Retro Review: Suikoden 2

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Still not enough room for all of the characters.

Recently, Steve-O and I had the urge to scratch a “retro JRPG” itch. Remembering that Suikoden 2 was added to the Playstation Store for only $10, a much more affordable option than the rare disc which, until then, sold for over $100 used, I went ahead and downloaded it. A game that had been on our bucket list for a long time, but disregarded because of the old price point, we were excited to finally play it. Steve-O especially, as he’s played every main entry title.

We’d played Suikoden 1 and 3 together in past years. While I don’t exactly dislike Suikoden games, they do have two defining features that also happen to be on my RPG pet peeves list: silent protagonists and recruiting a bajillion characters. Recruiting all 108 stars of destiny characters is mandatory if you want to see the best ending, to boot! Suikoden 2 doesn’t stop there when it comes to arbitrary requirements to get the better ending after investing 50 hours in the game. All I have to say is I’m grateful we played the game during Age of Google.

RPG pet peeves aside, Suikoden 2 is a pretty solid JRPG. It takes the groundwork framed by the first Suikoden and improves upon it. You’ll create your own silent (generic and boring) young protagonist, and through a strange series of circumstances, become the leader of a rebel army. You’ll get to name the main character and army, so choose the most inappropriate names you can come up with. Personally, I’m still gravely wounded over not having enough character spaces to name my army the “Fuzzy Beaver” or “Bearded Clam” army. So many missed opportunities…

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Having six characters in battle at one time is helpful when experimenting with new allies.

Suikoden 2’s battle system is a bit different than many turn based games. I love that you’re able to bring six party members along with you, especially since the game FORCES certain characters on you ALL THE TIME! Add that to my RPG pet peeve list. In a game with over 108 recruitable/playable characters, being forced to bring certain characters with me so they can have one line of dialogue during a scene is beyond frustrating. Especially when you have a lot of equipment and Runes to swap around. Armor is relatively standard fare, but character weapons are unique to each character and can’t be removed. These add some individuality to a game where interchangeable Runes can make them blend together.

Certain characters have weapons with Runes embedded in them. This gives their weapons special effects, adding some flare. Some will have extra damage, some will have elemental effects. Each character can also have up to three Rune slots unlocked as they level. This means that you could potentially equip someone with 3 Runes to boost their physical attack prowess, 3 Runes full of magic spells, or whichever combination you desire. You can make some pretty sick physical attackers and mages with the right Rune combinations.This system helps make nearly any characters you select a viable option, but it does mean you’ll spend a lot of time micro-managing when swapping characters. And you will be changing your party up a lot because the game doesn’t really give you a choice not to.

One good feature that does help to offset all the character swapping and leveling you’ll potentially be doing is the experience distribution. The game doesn’t give those sitting out experience, but low level characters will catch up in a matter of a few fights, tops. This is the only hint I got that maybe, just maybe, they DID want us to experiment with different characters.

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Favorite boss design in the game.

I won’t say that Suikoden 2 is difficult, because it isn’t and if I did I’d be harassed with “N00B!” comments. But with that being said, the first boss fight was definitely a wake up call. Everything went from smooth sailing to “Okay maybe this game is serious!” Bosses in this game get multiple turns in a row, counters, and do crazy AoE damage. Sometimes, just for fun, they counter with an AoE attack then do it again on their turn before your characters get a chance to heal. Moral of the story: Never go into a boss fight without resting and getting spells back. You won’t make it long without high damaging runes and heal spells. Aside from the boss fights that actually require some thought and strategy, much of the battle system is a breeze.

The battle simulator fights, however, aren’t all that  great. Truthfully, it’s never been my thing to begin with. So I am a bit biased against them. I find the entire process cumbersome and boring. Half the time we wanted to let Apple do her own thing (This prompts the AI to handle the fighting for you) but she typically got units killed so we’d have to take matters into our own hands. Unlike other games of this nature, the player isn’t given a very clear picture of what their goal is. There were way, way too many hidden agendas and forced “Get your ass kicked by the enemies” for my liking.

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There is no HP meter either, you have to guess based on how many soldiers are left standing.

Don’t let fanboys with nostalgia vision try telling you about how unique the story in this game is, either. Sure, the over-arching plot doesn’t turn into “saving the world from an ultimate evil” like virtually every other JRPG in existence, but there’s plenty more JRPG tropes to go around: Silent protagonist? Check. Annoying characters that you just wanna kill tagging along for the entire journey? Check. Childhood best friend becoming your misled, angsty nemesis? Check. Traumatized child who refuses to speak until the dickbag she worships has his redeeming moment? Check. And that’s not even getting into all the watered down caricatures the characters are. There’s 108 of them, so it’s not like the writers really had any other choice.

As with most other old school JRPGs, the terrible translations make the entire experience more humorous than it probably should be. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Though I have no doubt she really said this!

All in all, Suikoden 2 is a worthy JRPG to take the time to play if you’re a fan of that genre like we are. Steve-O, the Suikoden veteran, gives it a two thumbs up. Suikoden 2 wasn’t masochistic and grind-y enough for our tastes, though…. So maybe we’ll do Earthbound Beginnings next to further torture ourselves!

