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Heroic Mario brings you his latest game-related lists at the end of 2007.

It's a-Heroic-Mario time!

Top 30 Games[]

30) Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!
System: NES
Company: Nintendo
Release Date: 1987



Punch-Out!! is so awesome. This game used to kick my ass so hard back in the day -- and if my latest little five minute run through to get a feel for it again is anything to go by, it still kicks my ass damn you hippo -- but man was it a ton of fun.

Some of the nastier fights I remember were like Bald Bull, King Hippo (figuring out how to damage him), Macho Man and then Mike Tyson. Tyson, in particular, was and still is ridiculous. I've seen some videos of people that have wrecked him without taking a single hit and it's like 'what.' I never have and never will play enough of this game to be able to do that!

Punch-Out!!'s a really simple game, though, and that's probably what I like about it the most. You can punch the head or the gut with either hand, you can dodge left or right, and you can block. Pretty straightforward, but the challenge comes in finding the weaknesses of the other boxers and getting the timing right to avoid their 'special' moves.

But yeah, if anyone has played Punch-Out!! they should. It's a simple boxing game with some quirky characters (SODA POPINSKI) and some crazy challenge -- can't go wrong there. Nintendo needs to get working on a sequel for Wii.




did i mention the quotes

29) Super Mario World
System: SNES
Company: Nintendo
Release Date: 1991

The second of five Nintendo games on the list (i bet it's hard to guess), there's probably not a whole to say that people don't already know about Super Mario World. It's just a really fun game to play. The levels are varied and well-designed, there's a ton of them, and the powerups are the best in a Mario game.

With the exception of SMB3, which is pretty close, I don't think Nintendo's put out a better Mario game. I played NSMB for the first time a few months ago and it's nowhere near the quality of the old Mario games. No idea if that's Nintendo losing some of their 'magic' or what, but SMW is pretty special. Every now and then I like to go back and bust out some Mario World to play and it's still good fun.

The one bad memory I'll always have of this game, though, are those Special levels. Man, Tubular about destroyed my soul as a kid. I still don't like that level! Frankly, I don't see the fun in floating through the air trying to avoid getting hit by baseballs and fireballs!

28) Street Fighter 2 (all versions)
System: SNES
Company: Capcom
Release Date: 1992+

SF2 was the game for me and my buddies for two years back in the day. I played this game almost non-stop for a long time -- sometimes hitting up the arcade, most of the time at different people's houses with the SNES version. There's nothing that's as 'classic' to me as Street Fighter 2.

Ken was always my main guy, too. Everyone else loved them some Chun-Li, Guile and Blanka, but it was always about Masters! I don't think there was much of any difference between Ryu and Ken in the original, but I always liked the flaming Shorykuen that Ken got in Super Street Fighter and Turbo later on -- I think he had in those, anyway. To this day, whenever a new SF comes out, Ken's gotta be the one!

I used to rock people with Ken, too. My friends and I always had a system setup where it was like the winner gets to keep playing and the loser has to hand the controller to someone else, but after a while I couldn't be stopped. It got to the point where the rest of my friends would start trying to figure out who to be to beat me. Good times right there. It always cracks me up the way I thought I was like the god of Street Fighter, and then all these years later get online and see some videos of 'pros.' Nice way to humble you!

Let's see what else... oh, Vega was probably my least favorite guy of all the additions that got put in later, though. Between him being fast and always jumping on that cage, nothing was more satisfying than beating him up and seeing him on the screen after the fight all destroyed. Hated that dude -- doesn't need the hype!

Everything in this game is so iconic -- the levels, the characters, the music. Ken's Stage was always the best one for me -- loved throwing people into that barrel on the right side -- and then Guile's. There's always fun to be had whenever there's some sort of random destructible object they randomly stick in those levels. You always want to either throw or knock someone into them just for the oomph it has. Gotta love this game. Hopefully SF4 creates a whole nother phenomenon!

27) Final Fantasy 8
System: PS1
Company: Square
Release Date: 1999

Oh, FF8. There is so much wrong with this game, and despite all of it, I still love it.

The start of the game is pretty good -- you've got Squall at a military academy trying to join an elite mercenary force called SeeD. Sounds like FF7's version of SOLDIER except you're working your way toward becoming one. Where everything gets all ridiculous is when Edea starts using her voodoo, time hax becomes a major point of the story, people grew up in orphanages and lost their memories because of GFs and then Squall and Rinoa are floating around in space. Whenever I play the game, I don't think it bothers me all that much because I go with the flow of things, but when you pull back and look at that, it's like 'what what what.' You could probably do this with a few other FF games as well, but this one particular...maybe it's the 'look' of the game or something.

There are some cool characters in the game, though. Squall was pretty cool in my book, Laguna was great, and I didn't mind Irvine too much. The rest of the cast, though, good night. I have no idea what's up with all the Zell fans we have around here because from the moment he shows up with his Mike Tyson tattoo through his hoverboard antics to nearly choking on hot dogs in the ending there was just nothing about the guy that I liked -- he's probably the worst next to Selphie. Dude needed to settle down!

There were some similar problems with the gameplay, too. I don't hate on Junctioning like a lot of people do -- it's needlessly convoluted, but it's not necessary to know how to use it anyway -- and Drawing didn't bother me a whole lot, but the summons. Dear god the summons. I have no idea what Square was thinking with making these long, unskippable animations for summons that you pretty much rely on for a good chunk of the game. Those are what you do to deliver the damage, and seeing Shiva come out for the fifteen time and do her thing is one too many for me.

That's a lot of hatin', but hey, I still like it. I think part of that is that I liked Squall -- the game revolves more around him than it does anything else -- and if it weren't for that, I probably wouldn't like it as much as I do. So yeah, it's definitely a flawed game, but enjoyable regardless. It's a lot like FF6 in that regard -- and that's on this list later on!

26) The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
System: Wii
Company: Nintendo
Release Date: 2006

TP seems like it gets a ton of hate from people these days, but I'm still one to consider it the best Zelda game to date. There are some definite issues the game has, but it's pretty much a juiced up version of Ocarina of Time -- from dungeons to combat.

One of the big things I thought Nintendo did a great job with was creating a huge, active overworld. It wasn't as sprawling as A Link to the Past, but it was a huge step up from Ocarina's emptiness. The only complaint I have was that a lot of the chests and 'secrets' you could find were mostly rupees. I don't know what was up with all the damn rupees you could find in the game when there was never much of a need for them. I dunno what you could have subsituted to make them feel more worthwhile, but finding hard to reach chest only to find a 50 rupee that you can't hold because you're full sucks.

The combat made some pretty big strides, too. It's not Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden, but it's good for what it needs to be. Giving Link some special moves to learn, and making combat a lot more fluid is something Zelda has needed for a long time now. They just need to make the enemies more combat-enabled as well to make the fights a lot more better than they are. The boss fights are solid, but the basic enemies are a cakewalk -- except for the zombies with the Buster Swords holy crap.

The best part of the game had to be the City in the Sky dungeon for me. That place wowed me from beginning to end. When you get the second Hookshot and are latching onto walls and ceilings like Spider-Man, there's no greater feeling in a Zelda game. The puzzles are well-thought and just looking around at the place is pretty amazing. There's never been a Zelda dungeon that's had the same type of 'feeling' of 'wow' that City in the Sky had. The boss of the area could have been a bit better, but it's hard to argue with fighting a dragon at the peak of the area with a thunderstorm roaring in the background.

My only huge complaint with the game -- and it's pretty weird considering it's Zelda -- is the storyline. In most games, I'm all for trying something new, not sticking the same old stuff over and over, but with Zelda, with everything else being so traditional, I almost wanted a normal Link / Zelda / Ganon storyline. Sure, they were there, but their prominence was even less than what it normally is. TP is pretty much the Midna and Zant show. When I got to the end after going through a destroyed Hyrule Castle, seeing Ganon sitting on the throne with a smirk, the last thing I expected, or wanted, was for him to pretty much ignore Link and start chatting it up with Midna.

