With Final Fantasy 15 and Uncharted 4 coming soon, 2016 is looking like a solid year for gamers. But one writer argues why 1998 remains his pick as the best year for video games.
2015 had a number of interesting video game highs and lows for me. Given that it was my first foray into the Metal Gear Solid world, I was pleasantly surprised when I ended up loving Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain far more than I thought I would. However, having been a massive Fallout fan ever since the first game, I was sorely disappointed at Fallout 4‘s writing, the overall story, and how Bethesda got rid of all the little things – like the karma system – that made Fallout special. This mixed bag of feelings has carried over into 2016, unfortunately. I thought The Witness was beautiful but a bit boring, Far Cry Primal wasn’t the step forward that it was initially made out to be, and Street Fighter V was launched in a frustratingly unfinished state. And of course, there’s Tom Clancy’s The Division.
Contrary to my colleague’s love of The Division, I was sorely disappointed at the final product, and pondered at how Ubisoft took the potential of a post-apocalyptic New York City and turned it into one of the most boring open-worlds I’ve ever experienced. But as I watched Square Enix’s recent Uncovered: Final Fantasy XV live stream, two thoughts came to me: “Finally!”, and “I hope this will be good”. That cynical second thought then got me thinking, when was the last time I had a solid year of gaming where I was not disappointed with anything I played?
2004 and 2007 were the first years to pop into my head, but after picking my brain a bit more, I ended up all the way back at 1998. That was when Pokemon Red and a brand-new Nintendo 64 landed in my lap, and an unforgettable year of fun and emotions was kick-started.
I was one of the millions that got swept up in the initial craze of catching fantastical wildlife in Pokemon Red (and Blue), and that love still hasn’t diminished. I found myself getting caught up in the Pokemon craze again during a recent trip in Japan, and even though I’m in my mid-twenties, I couldn’t resist the temptation of loading up a Game Boy emulator on my phone, and exploring the Kanto region with Charmander all over again. Pokemon made a massive first impression on me and many others, but it was just the tip of the iceberg. The first game I got in 1998 for my new Nintendo 64 was Banjo Kazooie, and while I loved Super Mario 64, Rare’s colorful 3D platformer took everything that made Mario great and improved on it. I may be in my mid-twenties, but I still chuckle when I make Kazooie fart out eggs into a colorful bucket named Leaky.
This was then followed by what is still one of my favorite games ever, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. In fact, I have a Nintendo 64 emulator on my phone instead of a Nintendo 3DS, simply because I’d much rather have the original Ocarina of Time right at my fingertips than the (admittedly great) 3DS remake. And just as a cherry on top of a diabetes-inducing cake, even the less notable 1998 Nintendo 64 games I got were excellent. I managed to win some incredibly satisfying games of Mario Party (at the expense of a friendship or two), as well as kill my share of dinosoids in Turok 2: Seeds of Evil.
While I have no regrets over choosing a Nintendo 64 over a PlayStation, a part of me wishes that I had gotten that rectangular Sony box, simply because it’s only been recently that I began to realise what PlayStation classics I had missed out on in 1998. While I can certainly respect the influence Metal Gear Solid had on gaming after I went out and bought the Metal Gear Solid: Legacy Edition, the kid in me does wish that I had gotten to sneak up on enemies in a box as Solid Snake sooner rather than later. My lack of a PlayStation meant that I also missed out on Gran Turismo, gaming’s finest driving simulator (at the time). I enjoyed Gran Turismo 6 quite a bit when it came out, but there’s a massive difference in playing one of the many realistic driving simulators in 2013, and the only realistic driving simulator in 1998.
But for all the great console games I got in 1998, the PC offered up a considerable amount of fun as well. Doom was my gateway to first-person shooters, but it was Half-Life that made me realise that the genre had much more to offer than just shooting demons in the face. Between the fantastic story, the terrifying Headcrabs, and the strange and sudden need of a crowbar in my life, Half-Life opened up my eyes to the potential of the FPS genre. But despite all the thrills of Half-Life, the best PC game I played in 1998 had to be Fallout 2, which is probably a controversial opinion to some readers out there.
Admittedly, my aforementioned love for the first Fallout made my decision quite easy, but Fallout 2 gave me everything I was hoping for in a sequel, something that Fallout 4 failed to do. Fallout 2 got rid of the first game’s bothersome time limit, had a darker yet equally-compelling story, and stuffed every inch of its enormous world with every cultural reference from the 1950’s onwards. It may seem like I’m just a picky gamer who is merely listing off all my favorite 1998 games, but there’s a point to all of this. After the initial rush of excitement and nostalgia in remembering all my favourite gaming experiences, I soon came to realize that 1998 was not only just a great year for myself, it was also the year when the gaming industry was changed forever, and every game I’ve mentioned had a hand in it.
Pokemon grew into the behemoth that it is today thanks to that little red (or blue) Game Boy cartridge; Metal Gear Solid gave rise to the stealth game genre and popularized the use of lengthy dramatic cut-scenes; Gran Turismo caused a shift from cartoony racing games to realistic driving simulators; If it weren’t for Half-Life, the FPS genre would still be years behind (and we might not have gotten Half-Life 2, Counter Strike, Team Fortress, or Portal); Fallout 2 was the perfect example on how to make a sequel to a beloved game; Blizzard’s StarCraft flipped the real-time strategy genre on its head and basically created competitive gaming as we know it; And who knows where the RPG genre might be today had Bioware not released the groundbreaking Baldur’s Gate. Throw in a series of other “all-time-great” titles like the still-gorgeous Grim Fandango, the still-terrifying Resident Evil 2, and the first ever 3D PC stealth game, Thief: The Dark Project, it’s not hard to see how 1998 was the year that essentially shaped video gaming as we know it today.
And this brings me back to 2016. Every year, I cross my fingers in hope that the lightning will be caught in a bottle again, and I’ll get another year of gaming just like 1998. But based on 2016’s lackluster offerings so far, I’m already looking towards 2017. While I do have faith that Uncharted 4 and Final Fantasy XV will salvage my 2016 – and I’m hoping that both games do – 1998 remains the pinnacle year of video gaming for me (and the industry), and I don’t see that changing any time soon.