the artistry and psychology of gaming


Alice Kojiro’s Top 12 Greatest Games

Alice Kojiro’s Top 12 Greatest Games

Well, it’s on. Mr. Nazifpour has issued the challenge and I’m rising to meet it.  I’ll be adhering to the same guidelines, so let me reiterate them.  For one, these are not my top 12 favorite games of all time.  These are the top 12 games I’ve loved and are deep, and, in some instances, life-changing.  Of course, there are games that I love that could not make the list, due to lack of depth, and some that didn’t quite make the cut.  Because of this, some honorable mentions, and my top 10 personal favorite games will be found at the end of this list.  If you really want to know my favorite games ever, hit up my Backloggery page and click on Top Rated; at the time of this writing, there are 146, each with a short write-up; there simply isn’t time for that here.  The games on this list are selected in order of how much I enjoyed them, not in order of depth, by the bye.  Of course, within anything of this nature, there are bound to be spoilers, but I’ll try to keep them at a minimum.  Well, I dare not tarry any longer…

#12: Radical Dreamers

Admittedly, Radical Dreamers is barely a game; more like an electronic choose your own adventure book, at least to some.  However, I’d say that those who would say so are neglecting an important part of gaming history: adventure games.  You have your King’s Quests, sure, but the type to which I am referring is more along the lines of ShadowgateRadical Dreamers is this type of game, but with random encounters, or like the Sword of Hope series, if that’s not too obscure for you.  The encounters play out a bit more like a story, and there are no experience levels or anything, but they’re entertaining to read.  The still images of the game are well done, especially considering that many use that early style or rendering, as in Super Mario RPG or Donkey Kong Country, which isn’t quite as impressive as it was back in the day.  Nevertheless, I spent an afternoon going through this, getting the six alternate endings, and it was an afternoon I’ll never forget.

Radical Dreamers was fairly deep for what it was.  It was an intriguing tale that, while set in a mansion in a medieval fantasy world, was pretty creepy and suspenseful, almost like a good Horror movie.  Of course, unlike watching a movie, you have a goal, and are interacting with the medium, so the tension is even higher.  The main story was an interesting look at the heroes of Chrono Cross, and ties the game adequately to Chrono Trigger.  The main story was very well written, but the six alternate stories were also excellent.  They range from cheesily hilarious to weird and hilarious to fourth-wall-breaking and hilarious to downright disturbing, all with little imagery, relying heavily upon the writing.  What makes this wide range of tones actually work, unlike stories that artificially inject humor to “lighten the mood”, which doesn’t need to be lightened because doing so destroys it, is that these are all self-contained stories that have absolutely nothing to do with the main story.  Sadly, this was only available in Japan through the Bandai Satellaview add-on – a bit like the Wii’s Virtual Console – though, thanks to the magic of the Internet, you can enjoy it today, and in English no less.

4th wall? What’s that?

#11: Mother

Mother is a game with quite a history.  It was a Japan-only RPG that eschewed the typical swords and sorcery motif for a modern-day setting, giving the characters weapons like guns, baseball bats, and frying pans, and replacing magic with psychic powers.  It was quirky, to say the least, and very unique, despite its mechanical similarities to the Dragon Warrior series.  However, there was a North American prototype cartridge that somehow made its way into the hands of one lucky gamer.  Thanks to that, we can all enjoy a wonderful adventure that explains the origins of the cult classic, Earthbound, and started off a stylistically unique trilogy, no matter how loosely related the games are.

Though the story has some very interesting surreal and psychological elements, it isn’t all that deep; it’s just your fairly typical story of saving the earth from a powerful alien who controls the hearts and minds of the beings of earth, whether animal or human.  Okay, so it was pretty original for the time, but there are no deep lessons to be learned here.  What makes this game so special, aside from Magicant and everything it represents, is how accurately it captured the spirit of the 1980s in the United States.  I know, when most people think of the ’80s, they picture a time when men wore hot pink spandex and women wore chartreuse leg warmers, and everyone did cocaine and listened to embarrassingly bad music, but those are just memories in paraphrase.  Those of us who were alive in the early throes of the decade remember a certain feel.  There was a certain way the light would hit the grass, a certain way towns used to look, and just a certain indescribable essence.  It is a feeling I cannot adequately describe, but what I cannot do, even with a limitless array of words, Mother does without any.