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Ten Most Disappointing Video Games

I admit, I’m a complete fangirl when it comes to a lot of video games. While I am slowly learning my lesson when it comes to spending my money on a video game based solely on the title, I’m still very guilty of doing so. Thus leading to imminent disappointment when the game I’ve purchased and played did not live up to my expectations. The following list of games are titles that are almost all entries in series I’d already grown to love; a couple of them are games that I never clicked with, or were, in my opinion, over-hyped. I was tempted to title this entry “Ten Worst Video Games” but, while a few of these games are bad, I think in most cases they are just lackluster or totally miss the mark in association with the title attached to them. You be the judge!

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Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories

I purchased this title when I still had a backwards compatible DS. And before it became an insurmountable task to collect and play every Kingdom Hearts title out there. This is when the plot started to get convoluted and weird. Something I’ve come to expect from Square RPGs nowadays. It is something I can excuse when the battle system is engaging and fun, but they managed to completely screw it up in this game. Instead of utilizing the fast-paced and rewarding battle system already established in Kingdom Hearts, the developers had to try and fix something that wasn’t broken.  Battles are carried out through a stupid card deck system. No, I did not purchase a Kingdom Hearts game to play Magic: The Gathering, thanks. I wanted to kill things with my Keyblade. Not make card decks and combos and count numbers other than HP and MP. It wasn’t what I was expecting and I lost interest pretty quickly. I think I made it to Agrabah and quit for good. Evidently, this game was met with commercial and critical success. They even made a remake for it on the PS2.  I don’t believe I even know any Kingdom Hearts fans who really enjoyed this game, and I don’t feel like there’s a big hole in my life for not completing it.

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The Third Birthday (Parasite Eve III)

Parasite Eve is another series that Squaresoft hooked me on with the first entry, only to laugh in my face as I gave them more of my money for the second and third releases. Having Parasite Eve as one of my favorite games of all time doesn’t make a good case for any of its predecessors. But at least with Parasite Eve II I understood the direction they were going with it. Sort of. Parasite Eve was, at the time of its release, Squaresoft’s red-headed stepchild. It broke away from their RPG mold, adapting a sort of turn-based, sort of real-time, and sort of sci-fi/horror potluck with a female main character (!!) that ended up being an awesome and unique experience. For Parasite Eve II, they went the more survival horror game route, shamelessly copying Resident Evil’s outdated mechanics.

For The Third Birthday, they went off the deep end. Seems to me video game companies are trying to turn EVERY franchise into an action-shooter nowadays. Squaresoft/Square Enix suck at these, as per another one of their bastard child games further down this list. I honestly don’t know what they were thinking with Third Birthday.  I’m pretty sure the only thing I liked about this game was the music: the remixed tunes from Parasite Eve are pretty sweet. Everything else is frustrating and asinine. Maeda was modeled after a serial pedophile. There is next to no story exposition: every chapter the player is expected to read through data files to figure out what the hell is happening because the writers at Square Enix keep insisting that time travel is a viable storytelling mechanic. It’s not. Especially the way you guys keep doing it. So stop already!

The battle system devolved from an action-RPG game, to a survival horror wannabe, and finally to a poorly executed over the shoulder shooter/action game.

I had to play through this piece of crap twice to get the good ending, which was their way of wussing out on a different plot mechanic and opening the doors for yet another game. I’m hoping this title didn’t sell enough copies for them to bother with more entries. Honestly, I don’t think I can take the disappointment anymore. I wish this game had remained a Japanese portable exclusive as originally planned so I wouldn’t have exposed myself to this crap and added it to my Parasite Eve library.

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Valkyrie Profile

I’ve tried playing through this game at least three times by now. Everyone hyped about how awesome it was online, and due to its super rarity, it cost me more than I should’ve ever paid for a Playstation game. This is an example of a game that didn’t “click” with me for some reason. I couldn’t get attached to any of the characters or the story. My impressions of the battle system were mixed; I don’t think I found it particularly bad, but it was weird and I wasn’t crazy about it. And every time I restarted it I found out after the fact that I did something wrong and couldn’t get the good ending, killing my drive to finish my current play through. Then I would put the game down in favor of playing something else, and not find the time to go back to it.

As it has been years since my last stab at completing this game, I don’t have much else to say about it. At some point in my life I do plan on brushing the dust off yet again and sticking through until the end.  For the amount of money this game was going for on EBay at the time, and the collective reviews from companies and gamers on this title, I was expecting a more absorbing RPG experience. Not something that loses my interest 10 gameplay hours in every single time.

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Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII

I’m sure you were expecting this game to pop up on my list after my Third Birthday hint. This is Square Enix”s first botched attempt at turning one of their RPG series into an action-shooter. Due to the mixed critical reactions from this game, you would’ve thought they’d leave it at this and not put us through the same painful experience (obviously they didn’t learn from previous mistakes). But anyway, this game is part of the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII. Meaning: we needed a new cash cow and the suggestive finale of Final Fantasy VII wasn’t good enough so we’re gonna come up with a bunch of stupid spin-offs and sequels to spoon feed our audience with even though their fanfictions have better material than this crap!

