Welcome to #TWRMGOTY1997, our 2nd Reader’s Choice Game of the Year event!
I so enjoyed our previous GOTY event, which concerned itself with picking the best of the best of 2018, that I knew I wanted to attempt to put something like that together again. But who wants to wait a whole year? Therefore, we thought it’d be just grand to choose some great years in gaming history through the coming months and invite our readers, fans, listeners, and prowlers to pick more games we ought to crown Game of the (respective) Year.
That brings us to this week’s event, choosing Game of the Year 1997, an event which will last all the way until Friday (4/26). Voting will remain open all week, so start campaigning for your favorite game to win the title! These are our nominees and explanations by the mages who choose them below, and what a selection of games… ’97 was no joke!
Final Fantasy VII (Jan 31) -The Well-Red Mage
Mario Kart 64 (Feb 10, NA) -The Thunder Mage
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (Mar 20) -The Hyperactive Coffee Mage
Star Fox 64 (Apr 27, JP) -The New Age Retro Mage
Harvest Moon (Jun, NA) -The Arcade Mage
Final Fantasy Tactics (Jun 20, JP) -The Mail Order Ninja Mage
Dungeon Keeper (Jun 26) -The Bizzaro Mage
GoldenEye 007 (Aug 25) -The ABXY Mage
Oddworld: Abe’s Odyssey (Sept 19) -The Optimistically Sentimental Alabaster Mage
Ultima Online (Sept 24) -@nulref, Warrior of Light
PaRappa the Rapper (Sept 26, EU) -The Sometimes Vaguely Philosophical Mage
Fallout (Oct 10, NA) -The Badly Backlogged Mage
Age of Empires (Oct 15, NA) -The Slipstream Mage
Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back (Oct 31, NA) -The Purple Prose Mage
Zork: Grand Inquisitor (Oct 31, NA) -The Wandering Mage
Potentially one of the most pivotal Final Fantasy titles, if not one of the most pivotal games of the 90’s, Final Fantasy VII’s influence is threefold (at least): it drove sales for the PlayStation, ensuring Sony could carve out a spot in the fierce battlefield of the console wars; its presence on the PS1 instead of the N64 signaled the decisive move away from Nintendo’s market dominance; it served as a gateway title for millions into the Final Fantasy series and was many a player’s introduction to an entire genre, JRPGs. With so much changing so quickly in the mid-90’s gaming scene, VII was a door to a whole new world.
Since then, Final Fantasy VII has been the #1 source for FF spin-offs and related titles. Its mature themes, unforgettable characters, and haunting scenes have crystallized its iconic status, earning it a dedicated and massive fanbase. Heck, it’s even reached a tier of popularity that it’s gained anti-fans. It is the definitive and best-known Final Fantasy of the 90’s, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a gamer who is ignorant of its fame. It was even released on a Nintendo console after all these years. The circle is complete. Who needs a remake?
+ Uematsu’s score
– Complex narrative can seem overly complex thanks to ambiguous storytelling and cut content
– Not all playable characters are equally important to the game
– Polygonal models are laughable
The Well-Red Mage
The year is 1997, the dorm smells like Cheetos, and we’re racing. Gathered around a small CRT television in the freshman resident hall was a weekly ritual. Some nights we played slappers in GoldenEye, occasionally a mind-numbing round of Mario Party, but Mario Kart was the gathering point. Everyone could pop by my friend’s room, pick up a controller and Starman their way to victory.
The title from which every 3D kart racing game sprung from, Mario Kart 64 helped create the console co-op genre. Expertly-tuned controls made steering silky, an evolution of the powerslide mechanic provided limitless strategy, and a variety of powerups gave even the most novice of players the chance to pull out a win. And the epic four player battle mode kept fans hunting balloons until the wee hours of the morning.
Try playing GoldenEye today. Oof. Star Fox 64? Classic, but niche to long time Nintendo fans. In 1997, Mario Kart 64 not only perfected the kart racing genre, it introduced thousands to gaming in general. With inclusivity and accessibility a major part of the modern gaming conversation, Mario Kart 64 is a prime example of how to do it right. It ushered in a new era of cooperative gameplay and invited everyone in Redwood Hall, and around the world, to come along for the ride. Not bad for 2AM battle mode skirmishes among strangers who would soon become friends.
