One can learn quite a bit of a gamers tastes and such from the usual “top X” lists. I’m sure every journalist has written a “top X favorite/least favorite games” list at some point in their careers; I revealed a number of my all-time favorites and most despised titles in my 365//365 review project in 2010.
While those lists usually are a cinch to jot down and organize, there’s a bit of an uncharted waters that most journalists never sail through – influential games in their lives. These are games that have left an indelible mark in ones life, and hold a significance that goes beyond said game being “the best” or “the worst”. These are titles that more or less had a direct affect on the gamer, molding their tastes and viewpoints in certain genres or franchises, or even forged the person they have become today.
This list will be no different. And yes, this is copying off YouTuber Boogie2988, but with one additional title added in. These are the eight most important video games of my life. These all left lifelong impressions for a myriad of reasons, and more or less describes my gaming tastes and habits more so than the standard “top X” lists could ever do. This will not be a chronological order, but more loosely based on the order of how large of an impact it made in my life.
Kung Fu Master (C64)
I had a controller in my hand as early as three years old, when my dad left me play his Atari 2600, ColecoVision and Commodore 64. Almost 34 years later, while the controllers have changed shapes, my grasp remains firm on this hobby. I vaguely remember visiting a pizzeria in the Bronx and seeing a Kung Fu arcade cabinet. I did not play it that day, but my dad soon purchased a copy of Kung Fu Master for the Commodore 64, and it mesmerized me.
While there were countless games I had played throughout that console generation, Kung Fu Master was always the go-to game. Even at an early age, I was completing all five floors with ease, and then subsequently clearing the game a few more times after that, when the difficulty had been raised. The way the Commodore 64 version worked, I had to hit the space bar to swap between kicks and punches, but that was never a factor until the final boss. I can still clearly remember the cycle I used to beat the final boss (standing kick, low kick, jump kick, hit space bar for punches, standing punch, slow punch and standing punch).
Kung Fu Master was perhaps the very first example of how repetition never really affected me with games that I loved. Each weekend I would go at it with the game, go through the same motions, but love every second of it. While there were plenty of other games that I did play during that time, it brings me back to a much simpler time. Going beyond just Kung Fu Master, it was time spent with my dad, who spent more time putting in game code from Compute Gazette, which allowed me to play even more games when I needed a break from Kung Fu Master. It was a bond that helped put me on this path of gaming that I’m on now, and have been for three decades. It’s been many years since I’ve tried to fire up the old Commodore 64, but just the memories alone take me back, and makes me happy.
Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64)
Who doesn’t love Mario? At one point in the 90’s, more kids knew who Mario was than Mickey Mouse. Nintendo created a true icon and character in Mario, and nearly every single standalone title featuring the plumber from Brooklyn has been stellar. From Super Mario Bros. 2 (my very first Mario game) right on through to Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario World 2, Nintendo created 2D platforming bliss. Often imitated, but never outright duplicated, the Super Mario franchise defined 2D gaming.
Between 1995 and 1996, my local electronics store called Nobody Beats the Wiz (or The Wiz in short) received a demo kiosk of Nintendo’s upcoming console, the then Ultra 64. Inside the kiosk and plugged into the console was a demo copy of Super Mario 64, the very first 3D foray for Mario. 3D platforming was still in its infancy, with titles such as Jumping Flash! on the Sony PlayStation more or less showing what was possible for the genre up to then. Manipulating the camera for most of these early 3D platformers proved troublesome, with most being beyond cumbersome. But this was Nintendo; they defined 2D platforming after all, so who’s to say they can’t do the same for the third dimension? When I first encountered the kiosk, the previous player just walked away, so I was able to jump right in.
And then it hit me.
The fluidity of Mario’s movements, the ease I felt manipulating the camera. It was as if I was controlling a dream game. Once I stepped into Princess Peach’s, formerly Princess Toadstool, and the musical piece played, I felt this overwhelming feeling of happiness. I actually had tears in my eyes, because the Mario I knew and loved, took the next step forward, and without tumbling or bumbling forward. The demo only lasted about five minutes before the eventual autoreset, but I was absolutely awestruck.
