My life in 24 games
Promoted from our Community Blogs[Nior is here to take us on a journey of their life, using video games as touchstones for important moments. Some of this is incredibly personal, and I’d like to thank them for taking the time to share. – Kevin]
Last year I turned 24 years old. Although it doesn’t seem like a lot of time, that’s a quarter of the average human lifespan, give or take. It’s been an interesting journey so far, and even though I still have much to see and do, I feel like I did a lot. And video games, more than any other media, have accompanied me every step of the way.
Right now, a new decade is starting, and this presents a great opportunity to reflect on the past and the choices that led me here. As you could probably deduce by now, I chose one game for every year I’ve been on this planet. It was considerably harder than I expected but it was worth the effort. And hey, you can consider this my very late introduction too!
Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness (Blizzard, 1995)
Picture a little boy born in the ’90s, surrounded by CD racks, floppy disks, and big CRT monitors. Playing games just to pass time, treating it no different from any of his other toys. Then Warcraft II came along and changed everything, showing me a genre I couldn’t even fathom at the time. Controlling an army and leading it to victory was something I could never have imagined possible. It was a revelation, proof that there was so much more to that hobby than I initially perceived. Although, I probably installed Warcraft II more times than I played it.
One day, my father got a new HDD for the computer, and I had to reinstall everything. The problem was he also changed the soundboard, and he forgot to tell me. After I installed the game and there was no sound, I freaked out and promptly reinstalled it again and again. It took a whole day for me to figure out that I could just select “default” instead of trying every single option available to me and be done with it. Yeah, I wasn’t a bright kid. Shut up.
StarCraft (Blizzard, 1998)
I never beat Warcraft II, but the RTS genre burned itself into my mind, and after tasting that power, there was no going back. But, I was still young, and young people are stupid. I tried a bunch of other RTS’s, and I sucked at them all. Fortunately, this is my father’s favorite genre, so I could simply watch him play instead. Spending a whole holiday watching him play was one of my favorite things to do, and there was no game I loved to watch more than StarCraft.
This was when I fell in love with the genre a second time. The atmosphere just sucked me in. The asymmetrical balance of the races was something inconceivable to me at the time, and the intriguing space opera that was the campaign made for one hell of a story, something I never paid any attention to in other RTS, or any game for that matter. My English was just starting to develop at the time.
Lucky for me, StarCraft was one of the games that came fully localized to Brazil, complete with voice acting. There were parts I didn’t understand that my father would later try to get me up to speed on, especially in the expansion, Brood War, since that was never localized for us until Remastered dropped in 2017. Unfortunately, my father’s English wasn’t much better either, but he wasn’t about to look bad in front of his firstborn now, was he? I later found out his translation was far from the mark, but hey, it’s the thought that counts.
Daytona USA (Sega, 1993)
That tradition of never finishing games continued into my days of arcades as well! Where I was raised you didn’t have many options. The one place I knew would have the machines was the local shopping mall, but I seldom had the chance (or the change) to go there. However, when I did, there was one machine that ate all of my money. As a kid, I was a giant fan of Ayrton Senna, even though he had already passed by the time I was old enough to watch his races. I vividly remember wanting to drive just like him. Unfortunately, there were no F1 arcades here, but Sega brought me the next best thing: Daytona USA!
Man, I can hear that music already. My eyes were immediately drawn to it the first time I entered that arcade: the wheel, the pedals, the drive stick! Daytona allowed me to live the fantasy of being a famous racer in a way other games just couldn’t. Steering that wheel, hitting those pedals, changing the game to first-person for maximum immersion. It was incredible. While I would eventually play things like Metal Slug and Marvel Vs Capcom, they didn’t even come close to the money I put into Daytona. I spent hours and hours trying to learn how to use the manual gear because I wanted to feel like a racer, and I’d be dammed if I’d let the other kids be better than me. I never beat a single circuit of that game, but by Odin did I had fun!
Re-Volt (Acclaim, 1999)
Daytona was a luxury. I had to rely on my family visiting the mall, and even then, I needed to have some spare change to actually play. So, in the meantime, I had to satiate my need for speed in a different way. By then, I had acquired an interest in one particular type of toy: radio-controlled cars. I have no idea how or why. I just remember really wanting one at the time. I wouldn’t get my wish until a couple of years later, but my father, wise as Gandalf, had already prepared a plan.
