Time for my annual look at video games that are turning 10-years-old, and if you thought last year was bad, then 2007 is making me even more insecure about my age! How the hell am I supposed to write about Mass Effect in a retro sense? This isn't Final Fantasy or Super Mario, it's Mass Effect! It just doesn't make any sense in the least.
I mean, I wasn't a kid when it came out. I was graduating from college and already halfway to Japan by this point!
Ugh, someone slow the clock down for me, please.
For those who weren't around or too young to remember, 2007 is often seen as a benchmark year in video games. I wouldn't be compelled to argue otherwise since it was a pretty stunning year for our little hobby. The HD consoles hit their stride, developers were finally cranking out games en masse for the PlayStation 3, and the Wii found a brief moment in quality as it peaked on the video game market.
Without further adieu, Happy Birthday to these marvelous video games. Let me know when you're old enough to drive a car, so I know when to look both ways before crossing the street.
We'll start off with the little game that could. Crackdown was originally a game that was marketed as the best way to play Halo 3 early. If you bought Crackdown when it launched, you automatically got into the beta test for the most hyped game of the year.
Little did we know that Crackdown would emerge as the better video game.
Helmed by Grand Theft Auto creator David Jones, this game had a natural sense of city layout and progression to it. Just kill gang bosses in the most efficient way you can. No game gives you a better sense of acrobatics than Crackdown, and you'll be surprised with the leaps you'll be making to collect those hard-to-reach Agility Orbs.
Where is it now?: One under-achieving sequel later, Microsoft supposedly has a third game in the works for us. When or if we'll ever see it, I have no idea. Xbox boss Phil Spencer seems to want it to be a pillar of Microsoft's gaming line-up, but due to whatever reasons, we've been waiting well over two years for any information.
Supposedly we'll see more at E3 this year.
This niche RPG series became a staple of the Nintendo DS era, bringing a bubblegum anime sense of style to the brutal and unforgiving difficulty of classic first-person dungeon crawlers. Etrian Odyssey wasn't the first of these games, but it made the resurging genre popular enough to spawn countless clones on the PSP and PS Vita in its wake.
The idea is pretty simple: You create a balanced party of five characters, and you dive into the ruins below. Each time, you progress a little further and a little further until you run out of resources or die! It's back to the hub town for a quick rest and restock, then… back to the dungeon.
Atlus showed us with this game that the Nintendo DS could be home for a new generation of JRPGs since the PlayStatation 2 was extinct at this point, and the HD consoles weren't exactly booming for the genre. And yes, it's also a perfectly designed game with brilliant dungeon layouts, tough boss fights, and excellent character trees.
Where is it now?: Atlus managed to make four more original games, two remakes, a spin-off, and even a crossover with its far more popular franchise, Persona. That's over a span of ten years, and it got crazy enough to the point where we were getting two releases a year! Needless to say, fatigue settled in a bit, but it's been a while since we've gone digging through Etrian Odyssey's green mazes.
Etrian Odyssey V is available now in English, but Atlus has made more mention of its localization yet.
Another hit from Atlus and the game that put VanillaWare on many North America gamers' radars. Odin Sphere introduced us to the studio's fantastical sense of high-resolution art wrapped up in a fairy tale side-scrolling action/RPG package.
Odin Sphere wasn't a perfect game and ran like a slideshow on the ancient PlayStation 2 hardware, but it had the storytelling and gameplay chops to make an impact on those that played it. It became a sleeper hit on the year and an undisputable classic from the console's closing days.
Where is it now?: VanillaWare finally fixed all the game's issues in last year's Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and PS Vita. Nine years after its beautiful story was first told, it reached its full potential with a perfect incarnation of the game, free from slowdown and the slow action that held it back.
VanillaWare is currently working on 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, but we know little about it.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3
Did I say something about the PlayStation 2 being extinct? I horribly apologize for that, because Atlus refused to let it die! Odin Sphere was one thing, but this is the game that effectively gave the console another year or two of life. Persona 3 was huge for the JRPG genre, redefining the anime style the genre would soon adapt and casting off the aging styles of Final Fantasy, which had long dominated its rivals.
Persona 3 launched to universal claim in 2007, stealing "RPG of the Year" awards from the games many thought were a shoe-in. Its long quest, simplistic design, fast pacing, and tight controls all pushed it to the forefront, but many were also taken in by the recreation of modern day Japanese school life. Battling demons is always a good time, but doing it while balancing your school work and keeping up your social life makes it almost a nuisance.
I realize this isn't a new franchise or anything, buy you really have to understand how big this game was. The series had been dormant for years, the JRPG was being hammered in 2007, and there was no hope in sight of Final Fantasy XIII coming out. Persona 3 was the miracle the genre needed to survive, and the timing of its release couldn't have been better.
Where is it now?: Persona 4 improved on the game in every way possible the following year, and we're finally being treated to Persona 5 this year on April 4.
Now we're really cookin'! To this day, I have no idea why people called this a sleeper hit when it came out. I knew about it, and so did all of my friends, but that's how BioShock was labeled until the demo blew everyone away.
