My 10 Most Memorable Games
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There’s this chain message going on in Facebook as of this writing with people listing the top ten games that have stayed with them in some way. Since it’s about video games, I had to post one as well. However, I had too many things to say about my top ten, so I uploaded it here for posterity.

NOTE: The games listed here are those I played during my formative years, so there are none listed of what I played at 18 years old and over. There are more that could have added here, but these are the ones that profoundly influenced me. I was primarily a PC gamer and the only console I ever had was the Sega Genesis. Honorable mentions on the bottom are 25 titles total.

Arcanum

thumbnail_arcanumThis is my favorite game of all time, and I still play it to this day. I first played this just when it was released back in 2001, and I enjoyed it so much during my first day of playing it that I went back to the shop where I bought it and told the clerk of how good it was. It still is the best money I’ve ever spent in anything.

It has everything that an old-school CRPG needed, including a complex storyline, extensive role-playing system, engaging side quests, memorable characters, a steampunk setting with an expansive in-game world and lore, and so on.

This game touches upon many social issues like racism, sexism, politics, and war; messages that most people wouldn’t attribute to a video game. The depth and sophistication that Arcanum had offset its many flaws. These gaffes include outdated gameplay and graphics, numerous technical issues, and its interface being oh-so-brown.

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But they were mostly fixed with mods and unofficial patches developed by dedicated fans over the years after Troika Games folded. It’s a cult following that truly is “cult”, which isn’t bad for a game made by 12 people. I also think that the antagonist in this game is perhaps the best video game villain ever.

Many would think from the impression given by its technical imperfection and commercial failure as the mark of a bad game, but I beg to differ. If there was something this game has that most other games don’t have is a soul. This game, despite being in a fantasy setting, is undeniably human. Also, Raven is my favorite character in it.

As of this writing, I’m working on a full Arcanum retrospective, and I hope to finish it sometime in 2014 or 2015.

StarCraft: Brood War

thumbnail_starcraft-brood-warI got my first PC from my brother back in April 1998. It was a Pentium 233 MMX with an S3 Virge PCI video card, 32MB RAM, and a measly 2GB hard drive. It was enough though for me to play StarCraft when it first came out, then Brood War later that year. I didn’t have internet back then so no multiplayer.

I never figured out how to play like the Koreans did later on until around 2008, so I never had a headstart once I picked up StarCraft II as my main game. What Vanilla and Brood War did do for me though is tell a story that I got to appreciate the story in its intricacy and scale.

It’s like the sci-fi version of Game of Thrones or The Yakuza Papers in how alliances are formed and betrayed left and right, and the characters were very memorable and well-written (I still miss Praetor Fenix). Also, the dichotomy between Protoss and Zerg was very interesting.

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My clearest memories of the game were the last missions of the Protoss campaigns, as well as their ending cinematics. They’re the reason why I play Protoss (although I’m likely switching to Terran in StarCraft II for 2014).

I only got to follow the Korean Brood War scene at around 2008, but it was quite an eye-opener when I finally saw it for myself. I then tried out the basics of what they were doing, but it was only in StarCraft II when I got everything together in my head. All I need to do is put more effort to it, which I haven’t been able to so far because of work.

Now if only StarCraft II stayed true to this moment in Brood War.

Valerian Mengsk is both a deus ex machina and a Mary Sue. Damn it, Chris Metzen.

Quake II

thumbnail_quake-2This is the first real FPS experience I ever had. I remember playing this game for a period of time with keyboard only. It was when I started going to gaming cafes when I then transitioned to the usual keyboard and mouse, but I did somehow get kind of good using just the keyboard. But then again, I did that because I was a dumb kid.

I got nominally good with Quake II, and I would play it with Eraser Bot for years as a way to wake myself up every morning. Every once in a while, I would speedrun the singleplayer and I was able to memorize the levels and the secret areas.

The only thing that I missed out on in this game was getting good with the railgun, which I didn’t put enough effort in. It would have helped with my mouse accuracy a great deal. Alas, I’m no good in sniping.

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But the best thing about Quake II is the music. The soundtrack by Sonic Mayhem is still one of my favorite things to listen to, as well as the Quake II Ground Zero OST. They were right there on the original discs, so you could pop them into a CD player. I would listen to them while playing other games as well; it’s the perfect music for playing FPS. Not so much for RTS though, so I listen to electronica when playing StarCraft II.