#10: Shin Megami Tensei 2

I’m sure that everyone alive at the time remembers the initial hysteria surrounding the Pokémon phenomenon.  I was oblivious to it until my sister came to me for help with a new video game that she’d just gotten.  She’d never played an RPG before, so I gave her some tips, then helped her with a battle, then helped her grind a little, then a little more, then became so hopelessly addicted that I went out and bought Red, Blue, and a link cable.  Well, the Megami Tensei series is the actual origin of this idea in a video game.  Instead of cute little monsters with big eyes and Sailor Moon plots of love and friendship destroying evil, Atlus started this series in which the enemies captured were from mythologies all over the world and set it within deep stories in which you choose your own path.  They’re almost Western RPGs, but not quite as open or non-linear.  The idea, described to me by my friend as “Satanic Pokémon”, is what not only got me started with the series, but what also convinced me to get a Playstation 2 at least two thirds through its lifespan.

While it’s fun collecting monsters and building teams of Shiva, Thor, Cthulhu, and Lucifer himself, the real depth lies in the story.  Most Western audiences were first introduced to the series with Shin Megami Tensei 3’s special edition, known overseas as Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, which began with what was essentially the end of our world, and had a staggering 6 possible paths to follow.  I’d debated putting that here, but I think that Shin Megami Tensei 2 is a bit deeper, darker, and doesn’t really have a “right answer” as to who you should follow.  The events of the first game, through which I was unable to force myself, had Tokyo, and likely the rest of the world destroyed by nuclear weapons at its end.  The world now has 3 layers: Tokyo Millennium, a utopian city built upon the ruins of old Tokyo, at the top; Makai, also known as The Abyss or Hell, at the bottom; and The Underworld, the ruins of old Tokyo in the middle.  Now, I am generally a fan of law and justice, but the Messians of Tokyo Millennium are the same uppity, self-righteous jerks that look down on others because they are of a different religion, so those who know me might guess why I don’t side with them.  The Gaians, who support Makai, are in favor of destroying this society and creating a new one, but they’re a bit on the radical side.  So, do you follow the path of Law, and attempt to reform Tokyo Millennium into a truly peaceful city through approved methods, or follow the path of Chaos, ripping down the corrupt figures in power and starting afresh?  It’s interesting that those are the two most popular choices today, too: sticking with the “moral authority” or trying to tear it down.  Being the flaming moderate that I am, I tend to side with the mutants of The Underworld, who got kind of a bum deal, what with having a new city built right on top of them, but it’s ultimately up to you to decide.  In addition to the poor relics of old Tokyo, I can see the honor in following the lawful path, and controlling the populace to ensure peace, because humanity can do some pretty awful things when left to their own devices, but I can also feel the anger of the path of chaos, hating the “lawful” for their corruption and hypocrisy.  Perhaps the real message here is that instead of following the crowd or blindly fighting against it, we should be looking to solve our problems.

God’s right hand man with a counterintuitive name

#9: Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinestrals

Finally, a game that’s not exclusive to Japan!  The first Lufia had an absolutely epic beginning, but was otherwise a pretty typical and forgettable RPG.  When I found out there was going to be a sequel, I was unfazed, until I found out that it was going to be about the events leading up to that fateful battle on Doom Island.  Far from typical, the dungeons were absolutely infested with clever puzzles, and you had a few monsters that could join your party.  There was one monster for each elemental, and one for non-elemental, and by feeding them weapons, armor, and special fruit, you could cause them to grow into more powerful creatures.  The characters and enemies look cool, the soundtrack is great, and you even get a submarine!  The back of the box calls it the ultimate RPG, and while I wouldn’t quite go that far, I can easily say that, despite its glitches, this is one of the best RPGs on the SNES, which is saying quite a lot, considering how many there are.