It would be a couple more years yet that I’d be able to own my own Nintendo 64, but you best believe the first game I got was Super Mario 64. I can barely count on one hand how many games have moved me emotionally (coincidentally, one of those games is on this list). Super Mario 64 was magical; it was literally magical to me. All these years later, I can come back to it, and still feel the whimsical and awe inspiring emotions it elicits.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2)
Rockstar’s magnum opus (IMO) was a literal sandbox of imagination. While I did have my investment in CJ and the Grove Street Families gang, it was San Andreas‘ absolutely brilliant game world that, at the time (heck, even today) seemed to have more to it than any other game world I had encountered.
The thing with GTA:SA is that I come back to it every several months, and I swear to God I find something NEW that I could have sworn was never there the innumerable times I sat down and spent time with it before then. A couple of years ago I had discovered that I was able to drive a train around the city. Most of the time that I fire up an old save point, I just take a leisure drive anywhere I am able to drive my car, or bike it up the mountains.
Many gamers had complained that there was TOO much real estate; that there was so much “dead space” where there was nothing going on anywhere. For me, that’s exactly why San Andreas was as magical as it was – it heavily mimicked the amount of “empty space” the player would see on similar drives from one large city near mountain areas, to another. The scope was staggering, but on top of that, there’s almost a never ending list of locations and activities that can be encountered. As I am writing this, it’s 2017 and yet not a single game has come close to what Rockstar offered on this PS2 release. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has a ginormous game world yet it feels like it doesn’t even have a fifth of what San Andreas has to find and do. Even Grand Theft Auto V, the return to San Andreas (sans San Fierro and Las Venturas unfortunately) lacks the magic and wealth of life that the PS2 game contained.
While I’m still holding out hope that there will be a developer that molds a game world as engrossing and near limitless as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, I’d be happily content with returning every several months until the end of time. Rockstar created the perfect world, and when you discover new things each time you revisit it, even over a decade later, you know it’s nothing short of magical. Honestly, I’m more than likely going to sit down and take a tour around San Andreas right after this, and see if I can once again find something new to take part in.
Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike (ARC/DC/PS2/XB)
Ever since I first laid my hands on the arcade version of Street Fighter II, I became completely in love with the genre. For the most part, I was never a “top” player of most any game I played. It was more for fun vs the CPU than against others. It wasn’t until high school where I started playing fighting games more in arcades than on my Super Nintendo. I was decent at X-Men: Children of the Atom, X-Men vs Street Fighter and Marvel Superheroes vs Street Fighter, where I would regularly beat players older than me without button mashing.
Then Street Fighter III: New Generation came to arcades. The introduction of parrying to the gameplay seemed like such a major strategy addition to the franchise. Unfortunately, I never really clicked with New Generation. Soon after, 2nd Impact was released, which I never really played much at all. There was something about the gameplay mechanics that didn’t feel right. To this day, I struggle to find a proper way to describe it. Around that time I had gotten pretty heavy into Marvel vs Capcom 2, but what would come next paled in comparison: Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike.
If there ever was a fighting game that I knew I could have gone pro on and would have been able to hold my own, this was it. This was literally a ten year addiction, where I spent at least a couple grand playing both the CPU and other players in the arcade. I spent a lot of time in NY’s Chinatown Fair, which was originally the mecca of fighting games when it came to the east coast fighting game scene. A plethora of fighting game elite came here to battle it out, from Sanford to Chris G. to Justin Wong. I couldn’t prove it to you, but I am all but certain I’ve beaten Justin Wong a number of times before I even knew who he was. My old job even had a 3rd Strike cabinet, where I more or less spent my entire paycheck on that machine each week. Friendly battles with co-workers and local high schoolers were some of the highlights of that time of my life.
Ironically, I did end up working with Justin Wong on Chocolate Lemon and officially met him before that at another old job of mine. We had a multi fighting game tournament, where I can’t remember what place I took, but I know I did defeat Jago (Andre Lambert) during one best of three set, and then soon after spent several games playing against Justin Wong. While I did almost win nearly every round overall, it showed that time wasn’t on my side and I wasn’t the monster I was years ago, but man was it a rush nonetheless.