It's something I can deal with, though. Zelda storylines aren't exactly the greatest things around, or even why you play a Zelda game to begin with, and it's pretty good all the same, just not something I had wanted. Great game, though. The hype may have brought it down a notch in the end, but if you ask me, it's still the best Zelda.

25) Final Fantasy
System: NES
Company: Square
Release Date: 1990

I put 'NES' there, but this is really for the PSP version that I had picked up. I've played the NES version, but I find it pretty much impossible to play nowadays. Tran could probably bust it out and play it like it just came out today, though!

FF1 is about as straightforward and simplistic as it comes. You pick four characters' jobs (Fighter, Black Mage, White Mage, Thief, Monk, Red Mage), name them, and then you're off. It's pretty crazy to think this game ended up becoming such a hit that Final Fantasy became what it is today -- one of the most revered and highest selling series (only behind Mario and Pokemon) in gaming.

Nothing is better than the beginning of FF1 either. Be it heading out into the overworld for the first time without buying equipment (whoops) or running into Garland for the first time -- 'I, Garland, will knock you all down.' It keeps that up when you run into the pirate dude in that one town, or meet up with the dwarves. There's not a whole lot of games out there that have it, but FF1's overloaded with charm.

There's a lot of cool moments in the game, too, be it finding your airship in the desert, going into that underwater dungeon, fighting Garland, Bahamut upgrading your classes. It's not a very story-driven game by today's standards, but it's still enjoyable to follow.

FF1 is traditional all around, but that's what made it a lot of fun to revisit.

24) God of War 2
System: PS2
Company: Sony
Release Date: 2007

God of War 2 was my Game of the Year this year right up until this last stretch between September and November -- and it's still in the top 3! I loved the original God of War, and this is basically that on steroids. It's bigger, it's meaner, it's got more rage than you can imagine.

Nothing sums up God of War 2 better than the introduction. The enormous statue come to live could be a final boss and there would be no one complaining. It keeps that pace up, too, getting crazier and more ridiculous as things go. From there you're riding on a pegasus, ripping wings off of another and throwing **** around thousands of feet in the air. My favorite part of the game was probably fighting against Icarus. It's a QTE, but man, is it awesome watching Kratos rip those wings off and use him as his own is great.

One of the big things I like about God of War is how stylistic it is. There's a whole lot more style than substance here -- which turns some people off for whatever reason -- but I don't mind that in an action game like this. It's meant to be over-the-top, so it being easy to pull off a lot of the 'advanced' techniques and watch things die is always fun. In fact, given what I've done of Titan mode, I don't think I would want God of War to be difficult; it's just not what the game is aiming for.

The bosses are probably the best part of that, too. The best is when you're fighting Theseus (think it was him) and you slam a door against his head repeatedly at the end of the fight. Things like that are what makes God of War as enjoyable as it is.

If there's one complaint I have with the game it's the ending. I wasn't necessarily frustrated or annoyed, but that's a brutal cliffhanger to leave off on. I won't say what it is in case there's some people reading that haven't got a chance to play it yet, but that's augh-inducing. You know it's going to be nuts when God of War 3 rolls around, but the wait to find out what happens isn't a whole lot of fun!

23) Metroid Prime
System: GCN
Company: Nintendo
Release Date: 2002

I remember the first time I saw a trailer for the new Metroid on the 'Cube -- it looked like a disaster. The final product ended up being a whole lot better than I had figured it would have been though. It took the great atmosphere that Super Metroid had, put you behind the visor of Samus and made everything 3D.

The first part of the 'real' game, when you arrive on Talon IV, is unmatched for me. The first time you get off of your ship and look into the sky with the raindrops bouncing off of your visor...that's immersion done right. There hasn't been a game since that's matched that feeling. The other areas in the game were just as good, too -- Phendrana Drifts, Magmoor Caverns, Chozo Ruins.

Metroid Prime felt like, and still does, a natural progression of the 2D Metroid formula into 3D. There's a definite split amongst 2D Metroid fans and then the Prime fans, but I'm a big fan of both of them. A lot of what made Metroid what it is was done right here. The exploration was as good as it's always been (complete with backtracking and using new weapons to access new areas in old locations), the atmosphere was the best in the series, and the action, while not as good as it could have been, was done pretty well.

I liked the use of scanning, too. It wasn't overdone here, I don't think, and it was a nice way of giving some backstory to the game and detailing all of the events that had gone down before Samus arrived. Metroid games usually aren't big on story, but I always enjoyed reading the Chozo and Pirate Lore, especially when you run across things like 'We've tried to emulate The Hunter's Morph Ball, but the results so far have been disastrous. Project currently on indefinite hold.'

The only part of the game that overdid for me was the endgame collecting. I don't think there's ever been a point where I've enjoyed doing something like that right before the ending. It did make up for it with one amazing fight against Meta-Ridley, but man, I don't know what's up with Nintendo and putting these collections at the end of their games -- MP2 had it, TWW had it, and this has it.

Metroid Prime is just one really well-made game. If I had to come up with some 'objective' list of the best games of all-time, I think MP is probably top 5, if not that it's definitely top 10.

22) Final Fantasy 6
System: SNES
Company: Square
Release: 1994

What can you say about Final Fantasy 6... it gets a lot of love from a lot of people, and while I like it a lot, it's mired with so many problems that if you looked solely at the individual parts, it wouldn't hold up against any decent RPG. Well, I guess the story is pretty good for what it is, but the characters, the gameplay, the cast -- all pretty bad.

The thing about FF6 is that it's not at all fun to play. It may be just me, but I don't look forward to the next random battle, or boss battle. Those are something you get through in order to get the story. I'm not like that in a lot of the RPGs I like, but the battle system is so unrefined and 'clunky,' I kinda wanna say. It's just not very good.

The same deal with the dungeons, too, perhaps even moreso. I rarely like dungeons in RPGs to begin with, they're usually decent which is fine, but FF6's are pretty offensive, and the World of Ruin is mostly to blame there. The Phoenix Cave, The Fanatic Tower, Kefka's Tower -- those were awful. Some of the others were pretty rough, too, but I think a lot of that could be attributed to the battle system -- fighting randoms in dungeons is made infinitely worse if you're combat system is bad.

But there's some genuinely good stuff in FF6, mostly in the various scenes and interaction with the characters. The bits when Ultros showed up are always good for a laugh; the Opera scene was pretty cool; Sabin SUPLEXING a train is unforgettable; and then pretty much everything dealing with Kefka.

And if there's ever a 'star' of Final Fantasy 6, it's gotta be Kefka. From beginning to end, Kefka's a focal point of the story. He's always doing something -- poisoning Doma, getting sand in his boots, fighting you at Narshe, moving statues, destroying the world, zapping towns. He's not a terribly competent villain, but he's effective. FF6 is what it is due in large part to Kefka, I think.

21) Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening
System: PS2
Company: Capcom
Release Date: 2005

If God of War is pure style, and Ninja Gaiden is all substance, Devil May Cry is the nice balance between the two. It's got enough challenge to make you put forth the effort without going overboard with it and stopping the game from being fun. When you die in DMC, it's usually because you're doing something wrong, but it's easy enough to get it right in a couple of tries -- at least in the normal difficulties.

What's great about DMC3 -- and why it's a very clear step above the others -- is how streamlined everything is. You've got four styles: Gunslinger, Sword Master, Royal Guard and Trickster. You can get through the game with any of them on their own, or taking advantage of where one would be more useful than another. Trickster is always fun for doing always sorts of crazy acrobatic junk and Royal Guard is pretty broken when you get it down!

Something that always got me was that, save for a couple of boss fights, the hardest part of the game is when you first start. Fighting against the grim reaper and then the Cerberus rocked me pretty hard, and it took a few tries before I was able to beat the both of them. I didn't have a whole lot of trouble with the other bosses that came after that those (except for the Succubus or whatever that chick with the bats was). Might be just me!