I can hold my own in FPS against most people because I grew up playing this crazy game. Now if only I could get myself to practice more Counter-Strike…

Thief: The Dark Project

thumbnail_thief-the-dark-projectIt was perhaps the first PC game to develop the crucial elements of stealth gameplay. It had a cool steampunk setting with barons and religious orders, as well as the Keepers who stayed neutral. Trained by the latter, Garrett fled to make use of his skills for thievery.

While the premise was novel, story was intriguing, and visuals were nice for its time, Thief’s true strength was its use of lighting and sound. Making good use of stereo sound while blending into the shadows, players could track guards while staying hidden. The sound design is crucial for first-person games to incorporate stealth.

The AI can detect the player’s presence with both sight and sound. If either you have some light shining on you or if you walk on a loud surface like tile or metal, they will get tipped off. Nowadays, the flaws in the sound are more evident as footsteps rarely get softer as guards move away from you until they are out of proximity. But for its time, Thief’s sound design was revolutionary and made way for the “first-person sneaker”.

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Another thing that hooked me was the lore, complete with book passages and quotes referenced in the cutscenes that add a good bit of flavor, even though they were obviously made-up for the game. They each gave a good look into the particular faction they’re attributed to, which helps quite a bit with the narrative. Garrett’s telling of the events from his perspective doesn’t hurt either.

A lot of the more recent stealth games make use of the third-person perspective to circumvent most of the difficulties in stealth since players get to see at wider angles. That removes a lot of the suspense in stealth games that is present in a fully first-person title like Thief and makes it much easier to sneak past enemies.

Thief 2: The Metal Age was just as good, if not better with all of its additions. How I remember the first two games is perhaps why I’m rather skeptical about the new Thief, judging from the trailers so far. I could be wrong, but I’m not keeping my hopes up right now. Watch it and judge for yourselves.

At least Thief’s influence had given birth to other good games, like 2012’s Dishonored.

Half-Life

thumbnail_half-lifeBack in 1999, when I started going to the gaming cafe near my school, there were two games being played — Quake II and Half-Life. Between the two, Half-Life looked to be the newer and more interesting game. Quake II was still our main game until early 2000’s, but Half-Life soon started to come in and dominate a bit before the great era of Counter-Strike.

I finally got a copy of Half-Life and installed it on my PC. What happened next was an adventure that still goes on to this day with the Black Mesa remake. It’s the best and purest example of storytelling in gameplay.

This game was a must-install on my PC for a very long time as mods started pouring in, most of which were singleplayer. I also went through the phase of customizing the hell out of my Counter-Strike, even though I only had bots to play with back then. I also played through the official expansions, Opposing Forces and Blue Shift.

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I didn’t have a particular favorite weapon, but I did have a liking for the revolver, which I tried to master in multiplayer. While I’m not much of a sniper in FPS, I did like the idea of a little weapon with high damage. I also made prodigious use of the Tau Cannon, which also had high damage output, as well as a kickass name.

When I finally got a PC that could play Half-Life 2 well enough, I had completely switched to that since I had played the first game for several years. However, the memories remain and I look back to them quite fondly. I really did like Half-Life, and I play Black Mesa with enthusiasm these days (although I’m still waiting for the Xen levels).

Neverwinter Nights

thumbnail_neverwinter-nightsAmong all the Forgotten Realms titles, this was the one I had spent the most time with. I’ve finished the original campaign, Shadows of Undrentide, and Hordes of the Underdark with multiple characters in various configurations. It’s the adapted D&D Ruleset that gives this game that combination of depth and breadth uncommon in most other games.

The Neverwinter Nights series is the bridge between the old Forgotten Realms games and the new BioWare games we’ve seen since like Mass Effect and Dragon Age. I’ve enjoyed their work, even though Dragon Age 2 and Mass Effect 3 were rather poor for me.

You could play this game like most veterans would with Icewind Dale, which is through a lot of min-maxing. However, fully experiencing the story meant that you would want to put points on your Charisma stat and Persuade skill to interact with the NPCs and get the extra dialogue choices. If you’re a Dragon Age or Mass Effect fan, then you should play this to see where BioWare started to really figure things out on interactions with other characters.

