As we continue our look into the many amazing games of 1998, make sure you’re caught up if you missed part 1, which you can find here. As mentioned previously in part 1, 1998 was an amazing year for games helped in no small part by the many amazing releases that changed the industry as we knew it. The innovations this year contained pushed the medium forward and even today rank as some of the industry’s greatest achievements.
By 1998 the Adventure game, once the most prominent genre on PCs, had fallen into dire straits. The decline of this venerable genre can be attributed to a number of factors, such as the prevalence of poorly designed “moon logic” puzzles and the rise of more action-oriented genres like the first-person shooter. Due to sharply declining sales it was clear that the era of AAA adventure games was fast coming to an end. Despite these dire tidings, several excellent Adventure games were released this year including what many consider the genre’s magnum opus.
Grim Fandango was in many ways LucasArts’ swansong in the adventure genre. The brainchild of legendary game designer Tim Schafer, Grim Fandango combined the aesthetics and mythology of the Mexican afterlife with a story based on film noir and heavily inspired by classic films such as Casablanca, the Maltese Falcon, and On the Waterfront. The game is a pastiche of varied influences that are blended seamlessly together to craft an interactive narrative that manages to be tragic, melancholy, romantic, and hilarious without a hint of insincerity or tonal dissonance. This is also a game drenched in style, from its jazzy soundtrack, its highly deliberate framing and use of shadows, and its brilliant art direction. Unfortunately, the game was, in many ways, the final nail in its genre’s coffin. The fact that the game had lackluster sales despite being a masterpiece was, for many, proof positive that gamers were no longer drawn to the genre.
More Great Adventure Games from 1998
- Echo Night
Japanese Role-Playing Game
1998 saw the Japanese Role Playing Game in the middle of something of a golden age. The smash hit of Final Fantasy VII, combined with the mainstream popularity of anime like Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon, meant that the genre had finally gained mainstream popularity in the West. The rise of disc-based optical media would also allow for larger, more cinematic experiences that were perfectly suited to the JRPG. As a result, the late 90s saw a massive increase in the volume and quality of JRPG releases, many of which were pushing boundaries in terms of interactive storytelling.
A good example of a game that showcased incredible storytelling was Xenogears. Often cited as one of the greatest JRPGs of all time, Xenogears is an incredible multilayered experience. The universe of Xenogears is truly massive in scope, with lore spanning thousands of years in a science-fantasy epic. The story is rich with symbolism and subtext, discussing themes of religion, philosophy, and Jungian psychology. Xenogears raised the bar for the complexity and maturity of stories in games. The game also excelled in gameplay, utilizing an innovative mix of traditional turn-based combat with fighting game-style inputs. Unfortunately, all of this ambition came at a price; the game’s second half is clearly rushed, resorting mostly to dialog over still images. Even flawed as it is, the game remains a masterpiece.
Panzer Dragoon Saga
The swansong of the ill-fated Sega Saturn, Panzer Dragoon Saga was an incredible achievement that was unlike anything seen before. An incredible technical achievement at the time, Panzer Dragoon Saga pushed the Saturn to its absolute limits and was one of the first JRPGs to be rendered completely using 3D polygons. The game presented a massive adventure played almost entirely on the back of a dragon within a beautifully realized world. Panzer Dragoon Saga was able to massively expand on the setting and characters that had only been briefly glimpsed in previous entries in the series. Combat was highly innovative as well, giving depth and strategy to the arcady rail shooting of older Panzer Dragoon games.
Pokemon Red/ Blue/ Yellow
1998 will always be remembered as the year when Pokemania went international with the global release of Pokemon Red and Blue as well as the Japanese release of Pokemon Yellow. These games had a massive impact, not only on the JRPG but on gaming as a whole, managing to more or less single-handedly revitalize the at the time 9-year-old Game Boy. The game’s addicting combination of monster collecting and battling would be incredibly influential, spawning countless copycats. It was also the first portable game to create a social experience in how it encourages players to connect their Game Boys via link cable to trade and battle with one another. Anyone in elementary school at the time can remember how common Game Boys suddenly became at recess. Beyond just the games, Pokemon became a global pop-culture sensation that would lead it eventually becoming the highest-grossing media franchise in history.
More Great JRPGs from 1998
- Dragon Quest Monsters
- Suikoden II
- Rhapsody: A Musical RPG
- Star Ocean: The Second Story
- Parasite Eve
1998 was perhaps the most important year for stealth games in the history of the genre. It simultaneously saw the genre’s first transition to 3D as well as achieve a level of popularity and cultural relevance that it had never seen before. While there existed a few stealth games before 1998, such as Castle Wolfenstein and Metal Gear, it was the games released this year that really made the genre explode and shaped it into what it would become today.
