As gamers, there's games we all should play. As game designers, there's games we should study, games whose principles and techniques have shaped the games that came after.
When a game is both of these things, it's a game that gets talked about. Other games get compared to it, often unfavorably. Games like this are so good, they even make continuing the franchise difficult.
For game like that, 1998 might be the single most important year in video games.
Resident Evil 2
Maybe the best survival horror game ever released. Certainly the best until Resident Evil 4 (Alone in the Dark fans can register complaints over here).
Venerable Japanese gaming magazine weekly Famitsu lists the game as the 4th best Playstation game, and this game has shown up on numerous "100 best games lists", such as Electronic Gaming Monthly, IGN and Game Informer.
Why you want to study this game: Atmosphere. Horror games are ultimately about atmosphere and Resident Evil 2 pulls that off in spades.
Final Fantasy Tactics
This game came out the next week for the Playstation. Turning Final Fantasy into a strategy game seems like an odd choice and it certainly was a challenge, but the design team proved no only that they were up to that challenge, but maybe it wasn't such an odd choice after all.
Electronic Gaming Monthly called it a "classic" right out of the gate and it was IGN's Editor's Choice 1998, and its esteem in the minds of gamers and critics has only grown over time.
For example, Gamespot has awarded Final Fantasy Tactics its "Best Games of all Time" award, something no other Final Fantasy game has received from the site. Final Fantasy VII and X can eat it.
Why you want to study this game: The design of the battlefields. They're big, they're intricate, they look good and they offer numerous tactical possibilities.
That's all for now.
1998 is just too big to cover in one post. Stay tuned!