When I offered to do this article, I said it was because “I like to crush people’s childhood dreams.” I’m evil that way.
But I’m also the type of person who doesn’t let nostalgia stand in the way of a good critique. There are things that older video games do that would be unthinkable today, but we’ll let it slide because of the fond memories we still have for them. Won’t we?
Oh, hell no.
(For the record, these are all games that I played quite a bit myself, so I’m not just hating on things I never properly appreciated in their time. I’ll be ruining my own memories, as well, which makes me even more evil. *cackles*)
Here’s a game that wouldn’t be on this list if I’d compiled it a month ago. But after recently watching a friend stream Lara Croft’s original adventure, I couldn’t help but feel betrayed by my joyous memories of her first foray into Pyramids – the ones in Egypt, that is, not on her blocky torso.
Speaking of which, I’m not going to be too harsh on graphics in general in this piece. We all know games look better than they did 10, 15, or 20+ years ago. Still, having recalled how magnificent the game looked at the time – it was one of the first I played on the original PlayStation – I winced at the blocky, square-edged world that had once seemed so life-like and realistic.
My main gripe with the game was its muddy controls. I had totally forgotten about the “walk to the ledge, hop back, run and jump” method of clearing large gaps. In today’s world of agile action heroes – like, say, Lara Croft – it slows the game to a crawl and further shatters the illusion of a dangerous, trap-filled ancient tomb… that conveniently has perfectly spaced outcroppings which, if they were just two feet further along, would do more to protect he Pharoah’s riches than an army of mummies.
The original Final Fantasy was, for me, the first truly expansive RPG, with a vast, open world, legions of monsters to slay, towns to visit, and a great story. Plus, you could fly an airship. A friggin’ airship!
I got the PlayStation re-release about a decade ago, and I knew it would seem rough, but it wasn’t too bad. That’s because Square Enix knew that the game it released in 1987 wouldn’t come anywhere near meeting the expectations of gamers in the 21st century.
For starters, how about that magic system? Your mages have just a few spells of each level, and once those are gone, they’re reduced to whacking monsters with their staffs or poking them with daggers.
The save system? You do it at an inn in a town or with an item just outside a dungeon. If you die near or at the end boss, tough luck. Repeat that last hour, and this time, pray that you don’t run into Warmech. And don’t forget your 99 potions!
Then there was the “ogre grind.” At one point, you ran out of ways to advance and so you had to spend time farming ogres in a very specific part of the world to get enough XP to get to the next level. Hey, maybe that’s where MMOs got the idea…
The 2002 re-release addressed many of these problems, making me wonder how I got through the original game in the first place. Oh, right, this is how:
Another classic of the 8-bit era, Tecmo Bowl and its sequels ruled consoles because they were among the first football games to use real NFL players.
The original, however, didn’t secure the rights to use real team names and logos, so while he uniforms might have looked roughly like their NFL counterparts – those awful pink Seattle togs notwithstanding – you didn’t get nicknames and had to get by with some really goofy helmet designs.
Oh, did we mention there were only nine players a side? Four plays for each team (including that super-cheesy San Francisco play that was virtually impossible to defend)? How covered receiver equalled interception? That there was no season play or stat-tracking? That you couldn’t fumble? (Though he was a beast in the original, the famous Bo Jackson shenanigans are from its follow-up, Tecmo Super Bowl.)
Suffice it to say, when a more polished, more realistic competitor hit the stage a few years later, Tecmo Bowl faded into he mists, while Madden NFL is still going strong after 25 years.
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
If Final Fantasy was my first big RPG, Morrowind was my first huge one. I saw TV spots about it, like the one below, for months and drooled over the notion of an enormous open world where I could be anyone and do anything. I installed it the night I got a computer capable of running it and played it nearly nonstop for hours every night after work and on weekends. To this day, it remains my favorite installment in he Elder Scrolls series.
That’s due largely to the ambiance and atmosphere of the province of Morrowind, as well as it being my introduction to Tamriel. I would lose myself for hours just reading the in-game books, regardless of whether they were dry historical texts or the rollicking adventures of unambitious, middle-aged clerks. Really, that’s better than it sounds.
Actually playing the game? Well… the Toonami video isn’t far off when discussing the lackluster combat system. You’ll wear out your left mouse button aiming blows that only land half the time. To make up for it, you don’t have to right-click in combat; despite having shields, there’s no active block. Magic-focused characters will run out of mana after about four spells. And if you really want to make a Morrowind fan twitch, just mention cliff racers.
Later Elder Scrolls games may lack the soul that Morrowind did, and you better believe I’ll make a beeline for Vvardenfell and the Tribunal Temple as soon as I can in The Elder Scrolls Online. I loved the Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. The only bad thing about it was playing it.
Your First MMO
World of Warcraft, EverQuest, some poorly translated Asian import… it doesn’t matter how grindy it was, how buggy it was, how much it crashed, or how bad the graphics were, you loved it more than life (or Second Life) itself.
And you, discerning MMO connoisseur that you are, would crucify it if it came out today.
There’s that sense of wonder when you create your first MMO character, first log into the world, and – oh my god look at all those people! Real people! And that one has a flaming sword and a glowing horse! OMGHOWDOIGETTHAT????!!!1
Most of our early MMO experiences are centered around that initial wonder at this new and exciting medium and the friends we quickly made. Relatively little is based around the actual quality of the game. Sure, there are exceptions – people still rave about Star Wars Galaxies‘ crafting system – but most of the rest of our “good” memories involve things we’d rather not see return to the genre.
I’ve had friends talk to me about how great it was to wait your turn to fight boss spawns or how amazing it was to have to wait 15 minutes for a boat to arrive. There’s a fine line between the “I remember when MMOs were actually hard” crowd – a viewpoint I can totally respect – and the “I put up with all kinds of shit in early MMOs and you kids have it too easy these days” crowd. The former wants more of a challenge; the latter just wants to show off what an Internet tough guy he/she is/was.
Whether or not you think today’s MMOs are objectively “better” than those of yesteryear, at least try to be honest with yourself and come to grips with why you liked that first time. Was it because it was actually good, or because it was your first time and you’d never experienced something so amazing before?
We are still talking about video games, right?