The story isn’t very deep here, either; it’s a very typical instance of heroes going from town to town, saving the world from an unspeakable evil of great power as they go.  So, why is it on this list at all?  The same reason that despite having one third the script size, you care more about characters of Final Fantasy 6 than you do about those of its sequel; good characterization.  If you’ve played the first five or so minutes of the first Lufia game, you already know that two of the main characters are going to die at the end of the game.  So, having at least twenty hours to prepare for the inevitable, how do you feel when it happens?  Well, while I didn’t care for a second when Aeris died in Final Fantasy 7, Maxim and Selan’s demise hit me pretty hard.  It’s incredible how deeply you grow to care for these characters over the course of the game.  Sure, the extra scene they added after the final boss really helped to drive the point home, and it also helped that I was still young – about thirteen at the time – and was still capable of feeling sadness, but still, to be able to craft two condemned characters so lovingly like that is the sort of artistic mastery that we celebrate here at Gaming Symmetry.

The lovers watch over the world

#8: Breath of Fire 3

When I was young, there were two non-video-game things I absolutely loved: swords and dragons.  When Capcom came out with the first Breath of Fire, and I learned that your hero could fight with/as both, I hit the roof.  A hero with a sword, who turns into a dragon!  Oh!  Oh man!  So awesome!  I absolutely loved the first game, and fairly enjoyed the second, though I learned to appreciate it a bit more as I got older.  When I’d finally broken down and gotten a Playstation, I decided to pursue the series I’d been neglecting for so long.  Breath of Fire 3 quickly became and remained my favorite entry in the series, hands down.  The dragon forms were now created by mixing genes to create your own custom dragons, the graphics were bright and colorful, and the soundtrack, despite being mostly Smooth Jazz (a guilty pleasure of mine), worked oddly well.

Despite having a smaller band of heroes, what you lose in quantity is gained in quality.  In the second Breath of Fire, you had somewhat deep characters, my favorite being the sad beauty, Nina, but in 3, the only one lacking substance was the sentient, antropomorphic onion, who doesn’t talk.  The story doesn’t really get all that interesting until the end of the first half of the game, but after that, it becomes an intriguing tale worthy of having been written by Friedrich Nietzsche himself.  Throughout the second half, you’re essentially trying to reach God and ask her why she caused the extinction of The Brood, which are the lycanthropic dragons of the series.  Not only in the questioning of God is this a progressive story, especially within the medium, but also in the idea that humanity – in the relative term; there aren’t many humans in the series – no longer needs her.  If I may, I’d say that it’s a powerful message that can carry to our own reality.  There are far too many who forsake the true message of religion in favor of a more literal interpretation; God is getting in the way of religion.  I’m not saying that we don’t need religion in our world; I’m saying that what’s important in a religion isn’t whether the stories in its primary texts every actually happened, or even whether or not the god or gods is/are real, but the valuable moral lessons for life behind the stories it tells.

The cast of this fantastic adventure

#7: Crusader of Centy

This ambitious little overhead Action-Adventure has often been compared to Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, even by its marketers.  While that’s not entirely inaccurate, I’d say that other than its puzzle elements, it’s deeper in every conceivable way.  Your tools are now animal friends, and you can use two of them at a time, sometimes getting a combination effect out of the deal.  Some enhance your combat abilities, some enhance your movement abilities, and there are even a few disposable ones that act as healing items or screen cleaners.  The soundtrack is excellent; one of my favorite for the Genesis/Megadrive, and the visuals are diverse and interesting, even if a bit typical for the era.  Perhaps most interesting of all are the abilities both to jump, and to throw your sword like a boomerang.  The battle animations might look a little odd, but combat is quite solid, which is where many early Action-Adventures fell flat on their face.  Then, there’s the story.

