Throughout my life, I had always heard members of the previous generation talk about how much better things were during their heyday. Hearing them talk about the past would sometimes make me feel as if what I was experiencing in the present couldn’t even hold a candle to the world that they knew. As a result of how their words had made me feel, I’ve always tried to resist developing that same mindset as time began to pass in my life. But as I am now within the middle age bracket of life expectancy, I find myself fighting it harder than ever before.
I’ve played video games for nearly four decades and have seen the progression from blocky graphics to the ultra-realistic type of graphics that we see today. There was a time where voice acting didn’t exist and the mouths on player models did not move. Brands such as Super Mario Bros, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and Final Fantasy were created during my youth. I was already an adult by the time franchises such as Call of Duty and Battlefield were born. Even though there are many games that I can play and enjoy today, I can’t help but constantly reminisce about how great and innovative video games used to be.
Even though the game came out for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1995, I have not played a game better than Chrono Trigger. It was the first game that I ever played that I felt had everything a video game should. Voice acting wasn’t a staple in gaming at the time, which is why it was more than acceptable that it wasn’t in the game. But the classic RPG had a great battle system that eliminated random encounters, a fantastic story spanning several time eras with multiple possible endings, memorable characters, outstanding music, unexpected twists and turns, and beautiful aesthetics. For me, that game is the closest to perfection that I’ve ever played.
It is my opinion that the golden era of gaming began with the 16-bit era in the 1990s and continued through the Playstation 2/original Xbox era in the 2000s. I encourage you to search out games that were created during that time period and you will find many excellent titles. Sports gaming was at its peak during those days. Many fighting game franchises that still continue to this day originated during that time. If you were a role-playing game fan, there was plenty to choose from. And the top-selling video game consoles of all time (PS2, Nintendo DS) came out during this time period.
I want to like today’s games more. But I see the gaming industry copying what has happened in entertainment, particularly for the past decade. Remakes, remasters, and sequels are prevalent in the mainstream gaming market just like in movie theatres. What has been missing too often is the sense of something fresh and new like I experienced in the past. When I played Super Mario World for the first time, there was nothing like it. 007 Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64 is still some of the most fun I’ve ever had in multiplayer gaming. I still play NFL 2K5 as my football game of choice in 2021. Yet how many Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Madden NFL, and Call of Duty games can companies make before they become ultra repetitive and stale?
Many of today’s games are good and I certainly don’t want to take anything away from the developers’ hard work. But compared to the games that I’ve played throughout my life, too many of today’s titles lack the depth, creativity, style, and the “WOW” factor that characterized my earlier years in gaming. It’s the era of constantly cashing in on a brand rather than creating new ones. There’s a reason why gamers remember the campaign of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare very fondly compared to the present Call of Duty games. It’s the same with the older Battlefield games (Battlefield Bad Company 2, Battlefield 3, Battlefield 4) versus the last two (Battlefield 1, Battlefield 5). We also don’t get complete games out of the box anymore that are just ready to play without initial updates that can take hours to complete. The game packaging just includes the game disc when it used to have an instruction booklet, map, poster, and other items to complement the game disc or cartridge. Microtransactions have turned many of these games into platforms for online shopping. Downloadable content seems never-ending and game updates are ridiculously plentiful. Yes, the graphics are better than they’ve ever been, but it seems like the gameplay has not followed suit in too many cases.
What irks me more than anything in today’s gaming climate is how many unfinished and unstable games are making it to the market. Cyberpunk 2077, Madden NFL 21, and Marvel’s Avengers come to mind. But even highly regarded titles such as The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, Diablo III, and Battlefield 4 had notoriously bad launches. What companies bank on is being able to fix the games after launch via patches. Yet for the gamers who pre-ordered the game or bought it on the first day of its release, they now can’t play something that they paid for. This isn’t right and is why I have developed a personal stance of seldom pre-ordering games or purchasing them close to their release dates. The publishers should just announce that their games are in “Early Access” and charge a lower price until they’ve completed the game and addressed the game-breaking bugs. I’ve played many indie games in Early Access that are more polished and complete than mainstream releases.
One of the reasons why indie games are becoming more popular is because many of the games pay tribute to the best of the past while implementing pieces of the present. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night was inspired by the beloved original Playstation classic, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, but had enough originality to stand on its own and had graphics well in line with the present time. Hades is an award-winning game that takes from action role-playing games like the Diablo series but established its own identity with the Greek Mythology theme and rogue-like gameplay. Valheim and Genshin Impact were both inspired by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I believe indie games are becoming more popular because they are helping to fill the void many gamers have been feeling from the more mainstream games. I applaud their efforts and seek to support indie developers/publishers as much as I can.
This post could seem negative towards the gaming industry, but overall I’m a happy and cheerful gamer. I mainly focus on what I enjoy and vote with my wallet when it comes to those aspects of gaming I don’t. But I can also recognize what frustrates today’s gamers as well. Many modern games don’t provide the same thrills the former games did for me. I do realize that part of it could be that because I’ve been gaming for so long. As a result, there’s the feeling of, “been there, done that.” It’s the same for me with the movies. I’ve seen so many films over my lifetime that I can accurately predict exactly how most movies will play out. Sometimes I just want something completely different. No sequel. No remake. No remaster. I want to revisit the same feelings I had when I first played Street Fighter II or Mass Effect for the first time. It’s the equivalent to when people saw the very first Star Wars or Jurassic Park movies. Is it too much to ask? Have I become “that” gamer?