I’ve been a gamer for a very long time. So long, in fact, I can’t even remember exactly when I started. I know it was in the late 1980s, when my parents gave me an NES for Christmas, and progressed through hand-me-down Atari systems and a scavenged SEGA Genesis. It played out in arcades and at the houses of friends until I finally bought my own PlayStation. It continues to this day in portable form, and on the internet. Gaming runs in my blood, and has been a powerful force on my life.
So it comes as no surprise that some games have had such influence on myself that they have, in their own ways, pushed my life off one course and onto another. That might seem a bit extreme, but it’s true. There’s a lot in my life I owe to games, be they stress release, “moral” support, academic achievement or just plain entertainment. What follows is a list of ten games that have had more impact than most others, but by no means the only ones that have resonated with me. These were there at the right time and hit me in the right way to change something and set me down a new path.
Everyone has their own list. This one just happens to be mine.
1: Final Fantasy VII: This one will always stick with me. While I had cut my proverbial teeth on Final Fantasy back in the late 80s or early 90s, it wasn’t until I played Final Fantasy VII that I knew what a quality game truly was. As used to sprites and spinach green screens, the fact that fully 3D polygonal characters existed blew me away. I was a Sephiroth fanboy, I had a crush on Aerith and Tifa. I played this game three times in the span of a year, and it was the main reason I bought a PlayStation (because the PC version kept crashing at the Crater).
Now this game was hardly flawless, I see that more and more as time goes by. And it does not hold up as well as other games in the series do, despite what the fandom might insist. And the “Compendium” wasn’t much more than fan-service without the interaction that other “fan-servicy” installments in the series have had. But that doesn’t change the fact that this game did change my life. It was my gateway into the wide world of RPGs. It was the first game I ever debated and analyzed. It formed the core of a lot of what I do today. Which, for me, is more important that the replay value.
Plus the music was kind of awesome. And still is.
2: Chrono Cross: Yes, that’s right, Chrono CROSS. Because while I admit that Trigger is, was, and always will be, a superior game, I never would have played it if not for this one.
Chrono Cross was the game I played after beating Final Fantasy VII for the third time. I had bought it because of the rave reviews and the lush environment and colorful graphics the game possessed. Indeed, Chrono Cross is one of the loveliest games ever, even today, and it still has what I consider to be the best soundtrack of any game I’ve ever played. But much like Final Fantasy VII changed my perception of what a console RPG could do, Chrono Cross changed me opinion of what a GAME could do.
I loved everything about the mechanics in this game. I loved how you could avoid enemies, how you only really needed to down bosses, how you had a huge pool of characters to choose from (even though I only ever used Serge, Kid and Glenn). This game embodied the pinnacle of what Squaresoft could create if it wanted to. Few have even come close to providing the enjoyment and satisfaction that Chrono Cross did. Even fewer have made me go misty-eyed at the ending. And even fewer than that have been sequels to games that were amazing in the first place. This game saved a Spring Break during the most stressful period of my life, and while I haven’t played it since, I can still recall it with perfect clarity.
That, and it did force me to play Trigger…
3: Final Fantasy IX: I played this game over the course of Winter break in 2001, and on the first run through, I didn’t think it was anything special. The characters were entertaining, the story was more developed than the previous two installments in the series, and I appreciated the philosophy that was sprinkled about four discs.
But what made me truly appreciate this game was the foundation it laid. See, this was the game that got me to think deeper about the media I enjoyed. More than just talking about gameplay, this was the game I first started ruminating over. As I’ve previously written, I loved the ties to existentialism present in the game. I loved how the actions and reactions of the party were less idealistic and more based in primal fears. I loved how the world interacted with itself. Final Fantasy IX for me was less a game than an experience, and one that I needed to repeat. It wasn’t until those future plays that I realized how much depth the game had. And I had no idea the direction it would send me in the future.
4: Super Mario Bros 3: The original love/hate game. I loved the world design. I loved the different “suits” a player could wear (even if all you really needed was Raccoon). I loved the scope and depth of the story, which for a platformer was something rare. You weren’t just looking for the Princess or beating up everything on screen, you actually had a quest, one that got progressively more challenging with each successive world. It made all those enemies you were stomping on or hurling fireballs at seem to mean something more than points or coins. It redefined what a platform action game could be.
It also made me throw my controller in despair. How were you supposed to beat some of those levels (especially in worlds 6 and 7, and most of 8). Doors to nowhere, running down the clock? Happened a lot. Enemies jumping out of the water to eat you? Yep. Mini-bosses that were almost impossible to hit? Check and mate. SMB3 was as infuriating as it was enjoyable. And while I never did beat it (at least, not without a Game Genie), that never stopped me from trying.
Oh, and don’t forget to hold “up” after beating Bowser.
5: Rival Schools: The entire game can be summed up as a 3D Street Fighter set in High School. The game never reached the same level as some other fighters in it’s generation, but for me, this remains the ONLY fighting game I was ever any good at. And for good reason- I spent every single day after school at the one arcade that had it (really more of a game store with the machine in the back), dumping in quarters and sampling every team until I had seen all the stories, downed the secret final boss a hundred times, and gained the respect of having beaten all comers over the course of the summer. It was the one, and only, time I ever could brag about my skills in a fighting game, and when summer was over, so was my tenure as champion.
At least until I got a Playstation, and it started all over again.
6: Megaman 2: I was supposed to buy Mario 2, but the store was out of it. Then I looked at Dr. Mario, but something didn’t feel right. In my 10 year old head (at least I THINK I was 10), I wanted to buy a game, but which one? I was too impatient to wait for more copies of the game I came in for, and all the others just didn’t click. And then I saw Megaman 2. It was a full $5 more than I had with me. But it looked interesting. Some other kids said it was a good game. And my mom, God bless her, gave me the extra cash. I wish she hadn’t.
