Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children

final-fantasy-vii-advent-children-complete-us

 All the gravity defying, it confuses me.

In lieu of finally beating Final Fantasy VII, I decided we should go ahead and watch the movie sequel, Advent Children. I’m sure most of you in their target audience has already seen it; Final Fantasy veterans who have a soft spot for VII, or enjoy seeing beautiful HD models of characters we remember as blocks and polygons. I’m a complete sucker/fangirl who buys into most of this stuff that tugs at my nostalgia heartstrings. I’ve seen this movie a few times, it’s on my shelf, and I figured now would be a good time to write about it.

I’m writing on the “Complete” edition, which includes about 25 minutes of removed scenes from the original release. These are scenes that had no business being taken out in the first place. They actually explain where the hell Denzel came from (but if you want the full monty, watch the included anime that is literally his entire background story) and lots of Sephiroth giving Cloud stabbies. Like, lots of stabbies. Blood everywhere. It was awesome. The first time I saw the Masamune shank Cloud through the shin I knew I was in love. Like I said, I’m not entirely sure why they removed so much of Sephiroth’s badassery, but seeing that made me happy. Otherwise, Sephiroth and Cloud’s big battle is a lot of them flying through the air and slashing buildings apart. I didn’t realize that after Holy and Meteor were summoned, gravity just stopped existing. Selectively, of course.

I don’t mean to say that I can’t suspend my disbelief because of the cast’s new affinity for zipping around in the sky instead of actually fighting. This is based on a video game where Tifa could pick up and drop kick monsters that were literally twenty times her size. I just wasn’t crazy about the fact that all the fight scenes (Minus Tifa’s fight against Loz, which is my favorite part) take place on bikes or in the sky.

Much like the game it is based on, the plot is something you don’t want to think too hard about, lest you melt the portion of your brain dedicated to processing logic and critical thinking.  Just take the movie for what it is; a chance to revisit Midgar two years later in gorgeous cinematic glory with a mandatory visit from Sephiroth at the end. In terms of characters from FFVII, you’ll see a whole lot of Cloud and Tifa. They look great, if you can ignore Cloud’s Geostigma bleeding. Ok, Tifa looks great. It appears as though she even got a breast reduction, which confuses me because I’m not sure how she thinks that’ll make Cloud pay more attention to her.

What they’ve done personality-wise to the characters is a bummer; Cloud is an annoying emo whine-ass, pining over a girl he barely knew because he was unable to save her (she wanted to die, get over it). And Tifa is, ya know, still a doormat. She should’ve moved on a long time ago. She finally gives Cloud the ass-kicking he deserves, but sadly, that’s her defining moment in the movie.  The rest of the playable cast in FFVII are lucky if they get cameo appearances. Hey, at least that means Barret can keep up with the “absentee father” role he’s so good at. This time around, instead of blowing up Mako reactors he’s drilling for oil. Way to hop from one method of slowly killing the planet to another!

If nothing else, with the little bit of the supporting cast you do get to see, they look good! Red XIII got some fancy jewelry, Yuffie ditched the green for some stylish black, and Vincent is… Vincent. Obnoxious pointy-gold shoes and all. In fact, during the movie you’ll see a lot more of the Turks. They play center stage, pretending ShinRa wants to make up for almost getting the planet destroyed by hiding Jenova’s head from her wannabe-baby-Sephiroths.

Spoiler: Rufus somehow survived the ShinRa tower blowing up with him inside of it.

Aesthetically, the movie is absolutely gorgeous. Even a few years later. Just don’t get too hung on it conceptually. I have to admit, I’m pretty biased against sequels in general. Especially with games that have endings crafted to let the audience develop their own theories. FFVII and FFX standout to me as the main entries that do so. Ironically enough, they’re the ones that have the sequels. It wasn’t enough to have the scene of Red XIII and kitties looking over the ruins of Midgar and wondering if humanity survived or not? It wasn’t enough to watch a teaser of Tidus swimming towards the surface, and wondering if it was him being given new life or if it was just a memorial scene? No, they had to go and milk them some more.

