Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Best 10 Video Game Openings

Happy Turkey Day to everybody!

Here at the Batista household, we plan on taking a relaxing day off from things -- and well-deserved, I must say! If you haven't noticed, I've been keeping myself scarce this past week. Work on the novel continues apace, and all is still going smashingly on that front. But don't think I've forgotten you all in the meantime, no no no. In fact, here's a fun blog entry I had waiting in the wings for a few days now, but decided that, in the festive spirit of this day in which we give thanks, that I would take a moment to show my appreciation for that obscure art -- the finely crafted video game introduction movie!

You may recall that I already have a blog entry on my Top 10 Games of all time. If you don't remember, I urge you to please click on that link and check out that list as well. Those of you who know my gaming habits well will probably not find anything surprising on it. But check it out anyway, and leave a comment while you're at it!

As for this new list . . . video game introductions are those indelible opening sequences that draw you in to a game before the actual gameplay even starts. They usually appear just before, or right after, the main title sequence. They're the little pieces of cinema that whet your appetite and leave you drooling for more.

Just what is my judging criteria for this list? Well, I have to be honest: all these picks are personal to me. They were picked not only due to their awesomeness, but because I was in a special place or moment when I first saw these. In other words, my list is not trying to be the definitive list. Nor is it going to be identical to *YOUR* list, okay?

So don't dare come to the comments section bitching about how *YOUR* favorite game intro is not on this list. Or how Game X on my list sucks, and that I don't know games. This is not the time or place for that. In fact, no time will ever be the right time for that, nor will this ever be the place. Not on this blog. This is my list and my games. Each one are titles I own and have played dozens of times. And part of the reason behind such rampant re-playability is very much due in fact to the way these games start out. You may not understand my reasoning. But just know that, to me, these opening movies kick ass!

And now, after the jump . . . on to the festivities!


10) Dino Crisis 2 (2000)
This was one of the last games I played on the PlayStation 1, since it came out only a month before the PS2 hit stores in the U.S. Dino Crisis 2, like Dino Crisis 1, is a survival horror game where traditional monsters like zombies and ghosts and such are replaced with dinosaurs instead. The series is kinda like Jurassic Park meets the Resident Evil games. And like in Steven Spielberg's movie, the raptors are the nastiest, most conniving enemies here -- while the T-Rex is the Big Bad that shows up every so often to scare the beejebus out of you! In fact, the first title lost major points among critics and gamers alike for being *too* much of a Resident Evil clone. It didn't help that, like RE, Dino Crisis was also developed by Capcom, which went back to the tried and true formula of old. However, when Dino Crisis 2 came out, surprisingly the series found a voice of its own. I went in to this game feeling lukewarm about its prospects, and ended up having way more fun than with the first game. DC2 is filled with a lot more action, a more breakneck pace of plot, and tons more weapons and 'splosions to go around. And best yet, none of the slowdowns of previous survival horror games, like sparse ammo and unrelenting backtracking. But as icing on the cake, nothing hammers home just what a different experience you're going to get with this sequel than the amazing opening movie. Watch it below, and pardon the dated look of the visuals. Remember, this was a PS1 game. Still, when you look at it, it's surprisingly not *that* bad. Game intros have matured a lot more and come a long way since then, but this intro still kicks much ass . . . just like the game did!

9) Resident Evil 1 (1996)
In the Top 10 list I posted here last year -- of games that had the most influence on me over the years -- this game came in at Number 2. Which should only prove how much I love this title! Honestly, it's embarrassing the number of times I've played RE1. This was the game that not only kick-started my love for gaming all over again (I had previous taken a 4-year break from video games), but also made me fall in love with the Survival Horror genre. RE1 was remade six years later for the Nintendo Gamecube, sporting a totally revamped engine, amazingly gorgeous and atmospheric visuals that still look stunning today, and a supremely improved voice acting cast. However, while most people would post the video of the remade version's intro movie (which, indeed, does kick much ass), I have a special place in my heart for the original live-acted opening scene from the 1996 game. Many, many people loathe this opening because it is just so cheesy and campy. The actors in here were clearly taken from the Grade-F talent pool. The woman playing Jill Valentine, in particular, even sounds like a soft-porn star! Still, at the time this came out, this was a groundbreaking introduction FMV. It amply set the chilling tone for the crazy shit that was about to go down in this dark abandoned mansion in the mountains, that could only be reached (and escaped from) by helicopter. Check out the original black & white intro below (so chosen by American gaming censors who were put off by all the blood), and then click on this link if you want to see the much improved intro from the 2002 GameCube update. It's fun to compare the two, but this one below will always be my favorite.