The story starts out playing the worn out old coming of age card, and you go to meet the king.  He gives you a sword, and tells you to train, so that you can become a big brave knight and slaughter all of those “evil monsters that have plagued our precious kingdom for centuries”.  It isn’t long before things start to turn on you.  Soon, you’re given the ability to speak with animals, but lose the ability to speak to humans.  You continue on nonetheless, and as you go, it becomes clear that someone is quite angry with you, and is trying to teach you a lesson.  You get transformed into a slime and ruthlessly attacked by one of your fellow knights.  Your continued refusal to learn this important lesson, whatever it is, causes the powers above to become even angrier, now forcing you to chase a tornado, which causes a rift in time, restoring an area to how it was centuries ago.  Man, what is up with these people?  I really wish I could just get my magic sword and slay some monsters.  Wait a minute…  Are these monsters really so evil after all?  What transpires at the very end is one of the most moving eye-openings in a video game, especially in an era when there was no such thing as two sides to the story.

Yeah, you would wonder

#6: No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle

The first No More Heroes was an interesting experiment with irreverent humor and little regard for the fourth wall.  The sequel took the original and improved it in many ways.  Fees to start each mission were removed; side jobs were now 8-bit video games, and paid much better; the clunky, pointless sandbox was removed in favor of menu-based navigation; and the humor just became ridiculous.  It is in every way superior to its predecessor, except maybe in glitch removal.  The swords were now a bit more balanced, so each was useful in different situations.  Outfits were greatly expanded, and training was more challenging and satisfying.  What really makes the game interesting, though, is the way it presents itself.

I didn’t catch this at all until after my second playthrough, but what No More Heroes 2 did was take nearly every game that was popular at the time, throw them into a blender, and put its setting on satirize.  Think about what was popular at the time of the release.  Most of the popular games were gritty.  Most of them were trying to be deep, but fell flat on their faces.  Nintendo had sort of given up on the casual crowd and was starting to rediscover its roots, which, in many cases meant, along with many other developers, making new 8-bit style games, like Mega Man 9 and 10.  Most importantly, though, most sequels attempt to outdo the original, and often jump the shark, and here we are with Travis doing the exact same thing as he did in the first game, but with more opponents – some of which are battled in another dimension – for the exact same reward: sex with the same woman, but now with the knowledge that she’s a yoga master.  The whole game is a spoof on the gaming industry as a whole, and most gamers and critics wrote it off as an uninspired sequel that jumped the shark.  How embarrassing.  What clued me in to what was really going on here was the speech that Travis makes after defeating Alice Twilight (no, that’s not the source of my pseudonym, either; keep guessing).  It’s one of those speeches that seems very deep and profound until you sit back and think about it.  Thank you, Suda 51, for proving that satire is indeed alive and well.

Yes, I have a thing for women with extra arms.

#5: Rudra no Hihou (Treasure of the Rudras)

I have a certain contempt for Squenix because many of its games are filled with unnecessary angsty melodrama and gimmick-riddled gameplay, often in the form of mandatory minigames.  However, I will always be a fan of Squaresoft.  Sure, they’ve dropped a few bombs over the years, like Square no Tom Sawer, but they’ve also delivered us a number of classics, and this is one of which.  The battle system is a simple turn-based one, and the graphics look like a cross between Final Fantasy 6 and Seiken Densetsu 3, which is pleasant, to say the least.  The soundtrack is absolutely stellar, and takes each main character’s overworld theme, whether heroic, pensive, or melancholy, and, through a change in tempo and instruments, creates a blood-pumping, viscerally satisfying boss theme for that character’s scenario.  The characters look cool, too; one of them has an eye patch and hair that looks like David Bowie’s from Labyrinth.  My favorite part, though, is the magic system, which has you string syllables together to make your own spells.  There are certain root words that make the base spell, and there are prefixes and suffixes to enhance them, and you can combine them however you wish.  That means not only that if an enemy hits you with something nasty, you can learn it as well, but also that there is a great deal of strategy involved in combat, particularly with bosses.  Don’t expect to just breeze through this like a post-NES Final Fantasy game; it’s quite challenging.  Elementals finally make sense, too, since you cannot develop a resistance without also developing a weakness to its opposite, so caution must be taken.  This all comes together in a very satisfying package.

