January 2, 2014

Let's Get 2014 Started Off Right, With Some Classic Game Intros! (Part 1 of 2)

It's the dawn of 2014. The next chapter is beginning, promising harrowing adventures and the introduction of new characters and plot twists to the storyline of life! But where is the opening credit sequence? No flashy musical montage with quick cuts of upcoming scenes? No scrolling title sequence summarizing the backstory?

Oh, right, real life doesn't work that way... stuff just happens. *Sigh.* Well, at least video games have got our backs on this one. A good introductory sequence or opening scene can not only psych one up for what's to come, but provide a microcosmic "snapshot" of the game that can really stick in a player's mind. I've gathered some of my all-time favourite intros below. Enjoy!

The Legend of Zelda

Nintendo Entertainment System

The original Zelda on NES is still one of the most iconic, both for pioneering an incredible exploratory experience and for introducing the infamous theme music. This is one of the first examples I can recall that made me really fall in love with video game music. I can vividly remember, as a kid, holding an audio cassette player right up to the TV speakers to record this intro music so I could listen later.

And get a load of that story text! To think, this never phased me when I was young, but when I go back and read it now it really throws me for a loop.

Persona 3

Playstation 2

A very different take on the concept of what a game "opening" should do, we go from Zelda's quaint and humble storytelling to a cool and ultra-modern abstraction. This dungeon-crawling, social-sim RPG just oozes style at every moment. It really makes me think about how these days we tend to take graphics and sound for granted, though it wasn't that long ago that every single scrap of data had to be scrimped and saved, and used only where it would do the most good.



"What the heck did I just watch?" Definitely a cryptic and confusing opening, especially considering that the game proper begins in a rather low-tech rural village immediately after -- not to mention that even hours and hours later, you'll still have no idea exactly how this intro relates to the plot. But, it does. Slowly, and gradually, terminology and images get drip-fed to the player over the course of the game. I watched this intro repeatedly while playing through Xenogears, and each time I'd catch some detail and say "Oh, so that's what that was!"

Crammed with reappropriated religious imagery, psychology textbook name-dropping, and 1001 scenes where nameless figures in the dark say things like "Finally, 'it' has awakened," Xenogears was often completely over my head. That was fine by me, because at the time I was going through my phase where "a good anime/game plot means I have no idea what is going on." And it delivered on that promise, in spades -- partly because the story was admittedly not told very well and too convoluted for a single game. Much of the second disc was told through textual exposition rather than gameplay due to time and budget constraints, and the end credits reveal that Xenogears was intended as "Episode V" of some even greater whole. Still, despite all its flaws, it really was an incredibly ambitious and truly epic story, once you finally pieced it all together.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Playstation 3

Setting Nathan Drake smack in the middle of danger from minute one was a great technique for opening the game with immediate thrills and tension. It also showcased developer Naughty Dog's notorious graphical expertise and cinematic know-how, while engaging the player by teaching them some basic controls. What I like most about it is how the in media res choice starts things off with a bang, similar to how an adventure with Drake's spiritual ancestor Indiana Jones might begin.

Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin

Nintendo DS

I can't say I'm a fan of the dalliance with the generic, anime-style character art seen in Dawn of Sorrow and Portrain of Ruin, but I have to admit that I really do like this animated intro. It may be a tad cartoonish for a Castlevania game, but the music is legit and the fast-paced montage does a great job at conveying the essence of the dual-character teamwork mechanic. It really represents the game well.
An honourable mention goes to Order of Ecclesia for its driving melody and darker, more detailed visuals -- but those same visuals also mean animation is all but non-existent, reducing the sequence to a series of stills.

I hope you enjoyed my choices so far! This is only half of the intros I've selected -- the rest are on the way, for next time!

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