Most gamers, some way or another, remember the first video games that they played. Even if they don’t, they tend to remember a slew of video games that shaped their tastes and interests for their current games, myself included. I always find it interesting to see what video games people feel shaped their views on their current favorites, gameplay preferences, and any other opinions they have formed in their years of electronic entertainment.
Of course, since folks brought this up, I’ve been thinking about it. While it is hard to narrow it down to five games that really helped influence my gaming persona, as it were, I’m going to give it a shot and see what comes from it!
Also, as a note, this article may have spoilers in it, albeit for much older games, so if you really don’t want to know about a game and some of its intricacies, read on with caution!
PERSONA: REVELATIONS – SONY PLAYSTATION
It should be no surprise to anyone that Persona is the first game on this list. My incessant love for Atlus games and the Shin Megami Tensei series is no secret, and this was the game that introduced me to the concepts that drew me to a lot of games like it. In a sea of Final Fantasies and Dragon Warriors, it brought a lot of relatable and fresh concepts to my impressionable teenage mind.
A lot of things set Persona apart for me. First, it was about a group of regular high school students who get wrapped up in a dark and sordid adventure. At the time, this was not as common as it is now, especially when you pretty much get to browse the shelves at Blockbuster once a week or so to check out their selection. Back when the series was not as highly anticipated, this game had a Gothic and modern vibe to it, setting it apart from a lot of the more colorful and Medieval feeling role-playing games I had played up until that point.
In fact, the modern setting of the game was probably what I took away most heavily. Settings weren’t your classic volcanoes, open fields, and castles exactly. There were factories, malls, and hospitals, and the urban fantasy feel that stayed rooted in realistic feeling aesthetics still play a large part in the games I enjoy now, including The World Ends with You, The Secret World, and various other games by the company itself.
This game also, by way of introducing me to the entire series, brought about my interest in mythology and video games. A majority of the game’s enemies and Persona summons are based on various legends and deities from Gaelic, Greek, and Japanese mythologies, among others. In general, video games are not shy about borrowing from these cultures and stories. The Persona series takes it to an entirely new level, however, and while the translations were terrible in the original regarding these, the preceding entries worked hard to rectify (and explain thoroughly) the beings from which the series draws.
FINAL FANTASY VI – SUPER NINTENDO
Once again, no secret here. I have gone on and on to many people about Final Fantasy VI and the various theories, plots, and connections involved therein. It plays host to a number of my favorite characters in video game history- Celes Chere, Terra Branford, and Kefka Palazzo- and even inspired one of my tattoos. Needless to say, the game had an impact on me.
Mind you, this was not the first Final Fantasy I had ever played. That honor goes to Final Fantasy IV. I played that one, though, before I realized how things like ‘equipment’ and ‘shops’ worked. Final Fantasy VI (or III, whatever) was the first time I knew what I was doing and was glued to the game for hours at a time. I also think it was the first game I faked sick to stay home from school to play.
What I didn’t expect, being all of nine years old or so by the time I played this game, was that I would be playing it near annually as an adult and still finding things I didn’t know existed. This game had a lot of firsts for me that still hold true: I still make sure everything in the room is silent for Aria di Mezzo Caraterre. I still tear up a little at the ‘leap of faith’ scene almost smack in the middle of the game. I get a twitch of excitement every time I go to Thamasa for the first time. Playing the game now is still the same as the first time emotionally, and I attribute that to some fantastic weaving of storytelling, character development, and well paced action.
What Final Fantasy VI did was teach me how to treat games not only like a hobby, but also like literature. This isn’t to say that the only games worth playing are ‘art-worthy’, but critical thinking and analysis came into play looking into some of the plot implications and storylines and it made me feel like a game could be more than just some pixels on a screen. The game played around with linear and non-linear story, and it defied conventions by letting the villain succeed in their goal. This was mind-blowing to me, and it showed that the story can go on despite that fact. As a product of Square’s heyday, Final Fantasy VI showed me that you can have a strong connection to a video game and set the standard that I hold for games of its genre to this day.
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2 – SEGA GENESIS
I grew up on platformers, plenty of which could have taken this one’s place- Donkey Kong Country, Super Mario Bros. 2, Cool Spot- but Sonic the Hedgehog 2 holds a special place in my heart. The game has a lot of features on its own that would make it stand out. The graphics and music are memorable, the marketing at the time was foolproof for kids like me, and I completely wanted to be Tails when I was younger (he was blatantly the audience surrogate, and I dare you to challenge me on that!). There was definitely more to it than that, though.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was a game that me and my friends played together consistently. It was one of the first games that I played in tandem with people, and quite a bit with my mother, who thankfully toed the line between teaching me responsibility and letting me engage in leisure time growing up. It fostered my enjoyment of cooperative multiplayer games that has carried over to today, and I still remember more than a handful of times where I played this game, shouting at the screen excitedly with a few of my friends.