The tale itself is woven – albeit loosely – from the old Vedic Tradition, which is modern-day Hinduism’s predecessor.  In fact, the titular Rudras are aggressive storm gods, with which you may be very vaguely familiar from Devil May Cry 3 (Agni is the god of sacrificial flame).  While that’s not what they are in this game, and the point is missed on a lot of Vedic tenets – the ending was a particular forehead-slapper – the story itself is intricately woven, and it’s full of “so, that’s what happened” moments when playing through the same time frame with a different character.  You have 16 days from the beginning of the game until the world ends, at least in the RPG sense of “after 60 hours of sidequests, of course!”  That is to say that time will only advance at certain points, so there’s no real pressure.  The heroes each have different goals, from cleaning up the world’s pollution to destroying the Rudra outright, but none are diametrically opposed to each other; they’re all working toward the same goal, whether or not they realize it.  Over the course of the game, a very rich history of over twenty thousand years is gradually revealed to you in a way that’s not disjointed, nor is it overwhelming.  What I find most impressive, though, is the motivation behind the game’s final boss.  I’ll not spoil it here, but while it is less than ideal, it’s very practical, in a heartless sort of way, and everything comes together brilliantly.  Up until the very end, there are a lot of unanswered questions, but with the addition of that final puzzle piece, everything makes sense, which is truly the sign of a masterfully written tale.

Yes, these characters are in a Squaresoft game

#4: Lennus 2

When I first played Paladin’s Quest – known as Lennus in Japan – I was intrigued by its world.  Almost every video game, particularly RPGs, takes place on another planet, and, unless it’s futuristic, it usually looks just like Earth, much like how many planets of Stargate: SG-1 closely resemble the forests of northern Canada.  You know the deal: green grass and trees, forests, plains, deserts, maybe a swamp, and some caves.  Paladin’s Quest is the first RPG I ever played in which the alien planet looked like an alien planet.  The ground was yellow, the mountains were green and shaped like some weird architect’s masterpiece, and the trees had thin, twisted trunks and blue spheres of leaves.  The gameplay itself was interesting, too; mercenaries were the majority of your playable characters, you could attack with any of your equipment, including your armor or your belt, and it had a very unusual magic system.  You use HP instead of MP, so healing items are structured to be refillable and hold 9 doses, and all spells are a combination of two of the eight spirits, even if those two are the same, like Fire and Fire.  Lennus 2 continues this tradition, improving every already great aspect.

Unless you’ve played the first game, you won’t care about the second at all.  This is what is known as a sequel.  To those captivated by the world of Lennus, though, this tale holds all the interest of the original and then some.  More than the story itself, though, there are two things that make this game a masterpiece.  The first of these is the large number of sentient species across the world.  Even more than in the first game, there are so many different – I’m not sure whether the proper term would be species or races – and they’re treated as they should be: as people.  You don’t have the warlike race, the scientific race, the racist race, the whatever whatever; what you have is a large number of unique characters with unique personalities and unique perspectives, some of whom happen to be of different races.  What I’m trying to convey is that they don’t treat them like races, rather, they treat them like individual people, and that’s a lesson that many creators in all media should learn.  The other reason this game excels is its soundtrack.  This is my idea of what a superior soundtrack should be.  First and foremost, the music always perfectly fits the mood.  They’re game soundtracks first and foremost, and their most important function is enhancing the game; that’s the mark of a good soundtrack.  What brings it to superior, though, is that they’re also worth a listen outside of the game’s context; the ability to transcend the medium is where I feel many modern soundtracks are sorely lacking.  The dungeon where the climax takes place (the second to last dungeon) just knocked me out of my chair with the first nine notes of its music.  Sitting back up, and rubbing my head, I shouted a triumphant “Alright!”  What would have otherwise been a pretty good showdown between the two opposing forces of the game became an utterly thrilling climax, which is another thing that many RPGs lack.  This is only compounded by the fact that the battle music doesn’t play; that awesome tune keeps playing right through the battles, and it fits!  The mood and pacing throughout the game were just perfect at all times; it was so good that I didn’t even mind the few stupid minigames.

Trees, mountains, and a village from your flying gyroscope.