+ Bright and engaging visual style.
+ Wide variety of tracks, racers, and challenges providing huge replay value.
+ Addictive battle mode and multiplayer options.
+ Memorable soundtrack.
+ Masterfully accessible and empowering for new players thanks to powerups and relative ease of control.
– Cheap losses due to heat-seeking Koopa shells, last minute Starmen, etc.
– Small but steep learning curve may frustrate some brand-new players.
-The Thunder Mage
Axiom Verge. Dead Cells. Guacameele!. Hollow Knight. Iconoclasts. The Messenger. Ori and The Blind Forest. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. What do all of these games have in common? Well, besides being Indies, the answer is simple dear readers: They are all Metroidvanias: an action-adventure sub-genre that utilizes the elements from the Metroid and Castlevania series of games. But did you know that the term, ‘Metroidvania,’ did not enter our lexicon until after the release of the 1997 Konami game, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night?
Simply put, SotN represents an evolution in the action/adventure platforming genre that has been perfected over the years and is now fairly prevalent in games of the present time. It was a radical change from the traditional side-scrolling action we were used to seeing since the first Castlevania games all those years ago. With an emphasis on exploration, the introduction of RPG elements and Alucard -everyone’s favorite half vampire-, SotN challenged players to hunt down every secret, break down every obstacles and fight through any foe to determine the truth of the castle’s current appearance. What was truly game changing was the inclusion of a mirrored, upside down version of the castle. It’s in this second castle where Alucard must face his true foe: Daddy Dracula himself, freshly revived and ready to plunge the world into chaos.
So, why vote for this title for GOTY 1997 instead of the others on this list? *cough Final Fantasy VII cough*
The answer: SotN is the grandaddy of all those games I mentioned at the start of this argument. Like FF VII, SotN was an innovation of its genre, spawning multiple copycats and homages long after its release. It was given its own defining subgenre.The 2-d retro graphics fit well with the current visual landscape, unlike the blocky 3-d textures of games releases in the same time period. It looks and feels timeless to play, despite the cringey voice work. Finally and most importantly, it’s just a bloody good game to play.
+ Platforming and combat elements are great.
+ Lots of variety in terms of maps, secrets, items and enemies to encounter.
+ Enemies are well designed.
+ Exploration opportunities are plentiful.
+ Story is quite good.
+ The very first Metroidvania game.
– No clear direction on where to go at times.
– Atrocious (but meme-friendly) voice acting.
– The weapon balance is terrible: the right combinations of weapons can make this game extremely cheesy and a breeze to complete.
– Super jump can be difficult to perform (this was addressed in later installments of the series).
-Lots of backtracking involved at times.
-The Hyperactive Coffee Mage
In 1993, Nintendo gave us Star Fox and it was good. In 1997, they gave us one of the best sequels ever in Star Fox 64. Essentially a remake of the original classic it expanded the game’s universe to many more planets and play styles. The inclusion of alternate vehicles and arena style missions gave the game a good amount of variety without taking anything away from the great arcade gameplay. And with its non linear format there are many different ways to play through the game and experience the story. Also this was the first game that I am aware of to have utilized rumble in games. Back in the day that was absolutely mind blowing to “feel” the action.
It is a testament to its quality that Nintendo has yet to really get it truly right again with Star Fox. They need to find a way to bring the arcade style, fast-paced style without overloading it with gimmicky stuff. I’m sure Nintendo can do it. Star Fox Team deserves it.
+ Fast paced gameplay.
+ Non-linear level progression.
+ Fun voice acting
+ Intro of rumble
– Some cringe voice acting though this does provide for some classic memes.
– Nintendo has not really been able to match it since
-The New Age Retro Mage
One cannot deny the sheer density of high-caliber games that graced store shelves in 1997; Final Fantasy VII, Fallout, Goldeneye 007, Age of Empires, Grand Theft Auto, X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter, and more jostled one another for customers hard-earned cash. Landmark games that had stood the test of time and stand as classics amongst multiple generations of gamers. But there can only be one game that can stand as the Game of the Year for 1997: Harvest Moon.