I liked Vincent. I thought playing a game as him and exploring his rich background in the Turks with Professor Hojo and Lucrecia wouldn’t be a bad experience. Instead of being smart and making a prequel, flashbacks were incorporated and Dirge of Cerberus was really about fighting some new stupid group of antagonists who want to destroy the planet. Throw in your anticipated Final Fantasy VII cameo appearances, and that’s all there is to it. A very disappointing game that hardly deserves to have the words Final Fantasy VII in its title.

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Breath of Fire II

I already raged about how this is the worst J-RPG ever in a previous blog post. Rather than reliving that traumatizing experience, I will say it was not only disappointing (I played it after Breath of Fire III, which was a great game), it was downright terrible. I’m pretty open-minded about a lot of things, but I can’t rationalize how anyone can enjoy playing this game. I read comments from other gamers about how much they love this game. When I think about the great RPGs on the SNES, again, I can’t comprehend how anyone could sit down to play this game because they want to. It’s a culmination of everything to NOT do when creating a video game. Play Breath of Fire III and be happy with that.

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Silent Hill: Book of Memories

I’ll admit, I really should have seen this one coming. In my defense, I needed something to play on my Vita, and I figured a Silent Hill themed dungeon crawler/hack-n-slash had the potential for passive portable entertainment. You know, a RNG hack-n-slash with Silent Hill monsters, music, and weapons? Can’t be all  bad, right?

For starters, they didn’t just throw in some SH skins and music and called it a day. The creators threw in all sorts of other survival horror elements which just don’t work. Like item durability, as seen in SH:Downpour. I strongly dislike item durability in most games. In Silent Hill’s case, I  can’t wrap my head around the fact that a plank of wood supposedly has about the same durability as a freakin’ fire axe or katana! To make matters worse, someone figured it’d be a great idea to make monsters have specific weapon weaknesses on top of weapon durability, limited inventory, and random drops. One particular enemy that made my life difficult was the Needler. The Needlers even blocked my GUN bullets! Upon further investigation, I found out it was apparently weak to the katana, a weapon I didn’t even know existed in the game at that point of time even though I’d fought over 2 dozen of the stupid things. And, unlike every other RNG dungeon crawler game I’ve played, there’s no hub or stash to safely tuck away a good weapon you might want to save for later. Tell me how that makes any sense in a game where monsters will only take a decent amount of damage from one particular weapon?

Oh, the frustration. It became apparent to me that if I didn’t want to find anyone else dumb enough to pay money for this game and play multiplayer, I had no business turning the game on. Pile that on top of no checkpoints, one save point per level, and repetitive puzzles, and you have a game that could’ve been a creepy-cool hack-n-slash if they’d followed a formula I feel has become lost in gaming: K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid!).

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Spice World

You can laugh at me all you want, but the truth of the matter is teenage me absolutely loved the biggest musical act to come out of England since the Beatles. Imagine my excitement when two of my favorite things were combined into one experience! In fact, I remember my mother blatantly telling me they decided to go with a Playstation for my Christmas present so I could get this game and the Xena: Warrior Princess game (Xena was, and is still, my favorite television show EVER).

Anyway, I eagerly popped the game in my Playstation and got going. I don’t remember exactly what I was expecting, but I know I wasn’t expecting to have already experienced everything the game had to offer in less than two hours. All you do is pick which Spice Girl you want to be, pick which song you want to mix, and do stupid dance moves. Instead of including almost their entire library of songs, there were only FIVE songs to mix, and only 9 selections from each song to use, if my memory serves me correctly. Then you go through the same dance move rotation with a 1970’s disco king every time, and assign moves to each girl for the performance. The grand finale is watching your “show” and pressing buttons to select the camera view.

Whoop-dee-freakin’-doo! There’s some footage from some boring “exclusive” interview along with other video footage that was overplayed on every news network at the time (like Geri Halliwell pinching Prince Charles’ bum) but that’s it. There was no game. There was almost nothing to do. I’m going to go ahead and say this is the most shallow video game I’ve ever played.

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The Last Remnant

The Last Remnant is a prime example of Square Enix releasing fugly game content wrapped in a pretty package.  I purchased this game for my 360. In hindsight, I should’ve stuck with Lost Odyssey and been satisfied with having one awesome turn-based RPG for that console. Aside from the music, promising storyline (from what I saw, anyway, and I’m bummed because I did actually want to know what happened), and flashy graphics, this game was a mess.

Too much of the battle system was random. Instead of controlling each individual party member, you divide your party into “unions” and give them general commands and the AI takes it from there. Bad idea. The computer gets to decide what your units do. Thereby deciding what abilities they learn, because the abilities characters learn is decided by what actions they perform. Which means I didn’t have the healing abilities I needed when the time came because my characters hadn’t used them enough because they never seemed to be available in the totally randomized action command list!

Add this to sitting through terrible loading screens during battles just to see a message that a unit is “botched.” Another extremely frustrating aspect of this game. When the leader of a union is down or KO’ed or whatever, the rest of the union can’t act. They stand there and pick their noses instead of swinging their weapons at something. Then they force ME to sit there and pick my nose because the game insists on reminding me the units refuse to act every time it’s their turn with 2 minute loading screens. Nope, not my idea of a good time.

I’ve heard they since released a PC version of this game and fixed a lot of this game’s issues, but I’m certainly not giving them any more of my money to find out what happened, even if they sold it for only $1 on Steam.