Only watch this movie if you’re a Final Fantasy VII nut. You’ll probably be disappointed with the story and characters, but the movie really isn’t marketable to anyone outside of FFVII fandom. There’s really no hope of understanding or enjoying what is going on if you haven’t played the game.  And if you have played the game, your chances are only marginally higher.

One other cool thing I forgot to mention: awesome soundtrack with great mixes of some of the game’s original soundtrack!

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Retro Review: Final Fantasy VII

FFVIICover

 

I still don’t know how his scrawny arms swing that sword.

This review is months in the making. My friend/co-blogger Sara and I get together about once a week for mommy time and kid play dates. Once upon a time, I discovered she’d never played Final Fantasy VII. As you can imagine, I was shocked and appalled, and told her she had no choice but to play it through with me. Even if it would take months.

And it did.

But it was so worth it.

As most of you probably know, FFVII is almost 20 years old. And boy, does it show. Playing this game again as a jaded adult makes its production flaws and outdated graphics/music even more obvious. The weird, blocky polygons just seem so awkward compared to FFVIII, Chrono Cross, or any other RPG from the Playstation era. FFVII does have some of the most iconic boss battle music EVER (I had to crank it for “One Winged Angel” even though Sephy didn’t survive long enough to blow the universe up on us). But for every catchy song that stands the test of time, there’s another little ditty that makes you feel like your ears are bleeding.

When I say “production flaws,” I guess what I really mean is “terrible translation flaws.” Please speak up in the comments if you disagree, but I find the dialogue really hard to follow and make sense of half the time. This typically results in me scratching my  head and wondering how the characters drew the completely illogical conclusions that they did throughout the course of the game. My friend Sara is the kind of person who asks WAY too many questions. Oftentimes, my only response to her inquiries about what what going on or how things were happening was, “Because reasons. Now shut up and play.” It doesn’t help that some majorly important background information is completely optional and easy to miss (like Vincent’s connection to Sephiroth or Cloud and Zack’s plight.)

Then there’s the multitude of typos and grammar issues. I’m a reader (and like to think I’m a writer) so they’re really distracting to people like me. Nothing is more annoying and mood-breaking than reading a typo during a scene that’s supposed to be pulling at my heartstrings. When Aeris dies, Sephiroth hints at Cloud’s true identity, then the screen goes black and he says, “Becauase, Cloud, you are a puppet.” I think that’s the exact typo, but I could be wrong. Anyway, when there’s no music and literally nothing else to look at besides that one sentence, it glares at me like a deer in the headlights. Especially because it makes me chuckle at the misspelling when I’m supposed to be either sad that Aeris got shanked (Yeah right, more like ecstatic she won’t be wedging herself between Cloud and Tifa anymore) or contemplative Sephiroth’s words and what the hell Aeris thought she was accomplishing.

My other favorite typo is the prompt screen during the Battle Arena. When the player is asked if they want to continue to the next round, they have to select “Off course!” instead of “Of course!” I’m still trying to figure out what that means. Off course? As in off-road monster truck driving or something?

Another ongoing laughter-inducer is the really, really bad translated-from Japanese-to-English ebonics. They take multiple (and mostly unsuccessful) jabs at utilizing slang, but Barrett’s dialogue is absolutely hilarious. Couple that with the blatantly obvious stereotypes and you’ve got comedic gold; if you’ve got the same depraved sense of humor my friends and I have, anyway. I don’t know if Japanese culture has many of the same stereotypes against black people as American culture does, but seeing as how they really laid on thick the absentee father/short tempered/completely clueless shticks, I don’t see how it could possibly be a mere coincidence.

Speaking of depraved humor, did I mention we opted out of utilizing the characters’ given names for less… conventional names? Some of them are too dirty to mention, but I strongly suggest playing through the game with Aeris’ name changed to “Some Slut.” Trust me, you won’t regret it. In fact, you’ll probably be taking screenshots of all the great quotes.