He called me into the living room, where our PC was located at the time, and showed me this new game he picked up. It was a racing game about, what else, radio-controlled cars. Its name: Re-Volt. Screw the toy, this was the next best thing! Re-Volt was fast, charming, and challenging. The game simulated RC toys incredibly well, and I remember having to be very careful with my turns to not send my little machine spinning around the track. Power-ups could quickly change the tide of a race and that music!
My God, the music in Re-Volt is amazing and brings the whole game together! I don’t play it nearly as much nowadays, but its music is still a part of my playlist. It’s a style of electronic music I don’t quite know how to properly describe (I guess techno?), so just listen and judge for yourself. Just know that it wouldn’t be outta place in a rave! It’s good stuff! I found out people still play it online, so I can’t be the only one who loves it to this day!
LEGO Stunt Rally (Intelligent Games, 2000)
Re-Volt also came with a map editor, but I remember it being very rudimentary and limited. I couldn’t build creative tracks with crazy jumps for my little RC toys to race. Fortunately, I had another escape for my creative urges: Lego. No, not the toys. The games! Nowadays, they have a shit ton of licensed games, but back then they made a lot of original content.
You had “simulators” like Lego Loco, puzzle games like Lego Alpha Squad, strategy games with Rock Raiders, and of course, racing. In particular, Lego Racers 1 is pretty fondly remembered for its fun gameplay and the freedom you had in building your vehicle. But, I didn’t have Lego Racers. I had Lego Stunt Rally, and I loved it! For one, it was so easy that even I could finish it. The game steered for you, and the computer didn’t exactly put up much of a fight.
Plus, it was completely localized as well, Mr. X (the last boss) telling me “Congratulations, World Champion!” has really stuck with me for some reason. After finishing career mode, I was free to hop in and create whatever crazy courses my heart desired! Three loops in a row, followed by a ramp that drops you right on top of quicksand? Don’t mind if I do, game! I’m pretty sure everything was more limited than I remember it, but I’m not about to spoil that memory with a replay.
Top Gear (Gremlin Interactive, 1992)
Both Re-Volt and Stunt Rally have special places in my heart for different reasons, but they were nothing compared to what would come next. By the time I was bored with the track editor in the latter, and cheat codes had completely ruined my progression with the former, the era of the locadora was starting to come to a close. If you read my stuff, you definitely know what’s coming next.
It was there that I found and fell in love with the ultimate racing game: Top Gear. Since I already dedicated an entire blog to it, and I don’t want to repeat myself, here’s the TLDR: Top Gear hit the perfect spot between simulation and arcade, filling the void left by Daytona. It was fast, difficult, it had an amazing soundtrack, and an excellent competitive split-screen. It dominated the multiplayer scene, and to this day, it’s Brazil’s favorite game. I love this game and I always will!
Chrono Trigger (Square Co, 1998)
During my time at the locadora, it was the RPG genre that truly captivated me. They offered something different from the frantic speed of Top Gear or the chaotic shooting of Metal Warriors: a story. On PC, I didn’t get to explore the genre when I was little. The closest I got was with some adventure titles like Grim Fandango. One day, while searching for something to play, I came across a cartridge whose cover I thought I recognized. I picked it up, and one of the other kids turned to me and asked, “dude, you’re gonna play the Dragon Ball game?” Well, he was half right.
The familiar art style belonged to none other than Akira Toriyama. Still, I had no idea what to expect when I popped that cartridge into the SNES and one name appeared on the screen: Chrono Trigger. And, boy, what a ride that one was. Not even half an hour in and you’re already traveling back in time, saving princesses, fixing the continuum of history, and meeting a frog that’s also a knight. Its gameplay and story were something that I had never seen before, and everything about it fascinated me.
It was a fascination that was abruptly cut short. I was so absorbed by it that I lost all notion of time, and when I least expected, Mr. E — the owner of the parlor — came in and shut the console before I could save. However, the seed was planted. I went home with burning curiosity, and not a day later, I was back for more. It was a game that sparked my imagination. I simply had to know what happened next. What other eras would I explore? What other characters would I meet?