While many of the aforementioned games were influential in their own respective genres (FF VII for RPG’s, AoE for RTS’s, etc.) they are all simply variations on a theme. Most of these gaming genres had been around, by that point, for many years, and were experiencing the benefits of polygonal representation and laser-disc technology. However, Harvest Moon, a classic in its own right on par with the greats of 1997, also has the distinction of creating its own gaming genre. Harvest Moon blended elements of simulation, slice of life, role-playing, and exploration into an entirely new gaming experience.
Harvest Moon saw players building up a farm, building up themselves, building relationships, and, ultimately, building a family. You decisions in-game have an impact on the town and its citizenry, in a very, very simplistic form of an alignment system. It is no surprise that dozens of games exist in the series, with dozens more attempting to capture Harvest Moon’s magic. Harvest Moon is not only a landmark game from 1997, but is one of the more influential video games of all time. It showed us the potential of the simulator genre outside of edutainment and Will Wright’s creations. It showed us that blending multiple genres could bear the fruits of success.
Harvest Moon has helped cultivate the very landscape of gaming. That is why it is the Game of the Year for 1997.
-The Arcade Mage
One of my favorite Final Fantasy games of all time came out in 1997. Nope, not Final Fantasy VII (though that one is pretty great), we are talking about the strategy RPG brilliance of Final Fantasy Tactics. Though it didn’t quite bring Final Fantasy to the masses in the way the seventh iteration in the franchise did, this new genre take on the series did some stellar things that Square-Enix has yet to get quite right again.
First off in a series of games that for the most part focuses on narrative Final Fantasy Tactics had a story that was brilliantly told, exceptionally deep, and rich in both world lore as well as well-defined characters. Before this game the stories we had been told were mostly of the epic world-saving variety and had a tendency to be a little ham-fisted in their deliveries at times, but the narrative of FFT was as nuanced in its telling as a novel without having much more than a fantastic opening CG scene.
The job system in this outing of Final Fantasy is surely my favorite one, both before and since the game’s release, and allowed an unprecedented level of customization for the game. You could learn job abilities from a wide swath of classes available to you and mix and match those benefits to create a God-like avatar of death. For instance, you could change to the Ninja class until you learned the dual wielding ability, then swap over to Knight class and wield two Knight Swords—weapons that were among some of the most powerful in the game. This is just the smallest example of what was possible within the system and something that insured that I would play this game more times than any other in all the franchise.
It is worth noting that not only does the game have a nuanced story, a deep job system, and brilliant characters, but it also allows you to recruit Cloud. Final Fantasy VII released worldwide early in 1997 and Final Fantasy Tactics released during the peak of its popularity a scant five months later in Japan, so having what is arguably one of the most recognizable RPG protagonists the world over in its game was a big deal. At the time it was absolutely unprecedented for this kind of thing to happen within the franchise, and it is just one more way the game stood out amongst other titles—both within the series and in that year of releases.
+ Beautifully told story.
+ Fantastically defined characters.
+ CLOUD STRIFE.
+ A deep and satisfying job system.
+ Customization that allows multiple playthroughs.
– A niche genre type that drove some people away, making this game still woefully underplayed
– They never figured out how to replicate the success of this again, as the sequels were just ok departures from the formula.
-the Mail Order Ninja Mage.
1997 had a frankly ludicrous amount of good games, most of which will be described here by my wonderful fellow Mages. As for me, I’ll be having a look at a classic Bullfrog venture, Dungeon Keeper.
Spawned from the fevered dreams of Peter Molyneux, Dungeon Keeper casts you, the player, as the overlord of an underground dungeon. Your quest is simple: recruit monsters, keep them happy for long enough to build up your strength and then go all out against rival Keepers or, if they’re sniffing about, those goody-goody Heroes, led by the chivalrous and goodly Lord of the Land.
