Lists never get old, but old I am. And as I turn 41 in but a month, I’ve been playing videogames for about 35 years. Through that time, I’ve played the good, the bad, the incredible and the horrendous. I figured I’d catalog some of the best moments as seen through my eyes. This is by no means comprehensive. I’ve likely missed some and assuredly your list would differ from mine. For instance, everyone’s Game of 2016 seems to be Overwatch and I never even touched it. Oh well. So here we have a list of my favorite gaming moments ever, in no particular order. Oh…and obviously there might be spoilers. That happens when you recap decades of gaming. You’ve been warned. Let’s start!
Final Fantasy VII: Aerith (1997)
I am one of the thousands whose first entry into FF was VII. Purists hated us as we missed out on the classic lore of 1 or 2 (IV), etc. But as the seventh entry into the game arrived, it also ushered in a new era of gaming. The PS1 was really in its infancy; rendered videos coupling with voice acting showed gamers what the future could contain. (Granted, the TurboCD predated this by more than half a decade, but that’s a totally different story!) Those of us who grew up on Mario and Sonic were treated to a futuristic, mature and gritty game. Characters came to life as they had never fully done before. And Aerith/Aeris appeared, the pretty florist who joins AVALANCHE to counter the absolutely-and-completely-bad-ass Sephiroth. When Cloud arrives to find her at an altar and then OMFG Sephiroth impales her! What Just Happened?
Twenty years later, main characters are almost expected to die (thanks George R.R. Martin!) A story without a twist is boring. A tale wherein the protagonist is the antagonist or there are double and triple crossings are now standard fare. But in ’97 I knew of no game that dealt with such loss. And it’s a tale that, twenty years on, still affects me.
Tomb Raider: T Rex (1996)
Although Tomb Raider has received its fair share of glory, much of 3D gaming’s success and roots are attributed to Super Mario 64. And while that’s not unfair, the years have not treated Lara Croft’s first adventure well. TR didn’t age nearly as well as SM64, but a number of average-at-best sequels also diminished the series’ name.
However, back in 1996, this game was an amazing accomplishment. Nowadays, the barren landscapes would make the young cry in boredom, at the time, “less is more” truly was the mantra. Because when things did happen upon you, be them bears or wolves, it was a big deal. The game’s minimal soundtrack and the mythical world you scoured painted a wonderful picture of exploration and excitement. And then it arrived.
Running through the lush green of some cavern in I don’t recall where, I came upon a dinosaur. Now, I can’t recall if I saw the smaller ones first, but when the T. Rex appeared it was immediately categorized in the OMFG classification. I could only hear the Monty Python voices instructing me to, “Run Away, Run Away!”
Subsequent playthroughs were obviously less terrifying. But that moment was just so grand in a game of such minimalism. After some dismal entries into the series, the reboot landed itself at my favorite game of 2013. But the impact of that first game was every bit as important as the Italian plumber’s.
Resident Evil: Dogs (1996)
I’ve uttered OMFG more than once while recounting these moments. Shock. Pain. Fright. But let us face one fact: Resident Evil itself has two entries on this list.
We shall begin back in the mid-90s wherein so many of these moments reside. I missed out on playing RE upon release but did so about a year later. This was back when PS1 games were still being sold in longboxes. A friend, I can’t recall whom, lent me this disc. And anyone who has played RE knows *exactly* what I’m going to say.
Heading down that hallway with the black-and-white checkerboard floor, I was usually cautious. It was a must in that title. But when those dogs burst out the goddamn window, I nearly shat myself. It’s one of those moments in life that brings you right back to where you were. I can recall even where I was sitting. I remember it all. My heart raced and every time I went through the hallway again (including how they mixed it up in the RE-make) brought such anxiety.
Before we head to the next entry, I should share that Silent Hill had a similar effect, however slightly less potent. The creepy town streets, the static of the radio, it truly instilled terror into me. At the time I was living in an apartment, a former nurse’s station, which happened to have black-and-white tiled floors. After a session of SH I was to go to a friend’s and meet everybody when, as I walked towards the door leading outside, the awning creaked. I paused and then an enormous amount of snow fell from the awning. Scared the crap out of me. It was no more than a few feet before me. The empty halls and darkness looming made the fright all the more powerful.