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Soul Calibur V

I’ve been a fan of Soul Calibur since I stumbled upon one of the games in my local arcade years ago. I purchased Soul Calibur II-IV, and somehow was smart enough to save my money when it came to Soul Calibur V. The fact that I bought all the other games is significant, I feel, because SC is the only arcade-style fighting series I’ve ever followed. The only other fighting game I actually owned was Killer Instinct and that’s because it was packaged with the SNES my parents bought me when I was young.

My gaming partner brought over SCV and we played it for a night. That’s all it took to play through the Story mode due to laziness and/or budget cuts. Instead of each character getting their own story mode to play, you only get to experience Patroklos’ journey. He is one of Sophitia’s two children in this game, both of which are new characters with the same fighting style.  He is whiny and boring. I really can’t believe the developers couldn’t be bothered to create 2-3 hour story  modes for each character. I always found it the most enjoyable way to get accustomed to the different fighting styles.

Also, Talim and Seong Mi-na are my favorite characters to play as. Now do you understand the depth of my disappointment? Namco Bandai Games didn’t even do me the courtesy of giving any new characters their fighting style (sorry, Kilik’s replacement doesn’t count!). When you go and remove my staple characters from a fighting game, I’m given little reason to want to play it. And there is NO reason Talim, the youngest character of them all, can’t be in a game that takes place 15 years later. Did they kill her off when I wasn’t paying attention or something? I was actually looking forward to playing as a more grown up version of her until I realized she was cut from the roster. WTF?

Throwing in Ezio Auditore as a guest character wasn’t even enough to get me to buy this game. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll pick up a used copy down the road.

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Final Fantasy X-2

This is it. This is the game that signaled the decline of the Final Fantasy series for me. This is the mother of all terrible sequels. This is the game I was quite satisfied carrying on with the rest of my life pretending I hadn’t spent over 100 hours trying to get a 100% score just to be screwed out of it by .2%. And now, as if to further rub my face in a pile of chocobo feces, they’re bundling this abomination with the FFX HD remake… basically forcing me to purchase this game again! It’s a recurring nightmare, I tell you!

If you read my Top Ten Favorite Video Games list, you know I hold Final Fantasy X in pretty high esteem. It very well may be my favorite video game of all time. I know this sets the stage for a whole lot of disappointment on my end, but I don’t think I could have ever conceived such a disastrous way to pick up where FFX left off. The conclusion was perfect: a  satisfying, well-written solution with all around tear-jerking and a suggestive bit at the end to allow gamers to draw their own conclusions about what may have happened.

Then they had to take a big dump on it with FFX-2. Yuna’s character has completely changed for the worse, Rikku somehow has even less clothing on, and the new character Paine (the only saving grace) gets swept into their teeheeing-obnoxious-girl power maelstrom by the end of the game. To top off the Japanese school girl stupidity, they added Sailor Moon-esque ‘dressphere’ changing sequences during battle. From the opening cutscene of the game featuring “Yuna” doing a cheesy dance to a J-Pop song, I could tell this game was varying from ALL of my expectations. Not to say I don’t like Sailor Moon or J-pop (I listen to Koda Kumi’s music a lot, ironically enough) they don’t belong in my Final Fantasy X. Instead of following a rational, “Let’s give Final Fantasy X fans something they’ll like,” train of thought, the developers seemed to go with more of a “Let’s combine a ton of pop culture crap and boobs and hope more people will buy it!”

And this game was met with critical and commercial success as well. I just don’t get it.

I guess the overall lesson here is not to judge a book (video game) by its cover. Or its title. Or its developers. Or what the critics say. Or what fellow gamers say. Instead, I really need to spend more time researching games and checking out Youtube videos to get a better idea of whether a game is worth my time and money or not. And even then, sometimes it is a shot in the dark. So what do you guys think? Did these titles disappoint you as much as they did me?

My Ten Favorite Video Games

Here it is, ladies, gents, and everyone in between. My Top Ten! I had a hard enough time choosing ten games to name above all the others that I’ve played, so I did not give them set rankings. Games, like all other art mediums, cannot always be fairly compared to each other due to their stark differences. A critic worth their salt isn’t going to rate an oil painting with the same criteria as an ice sculpture. Therefore, I surely can’t say an action game is better than a puzzle game because the bases for comparison are vastly different, except for the basic fun and immersion factors. What this means for my list is that I tried to get a comprehensive collection from different genres. I could easily (and maybe later do) a 10 favorite RPGs list because that is the genre I play the most of. But I think a more varied list appreciating other game genres is appropriate and more reflective of my gaming experiences. So, without further adieu…

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Super Mario Brothers 2

I love me some old school Mario games, and none so much as this title. It’s a Doki Doki Panic revamp, making it a black sheep in the Mario-verse, but I love it. Whenever I get a hankering to play an old Mario title, it’s almost always SMB2. You get to play as Princess Toadstool, and not the joke Princess Peach in Super Princess Peach who makes the feminazi in me rage. No, Princess Toadstool gets down and dirty with the boys in this game, throwing enemies around and kicking butt without a stupid parasol and PMS freakouts. Oh, and did I mention she can hover? If you cheat with a Game Genie (and oh, cheat I did), you can enter a code which makes her fly for entire levels if you so desire. Ideally, you would choose the most suitable character for each level I guess. But screw that, I only play as Princess!

