The saying goes that hindsight is 20/20, and while that may or may not be true, there definitely is something gained when one looks back. In this case I am looking back at the games that I believe had the greatest impact in my learning to love Japanese videogames and eventually otaku culture.
For a little backstory, I trace my life as a gamer back to when I first bought my DS lite. I was roughly 13 years old, and since then have been a firm Nintendo faithful, though I did add to that some PC games later on. In comparison I started watching anime at the age of 20, which was less than a year ago. I have enjoyed both immensely, though I recognize that through a weird butterfly effect my current love of anime probably would not have happened had I not been a gamer first.
Hence this list, which is as much a personal chronicle for myself, as anything else. However maybe all of you have similar stories in what made you love the things you currently love. The events of our lives rarely happen in isolation, and our pasts always affect our futures. So with that unnecessarily philosophical preamble out of the way… I present the 5 games I believe led to my current Otakuism (in chronological order of playing them I think.)
And Fair Warning: **Some Spoilers Ahead**
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
Ahh.. Phantom Hourglass. To be truthful Phantom Hourglass was technically my introduction to the Zelda Series. Because of that Toon Link has always been one of my favorite Links, and I have immensely enjoyed the Wind Waker trilogy (which I was finally able to complete due to the HD rerelease.) The Zelda series has indeed become one of my favorite game series, but in terms of it's relation to Anime, This game may have one of the most subtle, but profound effects. For this was one of the first narrative heavy games I remember playing, and it tells a fairly serious story, all the while holding to a more cute/chibi/deformed art style. Possibly because of this, I have grown up unhindered by the sentiment of "If it's serious, why isn't it Live Action" that I sometimes hear from people like my parents. Instead I am perfectly happy to watch more grown up, serious or mature shows, even if they are attached to cutesy Japanese cartoons.
Professor Layton and the Unwound Future (or Lost Future for my European comrades)
Another one of my favorite series, I was perhaps unlucky, or very lucky by playing the best game of the series (a sentiment I and others I respect hold to) right off the bat. Leaving that aside though, Professor Layton is perhaps my first "Anime" game. Disregarding some of the the art style changes from traditional "anime" art, it is the story of this game that particularly screams "This Is Japan" to me. The completely mad plot points that occur during this game are equally mind boggling, entertaining and bizarre. A trifecta of feelings that I associate with a lot of the entertainment that I associate with Japan. I mean when a game can go from a time travel story, to giant robots and blackmail, not to mention disguises, flying cars and slot-machine-turned-machine-guns… you know you have a game whose creators disregard all notions of sensibility from the outset.
Kid Icarus: Uprising
Have you ever wanted to play your Saturday morning Anime… well I will tell you you can, and that game is Kid Icarus: Uprising. Seriously this game's running commentary is like a bonkers cartoon show of silly puns, references and madcap adventures. It was the best type of unrelenting crazy, and entirely, utterly Japanese. Looking at you Tempura Wizard!
One of my first Japanese RPG's Xenoblade really reminds me of the crazy, wacky worlds I find in anime, or rather I see the influence anime had on Xenoblades design. I mean it has mechs, a world built on the bodies of giant robots, and of course a remarkably high school age looking protagonist… hmm where I heard this before.... Anyways it was a fun adventure (even if I only ever got through half of it before lending it to a friend.)
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies:
This one was really the kicker for me. I mean if you want to go full crazy there is no better place to start then the Ace Attorney games. This series, like the Professor Layton games, easily became one of my favorites after only one game. Sadly like Layton I also happened to start the series at the end, rather than from square one, but this game was awesome. The wackiness, and the sheer ostentatiousness of some of the games more bonkers surprises and reveals are just a sight to behold. I doubt any western developer would try to get you to cross examine a whale in court… and yet Dual Destinies does, and it is awesome. This is may be the most "Anime" of my Otaku games, but in any event I believe it was the one tipping point that told me "You need more of this. Now!"
So those are the games that I believe paved the road for my current love of Anime. If you have any great Japanese games you love, or any games, or shows, or books, or experiences that brought out loves of yours you never knew you had… feel free to share them in the comments below.