Dante's a whole lot cooler here than he ever was in DMC1 or DMC2, too. He's a lot more of a cocky smartass here, which is a big step above DARK SOUL WITH LIIIIIIGHT. It's always a good time when a cutscene happens too because he's either getting shot in the head and shrugging it off like it's nothing or running up the side of buildings killing bats. It's so ridiculous and over-the-top that you have to love it.

p.s. -- lady and the jester suck

20) Grim Fandango
System: PC
Company: LucasArts
Release Date: 1998

I haven't played very many 'point-and-click adventure' games, but playing Grim Fandango was pretty special. It isn't going to win any awards for the 'gameplay' it has -- if you wanna call it that -- but the writing is so clever and hilarious that it makes up for everything else. The story isn't necessarily what drives this game either. Grim Fandango is all about Manny and the characters he interacts with.

I can't really describe the game all that well without basically summarzing the plot, so instead it's time for a bunch of quotes.


'Could I take your hole punch?
Ha! I doubt you could take my HALF punch.'
'I'm going to try to guess his password...
Nope. It's not "GOLDEN BOY."
And it's not "MR. D" either.
So much for "DOMMY."
"ARROGANT FRAUD" doesn't work...
Whew. I was scared it might be "EVA."
Well, he likes "BOXING" too, but that ain't it.
Not "GREED."
I give up.'

19) Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7
System: PSP
Company: Square
Release Date: 2007

The Compilation of FF7 has been pretty bad so far -- one mediocre shooter, one cellphone game, and a fairly enjoyable movie -- but Crisis Core might have given the compilation the boost in quality it needed. Since it isn't out over here (buddy of mine snatched me one) I'll briefly go over what it's about.

For those familiar with FF7, this takes place about 7 years before and goes all the way up to the beginning of FF7 where Cloud is bombing reactors. You play as Zack, an up and coming SOLDIER trying to make his way to First Class. The story revolves around his growth as a character (he physically ages as the story progresses) and his uncovering of the truth behind Shinra all the way up until his death -- which is the most well-done ending I've seen in a game.

Thanks to some translations online, I was able to make some sense of the story, and it's actually really good. Square's been retcon happy with FF7 since it started the compilation, but Crisis Core sticks very truth to the story laid out in the original. If you were a fan of that in any way, you'd love CC. Some of the new characters (Genesis and Angeal) aren't too good, but the returning ones (Zack, Sephiroth, Cloud, Aeris, the Turks) are great. The bits that deal with the Zack and Aeris relationship make the whole Cloud/Aeris and Cloud/Tifa stuff look like a joke!

I was pretty surprised at how well the gameplay ended up being, too. I'm not sure what I was expecting exactly, but when I heard about the D.M.W. (the roulette thing) I thought it was going to be pretty bad. But what you have is basically an Action RPG sort of similar to Kingdom Hearts, but a whole lot better. There's no 'triangle command' to do any crazy junk, and it requires you to make good use of your magic, items and basic attack. There's also some Materia Synthesizing in there, but I didn't mess around with it because of the Japanese.

The D.M.W. Basically acts likes a 'limit break' of sorts. When it matches up 3 of the same character, Zack performs that characters special technique or whatever. So if he lines up 3 Clouds, he'll pull off Meteor Rain, or if he lines up 3 of Aeris, he'll perform Great Gospel. What's also kinda cool is that you'll sometimes get a flashback that doesn't appear in the main game where Zack and the character in question have a cool interaction.

But yeah, Crisis Core is a really good game, surprisingly so. It's still nice to see that Square can put out some original content that's on par with the stuff they did during the PS1 era, especially during a day and age where they do a lot of porting and remaking.

18) Final Fantasy 4
System: SNES
Company: Square
Release: 1991

FF4 > FF6 what now

There's a lot to like about FF4. In a lot of ways, it was the natural progression from FF1 -- actual characters, more story, an ATB system, and each character being set in their jobs from beginning to end -- and after FF2 and FF3 that's rather welcome!

The battle system nowadays is pretty vanilla -- it's about as simple as it gets -- but one of the things it does well within that is keeping all of the characters unique. I'm not one to complain about characters becoming too 'similar' thanks to espers, materia, a job system or whatever, but I always enjoy when skills can be learned for a character by gaining levels and each character you have serves a unique purpose. FF4 does that in better than most.

But the best part about FF4 for me are the characters. They are about as stereotypical as they come, sure, but they're hilarious. Cecil has always been cool (better as a Dark Knight!), Rosa was fine by me, Cid is ridiculous, and, you talk about someone who has no business having fans. I don't get the love for Rydia -- she doesn't do anything. Who remembers Rydia only for being 'the summoner chick'? Crazy people. Oh, and there hasn't been a Final Fantasy character since that has quite matched the power of YANG FANG KARATE MASTER FROM FABUL (ff9 what what).

Even better, most of these characters end up dying in the most ridiculous of ways. I started playing it again briefly earlier this week, and man, it's so dumb how they some of them die. It's like they run into a roadblock and then someone steps up and is like 'I'VE GOT THIS -- GO ON I'LL HANDLE THIS ONE' and then everyone going through the same mourning sequence every time. '[insert character name]...' 'Dammit!' and then moving right along like it's nothing.In fact, I ran across a picture earlier that summed up FF4's story perfectly:

That's what makes FF4 so memorable, though. There are a lot of good moments in the game – going to the moon, going underground, LALI-HO, plot twists that have more mind control than should be allowed. Gotta love it.

17) Metroid Zero Mission
System: GBA
Company: Nintendo
Release Date: 2004

Best Nintendo game? aww yeah

Metroid Zero Mission is everything done right. This is one of the few games I can pick up at any time and have fun regardless of how much I play it. I think it's a nice mix of the controls and the speed of the game. Things just move when you're playing Zero Mission. Super Metroid, to me, feels so clunky and slow in comparison.

There's a few aspects where I think it's being held back from being the 'definitive' Metroid experience, though. Notably, the difficulty is super easy even on hard; then the bosses suffer from that, and are pretty unthreatening; and the atmosphere isn't up to snuff with SM or MP, which may be because of how colorful the game is.

One of the areas I really loved was the part where you go as suitless Samus. A lot of people seem to hate that stretch of the game, but I thought it was great. It lasts just long enough so that it doesn't become boring and tedious. Does a nice job of making you feel helpless playing as Samus, too, which is a first -- she's nothin' without the suit!

Let's see... oh, Tourian scares the hell out of me every time. The game may be all cupcakes and chocolate up until then, but when the Metroids start showing up, I start getting ****ed up. I don't know how many times those things have swarmed me in a corner and took turns gangbanging me while I'm trying to bomb my way outta their grasp. Nothing is more annoying than that! Watching tran's speedrun of that area is like salt on the wound, too. Always fun!

But yeah, Zero Mission's a great game. I wouldn't call it the perfect '2D Metroid experience,' but it gets close enough and is so much fun to play that I can't put another one over it. Hopefully the next 2D Metroid can build on what ZM laid out here while fixing some of the 'issues' (bosses, difficulty, atmosphere).

16) Suikoden 3
System: PS2
Company: Konami
Release Date: 2001

This is probably the most love it-or-hate it game in the Suikoden series. It goes against a lot of what made people love the previous two, but I think the direction it went in was really cool. One of the big things it did was branch the story out and have it told through the perspective of three different main characters before they came together for the final couple of chapters.

That becomes one of its strongest points too. Suikoden storylines are usually not that great -- they're just a group of rebels against some empire or evil or whatever. They're fun to follow, but nothing 'award-winning.' Suikoden 3, though, is a whole different ballgame. Seeing the war between the Grasslands, Zeltennia and Harmonica play out from each of the three perspectives was great. It gives you insight on certain events and how things looked depending on whose perspective it was through.