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I’ve played the original campaign the most, and I like the character of Aribeth de Tylmarande, even though she has a stick up her ass. In Acts II and III, she starts warming up right until she falls into Morag’s influence (spoiler). I like her voice acting best of all, with that sultry tone that has seriousness up front and softness beneath. When you talk to her, the music changes to her soothing theme song and stress just ebbs away. All of NWN’s music is very good indeed.

How I liked Aribeth was such that when she appeared in my first playthrough of Hordes of the Underdark (spoiler again), I was pleasantly surprised and got giddy. Her betrayal in the first campaign was quite a dramatic twist in the story, as if Desther’s treachery and Fenthick’s execution weren’t bad enough (more spoilers). Even if I played evil characters, I never enjoyed killing her at all. She can even be romanced in HotU, which affects the ending greatly. The roots of BioWare’s ability to get players attached to characters is clearly evident in this game.

Maybe someday, I’ll write a comparison between Aribeth and Raven from Arcanum. For one thing, Raven is like a less stuck-up version of Aribeth. But still, I like them both regardless.

Max Payne

thumbnail_max-payneWhen this game was first released, it had impact. I’m a big fan of John Woo and Hong Kong action movies, so playing a game where I can pull off moves like Chow Yun-fat is quite a treat. It’s even better when the game acknowledges its influence and lives up to that hype.

From the story to the characters, this game is both memorable and fun to play. The graphic novel cutscenes gives the narrative its comic book noir flavor, and Max Payne’s deadpan monotone delivery adds to the character. The whole vengeful cop angle is a bit cliche, but it really works in this game as it pays homage to many other action movie archetypes as well.

For months on end when I first played this back in high school, I couldn’t get this game out of my head. I finished multiple playthroughs for countless hours and got very much into the really weird parts of the story. I didn’t like the trippy parts except for the ones with answering the phone in the burning office. I also liked Frankie “The Bat” Niagara, and I somehow memorized Vinnie Gognitti’s lines when he gets caught by Max Payne for the first time.

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I got particularly good with the shotgun in this game in that I can survive most situations by rolling and shooting. The only problem with that method is it takes time to kill all the enemies in the vicinity that way and it’s not good against big mobs, so a bit of bullet time has to be mixed in to clear a room full of baddies. It’s this type of thinking with this game that made me enjoy playing in New York Minute mode. It’s like Time Crisis, but a bit more fun.

Like I did with Half-Life, I played a good amount of mods on Max Payne. There were obviously a lot of Matrix mods, as well as the Kung Fu mod that looks great on the trailer, but does take quite a bit to get used to.

I also liked the sequel, and I was okay with the third game for the most part. As for the movie, it doesn’t exist.

Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master

thumbnail_shinobi-3In my case, it’s The Super Shinobi II since I got the Asian version. The only pure console title on the list, this was the most played game on my old Sega Genesis, which was the only console I ever owned until this year (2013) when I finally got a PS3.

Perhaps this does look like I’m appealing to the gaming hipster label with this game, but I do think that it’s the best looking 2D platformer for its time. The background art looks sharp, the animations are smooth, the protagonist looks badass as a white ninja (which means that he’s supposed to be the bad guy), and the enemies have great variety.

When my Genesis still worked, which was from 1994 to 1998, I would play this game a ton, along with Mortal Kombat 3, NBA Live 1997, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and so on. Despite how much I played it though, it wasn’t until the last few months of my Genesis AC Adaptor’s lifespan when I finished the game. Before that, I could only get to the sixth level and be perplexed at how to jump from one falling rock to another.

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For the longest time, especially during Holy Week when local TV stations would be off-air, I could play this game for most of the day, but also stop at the sixth level. When I finally beat it, I was a bit disappointed with the final boss fight being so wimpy. The rest of the game is challenging though, so it’s alright for the most part.

I’m not really very good with platformers. I never played Mario, Metroid, Castlevania, or Mega Man growing up, and I could barely play Sonic competently. Perhaps the only other platformer I ever finished was The Flintstones. Maybe why I like Shinobi III is because it’s an exception for me.