While Final Fantasy VII does have a great story (when you can make sense of it) and memorable characters (and by “characters” I mean Sephiroth and stereotypes), the area in which it truly stands the test of time is the battle system. As much as I love Final Fantasy VIII, for example, you’ll never hear me say, “Gee, I loved spending 10 minutes drawing 100 magic spells from enemies whenever I was in a new zone. Drawing magic spells during a super important boss fight totally didn’t detract from the urgency or mood. They should bring that back!” But the materia system is something I bemoan current games for not emulating. The materia and equipment set-ups in this game seem limitless. It encourages the player to experiment and constantly swap materia around. You never know what uber-powerful combinations you’ll find.

You’ll need the materia combos that make you feel invincible if you plan on taking on the Weapons. I can’t say Sara and I participated this time around, but FFVII really takes the cake when it comes to having multiple, challenging boss battles. I took on Ultima Weapon, despite how stupidly annoying chasing it around the world map was. It seriously would fly around aimlessly for over five minutes at a time. I kept purposely bumping into it on the Highwind, hoping the impact would jar it into doing something. Seriously, what a stupid time sink. It’s almost as much of a stupid time sink as reloading the game over and over when your Chocobos don’t make the right Gold Chocobo breeding fodder. There is absolutely no way anyone figured out how to breed a Gold Chocobo on their own unless they had  a whole lot of time on their hands and dumb luck.

As an aside, the Knights of the Round materia made me very grateful Final Fantasy X incorporated the option of turning off summon animations. Holy crap.

I’m going to admit that I’m a bit of a poser. While I’ve played through FFVII 6 or 7 times by now, I haven’t ever killed Ruby Weapon. It’s on my to-do list, really. But with how long it took Sara and I to plow through the plot on a “Three hours a week if we’re lucky” schedule, and sacrificing Dragon Age II time with Steve to do some optional grinding, I figured it wasn’t happening this playthrough either. I’m keeping this save file on my PS3 so Steve and I can kill Emerald and Ruby later when we’re between games, but for now they can continue aimlessly wandering the planet.

What do you guys think? Does FFVII stand the test of time? As someone who has quite a bit of nostalgia attached to it, I’d say so. And the factors that don’t stand the test of time stand in as comic relief even though they weren’t originally intended to be. I posed the same question to Sara, who was experiencing this ground-breaking RPG for the first time, and her response was something like, “Well, it brings a whole new meaning to the ‘length versus girth’ debate.”

Yes, I’m paraphrasing.

Retro Review: Live A Live

Live A Live

 

Don’t even ask me exactly how the title is supposed to be said.

I know a lot of my posts tend to be behind the times because it takes me forever to finally get around to playing some games. At least in this case I’m actually reviewing a retro game! Not only that, it is a Squaresoft SNES game that never received a North American release. I played this fan-translation (by Aeon Genesis) on a SNES emulator, via my laptop, and we watched it on the big screen TV. Talk about a makeshift merging of technology.

Live A Live is a unique experience. Instead of being a typical story featuring a main protagonist to play as throughout the adventure, instead you’re treated to different chapters featuring different characters during different time periods. These chapters can be tackled in any order. We played them in chronological order. First we were Pogo, the caveman who lives in prehistoric times before humans could even talk. Yeah, that was an interesting chapter. Then we bounced around from the Wild West, Bakumatsu Japan, Kung Fu… all the way to the future, which was dubbed the “Sci Fi” chapter. The chapters vary not only in lengths, but in content and game style. One chapter will be a traditional JRPG, while another can have more of an action game set-up.

Live A Live Masaru

Seriously, Masaru’s chapter looks like it was taken straight out of a Megaman game!

Each chapter runs about 1-3 hours, depending on the story and how much optional content you have to choose from. If you decide not to take on an uber-difficult optional boss your first time through, don’t worry; you can always replay a chapter to get any loot or other content you missed . I really liked this set-up for a couple of reasons. If you generally dislike a certain character or time period, you’re not stuck with them for long! Some of the chapters are more Earth-shattering “Oh my God WTF just happened?!” than others. And most of them have pretty forgettable (but laughable) supporting cast.

