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5-10-15-20 [GO]
Jun 2nd, 2011 by Dan

Dan helps Tony with Pokemon

I got this idea from Kill Screen (who got this idea from Pitchfork) to talk about my gaming life in five year increments. Pitchfork does it with music and really it can be done with any media, but I’m doing games.

AGE 5 (1991)

One of my first video game memories is sitting in my parents’ living room in Hialeah watching them play a Bowser level in Super Mario Bros. I remember being scared of the creepy black castle level. This was the launch year for the SNES, but I’m sure we didn’t get it until 1992 or 1993. Instead we mostly amused ourselves with Contra, Mega Man 2, and Bubble Bobble.

AGE 10 (1996)

I’m pretty sure my brothers and I discovered the JRPG in 1995 or 1996. We would have played Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, and Super Mario RPG over those two years and changed our gaming landscape forever.

Of course 1996 also marks the genesis of 3D gaming for me. The N64 came out that September, but we didn’t open it until Christmas. Super Mario 64 would be the first of many great games I had for that system.

AGE 15 (2001)

Big things were happening in the gaming landscape on the PS2, but I knew nothing of that. A $400 system was way out of my price range, so I missed the launches of GTA3 and MGS2.

It was freshman year of high school and we learned partway through that we were going to be moving to Tampa. My dad got a new laptop from his job that I used to finally play the PC version of FF VII on road trips to and from Tampa. I remember breeding a Golden Chocobo and thinking that it wasn’t really all that hard. Don’t think I ever beat FF VIII. I think I also played a lot of Final Fantasy VIII that way too. More importantly, that year I got Civilization 3 and tons of Lucasarts adventure games including the Monkey Island series, Grim Fandango, and Day of the Tentacle.

We also got a Gamecube that year for Christmas and Super Smash Bros. Melee along with Pikmin, I think.

What a banner year for gaming, wow.

AGE 20 (2006)

By now I’m a sophomore/junior at university and I’ve got a job to help me pay for my video game habit. I picked up a PS2 in 2004 and started working through the back catalog of games I’d missed. Early in the year I remember playing two RPGs, Kingdom Hearts 2 and Shadow Hearts: From the New World.

They’re fun, but 2006 is a year of PC gaming for me. I spend WAY too much time playing World of Warcraft in 2006. I started the summer of 2005 and I end up quitting around Christmas of that same year, but I come back to it over the summer and it consumes a lot of my days and weekends as I try to power level my Horde character to join a raid guild with my friend Chris. It’s funny, I couldn’t remember why it was that I didn’t play so many console games this year until I remembered that my WoW habit started in force during 2006.

I also grew into the PC shooter this year with a lot of Counterstrike: Source with my roommate, Simon. We played that to fill a lot of our spare time and I also pushed through Half-Life 2: Episode 1 way too quickly.

Unfortunately I’m only 25 now, so I can’t really continue the feature until next year. I keep much better track of what I play nowadays, so it’ll be even easier.

Big N: Super Mario RPG
Sep 4th, 2008 by Dan

It’s probably too early to start calling me Nostradamus (we’ll have to wait until the regular season of baseball ends to know just how good I am), but if you remember this post I mentioned that Mario RPG’s launch on the VC in PAL territories would spearhead a US release. Lo and behold, Mario RPG, one of the greatest Mario games, SNES games, and RPGs in gaming history.

It’s too bad that Square Enix won’t be releasing any of its other landmark SNES RPGs on VC, preferring to milk tons of money out of players with remakes (which we like) and ports (which we find a bit annoying, but kind of like anyway). Go out and buy Mario RPG and let’s hope that Earthbound hits the system soon.

Game Overview: Rock Band 2, Super Mario RPG VC, Lazy, Dangerous RPG DLC
Aug 22nd, 2008 by Dan

Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.

Rock Band 2

It may technically still be summer, but we’re right on the cusp of the most exciting game season in the year, the Fall release schedule. Did you realize that Rock Band 2, a game I’d say might be the first official big Fall release, comes out on 14 Sept. for the Xbox 360? That’s only tree weeks and a few days away. I can’t believe that one of my most anticipated titles for the year is so close to release, but I’m also a bit disappointed. Rock Band 2 is coming out a bit too soon. The 360 version is coming a bit early, but the others and the instruments should be coming out either just before or just after the year-old mark for Rock Band. I know it’s not their fault. I know that Guitar Hero: World Tour is the real reason that the game is coming out too soon. I just hope that Harmonix is able to make this release complete enough that they can get by with their actual dream of releasing a music platform sustained by DLC.