Resident Evil 4: Chainsaw (2002)
Back to RE! The series was considered on the downward slope. Everyone loved the first two entries, but even I didn’t get around to 3 or Code Veronica. And then let’s remember that between RE2 in 1998 and RE4 seven years later, we were treated to three Gun Survivor titles, two Outbreak games, RE: Zero, the REmake and a GBC title. That is a lot and it watered down the Resident Evil name.
So when RE4 came out, as a GameCube exclusive, it was easy to have expectations low. The GC had mainly catered to a younger audience. What should we expect? Well, a buddy of mine and I booted the title up and walked through the intro (that I’ve played on the GC, PS2, Wii and PS3) expectations were shaken. And when you’re in that village and the chainsaw-wielding lunatic comes after you, that sense of dread returns. And when that guy literally chopped off Leon’s head, my mouth was agape. It was grotesque. It gave me the sense that anything could happen in this title. It returned RE to the high standard the first titles represented. And it shocked the hell out of me. Now, more than a decade later, the fourth game represents a change in gaming culture much like the first one did.
The Walking Dead (2012): That Ending…
The connection to the TV show and thus the graphic novels may be scant, but to me, the episodic first season of TWD was an enormous step in gaming and one whose ending resonates through me still.
Cutting to the chase here, the game was a solid portrayal of a post-zombie-apocalypse world. My character, Lee, was likeable yet real. His relationship with Clem was similar and at that time of my life (36, with four children), it was tangible and tactile. I was Lee and Lee was me. As absurd as it sounds, that sentiment is what every game developer wants his gamer to feel. Many games give you options to chat with characters and many times I skip out on several. Not here. I gobbled up every new chance to flesh out that relationship of the imperfect father figure and the lost young girl. When she was taken, a fire within me burned. “I will get her back,” as if I had any say in the game’s script. When Lee got bitten, I cut off that arm for the better good. And when we walked amidst the zombies and Clem got us into the storage shed (or whatever it was), my teeth clenched as I wished for a happy ending. And then…
Amidst all of these gaming memories, many truly are etched into my mind. I can go back and remember where I was, what the time of my life was, how that moment affected me. When the lights came on and I saw Lee, his eyes yellowed, my heart sank. “No. NO. NO! You can’t die on me! You can’t abandon Clem!” It was terrible. It was the absolute worst thing that could happen. And as the story continued on, Lee’s fate clearly determined, it was wrenching. And finally, as the tale ended, Lee (due to my choice) handcuffed to the heater (or whatever it was), I was crushed. The game ended, with hope for the future, but it didn’t matter. Lee was gone. I was done. Utterly crushed I was, so much so that as the credits rolled and my 6th platinum trophy popped, I didn’t even care. Tears streamed forth and I stared at the TV in absolute shock. No game had ever consumed me at such an emotional level. Sure, I’d played countless hours as Nathan Drake, Mario or Lara Croft. But nothing affected me as much as that relationship between Lee and Clem…and Lee and me.
Grand Theft Auto 3: Freedom (2001)
I have never beaten a GTA game. I tinkered with the first and the second (as well as one of the expansions) but we all know it wasn’t until GTA3 that the game truly came into its own. And I never beat it. Or VC, SA, 4, 5…nope. And that’s OK. Because in the autumn of 2001, I had just started Metal Gear Solid 2. It was slow and trodding. It required moments of sitting still. Hiding. Waiting. But at the same time, GTA3 had come out and it was all-around chaos. Why do missions? Just go around destroying everything in sight, beckoning police to the pandemonium and causing more chaos. Every time I would start a mission, I’d get side-tracked and mayhem would ensue. And while nowadays there are so many games that offer this experience, this, to me, was the first of its kind. Top-notch acting and a story that was an excellent production all equaled a groundbreaking and game-changing moment in history. I didn’t end up beating MGS2 until 5 years later and while that series is in my top-10 ever, GTA3 overshadowed what ended up being my least-favorite of the MGS games.
Symphony Of The Night: Inverted Castle (1997)
I played all three original NES Castlevania titles before taking a bit of a break. While I’d tinkered with the SNES and Genesis games, I still don’t think either truly lived up to the franchise’s name. Now, the big problem with Dracula X is that it never came to American shores. While SotN is a direct sequel, it means most of us didn’t play its utterly-excellent predecessor. I only bring this up because the arrival of SotN was, to me, the best Castlevania game in ages!
