Today (September 28, 2023) marks the 25th anniversary of the release of Pokémon Red and Blue in the United States. Long time New Leaf Journal readers will know that I have fond memories of the first (Red, Blue, and Yellow) and second (Gold, Silver, and Crystal) generation Pokémon games, the latter of which inspired this site’s slogan. The anniversary made me consider an interesting (I think, at least) question: Which video games left the greatest impression on me?
I have been playing video games to some extent or another for close to 30 years. My first console was a Sega Genesis, which I was given in 1994. I have played many great games, mediocre games, and outright terrible games since receiving that Sega Genesis.
When I consider which games left the greatest impression me, I am not asking myself what were the best games I played – but rather the games which inspired me, left me with particularly strong memories, changed the way I see video games in general or something or other. There is no strict criteria for this list – it is entirely subjective and tied to my own experiences.
Below, I rank the 12 games which left the greatest impression on me (we will go from 12 to 1 to make things more interesting). In each case, I will explain why I selected a particular game. If my list inspires you, stick around for the conclusion to learn how you can submit (so to speak) your own list.
Without further ado, let us get started.
|Game||Pokémon Trading Card Game|
|Console||Game Boy Color|
|NA Release||April 10, 2000|
|I First Played||2000|
|Other Notes||Last played in 2019 on N3DS Virtual Console|
I begin my list with Pokémon Trading Card Game for Game Boy Color. There have been many Pokémon spin-off games over the years, but the original Game Boy Color adaptation of Pokémon TCG may well be the finest of the lot.
(Nintendo should really release the sequel in English. It is never too late!)
Like many kids, I collected and traded Pokémon cards back in the day (only socially in 1998-99). I know how to play, but I never actually played because no one in my class was interested in the actual game (no one in my class when the Pokémon Trading Card Game for Game Boy Color was released would admit liking Pokémon at all). Thus, the Game Boy Color game was the first time I was actually able to play Pokémon TCG instead of just looking at the cards.
Back in 2000, I was not much of a video game tactician and I had a tendency to start and not finish games, although I was better by that point than I had been a few years prior. Pokémon Trading Card Game held my attention. It has a bare-bones story, but gradually winning cards and building decks is very intuitive. The computer players are impressively smart for a Game Boy effort, and the rampant AI cheating on coin flips (shades of Mario Party) adds an annoying element to the challenge. While I would not go so far as to say that Pokémon Trading Card Game is hard, it is certainly a sterner test than the mainline Pokémon games. But challenge and all, I managed to beat the game in its entirety in either 2000 or 2001.
Had I only played Pokémon Trading Card Game when I was a kid, it most likely would not have made the top-12 list. However, I rekindled the magic in January 2019 when I was recovering from surgery. As one can imagine, my energy was not great in the immediate aftermath of my Christmas Eve operation, so I was not much inclined to do much beyond one walk per day that did not involve sitting. I purchased Pokémon Trading Card Game for the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console and went through the whole adventure again like it was 2000, creating new fond memories. While many games do not age well, Pokémon Trading Card Game is an underrated gem that is just as fun to play today as it was when it was released.
|Game||The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky|
|I Played On||Windows|
|NA Release||Windows – July 29, 2014|
|I First Played||2015|
Regular New Leaf Journal readers may know from my vintage video game ad research piece that The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky was first released in Japan on June 24, 2004. It was not released outside Japan until it came to America for the PlayStation Portable in 2011. The Windows version was released in the United States in 2014, and that is the one I purchased.
It had been several years since I had played a game that really gripped me. I did not have much going around New Years in 2015, so I decided to give Trails a go since I had purchased it on sale not too long before. For the first time in many years, I found myself playing a game that I did not want to put down, and I used my free time to clear the adventure in about two weeks (give or take a few days) in just over 50 hours.
Trails is not a difficult game, and I have seen some people complain that it is a somewhat paint-by-numbers JRPG. But I was impressed with two things. Firstly, Trails loves its characters and the team behind it showed incredible attention to detail – which is one way to win me over. Every NPC in the game has something to say, and what they say changes depending on when in the story you talk to them. The story, while not ground-breaking, is a fun adventure and each and every member of the main cast brings something interesting to the table.