This is probably the game’s strongest point. It made me feel like anything could happen, and when time itself is on your side, I guess that really is the case, huh? Chrono Trigger is the root of my love for the JRPG genre. It isn’t special just because it was the game that showed me what the genre was all about, but this is a game I played entirely with an audience, and a live one at that. It left me wanting more. More games that took me to fantastic places, that let me meet interesting characters, that made me laugh and cry. So, at the end of the day, I could go home with timeless memories.
SimCity 3000 (Maxis, 2000)
At the same time I discovered the wonders of the fantasy worlds, real life was knocking on the door, and it wouldn’t go away until I answered it. By this point in time, I believe my little brother had just turned three years old, and as the older son, it was my job to help take care of him as best as I could. That meant less time gaming and more time babysitting. I needed a game that would reward me for not playing it, so it’s bloody convenient that my father had just bought SimCity 3000.
This felt like the logical conclusion for the RTS path I took. I used my big brain to lead armies to glory in violent combat, and now it was time to lead modern civilization to prosperity through planning and advantageous market policies. Or, I could unleash Godzilla on those ungrateful bastards! How dare they complain that the industrial zone is literally right next to their houses? Don’t you see the money you’ll save on transportation? A nice atomic blast will teach ya!
In all seriousness, the game was mostly a creative sandbox for me. The main goal of making sure your city has everything it needs was far from being my first priority. For me, it was all about using cheats to build the most absurd cities I could think of, or recreate my own from memory, and then just sitting back and watching it all flow. The game had this meditative effect on me. I could watch it for hours, especially with that amazing soundtrack! It was pure jazz, and to me, it didn’t sound like “video game music,” and it was an introduction to the genre. Thank you, SimCity!
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver (Crystal Dynamics, 1999)
Coming up with this list, I knew that eventually I’d hit some games that I enjoy every aspect of except their gameplay. I just didn’t expect them to come up before the halfway point, but lo and behold, here we are. Soul Reaver was a game I watched my father play from start to finish, and to this day, I haven’t actually played it myself. The reason I’m even including it on this list is that this game became the benchmark I judge all stories from. Soul Reaver is but a piece in a much more intricate and complex story dealing with fatalism, determinism, free will, paradoxes, and time travel.
It’s incredibly well written, with fully-realized characters, grandiose monologues that are truly worthy of being called Shakespearean, and voice acting I’m yet to see surpassed. This was the game that expanded my vocabulary and truly made me learn the English language, so I could follow the rest of the series — Soul Reaver was the only title localized for Brazil — and I can say without a shadow of a doubt, you would not be reading this if it wasn’t for this game. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, I’ll leave for you to decide.
Lineage II (NCsoft, 2003)
The advent of my teenage years coincided with the fall of the locadora and the rise of the internet cafés/LAN Houses. As it’s usual with that period between kid and adult, social life started to play a big role in my life. I was as average as you can get, and I can’t say I had many friends, but paradoxically, I met all kinds of people thanks to the gig I got at my local LAN House. There was a time when Orkut was still relevant, Messenger was the hottest thing around and flip phones were cool.
In that chaotic scenario, I was presented my first MMO in a manner that’s strangely reminiscent of a drug dealer getting someone hooked. One day, this guy (let’s call him Roberto) had a hot new game to show us. He presented it as “something fun to play with friends,” and he opened a folder with a name I’ll never forget: Horyu. It wasn’t the name of the game, rather it was the name of the pirate server that was most popular at the time. And the name on the login screen? Lineage II.
The game was as grindy as Korean MMOs from the 2000s get, but I had the time and the energy to spend, and that journey was unforgettable. Creating a character and just being thrust into a new and strange world that slowly but surely became familiar, like the back of my hand, is the sort of thing that I wish I could experience for the first time again. Because of my nerdy looks and humble origin (my family was somewhat poor at the time), I was bullied at school. Not a lot, but enough to make me conscious of the difference between me and those around me. But in Lineage, that didn’t matter. I was free to be whoever I wanted, and the game encouraged me to do so. This is probably why I enjoy the tank class to this day. It felt good to be relied on, to know that my party was counting on me and that I was important.
