Time Wasting '97

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If I were allowed one stopwatch related wish, I’d ask for a life-long game clock that could travel back in time and record every last minute I've spent playing video games and consoles, from the Master System 2 to the Wii U. If this dream watch were to become a reality clock, and given the gift of speech, I’m convinced its first words would be “Matt, you’ve played an awful lot of video games”. And I have played an awful lot of video games, some of which weren't Call of Duty.

A recent thread on the Play Station forum got me thinking about the highlights of my twenty plus years of button bashing and stick fiddling. The subject was favourite games by year, looking back as far as you dare. I spent some time on Wikipedia and Moby Games before committing to my yearly favourites, and found some years more difficult than others, thanks to an overabundance, or sometimes lack of worthy options (I have included my selections at the end of this post). While compiling my list, I was struck by the number of quality time wasters that were released in the West in 1997 - either in the US or Europe, whichever came first. Although I didn't play all of these games immediately after release, they would all go on to claim a significant portion of my playing time over the next few years.

I was consumed by NBA Live '97 on the Sega Saturn. I'd finish one 82 game season, plus the playoffs, only to start afresh with a new team. Simulation was anathema, as I insisted on playing every last minute of every game, with the fatigue slider on (I used eight minutes quarters, which allowed for realistic scores and statistics while avoiding forty eight minute, 181-174 score lines). Between lonesome seasons and hyper-competitive tournaments with my brother, my Saturn didn’t get a breather in a solid year of digital ball. I’d been playing and enjoying games long before NBA Live '97, but this was the first title to claim whole evenings, weekends and school holidays, and I very much doubt I'll ever pour that many hours into a game again.

Square did rather well for itself in '97. Final Fantasy took the West by storm, proving that a JRPG could succeed outside of its home territory, so long as it had 'nuff graphics and multiple discs. It took me three years and a FFVIII romance before I finally played VII, but I quickly fell in love and have seen it through to completion four or five times since. I could never refuse Gold Saucers, ultimate weapons, chocobo pimping and oversized baddies, so each of my playthroughs clocked in at well over fifty hours. In Japan, Final Fantasy Tactics was also released in 1997, but it wouldn't reach the US until the following year; it would be another decade before it arrived in Europe as War of the Lions. That’s a shame, as Tactics would've added another hundred plus hours to my '97 total.
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1997 also gave us Age of Empires. By the late Nineties, my family had finally invested in a half decent PC - it could run Encarta - and I was able to pursue my love of history via the hotkeys. Owl hoots and villager gibberish became the soundtrack to my late-90s gaming, as I spent many an evening gathering wood and building ballista, with the occasional break for freezes and re-boots. But it was the custom maps that kept me coming back for months on end, as I recreated some of my favourite chapters from ancient history, most notably the campaigns of Alexander the Great. Once I’d gotten bored of historical accuracy, I'd bust out the bazooka sports car and indulge in some historically dubious slaughter. Arrian would be so very proud.

Speaking of firearms and vehicles, Grand Theft Auto was also a product of '97, at least in the UK. I never really bothered with the missions, as I rarely had any concept of what I was supposed to be doing and the massive paper maps were more trouble than they were worth. Instead, I spent my days mowing down Hare Krishna and avoiding tanks, familiarising my impressionable teenage self with the ways of mega violence.

While there is no doubting its quality, I'd hesitate to call 1997 the best ever year for video games. However, few have come close to providing so many glorious time wasters. From jacking up threes with the Phoenix Suns, to feeding Big Bird my nuts, 1997 had game to spare.

