Sixth and seventh grade were my least favorite years in school. It was an awkward, difficult and tremendously stressful time for me. Without going too into detail, I had some personal hygiene problems that were incredibly embarrassing, and it took some massive willpower to overcome the stigma that had ingrained itself into my mind as normal to combat and correct it. Identity issues were also popping up – who was I, and where did I fit into this convoluted puzzle of public school cliques and popularity contests? How did I want to present myself? Why? And at what cost? All of these questions would take several more years for me to find the answer to, and at times, the discovery process was agonizingly long and brutal. Of course, the fun part of trying to figure out who you are comes with other people who think they have got you pegged, and some would go well out of their way to force their opinion of you onto you. And most of the time, it was not a pleasant conversation – more like a verbal beating. I do not look back upon this age with any sense of fondness.
Increasingly, Chad became a vital part of my livelihood and sanity. He too had his fair share of detractors, and the two of us could take some comfort in the fact that we knew what the other was going through. We spent a lot of free time at each other’s houses, playing games, listening to music, and talking about things. The two of us supported each other through the thick and thin, and his friendship showed me that there were people out there who cared for me (beyond my family) and would stand up for me. That was such a relief to have in the most trying years of my life.
To get away from the shitty part of this year for the remainder of this article (getting into the nitty-gritty of this particular year is not what I’d like to do!), I’d like to share the first real attempt of mine to do something creative. Most of my art up to now was fan art or goofy comics. But one night late in 1995, I had a dream. One that would define and be a massive part of my life to this very day, even.
The dream was a game concept. Chad and I drove up to a girl friend’s house to hang out, but she was not there. Instead, three wizards were. They told us that our friend was kidnapped and hidden within the grounds of the mansion she stayed at, and we needed to find keys to explore the mansion and free her. The gameplay was top-down, similar to a 2D Zelda game, and had some rudimentary enemies roaming about for us to dodge, as we had no weapons to start off. I remember finding the first key and getting inside, but each room had its own puzzle or boss encounter to deal with. I distinctly remember the bathroom having a bubble monster waiting within. Chad and I eventually got swords to defend ourselves, and in the end, it was the wizards themselves who had taken our friend hostage.
The drive up sticks with me. I can still see the mountains surrounding the mansion, loaded with trees and flowers. Chad and I had a red sedan. The road was dirt. The mansion was unpainted, a dingy brown. The grass was tall and vibrantly alive. The wizards were of different ages, all male, and wore different colored robes.
The dream kicked off my first game concept. It may be what my webcomic I’ve been debating about becomes. I’ve accumulated as much of the art of it that I could, which now is a massive archive of images, sketches and thoughts from 1996 to 2010. It, I suppose, is my life’s work thus far. It’s been so well guarded that I’ve only mentioned it to a chosen few both online and off. Perhaps you’ll get to see what it has become in the near future.
1995 was also the year (if memory serves) that Funcoland came into the city where we shopped. I found their retro backlog to be an valuable asset to my stalled NES collection. I miss those days. It was always an adventure to see what new oldies had shown up, and if I wanted any of them. Funco would last for about 8 or so years, until Gamespot bought them out.
By this point, I had a solid collection of NES and C64 games that I had played over and over again. Next year would be the first to introduce a new system into my life that I could actually do something about.
Chrono Trigger (SNES, Square)
A dream team of JRPG developers combined their talents to create one of the most well-regarded games of the 16-bit era. Gorgeous music, excellent spritework, an engaging battle system and a rewarding plot all meld together for a fantastic gameplay experience.
Fighting Vipers (Arcade, Sega)
Sega’s second 3D fighting series featured unique characters and exciting gameplay. The walled-in aspect, alongside an armor system, made the game’s battles both strategic and chaotic.
Street Fighter Alpha (Arcade, Capcom)
Capcom’s reboot of the Street Fighter series had beautifully rendered sprites, engaging new gameplay concepts and more personality than the characters ever had before.
Real Bout Fatal Fury (NeoGeo, SNK)
SNK took the lessons of the previous Fatal Fury titles and created what I feel may be the most polished fighter in the whole series. Tight controls, awesome character designs and clever ring-outs made this a fun title.
In my opinion, the best game of 1995 was…
Chrono Trigger (SNES, Square)
Chrono Trigger is magical. Something about the entire experience clicked several of the right switches for me. It had a great plot, which I do like having in my RPG’s. I won’t say it’s the finest piece of gaming narrative I’ve encountered, but it was leaps and bounds above some games both then and now. It compelled me to continue onward, to see where it would take me. It threw curveballs. It presented parallels to our world. And it provided us with seven characters that overcame their stereotypes to become truly special avatars for the player. Building from the plot and characterization were Akira Toriyama’s brilliant designs, which I feel stand as his best, and the musical majesty that Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uemetsu supplied. I can fully support the notion that CT is one of gaming’s finest soundtracks, no question.
Despite all that, though, it’s the brazenness that I think made Chrono Trigger so endearing to me. Perhaps the dream team of JRPG designers led by Final Fantasy’s Sakaguchi and Dragon Quest’s Horii felt that they could do something outside of their comfort zones long established by their own franchises. Both FF and DQ had 5 entries up to CT’s release, with the sixth installments in development. CT was a creative release, one that allowed the developers the chance to stretch out their ideas and thoughts in order to make something truly wonderful. And while CT is not 100% unique, I think that the collaboration turned out beyond their wildest dreams. CT combines the strengths of each respective series, adds in several of its own novelties, making the end result tremendously incredible. I cherish this game as one of the absolutes in my gaming library.
Some personal anecdotes…
I own two versions of Chrono Trigger – the SNES original and the DS update. I’ve also had the PS1 port, but that one was poorly put together. Load times sucked the soul out of CT. But the fact remains that I have had all three renditions of CT legally available, which ought to tell you something about how much I adore this game.
I also have two soundtracks for the game that a friend of mine gave me that I am beyond tickled about. I have the original soundtrack and the jazzy The Brink of Time. I consider them among the best gifts I have ever gotten. Thanks, Ryan!
The world of CT is really well-executed. The time-travel mechanic is a joyous exercise of exploration. I love getting to that part in the game to try to fix all of the individual world’s issues to try to make everything right.
I feel that Chrono Trigger is one of the first “modern” RPG’s, with likable characters and a coherent plot. I love Merle, Lucca, Ayla, Frog, Robo, Crono and Magus. Their sprites, their dialogue, and their personalities are all distinct and digestible for the player, and this is the earliest RPG that I can say that about. Dragon Quest IV and V have it in their remakes, which the originals both predate this, and Final Fantasy VI has both interesting characters and a good plot, but there’s something truly awesome about CT to me that I can’t shake…not that I want to, mind.
I’ve played through CT about 4 or 5 times now, and I love it more each time. I think that’s a good way to cap off my thoughts.
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest
Fatal Fury 3: Road to the Final Victory
Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals
Marvel Super Heroes (video game)
Mega Man 7
Mega Man: The Power Battle
Mortal Kombat 3
Puzzle Bobble 2
Real Bout Fatal Fury
Secret of Evermore
Street Fighter Alpha
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3
Virtua Cop 2
Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness
Back to 1994 – Forward to 1996