After all these years, I can still do many levels with my eyes closed (like that level in world 4 where all the Beezos are flying at you, and if you don’t want to get hit you need to do a well executed series of jumps, ducks, and ducking while jumping), and I still remember where all the warp “pots” are. I liked not being on a timer in this game. It gives the player more time to explore and learn the areas. I mean, who didn’t try digging up every single square of sand? Or seeing how long they could bait the Phanto with a key before getting hit? As quirky as the enemy designs were, for the most part I think they’re pretty cool and unique.

I will also never forget my reaction when the Eagle-mouth-doorway-thingy dislodged itself and started trying to attack me! I almost shat myself. It was such a great moment, I only have one other old school game moment that compares, so I guess I’ll do that game next.

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Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

I like my old school 2D Link adventures. Another black sheep I guess, since it’s pretty much an alternate reality experience with some Super Mario nods thrown in. Its charming in a strange way and a nice change in pace from saving Zelda, Hyrule, and collecting triforce pieces. Instead, Link is stranded on Koholint Island and must traverse 8 dungeons and collect special instruments to escape (Play 8 magical instruments to awaken the Wind Fish? Huh?). How does he know this? A wise owl told him, of course.

So about that ‘young me almost shat myself experience.’ I may have shop lifted, say, a couple of times, from that shopkeeper in the starting town. I don’t suggest you do it. If you do, he KILLS YOU with a LASER next time you go in! Second grade me freaked out and did not play this game again for months. Literally. I could not believe it. What a morality lesson! It didn’t stop me from stealing in real life, but hey, actual WalMart cashiers don’t come at you with laser beam guns. I haven’t tried shoplifting in a Zelda game since, so I don’t know if you get capital punishment for this crime or not in other entries.

Upgrading the wallet, which I always thought was kinda dumb, is absent from this game. I like the weapon and special item selections as well. Collecting seashells was cool and I wanted to get every single one. I definitely ran that poor shovel into the ground. Running into a tree could make rupees or a seashell come out… Oh boy. I definitely ran into every tree too. And, if you poke the sword into a wall and hear a hollow “tink,” then it’ll open up a passageway if you drop a bomb in front of it. I definitely poked every wall possible, too. Thinking back on it, I definitely got my mileage out of that poor Game Boy.

In order to navigate the final dungeon (I.E.- tunnels in the wind fish’s egg) you first needed to use the magnifying glass on the mysterious book in the village’s library that you couldn’t read before. It reveals a series of arrows. So if you get all the way to the final dungeon you’re screwed if you didn’t look at the book and write down the arrows or commit them to memory. I remember carrying around a little slip of paper in my Game Boy travel case with the directional sequence written on it for months. Ah, good times.

If you like the old 2D LoZ games but haven’t played this one, you absolutely need to. It is a very strong entry in the series and shouldn’t be dismissed just because it was on a portable system. To my knowledge, it has been released on Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and you can now download it onto a 3DS via the Nintendo EStore!

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Mega Man VI

I just had to put a Mega Man game on here, and VI is the entry that stole a lot of my childhood (and sanity) from me. Anyone who has played a NES Mega Man title knows the frustrating (and satisfying) feeling of trudging through one of these games. It really can be equated to self-induced torture sometimes. The memorization (which takes lots of repetition for someone like me) and flawless execution required to master some of the levels and bosses in these games is just crazy. And NOTHING matches the feeling of being this close to killing a robot master before dying and having no more lives left. On the plus side, no one will make fun of you for jumping up off the couch and doing a victory dance after finally killing your first Robot Master.

Everything about Megaman VI makes it tower over the other NES entries for me. The levels, the bosses, the music, the weapons, the awesome RUSH goodies. I also love all things Ancient Greek and Greek Mythology. Therefore, Centaur Man is the man. I’m a total dork and still listen to the soundtrack to this game. None of the other Mega Man games can say they’ve earned that level of nostalgia. MMVI is the basis of comparison for all other Mega Man games. You’ll quite often hear me say “That reminds me of such-and-such from VI.” I know I don’t make much sense, since Mega Man VI came after I-V and was criticized as being redundant and lacking originality (a robot master tournament with robots programmed to take over the world? Sounds original to me in a laughable sort of way). I find that criticism a moot point because ALL the Mega Man games up to that point were just rehashing the first game. They all have themed stages with a boss, who, upon defeat, gives up a new weapon that = KILL MODE to a certain boss,  and have final stages you need to traverse after killing all the robot masters. They all have ridiculous excuses for story lines and bosses. And that’s how it should be.

Thanks to the internet and a host of dedicated gamers, replaying Mega Man oldies is less frustrating than the good old days. Robot Master weakness charts are all over the internet. Outside of memorizing frustrating one-hit kills in levels and Robot Master fighting patterns (jump, jump, JUMP ON TOP OF MEGA MAN) the rest of your time is spent playing “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” trying to figure out what each boss’ weakness is. Without the trial and error, you can usually make a chump out of a boss on the first or second attempt… And usually by then you’ll have the level committed to memory like the back of your hand. I realize a lot of gamers would probably pick Megaman II over this one, but it just doesn’t stick with me like VI does. It is harder, not more fun. Besides, charging the Mega Buster is where it’s at.

