The best games, however, can cut through this clutter right from the start. They dazzle us with cinematic spectacle or immerse us with unexpected realism. They overwhelm our eyes and ears with technological power or capture our minds with extraordinary storytelling. Within those first few minutes of play, they demand our attention.
And also? They don’t need outsourced, multi-million dollar CGI to do the job. Our top seven selections might include a cool cutscene or two at the beginning, but that’s not why we chose them.
You are born. You grow up. You play and you study. You make friends, stand up to bullies and develop crushes. You go to school, go to birthday parties and go to your ol’ dad for fatherly advice. You try to find your place in society. All in all, you live an extraordinarily ordinary childhood. Shame about that nuclear apocalypse, though.
What makes it special?
Every RPG protagonist starts off as a slow-witted, limp-armed sissy. Molding that ineffectual lump of clay into a hero – strong, intelligent, agile, lucky and all the rest – is usually a dreary chore filled with never ending menus and snooze inducing statistics. Fallout 3, by placing you inside the hero from the very first moment of his or her existence, offers a better way.
Want to play a noble do-gooder? Behave like one. Share your gifts with the other kids and speak politely to elders. Want a nastier personality? Then act the part. Lie to your teachers, pick fights with your buddies and steal from your father’s desk. Seamlessly and invisibly, the game pays attention to your choices and shapes your character. No numbers necessary. And when you eventually emerge from that Vault, blinking in the brand new sun, Fallout 3 feels much less like an RPG and much more like your own personal epic.
Waking up on the day of your kingdom’s thousand-year anniversary, you are in the exact right place at literally the exact right time. Go on... enjoy the Millennial Fair! Play a carnival game, join a drinking contest, bet on a race or visit a magic show. Experience your best friend’s latest invention or meet-cute with a charming yet mysterious new girl. The world is at peace and life is good.
What makes it special?
If you’ve ever played Chrono Trigger, you know that the new girl is, in truth, a princess and that the best friend’s invention is, in fact, an accidental time machine. Following an hour of pure innocence and whimsical fun, you’re sent hurtling through the ages, to past and future versions of the world where peace is but a dream and life is extremely difficult. In some, the kingdom is at war. In others, the kingdom is destroyed. In all, the people suffer.
As you travel through these eras, both backwards and forwards, the memory of that blissful beginning stays with you. Why can’t the dark and dreary Middle Ages be so happy? Why can’t the huddled survivors of the post-apocalyptic future be so hopeful? After all, they exist in the right place... just not the right time. As Chrono Trigger progresses, you realize that the original celebration was more than the game’s start. It was the game’s inspiration.