PC gamers scoffed at it, saying that they had already been doing everything in this game for years, but for console gamers, it was a whole new world. BioShock effectively created the thinking man's first-person shooter on consoles, wrestling it away from the action games like Halo which had dominated for most of the decade.
Its twist-ending still hasn't been topped, and even after all these years, playing BioShock nowadays feels surprisingly fresh.
Where is it now?: I'd rather not talk about it. It's far too tragic of a story to retell here. Let's just say that… we might have seen the last of this franchise after its developer went all in on a sequel and then broke up.
We all need to start somewhere, and this is where CD Projekt Red first found its development success. Geralt was introduced to gamers in this groundbreaking title that dared to go toe-to-toe with BioWare and Mass Effect.
In some regards, it succeeded. What franchise scored Game of the Year nominations across the board two years ago and is still a top-selling Steam game? Not Mass Effect 3 or Dragon Age.
The original The Witcher is incredibly hard to go back to nowadays, and it polarized gamers right down the middle upon release. Those that had the patience to pour through its deep manual and peruse its complicated menus dug up an RPG that had unlimited potential but was hindered by lack of development experience.
Where is it now?: And that's where the sequels came in. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings smoothed out all the wrinkles, and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt remains one of the most popular RPGs two years after its release. It barely took a decade for The Witcher to catch up to speed with the competition, but when it did, it put them all to shame.
Here's a series that you might have heard of. I fell off the Uncharted bandwagon pretty quickly, but I'll never deny how stinkingly popular it is. Between it and The Last of Us, The Game Awards now has the ability to change its name to "The Annual Naughty Dog Smears Your Favorite Game Show."
I did like this first game a lot, actually, and ironically, it's because it feels the most like a video game. It progresses like a natural shooter and is loaded with traditional level design and puzzles. The more Naughty Dog did away with these to focus on cinematic scripted events and unique action set pieces, the less interested I became.
I know I'm in a minority here, but my first Uncharted experience will always be my favorite.
Where is it now?: Not going anywhere, that's where. There's a movie in the works… maybe. And despite the fourth game supposedly being the last, Sony is still dragging it out with Uncharted: The Lost Legacy later this year.
It's such a money-maker, nobody is ever going to let Nathan Drake take a break from mass murder treasure hunting. He'll be killing for the rest of his life, or on of his family or friends will.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
Another game that's not particularly new, but also too important to not mention. This game redefined first-person shooters for the multiplayer crowd in a way that BioShock did for the single player crowd. The only difference is that Call of Duty is still finding massive success from its formula a full decade later.
BioShock… not so much.
Quick, efficient, exciting, its online battlegrounds proved the be the fix that hardcore and casual gamers, back when those terms actually meant something, needed to come together and enjoy the same games.
And while many properly praise the multiplayer for all this success, we often forget that this game didn't skimp out on the storytelling, either. The first Modern Warfare had some genuinely awe-inspiring moments. I'll never forget stumbling through the rubble and watching that nuclear explosion over my head for as long as I live.
Where is it now?: ………..
At last, we arrive at the main show. The original Mass Effect promised us a whole galaxy to play around in, so naturally, it was going to miss a few marks. In a classic No Man's Sky move, the hype was simply too much for any game to live up to, but Mass Effect did deliver on many of it promises.
The planetary terrain might have been a bit boring to roll across in the awkward Mako, the bunkers were all designed by cut-and-paste, and the combat was stiffer than the average shooters at the time, but when it came to world building, BioWare exceeded all expectations. Mass Effect's sci-fi universe is, hands down, the best in video gaming, and we have this original smash hit to thank for setting it all up.
Also, thanks to Mass Effect, Garrus, Tali'Zorah, Wrex, and the brilliant characters from the following games all joined gaming's greater lexicon. We can't forget about Shepard… herself, either.
Where is it now?: Since the original trilogy wrapped up and peaked with Mass Effect 2, we've effectively been without the series for five years. BioWare has Mass Effect Andromeda coming out just around the corner on March 27, and we're drooling at the prospect of returning to this brilliant universe.
Just a few extra games we need to call out.
Super Mario Galaxy – The Wii finally had a hit that found universal praise among fans and critics alike. To-date, Super Mario Galaxy remains one of the biggest critical darlings of all time, and its direct sequel a few years later shares that accomplishment.
Halo 3 – Not a new game and not as big as Call of Duty 4, but I'll never forget the "Finish the Fight" ad campaign. That seemed to have a bigger impact than the game itself.
Dawn of Mana/Heroes of Mana – I'm mostly focusing on new franchises coming into existence, but 2007 also saw the death of a beloved franchise. Square Enix's classic Mana series bombed hard with the "World of Mana" initiative, and all three games to emerge from it were reviled by critics and fans alike. 2007 effectively killed Mana, and only recently did it turn up again as a subpar free-to-play game.
Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure – Capcom helmed the third-party race on the Wii with this charming adventure game. Shame not many others were able to keep up.
Rock Band – Begun, the Plastic Instrument War has…