***** 

My games of the year, as posted in the Play Station thread. The years shown are the initial, western release (US or UK):

1991 - Sonic the Hedgehog (MS) / 1992 - Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (MD) / 1993 - I'm drawing a blank ....... / 1994 - Final Fantasy VI / 1995 - Road Rash 3 and Sega Rally Championship (I can't decide) / 1996 - Virtua Cop 2 / 1997 - Final Fantasy VII / 1998 - Metal Gear Solid / 1999 - Final Fantasy VIII / 2000 - Final Fantasy IX / 2001 - Metal Gear Solid 2 / 2002 - TimeSplitters 2  / 2003 - Final Fantasy XI / 2004 - Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater / 2005 - TimeSplitters: Future Perfect / 2006 - Final Fantasy XII / 2007 - Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions / 2008 - Metal Gear Solid 4 / 2009 - Uncharted 2 / 2010 - Mass Effect 2 / 2011 - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim / 2012 - Mass Effect 3

Comments

  1. Daydream Drooler13 April 2013 at 23:28

    Nice list. Just thinking about the hours I've poured into games... countless hours, after logging 99:99:99 hours in Ucharted, it finally got a trophy patch which I had to redo everything in the game for the platinum. Something similar happened with UC2, after logging 99:99:99 hours again my PS3 broke shortly after so when I got a new one I had to get everything once again and of course log another 99:99:99 hours (this is single player of course). I also remember when MGS4 came out, I got all 40 emblems, every weapons, searched every corner of every map and toyed with every enemy in the game... now I'm back at it for the platinum. I don't believe there is one game in my collection that I haven't logged a ridiculous amount of hours in.
    One thing I love about gaming, it continues to get better, unlike movies which are on a continuous decline. Each year I find myself loving something more than my very favorite series of last gen. Hopefully this trend continues to grow

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    Replies
    1. That's a lot of Uncharted! How may playthroughs for the MGS4 plat? Must be a fair few.

      Absolutely. I like to play an older title every now and again, and I enjoy the nostalgia, but on the whole I agree that video game experiences are getting better and better. Long may it continue!

      Cheers

      Delete
    2. Daydream Drooler15 April 2013 at 08:08

      You need to go through the game 8 times to get the plat. The best part is, there is no trophy for the emblems but there is a trophy for face camo and music tracks, in order to get all of them you have to get all 40 emblems. I felt that was kind of a slap in the face, they should have given a trophy for getting all 40 emblems instead of some shitty face camo trophy or music track trophy. Anyway, reason why you need 8 playthroughs is for around 8 different emblems that mix and match how many kills, alerts and continues you get, plus the big boss emblem which requires you to beat the game with 0 kills, alerts, continues, and recovery items within 5 hours. Another slap in the face is the fact that I did this once before but you can't use old save data to pop trophies but I lost all that save data when my old PS3 died.

      Delete
    3. I knew it would require multiple playthroughs, but i didn't realise it was eight! I love MGS4, but rather you than me :)

      Delete
  2. I used to put insane amounts of time into sports games. Madden, NCAA Football and Live particularly. I don't have the time anymore, but man I used to log serious time into them. I also recall trying to find the perfect quarter length for realistic scoring and stats, though some stat would always be real out of whack compared to the rest of the league like team rebounds. It kind of bugged me... haha. Good blog. Also cool forum you linked to there. I may have to give that place a look!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad I'm not the only one who strove for perfect stats in NBA Live. Every now and then, if I wanted to boost scoring, I'd go with a nine minute quarter and treat myself.

      Rebounding used to be tough. I could never get J Kidd to average more than two a game, and it really bothered me! But then everyone was shooting ridiculous percentages from the field, so there weren't many boards up for grabs anyway.

      Play Station is a great forum. I'm not too sure about the guy who runs it though ;)

      Cheers

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  3. I played a lot of Crash Bandicoot in 1997. Didn't have my own console, but those rare chances I got to game, it was at my mom's friend's whose kids had that game. Gaming didn't really start for me until 1999 when I got my own Gameboy. If I had to pick a year like this for me though it would be 2006 with the Star Wars games. Put insane amounts of hours into Star Wars: Knights of the Old Repbulic 1 and 2 (late to the party, but still). In fact those games could use their umpteenth replay right about now.

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    Replies
    1. The Gameboy is a pretty good place to start.

      There were some really good games in 2006. I enjoyed FFXII, though I know not everyone appreciated the change in battle style, and Wii Sports was an important moment for home console gaming and making my arm ache! I spent a lot of time on '06 portable games too, between FFIII on the DS and MGS Portable Ops on the PSP.

      Cheers

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