While the basic elements of battle stay the same so you don’t have to re-learn how to play the game, each character has their own unique ability set so things stay fresh. The constant learning of moves and abilities is fun… when the enemies don’t decide to take zero damage just because.

I also liked the very subtle tie-ins. You can literally play the chapters in whichever order you desire. The overarching link is easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention. In fact, at one point Steve-O and I looked at each other and were like, “I hope we aren’t supposed to know what the hell is going on already.” It isn’t until the eight chapter (unlocked after completing the seven available at the beginning) that everything comes together in a relatively surprising twist.

As I mentioned, the overall battle system remains consistent from chapter to chapter. It certainly has its pros and cons. Live A Live has turn-based roots with some strategy elements blended in. When it is a character’s turn, you can move them around the battlefield’s square grid. Keep in mind, enemies can take their turns while you’re trying to get a character situated where you want them to be to either do damage or not take damage. I really hated that. It felt like I’d move someone one or two blocks over to get the enemy within range of their attack, only to get them hit by the enemy first! Each character’s ability in their arsenal will have a different area of effect and range. So as I said earlier, it takes a little bit of learning and practice when you’re hopping from chapter to chapter. I did really like that there is no resource pool for any moves. No MP to worry about. Some abilities have charge times, which is understandable. And if you don’t feel like toggling through the menu at each character’s turn, with the tap of a button you can have them repeat the last move they made. There won’t be many opportunities to do this, seeing as how most enemies love to dance around and ensure you can’t simply spam the same attack against them.

While playing this game, it’s important to keep in mind the generation of gaming it came from. There are many staples of the JRPG genre and old school games that make me twitch with annoyance. In no particular order, they are:

1.) Poor ability/item descriptions. Not sure if this is a translation error, but I’ve seen it in mass-produced games as well. As a little aside, the caveman’s chapter consists of silly nonsense words and sounds to serve as names for his abilities. I imagine that was a bitch to translate.

2.) Lack of direction: It isn’t hard to mindlessly wander around and not know what you are supposed to do or where you’re supposed to go. If a character has a unique ability they can use while wandering their “world map” then use it. Often.

3.) Damage Inconsistencies: Okay, maybe it is an issue of just ignorance on my part. But when a character uses an ability against an enemy and it does 5 damage in one round and the next it does 100 without one of them getting buffs or debuffs, I get confused. Then I get annoyed.

4.) No inventory arrangement options. Pure laziness, Squaresoft.

6.) Boring, traditional leveling with little-to-no feeling of advancement. You know what I mean, right? A totally passive leveling experience. Characters get experience and gain levels as well as new abilities once in a while. But the battles never feel any easier. You’ll notice their hit points changing (and some characters get WAY more HPs than others). But the battles still seem to drag on sometimes.

5.) And last, but not least… Random encounters that are harder than boss fights with no warning label attached! Especially before auto-saving became a thing. They just LOVE popping up to ruin your day, without the decency of allowing you to level up first.

Live A Live Oboro Fish

I swear, the fish was THIS big!

However, there is one missing RPG staple. Currency! There is no money in this game. In a way it makes sense, as you bounce from one character and time period to another. Yet on the other hand, I wouldn’t have minded if the more RPG-traditional chapters had currency accrual. Then I could’ve at least purchased healing items and equipment to make some of the battles less miserable. Being at the mercy of how many healing items the game feels like giving you (or how many you can find) is quite agitating in certain zones. In Ninja Assassin Oboro’s chapter, I’m pretty sure we had to fight the final boss with no healing items left and no heal spells. That was… stressful, to say the least.