We begin with a good story, silky-smooth gameplay and let us not forget the music. Oh! that music! Alucard’s animations coupled with the gothic-inspired decor painted a wonderful picture of the time and setting Konami and Iga set out to create. It is yet another entry into the ‘I can remember when I was playing this game’ category. I recall my apartment, the time of year, even the music I was listening to during those weeks. (Conversely, when I listen to that music, I think of SotN!)
However nice that story is, it’s just a tale of a nice game! In the Internet’s pre-saturation phase, we didn’t have every secret accessible on our mobile devices (as they didn’t really exist). This game encouraged exploration and upon completing the game and searching for the elusive 100%, we were all greeted with an amazing discovery. Now, explore the entire castle…upside down!!! This was a simple solution to a simpler time when storage space was limited and system memory scant. Are you serious? Just play the entire castle inverted? YES! It was brilliant and exciting and riddled with secrets. Just how I love games to be! Coupling this revelation with a renaissance of the CV series, it’s understandable that the formula was recreated over no fewer than half a dozen times in the following decade. And understandably, I played each and every one of those as well! But none had the flair or excitement that SotN did.
Asteroids: Turning (1982-ish)
My introduction to gaming began at an early age and, like everyone else at the time, I owned an Atari 2600. With the caliber of games that appeared back in that era, I can truly appreciate games of today. (Yes, I owned E.T.) One title, Asteroids, wasn’t truly an amazing game. But one afternoon at a very young age, I started on what was my first experience with achievements. High scores were a big deal back then, but my goal for that afternoon was to turn the score. Rolling meant turning the score from 999,999 back to 0. At the time, that was the equivalent of a platinum trophy. It’s not sexy…but back then it was a huge deal.
Contra: UUDDLRLR (1988)
My youth, in some ways, was defined by the interactions with my friends and my best friend Dan in particular. We became friends in the 6th grade, just as Contra was released in the USA on the NES. It was at a time before digital distribution and videogame cartridges were expensive. Therefore most games were to be played in a sitting and then played again the next day, as you couldn’t just download a new game or demo. We would play this game repeatedly. “Bored? Play Contra!” And what better way to play than with the 30-lives Konami code? Everybody knows this code and it became synonymous with gaming and cheats in general. Nowadays, with trophies and achievements, cheats are not nearly as prevalent as they were back then. But back then, push power, up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, b, a, select, start and go! (We used the select button for the 2-player code) If it didn’t work? Press reset and do it again! The game and the code are legendary for me. A funny side-note, rumor always had it that the code wasn’t meant to be left in Gradius (where it initially appeared), but the designer forgot to remove it before shipping. Funny how things work…
Ys: Books I & II: (1990)
We all know the extent of the failure of NEC’s TurboGrafx-16 in the west. It eventually battled the SNES and Sega Genesis and lost on most commercial accounts. However, the CD-ROM add-on, while released too late to save the system, was an incredible step forward in games. From redbook audio to complete FMV scenes, it heralded a new era that truly wouldn’t be adopted for another half-decade (with the arrival of the PS1 and Saturn). The small library wouldn’t really impress but one title in particular stood above and beyond its counterparts. Falcom’s Ys compiled the first two games into one and changed how games could be represented. Book I is a short adventure, but Book II is a wonderfully-crafted tale. Full animations of Adol and the group were brighter and coupled with crystal-clear dialogues. Don’t know if anyone else can remember when they started putting voices onto cartridge games in the early ’90s. This put them to shame. Of course, it’s too bad the system was a failure.
But beyond visuals and voice acting, the music was impeccable. There was simply no other system at the time capable of outputting such high-quality audio. I still can hum the tunes of certain areas. IMO, despite its failure, NEC was way ahead of its time when it issued the TurboCD.
Street Fighter II: Animations (1992)
I’ll never forget this. After having played the original SF in arcades and then Fighting Street on the TG-16, seeing SFII is etched in my memory. It was almost 25 years ago that I walked into the arcade at the mall in Massapequa. A horde of people surrounded a cabinet and a pair of televisions were hung above for the crowd to see. Round 1 began and I stood, mouth agape, as Ryu bounced, prepared for the bout.