I’ll never forget the moment I fell in love with the game. I had just reached Dion, one of the towns you visit when you hit level 20 or above. In Lineage II, you can pay an NPC called a Gatekeeper to teleport you to places, usually towns. Dion’s GK was set on top of a hill, right at the side of a church. The moment I arrived is when I saw it: a huge crowd of players rendered before my eyes, going all the way down the hill and stretching as far as the draw distance would allow. Dwarves selling consumables and buying materials, supports selling their buffs, players organizing raids and leveling parties, clans preparing for sieges, and so much more. It was overwhelming in the most positive way possible, and the music — “Shepard’s Flute” — punctuated that moment perfectly.
There was no turning back from there. In the next five or so years, this game dominated my life. I leveled multiple characters, joined a clan that became my family away from my family, raided Anthara’s Lair and fought the Legendary Dragon with 100 or so other people, laid siege to Giran’s Castle more times than I care to count, and killed countless people in Forbidden Gateway. That was the place to go for PVP combat. The list goes on and on. I’ve tried many other MMOs over the years, but none ever came close to replicating the feeling of camaraderie or the intensity of its PVP battles. It truly was the kind of experience that only comes once in a lifetime.
Unreal Tournament (Epic Games, 1999)
A man can’t live out his MMO persona alone. Internet in the mid-2000s was shitty, to say the least, so more often than not, it was either down or too unstable to play online. Those were the rare moments the rest of the boys and I would be back in the real world. We would fire up one of the many games we could play via LAN like CS 1.6, Age of Mythology, the DOTA mod for Warcraft III. However, none of them compared to my personal favorite: Unreal Tournament.
I wasn’t into shooters when I was little (and by that I mean my father wouldn’t let me play them), so UT was my first real contact with the genre, and what a start it was! Unreal rewarded skill, precision, and fast-thinking, thanks to its fast-paced movement and brutally satisfying guns. This was the game that taught me how to rocket jump, the value of prediction shots, map control, and that there’s no weapon more amazing in the history of ever than the Flak Cannon — as long as you don’t blow yourself up in the process.
Facing Worlds is the single most perfect map in the history of gaming. UT was fun with friends, bots, or any combination of the two, and 20 years later, this is still the alpha and the omega of arena shooters, and you can’t change my mind.
Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 (Westwood Studios, 2000)
Speaking of fun, let’s go back to the world of RTS for a moment. Considering my backstory, I’m surprised it took me this long to get into the C&C series, but hey, better late than never. Westwood’s swan song was the game that brought me back to the genre for one simple reason: everything about it was fun.
My previous experiences with the genre were mostly tied to external factors: Warcraft II expanded my world view, StarCraft allowed me to spend time with my father, and Age of Empires/Mythology was a whole lot of fun to play in LAN. Red Alert 2, however, was the first time I truly enjoyed an RTS for the game. With its cheesy FMV cutscenes, fast-paced gameplay, ridiculous story, and obscenely powerful units, it was a blast from start to finish. If you ever needed a reason to become a fan of the genre, look no further than Red Alert 2.
Final Fantasy VI (Square Co, 1994)
At this point in my history, my old locadora had already gotten rid of all the SNES and Sega Genesis around, in favor of the new hotness: PlayStation. Luckily for me, I had a PC and a CD containing a shit ton of SNES ROMs. Yes, it was at this time that I discovered emulation. Okay, listen, I’m not in favor of piracy, but back then, it was the only way I had to replay those games. Anyways, this gave me a chance to relive some favorites and explore some I’ve never seen before. Amidst that collection was a title that I never completed during those days. I booted it up, now older and maybe wiser, and the next thing I knew five hours had gone by. Oh, Final Fantasy VI, you work in mysterious ways.
Chrono Trigger may have served as my introduction to JRPGs, but it was Final Fantasy VI that cemented the genre’s place in my heart. Once again, I felt drawn to another fantasy world. Although, this time the cast was larger, the story was darker, the characters were much more distinct, and the villain was just oozing with personality and presence. The game left such a strong impression that it was actually one of the first things I ever wrote about here on Destructoid, way back when I didn’t even know how to properly format a text, and no, I don’t recommend you go looking for it.
