This is the first part of a planned infinite-part series about those things in the past that get you all misty-eyed. Come, let us dance around in the aromatic breeze of nostalgia!
Everyone gets nostalgic about stuff.
OK, let’s just jump into it. Who needs some paragraphs-long “make a connection with the general reader” intro when you’ve got NOSTALGIA? As I just wrote, everyone feels the nostalgia tingle.
Today I have three awesome things from the nineties. If you grew up in this decade, these should bring out those tingles. If not, bah. Bah, I say.
X-Men: The Animated Series
Many people think Batman: The Animated Series is the superior comic book-derived animated series. Those people have let their Batman fanboyishness blind them, and need to be sent to reeducation centers.
X-Men was an (optic) blast from its goosebumps-inducing intro to the credits. The characters were vivid and authentic (if understandably toned down) versions of their comic book counterparts. When Wolverine growls at Cyclops or Storm takes to the skies to unleash a hurricane, you think, “This is it. This is how it should be.”
You’ve got the familiar “hated and feared” theme, the classic storylines, and of course, battles galore. The fight at the end of Reunion: Part Two is a Mount Everest-sized…nah, the entirety of the Himalayas-sized monument of epic ass-whupping slobberknocker awesomeness.
And no discussion about X-Men: The Animated Series should be had without mentioning its superb voice acting, music, and sound effects. Every noise in the series is perfectly calibrated, from the so-sharp-it-cuts-the-air sound of Wolverine unsheathing his claws (it’s not a “snikt” – it’s better than a “snikt”) to Magneto’s powers ripping apart some decommissioned ship. I don’t know if there are awards for sound production in an animated series, but if there are, whoever produced these incredible ear-tingling sounds should have an entire room full of trophies, medals, and letters of commendation.
Final Fantasy VII
Flashback to the late nineties: gaming wasn’t mainstream. There were no people playing Candy Crush on their smartphones – because there were no smartphones. First-person shooters hadn’t taken over the world. No Skyrim. No Minecraft. Nothing.
And if gaming wasn’t mainstream, RPGs were so far removed from anyone’s thoughts they may not have even existed. Yeah, in Japan they were big, but in the United States, no one knew what the hell they were.
Enter the seventh installment of this non-final RPG series.
To say it dropped onto the US landscape like an atomic bomb infused with mako energy is no exaggeration. This thing was fucking big. Enormous. Gigantic. Keep inserting synonyms until the thesaurus begs for mercy.
Even the ads were famous! Who can forget a sword-wielding Cloud staring up at Shinra HQ, or the “cigarette and a blindfold” ad?
People think games are hyped up nowadays? The hype today is like a poster stapled to a power pole compared to the ten-thousand-miles-of-highway-billboards-combined-with-the-Vega-strip hype that surrounded Final Fantasy VII.
OK, so it was hyped – but was it any good?
(* – This is not a typo on my part. It is, however, an infamous typo in the game itself. Just look it up, why don’t ya.)
While it’s easy to mock the graphics today, back then this was the crème de la crème. The background graphics were gorgeous – and they’re still gorgeous, in my opinion – the battle system was fast-paced and gorgeous, the FMV sequences were gorgeous – there was lots and lots of gorgeousity.
The sound was also top-notch. Anyone who played through this game will never get the battle theme out of their heads.
The story was wild, epic, and twisted. Yes, some of the stuff was strange and confusing – exactly how many Sephiroth clones are there? – but that never stopped you from loading up your saved game and continuing on your quest to defeat Sephiroth, one of the maddest, most grandiose villains of all time.
Questions of identity, bio-engineering, amnesia, redemption, hope, shattered dreams – it’s all there, represented by FF7’s diverse cast of characters. By the end of the game, you’ll know these people – and dogs, and remote-controlled cats and moogles – better than your immediate family.
For a dumb kid like me, who was used to video game storylines no more complex than “your princess is in another castle,” this stuff was jaw-dropping. There’s another guy with a gun-arm besides Barrett, and he’s a broken wreck of a man? GASP! Red XIII’s tribe is turned to stone, and then one of the stones cries? WHAT!! Vincent Valentine is an awesome emo vampire-shapeshifter guy? GASP WHAT COOL!!
FF7’s legacy is also staggering. To date, the game has led to three other official video games, two films, and who knows how many other pieces of media. And, of course, there’s a remake in the works, long overdue when one considers the sheer might of this game.
With compilations, emulators, and whatnot, you can easily play FF7 on any number of devices today, but nothing will compare to playing the original on the Playstation 1 back in the final years of the 90s.
Fun fact: I beat the game without any of the epic materia. No Knights of the Round + Mime for me. Nor did I know any leveling-up tricks. Those final battles were a grind, lemme tell ya. I didn’t have a strategy guide, and back then the Internet was in its teething stage; you couldn’t just fire up a web browser and find the answer to any and all questions. Thus, I didn’t know these pieces of materia existed until much later.
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
Everyone knows Mario, and most people are familiar with the platformer formula. You jump around and bop stuff, grab powerups, try not to fall into pits of death.
Yoshi’s Island was definitely a platformer, but it was also…something else. It was bright and colorful. It had a softness to it, in contrast to the squares and rectangles – jump over a pipe, jump onto a box, jump over a pipe, jump onto a box – of previous Mario games. The enemies were odder, and the gameplay differed from the get-hit-and-lose-a-powerup-or-die gameplay we were used to. Scrambling after Baby Mario while that insidious timer counted down could be nerve-wracking and sweat-on-forehead-creating.
Like Final Fantasy VII, the graphics in this game astounded. This was the Super Nintendo, mind you – remember that “cigarette and a blindfold” ad about cartridge gaming above? Well, cartridge-based consoles could do some awesome stuff, too, despite what those guys with their giant intimidating cannon said.
I spent many happy hours playing this game. Most of the time I was wondering how someone could make such a dreamy confection that was somehow still a platformer.
Finding an emulator and a ROM for this game is simple today, but again, nothing will supplant my hazy childhood memories.
So, wipe away those tears, cease with the deep happy sighing, and write some comments. Do any of these things resonate with you? Do you have other 90s nostalgic gems you’d like to mention? Type away, folks!