Twenty years ago, I began an addiction. It has persisted for most of my life, and I have little doubt it will prove to be lifelong.
At the tender age of 8, a series of once-in-a-generation video games transformed the medium from a rainy-day pastime to my most enduring obsession. My first idea for this week was to write about one great game celebrating its 20th anniversary, but there were several releases that each brought a flood of different memories back and a few more that started some of the most important series in modern gaming.
The first big game of 1997 could actually be re-released this year: “Final Fantasy VII.” My older brother, also a gamer, gave me the clunky multidisk box and basically told me “it’s time for you to really game.”
There’s a scene fairly early on in which Cloud, the main character, approaches the evil Shinra headquarters. The camera pans up to show the entire building, and I remember feeling like this is the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in a video game. I didn’t know games could be beautiful until that moment. I have since replicated that feeling dozens of times – the opening scenes of “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim,” for example. But you always remember the first.
A few weeks after the Jan. 31 “Final Fantasy” release, Nintendo countered with “Mario Kart 64.” If today you threw a Nintendo 64 controller on the lap of someone 25-35 and turned on “Mario Kart 64,” they would be able to play on instinct alone. I remember it being the first game that girls, who had only recently stopped being yucky, would actually want to play with you or may even play by themselves. I had heard whispers of such things, anyway.
Besides maybe “Pokémon,” this is the game of the millennial. Twenty One Pilots brings people on stage to play it with them during concerts. We all know it. We all love it. We all talk trash during it. “Thou shalt kart” is a commandment in the Millennial Bible, right before “thou shalt accept thine unpaid internship” and after “thou shalt ask thine mother what to claim on thine taxes.”
On Feb. 28, we got “Turok: Dinosaur Hunter.” I’ve mentioned my love for this bad franchise in previous columns. You know I want another one. It’s fantastic.
On March 20, “Tekken 3” was released in arcades. Though I prefer “Tekken Tag,” this was the second-best game in the franchise. And by the way, “Tekken” is better than “Street Fighter” and “Mortal Kombat.” Fight me.
Fast forward a few months to “Star Fox 64.” This was a top-five Nintendo 64 game. It’s what taught us to use the boost to get through. I don’t have any vivid memories of playing it in 1997, but I know the game still holds up.
Now, to the main event: The Aug. 25 release of “GoldenEye 007.” For my money, there was not a better Nintendo 64 game. Nor has there ever been a better local multiplayer game – ever.
In my neighborhood, “GoldenEye” was a religion. The boys met every morning to pay homage. Oddjob was strictly off-limits, unless you were a new player. Faculty was the go-to map. I had just turned 9 when “GoldenEye” came out, but I remembered these things without any Google assistance. It was my life.
Whenever I sing the “GoldenEye” praises, some moron always pipes in with the “but ‘Perfect Dark’ is just like ‘GoldenEye,’ but better.” Just stop. If you’re that guy, and I know of several living in Fresno, know that you are embarrassing yourself every time you make that comparison.
About a month later, the first “Fallout” came out. I didn’t get into this franchise until “Fallout 3” in 2008, but obviously the birth of one of the last great single-player role-playing franchises is to be celebrated.
The same is true for “Grand Theft Auto,” which first hit European shelves in October. It came out in America a little later. I remember the second installment a bit, but like many people, it was “Grand Theft Auto III” that really cemented one of the biggest franchises in gaming for me.
On Oct. 31, “PaRappa the Rapper” came out. And no one cared. I don’t know – I guess people liked it, but I wasn’t one of them.
“Tomb Raider II” came out the following month. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I hate this franchise, but this is widely regarded as one of the better “Tomb Raider” games. I’d say that’s a bit like being a medal finisher in an ugliest man on Earth contest, but maybe I am too prickly.
Finally, “Gran Turismo” came out two days before Christmas. I was too young to be looking forward to driving, but I remember all of my older friends loved this game because they had car fever. I played it a bit later in life and enjoyed. It’s also one of the highest rated games ever on Metacritic – a pretty fitting end to one of the best years in gaming history.