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Dance Dance Revolution: Max 2

Go on, laugh it up.  Before you totally throw my credibility out the window, let me clarify something here. On my hidden Top Ten agenda, I asked myself “How many times have I or would I replay this game?” If a game can get me to keep coming back for more, it definitely has to be one of my personal favorites. Based on that criteria alone, DDR certainly makes the cut. I have been playing DDR games on and off for over a decade, and I STILL have not mastered every song. I’d say that earns it a metric ton of replayability points. DDR was innovative and creative for its time. And, say what you will about the series, these games got lazy gamers like me off of our arses and sweating like pigs.

The DDR games have changed a little over the years, though the core game play remains the same: Step on the arrows when they reach the top of the screen. Trust me, the execution is more difficult than the concept alludes. However, each entry in the series has different game modes in which you unlock more songs, play modes, or background dancer designs/outfits. I was awfully let down with the PS3 Dance Dance Revolution when I saw it did not have the background dancers. Sure they were silly, but I loved watching Naoki get down with his bad self. There was NO way I was gonna put an EyeCam on top of my TV and stare at my gross, sweaty self. That’s such a teeny bopper “I’m skinny and popular and I’m gonna dance to Britney Spears” marketing gimmick. The DDR games have had to start selling themselves to the mainstream, but I try not to let it bother me too much. I understand they need to sell a certain number of copies to justify making more. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the popular American songs are also the easiest and therefore appealing more to the casual DDR player. But as long as they still include my J-pop and trance beats I shall remain satiated.

I chose Max 2 because it has my favorite song selection (aside from missing “Sakura”), the workout mode works exactly like it should (don’t know why they changed it in the PS3 DDR) and it has some of the most whacked-out fluctuating background designs ever. When I got good enough at “Drifting Away” to start paying attention to what was going on in the background I definitely did a triple-take. It’s trippy, to say the least.

Getting started in the DDR-verse is cheaper than ever nowadays. If you love video games, dance music, and don’t want to go to the gym or track where other people can SEE you trying to sweat off some pounds, buy a copy of the game and a dance pad so you can shake your money maker in the privacy of your own home without a monthly subscription!

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Dead Island

I’ve always loved killing zombies. In the last couple of years I’ve opened up to open exploration games as well. When I explain Dead Island to someone, it is simple: Killing zombies meets open-world exploration RPG, what’s not to love? And there is very little to not love in this game. The developers were jerks and threw in sequences where you have to kill post-apocalyptic gangster opportunists (and I would definitely rank these sections as the game’s weak points) but other than that, and some minor glitches I am hoping will be absent from the sequel, I really have few faults to find with this game. It is absolutely freakin’ awesome. I already wrote a lengthy blog post praising this game, so I won’t bore you with what I’ve already said. All I have to add is that April 23 cannot come soon enough.

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God of War

As I mentioned in my Mega Man VI blurb, I love all things Ancient Greek/Greek Mythology. I also happen to thoroughly enjoy action games and gratuitous violence. The God of War series fits the formula to be considered in my top ten games, and is a shining example of great console exclusives. I have played every God of War release, and am eagerly anticipating the next entry in the series. I’ve partaken in the multiplayer beta for Ascension, which I was skeptical about at first. After spending a couple of nights in the Hercules forum I can say they have done a great job incorporating the GoW battle system and atmosphere in a multiplayer setting.

In these games you play as Kratos, my favorite anti-hero. He is a former Spartan soldier who strives to get revenge on Ares, and later, all of Mount Olympus, and he doesn’t care what he has to do or who he has to kill to achieve his goal. Really, more video games need characters like this. After killing your first handful of innocent civilians you’ll be asking yourself, “Wait, am I the good guy here?” If memory serves, you actually receive red orbs (ability/weapon upgrade currency) for killing them in certain sections.

The pacing in GoW is practically perfect. I don’t like it when games dump fifty abilities on you at the beginning of the game and expect you to be able to learn and execute all of them at once. Nor do I appreciate feeling powerless the entire game, either. In GoW, you will gradually upgrade your magic and life bars via items found in treasure chests (Phoenix Feathers and Gorgon Eyes, respectively) and upgrade your weapons to unlock new abilities for them by opening chests and doing lots of killing! The weapon upgrades make sense and the abilities are usually easy enough to pull off at will. Extra skill is needed for timed parrying, blocking, dodging and counters. Kratos’ chain blades are also one of the coolest weapons ever. Even basic attacks manage to look stylish, and it cuts down on boring running over to the enemy time. There are other weapons besides the chain blades, but they’re hardly worth using until they get significantly beefed up in GoW3.

For all my praising of this series, I will admit I’m not crazy about the super arbitrary puzzles, especially in the first game. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself asking the television, “Who the heck would think to do that?” because I definitely did a couple of times. I also believe, in terms of storyline, the series has run its course. GoW3 was supposed to be the end (and that was after two PSP entries were tacked on) and now there is a new title, Ascension slated for release on March 12. I can’t help but wonder what’s the point… besides milking more money out of consumers, anyway.