Megaman 2 was my original frustration. I loved this game, so much that I would play it for hours each day. And mostly play the same 3 levels. Megaman 2 was ridiculously hard for me, with my bad reaction time and low patience. The number of times I threw my controller for this game was higher than any other two games combined (Mario 3 included). And yet I couldn’t stop playing. Cheat codes warped me to the final level, and even when that was too much, I kept playing. Grinding extra lives on the Metalman stage became routine. Obsessively hoarding Energy tanks for later was my only way of surviving half the time. But unlike Mario 3, which I never finished, this one I did. Once. And only once. And then I never played it again. Because I really didn’t need to.
But every now and then I hear the music from the opening part of Dr Wily’s Castle, and I think “maybe…”
7: World Of Warcraft: What can I say about this game that others haven’t? It’s a way of life. It’s more addictive than drugs. It’s gobbled up 4 years of my life. It beat television, three console systems and even hanging out with friends (especially on Lich King raid nights). For something so simple, it’s been a force in my life that has impacted me more than any game ever could.
I didn’t want to start playing. The idea of subscription gaming seemed wrong to me- spend a lot of money for a game, then keep spending money for the right to play it. Something just didn’t add up. And then a friend let me borrow his account. 22 levels on a Night Elf Druid was all it took. I loved the non-linear gameplay. I loved the interaction. I loved my guild. I spent four to five hours a night playing it, and full days when I wasn’t at work (and then eventually while I was AT work too).
And then it got boring. And my guildmates stopped playing on my server. And in October 2008 I left it behind, convinced I was done and that I could move on. Until a year later, and Wrath of the Lich King pulled me back in. Collectively, I’ve played this game more than any other game I own. I might have even played it more than all my other games combined. And while I’ve finally quit yet again, I still feel that I will be back with the next expansion. Maybe.
8: Portable Castlevania: This was the reason I bought a GBA. And a DS. And, if tradition holds, will probably be the reason I by a 3DS. While I was a longtime fan of Castlevania 3 on the NES, I skipped out on pretty much every iteration of the game until Circle of the Moon came out, and I discovered somewhere along the line that they had all turned into action RPGs. Circle of the Moon was THE game I played in summer 2001. It was the only GBA game I even owned until late that year, and I adored every second, right down to the painful grinding and almost impossible difficulty of Dracula himself (hint- summon the bloodsucker to death).
In June 2002, I came by an import copy of Harmony of Dissonance, and like Circle, it became THE game of those hot months, stealing me away from my job and forcing me to complete “just one more stage” before moving onto anything. The fact I didn’t understand any of the dialogue was of no consequence, as I blazed through the game more than once that year, then went back and played Circle for good measure.
And in 2003, Aria of Sorrow repeated the process. I once told a friend that “it’s not summer without a Castlevania,” so used to the games as I had become. Even when no new game was released in 2004, I just took the time to play the old ones again, and remember those good old days. While the series lost a lot of its luster after the transition to the DS, and gave me a few ultimately forgettable experiences (only Portrait of Ruin got replayed. Once.), I still recall the anticipation I had for the next year and the next game as June approaches.
9: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic- The reason I bought an Xbox. I’m not quite the Star Wars fan I once was, but the idea that I could choose my side in the game, and do whatever I wanted over the course of the story was very appealing. I wanted to be the bad guy. I wanted to take my lightsaber and carve up anything in my path. So I went and did it. Fulfilling fantasies I had for almost 10 years, KotOR is still the best Star Wars franchise game I’ve every played. The attention to detail and mechanics that BioWare put into crafting a truly open-ended console game that had a better morality system than Fable could dream of was also the first game I ever beat, then immediately restarted (and I mean immediately, as in a minute or two after defeating Malak) and played through again. Not even Final Fantasy can boast that, despite it being the most played series of games I own.
This game has such strong appeal to me, I can even forgive the debacle that was KotOR 2.
10: Shin Megami Tensei Devil Survivor- There are game addictions, and then there are games that BREAK addictions. Devil Survivor is one of the latter. And the addiction it broke was Pokemon. Specifically, the Platinum version.
Pokemon was the addiction that replaced Warcraft. After a few months of casual gaming (which included LeafGreen, if anyone is interested), I read some stellar reviews of Pokemon Platinum, and decided to give it a shot. Day one, after buying a new copy from the local Gamestop, I spent 10 hours catching and leveling Pokemon. Day two was little better. By the middle of summer (specifically, Anime Mid Atlantic weekend 2009), I had broken the 100 hour mark, setting a new record in single play on a game for me. And I had no intention of stopping anytime soon. Until Devil Survivor.
It was my first MegaTen game. It remains my favorite MegaTen game. I logged at least any many hours in it as I did in Pokemon. I fused all the demons. I saw all the endings. I restarted the game a dozen times, playing through the same early stories just to get the extra endings. I fought, then fused, Lucifer himself. And then, having done everything one could do, I put it away and haven’t played it since. Nothing wrong with the game at all- I loved the story and the characters, and the heavy reliance on mythology and religion. The battle system was tactical, but not too tactical. Strategy was simple to formulate and execute. New Game + made the future plays extremely easy, and gave me a huge power-trip.
But what I love the most about this game was it knew when to end. It had a point where you were finally done, and were satisfied. No way to develop an addiction, but by mimicking the methods of other similar games (read- Pokemon), gave enough to help break one naturally.
I will never play this game again. I don’t need to. But I also will never sell it.
So there you have it: my list. What’s yours?