On a mixed side, the game also shows that I can be a blind fanboy sometimes. Sweet 16-bit memories keep me coming back to the Sonic franchise, no matter how many missteps the series takes. Maybe blind is the wrong word. I can easily tell you that games like Sonic and the Secret Rings and Shadow the Hedgehog were affronts to those nostalgic daydreams, but when I see the candy colored mascots of the series anywhere in my newsfeeds or websites, I still get that tinge of excitement thinking about the Sonic fanfare and remembering those times with my friends years ago.
SHINING FORCE – SEGA GENESIS
Much like Final Fantasy VI, this was not the first in the Shining series that I played. When I was younger, I had this, Shining Force II, and the first game in the series, Shining in the Darkness. Shining in the Darkness, being a dungeon crawler, holds a certain place in my gaming timeline, but not among the top spots. Shining Force II is still one of my favorite strategy role-playing games, to the point where I’m shocked I haven’t written about it yet. The original Shining Force, though, paved the way for me to fall into one of my favorite genres, and I can still recite half of the first chapter off of the top of my head, I played it so often.
The game’s format was so foreign to me as a kid, and I loved it. Gathering your troops, deciding which of them you wanted to tag along with you on your journey across Runefaust, promoting them to souped up versions of their base classes- even talking about it makes me want to go back and play through it again. The game was to me back then what Fire Emblem is to me now. Quite honestly, it’s the main catalyst for why any game that bills itself as a strategy RPG gets a nod from me.
Of the games on this list so far, this is really one of the ones that fell into obscurity, and its easy to see why. It’s not incredibly noteworthy on a storytelling level, and it was easily outshone by its sequel(s). While the remake on Gameboy Advance (produced by Atlus!) was great, it still wasn’t enough to really push the agenda of the Shining series back into the US market. I will always remember the battle music, the plot ‘twists’, and the chess-like battle system fondly, however.
CLOCK TOWER – SONY PLAYSTATION
I absolutely had to add a survival horror game onto this list since to this day, it is my genre of choice, even with the fact that most survival horror has veered sharply into action adventure. Yes, I’m looking at you, Resident Evil. Clock Tower was an obscure little game that I remember picking up off of the walls of an Electronics Boutique many years ago, and I was hooked on it from the minute that I popped it into my Playstation until I found all of the multiple endings and played all of the scenarios numerous times.
Looking at the game now, it’s kind of a hot mess. The voice acting is rigid, the graphics are severely dated, and the plot is all over the place. The point and click play style, though making a bit of a comeback in games like Lone Survivor and re-releases of I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream or Sanitarium, is not one that many people find exciting or even easily accessible. While playing through NightCry, a newly released game from the producer of Clock Tower, I saw the glaring flaws that haunt the genre, but I also remembered the terror and frantic searching for hiding places and things to defend myself with. Scenes that terrified me at times when I was younger came back to my memory, and I felt that excitement that I remembered running through an abandoned library or walking into a room with a TV on and someone sitting in a rocking chair, shuddering uncontrollably as you tried to determine if they were fellow victim or the last person your character would ever see.
I am certain that my mind is making these scenes more visceral and horrifying than the game did, as I’ve played through the game plenty in recent years, but that’s a part of the fun and allure with the genre. Without remembering how frenetic playing through Clock Tower was, I don’t think I would have fallen so much in love with games like Fatal Frame, Rule of Rose or any of the other horror games I’ve collected over the years. While I sincerely feel that NightCry was a bit of a missed effort in general, for those of us who played through Clock Tower– well, I feel like we get it. Survival horror has its roots with more popular games, but Clock Tower will always be the start of a beautifully slippery slope of terror for me. It proved to me that film isn’t the only medium that can garner a response of fright or dread from an audience.
So there they are! I’m sure they’ll change depending on the time and how I’m feeling, but I genuinely tried to pick out games that thrust me into certain mindsets, even just thinking about them, and shaped the way I feel about video games as a whole. Later in the week, you’ll get to see a pretty similar editorial from 3PStart’s other half, but in the meantime, I want to ask- what games shaped you as a gamer? Sure, you might be addicted to Left 4 Dead now, but is that because of games like Resident Evil: Outbreak? Feel free to think about it and comment if you want to leave your own opinions!