I recommend buying Trails and I will add that even the Steam version is DRM-free. (I somehow never went back to play the second and third parts – but I plan to return to the adventure in a few months…)
Pokémon Ruby was my third Pokémon game. While it was not a social experience for me like Pokémon Red, I remember that it was the first time in a long time that I knew some other people who were playing it – Pokémon was no longer uncool.
Ruby and its sister release, Sapphire, are excellent games, and I dare say they may be the best pound-for-pound original non-remake entries in the mainline series behind generation 2’s Gold and Silver. I was a more sophisticated game practitioner by the time I picked up Ruby than I had been when I played the earlier Pokémon games. In Ruby, I employed some more creative strategies as I rolled through the game fairly easily (my only challenging Pokémon run was my first in Pokémon Red). While I do not remember my inaugural Ruby run with the same level of detail that I recall my first Red run several years earlier, I can tell you here that Mudkip was my starter but, despite going with the water starter, I doubled down by making the water/flying type Pelipper a key player in my party. Finally, I raised my first level 100 Pokémon, Starmie, in the post-game.
I also have fond memories of Pokémon’s generation 3 as a whole, including Pokémon Leaf Green. Ruby had some fun inter-connectivity with Pokémon Colosseum for GameCube (which is a terrific game in its own right), and I managed to take advantage of a Pokémon promotion for the first time when I acquired the Jirachi bonus disk for GameCube.
My only TV console prior to receiving a Nintendo 64 in 1998 was the Sega Genesis, so I was a bit behind on the 3D video games revolution. I first saw Super Mario 64 at a friend’s house and you can imagine that in light of the fact I had never really seen, much less played, a 3D game before, I was quite impressed with its sprawling open world. This experience inspired me to request a Nintendo 64 and I received it with Mario 64 on a suitable occasion.
I loved Super Mario 64 and, while I never acquired all 120 stars, I cleared the game with more than the minimum 70. It was my first experience with 3D platforming and I took to it fairly well (I am probably better at it than at many of the 2D platformer games). Perhaps most signficantly, Super Mario 64 was the game that pushed me to get my first Nintendo console and signaled my shift from being a Sega-first gamer to being a Nintendo-first gamer.
I was a regular video game magazine reader by the time Paper Mario was released. Nintendo Power had previously made me very much excited for games such as Pokémon Snap, Mario Golf, Mario Tennis, and Sonic Adventure. I do not recall having been too excited for Paper Mario before it came out, but it ended up being (and so remains) my favorite Nintendo 64 game.
Paper Mario was the second Mario game that put our favorite plumber in an RPG setting. It captured my imagination from its opening scenes with its charming story-book aesthetic, witty writing, and intuitive game-play. This is one game I struggled to put down and played right through to completion.
Paper Mario left a big impression on me for two reasons. Firstly, it was the first non-Pokémon RPG I played through to completion. Secondly, it was the first game that made me think about stories in video games. Most of my time had been spent with Pokémon, Sonic, Mario, Kirby, and sports games – certainly not narrative rich affairs. I think part of what spoke to me with Paper Mario was that it was a fun game with a story that I was interested in. These days, games with interesting stories are the types of games most likely to hold my attention.
Paper Mario remains an excellent game, but I will submit for the record that its immediate successor, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, is superior in all respects. Of course, this is a list of the games which left the greatest impression on me. On that count, the first Paper Mario is the top Paper Mario.
7. Sonic the Hedgehog 2
|Game||Sonic the Hedgehog 2|
|NA Release||November 24, 1992|
|I First Played||1993|
|I First Acquired||1994|
My first experiences with video games were at the houses of two of my Mom’s co-workers. Both households had kids who were a couple of years older than me. At one I saw games on the Sega Master System and Nintendo Entertainment System. But it was the Sega Genesis that captured my attention.
One of my Mom’s co-workers had two daughters with a Sega Genesis. The two games I distinctly remember seeing were Sonic 2 and ToeJam & Earl. Sonic 2 was the game that captured my imagination and made me want to have my own copy. It was this experience that resulted in my first console being a Sega Genesis bundled with Sonic 2, which I received in 1994.