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Bayonetta

It was a toss-up between this and Lollipop Chainsaw, but Bayonetta won out due to the superior in-depth battle mechanics and wealth of unlockable goodies that’ll certainly keep gamers coming back for more. Plus, I honestly think Bayonetta paved the way for LC. Aside from having a female protagonist, sexually-laden humor and lots of stylized action sequences, they’re very different so check them both out! While LC deals with a high school girl killing zombies, Bayonetta is, well, a witch who kills angels.

If you like the stylized demon killing in Devil May Cry, you’ll be impressed with the fighting. The games share the same director, Hideki Kamiya, and it shows. But while Dante tries being edgy and hot with his one-liners and falls short, Bayonetta picks up his slack. I laughed out loud all throughout playing this game. The ridiculousness is funny and over the top. If you take all your games with uber seriousness, this gem wasn’t meant for you. I was disappointed near the end when the writers started trying to take themselves seriously. It started loosing credibility to me at that point. The ‘plot’ got ridiculous and didn’t make much sense to me. Hopefully Bayonetta 2 will ride on all the great aspects of the first game: goofy characters, outlandish and fast-paced action, raunchy humor, and awesome enemy designs and take the whole package to the next level.

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Parasite Eve

Reading is another one of my hobbies. When I discovered Squaresoft developed a video game based on an award winning Japanese sci-fi novel, I had to check it out. And, as an added bonus, the main character is a woman– a common theme in my top ten list, you’ll notice before I’m done. If my memory serves, Parasite Eve may even be the first mature-rated game I ever played, but I can’t say for sure. I purchased it at GameStop when I was in high school… way back before they figured out mature movies and video games made us all violent, twisted individuals.

I have to say I really like what Squaresoft did with it. Translating books directly into video games wasn’t as common as it is nowadays and Squaresoft totally pulled it off. The game managed to hold onto the B-movie sci-fi atmosphere while incorporating role-playing and survival game elements. The ongoing tension between the main character, Aya Brea, and the antagonist “Eve,” totally had me reeled in until the game finally explained the precarious bond between them. The “take me seriously” dialogue still sings to my quirky sci-fi loving side. The music is catchy and I still listen to the soundtrack from time to time.

The sexuality rating is largely credited to the “naked” (though she doesn’t have any nipples) and pregnant Eve you fight near the end of the game in an awesome showdown located at the fallen Statue of Liberty. Then, spoilers be damned, you get license to kill her baby. Dead Space and Dante’s Inferno have crossed that bar as well, but PE was definitely my first mutant-baby destroying experience. The Ultimate Being, Eve’s artificially inseminated offspring, is a great example of what a final boss fight should be like in a RPG. He basically morphs… and morphs… and morphs… and morphs again… and even after you dish out a world of pain, he can still one-hit-kill you in the final chase sequence. It’ll have you bashing your head against the wall if you take a wrong turn when the pile of green slime is coming after you, but it is so worth it.

I also love Parasite Eve because it is a solid, rewarding RPG experience that can be completed in less than ten hours. I don’t have all the gaming time I used to have, so this is a great bonus. Plus, if you’re interested in devoting the time, there’s a New Game+ mode so you can keep beefing up your choice gun and armor and tackle the 99 story Chrysler Tower–and earn yourself an alternate boss fight and ending to boot!

In terms of the Parasite Eve fandom, I’ve read the English translation of the novel, watched the subtitled version of the Japanese movie, and played the games. Don’t even waste your time with Parasite Eve 2 and 3. Like a lot of sequels I have gripes with, they tried turning the series into something it wasn’t meant to be. First with PE2 it was trying too hard to be Resident Evil. Then with PE3 it was trying too hard to be, I don’t even know, a fast-paced action game. Or just a bad game, really.

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Xenosaga III: Also Spoke Zarathustra

I’m still a little sore that the Xenosaga series got slashed from the projected five installments down to three. I blame Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose, for turning off the core fan base with the absolutely terrible battle system. Which is a pity, because Xenosaga’s strength has always been the story, and Episode II did well in that regard… It was just painful getting from point A to point B.

I’ll admit, the Xeno series isn’t for everyone. The first game in the trilogy, Der Wille Zur Macht, was criticized for the overly generous portions of exposition. Gamers like myself, who played the predecessor Xenogears, knew what we were getting ourselves in for though. For those of you who don’t know what you’re getting yourselves into, try imagining the content of, say, a science fiction fantasy book series that’s about a dozen novels long, each book averaging 700 pages. These books would be overflowing with vast environments, well-written and believable characters. And the plot would be something like showcasing humanity’s struggle to survive alongside cyborgs, realians and clones, all trying to fight off an ‘alien’ threat killing them from another plane of existence.  And none of that includes the even more complicated ‘grander scheme’ going on as well. Throw all of that into a turn-based RPG and you might have a better idea of what Xenosaga is all about.

I really cannot begin to explain the epicness that is the Xenosaga plot. All I can say is that, at times, it seems like you need advanced degrees in religion and philosophy to truly appreciate what these games are doing to your mind. The episode titles are in German, due to heavy borrowing from the German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (obviously). There is even a character named Wilhelm in the series, who, well, certainly earns his namesake.