Sonic Adventure DX (Sega, 2003)
One series that passed me by while I was growing up was Sonic. The Genesis was a side console for me. The majority of my console time was spent playing SNES with the other kids. Single-player games were, for the most part, something to keep me occupied while I waited for someone to join me. Fast forward almost ten years after that, and I discovered Sonic Adventure. This effectively introduced me to the franchise, and I’ve been a fan ever since, as painful as that is sometimes.
There was a fair amount of content here. The six playable characters all had different stories, and the Chao Garden was just a huge time sink that I loved. But, what really made me put SADX on this list is the fact that this was the first game my brother and I played together to completion. I’ll never forget the night we finally managed to end Big’s story mode (I hated his stupid fishing gameplay…), the last one on the list, and the amazing realization that there was one more story to play: Super Sonic.
We managed to get to the final battle with Perfect Chaos and then… it was time to go to bed. Our mother was not taking no for an answer. I barely got any sleep that night, I was too excited and amazed with the game. That was the first time I lost sleep because of a game, and the moment I found out I’m very weak to robot characters acting like people. Gamma’s story made me cry, and as silly as I think that is, it’s a memory I hold near and dear to my heart.
The World Ends With You (Square Enix, 2007)
By the time I hit 15, I was what one would call a “shitty teenager,” and probably the most unpleasant person you could meet. A crude and uncontrollable ball of anger, never happy, never satisfied, and I wanted nothing more than to lash out at the world. Because of that nasty attitude, I pushed people away. I got into fights with my parents. I couldn’t hold a job, and I was always one step from being expelled from school. The reason for all that anger is something that I still can’t quite explain to this day. Maybe there wasn’t one, and I was just an asshole. Still, that asshole managed to get a hold of a Nintendo DS.
It was an old and barely functioning piece of plastic, but it was mine. That’s when I came across The World Ends With You, Squeenix’s JRPG about an angsty teenager in modern-day Shibuya. This game resonated with me. The point the game is trying to make is that being shut down in your own world can be harmful, and one doesn’t really live unless they clash with other people, come into contact with their differing beliefs and way of life, and ultimately, improve from the experience.
The story reflects that start to finish. The gameplay that forces you to pay attention to two characters at the same time reflects that. Hell, even the stuff outside the game reinforces the message! Taking breaks rewards you with sleep XP, and some pins — the skills you use in combat — can only be obtained by meeting other players in real life, netting you mingle XP. The game wants you to put its ideals in practice, and I took the lesson to heart. If I have friends all over the planet today, it’s because of TWEWY. Expand your world, kids!
999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (Chunsoft, 2009)
Now that I was living that portable life and had my games on the fly (much to my parent’s displeasure), I decided to try this whole visual novel thing. The genre felt so pointless to me at the time. I thought that, if I wanted to read, I might as well grab a book. However, that opinion was full of bias and assumptions since I hadn’t actually played any to confirm or deny my theories.
I chose Phoenix Wright as my starting point, which proved to be a winner. It had a good balance between gameplay and story, the cast was charming, and the music was great. Unfortunately, I thought the main “game” ended after the second case and everything after was a bonus. It just goes to show you how ignorant I was. So, I didn’t finish that until much later because I immediately moved on to another visual novel. This one grabbed me by the balls and never let go. 999 is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best stories I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing.
It’s a mix of novel and “escape-the-room” puzzles, and the plot revolves around a group of nine people trapped inside a sinking ship, forced to play a deadly game called The Nonary Game. From this relatively simple premise, it twists and turns and really goes places, thanks to its superb writing and absurdly clever plot twists. The descriptions are eloquent and vivid (especially when there’s a corpse involved).
The story uses real-life scientific concepts (and some theoretical but real in-universe) that greatly contribute to making that world seem as true as our own. I came out of that experience feeling a little smarter myself. At the very least, I felt a little more curious. Seriously, this was a game I couldn’t put down, and it made me a fan of the genre for life.
Guilty Gear XX (Arc System Works, 2002)
Here’s one fun fact about myself: I’ve always been sort of contrarian. While everyone else was playing soccer and sending Goku their energy, I was studying the blade practicing my basketball and rooting for Seya to unleash his cosmos. Hell, even now I’m doing that, blogging in English instead of Portuguese. It’s not that I want to be one, I just do whatever feels comfortable and that just so happens to go against the norm. This includes my taste for fighting games.
