I’ll follow my wife and list here my favorite games of all times and those that shaped my tastes in later life. The first posts will focus on RPGs, but of course I play other genres too.
I played many story-driven games of every kind before 1994, like the MacVenture series, Adventure of Link, The Battle of Olympus, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest or the D&D adaptation Realmz. However, up until this point, I don’t think I saw video games as something other than a fun distraction. I distinctly remember being über-excited by the release of A Link to the Past, but Zelda never left a strong emotional imprint on me afterwards. I had fun playing it, imagining stories about it, but it did not change the way I see things when I was doing something else.
All this changed with Secret of Mana, the first game that left a strong, lasting, impression on my young self, which showed me the power of video games as an emotional medium and, more importantly, which shaped my tastes and expectations for the future. It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly this game did so right, and what magical recipe was impossible for Square to replicate afterwards (Seiken Densetsu III was “better” on paper although it lacked the “je ne sais quoi” that made the second so unique, and it was all downhill from Legend of Mana onwards). The setting of Secret of Mana was simple, almost simplistic in the beginning (the characters are referred too as “the Boy”, “the Girl” and “the Sprite”, I mean how much simpler can you get than that?), simple like a biblical tale or a Greek tragedy, and while it grew deeper as the story progressed, it mostly rested on symbols and the player’s interpretation of the relationships. I think it was the first game I played where several stories weaved together seamlessly, and looking back on it, one of the main storylines, the quest save a girl’s fiancée whose body was possessed by demon, was and still is quite unusual, as it implies a particular relationship between the protagonists. It was also the first time I found game music to be of higher quality than some mainstream music, and the first time I was seduce by the artwork of a game.
As I said earlier, Secret of Mana forged my tastes in video games, and my aesthetic tastes in general. First of all, I expect my final bosses to at least wear some nuances of pink and blue. Kidding aside, Secret of Mana was my first exposition to japanese cuteness, an acquired taste that was perpetuated by games such as Windwaker, Radiata Stories, Harvest Moon, Atelier, and that probably explains my obsession with Satos in Phantasy Star Online (I had like 5 of them). This taste explains why I love Evangelion’s Penpen or Naruto’s Pakkun, and why I am never bothered by a childish look of medium (although I was never attracted to Pokemon, but cuteness is not the reason): in the world of Mana, childish appearances were the prerequisite of a serious and tragic story.
I am one of those players who not only like a good story and good characters in a game, but who believe those can save or even make a game. Those great tales, like Xenosaga, Metal Gear Solid 3, Nier or Radiata Stories don’t have to have a happy ending to offer an enjoyable experience. Just Like Twin Peaks or The Sopranos, many great games have deeply sad, emotionally charged stories, and Secret of Mana was the first game to make me understand that.