I spent many hours with Sonic although I was never much good at it (maybe I ought to go back and remedy my youthful inefficiencies). But I became a Sonic fan beyond the games, also partaking in some of the cartoon series and comics. While nothing about Sonic necessarily had a long-term effect on how I understood games (today I prefer the classic 2D Mario games to Sonic), its biggest effect was that Sonic 2 was essentially the sole reason why my first console was a Sega Genesis. Had I been more enraptured by Mario, perhaps my first console would have been an original NES or a Super Nintendo. Had the kids I visited been more cutting-edge, maybe I would have skipped straight to the 32-bit generation with a PlayStation or Sega Saturn (neither of which I likely heard of until well after their release). But Sonic 2 brought me to the Sega Genesis – which had a cascade effect in other areas. For example, it is because of Sonic 2 that I ended up spending almost countless hours with the NBA Live series and NBA Jam TE on Genesis, both of which narrowly missed making this list.
6. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 and Persona 4 Golden
|Game||Persona 4 Golden|
|NA Release||November 20, 2012|
|I First Played||2015|
|Notes||Played on PlayStation TV|
I somewhat cheated here and lumped the two Persona 4s together.
I was first inspired to play Persona 4 because I had just finished Persona 3 FES – which I will (mild spoiler) reserve for discussion for the moment.
(Note: See my article about unexpectedly receiving an art book with my Persona 4 order.)
I found that Persona 4 had a different mood than Persona 3 – it leaves behind 3’s urban environment and dark aesthetic. But on the points I most loved (and love) the Persona series for – combining JRPG exploration and battles, daily life, and a social link system – Persona 4 was an improvement in all respects.
Years later, I played Persona 4 Golden over the course of about a year with my New Leaf Journal colleague, Victor V. Gurbo, using the long-forgotten PlayStation TV console. Golden is a re-mastered version of Persona 4 that received some significant additions and improvements and is clearly and beyond doubt the definitive version of the classic. I enjoyed seeing all of the changes in Golden and listening to Victor’s irreverent commentary.
Persona 4 Golden remains my favorite JRPG and it would be on the short list if I had to answer what my favorite game of all time is. What makes it special is not its overarching story, but the dynamic between the main characters and some of its social links. In separate articles, I wrote about a touching scene in a social link with the protagonist’s Uncle and young cousin and the a social link featuring a classmate named Ai Ebihara, which stands out as the finest piece of video game writing I have come across and one that made me think about what can be accomplished through a game narrative. I will add a special mention for the Yukiko Amagi social link, which I came to appreciate in a new way on my second run.
Persona 4 Golden is a genuine classic and one that makes my list because it is simply too good not to.
5. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES
Back in 2009, I was talking to a friend about making games. I offered an idea for a game that would combine day-to-day life with a JRPG. My friend informed me that this game already existed – and he showed me Persona 3 FES on an emulator on his computer.
While I was somewhat annoyed that my idea was preemptively stolen, I was very much interested in Persona 3 FES based on the beginning of the game – and note that we did not get beyond the introduction section (it takes about an hour before you really take control of your character). I ordered Persona 3 FES almost as soon as I got home that evening.
While I had a PlayStation 2, I had never used it much. It was in such disrepair that it had fallen behind my old TV cabinet. It only occurred to me to fish it out and make sure I had the cords and that it was in working order after I ordered FES.
Fortunately, everything worked once I found the cords and I jumped straight into my new game. I will note here that my JRPG experience had not gone much further than Pokémon and Paper Mario even by this late stage, and I initially had some difficulty with Persona 3’s battle system and things like managing resources on dungeon runs. I restarted early in my first play-through and quickly got the hang of Persona 3’s systems (it is not a hard game, albeit more challenging than 4 and 5).
FES turned out to be everything that I was hoping for – while its social links and out-of-battle activities lack the depth of 4 and (to a lesser extent) 5, they added great balance to 3. Persona 3 also has an intriguing, dark underlying story which I was very interested to see through to the conclusion (note that I did not spoiler myself).
