In a recent article, fellow TAY writer Knulp Calf ruminated over one of the greatest years in gaming: 1987. I’d highly recommend going and giving that article a read, as Knulp outlines how many classic titles such as Zelda, and Final Fantasy had their first ever releases, and ponders over the influence that year had over the contemporary gaming landscape.
That being said, this article is an attempt to outline what I think is potentially an even more influential year than that. Indeed, I’ve mentioned before that the best years in gaming are always those that end in a -7, and that is particularly demonstrated in this chosen year. In fact, I would argue that this year had a greater genre-defining influence over the video-game industry than any year since. The popularisation of FPS multiplayer, platformers’ revolutionary jump to 3D, the achievement of a graphics style dedicated to realism, and to top it off, the origins of one of the most commercially successful videogames series of all time.
The year is 1997, and it had it all.
10 years after its initial series debut, Final Fantasy blew the world away with its first 3D take on the RPG genre. I’ll never forget it: The camera starts by overlooking the grimy futurist city of Midgar, as it slowly pans down, right down, to the bustling street as cars roll by. Watching this sequence for the first time as a young child, my mind was truly and utterly blown away by the possibilities.
By the time the train rolled into the Sector 1 Reactor station, and I lifted my jaw off the floor, I found that I was able to control my character in 3D! I didn’t just have to go left and right, but I could search around corners, get lost under bridges; it was stunning. It opened up a way of engaging with RPG games that was seminal growing up.
And that was the beginning of my first Final Fantasy.
Later games would expand, and even arguably improve on FFVII’s gameplay, but it was the initial impact that this game had on the videogame industry, and popular culture as a whole, that solidifies it as one of the most influential games of all time.
Now where’s that remake?
How do you top one of the most influential RPG’s ever? Mario, of course.
Okay, so this one might be a controversial inclusion, as technically it was released in Japan and NA in late 1996. However, in the UK, this game was released early ’97, and as such I couldn’t not include it. When I played Mario 64 for the first time, I knew it was significant. My older brother wouldn’t stop going on about how it good it as, and even then I seem to remember at least some news channels discussing it on TV. When I first played it on my brothers new N64, it didn’t take long to realise why.
I had played 3D platformers before, but not like this. Now, I was actually able to go wherever I could see. I could turn the camera left and right, up and down. That thing over there? I could jump on it.
Mario wasn’t the first platformer in 3D, by then Crash Bandicoot had already impressed me a year earlier, however it was the first to open it right up. And the game was so good at it, that it arguably wasn’t topped until just this year with Odyssey.
Legend has it, that the multiplayer mode in this game was programmed over a course of just a few days, by a single programmer. It wasn’t even intended. They just had a little extra space on the cartridge, so thought that it would be a fun idea. They squeezed it in by using maps from the single player, and just let people run riot.
Hoo boy, was that a stroke of genius.
Goldeneye’s multiplayer deathmatch was the first taste of real competition for me in videogames. The N64 including 4 controller slots on its front meant that getting together on Saturday evenings with a few mates to play this was so easy, and so much fun. I still remember desperately searching for any other weapon than the Kob whilst trying to avoid the instakill-Golden Gun of a chasing aggressor. I screamed, I laughed, and I respawned and did it over and over again.
Just don’t pick Oddjob and we’re cool.
(And let’s not forget the single player portion of the game, which was pretty stellar in its own right too!)
Gran Turismo Sport may have been released earlier this year (2017) to lukewarm reception, but it’s impossible to deny the impact that the series has had on racing games. The original Gran Turismo was released right at the tail end of 1997 in Japan, but wouldn’t reach EU and US shores until ’98. That being said, even though I didn’t play it until a year later, it deserves mentioning for the influence that it had on gaming at large.
At the time, racing games were pretty simplistic. The car selection in many games could be counted on a single hand, and most controlled like they’d just been stripped out of the arcade. Gran Turismo was different though. Gran Turismo was grown up. It had a roster of over 250 cars, all controlling differently, all with independent physics. Oh, you wanted to drift around all the corners like in the arcade? Well, here’s a 12-page booklet to help you master it.
As such, Gran Turismo became the first true racing simulator, and launched the trend towards realism in racing games that is still felt today.
This was also one of only 5 games that esteemed video game magazine and obvious Nintendo shills*, EDGE, gave a perfect score to. As they mentioned in their review, ‘Gran Turismo sets a new standard of excellence’ in racing games, that defined those that came after it.
Couldn’t forget this.
When it was first released in October ’97, GTA was actually met with a pretty tepid critical reception. Yes, it was good, and the freedom it offered as incredibly innovative, but it was a 2D game in a world that was spoiled by all of the above 3D classics I mentioned. It wasn’t pretty, it controlled poorly, and in general it was a solid 7/10 game. It sold well enough though, and fortunately led to developers DMA Design prototyping ideas for sequels.
For the first few games or so, GTA would be known as ‘that’ game where you ran people over, did crimes and infected the minds of vulnerable young players and stuff. The games were good, sure, but it wasn’t until GTA3 in 2001 that the world really took notice. Since then, the GTA went from strength to strength, culminating in 2013’s GTAV, which has since gone on to be (probably) the best-selling videogame of all time (excluding mobile sales.)
Small beginnings maybe, but GTA is anything but small now.
What other years in videogames were your favourites? Let’s chat!
Follow Cleon on Twitter where we can all party like it’s [current year]