It’s been a great year for gaming. In the past few months, great games were released one after another with games like Horizon Zero Dawn, Nier: Automata, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (or Biohazard 7: Resident Evil in Japan) garnering both critical and commercial success – and the year isn’t even over yet. There’s still great hype surrounding a lot of the future releases from the revamped Assassin’s Creed to Star Wars: Battlefront II.
But as we wait for these future releases, why don’t we reminisce on another great – perhaps even legendary – year in gaming. Exactly thirty years ago, in the year 1987, the world was first introduced to some of gaming’s most treasured and most loved franchises. Let’s take a look:
1. Metal Gear
I must admit that I am not familiar with the Metal Gear Solid. Sure, I have heard of it, and I did play MGS: Ground Zeroes, but other than that, I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of the series. However, the sheer fact that even a relative video game snob like me from a remote third world country has heard of MGS speak volumes of the impact that the series has had on not just gaming, but pop culture in general.
Widely considered an important progenitor in the development of stealth-based games, Metal Gear quickly entrenched itself in gaming culture for its often-quirky storylines and incredible stealth gameplay. At the same time, it established its then young director, Hideo Kojima, as a well-respected video game designer, free to pursue the cinematic weirdness that we see in later Metal Gear games.
Perhaps best known for its infamous difficulty, Contra and its many sequels taught kids the world over how to kill alien enemies by spraying them with countless bullets. Initially introduced as an arcade game in 1987, it was when the game was released for the NES a year later when it truly became legendary, with the port over to the NES allowing two-player cooperative combat in the comfort of your own living room.
With the recent release of the polarizing Cuphead, millions of people are now reminded of Contra as the people of the internet start drawing the reasonable comparison.
3. Street Fighter
An arcade game before it became a console game, Street Fighter and its multiple sequels were once the top-dog in the fighting game genre. No arcade was ever without a Street Fighter game. In my school, it fueled playground rivalries as the top two button-mashers in our school duked it out after-class in the local arcade.
Originally featuring two punch pads, the system was immediately replaced by a six-button scheme as arcade cabinets started going down due to the constant abuse. Fortunately, this change also allowed for easier control over the character’s kicks and punches.
Although a modest success in its native country, the game was a hit in the US prompting the developer Capcom to produce a sequel. Although a couple of ‘sequels’ (which were really more spin-offs, I guess?) were produced, it was 1991’s Street Fighter II, a true sequel, that really took the game to new heights. By the early 2000s, Street Fighter was such a phenomenon that it spawned manga, anime, TV series and even a movie starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. Safe to say, that Street Fighter has become a multimedia giant.
4. The Legend of Zelda
Okay, I’m cheating here a bit. I know. I know. The first Legend of Zelda game was introduced in 1986. So why am I including it here? Well, it was in 1987, a year later, that the game was first introduced to Western audiences – basically audiences outside of Japan.
Again, it is time for me to admit that I haven’t really played much of Zelda. Yes, I played Contra and Street Fighter, but Zelda, well, let’s just say that it’s hard to get into Zelda when you have to buy a DS to do so. I did play some of Majora’s Mask when I bought my 3DS, so I know how it plays, and yes, I did thoroughly enjoy it. Well until I traded my 3DS for a Vita to play FF X.
Anyway, getting back to Zelda. Created by the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of some of the most recognizable video-games of all time, The Legend of Zelda has become one of the most beloved video games of all time. For many, it is a game that is thoroughly anchored to their childhood that they can’t imagine their childhood without it. What makes it so special is hard to pinpoint – many would argue that it’s the characters themselves, Link, Zelda (is not the blonde protagonist) and Ganon; some others would argue it’s the eclectic mixture of genres from the RPG style storytelling, to the platforming puzzles to the action-adventure component – but whatever it may be, the fact is that Zelda and its many games have stood the test of time.
In the thirty years since the introduction of the original game, The Legend of Zelda has produced some of the medium’s best and most iconic games from the Ocarina of Time to A Link to the Past. In the span of those games Link has fought hundreds of monsters, traversed oceans and dungeons broken countless pots. And he’s not done yet. Just recently, Nintendo released, along with the release of the Switch, “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” the newest entry to the franchise. Both commercially and critically adored, the game is considered to be an instant classic and some would even argue that it is the best in the franchise. Thirty years of Zelda, all starting with the first one in 1987.
5. Mega Man
1987 seems like a great year for Capcom. Not only did it hit the jackpot with Street Fighter, arguably its flagship franchise, it was also the year it introduced another instantly recognizable video game icon turned franchise – Mega Man. Although sadly seemingly not a priority for Capcom anymore, Mega Man is one of the most recognizable franchises in gaming.
The game itself was a fairly common action platformer although introducing innovative ideas like being able to steal the enemy’s weapon after beating them and featuring a non-linear gameplay. The levels can be played in any order and each level featured a boss battle. Beating each boss battle would reward the player with the beaten enemy’s weapon which he can then use on the next boss, and so on.
Although initially a poor performer, like Street Fighter, it was with the second game that Mega Man really took off. With its popularity, Capcom released several games in the franchise as well as, surprise, surprise multiple anime series, comics, manga and cross-overs into other video game franchises. Additionally, multiple spin-offs of the original Mega Man were produced like Mega Man ZX and Mega Man Battle Network. Sadly, there hasn’t been any new Mega Man featuring the original released in the past few years.
6. Final Fantasy
There is an often-told story about the making of this game. Apparently, the designers and the studio were in such a desperate position during the making of the game that they decided to go all in with this project and bet it all in its success. Expecting the worst, they decided to name the game Final Fantasy, as in their ‘Final’ game. Fast forward thirty years and Final Fantasy has become a video-game juggernaut featuring more than a dozen main games, multiple accolades, merchandise, movies, TV shows, you name it, they have it. The ‘Final’ in Final Fantasy has become ironic considering the sheer number of games they have produced under than name.
One of the most loved franchises in all of gaming, Final Fantasy is one of those series where there is no one consensus ‘best game in the franchise’. Pretty much everyone has their own personal favorite. Some choose the oft-lauded FF VI, some the revolutionary FF VII, personally, it’s between FF VII and FF X, though mostly it’s because they’re the games that introduced me to the franchise.
Final Fantasy I wasn’t the first RPG to hit the market. In fact, Square initially refused to create an RPG as they didn’t see it as a money-making enterprise. It wasn’t until Dragon Quest was released and became a hit that Square was finally convinced to produce an RPG. Led by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the original featured names who would later on become frequent Final Fantasy collaborators like Nobuo Uematsu (composer) and Yoshitaka Amano (illustrator).
Similar to the more well-known FF games, combat in the original was menu based. You chose to attack, do magic or use items. Actually, in many respects, the original game laid down the foundations for later Final Fantasy games. You had the fantasy setting, the menu based combat, the roaming, the random monster battles, etc. Sadly the chocobo wouldn’t arrive till Final Fantasy II, but at least we got everything else.
If there are other games I left out, feel free to share them with us in the comments below.