With the exception Luc and his group of failures, the cast here is a lot better than in previous Suikodens. Geddoe and his band of mercenaries were probably my favorite, too. Hugo and Chris were pretty good to follow, but Gedddoe's rag tag bunch couldn't be touched. Kinda cool how they were all named after the royal cards -- Ace, Jack, Queen, King. Okay, maybe not.

The skill system was another big thing for me as well. I didn't mind the simplicity of attaching runes to characters in Suikoden 1 and 2, but there wasn't really anything special about it. It was done a lot better here with each character having certain skills and then having the ability to either take away what was there or add more, and then use what points earned in battle to take those skills to the next level.

But, the battle system was pretty blah, I think. It wasn't that big of a deal for me, but thinking back on it, the whole double-team thing was kinda lame. You couldn't ever do things individually. If you used an item with one character, the other one in that 'team' couldn't do anything for a turn. It's fine if you're just attacking or whatever, but if you try to do something outside of that you're limited. I guess that could add some strategy to things, but yeah.

The new changes plus some old conventions (108 characters to get, getting a base to build up) make for a much better game than most give credit, I think. Shame more people don't like it!

15) Final Fantasy 9
System: PS1
Company: Square
Release Date: 2000

Number 1, top 10? Pssh -- keepin' ya on your toes!

I'm pretty surprised I liked FF9 as much as I did on that last replay, but I guess it helps when a lot of the things you used to hate don't bother you anymore! FF9's just a really fun game. There's so much charm and 'old school' permeating throughout the entire game that it's hard to hate it if you're just sitting back and enjoying the ride.

The pacing and content of the story were nice. I don't think there was ever point in FF9 where there was any real 'downtime,' like you were doing something that broke up the movement of it. And the story itself was good; nothing complex, nothing hard to follow, just a fun 'you've got this goal and here's some things that are happening and we have to do this to stop it' sorta thing.

The cast makes it a big part of what it is, too. On their own -- save for a couple -- they're nothing all that great, but when they all get together it's fun to see the interaction between them. ZOTAN is the standout for me; he's by far the best character in the game. He hits on the chicks, keeps a good attitude about him most of the time, and is what hold most of the cast together during the major parts of the game. It wouldn't work without him. Oh, and CID FABOOL.

I enjoyed the skill system. It wasn't really deep, it was straightforward, but it was solid. The abilities and support abilities that you learned through equipment made the game more about the weapons you had than your levels. More than usual, it's always fun getting a new weapon and seeing how much stronger you get when you hop into a battle -- which take a bit too long for my liking, but whatever!

There's a load of good scenes in FF9, too -- Alexander vs. Bahamut, Lindblum fleet stopping the silver dragons, Vivi telling the Black Waltz to sit the **** down with a fire spell. It's 'classic' Final Fantasy at it's best. Sakaguchi said one time that this game was what he thought the ideal Final Fantasy would be, and I'd probably agree with him. As far as capturing the 'essence,' or whatever, of Final Fantasy, none of them do it better than FF9...except maybe FF1. Great game.

14) Chrono Trigger
System: SNES
Company: Square
Release Date: 1995

If there is one game out there that I think it's impossible to hate, it has to be Chrono Trigger. I talked about the 'charm' in FF9, but that can't hold a candle to what CT has. There's something 'special' about this game that most other games lack. It's what put its a step above everything else, and why people love as much as they do.

Chrono Trigger the kinda game that can be played and enjoyed by people who don't even normally like RPGs. There are no random battles, no high encounter rates, and the game is easy even by the standards of the genre. It's not Suikoden with its anti-grind method of leveling up, but there's never a point where you have to stop and battle for a while to be able to beat a boss or anything. That makes it a lot of fun to replay.

The places you visit are great, too. Past, future, present -- Chrono Trigger was all over the place (Zeal was always my favorite, with the future being second). I don't notice a whole lot of games that attempt to do 'time travel,' but CT does a fine job of it. I think part of it has to do with it not being taken very seriously; there's no some elaborate explanation for why things happen. It's like there was a necklace, a wacky teleport device and bam all of a sudden you're about 500 years in the past. Only Chrono Trigger can pull that off and not have it feel really stupid!

I like the cast, too. They're much like the rest of the game -- simple. Crono doesn't speak at all, but he's still great. Magus is pretty cool. Frog's got that whole olde English thing going on. Marle and Lucca...well, they suck. I liked Ayla and Robo wasn't half bad. Where they really shine is in battle. I liked the fact that not only did they have their own special attacks, but teaming up two of them for a move gave you something different each time. Crono and Frog's X-Strike was always my favorite of the bunch.

The worst thing to happen to Chrono Trigger might have been this, though:

Ah, Magus-sama~[note]
Shining eyes, wind-blown hair[note]
Higher than mountains, deeper than seas[note]

However sunny and lonely the day,[note]
If we think of you, we're not afraid[note]
However bright and sad the place,[note]
If you're there, we're fine puu[note]

Ah, Magus-sama[note]
Our savior[note]


13) Valkyrie Profile
System: PS1
Company: tri-Ace
Release Date: 2000

Valkyrie Profile, like most of tri-Ace's games, is for the masochistic among us. VP is an exercise in patience -- you have to when any game features voice work from the people that brought you the Pokemon cartoon. It's not that the game is bad, but some of what it asks of you is a bit suspect.

The premise is not too bad either -- as a battle goddess, you go around collecting the souls of people who have died for a huge war of the gods that will determine the fate of...uh...that one place where the gods live. The problem is that the gods are kinda picky and want specific types of people who excel at certain things. So, basically, you go around collecting dead people, take them into battle to fine tune them toward a specific skill, and then you send them away, removing them from your party for the rest of the game! Aaaaaand that's it!

That sounds horrible, doesn't it? It's not that bad, though! The short stories that lead up to getting these characters are where the game shines. There's usually a 10 - 15 minute scene detailing the life of that particular character all the way up to their death. Sometimes it's being killed by monster, sometimes in war, sometimes suicide -- you never know what you're going to get. Admittedly, I don't remember any of them in particular (save for some dude being in love with a mermaid or something...uhh, yeah, that was pretty weird), but they're well done most of the time.

The gameplay and combat system is really good, too. I loved that dungeons didn't have any random encounters -- you can see the enemies before you go into battles -- and the puzzles were well-crafted every now and then. That said, the dungeon design is typical tri-Ace junk, and if you know them you know how bad they can get, but giving Lenneth the ability to use ice crystals for switches, platforms to reach a higher level, the ability to jump, and so on make it a lot better than usual.

Combat is fast-paced and frantic. There's some nice use of strategy when trying to figure out what character should attack first, then second, and so on to inflict the most damage and get the biggest 'combo' out of a single turn. It's always fun sending all four of your guys to beat down an enemy within a few seconds, but keeping dishing the pain out even after their lifebar has been depleted twice over!

12) Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
System: PS2
Company: Konami
Release Date: 2001

MGS2 is everything right and wrong with Metal Gear at the same time. The gameplay is brilliant -- it's not as poorly executed as MGS3's and still a huge step forward from MGS1 -- but god almighty that storyline is the most ridiculous thing in the world. It's summed up perfectly with 'FISSION MAILED.'

One might blame Raiden for this mess. In fact, most people do blame Raiden for this! What Kojima did with MGS2 took some serious balls, from changing the main character from a badass like Solid Snake to dude with blonde hair and hips that would make a woman jealous to bisexual vampires to LIVING ON THROUGH THIS ARM. THIS DOESN'T MAKE ANY SENSE WHY DID YOU DO THIS KOJIMA WHY

I remember first hearing the codec conversation about Vamp's whole thing with Fortune's dad. Man, what the hell was that. That is about as left field as it gets, and then it's worse because Vamp and Fortune have this whole thing going on with each other, but then it's not really much of anything. Christ...

