Major Influences #6: Post-Atari and Pre-Wii Video Games

I’ve covered a good amount of influential TV shows in my prior “major influences” posts, and it’s about time I move on to another medium: video games.

The Gateway Consoles

Growing up, my siblings and I had the privilege of owning a few video game consoles. Our first console was the Sega Master System, which I can only assume we got many years after its launch; I wasn’t born yet at its release, but definitely could talk and walk by the time it showed up in our home.

As far as I recall, my favorite titles on the Master System was Alex Kidd in Miracle World (which featured rock-paper-scissors as a primary game mechanic) and My Hero (in which the player character is KO’ed by some jerk in a mohawk two seconds after you press start, and you spend the entire game punching and kicking people to get the player character’s girlfriend back).

Ice Hockey and Bad News Baseball NES

Ice Hockey and Bad News Baseball. Guess which is which.

Later, my family also got the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Yes, I played Mario games, but my favorite games were a bit more obscure: Bad News BaseballIce Hockey; and Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Three Kingdoms is a “historical simulation” by KOEI based on a Chinese historical fiction novel. Along with true sequels, KOEI also later released related titles based on the same source material, the most famous of which would be the Dynasty Wariors hack’n’slash games. Over the years, I continued to play many iterations of the Three Kingdoms series, with my favorites being VIII and X.

A less obscure NES favorite of mine is the original Final Fantasy.

All in all, I wasn’t really all that into video games during the NES era.

Golden Age of the JRPG

It wasn’t until the Super Nintendo (SNES) that my video game addiction truly began.Through the SNES, I started getting into fighting games via Capcom’s Street Fighter II (and its many reincarnations), but what I really became hooked on were Japanese role-playing games (JPRGs). I was drawn to RPGs because they had stronger narratives, stories, and dialogue than any other video game genre at the time.

In particular, I liked Final Fantasy III (with many characters developed beyond any level I’d seen previously in a game), Chrono Trigger (so much time-jumping awesomeness), Lufia II (the ending’s rather dramatic), Breath of Fire II (you play a dude who transforms into a dragon and blows people away, ’nuff said), Earthbound (hilarious and quirky), Robotrek (you’re an inventor-kid who battles monsters and other things using robots; somewhat humorous, but not quite as much as Earthbound), and Harvest Moon (you farm and milk cows—oh, and get married and have babies).

Eartbound SNES

Earthbound‘s four young heroes: three psychics and, uh, an engineer.

Earthbound might be my favorite game on the SNES due to its off-beat humor. You play as Ness, a kid who witnesses the death of an alien that looks like a fly. Before dying, the fly sends you on a quest in which you use your baseball bat and psychic powers to save the world from a bleak future. Some of the enemies you face include the New Age Retro Hippie, Annoying Old Party Man, and Insane Cultist. To compare its sense of humor to something contemporary, I’d point to Adventure Time. It’s mathematical.

The Rise of Cinematic Video Games

The Golden Age of JRPGs continued well past the time of the SNES and into an era during which Sony absolutely dominated the market with the Playstation and Playstation 2.

Still avid fans of JRPGs at the time, the sole reason my siblings and I got the Playstation instead of a competing console was because we were chasing Squaresoft and its Final Fantasy franchise. To hold us over while we waited for the next iteration of Final Fantasy, we started our Playstation experience with Battle Arena Toshinden, a clunky but lovable fighting game, and Wild Arms, another JRPG. While fairly awesome in its own right, the wild west-themed Wild Arms simply cannot hold a candle to the masterpiece that is Final Fantasy VII, though Wild Arms does have a ridonkulously impressive opening theme (particularly if you’re an anime nerd):

Final Fantasy VII has one of the most compelling RPG narratives of all time topped off with beautiful musical compositions by Nobuo Uematsu. Due to its popularity and general awesomeness, the game spawned several spin-offs (including my favorite PSP game, Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core, and an impressive feature length motion picture). Subsequent Final Fantasy games were rather hit or miss, but I’ll say I loved Final Fantasy Tactics, and liked VIII and X more than the others (likely because I didn’t have a pre-pubescent aversion to love stories).

Final Fantasy Advent Children Zack Fair Aeris Gainsborough Cloud Strife Tifa Lockheart

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Major Influences #5: Shows with Characters Ages 25+

Major Influences Friends HIMYM The Office Mad Men Breaking Bad Sons of Anarchy Lost

As no one has probably noticed, most of the shows in my prior “Major Influences” posts are family and teen shows. This post will be on shows that aren’t quite as family friendly, which focus on characters over the age of twenty-five and allows for much heavier drama.

For the most part, comedies influence me in a fairly obvious way: it alters the kind of jokes I make with my friends and family, and in my writing. The effects of dramas, on the other hand, aren’t so easy to notice (aside from trying not to use plots I’ve seen elsewherejust as I try to avoid stealing comedy bits).