Metal Gear Solid
Metal Gear Solid popularized the stealth game and set a high standard for the genre moving forward. The game also represented a major leap forward for storytelling in gaming through its pioneering use of cinematic techniques and framing. The story itself was unlike anything else gamers had ever seen before. What initially appeared to be a fairly standard spy thriller quickly became convoluted and highly cerebral. This unconventional story structure was utilized masterfully to convey complex themes about the cost of war, the nature of free will, and the manipulative nature of video games as a medium. The gameplay was a fantastic evolution of the formula utilized in the older 2D Metal Gears, allowing players to utilize a wide variety of weapons and gadgets to fight and sneak past enemies. While at times somewhat uneven in its execution, MGS is one of the most profound gaming experiences ever crafted. This game made Hideo Kojima a household game and is often regarded as one of the first examples of Post-Modernism in gaming.
Thief: The Dark Project
Thief: The Dark Project represented a massive leap forward for stealth games through its more immersive take on the genre, which introduced a degree of depth and complexity that is rarely seen even today. This was a game that truly forced players to think like a thief, offering a massive number of ways to interact with the game world that had to be taken into account when executing heists. These range from light levels that could be changed by extinguishing torches, how much noise the player makes, how alert guards are, and even what route to take through the game’s open areas. The light and darkness system that this game pioneered would go on to influence many games such as Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell. The game’s fantastically designed levels are crafted in such a way that players are constantly kept on their toes as well as making excellent use of environmental storytelling to enhance the narrative. All of this is complemented by a thick atmosphere and a mix of medieval and steam-punk aesthetics.
More Great Stealth Games from 1998
- Tenchu: Stealth Assassins
The fighting game genre was massive in 1998 with companies like Capcom, SNK, and Namco pumping out a constant stream of fantastic games that are still revered by fighting fans to this day. When it came to fighting game design, it generally followed two styles; there were 3D fighting games influenced by the likes of Tekken and Virtua Fighter, and 2D fighters largely influenced by Street Fighter II. While many great fighting games were released this year, two games in particular came out that would define this dichotomy for years to come.
By 1998 the king of 3D fighting games was undoubtedly Namco with the company’s acclaimed Tekken series serving as the gold standard. This would set the stage for what many would consider the pinnacle of the genre, SoulCalibur. Though less well known than the Dreamcast version released a year later, the arcade version of SoulCalibur was utterly revolutionary for being a massive step forward for both weapons-based and 3D fighting games. Whereas previous 3D fighting games had played more like 2D fighters with the ability to sidestep or roll, SoulCalibur made full use of the 3rd dimension with the implementation of the 8-directional run system which allowed players to freely move around the arena. Each character’s weapon and fighting style had strengths and weaknesses in terms of speed and effective range so positioning and timing are crucial to victory. The gameplay is positively sublime and the mechanics are easy to learn but contain multiple layers of depth. SoulCalibur also raised the bar for animation, in particular, it was one of the first games to utilize full motion capture.
Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes
The culmination of years of fighting game development by Capcom for the CPS II arcade board, Marvel vs. Capcom was in many ways emblematic of everything great about 2D fighting games in the late 90s. For one thing, the game looked gorgeous, featuring highly detailed hand-drawn sprites with plenty of animation frames to allow for buttery smooth motion and intricate backgrounds. MvC cranked spectacle up to 11 even when compared to other fighting games, with screen-filling special moves and explosive action. The gameplay is no slouch either, taking the tried and true 6-button setup established by Street Fighter II and iterating on it with a deep combo system that made it possible to get hit counts into the hundreds. It should also be noted that before the likes of Smash Bros., this was easily one of the most ambitious gaming crossovers players had ever seen, featuring 15 characters from the pages of Marvel Comics and Capcom video games as well as plenty of easter eggs.
More Great Fighting Games from 1998
- Street Fighter Alpha 3
- Bushido Blade 2
- JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure
- Guilty Gear
- The King of Fighters ‘98
- The Last Blade 2
- Real Bout: Fatal Fury 2
- Plasma Sword
- WCW/NWO Revenge
- Tekken 3 (PlayStation Port)
- Rival Schools United by Fate (PlayStation Port)
- Cyber Troopers: Virtual-On Oretorio Tangram
- Virtua Fighter 3 tb (Dreamcast Port)
- Fighting Vipers 2
- Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter (Saturn Port)
- Vampire Savior (aka Darkstalkers 3)(Saturn and PlayStation Port)
- Pocket Fighter (aka Super Gem Fighters) (Saturn and PlayStation Port)
- The King of Fighter ‘97 (Saturn and Playstation Port)
These are more of the games that made 1998 such an amazing year for games. Join us again in part 3 as we finish up this retrospective on gaming’s greatest year.