If you've ever played video games, eventually you're going to get asked what your favorites are. Most of us like to detail them in tl;dr articles like this. Everyone has different favorites for different reasons; maybe the story moved them, maybe it's tied to an important friend or relative, maybe it's just fun. I'm taking a slightly different approach and listing the 5 games most important to me in various stages of my life, because at those times, they defined that stage of being for me. They reflect a lot about how I've grown and evolved as a person, and I'd like to share with you how this medium has helped me become the person I am now.
I hope you enjoy it, and maybe even try one or two of the ones on this list if you haven't.
P.S. This list will have spoilers for every game discussed so if for some reason you don't want a bunch of (mostly old) games spoiled, don't go any further.
#5 - Dragon Quest I * II * III (The Loto Trilogy)
I was all of about two years old when I first tried to play video games. We had an NES when I was born and it became my best friend by the time I could walk. My first games were likely Mario 1, Zelda 2, and Dragon Quest 1 (then called Dragon Warrior due to a copyright issue). I would cry when Mario died and the Zelda 2 game over screen game me nightmares for a decade after. But the first game I have any real definite and lasting impression of is Dragon Quest, so I count it as my true first game, in that I actually tried to figure it out and play it for more than 10 minutes at a time.
If you have no idea, the Dragon Quest series is one of console gaming's most influential series, and it basically invented the JRPG. It was largely based on games like Ultima and brought that PC RPG feeling to things like the NES. We owe a lot to it. The first, albeit very dated and short (I can speedrun some versions of it in a couple hours), was revolutionary and should be remembered for what it became and paved for others. In the first, you play as the descendant of someone named Erdrick/Loto (depending on your translation, though Loto is the canon name) and you have to stop some big baddie named the DragonLord from taking over the world. You only have a couple towns to visit and a couple small side quests, including whether or not you want to save the princess. You beat the DragonLord and win, walking off to build your own kingdom elsewhere, with the princess by your side if you saved her, alone if not. It's the most basic as it gets (Your level cap is 30 and it's perfectly doable to beat the game as low as around level 17 with careful planning without timing/speedrun tricks), but an absolutely perfect stepping stone for my young self to get into this kind of thing.
Besides, imagine my surprise at learning years and years later what the innkeeper meant by the princess and I sure stayed up a while after I saved her. Kid Atma had no idea. Adult Atma can now laugh with Kid Atma, not at her, and be glad she was already quite the ladykiller.
But 1 isn't why this is on the list, and neither is 2, which while much bigger in scope and added a lot more functions that became series staples like multiple party members and status effects and vehicles, it was much like playing a longer version of 1. Most Dragon Quest games have very simple plot and rely on charming worldbuilding and fun characters and good music more-so than deep, hard plotting, but 2 felt like more of the same. You're now the descendants of the guy from DQ1. But it is part of the original trilogy that pieces together a grand storyline once you get to the end of it, and well...
That end is why this makes the list as #5.
Dragon Quest 3 is the first one to let you play as a female hero. The hero is always a nameless player self-insert that never talks outside dialogue options and never gets voice acting in later games and is meant to just be you. Some games let you choose your hero's gender, and it's nothing more than a cosmetic change, so I wish it was around more often, but I digress. Your dad is reported dead trying to fight off the great evil that threatens the world, and you form a party of nameless soldiers which you can customize and set out for vengeance and glory. Again, pretty simple, but the rest of the game is anything but, especially for the time it first came out.
This game is huge, and it's a long game. Even an emulator sped-up run of later versions with upped exp/money rates still takes me a week or two to beat depending on priorities. There's 7 main missions/orbs to collect each about as long as DQ1 in and of itself before taking on the demon lord that your father was after, and only after that do you learn the game's only about half to 2/3 of the way over. The real final boss, Zoma, appears and taunts you, driving a hole in the earth (that looks strangely like Earth) and you have no choice but to follow it. Inside you find a whole nother world soaked in darkness, having long awaited your arrival as the "warriors of above." If you played DQ1 and 2 you are quick to realize exactly where you are.
You're in Alefgard, the continent DQ1 takes place entirely on and a major stopping location in 2. This is where the series started off. And yet it's shrouded in darkness, again. Or, as you're soon to find out once you bounce around everywhere, that, well, it's not again so much as it's the first time it's ever happened. Gears in your brain start turning and by the time you forge your legendary equipment and make it to the final boss' castle, which is where the DragonLord is in 1, and find your father still alive (but soon actually for real killed) inside, ready to face Zoma, it clicks.
This is a fucking prequel. This is taking place long before 1 and 2. That sword and armor and such you have will be the legendary equipment you have to hunt back down in 1 and the items you need and the orb of light are the one and the same passed on through this area's royalty. And when you win and light is restored, you are crowned a title unlike any other. You become the inheritor of the legendary name passed on through myth to the greatest hero of the land.
You are Loto.
I first played 3 when I was about 19. So it took almost 20 years, but I finally got some closure Kid Atma needed having played 1 and 2. I got answers to background info and I became something I had vied to be called for a long time in my life: a hero. It wasn't someone I was descended from, it was actually me all along, and going around the peace-soaked world and hearing the stories of people who would become important lore in 1 and 2 was a nice touch. Learning that Loto could have very easily have been a woman too made my day. I got to live it, and I got to have that name. It was the first time I really felt a game was telling me specifically that I was allowed to have all this and the heroism, too.
And to someone who grew up wanting nothing more to be a swordsman and to save the day and the girl, who knew she would be one before she even entered kindergarten, this was the world to me. I still see the name Loto and can tear up, knowing that was me the whole time.
Kudos, Dragon Quest. It's things like this that make it easy for me to see why you're so well-respected, even now.