This is going to be a bittersweet trip to write.
I just completed my usual summer playthrough of a good portion of Super Mario core games, culminating with 3D Land. I originally intended to round it all out with my first experience of 3D World, but then the call to arms happened for bloggers to discuss games that got better with age. I saw the header and I hope this isn't too much of a copout, because I'm going to be talking about exactly that.
1998 feels like a lifetime ago, not just because it was the start of my final year in "grade school" (Catholic schools in North America typically start at kindergarten and go all the way through eight grade) but our country seemed to be in a much better place. The job market was endless, the government had too much money as opposed to billions of dollars of debt, and Sony, like a daily RKO, came out of nowhere and conquered the console gaming market.
The staggering amount of classic video games released that year reads like a NeoGAF wet dream. Xenogears, Parasite Eve, Pokemon Red/Blue, Resident Evil 2, Starcraft, Ocarina of Time, Half-Life...the 2015 Sony E3 conference had nothing on '98. My attention, however, was drawn to a game described as "tactical espionage action" in every preview I could get my hands on.
I had never heard of Snatcher or Policenauts, but I didn't care. I mowed every lawn I could find to stash away the required $50 to pre-order the game, and in 1998, that never included any bonuses. That summer was bloody torture with the internet still in relative infancy, as the only updates I knew of typically came in print. While I had a great summer with many of the games listed above, nothing could have prepared me for what I was going to experience.
I grew up in a Republican-voting, conservative home. My parents are very good people overall, and as far as I knew at the time, what my Dad (stepfather, more on that another time) believed about war and nuclear weaponry was true: we should blow the hell out of anyone who threatens us and ask questions later, even if that meant some people died in the process. Without a dissenting opinion from one of the friends I didn't have, I didn't know any better...and since I wasn't a PC gamer, there were not a ton of "mature" themes present in the games I played, despite a rating by the ESRB saying so.
Metal Gear Solid quite literally changed my life. Melodramatic as they may have been, the villains of the game were mostly not "bad guys" in the traditional sense; their lives had been ravaged so horribly by war that this was the only way they knew to live. Sniper Wolf's dying monologue in particular was a defining moment in the series and even at the age of thirteen, I began to question my own beliefs. When was killing justified? When is war necessary? I was so enamored with the story that I wrote a full novelization of it, which I still have on my hard drive after three previous computers. I can say confidently that it's better than the hack job released in bookstores in 2008.
Likely more than any other game, I have replayed MGS over and over again, watching both endings and making sure I got Snake in that boss tuxedo. I have most of the dialogue from the game memorized to this day, to the point that the new voiceovers in The Twin Snakes remake give me odd twitches despite their logic. Dated graphics and ridiculously stupid AI be damned; I can play the first Metal Gear Solid for the hundredth time and be almost as entertained as the first time I took that elevator up from the docks.
If ever there has been a game that was truly "ahead of its time," it was the sequel. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty not only predicted a massive portion of events that have come to pass, the game almost never saw the light of day. The game was released just two months after the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001 and an entire sequence involving Metal Gear Arsenal crashing into New York's Federal Hall was heavily edited in order to avoid any controversy. I'm still amazed every time I play this game that it was released almost fourteen years ago.
I don't think MGS2 gets the credit it deserves. The ridiculous butthurt people exhibited when Raiden became the main player controlled was totally unwarranted; from a narrative perspective, Snake was still the protagonist while Raiden was simply along for the journey. The X-Files-loving conspiracy theorist in me ate up the storyline, and while the rest of the people I knew in high school began to distance themselves from video games, this was the start of what remains, for me, the best generation in all of console gaming.
I'm already tearing up a bit. I can't spend just one or two paragraphs on Snake Eater. That will have to be another time, but The Boss is the greatest female in the history of video games.
From here, things got a little murky for me. I never played either of the Metal Gear Acid games released on PSP but have heard they can be a fun diversion. I bought Portable Ops but, for whatever reason, never finished it, despite the story being totally canonical heading into Guns of the Patriots, which I still loved but was so epic upon epic that I sometimes feel like the emotional weight of character deaths was lost due to the increasing frequency of "HOLY SHIT!" moments. I absolutely need to finish Peace Walker as part of the HD Collection, which will prepare me to play Ground Zeroes before the fated day of September 1.
I knew something special was on the horizon when Kojima-san took one of my favorite bands (Garbage's self-titled album was the first CD I ever bought) and included it in the trailer for what was, definitively, going to be the final MGS game. I have tried my best to stay away from a lot of the coverage for Phantom Pain, not because I'm not excited, but because I can't believe this is it. I don't even have a PS4 or Xbox One yet, and I don't care. Metal Gear was never about frame rates or resolution; it is about the journey of soldiers to their bitter end, the stories they leave behind. I don't expect to ever purchase another game by Konami, and I won't turn this into a rant against them - many have already done so. By the end of September, I will have finished everything in the Metal Gear universe.
I don't know how to feel about that.