Building traps and defenses, researching magical spells and getting your huge variety of beasties trained up will all need doing, as will money management (don’t want your monsters going on strike) and jailing and torturing captured enemy units. It’s big, involved and great fun!
So yeah, you could probably play Final Fantasy VII or Abe’s Odyssey (I reviewed that one!). Or, if you’re feeling a little different, why not recruit an army of Bile Demons and go smash up some magical kingdom or another?
Also, the announcer is voiced by Peppa Pig’s dad, who’d have thunk!?
+ Surprisingly deep management/strategy game.
+ Irreverent sense of humour.
– Can be hard as hell itself.
– Time has maybe not been kind.
-The Bizarro Mage
In the early 90s, PCs allowed gamers to be the hero in First-Person Shooters. But, in 1997, GoldenEye 007 allowed gamers to be JAMES BOND, and on home consoles. GoldenEye proved to the world that the FPS phenomenon could not only survive, but thrive, on consoles, and helped pave the way for game series like Halo and Call of Duty.
Still considered the greatest movie-to-game adaptation, GoldenEye followed the hugely popular film’s storyline while including additional missions that were not included in the movie. The variety of levels allowed both guns-blazing and secret-spy play styles, difficulty settings that not only increased the difficulty of missions, but also the number of objectives, a memorable soundtrack, and a large array of guns both new and iconic. And who can forget that perfect split-screen multiplayer?
+ Still fun
+ Mission difficulty and objective progression system
+ Extra levels
+ Addictive multiplayer
+ Tons of unlockable cheats
– Single joystick + C-buttons + R Button instead of double sticks
– Early 3D graphics
-The ABXY Mage
Nominated by the Optimistically Sentimental Alabaster Mage.
The first ever MMORPG to have more than 100,000 players according to the Guinness Book of World Records, Ultima Online (UO) was first released on September 24, 1997. The first MMOs were known as MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons). For the uninitiated, imagine playing a video game with a blindfold on and someone describing the game you’re playing. That’s basically what a MUD is like. As internet speeds increased, game companies began releasing online games with real graphics and while there were a few other MMOs that came before UO, the graphics and gameplay were funky and clunky at best. And then Origin released a game that would usher in an entirely new area in gaming: Ultima Online.
UO was a masterpiece in every regard: The graphics were crisp and beautiful, the sounds were magical, the UI was simple yet effective, the character customization was more open and refined than even the games of today, the NPCs were blissfully stupid, and the community was… well some things are timeless. I know that games like Final Fantasy VII and Oddworld: Abe’s Odyssey had awe-inspiring graphics and overall environments, but UO’s graphics were just as breathtaking, and they were served in real-time to tens of thousands of players at once. If you logged in and turned the lights off, you were instantly transported to the land of Britannia.
I know there are some pretty tough competitors, but the final reason I believe UO was the best game of 1997 is because of its main flaw: bugs. In the early days of UO, there were dozens of game breaking bugs. No one had ever pulled off anything close to what Origin did in terms of online scale and it didn’t seem like they were prepared for the games rapid rise in popularity. But the bugs are what drew the community together. Long before the days of YouTube or Reddit, players created their own websites filled with exploits and experiments. The game wasn’t easy so finding ways to get around over-tuned monsters and lack of resources became just as much a part of the game as dungeon running and ruthlessly killing unsuspecting neophytes. Finally, more than twenty years and ten expansions later, the game is still alive.
+ Lots of friendly players.
+ Amazing sound effects and environmental effects.
+ Character customization that was rich, but not unnecessarily complex.
+ Trade skills were very important for mid-game content.
+ No archetypes. Skills developed as you used them.
+ Huge open world with lots to explore.
+ Lots of bugs to find and exploit until they fixed them on the next patch.
– Not very new player-friendly if you came into it alone.
– Lots of lag. It launched during the 56k dial-up modem days.
– Patches took a long time to download.
– Extremely time-consuming since resources were low so you had to spend a lot of time farming as well as raising skills even a tenth of a point took days the more proficient you were at it.
– Lots of bugs that players would exploit to gain advantages and crash servers.
-@nulref, Warrior of Light
Kick, punch, it’s all in the mind!
