G. S. Martin’s Most Influential Games

I believe there’s a distinctive difference between what games you view to be the best and what games are the most influential to you. Sure, there might be some overlap like with my list here, but a lot of these games I put on here are on this list because of how they defined me not just as a gamer, a writer and as someone who works in the industry, but as a person as well.

These games are in no specific order.

Super Mario RPG: Legend Of The Seven Stars (SNES)

Super Mario RPG: Legend Of The Seven Stars was the first time I really felt connected to characters in a video game. It also happened to be my first time with an RPG. Growing up playing other games in the Mario franchise such as Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World, I just couldn’t get enough. They were addicting and masterpieces in my eyes, so when I heard there was a new Mario game coming out, I ran right out to my local Toys “R” Us and nabbed it.

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And then came the unsettling realization, this was not a Mario game. At least not in the traditional sense. It wasn’t a part of my comfort zone. What were with all these different button choices? Why was everything 3D and isometric? WHY WASN’T I JUMPING ON THINGS?! Naturally, I didn’t handle this change very well and begged to be brought back to the store so I could return it. Now this was way before video game trade-ins or proper return policies and so as I soon found out, I was stuck with it. This weird mutated Mario adventure. But I had nothing else to play for the system, so I gave it a second chance. I’m glad I did because I became enamored. It’s not an understatement to say that for the first time in my life I became emotionally invested in a video game and its characters. Everything in the game was designed to drag out some sort of emotional response.

My first time fighting Belome and watching one of my characters get licked and swallowed up by this strange bloated dog-like creature game me more than enough reason to be a little uncomfortable. The music in Booster’s castle, with its off-kilter and often uncomfortable nature, made for a perfect place to explore the depths of an insane man. Then there were the characters. To this day, I truly believe this is the most accurate depiction of Mario. A mute who pantomimes everything and comes off as heroic, dorky and sincere. Since then, I really just think that he’s become an ass. Geno, the fan favorite, was the cool character we all wanted to be. This mysterious force from the stars who could take over a doll’s body and turn it into a brutal fighting machine equipped with his own gun hidden in his arm that shoots stars at his enemies. He was, quite simply, the coolest video game character around.

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“I can turn you into a scarecrow too, you know.”

But the game was so much more than just coolness. It was about depth and emotion, the destruction of people’s wishes and dreams. The realization that some people look up to you and want to be you even though you might not even realize it. The game excelled at creating a universe that felt both uniquely different from Mario and completely similar to early Mario entries and I think that’s no easy feat.

City Of Heroes (PC MMORPG)

Who hasn’t dreamed of being a super hero as a child? The notion of being able to run through a city taking down bad guys and saving the world. It’s a thrilling thought. And even though City Of Heroes gave me that outlet, it ended up giving me a lot more than I could have expected. The two things that always drew me back to the game were system’s the character creation mode feature and the fabulous social atmosphere the game had cultivated. Being able to create any sort of hero, such as an average Joe who used a sword and a shield to cut through the baddies to a flying werewolf who controlled plants and minds, and then forming your own Justice League-esque super group was enthralling.

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City Of Heroes gave me my social life when I was uncomfortable and weird at school and reclusive at home. Being able to form bonds between strangers from all over the globe while destroying bases of crazy cyborg creatures together was just what I needed at the time. I remember signing in for the last day of the game, hours before the servers were shut down. Everyone was emotional. People were telling their favorite stories of old adventures and weeping on each other’s virtual shoulders. This game was a home and an escape for so many people. A haven that no one will ever get to experience again, but one I will never forget.

Black (PS2)

Black was a shooter that did storytelling and, most importantly, shooting right. It didn’t focus on any multiplayer, it didn’t unnecessarily put you through tutorials on how to use each gun; it just threw you right into the water and hoped you would sometime be able to make your way to the shoreline. One of the most memorable aspects of this game for me was the use of live action video in its cut scenes. It was the first time I’d ever seen it done and even since then it has been the only time I’ve even seen it done well. At the time, it added this sense of realism to the game. It let me believe that I was actually reliving a failed mission and uncovering the pieces to my character’s past, not just simply being told what had happened. When you take that kind of storytelling and then add the number of destructible environments they had included in the game, it was a shooter unlike any other at the time.

