Ah, video games: by the time I was in college, I began to truly appreciate the way that video games have helped to mold my life into what it is right now. I started with Sonic the Hedgehog when I was 3 or 4 and now, it’s been a lifelong hobby. So, to celebrate the 20+ years I’ve spent playing video games, as well as my introduction into Truly Abrasive, I’m going to talk to you about the games that have had the largest influence on me over time.
These are in no particular order.
Super Smash Bros (N64)
So, the Nintendo 64 was my first console, ever. I had a Game Boy Color first for my fifth birthday but the Nintendo 64 was the iconic system of my early childhood, not unlike a shit ton of nineties kids. One of the first games that came with it was Super Smash Bros, and there’s a good reason why I’m not putting any of its much-improved sequels on here.
Afternoons with my uncle were spent desperately trying to beat his Captain Falcon. For characters other than Mario, Kirby, Link, and Pikachu this was really my first interaction with every other Nintendo character. I mean, I’m not sure if I would have ever played any of the Metroid series, Star Fox series, or Earthbound without playing this game first.
Another big thing that made this game extremely influential was its longevity. I rarely played Melee outside of other friends’ houses. Even if Melee was objectively better than the original, my family gathered to watch or play Smash 64 at almost every gathering. From ages 7 to 13, even if I rarely touched my N64, Smash was always a family mainstay. For a younger me, this was competitive gaming.
Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland (GBA)
Let me just tell you, the ad to this thing was the most addicting thing in the universe as a child. You’ve got this fake sounding James Bond theme for Kirby, that was nonetheless catchy as heck. This game was released in what I call THE ERA OF KIRBY, the period of time when the anime ran, and both Nightmare in Dreamland and Kirby Air Ride were released. While I wasn’t able to enjoy Air Ride until around high school, Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland was a big mainstay for a while.
The biggest complaint you can make about this game, or any Kirby game is that it’s too easy, but ten year old me had no issues with that. The big reason why this game was so influential isn’t due to the fact that it was my first Kirby game (In fact, that was Kirby’s Dreamland, the original Game Boy game). It was another family experience: this was the game that started my sister’s short-lived interest in video games, at least from my point of view, and it was a game that we shared. If she plays any game now, it’s either going to be a Kirby or rhythm game.
My point is that this was a game experience that both my sister and I shared and I’m sure we both love to this day. This game also taught me the value of short games like Kirby: there are no real long Kirby games that I can remember, but each one is slam dunk because of its brevity and because there’s no real filler in these games.
3) Jet Set Radio Future (Xbox)
Jet Set Radio Future, for a while, was my white whale. The first convention I ever went to, Anime Boston 2006, had a place on the gaming floor for JSRF and I was absolutely blown away. I just kept on playing it and playing it and didn’t really know what the game was. It took until I got an Xbox 360 to get a copy of this game and its predecessor and let me tell you: this is a franchise that desperately needs a sequel.
While the mechanics of the original Jet Set Radio didn’t age super well mechanically, Jet Set Radio Future is still sound in that regard, at least in a throwback-ish way. Jet Set Radio Future is an experiment in aesthetics that was born of an era of Tony Hawk games with realistic graphics, arcade gameplay, basically no story (besides the THUG games), and an American rock/rap playlist. The Jet Set Radio games are basically Japan’s answer to those games, with outlandish graffiti graphics, arcade gameplay, a downright zany story, and an original Japanese soundtrack.
When I got Jet Set Radio Future on the Xbox 360, it taught me the value of art direction over graphics in an era where all my friends were talking about the graphics of sports games and your Call of Duties. Aesthetics and art direction is king in the Jet Set Radio games, and it sure as hell aged a lot better than the games of that era that aimed for realism.
4) Persona 4 (PS2)
Garrett beat me to this, but unlike him, I’m talking about my experience with the original Persona 4. This game, honestly, is hard to talk about because a lot of people have said a lot of things about it. For me, at this point, I had grown up with a ton of JRPGs, from Chrono Trigger to Final Fantasy 7 to Pokemon: the reason why they aren’t on this list is because Persona 4, at least before Persona 5 came out, was the apex of the JRPG for me.
I had played a bit of Persona 3 FES when I was in high school, enough to know it was a good game, but for a while I wasn’t as into video games as I was before, and was focusing on a ton of other stuff, particularly my anime fandom. I had heard a lot about Persona 4 before I started playing and despite it’s slow start, I was hooked.
Persona 4, in a lot of ways, showed me where turn-based RPGs had to go and where Japanese games in general were going. It, like Jet Set Radio Future, is an exercise in aesthetics, but it’s gameplay and writing are incredibly strong. People are still talking about these characters, and their charm has led to at least a half a dozen spin-off games.
5) The World Ends With You (iPhone/Android)
Ever play a game, read a book, or watch a movie that feels like it was made specifically for you? For me, that game was The World Ends With You, a game I got into late, only playing the phone port in the early 2010s. When I played The World Ends With You, I grew up on stuff like Yu-Gi-Oh!, the Mega Man Battle Network Series and Kingdom Hearts. The World Ends With You is basically the combination of all those elements in the most perfect way.
For me, the Pin-based, deck building gameplay was something I never knew I always wanted. For a while, I grew up thinking I hated the over complicated designs of Tetsuya Nomura, but The World Ends With You franchise kind of proved me wrong, and let a more refined design shine through. The music, much like Jet Set Radio, is extremely distinct J-pop and J-rap and it’s a story with an extremely fleshed out setting and experience: the music only enhances the city of Shibuya you’re trapped in, as well as the clothing and trend mechanics that are used.
The phone port was the first way I managed to experience the game in the early 2010s, and Neku’s story is in a great contrast to a lot of other Square Enix teenagers and protagonists. Neku starts off moody, but a huge amount of the story is devoted to his arc from being a moody teenager who thinks he doesn’t needing anything, to accepting his feelings and learning that he can’t avoid his emotions. In a lot of ways, it’s about going from teenager to adult, and as I was around my first year of college when I started playing this, it was something that I needed at that point.
Written by Caleb Gillen