Sure, other games of ’97 allowed you to… I dunno, save the world or something, prolly, but really world-saving is kinda dime-a-dozen. What I like in a game is uniqueness, and only one game of ’97 let you play as a rapping anthropomorphic dog who learns karate from an onion and driving from a moose in order to win the heart of a flower. So that’s gotta count for somethin’.
PaRappa the Rapper is a very simple rhythm game in which you press buttons in time to music in order to raise your ‘U Rappin’ level, and that’s about all you need to know, but it’s so colourful and fun that its endearing simplicity just makes it feel like a classic family-friendly arcade game or Saturday morning cartoon. It’s one of the purest gaming experiences: just good, clean fun.
+ Elegant in its simplicity; unfettered fun
+ Colourful and creative
– If you don’t like short, simple fun, it ain’t for you
– Innovative, but unrefined as a consequence
-The Sometimes Vaguely Philosophical Mage
War. War never changes.
If you recognize that phrase, then you should be voting for Fallout as GOTY 1997, because that’s where it comes from.
Itself an unofficial sequel to 1988’s excellent Wasteland, the original Fallout was a landmark title when it landed that still holds up today. Don’t believe me? Let me ask you – what’s your favourite aspect of the modern Fallout franchise? The retro-futurist style? The 1930s soundtrack? The Pipboy? A game that truly allows you to succeed with any character you make? They all came from the original Fallout. Add to that more tactical combat than its Bethesda successors and you’ve got yourself a game that deserves to have a franchise that spans over 20 years.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Fallout 3, it’s a classic. But everything that made Fallout 3 more than just “Elder Scrolls in brown” began here – the original classic. GOTY 1997 without a doubt.
+ Engaging retro-futurist post-apocalyptic aesthetic that’s so engaging Bethesda is still using its designs.
+ Excellent RPG system (the “SPECIAL” system) that hits the sweet spot of flexibility, depth and ease of use.
+ One of (if not “the”) first games to give players a wide range of equally viable character types and playstyles.
+ Not Fallout 76.
– Weird difficulty curve – starts off harder then becomes easier.
– Combat encounters can get tedious towards the end.
– Random number generator can/will kill you at some stage.
-The Badly Backlogged Mage
Real-time strategy (RTS) games had passed through their infancy period, and the genre began growing in popularity in the early 90s. With games like Westwood Studios’ Dune II and Command and Conquer, and Blizzard Entertainment’s Warcraft series released in the mid-90s, the bar was quickly raised for quality RTS experiences.
Enter 1997’s Age of Empires. Developed by Ensemble Studios and published by Microsoft – Age of Empires was a serious attempt to merge real-time resource gathering and military unit management with a Civilization-style progression system. The original game started the player in the Stone Age, and through advancements in technology and culture, the player could improve his small tribe into the Bronze Age and all the way up to the close of the Iron Age. Twelve different civilizations were available to start the game with, each with their own unique units and technologies. While some of the deeper, long-term strategic elements present in a game like Civilization tended to fall by the wayside when dealing with the immediacy of a nearby military threat, the technological progression made the game feel like a Civ-lite, but with the added fun and stress of RTS combat.
Age of Empires separated itself from the pack of other RTS games, by successfully using the backdrop of real World History, and setting up the always interesting ‘What If’ scenarios (like Civilization), while still allowing the tactical, local control of each battle that only RTS games allow. In many ways, this game makes me feel as if I’m running a historical computer model of what would happen if certain civilizations had access to more resources and could develop technologies much earlier in their lifespan. In hindsight, the game plays like a simplified version of author Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel (also released in 1997). This magnificent and ambitious book seeks to explain the fate of various defunct civilizations through time. And here now, 22 years later, Age of Empires has spawned 20 additional games and expansions, not including the ‘Definitive Editions’ of the series’ original three games (Age of Empires I re-released in 2018, with II and III on the way). Much like a well-managed civilization in this inspiring and innovative take on RTS, Age of Empires has stood the test of time, and achieved the conditions for a potential 1997 GoTY win.