While all of my friends were getting their groove on in the latest King of Fighters (probably the most famous fighting series here in South America) I was rocking Heaven and Hell in Guilty Gear XX. The pace of the KoF series was always too slow for my taste, so when it came time to choose a fighter to add to my collection, I went with GG XX because that was the only other option at the time.
I never imagined that the game was everything I could’ve ever wanted: fast, over-the-top, full of deep mechanics, and extremely metal. I never stopped liking metal, but back then, I was really into it. After recognizing some riffs and catching a bunch of references, there was no going back. This is the game that got me into the genre and allowed me to meet people that I’ll treasure for a lifetime.
Metal Gear Solid 2 (Konami, 2001)
I’ve never been into stealth games. I’m too clumsy and impatient to play them like you’re supposed to. It’s just something that’s burned into my DNA. So much that I couldn’t even get past the second level of Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow. After that, I decided this wasn’t for me and peaced out.
While I dislike stealth, I do love me some weird shit from Japan. That’s probably why I gave the Metal Gear Solid series a chance. The fourth game came with my PS3, and I decided why the hell not. Pro tip: never start a story at the end. It’s bad for your health. Although, it ended up paying off because I immediately acquired the HD Collection after finishing it.
Still, I wasn’t ready for the mind fuck that is MGS 2. Nowadays, the story of its development it’s pretty well known, but what this game did with its story, gameplay, and marketing in favor of its central message still blows my mind. I can only imagine the reaction of people going into this game completely blind way back in 2001. They were probably expecting to play as Snake, only to have him “die” in the first hour.
Then, of course, there’s that final hour of gameplay when the game “breaks,” for a lack of a better term. I won’t spoil the specifics, just in case you’re one of the few people that haven’t played it yet, but let’s just say that the final codec call before the last boss still haunts me. I don’t know if Kojima is a genius or not, but MGS 2 certainly is a genius game that gave me a lot to think about.
To The Moon (Freebird Games, 2011)
A couple of years after my experience with MGS 2, I was verging on adulthood, and I figured it was time I started acting like one. I began looking for jobs, considering my college options, and planning for life in general. My gaming habits started to reflect that, as I was spending less time with big-budget games that required a huge time commitment, choosing instead to go for more bite-sized experiences. In particular, this was when I discovered indie games, which were becoming more and more mainstream at this point.
Enter To The Moon, and holy macaroni, I never knew I could cry so much. This simple game, made entirely in RPG Maker, tells the story of two doctors specialized in changing human memories as a sort of last wish. It’s basically a fusion between the movies Inception and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one of my all-time favorites. It’s about as moving as it sounds. It sports a powerful narrative, with some truly gut-punching moments, that leaves a clear message behind that regrets are inevitable, and as such, one should strive to live life to the fullest. Words to live by if you ask me.
Persona 3 Portable (Atlus, 2012)
By the time I reached 16-years-old, I had my first experience with the inexorable truth that is death. I lost my grandma after she fought a long and hard battle against the sequela of an accident that left her in a vegetative state. It was a shock, and the painful realization that I would never see her again destroyed me. I couldn’t bring myself to accept that, and I buried myself in video games in an effort to forget.
Try as I might, death became this lurking thought that would occasionally pop in to taunt me. Life moved on and, since her passing, I’ve only been through a few other funerals. While I got better at accepting it, I still hadn’t understood it. When I turned 18, my brother was gifted a PSP for his birthday, a gift I would borrow from time to time. That’s when I came into contact with Persona 3.
Now listen, while this isn’t the first (or the only) game to deal with death, its story and message were exactly what I needed to hear. The game is clearly dripping with urban fantasy from start to finish, but the lessons I took from it were very much grounded in reality. The game over screen summarizes it all pretty neatly: “Though life is merely a journey to the grave, it must not be undertaken without hope. Only then will a traveler’s story live on, cherished by those who bid him farewell.” As weird as it seems, Persona 3 ended up being the coping mechanism that gave me the words I needed to hear the most.
NieR: Automata (Platinum Games, 2017)
Putting one of Yoko Taro’s games on this list was a no-brainer. The entire point of his work is to get an emotional response from the players, usually through the writing. While I think the writing in the original Nier is by far the best in the entire Drakengard/Nier franchise, it was Automata that struck a chord with me.