8) Tenchu: Stealth Assassins (1998)
Tenchu came out in the U.S. over the summer of 1998. I had graduated college and was just starting my new job as an editorial assistant on a major computer magazine when this game showed up to help wile away the hours after work. Since I loved anything and everything dealing with ninjas, and since this game employed true stealth tactics to advance through the levels (a novelty for action games at the time), I was totally hooked! The opening title sequence did seem bizarre to some, due to its very artistic direction and minimalist story setup -- but, honestly, the music is just too cool to ignore! And I for one love the "less is more" approach. My favorite shot of the intro is when the two ninjas you choose to play in the game -- Rikimaru and Ayame -- are standing on the hill at night watching the sleepy town spread out below. The way the silhouettes of the pair are framed, and that particular chord in the song playing so chillingly in the background . . . it just gives me goosebumps! Again, this is an old game. So the graphics are murky and probably unappealing by today's standards. But back in 1998, this was EPIC!

7) Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec (2001)
I'd been a fan of this series since the very first game appeared on the PS1 in 1997. In fact, I credit this game for teaching me how to drive defensively on the real road. No joke! It's also why to this day I have a bit of a lead foot, and why I take dangerous curves at blistering speeds sometimes. But it was when Polyphony Digital finally brought the car racing simulator over to the Playstation 2 in the summer of 2001 that I truly fell hard for this series. This, to me, is the best racing game ever released. It's a true masterpiece! So, naturally, such a title needed a grand, epic introduction to show off its prowess. And that's what you get with the opening title sequence included below. What more, you get a remixed version of Lenny Kravitz'  "Are You Gonna Go My Way," which I think is just full of so much WIN!!! The song is like the perfect prelude for all the racing goodness about to come "your way," and I can't think of a better way to start off the game. Only the U.S. version contained this song, though, which is a loss for everyone else. But the intro is also great because it shows the actual cars and tracks from the game itself, albeit the suped-up replay "movie" mode versions of each. Still, what you're seeing is the in-game engine and not CGI. So that alone is impressive as all hell. If you're into cars, and especially into racing, you owe it to yourself to play this game. And you owe it to yourself to check out the video below.

6) Ninja Gaiden 2: The Dark Sword of Chaos (1990)
It's no secret that the original 8-bit Ninja Gaiden series for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) is my favorite set of games of all time. Everyone who knows me knows this already. And while the first title in the trilogy will forever be my number 1 game, with an equally impressive prelude movie to start it off, Ninja Gaiden 2 takes the prize for the best opener of all three games. I was wowed by the story presentation in the first game -- but damn, the sequel raised that bar to stratospheric heights! Sure, it looks so dated nowadays, but you have to be aware of the limitations of the hardware at the time. To get this level of cinematic quality in a time when video game systems were still considered "toys" by most mainstream media and adults .  . . I mean, wow! The graphics are simple but stylized. The written dialogue is sparse, yet effective. But the true star of this intro movie is the music and effects. The theme alone is something you'll never stop humming once you hear it. It's so moody and atmospheric, too! A perfect setup for the amazing story and gameplay that would follow once gamers hit the "start" button. So click on the video below and be prepared for a blast from my 13 year old past!

5) God of War II (2007)
The first game, God of War, came out at a particularly bad time in my life. I was so down and blue due to a recent health scare that I found my interest in video games waning. In fact, I stopped gaming altogether for a time. But then I started to turn my life around and got into the best shape and health of my life. And the game which helped to get me out of this funk? God of War! So, naturally when the sequel came out two years later, I was there on day one! And OH. MY. GOD!!! A more kick-ass awesome way to start off a game was never seen before! My jaw literally dropped at just what the hell I, the gamer, was being asked to do for what was really just supposed to be the opening sequence of the game. There was some great CGI, some in-game footage, and a whole lot of button mashing and QTE executions as you battled the great statue of the Colossus of Rhodes come to life. As an opener, this one set the bar extremely high in terms of what would be in store for you with the rest of the game. Since the intro was spread out over the entire first level of the game, the video I'm posting below is an edited stitching of all the best moments. Even if you're not an action junkie, watching this will get your blood pumping. Trust me!

4) Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009)
Batman is my favorite comic book hero, and the cartoon "Batman: The Animated Series" is one of my favorite tv shows of all time. So when I heard a game was coming out that combined my favorite comics character with the writing and voice acting of the tv series, I somehow knew gaming magic would be born. And it was. But before I got the game in my hands, the intro movie had been leaked on the web. And, yes, I must confess: I watched. And I watched, and I watched . . . and I watched it some more! So much so that, by the time I did finally get the game in my hands, I unfortunately -- watched it AGAIN!!! Honestly, this intro is just so damn kewl to Bats fans. The graphical representation is nowhere near the same as in the animated series, but the voices and acting were spot-on! Watching this let me know right off the bat (no pun intended) that my hopes and dreams for the rest of the game were in good hands. To this day I still cannot get enough of this intro, and will watch it occasionally when I'm bored and need a quick pick-me-up. If you have this game in your possession and still have not played it, then watch the video below and feel SHAME for waiting so long. Do you not see what you're missing, people? DO YOU?????

