1998…a big year. I became a sophomore, losing the stigma of freshmen status, which was nice. It was the last year I spent hanging out with Chad, who had begun to get pretty heavy into drugs at this point in his life. He also felt isolated, like the whole high school was against him, so he transferred out to an alternate high school that helped troubled students get through school the following year. It was a pretty big loss to me. Chad and I had been essential pillars of strength to each other (as far as I’m concerned, at least) through some difficult years, so it was odd to not see him anywhere near as often as I used to.
1998 also introduced me to a guy named Trent, who was and is one of the coolest people I’ve ever known. To be honest, I wish I had known him longer than I had to chance to. He walked on his own path, marched to a different beat…any sort of goofy metaphor you can come up with for an individual, he was it. He was a big inspiration on me, and really helped push me towards becoming such a big believer in individualism. Sort of odd how I was inspired to be individualistic by someone else (sort of goes against that premise :p ), but I can’t imagine myself now without the convictions I hold for it, so I appreciate the nudge Trent provided.
Chris and I also spent a ton of time together, and began our fighting rivalry with the arcade version of X-Men Vs. Street Fighter, which popped up at a local arcade. We also battled in a completely unexpected game – Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Chris had a few friends over when he had just picked the game up. I was amazed, enthralled even about what I was watching. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. When I started the game at his house, I recorded it. I got through the Deku Tree, but not much farther. When I returned home, I asked my mom if we could go and get it, but alas, she was busy working and didn’t want to take me. I had the game on reserve as it was, but I just had to witness the game again, so I watched my tape. My mom walked in while I was glued to the screen…and decided to take me down to pick it up if I got it quickly. What’s best about this story is when I got it, I became completely addicted to the stellar gameplay and level design. So much so, that I beat the game in about 20 hours in 4 days. The best part? I beat it 5 minutes before Chris, who had it a week before I did. I called him after the credits rolled to let him know I had conquered it and he was (I paraphrase) “What? I’m fighting Ganon now!” Years later, when I brought this back up, he told me that he was quite upset at me. :p
Let’s see, what else happened…my crush told me her story I mentioned last time. Took some time to get over that one. XD It was around this time that I came up with my OC Claire. I was so devastated by losing my crush to alcohol that I made Claire up to be what I considered at the time my ideal dream girl. It’s really hokey and stupid to look back on, but that’s what I did in order to try to counteract the heartache I felt. I did have real crushes following this :p – two in high school (both wanted to stay as friends) and more than a few in college (only two I dared ask out, though – one I wanted to stay as friends with, but my brain was all fucked up with emotive feelings, so I just wanted to get that resolved with, and the second…I married ^_^ ). So that wraps that that tangent. :p
It was around this time that I began reading The Bard’s Tale series of books put out by Mercedes Lackey and various co-authors. I adored them. I still consider them the best fantasy books I’ve read. I don’t know if they are all that literary, but they do their fantasy spiel quite well, and despite having next to nothing to do with the games they plucked the name from, they are engaging and quick to read. I was quite taken with these, and was inspired to venture out a new game concept utilizing the license (I had no clue about copyright back then). As I’ve gotten older I’ve removed the Bard’s Tale from that concept, but I still fiddle with the thought once in a while, and you may see some fruits of that labor in the near future. Maybe.
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64, Nintendo)
Link’s first foray into three dimensions maintained the Zelda legacy, if not exceeding its predecessors with its rich gameplay, enormous world and puzzling dungeons. Definitely a milestone in gaming history.
Body Harvest (N64, Midway/DMA Design)
A tense action game that requires quick reflexes and a fast trigger finger, DMA Design’s alien blaster may not have the critical acclaim it deserves, but is a fine example of 3D action games at their best.
Marvel Vs. Capcom (Arcade, Capcom)
The third Vs. game with Marvel, mixing in Darkstalkers, Strider, Mega Man, Captain Commando and Cyberbots characters on top of Street Fighter for Capcom’s side, plus plucking the best reps from Marvel’s (plus Venom), this was a frantic free-for-all fighter that entertains for hours.
International Superstar Soccer 98 (N64, Konami)
Building upon its earlier success, ISS 98 perfects the gameplay set into motion prior, adding in a ton of new technical aspects to the core, and delivered a soccer experience unlike any other. A landmark in sports gaming, and is possibly the best one ever made.
In my opinion, the best game of 1998 was…
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64, Nintendo)
I mentioned that Goldeneye was in the Top 5 of games that left an impact on me. Ocarina of Time is at the top. There may be four games ahead of it on my favorites list now, but Nintendo’s N64 Zelda debut shook me to my gaming core back in the day. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so mesmerized by a game as I was with this. I really wish I could go back in time and revisit myself discovering the intricacies buried within this golden cartridge a second time. Alas, I will have to live with the memories alone.