While we’re on the topic of music gaming, Sony leadership surprised the video game industry with an announcement of instrument standards. There will no longer be a situation like GH3 and Rock Band on PS3 where people who bought GH3 for a spare guitar were left out to dry while the 360 owners were able to use their GH3 guitars in Rock Band. This is great news, we don’t need a million sets of plastic instruments cluttering up our living rooms.

Super Mario RPG

PAL territories are getting their hands on Super Mario RPG on the Virtual Console this week. This is excellent news for those of us in North America who have been desperately waiting for its VC release. It’s only a matter of time now.

Tales of Vesperia

As reported by Kotaku, Xbox 360 RPG Tales of Vesperia has kind of a dangerous precedent its setting by allowing lazy players to buy experience levels, gold, items, or skills for real-world money. Sure, ToV isn’t an MMO, so this isn’t going to throw the economy off balance, but it just seems a bit strange to go and sell an easier time in your game. I don’t support it at all and I hate monetizing these trivial things that should not be sold.

That’s it for this week’s edition of Game Overview, stay tuned for more video game news over the next week.

Game Overview: 16-Bit Runner-Ups Part 2: RPG Edition
Jun 10th, 2008 by Dan

Back on Saturday we took a look at two excellent games that didn’t quite make the cut. Today, we examine another three, all of them the superb 16-bit RPGs.

You know the drill by now about the “Table of Honor” and whatnot, so let’s just get down to the clue and game:

This first game I want to examine jumps out at you from the world of platforming. You might doubt his ability to manage, but once he jumps, you’re filled with utmost confidence. Yeah, it’s Mario’s RPG debut, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.

Runner-up: Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

For some crazy reason, nobody in the Mushroom Kingdom will believe that you are Mario. You’re probably the most famous savior of the land, but it’s not your dashing mustache or your red overalls that will prove your identity, it’s your trademark jump. This running gag is probably my absolute favorite part about SMRPG. No matter what part of the world you’re in, someone will inevitably ask if you are really the plumber. The dialog will pause, you will be unable to do anything else until you finally push the jump button and prove your identity.

The rest of the game is full of comparable humor and character that exude from every pore. Dialog makes sense and is pretty slick, the story is actually not that bad for what you’d expect it to be, and, most importantly, that trademark tight gameplay that Squaresoft has always been known for makes for a great battle system and actually meshes pretty well with Mario’s more typical platforming roots. Battle returned to the more traditional turn-based type affair, but now your special attacks were powered up by timed button presses or other similar tests of button-pressing acumen. This system was so slick and exciting that every subsequent Mario RPG (sadly none of them Squaresoft created) and even the new Penny Arcade Adventures has got timed button presses for defense and interesting special attacks.

I’m sure that many were skeptical about SMRPG’s ability to be a valid, entertaining game when it was announced. Just adding a big-name RPG developer to a franchise character does not make everyone believe it will rock (just look at Sonic Chronicles, no one thinks it will succeed). That SMRPG is able to succeed on all fronts and still be one of the better RPGs on the console is a testament to the talent of old-school Squaresoft. What a great game…

I just can’t resist throwing in yet another video game commercial for this game. This one’s quite bizarre…

This next game was published in America by a company whose motto is “Serious Fun,” but it’s not the farming sim/RPG that you might be thinking of. The main character fights very sinister beings in order to save the world in this one. This one’s a bit tougher, but it’s Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals.

Runner-up Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals

This one might fall a bit outside of most of your game radars. It’s not A-list like Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, not even B-list like Breath of Fire or the Secret of series (you can bitch and moan all you want about this, but you’ll never convince me that the Seiken Densetsu series is anything more than B-list). Lufia is a pretty firm C-list series, with regards to RPG popularity. There were two SNES games games and one gbc game in the series canon, with another gbc gaiden. That’s it, that’s the entire series. To be fair, it was mostly concluded with the GBC game, but I feel that they did leave it slightly open-ended.

Gameplay isn’t that special, it’s your typical RPG with turn-based battles. There was one notable battle mechanic in the capsule monsters that you could capture and have fight on your team. These monsters were computer controlled and could be leveled up and evolved by feeding them weapons and armor. The interesting thing is that this idea came about a full year before Pok√©mon was released. Pretty cool if you ask me.