+ The first RTS game to utilize real World History and context
+ A deeper and more satisfying technology advancement system
+ Allows for the ability to play out ‘What If’ scenarios – (What if the Ancient Greeks encountered the Chinese?)
+ Excellent and detailed scenario editor
– Simplistic combat engine
– Micro-management of AI resource gatherers becomes tedious
– All resources are finite – non-renewable
-The Slipstream Mage
Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back epitomises the kind of ecstatic imagination that was so appealing about video games when I was growing up. The melodramatic-yet-sincere vocal performances, the brash and bombastic music and the zany, eye-popping environment design, like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon or pulpy adventure serial. The blend of multiple, varying tones and styles as one consistent, cohesive whole is a difficult balance to strike but was pulled off just right here to create a perfect mix. The levels themselves are highly-ambitious and take the platform genre to new heights by experimenting with structure.
It’s the most complex of these levels which also highlight the flaws. The significant ones would be the easiness of finding the crystals in each level, the fixed camera design making navigation difficult at times (especially when re-covering a level backwards to find anything you may have missed) and some levels’ design being more complex than they need to be in a way that makes them more tedious than entertaining. On the whole, though, these are only problems for specific levels, rather than being spread across the whole game, as the result of how far they pushed the limits of contemporary technology.
However, it makes up for these problems, ultimately. The crystals only advance the main plot, but the gems that tell an extra story are more difficult to find and require the player to really use their initiative. Because running out of lives can only set you back so far, the challenge is more about finding secret areas more than surviving – and that’s what really brings the whole game together. This, combined with the introduction to the series of warp rooms established the key reasons for Crash Bandicoot being the most iconic and popular PlayStation character and for this second instalment of the series to be the best-selling.
+ Experiments with platform genre
+ Blends environments and tones consistently
+ Established key reasons for popularity of most iconic PlayStation character
– Crystals are easy to find
– Fixed camera can make navigation difficult at times
– Level design can be more complex than it needs to be
-The Purple Prose Mage
I don’t remember when Zork: Grand Inquisitor came into our house. As far as I know, it was just there one day. I was still hard into computer games at the time. My console games were mostly Marios and licensed platformers of dubious quality, but the family computer had a stack of games beside it, ranging from a Lion King point-and-click mini-game collection to Doom. I could, effectively, play anything I wanted from the selection. I remember buying games, watching my father play various games, and picking them up after him. I don’t remember anything of the sort with Zork: Grand Inquisitor. It was just always there, and I always played it. In fact, I played it several times a year from when it appeared in our house until I loaned it to a friend in 2003 and sadly never saw it again. It was the first game I could beat in a single sitting without a guide, and not for lack of length or depending on a guide. I was just that into it. It was a game I never got tired of.
I don’t even know if I knew what Zork was when I went into this game for the first time. I certainly didn’t know the legacy it was built on top of until much later. I’d played plenty of point-and-click adventures, but never one like this, with its realistic (compared to the pixel art and cartoons I was used to) graphics and FMV actors. I loved the first-person perspective, that I was the player character and not some avatar on the screen that I was just guiding around, and that the game encouraged that by calling me “Ageless, Faceless, Gender-Neutral, Culturally Ambiguous Adventure Person” (bit of a mouthful, though). The humor, often childish, hit me, a child, in all the right ways. It certainly set the stage for my future love of comedic fantasy novels. It may not have been the biggest title released in 1997, but it was certainly the one that I put the most time into, time and time again.
+ Panoramic 360 degree exploration of the game world
+ Humor that makes even dying worth it just to see the text
+ Homages to the original Zork
+ Cheating at strip rock-paper-scissors with mind-reading powers
– Not enough grues to be eaten by
– Friends may love the game so much, you won’t get it back
– I’m sure there must be some cons but I haven’t played it since 2003. Only good memories remain.
-The Wandering Mage
And those are our nominations! You may vote for just one game in the poll below. Choose wisely.
Best of luck to all nominees.
Did we miss your favorite game? This poll allows write-in candidates!
Pump up your favorite pick and share this post to earn more votes for the game of your choice.
Come back Friday to see the results!