#3: Yume Nikki

I have never done a single drug, not even the Vicodin that was given to me when I had my wisdom teeth taken out or when I had that ugly mass removed from the roof of my mouth.  Never has a cigarette touched my lips, and I quit drinking when I turned 21, because my body began rejecting it for the poison that it is.  Ascetic though I may be, I still know what it’s like to have a drug addiction.  Yume Nikki drew me in like no other game I have ever played, as you may already know.  Many describe the visuals to be something between Earthbound and Silent Hill, though I’d also throw the Sega CD’s Panic! into the mix, perhaps moreso than the others.  The graphics are absolutely gorgeous, perhaps more beautiful than anything I’ve ever seen before, even though the whole thing was put together in RPGMaker.  There are no monsters here; nothing can hurt you physically; the worst you’ll encounter are a few unfriendly spirits, known as Toriningen, who will warp you somewhere from which you cannot escape without waking.  The only purpose in the game is to collect the 24 effects, some of which have actual functions, while others are merely cosmetic.

This is a game for which I’d recommend not using a walkthrough until you’ve explored every possibility, because it is in the exploration that this game excels.  You’re wandering through the dreams of a shut-in with few possessions, who lives in a one-room apartment with a balcony.  It is quite clear that she has some psychological problems, and as such, the fan community is constantly abuzz with different interpretations of various aspects of the game.  While I do not believe that dream interpretation is valid, as I’ve stumped quite a few of the books on the subject, and believe that they are often without meaning, that doesn’t mean that the developer didn’t have some greater idea behind it; they’re not the dreams of a real girl, after all.  I don’t know much about psychology and how the inner workings of the mind manifest themselves, but I can say that Yume Nikki perfectly captures the essence of what a dream is.  To me, a dream is an incomplete manifestation of reality, which takes place at a time when the mind’s barriers are down.  There’s nothing that doesn’t make sense when you sleep, because the body and mind are resting, so things that would be unnecessary are shut off, so to speak.  It is because of this that things that don’t make sense together, or at all, can coexist without your realizing that fact.  The music complements this by the fact that most of the “songs” are weird, and loop after no more than 15 seconds; they are incomplete manifestations of actual songs.  The most impressive thing about this game, though, is how it conveys so much meaning without any written text, aside from the effects menu, the ending credits, and the random numbers that spew from the mouths of those strange lizard people in the 8-bit areas.  In that spirit, the ending is also very beautiful, if you understand how the delusional mind works.  In a world where video game scripts are longer than War and Peace duct taped to a Physicians’ Desk Reference, but still are able to fall flat, this game proves that story is about substance, not script size.

I have a theory that this is what my kids would look like

#2: Final Fantasy 4

What’s your favorite Final Fantasy?  Most would say 6 or 7, probably leaning more toward the latter than the former.  10 also has a pretty strong following, for reasons I do not understand.  Maybe you’re just a huge fan of whichever one just came out, only to dump it off when the next hits the shelves.  For me, it has been 4, even back when we all thought it was 2.  The juggernaut’s fourth installment was a launch title for the SNES, and had me captivated as a starry-eyed kid watching my grandfather play.  The music was excellent, and a great example of how to make an orchestral soundtrack powerful and memorable, rather than just soft, “classy” background noise.  The visuals presented interesting characters, and normal worlds as well as completely foreign ones.  The Active Time Battle system was new, and added a slight element of quick thinking to the strategic mix of the RPGs of yore.  The story had its twists and turns, a few of them pretty revolutionary for the time, and your party goes to the moon, which I still think is one of the most romantic – in the poetic sense, not the love sense – things an RPG can do.  What lands this game so high on the list, though is the character development.

Cecil Harvey has long been my greatest aspiration figure. He’s done some pretty horrible things in the name of loyalty to his king.  He despises himself for it, but leaving the service of Baron is not so simple for a man of his integrity.  He is torn between honoring his word and honoring his ideals, a part of which is honoring his word.  Luckily for him, he is given little choice but to leave, and begins his path toward redemption.  Even after renouncing his former self, he still never forgets what he has done, and does not feel that anything he does will change that fact.  He is a man who is honorable, non-judgmental, and very forgiving.  When someone begs his forgiveness for having greatly wronged him, he accepts it with open arms, knowing that he is not perfect, either.  Any character can be the plucky young hero with a clean past and save the world, but few can stand aside a dark one and maintain virtue.  Admittedly, I do have a thing for tragic knights of integrity – Odin Sphere’s Oswald is another favorite character of mine – but I cannot say that my own past is without its darker days.

