I’ve been doing some thinking recently. I’m 26 now, I’m out of school, have a job (several actually), pay for my own house, buy my own food… I’m an adult. Kinda.
You know, in the sense that I spend more time thinking about the virtues of Dragonite as your starter in a pokemon line-up than I do about the global political scene. I’ve grown up with video games. I started playing my NES when I was about 6, with Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt (you know, the combo cartridge). But as I said, I’ve been doing some thinking. Last week (or there abouts) I was conducting a conversation with a friend of a friend about gaming. This person was 16.
For the first time, I found myself thinking: Damn… I’m not the kid anymore. I’m dealing with someone a full decade younger than myself. Immediately, and I imagine I’m not alone here, my thoughts jumped to “Oh my god, she’s probably never played an SNES game before”. As you can imagine, this thought distressed me greatly. What would my life of gaming be like if all I ever had was Call of Duty on the Xbox? No Super Metroid. No Super Mario 3. No Chrono Trigger.
The thought terrifies me. And here this person was in front of me. This person that I was certain was putting her hours into something like Halo. That’s just not right. To let someone go through their childhood thinking that “gaming” means Gears of War or Angry Birds. Was I not obligated to do whatever I could to change her fate? Would failing to do so not be like watching a child walk in front of an oncoming bus, and doing nothing? There’s no justice in that.
So what I’ve drawn up here is a list of games that kids in highschool should make sure they do not, under any circumstances, miss. The criteria? The game must have been published during, or before, 2003. Right about the time 16-17 year olds would have started gaming if they did so at 7 or 8 years old. NOW LET’S BEGIN:
RPG Not to Miss: Chrono Trigger
Chrono Trigger is, in my opinion and after far too many hours of deliberation, the greatest RPG ever made. It released in 1995, and features some of the greatest characters, environments, and story telling I’ve ever seen. I understand that when it comes down to games that are 10/10, nit picking who sits at the very pinnacle of a genre will come down to personal opinion, but really, if anyone tells you that Chrono Trigger is not a 10/10, you can disregard their opinions on gaming entirely. I for one, wouldn’t hold that against you.
I’m not going to go too far in to what happens in the story. As a narrative driven game, spoiling even the slightest bit of this masterpiece for young gamers would bring shame on my family for generations. I will say, however, that everything from how malleable the story is (in regards to events that occur, to endings you can get), to the combative features like organized party double techs are brilliant. This game is mind blowingly fantastic from start to finish. I know not a single RPG enthusiast that has not absolutely loved this game.
Runner Ups: Xenogears, Final Fantasy Tactics, Lunar: Silver Star Story
Fighter Not to Miss: Street Fighter 3: Third Strike
Picking just one Street Fighter title is a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. I went with Third Strike. Impeccably balanced, and boasting one of the most loyal and active competitive scenes, if you like fighting games, you owe it to yourself to put some hours in to this game. Known for its technical gameplay, with high risk high reward features like parrying, few fighting games separated the good from the great like Third Strike did.
Hosting younger versions of familiar characters (Like the ever classic Ryu, Ken, and Chun Li), the line up was impressive, to say the least. Different fighters play extremely differently, combos are extremely fluid for those that can execute them, and really, can you ask for more than that?
Runner Up: Soulcalibur 2
Real Time Strategy Not to Miss: StarCraft
Released in 1998, this should come as no surprise. StarCraft is still considered by many to be the greatest RTS game ever made. 3 races. 3 completely different playstyles. All in perfect balance. A system that set it apart from many of its contemporaries was the notion that units low in your tech tree maintain usefulness throughout an entire match. So many RTS games at that time took the stance that players should simply “max the tech tree, spam the highest tech unit, and win”. StarCraft maintained that all units should be able to be useful, throughout every stage of the game. That simple design decision at ridiculously profound effects on the complexity of the game’s strategic elements.
In the world of Real Time Strategy, StarCraft simply can’t be beat.
Runner Up: Command & Conqure
Shooter Not to Miss: Half-Life
The concept that someone might be going through life right now, some gamer, that hasn’t heard of Half-Life is, I admit, a bit strange. It was such an influential work. Half-Life was, if not the first FPS title to introduce so many of the features that we expect to see in the genre, then certainly one of the first, and certainly the first to do them so well. I’m talking about a truly substantial narrative. A narrative progressed by characters, and trigger environmental effects. There are still people who refer to Gordon Freeman as one of gaming’s elite bad asses.
Released in 1998, players take Mr. Freeman, a theoretical physicist, through one of the most gripping worlds FPS games have seen. And I mean seen to this day. You hear a lot about how “any given modern FPS looks like any other FPS”. “Is that Call of Duty, or Battlefield? Halo, or Tribes?”. No one mistakes Half-Life for anything but what it is. It’s a standout title in every sense of the word.
Runner Ups: GoldenEye, Perfect Dark
Action-Adventure Not to Miss: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Now I know people complain about what games are, and are not, Action-Adventure. It’s a very broad term. “All games have action and adventure!” you cry, in a fit of rage. I personally classify true Action-Adventure games as those games that have both real-time action, and focus on a free roaming exploration “adventure”. In a sense, you could say something more along the lines of God of War is “Action-Adventure”, but really, there isn’t any adventure there. It’s an “Action-beat-em-up”. Again, it’s tough to do this by genre, and I’m sorry if we come to blows over the definitions here, but one thing is clear: If you thought A Link to the Past wasn’t going to be on this list, you done lost your mind.
Zelda games are a touchy subject. I nearly got slapped by a close friend of mine when I told him Majora’s Mask was my 4th favorite installment in the series (behind this, Ocarina of Time, and Windwaker). Really though, A Link to the Past is the definitive title in the series. The series had not yet become linear, there were insane amounts of optional side content, the combat was razor sharp, the dungeons wear cleverly designed, the bosses with engaging… A Link to the Past had it all.
Runner Up: Secret of Evermore
Platformer Not to Miss: Super Metroid
I know. “What? platformer, and he didn’t pick a Mario game??” It’s true, when it comes to pure platforming, Mario is the king. No game has ever, or will ever, do platforming like that damn plumber, bless his heart. However, I give the shout out to Super Metroid simply because it is so much more than just a platformer. Super Metroid tells its compelling story through its environment. Not a single line of dialog is said between the introduction scene, and the ending credits. The isolation, the exploration, the precise combat, the situational puzzles… all of these things are perfected in this title. You’re never told wear to go, you’re never told what to do. You rummage your way through Zebes with no one to rely on but yourself. So many hidden secrets, so many short cuts in what is one of platformings earliest iterations of a continuous world. Seeing how one area links back to another for the first time is a feeling you just don’t get when moving from 1-1 to 1-2. It’s like finding the hidden short cut room in 1-2 of Super Mario Bros…. but it happens all the time.
Really, Super Metroid is one of the best games I’ve ever played, not just one of the best platformers.
Others… Not to Miss: Many
It’s impossible to truly cover every title that you should make sure you catch up on. Many that defy genre definition. Many that blend multiple genres together, or are merely so specific that it’s difficult to classify many others along side them. To finish with a rapid fire list of “You’ll just have to trust me on this” in no particular order:
Super Mario 3
Jet Grind Radio
Mega Man 2
There are just so many… but, I hope this list keeps you busy for a while. Go, my young friends, you have a lot of catching up to do.