Listmas 2013: Ethan’s 14 Most Influential Games, Part I (Special Guest Post)

Today and tomorrow, I’m running two lists from a close friend and loyal reader. Please show your love in the comments!

This isn’t necessarily a list of recommendations, nor is it necessarily a list of favorites. It could be a little bit of each, or it could be an instruction manual on what games to give to your child while they are still impressionable. Something it most definitely is, though, is a list of the games that have had such a profound impact on me during my twenty-six years of life that they are recorded in my soul-crystals and can never be replaced.

    Super Mario World (SNES)



This was the first platformer, maybe the first videogame, that baby-me was given. It taught me how to jump without moving anything but my thumb, though for many years I would be physically jumping through intense moments in any game. It has a great balance of difficulty, a steady learning-curve, a colorful and imaginative world, tons of secrets and alternate paths including difficult hidden stages for people who are into that, memorable music… everything. It’s not the standard against which all other platformers are judged. Why would we do that? It’s not in any contest with any other game. There are platformers, and there is Super Mario World. There is every other Mario game, and there is Super Mario World. Forever, in my head, saying “Mario” will be a pointer only to this game.

    Final Fantasy IV, VI (SNES)


finalfantasyethan

I can’t pick one–I’ve been trying for years. If Mario taught me how to press buttons, these two taught me how to read. Final Fantasy VI (or III in Nintendo’s renumbering) is theoretically and artistically an amazing triumph and, I’ll always argue, the greatest Final Fantasy. It accomplishes its lofty ambitions so fluidly that it never seems out of place (For examples, having no main character, or having sidequests that are so integral that they are pursued without feeling “secret” or “optional.”) The memories of this game are mixed with Yoshitaka Amano’s beautiful and unique illustrations with which the now-tattered but still-treasured player’s guide was laden. And, of course, every note from the soundtrack to either game can be recalled effortlessly.

Final Fantasy VI was dark and tragic, but IV was lush and vibrant. Final Fantasy IV (or II, Nintendo…) is the triumphant fantasy that we all want told to us over and over–which is pretty much my approach to playing that game, as it was when I was young. Knights! Dwarves! Magic! Crystals! Regret! Rebirth! The future is from the past! Going to the moon in a giant whale/spaceship! So many crystals! There is everything to love, even if it is, artistically, pretty standard. It’s been ported with new content and remade with new mechanics and had sequels forced upon it, but none of that is canon with my childhood, so who cares.

    Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES)



I don’t know what to say. I bought a used cartridge from FuncoLand just because I liked the title-sticker. It didn’t communicate anything to me other than “this game has a sword in it,” but that was enough. This game was a new format that allowed a different kind of exploration. The world is open, but obstacles that can’t be passed without certain items make the experience linear. The whole time, you’re taunted with visible secrets and treasures that are just out of your reach, feeding your need to explore. I’ve played every Zelda game since finding this one. More, please?

    Wanderers from Ys III (SNES)


This game feels different from any other in the strangest ways. It feels like it was heavily influenced by text-based games, but it’s a side-scrolling sword-slasher that’s light on the dialogue. There’s a menu element is used just rarely enough to always feel like a special opportunity, unlike Zelda which has you flipping between items in every room. Success is based on experience points, new armor, and magic rings more than it is on skill, due to many misplaced hit-boxes on enemies and Adol, your swordsman, having such a short reach that it’s difficult to avoid damage if you want to deal any. It also has a… story? I never took much notice of it when I was young. It’s far from perfect, but I played it so much when there were so few other games at hand that its battles and music will be echoing through my head forever.



    Megaman X (SNES)



Another legendary game that fell into my hands through magic, this was a gift from my Aunt who had no children and didn’t speak English. This is a side-scrolling platformer with gun-based combat and a massive emphasis on mobility. Wall-clinging and dash-jumping were added from the original Megaman games, giving you the ability to practically fly through stages and dodge anything where you were previously glued to the ground and had to deal with every enemy that didn’t have the courtesy to jump over you. Playing these games just makes you feel awesome, until X5, that is.

    Super Smash Brothers (N64)



This game proved that you could have a fast, technical fighting game without having to memorize button combos. You have two attack buttons and each can combined with a directional button for a different attack. The controls are the same with every character, but they all play differently. It’s amazing. It’s also worth note that games like this, along with MarioKart 64, Mario Party, and Goldeneye pretty much redefined gaming as something (or the very best thing) that could be done casually with a group of friends instead of something for the isolated.

    Guitar Hero 2 (PS2)



I didn’t even like music until I got this game. Seriously. Most of all that I’d ever heard was classic rock, and only while being driven to school. The heavier rock and metal to which this game exposed me was life-changing. It was rewarding to watch my skill-growth over the years that this game would stay close at hand. Listening to the songs while finding the perfect times to hit notes also taught me about beat, note-quartering, and time signatures. It lit a new fire in me. It took a while, but now musician and composer are in my list of skills.

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