As we established earlier, I’m very weak to robots that act even remotely similar to humans. While that definitely helped, it wasn’t necessarily the cause. The whole reason I can’t get this game out of my head is because of Ending E. Automata’s grand finale is the embodiment of a maxim adopted a long time ago: leave something good behind. To me, this is the entire point. This is the ideal I try to shape my life around, the reason why I scatter these words on the internet like leaves on the wind.
It’s proof that I was here, that I helped or entertained someone even if only slightly. It doesn’t really matter if one or ten thousand people get to read it. It doesn’t matter if they leave a comment or thanks. Those are just pleasant surprises. I was able to make that final choice with such ease because I know that a piece of me is now forever out there, and someday, it will help someone in need. Somehow, that makes it all worth it.
ZeroRanger (Erasure Systems, 2018)
The shmup genre is probably one of the last places where you’d expect to find life-changing experiences. They’re the type of games that are light on story and meant to replayed until either you or the game break. That said, this is a genre I grew up playing, from Chicken Invaders to eXceed 3rd, so I knew I couldn’t leave them off this list, but I couldn’t quite decide on one.
Lucky for me, ZeroRanger is a vertical slice of everything I love about all of them! Not only does it have all the marks of a fantastic shmup (tight controls, striking visuals, an amazing soundtrack, and a fair deal of challenge), but it’s also a love letter to the genre and everything that inspires it. It’s surprisingly strong in the story department too, without being intrusive or hard to follow like in Raiden V or Astebreed. That’s it, I just really like games about shooting everything that moves in space. It’s my list, so I’ll do what I want!
Celeste (Matt Makes Games, 2018)
It’s impossible for a story to universally appeal to every person. We’re just too different from one another for that to be feasible. However, if there is one topic that gets really close, it would be mental health. It doesn’t matter who you are. This is something everyone will have to deal with sooner or later in life. Few games tackle the subject with such elegance and grace as Celeste. Beneath the fantastic platforming action, there’s an amazingly well-executed (if a bit on the nose) metaphor about facing the trials of life, and overcoming the seemingly impossible odds, with effort and persistence.
Playing Celeste reminded me of how I felt three years ago during my college plight that almost destroyed me: the fear, the confrontation, and the feeling of relief after. It’s rare that I come across something that can trigger those memories, and it’s even rarer that they don’t make me feel bad about said memories. But, this game did it. For that, it’s rightfully earned a place on this list.
CrossCode (Radical Fish Games, 2018)
You know, I think it’s only fitting that the last game on this list is one that takes me back to a simpler time. As I grow older, it’s only natural that I wish I could go back and be young and innocent again. Nostalgia is a very powerful thing, and the industry seems to have caught on to that fact. The indie scene is especially adept at pulling my heartstrings, and no other game has pulled them quite like, my personal GOTY of 2018, CrossCode.
Everything about it just evokes memories of some of the best moments of my life. The pixel art reminds me of the 16-bit era RPGs I used to play, the music has this nostalgic feeling to it, and it captures the MMO setting so well too. Exploring the world of CrossCode as Lea felt no different from when I explored Lineage II as my human Gladiator, despite both games being in completely different genres.
Reaching new towns, finding new leveling spots, befriending complete strangers, or just taking in the view for a screenshot, CrossCode managed to evoke all of these familiar emotions while still being a fantastic game on its own. It combined the combat from Ys, the charm of Chrono Trigger, and the exploration and puzzles of Zelda. It’s like all of my childhood memories turned into one game, and I loved every second of it.
Well, that was hard. Even with 24 slots, deciding on what games deserved to be here proved to be quite a challenge, particularly during the start of my college years when I wasn’t playing that many games. I tried to be as concise as possible, and considering the original draft was bordering on ten thousand words, I think I succeeded. In writing this list and looking back at my own life, I realized how much I’ve changed as a person while my tastes remained pretty much the same.
I wonder how this list will look to me 24 years in the future.
Also, I have no clue how to end this, so let me just say if you read it all, you’re a goddamn trooper, and I appreciate you taking the time to indulge me. I’ll be back with my usual shenanigans soon, and I hope to see you there too!
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