One reason I consider FES to be the definitive Persona 3 over Persona 3 Portable (which added a female protagonist route and some quality of life improvements in return for diminished graphics) is because it is the only version with an epilogue. I will not spoil Persona 3’s ending here, but it ended on a note crying for a follow-up. While opinions are mixed on the FES epilogue, The Answer, it stands as one of my favorite games in its own right (see my article on a battle story from the epilogue). Its story brought thematic closure to my ultimately 100+ hour adventure (combining the two parts), and The Answer presents a wonderful pure JRPG challenge that requires players to put to good use everything they learned about Persona 3’s systems.
I will note for the record that Persona 4 Golden is a categorically superior game to Persona 3 FES (the first Persona 4 is a bit better but that is a closer comparison). But FES is the game that introduced me to the series and the game that opened my eyes to the potential for telling compelling stories through games. While in hindsight its extracurricular activities were a bit lacking, Persona 3’s overarching story, with its conclusion in the epilogue, remains a genuine video game classic many years after its release.
I was on the Animal Crossing bandwagon well before it was cool.
I read a preview feature of the upcoming Animal Crossing game in Nintendo Power a month or two before its U.S. release (note I remember having read about the original Animal Forest back when it was planned for a Nintendo 64 release). Something about having and furnishing your own house and going about your life in a town with a real clock spoke to me. I was given my copy right around its release and I jumped right in.
Animal Crossing was unlike anything I had ever played and I spent a great deal of time with it over the course of a year experiencing the in-game holidays, collecting furniture, fishing, linking to my Game Boy Advance, and being insulted by my animal neighbors. Animal Crossing is one of those games that changed how I thought about games – how would I have imagined before that I would spend my time waiting for real world holidays?
(My Mom moved in too.)
The original Animal Crossing holds up well and I dare say it remains my favorite entry in the series. The last two entries in the series are great games in their own right, but the original has a unique charm in its weird design, some uniquely Japanese holidays and events, and more animal neighbors who are willing to call you a scruffy lout. One thing I came to appreciate more about the original after playing later entries is how you are not the master of everything in it. The original Animal Crossing very much puts you on the level of your neighbors – someone who lives in the town and is a part of it. You can chop the trees and plant the flowers, but that level of control comes up well short of the Switch release in which you can control the course of rivers, build hills at will, and open up your town to the world. (See my article on a humorous New Horizons interaction with Victor.)
Animal Crossing is meant to be quaint.
Of course, Animal Crossing left the second biggest impression on me of any game that I played in 2002. But before we get to that…
I wrote about my memories of Pokémon Gold in detail on the 20th anniversary of its North American release, so I will direct you to that article (which I rather like) instead of re-inventing the wheel here. I will note as a point of interest that Pokémon Gold is the only one of the 12 games on this list that I acquired on its launch day (I was close on Animal Crossing).
2. Harvest Moon: Back to Nature
|Game||Harvest Moon: Back to Nature|
|NA Release||November 22, 2000|
|I First Played||October 2002|
|Notes||I played most of it on a portable screen attached to my PlayStation|
It is somewhat funny that despite the fact I spent a ton of time with my Nintendo 64 and comparatively little with my PlayStation, I ended up with PlayStation’s Harvest Moon: Back to Nature while I did not have the parallel Harvest Moon 64 as a kid.
But I digress.
I picked up Harvest Moon: Back to Nature at GameStop shortly after starting Animal Crossing.
I recall that my enjoyment of Animal Crossing prompted me in part to give Harvest Moon a go (I had previously been aware of Harvest Moon 64, so I knew of the series). Funny enough, my sharpest early Animal Crossing memory was seeing the harvest Moon reflected on the town pond.
While I loved Animal Crossing, I ended up liking Back to Nature even more, and it came to command more of my attention as time went on. (Note: On a technical level, Animal Crossing is probably a better game than Back to Nature, but it is a testament to BTN that you have to take some time to think it over.)