Regardless, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike was incredibly important to me. In terms of competition and just sheer enjoyment, no fighting game has ever come close to Capcom’s masterpiece. While I went through a number of mains throughout the years (in order: Alex, Remy, Ken, Urien, Yun, Chun Li) I was, and to an extent, can still be competitive with the best of them. No Street Fighter game, or any fighting game for that matter, has come close to the experience and memories that 3rd Strike has given me. Maybe Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 with my Dr. Strange/Rocket Raccoon/Wesker or Doctor Doom team, but it still lags behind quite a bit.
Online gaming back in the late 90’s was quite the experience. I can remember a website called Ten.net where a number of multiplayer games were available to play through their service, from Duke Nukem 3D to a game that no one remembers in ARC. Ten.net was my introduction to online gaming, with Starcraft: Broodwars being the first major online multiplayer game, unrelated to the aforementioned service, that captivated me. At that time I was working at a game store where the co-workers were all a close knit bunch. One co-worker named Cris wanted me to join his clan called “Night Demons”. In order for me to join, I had to beat him in a multiplayer game of Starcraft. Six hours later we lost our connection to the game (yes, a 6 hour Starcraft game) and had to wake up for work 2 hours later.
While there was no clear victor, he did let me join his clan. A month in, we were talking about this new mech game that had just come out called StarSiege. Cris went ahead and bought it and sang its praises like no other game before it. Soon enough, all of the co-workers and friends of the store bought the game and we were playing every single night, practically into the early morning before work.
There was a single player component to StarSiege, but hell if any of us knew what it was about. We were all gung-ho on the multiplayer aspect. Players choose one of the two factions and select a herc, outfit it with different weapons and pieces, and take part in team deathmatches or capture the flag sessions. The customization was absolutely jaw dropping for its time, enabling players to create custom skins, as well as vocal taunts. I vividly remember creating and sharing a bunch of wrestling and musical themed taunts that I burned onto a CD with the guys, so whenever we played multiplayer, they could hear it along with me. It was a blast being able to blow up the opposing hercs, hit a button and play a taunt that only my friends could hear.
When I was laid off in 2001, I still played StarSiege quite a bit with the guys, and continued to do so up until about 2004 or so. Another game had entered my life around 2000 which slowly started to take away from my time with the guys and StarSiege, but we’ll get to that in a bit. What StarSiege represented to me was a group of co-workers, moreover friends, spending time with each other, having laughs, blowing stuff up and creating lifelong memories. I miss those days, and those friends dearly. StarSiege brought us all very close, as we spent as much time hanging out with each other outside the game as we did in the game. That’s not to take away from the thrills of multiplayer, as it was one of the greatest I’ve ever played. But when I think back on StarSiege, I think more about the friends I miss dearly than the hercs being blown to pieces.
Mass Effect Trilogy (360)
I know it’s sorta cheating lumping together three titles in one, but when those three titles are from a franchise that holds a dear place in my heart, I’m willing to make the exception.
While the franchise has gone through staggering changes from its initial release, which was more heavily skewed towards the RPG genre as opposed to its more RPG-lite and action feel today, it’s never lost any kind of value to me. Mass Effect was the very first RPG I ever completed once and then immediately jumped back to replay. In fact, I did a third replay immediately after the second. The same can be said about Mass Effect 2, where once the game was completed, I went back in for a second tour of duty.
Mass Effect 3 though, that was a bit of an anomaly. I wasn’t one of the crybabies that threw a tantrum over the endings presented. I never found any disappointment with the ending other than brevity; the Shepard saga might be the most enjoyable storyline I have played through in a series. But when I completed Mass Effect 3, I didn’t go back for more. I jumped to the multiplayer portion. What turned out to be one of the most shocking, unexpected surprises ever, ME3‘s multiplayer had me hooked.
For nearly 2000 hours.
Never had I been so addicted to an online component to a console game. ME3‘s multiplayer scratched every gaming itch that takes my attention, most notably character leveling and collecting weapons. There’s a wealth of each with Bioware’s multiplayer portion of ME3, and their take on a horde mode was absolutely addicting. Between the 360 and the PC, I’ve put in nearly 2500 hours of multiplayer goodness.
It’s strange though….the Mass Effect trilogy left a very big impact on my life, and it was equal parts the Shepard saga and multiplayer that meant a lot to me. In fact, I have the paragon symbol tattooed onto my right forearm as my very first tattoo. Paragon is best described as the light side in Star Wars; virtuous, taking the right path, always being good.