What characters were like before the whiny, pretentious, angsty pre-teens took over

#1: Live-A-Live

Not just another number on this list, this is my favorite game ever, even if those that lack depth are included.  Everything about this game just blew me away.  I like a powerful soundtrack; this game has a powerful soundtrack.  I like interesting visuals; if you’ve been following Oases of Beauty, you know that this game has interesting visuals.  I’ve always wanted an RPG in which there was no limit to magic or special attacks, so I could just blast through the game with some awesome techniques; this game limits powerful attacks by range, blast radius, and how long they take to execute, rather than by having a consumable parameter, like MP.  Ever since I played Secret of Evermore, I thought it would be cool to have a game that went through different eras, but had more of them; this game has not only double that of the aforementioned game, but each has its own intricacies, and plays a bit differently.  Yes, Live-A-Live has fulfilled so many fantasies I’ve had as a gamer for years, but the story brought me something beyond my wildest imagination.

Each chapter, which can be completed in any order – except for the Medieval and Final Chapters, which take place at the end – has its own story, each of which seem to have little to do with each other.  Three common themes are someone named Watanabe, something called Odio, though some of them are hidden, and, as our own Ali Nazifpour has pointed out, war.  In every era, war is omnipresent, whether it be two warring tribes of cavemen, war between the police and a vicious gang, or even war between the innocent and the outlaws of the Old West.  Each story is not without its interesting points, but after playing through stories about Kung-Fu, Ninja, and a psychic teenager and his pet robotic turtle, the Medieval Chapter starts out pretty boring, even though I like the typical plot formula.  Oh boy, I’m an incredibly skilled swordsman, who just won the hand of the princess in a tournament.  Oh no, she’s been kidnapped by the demon king.  I swear I’ve never seen anything like this before.  Let’s save her before I fall asleep.  Well, you go out to save her, but something goes wrong.  After that is one of the most chilling, mind-blowing, and outright incredible plot that twists and turns like a freshly decapitated anaconda.  I just don’t have the heart to tell you what happens next, but for the first time in my life, I felt like rooting for the insanely evil big-bad.  Go up one entry, reread what I said about Cecil, and read that last sentence again.  It’s not a minor plot twist that’s made out to be a big deal, like in the JRPGs of today; it’s something unlike anything I’ve ever encountered before or since, and it is most assuredly a big deal on a very grand scale.  It’s something to experience, because paraphrasing any of it causes it to lose its impact.  There are four possible endings, as far as I’m aware, and two of them are not happy ones.

These are all available from the beginning

Honorable Mentions

As promised, we’re not quite finished.  I have some great games that didn’t quite make the cut; while they picked at some interesting concepts, they didn’t really pan out into something truly magnificent.  The first on my list is Ancient Magic: Bazoo! Mahou SekaiI’ve already talked about this at length, but it definitely gets points for taking so many things I hate about modern gaming, and putting them together to make something I greatly enjoyed.  I’ll miss you until again we meet, my dear Lydia.  Valkyrie Profile had a love story that I actually liked, and dealt with Norse Mythology and, to a lesser extent, reincarnation.  Like Rudra no Hihou, it missed quite a few points of the religion in question, but it was still an enjoyable story.  Super Metroid is along the same lines as Yume Nikki in that it conveys a lot of meaning and emotion without a single word outside of the menus.  Finally, Terranigma dealt with all sorts of ideas like reincarnation, evolution, and technology, while having a very likeable protagonist and an wonderfully bittersweet ending.

