Top Ten Video Game Openings
In the beginning, there was nothing but a simple title screen, maybe with a fancy little “Press Start” prompt to really get your blood racing. Then we began seeing a few splash screens, maybe some intriguing lines of text to draw us in, like a baritone-voiced narrator in a trailer. CD-ROMs paved the way for impressive Full Motion Videos as we got to watch incredible movies that helped set the stage for our epic adventures. Now we see a trend where many games integrate the tutorial and initial level right into the opening through heavily scripted events. It can be difficult where to draw the line on what constitutes an entire video game opening, or intro as they’re also commonly referred to, and though each entry can include an opening cinematic, a tutorial, a whole first level, or a combination, they all draw you into their respective worlds and create a memorable experience throughout the game.
Top Ten Video Game Openings
10) Super Mario RPG
Before the age of fancy FMV intro movies, many epic RPGs drew us in with a fantastic montage of action and characters. Super Mario RPG – a unique and memorable collaboration between Square and Nintendo, decided on montage of scenes from the game much like the opening of a television show. It was intriguing firing up a new game and being introduced to new and familiar characters, and the intro lovingly showed off everything this great title had to offer from exploring the very Mario-themed world to the JRPG turn based battle system to several of the inventive mini-games.
9) Half-Life 2
If you’re aching about why I put Half-Life 2’s minimalist but strongly evocative introduction so low, it’s because I only recently played through this classic title (check out my Final Thoughts right here) and thus I lack that all important nostalgia aspect. But even with such a recent viewing I appreciated the confusing way in which the game dumps you into the totalitarian world of City 17 with only the briefest glimpses of your mysterious boss. The entire opening level is played without a single weapon, and one my favorite moments of the game is running through rooms and across rooftops while resistance forces try to slow down your pursuers.
8) Mass Effect
Surprisingly a very low-key introduction to what is the best space opera adventure and most fully realized science fiction universe of this gaming generation. Something about that awesome swelling theme song along with the incredible voice talents of Keith David, Lance Henriksen, and Seth Green really get my juices stirring, and I adore the way Mass Effect’s intro is all about the characters – the cast and crew of the Normandy, before that awesome pan around to see your very own customized Shepard staring at the mass relay. A great lesson in that not all epic stories need epic openings.
7) Super Smash Bros. Melee
The original Smash Bros. opening played it safe by introducing the modest roster of characters while playing up the Toy Story-like aspect of action figures duking it out on a playset. The Gamecube sequel really kicked it into gear with an explosive and exciting introduction showing off a rapid fire montage of the expanded roster and arenas while still keeping the toy themes and cartoon-safe violence. Brawl’s intro was great fun too, but just like the Wii game I have to give the edge to it’s GCN predecessor.
BioShock’s opening moments have become such a classic staple of gaming that no list of video game openings could exclude it. Drawing heavily from the likes of Half-Life 2, BioShock relies on the first person view and some scripted events to nudge you along a set path that you can’t help but feel awestruck on: the plane crash, the lighthouse, the bathysphere. Seeing Rapture for the first time is an incredible experience that no gamer is likely to forget.
5) Mass Effect 2
Not many opening sequences of a sequel kill off the main character, but that’s exactly what Bioware sets out to do in the early moments of Mass Effect 2. After saving the galaxy and hunting down the remaining Geth forces, Shepard and his crew are suddenly and violently attacked by a mysterious new foe, and it’s all our hero can do to save as many lives as he can before he or she is sucked out of the ship and plummets helplessly into the atmosphere of a nearby planet. Certainly one of the most unforgettable moments of the series and of this gaming generation.
4) Suikoden II
I’ve always carried a torch for Konami’s cult classic Suikoden series, an amazing RPG series that sadly hasn’t seen an entry in years. Despite being a PlayStation One release the introductory cutscene for Suikoden II has aged incredibly well thanks to heavy use of beautiful 2D artwork with some 3D background imagery. The intro is so long and epic that it even climaxes in the middle while teasing a single ray of hope (or droplet) before we get to witness the glorious swelling of music and an awesome montage of some of the Stars of Destiny. A wonderful and fun opening cutscene for any fans of JRPGs.
3) Chrono Cross
I’ll admit it – I’m a complete sucker for that title track. Scars of Time is such a ridiculously awesome song that makes me so pumped to play this game it could’ve been set to a slideshow of various paints drying and I would be enthralled. But the fine folks at Square decided to show off the best of what the PSOne could do and include tons of awesome scenes of characters, monsters, and the colorful world you’re about to explore. The combination of epic music and fantastic imagery will always put Chrono Cross high up on my list of video game openings.
2) Batman: Arkham Asylum
For comic book fans and Batman fans especially, Arkham Asylum was a dream come true. Borrowing classic gameplay elements from Metroid and Castlevania with perfect third person action is an awesome recipe for any game, but when you stir in the Batman license you come away with something really special. The opening actually begins with what would normally be the end of a Batman story arc – the capture of the Joker and his imprisonment in Arkham’s famous mental institution and prison. Rocksteady uses a few cutscenes but mostly allows the player to take direct control during the opening, further immersing us into Batman and his world. The voice talents of Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy, both of Batman: The Animated Series fame are on full display as the Joker mercilessly taunts our hero. Who can forget the frightening moment when Killer Croc shows up and threatens Batman, cleverly foreshadowing events further into the game. Batman: AA is another great example of how to make a more interactive opening that helps draw the player into the game right from the beginning.
No video game list about intros can be completed without a Fallout entry; the only question is where it ranks on the list and which title in the series gets the honors. Although I prefer the second game’s narration (“spears of nuclear fire rained from the skies…”) I had to give top honors to the original game, as the sequels just build upon the awesomeness. The foreboding words of Ron Perlman, the black and white war propaganda imagery interspersed with the destruction, and the very old timey-sounding song “Maybe” by the Ink Spots all combine to make Fallout’s opening the most memorable in gaming, and my personal favorite. We will never forget those three haunting words: War Never Changes.
You can check out my Final Thoughts on Fallout here.
There are a wide selection of genres and eras represented here – JRPGs, third person action games, first person shooters, and of course the requisite Fallout entry that must grace any and all lists about video game openings. Although I’m excited about the current trend toward more interactive openings as seen in BioShock, Batman, and Half-Life, I also still enjoy a simple opening movie or sequence that sets the stage or bombards me with gameplay footage as a teaser for what’s to come. Let us know your favorites in the comments!