Anyway, MGS2 is at its best when you're playing the game. All of the new gameplay elements introduced here from the first person view to stuffing guards in lockers added so much variety it's nuts. Although it's not 'normal' MGS2, the Substance version of the game is what makes me love this as much as I do.

The VR missions have gotten more playtime out of me than the main story. It's all of the deep gameplay put across hundreds of missions of varying difficulty without any interruption from codec calls and cutscenes. To that, you've got the ability to go back and complete missions faster and get higher scores for them. I still go back every so often to come up with new routes and strategies for my favorite missions to see if I can top what I did before. It's good fun. Oh, and Substance has playable Snake!

11) Suikoden 2
System: PS1
Company: Konami
Release Date: 1999

Suikoden 2 is about as close as it gets to a 'definitive' Suikoden experience. Everything is a nice upgrade from Suikoden 1, from gameplay to graphics to characters, but maintaing the charm that makes Suikoden what it is -- not going as far as Suikoden 3 took it.

The biggest improvement, I thought, was the gameplay. Suikoden is a simple series, but Suikoden 1 was almost too simple for my tastes. I think it had something like only one rune that could be attached per character, whereas there were up to three that could be attached onto one in Suikoden 2. It was a lot more fun having characters that were a bit more varied.

The Luca Blight scene/fight is a classic, too. Nothing from any of the games has matched that for me. Fighting him three different times, after he's taken arrows to his body, then watching another scene where he gets rocked by another flurry of arrows, and then a duel with Riou was awesome. Love that scene.

There's a lot more in there, but I'm forgetting a lot of it -- it's been a while! Fighting against Neclord was cool; the 'war' sections where it became a SRPG were decent; Jowy was a pretty solid antagonist; building up the base was cool. Once you talk about one Suikoden, it's hard to talk about the others because most of the game stuff applies!

10) Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
System: PS1
Company: Konami
Release Date: 1997

I wasn't a huge fan of Castlevania before I played SOTN. The games were good, but the only one I had really enjoyed was the original Castlevania, and even then I didn't hold it that highly. But SOTN came along and did all the right stuff to create some addicting gameplay.

The RPG elements thrown in there like gaining levels, having equipment, being able to buy stuff at stores, and whatnot made fighting the random enemies throughout the castle have a lot more meaning than usual. I don't think I ever did any real 'leveling' or anything, but I made sure to kill everything I came across to take advantage of the EXP they gave me. Made things a lot more fun.

I do remember, though, finding out that one particular enemy had the Crissagrim weapon -- that thing is broken as hell -- and I killed the same type of enemy over and over and over again for like 20 minutes before it finally dropped it. Seeing it in action for the first time was great. It made an already easy game even easier!

The addition of the map was huge, too. Super Metroid's was something of a mess, but SOTN nailed it. The map was easy to follow, it got uncovered as you explored the area, and the warp points or save points were clearly labeled as to what was what. It's hard to imagine going through the game the map -- I used that thing all the time.

What else, the bosses were pretty good -- liked Death, Dracula and the Succubus -- and the inverted castle was a nice twist the first time. IT'S THE CASTLE ALL OVER AGAIN -- BUT UPSIDE DOWN WHAT NOW ALUCARD YOUR MOVE.

SOTN's one bad mark is the voice acting, though. Dear god that stuff pierces. I have no idea who thought throwing in voices in a Castlevania game would be a good idea, but I'm glad that hasn't popped up since -- except for the Rondo of Blood remake on the PSP; now Alucard is all 'HEY DEATH, GET OUT OF MY MAN YOU'RE TOO OLD TO HANDLE 'DIS.'

9) Vagrant Story
System: PS1
Company: Square
Release Date: 2000

Vagrant Story may be one of the most complex games I've ever played -- and I love it. I've never seen a game with such a meticulous attention to detail like Vagrant Story. Yasumi Matsuno, the game's director, has a habit creating some hardcore games (FFT, Ogre series), but this takes that to the next level. This was supposed to be the independent film to Final Fantasy's blockbuster; I'd say that's not too far from the truth!

VS was a lot to take in when I first played it. You have blunt weapons, piercing weapons, edged weapons; weapons that are naturally better against certain types of enemies like undead, humans, dragons – sometimes weapons that suck against types your fighting against that you have to raise; then you have enemies who are suspectible to certain types; then you have have the option to hit the arm, leg, head, or body of the enemy while trying to keep your limbs at peak performance -- because Ashley wears out like anyone else!

After about four hours and a Stone Golem boss later, I had to put this down. I picked it back up a few months ago and finished it out, and I'm glad I did. Once you have a handle on the system, and know what you need to do in what situation, the game starts becoming a whole lot easier. This isn't a game where you can just equip a new weapon and expect to blow through everything, but that's what makes it good. It's a really unique experience.

To add to that, Vagrant Story also has one of the most well-written narratives I've seen in a game. The story, from beginning to end, is compelling, interesting and intelligent. There's not a whole lot of flash in the cutscenes; it's like the anti-Final Fantasy. The characters are great, too. The classic 'Reinforcements? I am the reinforcements' sums up Ashley pretty well; Sydney's a great antagonist -- great motivations for what he's doing, the 'games' plays with Ashley throughout the story are nice to watch; and then Guildenstern is, uh, out for himself. Just good stuff all around.

And it's topped off with an atmosphere that puts it in league with Shadow Hearts and Koudelka. It's dark and gritty -- gotta love it. VS isn't a game that everyone can get into because the gameplay is so demanding, but if you can get into it, it's one of the best experiences in videogame I think.

8) Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
System: PS2
Company: Konami
Release: 2004

There was a lot MGS3 did that was very cool, stuff that puts it a step ahead of its predecessors in a lot of ways. The jungle environment was awesome; there was a lot of it, but up until here, MGS had been all about infiltrating some facility. Bringing the outdoor environment into the picture made things a lot more interesting with stuff like camouflage, eating whatever animal you can find for stamina, and healing by patching yourself up.

I touched on it earlier, but the camo and healing processes were kinda clunky. It breaks up what's going on when you have to go into a menu to remove a bullet from your body in the middle of a boss fight for risk of taking more damage by leaving it in. It'd be fine if it was just an in-and-out deal, but you oftentimes have to apply all sorts of stuff to fully heal it. It's a great idea, but the execution was botched a bit with it. Same thing for camo -- great idea, but going into a menu to get the optimal camouflage for each new area of grass is kinda lame. You can just deal with what you have, but whatever. It's not that big of a deal.

The story was pretty good, too. I liked that it went back into the past before any of the cloning happen to flesh out Big Boss and show what happened with him. His role in the original Metal Gears never really impressed me too much, and in MGS he's nothing but a name, but MGS3 shows him in a more sympathetic light. It's easy to understand what pushed him to do what he did. Thought that was cool.

As for the Cobras, I never liked them a whole lot, but then again, I'm not big on any of the 'villains' in MGS, be it FOXHOUND, Dead Cell or these guys. The Sorrow was pretty cool, as was The Fury, but a dude who shoots exploding bees and a guy who wishes he was a spider aren't. After MGS2's long-winded before and after speeches, I was glad to see that these guys were there for the fight and died immediately afterward. That may have lessened their 'character' or whatever, but the backstories on these groups is always awful -- save for Sniper Wolf.

The ending is the highlight of the game, though. I don't think it's the 'best ending ever,' but it's certainly up there. It seems like a lot of people haven't played the game for whatever reason, so I won't bother going into any details, but I thought it was great. It brought some satisfying closure in a way that the other Metal Gear Solid games didn't.

7) Final Fantasy 12
System: PS2
Company: Square
Release Date: 2006

time for the hate to begin

FF12 gets a whole lot of hate around here, and I know some of the reasons why they feel that way, but I can't say I ever felt the same. FF12 for me keeps getting better the longer I stay away from it. Maybe because I had followed it as much as other people, but when I played it I didn't have any real expectations. There are some issues the game has, but for the most part it was a great game.