My Personal Top 10 Favorites

#10: Cave Story (WiiWare)

#9: Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (Game Boy Advance)

#8: Skies of Arcadia Legends (Game Cube)

#7: Zelda 2: Adventure of Link (NES)

#6: Legacy of the Wizard (NES)

#5: Esper Dream 2 (NES)

#4: Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (Game Cube)

#3: Yume Nikki (PC)

#2: Final Fantasy 4 (SNES)

#1: Live-A-Live (SNES)

My Favorites by Genre

Fighting: Darkstalkers 3: Jedah’s Damnation (Playstation)

Brawler: Altered Beast (Arcade)

Run-and-Gun: Gunstar Heroes (Genesis)

First-Person Shooter: Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (Game Cube)

Horizontally-Scrolling Shooter: Super Nova (SNES)

Vertically-Scrolling Shooter: Imperium (SNES)

Horizontally- & Vertically-Scrolling Shooter: Axelay (SNES)

Platformer: Mega Man 10 (WiiWare)

Action-Adventure: Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (Game Cube)

Adventure: Yume Nikki (PC)

Arcade Action: Trog (Arcade)

RPG: Live-A-Live (SNES)

SRPG: Bahamut Lagoon (SNES)

Sports: Super Ultra Baseball 2 (SNES)

Racing: Rock & Roll Racing (SNES)

Final Thoughts

Really, this isn’t even close to the number of games about which I’d like to speak, but, then again, I could talk all day about my favorite games.  These, of course, are subject to change; I’ve been playing video games since 1987, and just this year, in 2012, was the first time I’d played three of the games on this list.  I’m not retiring just yet, and as such, there are bound to be wonderful new discoveries on the horizon.  I also find it a bit strange that only half of the games on the list were ever commercially released in my region of North America.  What’s strange about it is that I’m not the type to be so obsessed with Japanese culture that I’m constantly watching anime, eating pocky, and insisting that the Japanese version of everything is better.  In fact, while I think their culture is very cool, and would like to learn more than the approximately fifty words I know in their language – only about one third of which can be repeated in public, and only about half of that which remains being useful outside of gaming – there are very few anime that I’ve enjoyed, and there’s something about pocky that I just don’t like, most likely the chocolate; I’m one of maybe five people worldwide that doesn’t like chocolate.  On the other point, I’ve seen Final Fantasy restorations and wasn’t terribly impressed with any of them.  In fact, I think Ted Woolsey did a fantastic job with Final Fantasy 6 and Chrono Trigger, but that’s a debate for another time.  At any rate, these are my top picks; I hope you enjoyed them.  Feel free to agree or disagree with any or all of my choices, as well as to vocalize those sentiments in the comments section below.


  1. That was a fantastic list, and it shows how many great games were never released outside Japan. It shows that there are many great games I haven’t played either, although I pride myself over my vast gaming library. Your writing is fantastic and I want to play all of them quickly.

    And I’m here hoping other writers on the site follow suit. who’s next?

    • Well, thanks! I don’t know what took longer: writing the list or making the banner. I had to rework some of the letters pixel by pixel, and it took me the better part of a day to make.

  2. Well, I sure feel somewhat nice about my taste. A majority of these games are games I have either played or intend to play.

    For the sake of the bandwagon, here’s my top 12. Sadly because of the timing of my arrival into the “world” of gaming, many of my titles are a bit more modern than that of yours or Ali’s. I have not yet had a chance to delve into as many of the “classics” as I would hope.

    12. Ghost Trick (DS, iOS)
    11. VVVVVV (PC, 3DSWare)
    10. Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker (GC)
    9. Golden Sun (GBA)
    8. Ace Attorney (DS, iOS, Wii)
    7. Skies of Arcadia (DC, GC)
    6. Monster Hunter Series (PS2, PSP, PS3, Wii, 3DS)
    5. Ys Origin (PC)
    4. Live a Live (SNES)
    3. Tales of Vesperia (XB360)
    2. To the Moon (PC)
    1. Xenogears (PS1)

    Honorable Mentions:
    Custom Robo (GC)
    Wario Land 3 (GBC)
    Radiant Historia (DS)

    • Interesting choices; I’ve enjoyed a few of those myself (namely 12, 11, 10, 7, and by virtue of the NES port, a version of 5), and Golden Sun is on my to play list, as are Wario Land 3, To the Moon, and Xenogears.

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