While Mass Effect Andromeda was one of the biggest disappointments I’ve ever experienced in a game, the franchise holds a special place in my heart. The disappointment in Andromeda had me start the Shepard saga anew recently, though Persona 5 halted my progression on that. Nevertheless, Bioware crafted a story and cast of characters that I fell in love with, and a multiplayer suite that took over my life for many many months.
To this day, Suikoden sits atop my all-time favorite games list (The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild just barely missed toppling the king). The very first time I played Konami’s roleplaying gem, it was a rental from Blockbuster. I only had two days but over the course of a weekend. I can’t remember where I left off, but I was determined not to rent it once more, but to purchase it for my own.
When I did manage to buy my own copy, I played through the entire game, and the story it told, it felt like it changed my life forever.
Suikoden was unique, in a number of ways. From its 108 stars of destiny (the number of people you can recruit to your army, most of which are playable), to how it felt like each NPC had a reason to be there and say what they did, Suikoden delivered in every possible way, sans visuals. The two things that stood taller than the rest was the music and the storyline.
Suikoden was the first game (not counting Super Mario 64) to move me to tears. Without spoiling anything, there were at least two moments in which things happen, and tears came down. Even with 108 characters, with the focus on certain ones being prevalent, there is an emotion attachment that develops. Combine that with what I still feel is the greatest music score ever in a game, and those moments become moving beyond words. It sets the tone for each moment so flawlessly. The end theme still remains one of, if not the most powerful pieces I’ve ever listened to.
I’ve played through Suikoden at least a dozen times over the years, and even though it can be completed in about 20-30 hours, the story told is gripping manner and it tugs at the heartstrings in a way a video game never did before, and seems like hasn’t to the extent Suikoden has. Story has a significant meaning to me when it comes to a roleplaying game, and the impact that Suikoden‘s made on me can never be fully explained. While I may sing the praises of such games as Final Fantasy VI, Persona 5 and Xenoblade Chronicles, Suikoden was as close to perfect that the genre can ever be.
The MMORPG genre holds a near limitless opportunities for players, especially titles that has been around for 18 years. I started playing EverQuest when the first expansion, Ruins of Kunark, was relatively new. Nearly two dozen expansions later, the world of EverQuest is still an alluring one.
The significance of this title isn’t just set to one specific aspect, but rather a few different ones. The core game its self is definitely something that has attracted my attention off and on for the last 17+ years. Each new expansion opened up more of the game world, introducing new creatures, a myriad of weapons and items and countless memories to be made. While the actual game its self might seem overshadowed as you read on, do understand that the addiction of the core game and the role of a warrior has been something that is hard to walk away from.
But perhaps the biggest hook to EverQuest has been less to do about the game its self, and more about the people I’ve met. True, it brought like-minded players together to accomplish goals they couldn’t complete on their own, which put a focus upon the game world its self. But the literal characters I’ve met throughout the years, the conflicts, struggles, laughs, cries and everything in-between…no other video game has been able to elicit as many emotions and memories than EverQuest.
Moreover, being an officer of two different guilds, one currently being a top three guild serverwide, I’ve actually learned a lot about leadership roles; how to best settle disputes among peers, help taking charge of over 50 people from around the world in working together in taking down difficult encounters, and much much more. The role I’ve played in EverQuest in regards to leadership has actually strengthened that role outside of the game whenever it arises. Being an introvert for a very long time, this has helped give me the tools to break out of that shell and be more vocal and open in everything I do outside of the game.
Probably the most important thing I’ve ascertained in my experience with EverQuest is a number of lifelong friendships that have developed along the way. A best friend for nearly 17 years that has been there every step of the way through the very best and absolute worst of times, that I consider my little sister; more close friends that share a great number of likes, dislikes and such that have gone well beyond the game; getting to know certain people you’ve have very little interaction with previously and finding how fascinating they are. That’s not to say that I haven’t met a plethora of unstable or vile beings, but the folks that have had a lasting impact beyond the game have made EverQuest the single most important game in my life.
It might seem baffling to some that a video game has left such and indelible impact on my life like EverQuest has, but there’s been so many experiences, so many things I’ve learned and so many people I’ve met. Many of these things have helped steer my life around to where it’s been and where it is now. For better or for worse, but honestly, it’s been more for the better.