This is an extremely important post to me. This isn’t just a baring of my opinions, reviewing things for their deserved merits. This is something far more personal. These are the video games that spoke to me as a child, the titles that, in most cases, helped forge the person I am today. I don’t write these words loosely. I mean them. And though they may not be the best games ever, or even the best game in their respective series, these games mean more to me than any others.
5. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (PS3)
This is, comparatively, an odd choice for the list, I’ll admit. I don’t believe the first Uncharted game was the greatest of the 3 PS3 titles, no, but it marked a distinct change in my perception of what it meant to be a video game. I remember not wanting to even give this game a try, prior to its release, because it looked so much like a movie. That’s an odd sentiment, sure, but for someone raised on games like Ratchet & Clank, Pokémon, Jak and Daxter, Sonic the Hedgehog – all games that lean on their cartoonish charms – I was wary of this seventh generation game which looked so incredibly realistic for its time. I worried about a future of gaming that relied so heavily on advancing graphics and photo-realism that we’d lose sight of the fun games of previous generations. Funny enough, it was my youngest brother who chose to get the game.
When I finally started playing the game it opened my eyes to the possibility and power of telling movie-like stories through the lens of a video game. I knew this wasn’t the first game of its kind to go treasure hunting through strange forests and terrains, nor was it the first game to tell a good proper story through the medium. But it took storytelling on the platform to a whole new level. The subsequent titles in the series, as well as other Naughty Dog games like The Last of Us, have further pushed the boundaries of telling a tale through the medium, but I will always remember it as the first game to truly open my eyes to this style of storytelling, as well as the burgeoning powers of the seventh generation games.
4. Pokémon: Gold Version (GBC)
Another strange title. But this game holds some of my best memories as an early gamer. I remember accidentally buying the game a week prior to its release at Best Buy, as they had the game on display. My father coerced the guy behind the counter to let me get the game early, because they mistakenly put it on display so early. Anyway, besides being the coolest kid in school for a week (until everyone else bought Silver Version and I was majorly left out), it’s a solid sequel to the original Pokémon games.
It’s also the first time I can honestly say I was addicted to a game. The experience was wholly new to me. Not that I hadn’t played other games much, even other Pokémon games for that matter, but this did such an extraordinary job of feeling like an entirely new experience (considering the fact that every Pokémon game is essentially the same). Much of my youth was spent playing handheld games, from the Game Boy Color to the PSP. Since then, all my handheld attention has been on my mobile devices. But my best memories from handheld gaming still stem from Gold Version. And I’ve never lost my hope of becoming a real-life Pokémon master.
3. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (PS3)
Perhaps the greatest fantasy RPG series of all time, The Elder Scrolls pushes its way high on my list with Oblivion, the fourth game in the franchise. With Oblivion truly came my love for the fantasy genre as a whole. It wasn’t my first outing with fantasy games, but it’s definitely the reason I get so hooked on world building and adventure in fantasy novels today. Sure, The Lord of the Rings trilogy was my gateway title to fantasy, but with Oblivion I was gifted the opportunity to actually explore a world all by myself. I relished each turn of a corner and locked cell in a dungeon. I left no stone unturned, and could so easily get lost playing for hours at a time.
I’ve only recently been in a position where I could start enjoying D&D with friends, and didn’t really have that experience in my formative years with tabletop gaming. I didn’t even know I wanted to play something like Dungeons & Dragons. Oblivion was my answer to that unknown urge. Even its sequel, Skyrim, captured that very same magic – of exploration, adventure, and wonder – that Oblivion introduced me to. And I’ll always look favorably upon it.
2. World of Warcraft (Mac)
I can gladly say that I’ve been sober for over 5 years, and the urges to go add a few more days worth of playtime to my character are long behind me. But a day doesn’t go by, when thinking about video games, that I don’t want to return to the world of Azeroth, complete a few more quests, and waste my time collecting meaningless nothings and stronger gear. When World of Warcraft first arrived onto the MMORPG scene I was 13 years old, and my best friend used to come over my house for sleepovers and we would play nonstop (until my dad kicked us out so we could go run around the block, or whatever kids at the age of 13 did). We would set our alarms (like madmen) to go off at 5 o’clock in the morning so that we could get a head start on our leveling up for the day. More often than not, we’d just waste all of our time jumping around and running away from monsters.
It wasn’t until I was older that I realized quests would actually help the leveling process move along much quicker than not. Oh well. Still had a heck of a lot of fun. For a good portion of my life it became my primary means of escape from the mundanity of school and life in general. Which was a good thing, in retrospect, because I could have picked up far worse habits than I did. Besides the fact that the game was and is probably the most fun I’ve ever had in a game, I can easily say its one of the best games of all time. Blizzard crafted something truly timeless with WoW.
1. Kingdom Hearts (PS2)
Kingdom Hearts. Where do I begin? I was 10 when this came out in 2002. For me it came at a time where, from an elementary kid’s point of view, it was no longer cool or age appropriate to be entertained by Disney films. And at it’s core Kingdom Hearts is the unlikely merger of Final Fantasy characters mixed in with Disney worlds and characters. At that level alone, the game taught me that there is no need to outgrow such stories; that there is an undefinable depth to be found within every single tale. It also introduced me to Final Fantasy games, as the characters from those games are sprinkled throughout. This was magic at my fingertips. A game has never captured me like this game had.
But more important was the underlying story that threaded throughout all the Disney worlds you visited, as you played the character of young Sora. Through his eyes you witness unspeakable evils, but you also experience some of the most thought provoking and emotionally moving storytelling a young kid like I was able to experience at the time. I know Kingdom Hearts isn’t known for its cohesive storytelling, because on a logical level the game makes zero sense, and occasionally it makes even less sense as the series progresses. But on an emotional level, Sora’s plight reached me to the point where I was convinced it must have been the greatest story ever told on the medium. And really, what it boils down to, is that this kid is looking for his two friends who were seperated as their world was torn apart. One of his friends, Kairi, was the girl you know he cares for more than anything, but never actually admits to – and that’s something I could relate to. His other friend, Riku, is also looking for Kairi, but gets corrupted by the power of the Heartless.
It was the culmination of my youth, and ultimately it was probably the most formative entry for me on this list. It taught me how to keep friends, as well as what friendship meant, even if that meant it wasn’t reciprocated. It taught me to have fun, and to hold onto my youthful naivety, but it also taught me that I needed to take charge, and grow up when the times called for it. I know this isn’t the greatest game of all time, or anywhere near that accolade. But that’s where I hold it. Kingdom Hearts is the most important game I’ve ever played. Whenever I hear Yoko Shimomura’s soundtrack play, perhaps the most emotionally charged music in video game history, I’m taken back to when I was a kid, crying tears of shock as the credits rolled because I didn’t know games could tug on my emotions in such a way. In a word, it has more heart than any game I’ve played since, and due to nostalgia alone I doubt that opinion will ever change for me.
It’s also the first game I ever beat 100% of the way through (except for that fight with Sephiroth, ’cause that was bonkers).
I hope you enjoyed my list. If you did, please like and/or share! It was hard to whittle them down to just 5. But I’m confident these are the games that shaped me most throughout the years. I’d like to know your top 5. Again, not your favorite games ever. Which 5 games are the most important to you?