While you’re wandering aimlessly or slowly plowing through some fights, you’ll be treated to amazing music! Yoko Shimomura composed this soundtrack and does not disappoint! Every song is atmospheric and contributes to the setting superbly. Each chapter you’ll be treated to new and enjoyable tracks. Definitely some of Shimomura’s best work.

I have my reservations about making too many comments regarding the final chapter. So I’ll just say this: use a walkthrough. There is a special set of armor to be unlocked and the requirements for doing so are quite random. Two examples: for one piece, you have to run away from 100 battles during the last chapter. For another piece, you have to turn away when you’re staring the final boss down, then wander in complete darkness to find an optional boss fight. Weird things that people like me forget to do. The final chapter is considerably longer than all the previous ones. If you want to level and see everything available, plan on this chapter taking you twice as long as the lengthiest chapter.

I’m quite surprised this game was never released outside of Japan. Compared to some of the other retro RPGs that made it to North America (*cough*BreathofFire2*cough) that I’ve played, this ranks pretty high. I mean, yeah, you have to have the stomach for the aforementioned list of annoyances. But Live A Live is one of those few examples of a JRPG breaking a lot of the rules of its own genre and actually accomplishing something noteworthy. In Live A Live’s case, this happened twenty years ago, and sadly not enough JRPG enthusiasts even know it exists.

Parasite Eve Replayed!

Parasite_Eve_CoverartOh, the things I learned about mitochondria… Like how to use it as hair gel.

Parasite Eve and I have history. Good history, in fact (minus my first attempt at the final boss but we won’t go down THAT memory lane). I like this game enough to bestow upon it an honored slot on my video game top ten list! Recently, I decided to fix slcantwell’s egregious oversight of never playing this Squaresoft gem. So, we plodded away at this 10-ish hour game for a couple of weeks and finally ended Eve’s spawn last night.

There will be no mention of the Chrysler Tower or collecting hundreds of pieces of junk in this review. 99.9% of the time we hang out we have two little people running around. Ain’t no mommies got time for crazy optional stuff. I did the Chrysler Tower years ago and leveled Aya to 99, but never ever will I farm junk for Wayne. Unless the reward was a picture of his junk or something.

My point is, this was a quick run-through so she could experience this overlooked classic. She wanted to know what all of my fuss with PE was about, anyway. And I wanted to test my memory with a few things. Turns out, the overly-critical academic actually liked the game and my memory was, well, what I expect it to be nowadays.

For those of you who haven’t played this game (go download it from PSN and play it now, fools!) it’s a very unique experience; even stacked against gaming offerings released in the two generations following the Playstation. When I first played Parasite Eve, I was 16 and my love of RPGs was newfound. I’d played Final Fantasy VII, VIII, and probably some other ones, and Chrono Cross. Squaresoft could do no wrong in my eyes (Oh, how times have changed). When I saw this game with female lead characters made by Squaresoft, toting a unique action system with a sci-fi vibe, I ponied up the cash immediately. It’s rated M (17+) and thankfully Gamestop didn’t care about age-appropriate suggestions at the time. PE was released after FFVII. They even use that as a selling-point on the packaging. You know, “Coming from the makers of Final Fantasy VII,” or something like that. It might’ve been a little misleading, since you can’t really compare the two. Yes, they are both RPGs made by the same company, but they’re of different breeds. Obviously, Final Fantasy games are fantasies, set in whole new worlds which take hours to establish and explore. As I mentioned, Parasite Eve is a science fiction tale. It’s based on a Japanese novel, which also has a movie adaptation with the same name. I’ve played/read/watched them all. The video game adaptation is almost like a sequel to the novel, taking place in New York City.

And gaming gods help me, even stating the plot premise is going to sound ridiculous. The game is about saving humankind from their own mitochondria.

There, I said it.

