I’ve played a decent number of video games in my short time on this earth, but there are a few from over the years that have stood out from the others within their respective genres. While not necessarily the best games I’ve ever played in those genres, these games were eye-openers in that they fundamentally changed the way I thought about games. Some of these games were my introduction to their respective genres, while others were from genres I was familiar with but gave me a new perspective on them. Today I thought I’d list five different gaming genres and briefly detail the games from them that proved particularly influential.
I had scattered experiences with fighting games growing up, but I didn’t find them particularly interesting or enjoyable. All of this changed in college when I bought Tekken 5. I had played Tekken 4 thanks to my roommates owning it, and I had a positive enough experience with it to take the chance on buying Tekken 5 when it came out. Hours and hours were put into learning the characters and playing against my roommates, and somewhere in that time something clicked in my brain and suddenly both the appeal of fighting games and the underlying logic of them started making more sense to me. While to this day I still don’t play fighting games very often, I’m no longer hesitant to giving them a try.
I don’t think I had heard of the term “JRPG” when I first played Final Fantasy 10, but I knew that regardless of what it was, Final Fantasy 10 was revelation. It was both my first JRPG (unless you count Pokémon as a JRPG) and the first Final Fantasy game I ever played, and consequently it holds a special place in my gaming memory. Prior to it, I had never played a massive fantasy role-playing game with a story that kept me engrossed from start to finish. After it, I knew that story-based games were something that would hold a high place in my preferences as a gamer. There are certainly better RPGs (both Japanese and Western) out there, and Final Fantasy 10 seems to be generally regarded as a middle of the road entry in the Final Fantasy series, but it opened the door to a new gaming genre, showing me a whole new world of games.
For strategy games I have to call out two games instead of one, seeing as how they influenced me in the two major subcategories of strategy games: turn-based strategy and real-time strategy. Civilization 2 was the dominant game of my childhood, and taught me the ropes of strategy games with its turn-based world of building nations. It trained me in many things related to strategy games, such as planning ahead, city and resource management, and breaking peace treaties with sudden, massive invasions. Total War: Rome came into my life in college and also had turn-based gameplay in its management of cities and army movements, but it unlocked a new aspect of strategy in the real-time battles that occurred when armies collided. The reason Total War: Rome clicked for me in terms of real-time strategy is partially because it taught me history lessons while playing, partially because it was cool to be commanding mass ranks of men in epic battles, and partially because Total War: Rome removed base building from its battles. That last item in particular was something I had seen in other games like Age of Empires and absolutely detested, so Total War: Rome’s focus exclusively on commanding units in battle was what won me over to real-time strategy games.
When I was young, my father’s computer at home had demos of many games as well as a few full versions of games. Among them were first-person shooters like Marathon, Quake, and Dark Forces, but while some of them interested me, none of them captivated me. The eye-opening experience I needed to fully see the potential first-person shooters didn’t come until my late high school days when a friend let me play Battlefield 1942. I had never seen anything like it. Battlefield 1942 had a variety of expansive maps; vehicles including tanks, planes, and ships; and a mind boggling number of ways to play the game. I couldn’t get enough of Battlefield 1942, and after that initial experience is when I truly fell in love with the first-person shooter genre.
It seems that for a lot of people their moment of revelation with open world games came with Grand Theft Auto 3, but I never played that game, so my moment was with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The map of San Andreas was staggering at the time, and the fact that you could go anywhere on it and do whatever you wanted blew my mind. It was the first game I had played with such a level of freedom and it showed me a whole new level of what games could achieve. Also it had some great cheat codes, which allowed you to go nuts and do even more than what was possible by playing the game normally. I’ve hardly played any games since then with cheat codes as good as what I had in San Andreas.