The title proved to be one of the most remarkable successes in videogames. Its depth and replayability are heralded as true provenance of competitive gaming. And the title’s history in the 25 years since is colorful and full. However, one of the most impressive moments for me was just seeing those animations and colorful, vibrant backgrounds popping to life. We also cannot forget the music, whose hummable themes can still be conjured up at a whim. And for anyone who lived through it, the magic of what came in the following years is also as memorable as the rest.
Advent of Achievements/Trophies (2005)
It’s so bad that now I don’t really want to play old games. I play games that I don’t necessarily want to just to obtain trophies.
That goes against everything gaming represents! But every so often I’ll get a Vita title or something and play while the kids are watching movies…all to grab a handful of trophies that truly have no significance in the world.
When the Xbox360 shipped and featured achievements, it was a cool concept. Sony, realizing they were behind, started a long string of catch-up games on the PS3, eventually patching in so many missing features. Trophies, for me, are superior to Microsoft’s achievement points. A quick look at a gamer’s stats show a number. Achievement points or Trophies, it’s all the same. I could get 5,000 bronze trophies or amass 10,000 Achievement points. However, Sony’s breakdown shows that I currently have 19 platinum trophies and I can list them all off one-by-one. In retrospect, the jump from PS2/Xbox to PS3/Xbox360 was a major step in connectivity and console ability. And there’s simply no looking back.
And looking back, I’ve played games for more than 30 years. While achievements and trophies didn’t entirely change gaming, in many ways they changed how I play them. 100%ing a game was a badge of honor, but only to show a friend who was physically present. Now you have tangible proof. Developers make trophies to lead you down certain paths, perhaps ones you’d miss otherwise. It changed how I approach games and the longevity of some titles. I cannot go back and find it sad that Nintendo franchises (other than Mario) don’t call me to complete them like Sony’s or Microsoft’s do.
Red Dead Redemption: Mexico (2010)
So much has been said about RDR and this transitional section of the title. However, like many other people, I wasn’t fully sold on the game when it came out in 2010. Grand Theft Auto in the west? As written above, I’d never beaten a GTA game and I am not particularly fond of westerns, be it the time period or the movies about it. But then you cross the threshold to Mexico and the voice of José González appears. That acoustic guitar, that empty feeling of enormity ahead. It was a spectacular moment in gaming and opened the world to be so much more than what I thought. The game continued its excellence in its writing, gameplay and the ending was phenomenal. It was beautiful and remains in many people’s memories as a high note of a game that I never knew I wanted.
DoDonPachi: Dai-Ou-Jou: Chaining Level 1 (2005)
After playing shoot-em-ups (shmups, known as shooters back then) throughout the ’80s and early ’90s, the genre died as arcades faded away and games became more elaborate. Cave continued the tradition by refining a sub-genre known as Danmaku (Bullet Hell). For those initiated, the change was profound as both depth and strategy evolved.
I was reintroduced to the genre with Cave’s DoDonPachi in the early ’00s. After following the developer for a few years, they ported the finest title in the history of shmups in 2003. I imported it day one and played the hell out of it. The game is incredibly difficult, both the gameplay and the scoring system. Its meticulousness requires such specific accuracy, many are turned off by the game. Only the best can beat it in one credit, chain entire stages and the lot. As I’ve never been very good at Street Fighter or shmups in general, I had no chance at greatness.
Until the autumn of 2005 when I dedicated myself to scoring and chaining. My scores and progress are surely mere novice material when compared to the pros of the genre. But on the 14th of September 2005, I managed to chain the entire first stage! This meant specific planning and coordinating lasers, shots and hyper usage to combo every enemy from the beginning to the end. I would later get a higher combo total before moving to Maine when my time to dedicate dwindled to nothing. However, the unbridled excitement from achieving a goal after putting in such effort…it makes this one of the most memorable moments in all my gaming history. And while many of these memories here are of the game itself, this is a personal achievement that may stand above so many others. Below a capture of my highest chain and here is my old progress log, now utterly defunct and outdated.
Well, there you have it. In finishing this up, I’ve already thought of a few more that I might need to add to part two. But since this list has been brewing for several months already, it’ll be a while until I have that prepared.