The story is as chuckle-inducing B-movie cheesy as it sounds. And then some. Especially with the delivery, which is done through completely over embellished dialogue. “…” and “…!?” and “WHAT THE…!” are beaten to bloody pulps, they’re used so much. All these years later, I’m still not sure how someone would speak and/or express “…!?” Someone please link or send a video of this expression being performed. In between the “…” pauses, the characters will most likely be talking about evolution and mitochondria. The idea is that “Mitochondria Eve,” (the title given to the first female ‘discovered’ when the human genome was traced back to its origins somewhere in Africa) has finally manifested and decided to take control from the humans, their ‘vehicle’ used to ‘create the perfect environment for them.’ I’ve gotta ask how modern-day New York City was their envisioned utopia. To be fair, the silly premise is backed up by scientific facts and if you pay attention you might learn a few things. Like, did you know that if all the mitochondria in a human’s body worked together at the same time they could produce 200,000 volts of electricity? This fact is used to justify humans erupting into flames at the drop of a hat all over the place. If they aren’t getting barbequed by their own mitochondria they’re melting into blobs of mitochondrial ichor to become the uterus for the Ultimate Being; AKA- final boss fight. And what a final boss it is! We’re talking multiple forms, along with a one-hit-kill-one-wrong-turn-will-cost-you-chase-sequence- at the end. This definitely ranks high on my RPG final boss fight list.

So what hope could humanity possibly have against their own mitochondria which can fry them to crispy bits if they so (apparently) desired? The main character, of course! Aya Brea, a rookie cop in New York City, becomes the hero. Thanks to dumb luck, really. Without giving away too much about her ties to the main baddie, her mitochondria underwent a different mutation, becoming a natural enemy to the “master race” mitochondria. In terms of game play, this manifests itself in the form of “Parasite Energy.” Think of it as magic spells. Parasite Energy offers itself in both offensive and defensive ways. You can heal, remove status effects, cast Preraise, and transform into your own version of a mitochondria angel of death. The spell is Liberate. And it changes everything. Be absolutely sure you don’t leave the final zone, the museum, without it. Using Parasite Energy is much like casting magic in other RPGS; you open up your menu and select whichever spell you wish to cast from a list. It is a consumable resource (Can’t make things too easy now), but instead of having items to replenish your PE stock, you must wait for the PE bar below your health to fill on its own. This method means you are cramming less items into your already limited inventory, and it also adds another layer of strategy. After casting a few spells, you’ll notice the bar filling up slower and slower, until you’ve come to the point when you’ve used all the medicines you brought along and your PE still hasn’t replenished to the point when you can  cast Full Cure. One way to bypass this is to change your armor. For whatever reason, this resets your PE charge rate. But it means you have to gamble utilizing a turn to change into inferior armor, risk taking more damage instead of inflicting damage or healing.

Aside from PE energy, the battle system is a bird of it’s own feather. You have a traditional ATB, like many RPGs. While the ATB is filling, you have control of Aya, and must dodge enemy attacks in the designated battle screen. Enemies can bite, shoot fireballs or poisonous gas at you, or grab you. Speaking of poisonous gas, poison sucks in this game! Sucks as in don’t get hit by it because it inflicts a substantial amount of damage. You can mod your armor to have “anti-poison” which is a joke. The game doesn’t tell you what the percentage resistance is, but seeing as how I wasted a mod permit to add a slot for it and the next fight I got in I was poisoned…  it wasn’t worth it. Anyway, when it’s Aya’s turn to perform an action, she attacks with good old-fashioned guns. Something I get sick of seeing in today’s video game market, but back then it was fresh and different. I’d only really played platformers and fantasy games with funky swords and magic until then. There are rifles, shotguns, machine guns, rocket launchers… all sorts of goodies. I really enjoy the simple yet satisfying method of improving Aya’s arsenal. Weapons and armor (of which you can only equip one of each at a time) come with three parameters. They also may or may not have additional effects; i.e. 2x attack, item capacity increases, elemental damage… stuff like that. Added parameters and effects can be moved with a Tool from one gun or armor to another. You can shift ALL THREE parameters from one gun or armor to another. Alas, unless you have a Super Tool you can only move one added effect at a time. Each gun or armor has a pre-designated number of effect slots. But with a mod permit or trading card you can add more. For guns I recommend 3x attack, burst, and whatever else. We went with poison… it rocked. Enemies fell to poison while Aya’s ATB was charging many times for us. With armor you can add HP+, extra item capacity, status ailment resistances (which aren’t reliable) or PE boosts.