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When I look back and think hard about what makes the game hold up by today’s standards, I’d have to say the level design. Each level felt special. They weren’t just reworked and reskinned levels that they knew had succeeded in similar games. They had personality to them. The opening level remains to be one of my favorite levels in any video game. The moment you find the RPG and take down some of the buildings, it’s magical. The shooting mechanics and AI were pretty solid as well. Unlike some shooters over the past five to ten years where they can’t decide how many bullets an enemy should be able to take or whether the player is smart enough to challenge an AI with a shotgun, everything in Black felt smooth and polished. I knew that I had to be careful sometimes and other times I knew I had the upper hand. Every few years I pull Black out just to remind me what really got me into shooters and for the hopes of a true sequel. Not some “spiritual successor” bullshit like Bodycount. But that’s a different story.

Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (DS)

Visual novels are a little sweet spot for me. They tend to give me just enough of a challenge and creativity in gameplay while producing a juicy enough story to keep me motivated and entertained all the way throughout the experience. Hotel Dusk: Room 215 was the first visual novel that I played that really changed this up for me. I had played a few before on PC or DS, but this one oozed with style and gripped my mind with its simplistic, yet deep and richly woven story. The first thing you might notice while playing the game is that you hold the DS or the 3DS as if you were holding a book. You don’t use the buttons at all. It’s simply you, the screens and the stylus. You solve all your puzzles and make all your movements by simple actions on the touch screen and watch the story’s protagonist and his reactions on the left.

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The art style is gorgeous too.

In a story about an ex-cop who chases things that wish not to be found, you get the opportunity to uncover a plethora of selfish and malice filled secrets. It wasn’t the secrets themselves that grasped my attention, it was the execution. The little puzzles, the witty banter between the characters, the tension that rises when people suspect you’re more than just a regular hotel patron. It was just a game full of charm. And I games like that will always stay with me.

 

Persona 4: Golden (Vita)

If you’ve ever wanted to expertly experience the highs and of a high school youth in a world bound to the magical and mysterious, Persona 4: Golden is what you are looking for. Persona 4: Golden might just be the closest game to perfection in my eyes. I have a rule where I won’t ever call a game, anime or movie perfect because I don’t think anything can be perfect, but my God, does this game come close.

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You get the chance to make friends that feel as deep and true as anyone you might run into in real life. You must balance your school life, your part time jobs, your romances, and your friendships all while trying to solve a case about a rash of murders in a small town in the countryside of Japan. And how do you go about solving those murders? By going into a mysterious world that can only be accessed by climbing through the TV exactly at midnight while it’s raining of course! And on top of that, in this TV world, you have these insanely powerful creatures called Personas that manifest themselves from accepting different aspects of yourself. Could anything be more Japanese? But more importantly, could anything be any cooler? Who wouldn’t want to go on dates during the day and slaughter shadow creatures at night?

When I first heard about Persona 4, I was skeptical. It sounded so bizarre. It sounded like something that could never appeal to someone like me. It seemed like it was too far-fetched and jumbled together. I’m glad that I was proven wrong. I don’t think I could imagine what my gaming life would be like without knowing there are characters like Chie, Naoto and Kanji.

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In fact, I don’t think I would have played a lot of other JRPGs if I never gave this game a shot. I would have missed out on a whole genre filled with brilliant entries. I’m very grateful that Atlus decided to be weird, that they decided to be bold, but most importantly, decided to be dedicated to their vision because they gave me a once in a game so intrinsically beautiful, I don’t think I’ll ever experience something like it again.

Written by G. S. Martin

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QOTW: How Do You Tackle Your Video Game Backlog?