Starting up Zelda: OoT was such a pivotal point for my gaming career. Prior to my exposure with Ocarina of Time, I had beaten the first NES game, dabbled with Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening, and couldn’t get myself to comprehend Zelda II’s unusual gameplay alterations. I can’t say that I was a fan of the franchise, though. As the opening cinema began, with Link riding Epona through Hyrule Field, with one of the more poignant intro themes I had heard at the time, I knew I was in for a very special treat. Getting past the menu and into the game’s exposition was thrilling. Settling in to control Link was even more so. Link was amazingly responsive – not quite as loose as Mario was in Mario 64, but his ease of maneuvering through the environments was awesomely done. The game prodded you along to progress deeper, but allowed plenty of freedom to explore and poke around (minus Navi griping at you all the time XD ). Secrets were everywhere – rolling into trees, bombing walls, dropping bugs into patches of dirt, firing hookshots into trees and treasure chests, diving deep underwater…just a taste of the hidden surprises awaiting persistent players.
The visuals were unprecedented for the system, too. It was a visual feast for the eyes. Naturally, it’s lost that appeal to the march of technology, but it was quite a tour de force for my young mind to undergo. The music has not lost its edge, however, remaining as rich as it did over a decade ago. And the cast of NPC’s Link could interact with are still some of the finest in the series. The Happy Mask Seller, Malon, Talon, and Ingo, the Carpenter Brothers, the Kokiri children, and of course, the emerging wickedness of one of gaming’s oldest villains, Ganon. His new “human” form as the Gerudo Ganondorf added something new to his character, and the game’s handling of his villainy made him much more devious than the prior games were able to convey. And I will eternally remember crossing blades with him. That is a hallmark of a boss battle, let me tell you. Zelda too had a chance to grow as a character, and despite falling into the damsel-in-distress role the moment she ceases being her alter ego Sheik, the expansion of her was greatly appreciated.
All and all, I consider Ocarina of Time to define the finest of early 3D games. It is huge, deep and had a profound emotional significance to me that not many other games can claim, and remains one of the greatest joys I’ve had in my life, gaming or not. A massive, massive thanks to Nintendo for this crowning achievement.
Some personal anecdotes…
My fun story of topping Chris in beating the game above is probably the best anecdote I have of Ocarina of Time, and a solid testament to how attached I was to this game…man. Five minutes ahead of him. I still am floored by the fact I beat him to the end.
I’ve gotten everything in this game. I’ve even abused the bottle duplicating trick on items I rarely or never used. :p
The Master Quest variant of the game you can track down on the Gamecube is a nice remix of dungeon delving. Jabu-Jabu’s Belly in particular stands out as one of the more surreal moments in a Zelda title, and yes, I have played Majora’s Mask. :p
The 3DS remake has me naturally interested, but seeing what Nintendo did to Mario 64 DS makes me a little weary. The analog nub will resolve control issues (with any luck), but will Nintendo make unnecessary additions to the game that could jeopardize what made Ocarina so incredible in the first place? We’ll see soon, I guess.
And lastly, comparing the later 3D Zeldas…
Majora’s Mask – While having a far more intriguing atmosphere and some cool gameplay ideas with the various masks, the steep decline of dungeons (which were excellent, I must say) and the reliance on timing things just right to achieve everything made the overall game a little paler than Ocarina. It is very good, though.
Wind Waker – Link’s first Gamecube adventure would have been wonderful if that damn boat wasn’t used so much, the AI buddies in two particular dungeons were easier to switch to (and controlled better), and if the game didn’t rely on the Tingle Triforce Shard Parade over dungeon dives or some other form of gameplay than the tedious sailing, I would consider it in my top 25 without question. Has the best combat engine for Link in the 3D games, too, which makes it unfortunate that it got saddled with some poor design choices. More on that here.
Twilight Princess – My second favorite Zelda of all time, it has so many things that are awesome about it for me to rattle off here. I’ll focus on what makes it not quite an Ocarina killer – namely, a stretch of the game where the story takes a back seat to constant dungeon trips, ruining the earlier plot focus; mechanics that needed to be fleshed out a little more (the hawk or horse combat, for example) to not feel fluffy, and the slight downgrade the combat engine received. It’s fluid, but not quite as smooth and transition-friendly as Wind Waker’s.
Forsaken (video game)
International Superstar Soccer 98
Jade Cocoon: Story of the Tamamayu
Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete
Mario Party (video game)
Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes
Mega Man & Bass
Metal Gear Solid
Metal Slug 2
Mission: Impossible (1998 video game)
Parasite Eve (video game)
Real Bout Fatal Fury 2: The Newcomers
Resident Evil 2
Space Station Silicon Valley
Spyro the Dragon (video game)
Star Wars: Rogue Squadron
Street Fighter Alpha 3
The Last Blade 2
Turok 2: Seeds of Evil
Back to 1997 – Forward to 1999