3) Resident Evil 2 (1998)
You know, when I set out to compile this list, I said I would not use up more than one slot on games from the same series. But, at the same time I *am* compiling a list of the best video game openers that I've ever witnessed. And as we get closer to the number one spot, I also have to include the best of the best intro movies now. So, as much as I didn't want to break my own rule, I absolutely could not exclude this title from the list. Because, let's be honest, RE2's intro is DA SHIZNIT! When this game hit the shelves in early 1998, everyone went ape shit for it. If the first one was a fine, though low-budget, introduction into a series I would grow to love, the sequel was the big summer blockbuster event of a title that cemented that love. I swear, I remember exactly where I was when I first saw this: in the darkened Queens basement apartment of my best friend. The intro had me so gripped that when I took the bus home later that night, it was all I could think about. I wanted the game so badly, that I immediately went out and got it for myself the next day. Honestly, I can't think of a more creepily atmospheric yet entertaining intro to a survival horror game, like, EVAR! The CG graphics, unfortunately, look extremely assy by today's standards -- but I don't care! I still get chills watching this, remembering how I quivered at the thought of a whole city being overrun by zombies. The first game was scary enough, but that was just one secluded mansion in the middle of nowhere. Now, you had an urban nightmare that needed to be traversed. The size and sheer scope of this game over the first one was just mind-boggling! And, for that reason, I had to include the opening FMV for RE2 at the number 3 spot on this list. Click on the vid below to find out why.

2) Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver (1999)
So, you like vampires, eh? Well, I do too! But not any of that sissy Twilight crap! Back in the 1990s, PlayStation was cooking up a truly chilling, gothic, and altogether ORIGINAL vampire concept in the Blood Omen series. The first game starred a vampire named Kain, a poor sap who got robbed of his humanity and then sought foul revenge on those who had wronged him. Along the way, he took over the world and plunged it into eternal darkness where he and his lieutenants served as gods for millennia. In 1999, the sequel to the first game came out, the title of which is above. It tells the story of one of Kain's lieutenants, Raziel, and his fall from his lord's grace and subsequent transformation into the wielder of the "Soul Reaver". But at the time--and even to this day--the game was known worldwide for having the most intriguing and amazing looking intro. Nowadays, this game is constantly near or at the very top of everyone's best video game openers lists. And who am I to object? This game had me at the intro alone, but it went on to impress me with the level of writing and direction that no game before it had ever displayed. I mean, this was real high-brow gothic level of writing, the type you'd find in a book from the 18th century or such. Were I to compile a list of the darkest, most Machiavellian game plots ever concocted, this series would take up most of that list, I'm sure. Check out the intro below and be amazed. Although, once again the caveat is to take into account that this is a PS1 game. To me, personally, it still holds up. Mostly because the narration and music is still spot-on perfect, despite the now merely serviceable CGI. But watch the video for yourself, and try to tell me that you don't want to play this game, like, RIGHT NOW!

1) Final Fantasy VIII (1999)
Okay, here's the deal: If you've disagreed with any of the titles, or order thereof, of any of the games on this list, fine. But don't sit there and try to tell me that this is not EVERYONE'S number 1 pick. Because then you'd be lying. Either that, or you're not a real gamer. Yes, there. I said it! It is of course possible that you never played this game, though. And in which case, my condolences to you. Everyone's favorite game in the series is the one that came out before this -- Final Fantasy VII. But this, well, this has everything beat in terms of the coolest intro sequence ever to grace the world of video games. Tall accolade, huh? True, perhaps I'm building it up a little too much. But, then, I totally adore this game. Every single aspect of it is something I love and cherish. I've been playing Final Fantasy games since the age of 11 when the first one came out on the NES. Since then I've never played one I didn't like. But FF8 is special to me. I don't know why, but the love story at the center of this title is the best work the writers and animators at Square Enix have ever crafted together. And the music -- OH MY GOD, the MUSIC!!!! Best symphonic score in a video game EVAR. Nobuo Uematsu already kicked ass on his scores for the previous games in the series, but this time he went all out and composed the most epic of all main title sequences. Seriously, you cannot watch the video below and not be impressed by what you'll see and hear. Even though it's already eleven years old now, I daresay the visuals and presentation still hold up today. Why oh why can't more games have opening sequences like this? No, seriously. WHY?


Felicity Walker said...

How come so many NES programmers didn't use spaces after periods and commas?

Rodney said...

Not a bad list. Some interesting movies. My personal favorite is for Arkham Asylum, of course.

David Batista said...

Felicity -- I've wondered the same thing. Must be some kind of limitation with the technology back then. Or perhaps they simply used the wrong font? :) No, seriously though, I've noticed the same thing can happen in Word if I choose certain fonts where the spacing between characters is less generous than, say, Courier or Times New Roman.

Rodney -- But of course! However, I didn't base my criteria simply on graphical presentation alone, but on artistic merit and narrative as well. The Batman:AA intro is the best looking on this list, though, and it did land at the number 4 spot. Not bad.

Ashe Hunt said...

Good stuff. Of course Soul Reaver is my main joint! Actually the only 'serious' game I got for my PS1. Nope, take that back, I played RE too. But Soul Reaver is my favorite.I wish they'd update that one to the PS3 or at least come up with a new story for that world. I'd get that in a heartbeat! I gotta play Batman: AA soon.

best upcoming video games said...

No Doubt about the Resident Evil and God Of War 2.. the best ever

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