What does make this game stand out and what earns it a spot on this list was its story. As a prequel in a time before prequels were cool (this was way back in Japan in 1995), Lufia II picked up the story before the events of Lufia & the Fortress of Doom (a game I never played). You were Maxim and, like most RPGs, you are told by a mysterious figure (a woman named Iris in this case) that you are destined to save the world. You head out to solve a monster problem for your village with your childhood friend Tia (you reluctantly bring her along) and from there you bounce from town to town solving problems and adding the brutally strong Guy to your party. Iris saves your life after you learn about the Sinistrals and you go on to add another party member, the female soldier Selan, before you finally learn the identity of the first Sinistral, Gades, after he brutally destroys an entire town.

Excited yet? Your party certainly is. They set off to confront Gades and make him pay for what he’s done. He responds by soundly kicking your ass. In yet another video game “oh shit, I hope I was supposed to die” moments, you are revived by Iris who revives the party and tells everyone but Tia that they are meant to confront this evil light with Maxim. Another dude, Dekar, joins the party and Maxim, Guy, and Dekar head out to kill Gades after learning from a lieutenant of the Sinistrals, Idura, that Gades plans on sinking an entire island. This time Maxim manages to kill Gades, but he still manages to activate the machine after all. Maxim heroically gets to the machine on his own, but deactivating it mostly kills him in the process. Iris teleports in, decides to be useful, and saves Maxim.

In the aftermath of this event, we are treated to a touching cutscene where Ti– no, wait, Selan (?) confesses her love for Maxim. I still remember this plot point coming straight from left field. You mean to tell me that Tia, who’s been hitting on you this whole game, isn’t gonna end up with Maxim? As a player, I didn’t mind, since Tia was annoying and Selan was arguably hotter (in that 16-bit way), but still, it really messed with me to see the developers not take the easy road, and I respect them for it. Tia honorably realizes she’s not gonna win Maxim’s love, tells Dekar that she loves Maxim the man, not Maxim the warrior, and sets off to find a man as good as Maxim to marry. That’s seriously the last you see of a character you’ve spent hours developing. The game sort of “ends” here as Maxim and Selan are married, buy a little house, and have a kid.

If you couldn’t guess by now, I’m a fan of these drastic world- or game-changing events in a video game. Be it the loss of Naked Snake’s right eye in MGS3 and how it affects first-person view from then on or something like the World of Ruin, these huge, irreversible events never cease to amaze me (I guess, if Iabsolutely have to I’ll admit that Aeris’ death is kind of cool in that way, but it never really had the same emotional impact on me as any of these other ones). Here I am, yet again thinking that I beat the game, and then Idura kidnaps your son and you’re forced to take up arms again. Iris comes in and claims that it was Maxim’s fate to die after the battle with Gades, but her actions have changed the future. As the gamer, you don’t yet know that these are lies. Heck, you don’t even know the huge twist yet at all (maybe you might if you had played the first game, but I certainly didn’t).

You do more quest-y stuff, Dekar dies after you kill Idura, and eventually you get to the final confrontation with the Sinistrals which is, not coincidentally, precisely the way that Lufia & the Fortress of Doom opens, which means that you fight the Sinistrals and kill three of the four. While trying to escape, only Guy and the elf Artea (he joined you in the second half) make it out alive. Maxim and Selan die, but are forever remembered as the heroes who vanquished the Sinistrals. It also turns out that this whole time your “helper” Iris was the Sinistral Erim. Erim is unique in that so long as she lives, the Sinistrals can be continually reincarnated. Also unique about her is her ability to take on human form, which some fans speculate is a result of the Sinistral Daos testing humanity. The real twist here is that Iris/Erim is later reincarnated as one of the main characters in the first Lufia game. By the way, you’re probably wondering why this game is even called Lufia if there are no characters named Lufia anywhere in the game. I can see your brains connecting the dots. Lufia is Erim and she is a character who fits a similar role to Tia in the first Lufia game to one of Maxim’s descendants. She didn’t change history by allowing Maxim to continue his bloodline, for Maxim and his descendants were always meant to counter and eventually defeat the Sinistrals. Erim makes one final appearance as a party member in the third Lufia game, as she gathers up yet another of the bloodline of Maxim and a crew of strong warriors. She builds them up this final time to destroy the Sinistral menace forever. Erim had tired of life as the Sinistral of Death and wanted her life to finally end.