I’ve amassed over 200 games for my PS4, over 40 for my 3DS and another 40 for my Vita. That’s not to mention all the games I own for my PS3 and steam account. Out of all of those games, I know I’ve only played about four or five dozen. That might sound like a lot, but when you put it against 300+ games, only playing fifty or sixty some odd games doesn’t really feel like much of a dent. It’s led me to question if I’ll ever get through my backlog of games.

What even qualifies as checking off a game on the list? Is it simply playing the game for a sufficient amount of time or do you actually have to beat the game?  My personal belief is that it’s when you’ve played the game enough to where you want to stop playing it. Whether or not that means you enjoy it enough to conquer it or enjoy it so little you uninstall it from your console, having a full experience, whether positive or negative seems like a good determining factor in my eyes. For instance, there are games like Tetris, how many times are you going to play that before you consider it a game you’ve fully experienced or experienced enough of to check it off your list? Granted this formula must be changed depending on the type of game you’re playing.

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“I think I’ve got the hang of this.”

There’s the sense of obligation as well. I’ve purchased these games, why wouldn’t I play them? I clearly had enough interested to buy them in the first place. What is keeping me from playing them now? Is it just because I can go and play something safe and familiar instead? Is the risk worth the reward? What if I find out that I just spent all that time and money on something that’s garbage? A Lot of the time that’s what holds me back. “Oh man, this game looks so good…oh look there’s Destiny, a familiar shooter? Sounds good to me,” that kind of thing.

What I really want to know is: are there other ways to take down your backlog? What’s your preferred method? How many games have you gotten through and how many do you have left?

Let us know in the replies!

Written by G. S. Martin

Over A Month With The Nintendo Switch

I’ve never gotten a system at launch before. It has usually come down to not being able to afford the hefty price of the console or the device not being intriguing enough to win me over. This time the Switch launch covered both of those fields. Part of me wishes it hadn’t.

It’s been a month and a week since the March 3rd launch date and not much has changed with the system in that time. I haven’t seen any big game shipments or any major UI overhauls. The system launched with just a few games and unfortunately those games are still the only reason to purchase the system. Nothing in the last thirty-something days has convinced me that this game is a must purchase. Breath of The Wild was the console seller, but when you’re done with that what are you supposed to use the system for? I know that there’s only two weeks left until Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but like a lot of people I finished BOTW right away. These two weeks seem like eternity since I haven’t had another game to play since the second week of the console launch.

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All the other games that released simultaneously with the system were disappointing. Super Bomberman R was a lesser version of previously released games. Has Been Heroes has a ridiculous amount of luck behind its gameplay which makes it frustrating and an effort to enjoy. I keep forgetting that there might even be other games on the system. Sure, there’s Snake Pass, which is a cute and entertaining game, but it’s rarely anything special. That’s the problem with the games. They aren’t special. Nintendo has an habit of taking their primary franchises such as Mario, Zelda and Kirby and turning them into something magical, but we don’t have a Mario, we don’t have a Kirby. All we have is a Zelda that you could easily (and more properly) experience on the Wii U.

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Now, the system itself is a delightful little bundle of fun, but if it doesn’t have the software then it’s all a moot point. I found myself enjoying VOEZ, a rhythm game that’s also available for mobile devices, more than any of the other content on the Switch. I’ve honestly been getting worried that I had made a poor purchase and that I should have gone with something else like the PS VR, but Nintendo just announced a new Nintendo Direct for April 12th to cover new Switch titles. I’m hoping for a release date for both Splatoon 2 and Arms. I want to know that another game is coming soon enough after Mario Kart. I want to have something to look forward to, but I don’t want that to be the case all the time. I want to be so caught up with what I’m playing that I don’t have to spend this much time processing my wait time for the next release.