I chose Also Sprach Zarathustra because I found it a harmonious blend of the previous installments. The battle system took the best elements of the first two and created its own beast. Episode III starts off confusing due to the writers trying to wrap up plot points in games cut from production (Namco released a flash video with original scores and dialogue prepared for the cut games in Japanese, and there is a fansub available online titled “The Missing Years,” for anyone interested…) but once it picks up you won’t regret all the time you invested in the series. By the end of Xenogears and the Xenosaga trilogy, the writers had me seriously contemplating pretty much every mystery of the human experience: death, love, religion, sexuality, morality, humanity…. There really are few video games or movies or television shows that I can say the same for. Aside from my last Top Ten entry, this is the only video game that had me bawling once everything was said and done.

Oh, and the musical score is… Wow. The music in all the Xeno games rank high with me, but the soundtrack in Episode III is remarkable.  Yuki Kajiura truly outdid herself with this one.

If I’ve peaked your interest, you can download Xenogears on the Playstation Network for around $10, I believe. It is the Playstation game that inspired the Xenosaga trilogy, and if you like it, you should definitely continue on in the adventure. I’m hard pressed to recommend Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose, because the gameplay is tedious and boring. The only thing that got me through were the characters and story: both of which you can read about in Episode III thanks to the Xeno-bible the developers were kind enough to throw in there. Personally, I’m thinking about starting an online petition to get them to make an episode 2.5 so we get to see everything we missed!

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Final Fantasy X

I could have loaded this post with mostly Final Fantasy games, but hundreds of better reviewers have already written everything there is to write about the series. Not to mention that would be pretty boring and best saved for a “Favorite RPGs” post. After a lot of soul-searching I’ve decided upon this pinnacle in the Final Fantasy franchise. In my opinion, FF games rate as either “Before FFX” or “After FFX.” The “Before” games represent the best JRPGs have ever had to offer. “The After,” well, let’s just say something in the magical formula has been missing for quite some time. Final Fantasy X puts the “Final” in Final Fantasy for me.

Final Fantasy X was released when I was in high school. I hadn’t yet saved up the money to buy a PS2, so one of my friends let me borrow his PS2, copy of FFX, and a memory card. I was absolutely hooked. I don’t think my family saw me for two weeks. If I wasn’t at school or work, I was in front of the small TV in my room playing. Completely consumed, I raced through the game because I needed to know what happened next. And when the grand finale came, I cried like a baby; not only because the ending was everything a RPG should have, but because my life now felt empty. I remember collecting myself and aimlessly wandering around the house afterward, unsure of what to do with myself. The empty feeling of returning to reality after completing an exceptional video game or finishing an epic fantasy series always leaves an empty pit in my stomach and tightness in my chest. Final Fantasy X does it to me every time, no matter how often I play it.

It is hard to find many faults in this game. Not only does it feature excellently written characters and dialogue (for the most part), it has an innovative battle system, unique character customization, and a great storyline. Freely swapping characters in and out of battle whenever I want? Yessir! I used to make sure everyone performed an action during each fight to ensure they leveled up equally. It changed everything for me. Turn-based RPGs really should have picked up on it. Staple Fantasy-RPG classes are here as well: White Mage, Thief, Black Mage, etc., but if you put in enough time you can make any character good at anything. Want Auron to pick up the pace? Take him for a trip down Riku’s sphere grid path. Need a backup healer? Throw Lulu down Yuna’s path so she’ll learn some White Magic and get an even higher magic stat!

Final Fantasy X also has Blitzball. Blitzball is the only mini-game (‘mini’ is only an expression at this point) that I fell in love with. FFVII had the Gold Saucer, which I only went back to for the unlockables. FFVIII had Triple Triad (again, only played for the goodies) and FFIX had Tetra Master, which was pointless. Blitzball was rewarding, but it was also FUN. I found myself turning on my PS2 only to play Blitzball. And never did I complain about spending four hours playing just to get a certain item. It was also as customizable as your characters.

Aside from Xenosaga, I don’t think any games match up to Final Fantasy X‘s storyline in my eyes. While I appreciate Kefka (and I’ve been saying it’s about time for another megalomaniac villain), Sephiroth, and FFVIII‘s sorceresses, none of their “save the world from this villain” plots spoke to me like in FFX. In FFX, you are disillusioned throughout most of the game, believing as the rest of Spira believes. Mankind’s punishment is Sin, and the only brief restitution comes in 10 year periods known as “The Calm” after a summoner sacrifices their life for the greater good. However, you eventually learn that it is all an impressively constructed lie. As it turns out, “Sin” itself isn’t the true enemy, ‘god’ is, and the entire system was developed as a means of controlling the populace through false hope and lies– Hey, whaddya know? I just summarized my opinion on organized religion.

In all seriousness, experiencing this turn of events and the ensuing heartbreak between Yuna (who lost her father to said falsehoods and had devoted her entire life to the cause and was prepared to become a martyr for it) and Tidus (we won’t get into his entire story right now) really tied the knot for me and no other Final Fantasy tale quite matches it. It was a close call between this and Final Fantasy VII, but saving mankind from the shackles of their religion won out over saving the world from a demented biological experiment baby with mommy issues in the end. Saving ‘the world’ is done all the time, it was nice doing something different for a change.

And there you have it everyone, let the trolling wars begin! (Heyyy… look at all the great PS2 exclusives in this list~)