The characters and story seem to get the most hate for being 'boring,' but I think part of that is FF12's complete disregard for any style. Moreso than any other FF, there's nothing ridiculous that really happens. The characters aren't superhuman; they're just a group of people led by the princess of Dalmasca trying to release their country from the Empire's grasp. The political and war driven storyline has been done before in Final Fantasy, but it's all out here -- there's no extra twist later that reveals some ultimate evil everyone has to stand against. After so many love stories -- and a disaster of a sequel a few years earlier -- I thought that was well overdue!

The unique gameplay system was a nice refresher, too. The combat system is, at its core, the ATB system found in every Final Fantasy since FF4, but everything else is entirely different. Allowing for the customization of your characters' AI was a huge step forward from RPGs that still insist on the most basic of options like 'ALL OUT,' 'DEFENSE FORM,' 'FOCUS ON HEALING' or whatever. I never got the complaints that this made the game play itself, because all it essentially did was remove you from cycling through menus for your other party members every single turn.

Similarly, I thought the License Board was a good progression from what was laid out in FF10. The criticism that it makes all your characters the same is pretty true, but I like that you could go anywhere you wanted right from the start. What you wanted to do with any of your characters was up to you.

What's probably most memorable to me about the game isn't really the characters, or any specific scene, but just exploring the world. I think the best thing that FF12 did was create a huge, sprawling world that was easy to be interested in. The environments were varied and large had a certain 'connection' that other games don't. Like, going from one place to another felt 'natural' or whatever. That was kinda cool. It was made better by the fact that there weren't any random battles either; that helped a lot in creating that feeling.

Having said that, I have no problems with the old conventions of RPGs -- random battles, strictly turn-based combat, surfing menus. I'm a huge fan of RPGs, and one game doing it isn't going to remove everything I enjoyed before, but something like FF12 is what we need every so often. Admittedly, I don't want Final Fantasy to go in the direction that FF12 did for the rest of the series. FF is all about its style, its focus on characters, and its crazy storylines -- but a diversion from the usual is always welcome every few installments.

6) Final Fantasy 7
System: PS1
Company: Square
Release Date: 1997

FF7 wasn't my first RPG, or my first introduction to the series, but playing it for the first time might as well have been like that for me. I remember back when this was coming out the ads for this were all over the place -- TV, magazines. This is one of the few times where advertising really hooked me in on a game. The jabs at Nintendo and the whole '300 ANIMATORS AND PROGRAMMERS' are funny looking back, but man, they were pretty effective!

And although it looks like an abortion today, FF7 absolutely blew me away when I first had a chance to play it. At the time, the last Final Fantasy game I had played was FF4, so the leap there was like 'oh my god.' The introduction with Cloud leaping off of a train, being called an 'EX-SOLDIER,' and then kicking ass left and right was a great way to start off the game. Cloud was a badass from the moment you started that game, a lot more than any other FF lead before him.

Sephiroth was probably the first great villain I ran across, too. Back in the day, I thought he was a whole lot cooler than Cloud was, just because when he showed up things were going to hit the fan. The dude got so much hype from beginning to end that it made it impossible not to be interested in him somehow. 'ANY STORY YOU'VE HEARD ABOUT HIM CANNOT COMPARE TO THE REAL SEPHIROTH' and then you go outside and find he's stabbed a stake through a Midgar Zolom's head. This right after you got out of Midgar where he had killed president Shinra. Gotta love it.

FF7's story is pretty much a mess, though -- as is anything that needs to be retconned over and over again years later -- but for what it is I really enjoyed it. Maybe a little too much. My buddies and I were always trying to figure out what in the world was going on in the game to the point where I've pretty much got the whole story memorized in my head. I couldn't whip out boss strategies in an instant, but man, if you need to know why the Lifestream shot out of the planet at the end I'm your guy! (how sad is that)

Really, the gameplay in FF7 was never a big thing for me. Materia is decent -- it's a huge step up from freakin' espers -- but it's nothing all that great. The battle system is pretty standard fare, although at the time things were a bit different. I don't mind it or anything, but when I think of why I liked FF7 it's pretty much all story and characters. Sephiroth walking through fire (dude enjoys that a little too much), the end of disc 1, Gold Saucer (that place is terrible, by the way), Midgar Zolom, Midgar -- there's a lot of places and events that are memorable, maybe moreso than any other Final Fantasy.

5) Metal Gear Solid
System: PS1
Company: Konami
Release Date: 1998

i loves da diversity

MGS is the perfect Metal Gear game. The other two games did certain things better, and certain things much worse, but MGS1 manages to strike the perfect balance between cutscenes, gameplay, and telling a grounded story. This was well before Metal Gear started getting out of hand with the superhuman everything -- there's no bee shootin', FISSION MAILIN' stuff going on here. It's all about Snake having to infiltrate a remote Alaskan base and stop the terrorists from launching a nuke -- simple and to the point.

Compared to MGS2, the gameplay has a lot of limitations, but at the same time this makes certain things more challenging. You can't stand outside of its vision and take out a camera; instead, you have to watch it's movement, and then sneak by it. Pretty much the same deal with guards and such -- it's more about sneaking around than it is shooting. Not that MGS2 isn't, but it's not as viable an option without a First Person mode, I don't think.

The cast is great, too. FOXHOUND teeters on being stupid and cool a lot of the time. Sniper Wolf was great whenever she showed up; Ocelot is always awesome; Liquid's a great villain when he's not living in arms; Raven is kinda dumb; and Psycho (cool boss fight though). Snake's supporting crew of the Colonel, Naomi, Otacon, and Mei Ling are the best in the series.

One of the things MGS1 does really well are the boss fights. The fight against Psycho Mantis where he reads your memory card and talks about you liking SOTN and Suikoden is classic. It's genius that Kojima thought to have the player unplug his controller and put it in port 2 in order to break free of the 'mindgames' that Mantis tries to play with you, too -- making the screen go completely black in the middle of the fight, knowing where you going to fire and avoiding it, etc. If I made a list of my favorite boss fights, this would have to be near the top.

The fight at the end against Liquid on top of Metal Gear REX and then the subsequent car chase is another good one. Metal Gear really knows how to put together some great boss fights. Not all of them are hard, but they have the 'cinematic' feeling down pat. And that's what makes MGS what it is, I think. The gameplay is great, but the cinematic experience it gives you is unrivaled. Every time you play one of the games it feels like you're watching a movie; not just in that there are a lot of cutscenes, but the way everything is handled. Can't wait to see how the series concludes with MGS4.

4) Final Fantasy Tactics
System: PS1
Company: Square
Release Date: 1998

FFT is probably the most addicting game I've played. It takes a while to get going, but once you get into it, there's no stopping until you're tired of messing around with your characters. When this came out on the PSP a few months ago, I was playing it daily just fighting random battles for 30 minutes and messing around with the abilities and jobs of my characters. Something is fun about just fighting battles and not progressing at all in the story -- and it's actually quite good.

The original FFT was a disaster with its script. It's widely known for having one of the worst localizations of any game, and seeing that done some justice with the recent PSP release was really nice. It has some weird stuff in there like Algus being 'ARGATH,' but it's top of the line otherwise. It's reads a lot like FF12, which I thought had some great writing if nothing else. The story is a lot easier to follow and enjoy when it's understandable!

That's one of its high points for me, too. It does get a bit weird at the end with all of the characters turning into demons, but otherwise, it's a well-written story in the same vein as Final Fantasy 12 -- a war between two countries fighting over the throne and a mess of politics. In between, you've got Ramza trying to figure out what path to take when he's hated by the church as a heretic and loathed by the commoners as a stuck up noble; and Delita playing all sides in an attempt to bring a new 'era' to Ivalice, free from the church and crown alike. It's easily one of the best I've seen.