Guilty Gear XX #RELOAD

thumbnail_guilty-gear-xx-sharp-reloadSomehow, this game was released for the PC. When I got a copy, it became my go-to fighting game. I did have King of Fighters and Samurai Showdown IV on emulator, and I did play them quite a lot, but it was Guilty Gear XX that I ended up spending the most time with. Even if I have Guilty Gear XX Accent Core on my PS3, I still play this version for kicks.

Fighting games are a bit special to me for two reasons. First off, I suffered from self-esteem issues growing up, and it was video games that eventually convinced my subconscious mind that I’m actually a capable person after all.

The second thing is that I played a lot of fighting games with my high school best friend. For better or for worse, he kept me sane during those years, and I owe him for that. We played a whole lot of Samurai Showdown IV and Guilty Gear XX for hours on end whenever he would visit me.

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He developed a penchant for grappler characters like Gaira in SamSho and Potemkin in GGXX. It was during these sessions when I discovered that I had a talent for Eddie (Zato-1), and that made me realize that I wasn’t an idiot after all. I then learned how to play Axl Low and Ky Kiske, as well as Baiken and May for “emergencies”.

Guilty Gear XX became the only fighting game that I’m truly competent with. I suck at most other games and just scrub it out, but I have a vague idea of what to do in GGXX. I may not be tournament-caliber, but I could play this game against other people without being nervous.

Unfortunately, I still don’t know how to play Marvel vs. Capcom.

Deus Ex

thumbnail_deus-exWhen this game was released, it was revolutionary in how it makes use of role-playing elements in a first-person shooter game. It’s a lot like Thief: The Dark Project in how it encouraged stealth gameplay over frontal assaults, although it’s just as easy to do the latter here with big guns and cool nanotech augmentations.

Another thing is that this made me start loving cyberpunk. I would go on to watch Blade Runner and read Neuromancer by William Gibson countless times, as well as follow the lore of the Cyberpunk and Shadowrun tabletop games.

Nowadays, I’m over that whole tinfoil hat stuff, but I was quite into it when I first played this game. The whole conspiracy thing on Deus Ex gave this game a distinct flavor, mostly with stuff like the Illuminati and the Majestic 12. It’s the sinister powers-that-be against the intrepid protagonist who uncovers the secrets.

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It’s easy to go for a build that does well in combat, but it sacrifices other abilities like hacking and stealth. Also, choosing to not kill anyone can also affect the story, so non-lethal playthroughs become the ultimate way to play this game. You can choose where you go in the story through how you play and what you say in dialogues.

I still play this game with The Nameless Mod installed. I never got to play the sequel Deus Ex: Invisible War, but I did fall in love with Deus Ex: Human Revolution and its aesthetics (this website’s design is in fact inspired by that game).

Honorable Mentions

Half-Life 2 (w/ Episodes 1 and 2) | Diablo (I and II) | Commandos (series) | Post Mortem | Icewind Dale II | Baldur’s Gate (series) | Anachronox | Beyond Good & Evil | The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind | Suikoden II | Front Mission 3 | Age of Empires | Medal of Honor: Allied Assault | Call of Duty (WW2 titles) | Soldier of Fortune (I and II) | Counter-Strike 1.6 | Team Fortress Classic | Red Faction | Serious Sam (First and Second Encounters) | Return to Castle Wolfenstein | BloodRayne (1 and 2) | Civilization II | Caesar III | SimCity 3000 | Theme Hospital

Conclusion

There is a lot to talk about when it comes to why I don’t have certain games here that others would see as “indispensable” in such lists. There’s no Nintendo, no Final Fantasy, no Metal Gear, no Mega Man, and so on. It’s not that I have disdain for these games, it’s either I never played them more than once or never played them at all. I do have two JRPGs among the Honorable Mentions, but they are the only two that I’ve played extensively. As for having no Nintendo, I never owned a Nintendo console until I bought a DS some years ago.

As for why I didn’t put Ragnarok Online here, which I did play before I turned 18, it’s because that while RO did influence how I would play games these days, I do want to forget about it. I hold a disdain for MMORPGs now because of RO. I still know how to play my best character in that game, the offensive paladin, which killed wizards, AGI characters, and monks left and right in PvP and WoE. However, the grinding and how I got on with the people I met through the game then were reasons why I wish that I had played Brood War instead during that period of 2003-2006.

Maybe I’ll talk more about these games in the future.



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