Back to Nature was something like Persona before Persona for me. Pokémon was my first grand adventure, Paper Mario was my first narrative-focused adventure, and Animal Crossing was my first whatever Animal Crossing is, but Harvest Moon was the first game wherein I became invested in a video game story. I enjoyed getting to know the townspeople and seeing some of the struggles they had (BTN tackles some surprisingly dark themes such as alcoholism and parental abandonment). I came to look forward to discovering little surprises after I received a surprise invitation to Ann’s birthday party early in the game (I later learned that triggering that event is no sure thing).
One point which distinguished Harvest Moon from Animal Crossing was the challenge. While BTN offers players a great amount of freedom in time allocation, days move quickly and the hours in which you can meet specific characters and do specific things are tight (BTN is less forgiving with its clock than most modern entries in what is now the Story of Seasons series). While I did not play optimally back in 2002-2003, I did learn how to manage the clock and develop a routine in order to do the things I wanted to accomplish.
As I worked on my farm and chose how to spend my time, I had an interest in learning everything I could about Mineral Town and seeing its events and traditions – I even took the time to watch all of the in-game TV channels and became invested in some of the shows. My toughest choice was deciding whether to offer my Blue Feather to Mary or Ann (I chose Mary, but it was a hard choice – anyone who has played BTN, Friends of Mineral Town, or 64 will know what I am talking about). After three in-game years, the Mayor and the townsfolk concluded that I had been a good steward of my farm and made me an official member. Although my completing the game’s main objective was not in doubt by that point, it still felt like a good capstone on a fun and relaxing journey.
I could return to BTN today (or its Game Boy Advance remake, Friends of Mineral Town – which has since been released in a new package for Nintendo Switch and PC) and navigate Mineral Town perfectly despite not having played it in a good number of years.
|NA Release||September 28, 1998|
|I First Played||December 25, 1998|
|Notes||Played entirely on Game Boy Color|
I am sure you are shocked by this selection after I introduced the list as being inspired by the 25th anniversary of the North American release of Pokémon Red.
Some parts of this list were difficult. I could have gone with a number of different games or combinations of games for spots 5-12. Deciding on the order of spots 2-5 was also tricky, although I felt sure of my selection of Back to Nature at 2. But one spot that was never in doubt was the top spot – and I suspect that many people around my age would come to the same conclusion. Placing Pokémon Red in first place was the easiest part of this ranking.
I explained in my article on Pokémon generation 1 and imagination that I had been watching the Pokémon anime and talking to classmates who already had the game well before I received it for Christmas. Pokémon inspired me to ask for and receive a Nintendo Power subscription for an associated strategy guide (which played a role in my quick acquisition of Animal Crossing several years later). While working my way through what was at the time my most in-depth game adventure, I shared good Pokémon memories with my classmates, including sharing stories of Yoshi in Pokémon and learning about some questionable Pokémon urban legends. It was thanks to a classmate that I learned about the infamous Missingno glitch, although I did not take advantage of it in my first run.
I have some very specific memories tied to Pokémon Red. For example, I explained in 2022 how I remembered in detail events in an odd strategy guide in novel form that I read in 1999 and re-purchased to read anew and review in 2022.
Since I have already written extensively about the first generation Pokémon games and my memories of them and will write more in the future, I conclude with a concise and indirect explanation of why Pokémon Red tops this list. I remember from my first Pokémon Red play-through…
- Choosing Squirtle as my first Pokémon and naming it Mr. Jet
- Catching a Pikachu early in my first entry into Viridian Forest
- Seeing if I could climb the side of Mount Moon (I could not)
- Encountering a deluge of Zubat in Mount Moon while at my Mom’s co-worker’s apartment on Sunday, December 27, 1998
- Choosing a Helix Fossil at the end of Mount Moon
- Discovering that I needed an item to get to the end of Lavender Tower
- Evolving my Pikachu into Raichu and my newly acquired Eevee into Flareon after arriving in Celadon City
- Marking the Zoo in Fuchsia City as my favorite in-game location
- Becoming horribly lost in the Safari Zone and needing several hours and trips to figure out how to make it to the Warden (not really sure why that part got me)
- Becoming lost, albeit less lost, in Sliph Co
- Feeling a bit let down when Sabrina turned out to be much easier to defeat than she seemed to be in the anime
- Turning my Helix Fossil into Omanyte in Cinnabar Island and adding it to my party (very late)… I didn’t know that I would also get an Aerodactyl (did not add to party)
- Encountering (but not catching or taking advantage of) Missingno off the coast of Cinnabar Island after a friend told me about it
- Unexpectedly running into Moltres on Victory Road, catching it, and adding it to my party (why not?) – note that I sadly missed the detours to get Zapdos and Articuno prior to the Elite Four
- Running into battle-related adversity for the first time in the Elite Four due to my inability to plan out how to navigate five consecutive battles
- Reaching the Champion for the first time while at my Mom’s office one day but losing on Exeggutor
- Having a friend lend me his level 100 Blastoise to get me through the Elite Four for the first time (the other five Pokémon in my party: Blastoise, Raichu, Omastar, Flareon, Moltres… I think my normal sixth was MILES the Mr. Mime)
- Catching Mewtwo with an Ultra Ball (the legit way) after many misses shortly after school ended in June
While my memory of my first Pokémon run is not perfect, I will say that is not half-bad for something that happened nearly a quarter-century ago.