I should also mention that Lufia II had a pretty solid puzzle and monster mechanic. Monsters appeared on the field and got to move every time you moved. There were also some pretty neat and difficult puzzles for the player to solve as he made his way through the many dungeons. I distinctly remember some of these being so tough (this is good!) that I had to consult old issues of Nintendo Power to figure out how to progress.

There you have it, a fairly convoluted plot and a game that’s ultimately average in its battle execution. Still, I can’t help but love Lufia II for it’s creative puzzles and that zany story. Prequels were still a pretty new concept to me back then when I played it and knowing what was to happen to Maxim and Selan made for some interesting, if fatalistic gameplay as I watched the drama unfold. There’s something cool about playing a game that fits into a pre-determined timeline. It’s both futile and awesome to fill in the details of a future you know will one day occur. I’d like to see more games try this with their storylines. Have a sage/oracle-type character tell you that completing the game will lead to your death. It could be fourth-wall or even within the game itself. Watching the main character grapple with what he knows to be the greater good at the expense of the personal good leads to good drama. They did it in FF VI with Terra, but the devs didn’t have what it took to let her die and not have a happy ending. That may be a good thing anyway, since I’m one of the few people who can be satisfied with an unhappy or unfair ending.

The Japanese commercial for this game is pretty lame, so here’s something that a fan put together for the 11-year anniversary of the game:

Yeah, the video’s not that cool, but it gives you a taste of what the game looked and played like. If you ever get a chance to play this game, I do recommend it. It’s well worth your time.

Our last game of the day had a mother of a time even getting released in America. To this day, the first and third game of this series have still never seen the light of American day. If you’re a fan of the Runaway Five, you also already know that I’m talking about EarthBound.

Runner-up: EarthBound

The brilliance of EarthBound lies not in its genre, but more in the originality and character that it brings to an already tired formula. How many sword and sorcery-themed RPGs does the video game market really need? (Answer: Don’t be stupid, sword and sorcery-themed RPGs rock!) Still, it’s refreshing to see an RPG take place in a modern setting like the country of Eagleland (a not-so-veiled reference to the USA). It’s hilarious to see that your weapons consist of baseball bats, yo-yos, and bottle rockets.

The story centers around Ness, a boy of tremendous psychic power who is tasked by a bee from the future named Buzz Buzz to destroy the evil force known as Giygas. Ness sets out from his hometown, Onett, and encounters and recruits Paula, Jeff, and Poo to save the planet. Along the way, they fight cultists, zombies, dogs, ninjas, bails out the Runaway Five twice, and eventually have their souls transferred into a robotic body to enable them to travel in time to fight Giygas. It’s strange, but in a quirky way. Even the final boss isn’t your typical encounter. You defeat the mighty Giygas by repeatedly praying, eventually getting the entire planet to unite and defeat Giygas in a Dragon Ball spirit bomb-type fashion.

EarthBound makes this list (just barely) because of the character that it exudes from every pore. Destroying the Happy-Happy cult is still one of my favorite situations in a video game mainly because of how bizarre it really is. Another plus for EarthBound is that it’s really hard. The game definitely doesn’t pull any punches with its difficulty.

Unfortunately for us US EarthBound fans, the series didn’t sell all to well when it first came out for the SNES. As a result, Nintendo decided not to release the sequel, Mother 3 (EarthBound = Mother 2), stateside citing poor sales of EarthBound. No matter how many fan campaigns Starman.net tries to put together to bring Mother 3 to North America, Nintendo continuously refuses to release. Interestingly enough, the Nintendo of America guys actually love the Starman dudes, which I think is what has allowed the Starmen to still have a Mother 3 fansub in production without a cease-and-desist order being issued.

Many fans speculate that EarthBound’s upcoming release on the Virtual Console (it was rated by the ESRB => it will be coming out) will be a barometer to test the validity of releasing Mother 3 in Eagleland. You can bet that the day this game comes out anyone, and I do literally mean anyone, who is on my Wii friends list will receive a gift of EarthBound for the SNES unless they tell me they’re planning on buying it already. I just want to drum up sales because I’d love to see Mother 3 hit our shores.

Yet another Japanese commercial that doesn’t make too much sense. Enjoy!

With that, we’re almost done with our 16-bit all-stars. Just one more entry on Thursday to finish these guys off.

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