Let’s be honest – looking back, Mortal Kombat was a pretty lousy game. It was clunky. The number of moves each Kombatant could perform was lacking. And the lack of a real combo system made all to many bouts result in little more than two opponents jumping around the screen, leg sweeping and uppercutting like two drunken extras from the Karate Kid. Still, for what it lacked in elegance, Midway’s Mortal Kombat made up for with buckets of blood.
Every punch, kick, and grisly fatality resulted in your digitized opponent gushing blood like a ruptured water balloon filled with Hawaiian Punch. This kind of violence in video games was virtually unheard of in 1992. The controversy sparked by Mortal Kombat’s gory martial arts action was so great that it resulted in congressional hearings into video game violence. Considering how hard it is these days to get congress to do much of anything, that’s no small feat.
Mortal Kombat‘s bloody legacy was enough to spawn countless – mostly awful – fighting games (check out some footage of one of my favorite guilty pleasures above) that tried to out-gore one another. However, the game’s use of digitized actors was also a game changer, leading many developers to use the technique for their titles, giving them a lifelike quality never before seen outside of full motion video games.
Final Fantasy VII
While the debate over which Final Fantasy is the best in the series will rage on forever, there’s no denying that Final Fantasy VII is the game that introduced the term “JRPG” into many western gamers’ lexicons. And this is with good reason. Final Fantasy VII wasn’t just a spectacular RPG, it was a huge leap forward in terms of interactive storytelling. Who can forget such iconic moments as the Flashback at Kalm? Or the moment Sephiroth skewered Aeris from behind with his masamune? These moments seared themselves into an entire generation’s conscience in a way that few games had managed to do before.
Seriously. If you played this game when it released in 1997 and this scene didn’t give you chills, then you’re dead to me:
While much of this was thanks to the game’s writing and direction, the benefits of the 32-bit era of video games and the extra space afforded by CD ROMs were just as important. The game’s visuals married pre-rendered backgrounds and real-time 3D models in a way the genre had never seen before, giving each new locale a breathtaking level of detail. From the gritty industrial city of Midgar and its various slums to the splendor of the sky high Gold Saucer theme park, Final Fantasy VII was a sight to behold, and this increased level of visual fidelity, combined with a wealth of in-game cinemas, really worked to pull players into the adventure like never before.
It’s hard to say if the RPG phenomenon would have gotten as huge in the west as it is today without Final Fantasy VII. But one thing’s for sure – it sure got the ball rolling.
Grand Theft Auto 3
Are you one of the millions of players who happened to enjoy Watch Dogs 2 or Mafia III this holiday season? If so, you better send Rockstar Games a letter of thanks. Without them your past few months spent in the warm glow of your TV screen would’ve been a little more dull.
More than just an evolution of the mechanics introduced in the previous games in the series, Grand Theft Auto 3 was a virtual revolution. When the game released in 2001, nothing compared to stepping out into the concrete jungle of Liberty City for the first time. It was impossible not to marvel at the traffic as it rolled down the congested city streets as the city’s denizens went about their daily routine (or became fodder for your sadistic pleasure). These may seem like simple concepts given the popularity of the sandbox genre today, but in the early aughts this was a watershed moment for video games. It was a living, breathing city for you to explore. And to this day the genre is more popular than ever, with countless sandbox games released every year. And even years after it first released, Grand Theft Auto Online is still immensely popular as players join up to bring the city to its knees and stockpile mountains of ill-gotten gains.
Grand Theft Auto 3 may not be quite as impressive today as when it first released, but that’s okay. The mark it left on video games is one that will last forever. So remember that the next time you roll your polygonal roadster over the head of a hapless police officer as you expand your criminal enterprise. Capice?