And when there's no story, there's enough gameplay to keep you busy for hours. Building an army of characters through the Job System is nice. Sometimes it sucks having to mess around with a sucky job in order to get to another one, but it's all apart of nice development process for your team. When you take them into battle it's even better, although much like Vagrant Story there's a lot of complexities in there.

On the surface, it's pretty simple in that all it looks like you have is get behind someone and hit them, and while that works fine, taking away of the Zodiac matchups, keeping track of your Brave and Faith, paying attention to the environment and weather for some key advantages all add a lot of depth to the battles that always makes them interesting. I loved that the enemies got stronger with you, too, making it so that every random battle you entered was going to be interesting.

FFT is just a really great game all around. I've burned myself out on it recently, but this is one of those games you could play for months and months and always find something to do with it. No idea when I'll pick it up and play it again, but it's one of those that you can jump in at any time and start playing no problem.

3) Final Fantasy X-2
System: PS2
Release Date: 2003

I know that you're hiding things
Using gentle words to shelter me
Your words were like a dream
But dreams could never fool me
Not that easily

I acted so distant then
Didn't say goodbye before you left
But I was listening
You'll fight your battles far from me
Far too easily

"Save your tears 'cause I'll come back"
I could hear that you whispered as you walked through that door
But still I swore to hide the pain when I turn back the pages
Shouting might have been the answer
What if I'd cried my eyes out and begged you not to depart?
But now I'm not afraid to say what's in my heart

Though a thousand words
Have never been spoken
They'll fly to you
Crossing over the time and distance holding you
Suspended on silver wings

And a thousand words
One thousand confessions
Will cradle you
Making all of the pain you feel seem far away
They'll hold you forever

lol jk what a terrible game

3) Shadow Hearts
System: PS2
Company: Nautilus -- FEEL PLUS
Release Date: 2001

I got started with the Shadow Hearts game for the first time earlier this year, and I'm glad I did. There were really only a couple of things keeping SH1 from being the number one game. If it would have had the same 'polish' and technical upgrade that SH2 got with its jump to the PS2, this wouldn't even be a question for me.

There are a lot of things that Shadow Hearts does right, and one of the biggest for me is the atmosphere and story. The feeling it is right on par with something out of a survival horror -- it's dark, it's gritty, it's almost creepy at times. When you enter the first town, it completley sets the tone for what the rest of the game is going to be like. There's dead bodies all over the place, man-eating demon children and a place of worship to some god with tons of skulls littered all over the place. It's on a whole differnet level from every other RPG.

And in keeping with that, the battle system is much the same. At its core, it's standard, but the inclusion of the Judgment Ring makes things a lot more interesting than normal battles. Adding in a timing element, and even some risk involved in trying for a 'perfect hit' to increase your damage, make for a much cooler battle system than simply choosing the attack button over and over again. I also like that the skill system here is done through levels. Once you reach a certain level, a character will learn a new skill. It's nothing new, it's nothing fancy, but that's how I like my skill system -- more of a reward for leveling than usual, I think.

Then there's the cast, which is probably my favorite in a videogame by a good mile. Because of how the world is crafted, everyone who joins your party feels like they have something of a purpose there, at least some of the more major ones (Yuri, Alice, Zhuzhen, etc.). But more importantly than that, I like each of them a whole lot.

I usually only like a few characters in every RPG, but most of my favorite characters, PC and NPCs alike, come from here. The interaction between Yuri and Zhuzhen throughout the whole game is great; the slowly developing relationship with Alice gets better the deeper the game goes; everything with Kawashima is amazing; Albert Simon is a great villain -- it's all really good stuff.

The setting of the game is another big thing. It's got a 'fantastical' take on a lot of things, but being set in the early 1900s in 'our world' is a nice change of pace from a made up fantasy world. Visting various places in Europe and Asia like London, Prague, and Shanghai, among others, is a lot of fun. My favorite place in the game had to be London, and more specifically the Calios Mental Hospital. Although the dumb 'find the kids in the orphanage' mini-game can burn!

SH1 is just an all-around amazing game. I don't have any issues with it all -- save for stuff like the Judgment Ring being kinda stupidly unclear -- but if it could get a makeover that brought it up to PS2 standards with graphics, voice acting and whatnot instead of PS1, I think I'd like it that much more. It'll never happen, and it doesn't bother me that it won't, but yeah. Anyone who hasn't had a chance to play it yet should. It's a must.

2) Final Fantasy 10
System: PS2
Company: Square
Release Date: 2001

This should probably be below SH1, but oh well!

Ignoring a couple of problems (voice acting, too linear), FF10 is about as good as a Final Fantasy can get. I think it's battle system is top of the line for a RPG, but otherwise, there isn't a whole lot here that FF10 does the best of anything; it does everything well enough that it comes together in a complete package, though.

The highlight of the game has to be the combat system mentioned. What I love about it is all the various options it gives to you that allow for some strategy (let's you see the turn list; equip/unequip weapons/armor in battle) and the speed. Battles in FF10 never last longer than about 30 seconds. There's no ATB meter, which helps to kill a lot of 'downtime' where nothing is happening, and you don't have to wait for a character to attack and get back into his place before another one goes at it.

The Sphere Grid also makes for some pretty addictive leveling. It's completely linear, but that doesn't bother me a whole lot. In a way, it's kinda similar to a 'level up and learn a new skill' that I enjoy in RPGs that make use of it -- except other stats and whatnot are apart of the Grid here. It also keeps characters unique up until near the end of the game, where characters start crossing into each others grids and learning their skills. It's a nice system.

There's only a few of problems I had with FF10. The first is that the voice acting is atrocious, this is stuff that will make you want to mute the TV. That laughing scene is a scourge to everyone who saw it and was involved in its creation -- seriously, who thought that was a good idea? Some characters, Yuna in particular, are truly awful, too. It's not so much the voices that are bad as it is the acting. Now, maybe the lines she had were filled with ellipses, but somehow I doubt it! It's minor in the grand scheme of the game, but still...argh.

The second was the linearity. As far as the story is concerned, there shouldn't be much reason to revisit previous areas in the game. It's all about one trek across the world and then it ends. But still, when someone busts out that picture of FF10 being nothing but a line, there's actually a fair bit of truth to it. The airship felt kinda lame here, too, because there's such little incentive to revisit a lot of the other areas, with the exception of like monster hunting and such. This is starting to turn really negative, so I won't mention the absolute disaster that was FF10's mini-games!

But yeah, FF10's a great game. Everyone has played it, everyone loves it for almost the same reasons (save for greek tragedy -- dude, no, stop that), and everyone knows what's up with it. The character interaction was top notch, the cast was pretty good, and the story was great to follow with some nice, if a bit ridiculous, twists. The ending is one of my favorites, too. It's not the best, but it's probably top 3 or so. FF10's just an all around good game. Looking forward to seeing what this team is going to do with FF13.

1) Shadow Hearts Covenant
System: PS2
Company: Nautilus
Release Date: 2004

Covenant is pretty much everything Shadow Hearts 1 was with a bit more humor and brought up to the PS2 standards. For a lot of the same reasons I enjoyed SH1, I enjoyed SH2 twofold. Yuri is even more awesome here; the Judgment Ring system was heavily expanded upon; the places you visit grew; and it's full of 'I SENSE THAT THIS PIPE ONCE SHELTERED KITTENS FROM THE ELEMENTS.' Joachim is dumber than anything, but man he's hilarious.

The big change here -- voice acting, graphics, and whatnot aside -- was what they did to the Judgment Ring. In SH1, everything was about as basic as it gets. There wasn't a whole lot of ring customization that you could mess around with, but here, you could expand the hit areas, expand the strike areas, attach certain effects to your attacks (Poison, Slow, Seal, etc.), choose what ring type you wanted, how many Hit/Strike areas you wanted, and so on. There's a lot more depth to it, and while you can get by without getting too involved because the game is so easy, it's great that it's there. It's always a fun time maxing out your Strike Areas -- red ring of death imho.