 

Written by G. S. Martin

Breath Of The Wild Didn’t Blow Me Away

Breath of The Wild is a great game. The amount of detail the developers put into the game is probably unparalleled for any other Nintendo game. There are small intricacies that help define the world and connect the game to previous entries in the franchise to aid in pulling those nostalgic heartstrings. However, my heart strings weren’t tugged on at all. Nothing about my experience with Breath Of The Wild gave me a strong emotional response except for perhaps a few times of disappointment and frustration.

If you’re a longtime fan of the Zelda series, you know the drill with most of the games. You’re Link, the hero of time. You’ve got the same job, the same sword and the same methods of saving the world. You enter first dungeon, get the special weapon, beat the boss and head to the next area. Rinse and repeat until you get to Ganon or whoever the boss may be. The development team behind Breath of The Wild decided it was time to change up the formula and give the franchise a fresh new face to make it more inviting to new players while keeping the old ones. That’s quite a tall order and for the most part I would say they did a good job. Except for the fact that they took away a lot of things that made Zelda charming. While Breath Of The Wild boasts a story about exploration and impending doom, the exploration seems stale and familiar after the first thirty or forty shrines and the impending doom seems like a passing thought that sometimes pops up telling you “by the way, there’s a story here,” but most the time you can just shrug it off and go about your business. You really don’t have any sense of urgency in the need to take down Calamity Ganon. Sure, he did some bad things a hundred years ago, but everyone seems to be doing pretty well now. The towns seem cheerful and even the Zora are too busy being enamored by their prince to care about the looming threat.

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But that’s not all. The divine beasts, which are Breath Of The Wild’s equivalent to dungeons, are bland, empty and terribly designed. Each one is just a handful of shrine puzzles shoved together, each one loosely tied together. They lack any kind of the traditional Zelda magic. There are no cool nooks and crannies to explore. There are no mini-bosses. There are no cool new weapons to find. Instead, the bosses have been replaced by mini Calamity Ganons that can easily just be defeated if you launch enough arrows at them. Who thought that was a creative design? Who thought that was interesting? But most importantly, who thought that was fun?

While we are talking about weapons, we should probably discuss the wildly divisive weapon system. All weapons are breakable. All of them. Sure, a rare few you can rebuild, but you can’t repair any of them. So if you really love that Guardian Spear, you better just hold on to it and save it for a good battle you don’t mind wasting it on because you aren’t going to get it back. While I understand why they implemented such a system, I don’t agree with how they went about it. There’s no problem having a system where a weapon gets damaged and weaker over time, but with such a flawed implementation, it just feels cheap. I understand that you want me to change up my fighting style and try out a variety of weapons, but what if I don’t want to? What if I really cherish my broadsword? Why can’t I go gather some materials and ore and repair the damn thing? It just seems a little lazy.

Unfortunately, laziness doesn’t begin to explain what went wrong with the story. How do you tell a story in a game about exploration? Simple. Make it as shallow as possible and hope they don’t take the time to explore everything to realize the lack of depth. You would think that with all the memories in the game, they would be able to create an engaging and tightly wound story, but because you can find the memories in practically any order, the story just comes off as disjointed and sloppy. Then there’s the lackluster voice acting. Zelda sounds like she’s trying to do a twist on a British accent, but fails badly. I can understand why the other characters have hit and miss moments given it’s the series’ first time doing voice acting, but wouldn’t you think they would put the most effort into one of the two stars of the franchise? All in all, the story, accompanied by weak voice acting and an anticlimactic final battle, left me wanting something more. I wanted to feel something. I wanted to like the story. I tried. I really did.

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So, with all of this bashing on the game, you’d expect me to say I hate the game, right? Of course not. As I stated at the beginning of this article, it is a great game. It has plenty of things to enjoy like the awesome slow motion arrow shooting and the shield surfing, but it also has a lot of weak elements to it that will always keep me from calling it a masterpiece. If you are hesitant on playing the game, the one thing I want you to take away from this article is that it’s not a traditional Zelda game and while that may be fine for others, I feel as though they took away too much of what I have grown to love for years now. If that doesn’t bother you, I think you should try it out.

 

Written by G. S. Martin