The best effect of any narrative, however, is the immersion into so many other lives and perspectives. You get to experience things which you might never get to experience yourself. Of course, I’m a proponent of travel and experiencing things firsthand (within reason), but you only have so much energy and fundsbooks, film, and television can get you places at a fraction of the time and cost and exposes you to scenarios you’d probably rather avoid in real life.

Anyway, on to the shows about characters considerably beyond their teenage years. Continue reading

Major Influences #4: The WB (The CW)

The WB - Roswell - Smallville - Buffy - Angel - EverwoodThe CW (formerly The WB and UPN) is a force to be reckoned in the world of teen drama. I watched a good number of their shows, back when I was a more appropriate age to be watching teen dramas, and they’ve definitely left a lasting impact.

Vampires before they sparkled

Angel and Buffy

Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Angel (David Boreanaz)

Attractive young adults in a show about vampires? No frickin’ way.

Before The Vampire Diaries TV series, there was Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. I started out somewhat interested in Buffy, but I didn’t get sucked into Joss Whedon’s Buffyverse until the Angel spin-off. I watched both shows religiously even after Buffy was booted from The WB lineup to second string on UPN.

Though I watched all nine seasons of How I Met Your Mother, I’ll always remember Alyson Hannigan and Alexis Denisof as Willow and Wesley (before Lily and Sandy Rivers). At E3 (don’t ask me how I got in), I once awkwardly shook Eliza Dushku’s hand: the most interaction I’ve had with a Hollywood celebrity in all my years living in and around Los Angeles (unless you count walking past Ashton Kutcher a few times on the way to and from the restroom on the set of Jobs).

Beside the paranormal setting, what I love about these two shows is the sometimes-ridiculous character banter, and how no character gets to be cool 100% of the time. When a character’s cool-meter gets close to being full, the writers have something comical happen to him or her (I’ve noticed people other than Whedon doing this, a recent example being Ronan in Guardians of the Galaxy—the humor in Guardians reminded me so much of Whedon I had to double check to see that he wasn’t involved).

So, if the characters in my novels have borderline-annoying back-and-forth conversations, and something embarrassing happens to my protagonist when he or she is trying to be cool, you probably have Joss Whedon to blame. Luckily, I didn’t watch Firefly until after I finished several drafts of my novel. Otherwise, it might have been too Whedoned-out. Continue reading

Major Influences #3: Anime (アニメ)

Yes, I can type in katakana. Overly enthusiastic anime thumbs up for everyone.

Anime Thumbs Up - Luffy, Goku, and Rock Lee

I’m not sure how many people will relate to this set of influences (compared to my posts on influence from some 80’s–90’s TV shows, and TGIF Sitcoms + the Wayans Bros.), but Japanese animation was a big deal to me for years.

Ronin Warriors, Sailor Moon, RobotechDubbed Stuff

For a long time, the only anime I watched was over-the-air. Everything was dubbed in English and began with shows I didn’t even know was anime, like Voltron. By the time I moved on to Ronin WarriorsDragon Ball Z, and Sailor Moon, however, I realized these shows weren’t originally in English.

That’s right, I’m the world’s greatest detective.

When my siblings and I started renting videos, we stuck to dubbed versions of Ranma 1/2 and Cowboy Bebop. I also watched all of Robotech in English on PBS (which I’m glad for, because the latter of the original three Japanese series combined to create Robotech are not as good on their own).

Subbed Anime: Hardcore Otaku $@#! (not that kind of hardcore)

One day, my brother and I rented The Record of Lodoss War and accidentally got the subtitled version. “All these fools are speaking Japanese and we have to read? Unacceptable!” Or was it? Continue reading

Major Influences #2: TGIF Sitcoms

90's Sitcoms - Full House - Family Matters - Step by Step - Boy Meets World - Wayans Bros

Like many since the dawn of television, the core of my moral code is derived from TV sitcoms. A long, long time ago there was something known as the TGIF Lineup which aired on the ABC network. The shows on the lineup changed every once in a while, but a certain few were particularly influential to me and my generation. Here they are, in the order of earliest-aired:

Who can resist a dude serenading a toddler?

Who can resist a dude serenading a toddler?

Full House

A show about three grown men who live with three young girls, Full House aired from 1987 to 1995. My ridiculous description of the premise aside, Full House was an anchor show for TGIF and taught traditional American values which Captain America would approve of. From what I recall, though, most lessons on the show are aimed at kids, including: sometimes bad stuff happens to good people; alcohol is bad; don’t be a jerk; and it’s easy to get a date if you’re a Greek dude with awesome hair.

Later in life, I saw the Quantum Leap episode guest starring Bob Saget. I was shocked by his use of foul language. Then, I heard his stand up routine.

Childhood ruined.
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