A strong opening sets the tone for a game. Well, for any piece of media, really. But a good game needs more than just a bombastic, tone-setting opening. It needs an area to set it in, one that commits itself to memory.
There are plenty of games with strong openings pulled forward by the characters or actions, but end up leaving the environment to the wayside. Other times though, the area you’re first landed in can leave an even stronger impression, so it’s important to make sure it’s worth spending the time with.
10 Resident Evil 4 – The Village
Sometimes, a game knows what it wants to be. Resident Evil as a series is filled with plenty of highs and lows, but when they work, they work so damn well. The Spencer Mansion of the original, the police station of the sequel.
And then there’s Resident Evil 4’s village section. It’s already one of the most iconic openings in games for just how much of the game it crams into one section, but the village itself is the real highlight. It genuinely feels like (from Leon’s perspective) something foreign and unknown. It’s terrifying.
9 Breath Of The Wild – Great Plateau
Much has been said on Breath of the Wild over the years that you’re probably sick to death of hearing. Every Zelda game has a great starting area after all. The Kokiri Forest, Skyloft, Outset Island, and plenty more. The Great Plateau just does something special.
All of Breath of the Wild is designed to be seen at a glance, and the Great Plateau turns that into a microcosm. There’s nothing intense going on, the tutorial is very light in scripted moments, and you’re given very little guidance. Instead, it’s how you can view the Great Plateau like a mini Hyrule that makes it so memorable – it’s your whole adventure on the tip of a pin.
8 Kingdom Hearts – Twilight Town
Kingdom Hearts has never been anything short of surreal. From its very foundations to the number of interconnected games, everything is whimsical and wonderful in a way that only a fan can appreciate (and even they’ll hate aspects of it).
Perhaps one of the most well-known sections of Kingdom Hearts is Twilight Town, especially as it was shown in Kingdom Hearts 2. This town is a perpetual sunset, the end of the summer vacations, the inclines and slopes of the winding streets. It feels massive to you, a location you can’t help but memorize.
7 Final Fantasy 7 – Midgar
It’s hard to pick a single starting location from a Final Fantasy game to say is the best. The troupe in Alexandria of FF9, the fall of Zanarkand in FF10, or the slow approach of FF6. Yet when people think of the actual area, it’s most likely Midgar that comes to mind.
A good chunk of Final Fantasy 7 takes place in Midgar, yet the whole place is seen as only a prelude to the greater story. Despite that, it leaves the strongest impression. It’s a city that does much of its storytelling in how it’s laid out, in the people that dwell in it, and the dramatic class divisions between top and bottom. It’s a dazzling, depraved place that sets the scene perfectly.
6 Destiny – Cosmodrome
Having started back in 2014, Destiny has had a long journey. Plenty of twists and turns in the series, confusion on where to take the game, and just what is expected from it. Without fail, however, the games have always had stunning art direction.
Destiny is actually an example of a game with a pretty weak open in terms of story, but incredible vibes when it came to the environment. Everyone remembers their first steps into the old Cosmodrome. So popular was that opening that Bungie even brought it back to Destiny 2 a few years post-launch.
5 Nier Automata – Abandoned Factory
Yoko Taro’s works hit the mainstream with Nier Automata, his previous works being relegated to dedicated fans. That said, Nier Automata is a game that deserves it. It just knows how to use the medium to tell a story. Its characters are deep and nuanced in ways that only unravel across multiple perspectives, and its bleak environments only accentuate this further.
Take its opening for instance. Yes, it’s a mad rush through an abandoned factory with non-stop action that will probably have you questioning what’s even happening, but that’s exactly the point. ‘What are you even doing?’ is a question at the core of the whole game. The dreary, rundown state of the factory contrasted with the sparkling black-and-white themed androids running around it. It all works in tandem to show a world deeper than its ruins.
4 Sonic – Green Hill Zone
Sonic is a character that has stretched far beyond games at this point, almost to the point that games aren’t even the main selling point anymore. There are movies, shows, toys, and so much more merchandising that if someone’s first introduction to Sonic wasn’t the games, you’d understand.
But what do you think of when you hear Sonic? It’s the speed, the momentum carrying you across Green Hill Zone. Green Hill Zone especially is so beloved because it’s how almost every game introduces you to them. It’s where Sonic began, and it’s where he always begins again. Green Hill Zone is the heart of Sonic.
There are few games in this world, especially on a triple-A scale, that are willing to be so brazenly open with their politics as Metal Gear Solid is. Every game has politics, obviously, but Metal Gear doesn’t want you to miss them. The games open with them consistently, creating a world very much influenced by reality.
Metal Gear Solid 5, for all its flaws, has an immaculate beginning. There’s so much constantly happening in this hospital. Invaders to take it from the British, assassins to take out Snake, and demons of the past. All of it set in a horrifyingly claustrophobic hospital that you can almost smell the sterile environment of.
2 Bloodborne – Central Yharnam
FromSoftware has always had a good hand at creating openings. Sekiro’s run to Kuro’s tower, waking up in an asylum in the original Dark Souls, and plenty more beyond that. Bloodborne stands out amongst them, throwing you into the depths of an urban city.
Central Yharnam feels like a horror scenario to walk up in. You fall asleep during surgery only to wake up in an abandoned town. Beasts prowl the streets, crazed citizens patrol with torches, and you are just lost in the intricate streets. It’s a terror unlike many of the other games, especially with how Bloodborne uses its environments to unravel its story further.
1 Pokemon – Every Starting Town
In many scenarios, openings, and tutorials go hand-in-hand. They introduce the mechanics and the core plot, and then leave you to your own devices. Sometimes that opening area is nothing but fodder for the tutorial. Pokemon, however, makes sure you’re always attached to that opening little village.
From the very first game up until the present, Pokemon has had you setting out from home to go on a grand adventure to catch ’em all! You can never really leave home behind though. From Pallet Town to Twinleaf Town, from the quaint to the more bustling, each and every town has a small spark of individuality. It’s your home, and one that always feels safe and comforting to both start in, and eventually return to.
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