes to figure out pretty much everything about this game. And I didn’t even have an NES so I had to be jealous that everyone else got to play this train wreck until I finally beat it a few years later.

5. Super Metroid (SNES)
I never played the original, so Metroid II on Game Boy was my intro to the series. But when Super Metroid hit the SNES...holy shizzleballs. I was totally blown away. Everything about this game is damn near perfect and it set a standard for platform adventure games that was almost impossible to match. Even today in my old age I can still cruise through this game like a pro, sequence breaking and wall jumping to minimize overall time. Kids today can have their fancy 3-D graphics, in-game tutorials and hand-holding gameplay. I’ll take Super Metroid any day of the week and twice on Samusday.

6. The Last of Us (PS3/PS4)
I finally broke down and bought a PS3 specifically to play this. It is without a doubt the most mature and intense story I’ve ever experienced in a game. It’s got top notch production value and proved to me that Naughty Dog is the best studio producing games today.

The Last of Us has a perfect balance of intense stealth gameplay blended seamlessly with a cinematic narrative that makes you feel like you’re living the story with Joel and Ellie. And the ending...well damn! It was even better the second time around on PS4 with a headset and that pants-shittingly amazing surround sound. What better way to make a the Pittsburgh hotel basement even more terrifying? I can’t wait to be emotionally broken all over again when the sequel comes out.

7. Mass Effect (X360)
When I was going back to college at UCF in Orlando I eventually decided to pick up an X360. I’m 99% sure it was just to play Mass Effect. Somehow I scrounged enough cash to pick up an X360 and a copy of this game at a Best Buy on Alafaya Trail, and drove back to my apartment to try something new.

Oh hell yes.

What I got was a Star Wars-esque story set in our own future universe with incredible story, cool alien races, and a universe crafted so well you really felt like part of it. Mass Effect 2 is my favorite because of the smaller scope (think Empire compared to A New Hope) but this game exploded on the scene and gave me something amazing. The biggest selling point is that Commander Shepard is your Shepard. The choices you make are unique to your playthrough and over the course of three games the entire experience feels like it’s tailored just for you.

8. The Legend of Zelda (NES)
When I was in 6th grade the NES hit the market and Atari, Mattel & Coleco were promptly shown the door. And then we got this instant classic called The Legend of Zelda. I never owned an NES so I had to head over to a friend’s house to watch him play. I’d act as copilot and try to point out where to bomb and which bushes to burn.

Zelda was unlike anything I’d seen up to that point. It had this killer map, a golden cartridge (shiny!), and was the first game I can remember playing that felt like an actual adventure. The maps were loaded with secrets! It had geographical regions and Hyrule felt like a real place. My buddy let me keep a save file going at his house, and after a while it became the first game of the new 8-bit era that I ever completed. One day in the not-too-distant future A Link to the Past on SNES eventually became my second favorite game of all time. But the original opened the door and captured my imagination.

9. X-Wing (PC)
Fuck. Yes.

My senior year in high school. I was at a friend’s house and he introduced me to this game on MS-DOS. I was immediately hooked. A flight sim game that lets you be a Rebel pilot in the Star Wars universe? Sign me up!

One of the things I’ve always loved about Star Wars is the side stories. Not the Jedi, but the lesser known heroes who did their part in the war. Especially pilots like Rogue Squadron. This is why I loved Rogue One so much. Back in the 90s Wedge Antilles was my third favorite character besides Han and Chewie. So when I found out there was a game that masqueraded as an Incom T-65B flight simulator? Fugheddaboutit.

I got my first PC sometime in 1995. And this was the first game I bought. Since Windows 95 was the New Kid on the Block, it even took me 5 days to figure out how to get this DOS based game to run on my system. And then I had to learn to save my pilot file to a floppy disk after each mission because this game had permadeath. But once it was rolling I was 100% ready to do my part for the Rebellion, and I became the unsung hero. No TIE Fighter or gunboat would escape on my watch.
10 years later Knights of the Old Republic became my favorite Star Wars game by making me feel like part of an exciting new story. But X-Wing was the first game that really captured the magic of a galaxy far, far away.

10. Final Fantasy IV
Story time.

I really, really wanted to include Final Fantasy VI at the end of this list. Screw it, I’ll talk about it a bit anyway since these games are two sides of the same coin and I’m making the rules here. But here’s the deal. While FF6 is my favorite game of all time, and I can talk about it ad nauseam the truth is Final Fantasy IV was more influential. It was called FFII as shown here since the in-between games weren’t released in the USA. Yeah, it’s confusing but I got over it. It helped once the Internet was around to explain these things after this series became mainstream when FF7 took the gaming world by storm.

I’d already played two Final Fantasy Legends on Game Boy, but totally missed Final Fantasy on NES since I didn’t actually own that console. One afternoon I was hanging out at a friend’s house watching him play Final Fantasy IV which he had borrowed from someone and I was immediately hooked. I asked him if I could re-borrow it since I had recently worked many hours at Winn-Dixie in DeLand, FL and saved my cash to acquire the One Console to Rule Them All: the SNES.

And this game absolutely blew my fucking mind.

I mean, look at the box art! It’s just a title! What the fuck even is 8 meg memory? I had no idea, but it had to be important if it’s on the box. And a 76-page strategy guide? This game had to be intense.

Final Fantasy IV was the first time I really discovered video games could be every bit as epic as movies like Star Wars. It had characters that developed over time who I actually cared about. Cecil and Rosa are right up there with Han and Leia in my book (see also: Locke and Celes). Kain is an absolute badass. And this is the first time the name Cid was introduced to my vocabulary. This was where I first started seeing references to Norse and Eastern mythology, and themes that would keep showing up as I kept playing Final Fantasy games. Like sacrifice and redemption, and the time-honored classic “we gotta save the world” theme. I even eventually learned about the Prose Edda all because of this game. And in 11th grade I took a trip to visit my dad & grandparents in Salinas, CA and had to bring my SNES and this cartridge (which wasn’t mine) with me just to keep playing. Still have no idea who it belonged to.

The next time a Final Fantasy showed up in America (FF6) in 1994 at the end of my senior year it pretty much consumed my free time for a while when I wasn’t studying music. It took the Final Fantasy formula and cranked it up to 11. The soundtrack to FF6 is the video game equivalent of Star Wars and Locke Cole became my all-time favorite video game hero. But if it hadn’t been for the classic Final Fantasy IV then I never would have had the love that I do for this incredible series.

It started when I picked up Final Fantasy Legend on Game Boy when I was 14. Today I'm 42 and still playing this series. And if you're not? Well that's like, your loss, man.

"What's the most important thing in life? To be free of obligations!"
-Setzer Gabbiani, FF6

1 comment:

  1. I'd have to really give this some thought - especially with newer games. Here are my top three most influential (of the top of my head):

    1. TIE Fighter
    2. Command & Conquer
    3. Super Mario RPG

    I typed a bit, then realized I probably have more to say than a comment can hold. I was also overwhelmed with nostalgia - playing NBA Jam with friends, making it so Ken Griffey Jr. MLB had all the current players from the Indians on it, and so much more.