There are a lot more scenes here than there were in SH1, too. I know some people haven't played it yet, but the one scene where Yuri destroys Rasputin is probably the most memorable one in the entire game. It's like you have no idea how that's going to go and then boom -- Yuri punches him so hard the airship they're standing on explodes, and he walks away completely unharmed. Because that's what Yuri does.

My favorite one is The Miracle, though. You have to play through SH1 to really appreciate that scene, but it's really good regardless. Keeping with that, the ending is by far the best I've seen in game, too -- the good one anyway. It's got a nice conclusion while leaving some interpretation to the player, and the music at the very end is awesome. The, uh, whole...uh...Karin stuff, though. I dunno about that one! Best to forget about it!

And then there's the whole MAN FESTIVAL stuff. I can't believe I saw that and thought 'okay it's time to check this thing out.' Shadow Hearts has a weird thing about one off the wall video being enough to get people interested -- Yuri Kung Fu, MAN FESTIVAL, and Art of Unlock. Why are these games so awesome.

Covenant's just an incredible game. It's got everything you could want and then some. There are few things that could be done to improve what's already here. It's got the production of a Square game with the mainstream appeal of one. A real shame this wasn't more popular. Even if you haven't played or can't find the first one, it's worth it to play this one just for how good it is. Game of the Forever? aww yeah

Top 5 Series[]

1) Final Fantasy
I've been a huge fan of Final Fantasy for a long time and I won't stop being one as long as I'm still gaming. I love that it reinvents itself with each new game, always trying to do something different than the one that came before it, and the story- and character-driven nature of all of them. There may be a lot of ports, sequels, remakes these days, but Square still has it where it counts -- nothing compares to playing a brand new, mainline Final Fantasy.

2) Metal Gear Solid
A big part of what makes MGS so good is the ridiculous storyline and goofy characters. Nothing is more convoluted and interesting to follow than Metal Gear Solid. It's got that right balance of being serious and then making fun of itself. Combine that with some great gameplay that gets better with each game and you've got a winner.

3) Shadow Hearts
I've only played two of the three games in this series, but man are they good. Between having a great atmosphere, unique gameplay and a main character that puts most other games' casts to shame, SH is second to only FF as far as RPGs go. Shadow Hearts is one of those series more people need to play!

4) Suikoden
Suikoden is an endearing, by-the-books RPGs. It's simplistic, but fun. The characters are mostly throwaway and the storyline -- with the exception of S3 -- aren't going to win any awards, but it's always fun trying to get as many of the 120 recruitable characters into your party.

5) Metroid
No other adventure game does it as well as Metroid. I believe the goal was originally to be one half Zelda, one half Mario -- and it ended up out doing both of them. The focus on exploration and action, and the balance between them, works really well. There's so much to these games that most don't even realize, too. I always enjoy seeing whatever the hardcore Metroid guys come up with whenever a new one comes out.

Top 5 Soundtracks[]

I'm not a big VG music guy, but here we go.

1) Shadow Hearts
Favorite Song: ALICE

2) Final Fantasy 10
Favorite Song: To Zanarkand

5) Shadow Hearts Covenant
Favorite Song: ALICE ~ Piano Arrangement (lol cheatz)

3) Final Fantasy Tactics
Favorite Song: Trisection

4) Final Fantasy 9
Favorite Song: You're Not Alone

i brings da variety

(editor's note: the list was actually out of order >_>)

Top 5 Villains[]

1) Albert Simon (Shadow Hearts)
How can you say no to a dude dressed in a suit and tophat? Ol' Albert became a favorite of mine the moment I saw him floating around in a bubble when the everything around him is getting destroyed and he's all like 'I DARESAY IT'S TIME FOR SOME TEA. HAW HAW -- TIME TO BE OFF THEN!' You can't touch that.

2) Luca Blight (Suikoden 2)

3) Sephiroth (Final Fantasy 7)
No game loves its villain more than Final Fantasy 7 loves Sephiroth. From his design to killing the Midgar Zolom on a stake and walking through fire, nobody does style quite like him. He has a presence that other villains can't match, and he makes the party look like a joke every time he shows up. Gotta love him.

4) Sydney Losstarrot (Vagrant Story)
Sydney's appearance is probably the most misleading thing imaginable. He's a frail, blonde guy with mechanical limbs and no shirt. But when you see him take a crossbow bolt to the heart like it's nothing, you know the guy is more than he looks. What makes Sydney great are his reasons for doing what he does; he's the perfect example of how to make the player sympathize with the cause of a 'villain.'

5) Garland (Final Fantasy 1)
SURPRISE NUMBER 5 -- he'll knock you down, send you back in time, and do it all over again for eternity. Because that's how he rolls.

Top 5 Games of the Year 2007[]

1) Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions (PSP)
I've always been a fan of FFT, but WotL's made me like the game that much more. The new translation is top of the line (ARGATH), and the new scenes with the voice acting are great. Other than that, it's the same FFT from the PS1. Cheated a bit by putting a port here, but whatever!

2) Crisis Core -Final Fantasy 7- (PSP)
Talked about this one already -- nice story, Zack is great, gameplay is probably better than I can give credit since I couldn't mess around a whole lot with it because of the Japanese. Looking forward to picking this one up against when it comes out in March.

3) God of War 2 (PS2)
RAGE AND DESTRUCTION AND PROTECTIN' TRANSLATORS AND KILLIN' GODS. How does this game have a cliffhanger ending

4) Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (Wii)
The first Wii game that made great use of the Wii remote. MP3 didn't recapture the same feeling of immersion that MP1 did, but it does a lot of cool things like bringing back stackable beams, letting you navigate around in your ship to different planets and topping it off with a nice throwback final fight.

5) Jeanne D'Arc (PSP)
It was a slow year for me and new games.

Top 10 Characters[]

1) Yuri Hyuga (Shadow Hearts)
Yuri's my guy. You have to play Shadow Hearts to believe how awesome this dude is. I'd take him over most other games' cast without any problem -- he's that cool. The relationship with Alice is probably the best one done in a videogame; he's always breaking somebody's face; and he carries the entire game, if not series, on his shoulders. There is no Shadow Hearts without Yuri.

2) Solid Snake (Metal Gear Solid)
'A SECURITY CAMERA?!' 'METAL GEAR?!' 'A HIND D?!' Snake's the man.

3) Delita Heiral (Final Fantasy Tactics)
Delita has a nice story behind him. He's a commoner brought into a royal household and seemingly can't escape that fact. The manipulation he pulls off is far more impressive than anything from any of your other Final Fantasy or RPG villains. It may not have been true, but when you become a King who goes down in history as the one who brought peace to a warring world, that speaks a lot about what you were able to do -- even if he had to use friend and enemy alike to get there.

4) Tidus (Final Fantasy 10)
Tidus is kinda annoying when you first see him, but watching him 'mature' over the course of the game was pretty cool.

5) Balthier Bunansa (Final Fantasy 12)
The Han Solo of videogames. Balthier's charisma is what's best about him. He's always good for a clever remark that puts someone in their place. He's got some good stuff in there with his dad, too.

6) Cloud Strife (Final Fantasy 7)
Cloud's got a ton of head problems, but he's still a cool guy. No one pulls off that outrageous haircut, with an airplane wing for a sword and a 'Let's mosey' rally cry like Cloud.

7) Albert Simon (Shadow Hearts)
He's the only guy who would offer tea before a fight for the world.

8) Auron (Final Fantasy 10)
It's all about the shades.

9) Zidane Tribal (Final Fantasy 9)
"He's a player, or tries to be anyway," says Square localization expert Maki Yamane. Yamane stresses that Zidane is "not a jerk, like Squall"

10) Koudelka Iasant (Koudelka/Shadow Hearts)
She's got a nice backstory with her having to fend for herself as a kid, doing whatever it took to get to the next day. The interactions with Edward and James are great -- she's not afraid to speak her mind.