There were plenty of other games I could have put on the list. While this article has gone on long enough without my expanding the list to 24 or 30, I will list some games I considered for inclusion in my original drafts in alphabetical (un-ranked) order:
- Civilization V (PC) [I logged close to 1,000 hours…]
- Devil Survivor (Nintendo DS) [Entertained me during a brief power outage]
- Fire Emblem: Awakening (Nintendo 3DS) [My introduction to the Fire Emblem series]
- Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Nintendo Switch) [The most modern game I considered and one that inspired two articles]
- Fred Couples Golf (Sega Game Gear) [The reason why Fred Couples is my favorite golfer]
- Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life (Nintendo GameCube) [Addressed here]
- Kirby’s Dreamland 2 (Nintendo Game Boy) [Kirby joined Sonic as my favorite game character when I was a kid]
- Madden NFL 2003 (Microsoft Xbox) [I was a football fan for most of the 2000s and it started with Madden]
- Mario Golf (Game Boy Color) [I still have some memories from my first run – re-played it not long after Pokémon TCG]
- Mario Party (Nintendo 64) [Addressed here]
- Mario Tennis (Nintendo 64) [One of the games I was most excited for pre-release and it did not disappoint]
- NBA Jam TE (Sega Genesis) [My first NBA game and one I spent a great amount of time with, although I slightly preferred NBA Hangtime]
- NBA Live 98 (Sega Genesis) [I will guess this is the game I logged the most total hours with in the 90s]
- Pokémon Colosseum (GameCube) [Addressed in part here – I remember it surprisingly well 20 years after the fact]
- Pokémon Snap (Nintendo 64) [Another game I was greatly excited for pre-release and about the only “first person shooter” I can play without inducing vertigo]
- Pokémon Stadium (Nintendo 64) [Seeing Pokémon in 3D was one of my three mind-blown game moments along with seeing Super Mario 64 and (segue)…]
- Sonic Adventure (Sega Dreamcast) [The most awe-inspiring thing I saw in a game was the first level of Sonic Adventure when Sonic outruns an orca… something that is hard to understand without knowing what a leap the Dreamcast was from PlayStation and Nintendo 64. I also played Sonic Adventure to completion not long after it was released and enjoyed everything except the horrible camera.]
- True Remembrance (PC) [The first great visual novel I played and, had I not done so, it is possible that my ongoing al|together review project would not have come to fruition]
If my list inspired you, feel free to share your own. You can interpret my vague criteria in whatever way makes sense to you. There are several ways you can bring your list to my attention:
- Send a Webmention to this article by linking to it from a site which supports Webmentions
- Send a Webmention to my companion post on The Emu Café Social
- Write your own article and let me know by email or on Mastodon, Pixelfed, or Nostr (search for email@example.com)
- Send me an email
Even if you do not share it, I encourage you to consider the question if you have played many games. I am curious how different lists may be affected by when list-makers first started playing games (I assume that these sorts of lists will be biased toward games we play when young). If I see enough responses, I may publish a follow-up with some observations on list trends.