Changes are, you’ll spend the bulk of the game with the same gun and armor, boosting their stats through the roof. A great feature of Parasite Eve is the ability to carry over your weapon and armor of choice into New Game Plus. Give them a snazzy name, and they’ll come with you into subsequent adventures. In New Game Plus, you’ll want to  continue boosting their stats to the point where barely anything touches you and then take on the Chrysler Tower. I said I wasn’t gonna talk about that optional 99-floor nightmare, but I just want to make the point that there is additional content worth doing after completing the initial adventure.

Aya also levels relatively traditionally in RPG terms. You gain experience for killing mitochondria mutants, level, and your stats increase. If you’re lucky Aya will learn a new PE spell. You will always gain Bonus Points (BP) which can be applied in a plethora of ways. When selecting the BP section of the menu, you’ll be given the option to increase Aya’s ATB recharge rate, her item capacity, or one parameter on any weapon or armor of choice. Again, very simple, but that’s what I like. Hard to screw up or forget.

The game never leaves New York City, but the scenery doesn’t get stale. You’ll go to Central Park, Soho, and even the Statue of Liberty before all is said and done. The only zone I really don’t like is the sewers. And that’s because sewers in RPGs and I have a tumultuous past. Meaning I hate them. The sewers in PE are terrible because they’re like a grid maze with annoying enemies that blind and treasure that’s so good you won’t want to risk missing it. I like every other area in the game available for exploration; even the large National Museum of Science at the end, though I find it easy to get lost in there, too. But who am I kidding? I’m basically an expert at getting lost in games.

I mentioned the cheesy dialogue delivery and story line, so perhaps I should mention the characters and other bits of presentation. The wonderful irony in this game is that you’d expect there to be all sorts of female stereotypes, given the main character is a young women (blond and skinny, of course, but let’s not get too carried away!). I personally found the more obvious stereotypes directed towards the all-male supporting cast. Daniel, Aya’s partner at the precinct, is an “angry black man” who punches out more than one person before the game is over. Maeda, a scientist from Japan, is your typical Japanese man who can’t manage a coherent sentence around a pretty girl. And Aya, the main character, is a rookie cop hesitant hero type, but there isn’t much emphasis placed on the fact that she has a vagina. In the opening of the game she goes to an opera with a date, who remains nameless and you never hear about him again after she elbows him the hell out of her way when he’s freaking out about dying. By all rights, he should have erupted into flames along with the rest of the audience. I’m okay with this particular plot hole because without it we’d never get to experience him saying, “Oh Jesus… I… I don’t want to die…!” before Aya knocks him over with her shoulder and he is never heard from again.

Yeah, this game has a lot of plot holes like that. They’re mainly silly things, like “I was ahead of him, how did he get to this room before me?” But there are some significant ones, like, “How did that Navy Admiral know Aya is the only one immune to Eve’s powers?” My favorite, however, is the very unlikely evacuation of NYC in ONE night. Hah!

For its release date, PE’s graphics were pretty good. I love the soundtrack and listen to it quite often, minus the recycled bad opera tracks. This is before the time of voice acting, so there’s no worrying about bad VAs. Looking back without my fangirl lenses on, I realize this game has quite a few flaws and comes across as pretty silly 90% of the time. But in terms of gameplay, it is still a unique and fun experience while offering a challenge. One of my main gripes is how difficult leveling is. there are no random fights and enemy spawn rates are quite low until you get to the final zone. And after leveling Aya to 99 once, I have no desire to spend hours leveling there probably ever again (Levels don’t carry over into New Game Plus, in case you were wondering).

If you’re a fan of Squaresoft before the disastrous merge with Enix and haven’t played this game yet, do it already!

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~)