Tuesday, June 27, 2006

My 15 Favorite Video Games

Video games were a huge part of my youth. I remember opening my Super Nintendo on Christmas one year (or rather me AND my brother's Super NES) and being blown away because I wasn't expecting it. Needless to say, I didn't go outside much for the rest of that Winter Break. The following is a list of my favorite video games of all time, most of which...or rather, all of which, pre-date the Playstation 2 and Gamecube. What can I say? I have a fondness for the less flashy.

1. Final Fantasy II - The second installment of the ironically-titled Final Fantasy franchise released in the U.S. was actually Final Fantasy IV in Japan, but the previous sequels didn't make the cut to be released to American audiences (until collected on the Playstation years later). This is a turn-based RPG with a quality story and monsters that required real strategy to defeat. My problem with the later Final Fantasy games, beginning with the mega-seller Final Fantasy VII, is that they sacrifice story and strategy for graphics and voice acting. In Final Fantasy II, it could take hours to figure out that you have to cast, for instance, the spell "Wall" on a monster so that when she cures herself, it bounces back onto your characters, thus you must defeat the monster without magic. In later games of the franchise, basically using any strong spell or calling on any strong "Summoned monster" can kill an adversary, taking a lot of fun out of the gameplay. Plus, the earlier stories were long and sprawled over worlds where every corner of the map was free to explore should you choose. Later games are confined to a single storyline that brings you to specific places, with a lot of "extras" like card games to make it take more than 15 hours to beat. Final Fantasy II forced you to experience your characters to battle later foes, and overall the game could take over 80 hours to finish. Plus, the story was fabulous, nothing the oversexed mangaish games that came in later years could ever recapture. Rydia the Caller is to this day my favorite character from any video game.

2. Final Fantasy III - The next installment of the Final Fantasy frachise to come to America was Japan's Final Fantasy VI. This game stuck pretty closely to the formula devised for Final Fantasy II, but took the graphics up a notch, as well as adding some new elements, new summons, new spells, and the moogles that would riddle later games. Once again, we are treated to a compelling story, a full world to explore, and an intriguing mystery behind the main character, Terra. Oh, and this one's main character was indeed, a girl. It's important for many of these games to keep certain types of characters in your party: a white wizard to heal your team, a black wizard for damaging the enemy, a good fighter, possibly a character to summon monsters. This kind of thinking, of balancing, could be disgarded in later games in favor of characters that could specialize in pretty much anything. The end battle of this game required a list of all characters collected along the game's entirity: with one character's death, another would take their place. Deaths were frequent - the enemy could devastate your party with a single blow. Later Final Fantasy games are much simpler. The challenge doesn't exist as much as it formerly had. And quite often, the final battle seems just like any other fight.

3. Super Mario Brothers 2 - I love the odd-ball Mario game. No King Koopa in sight here. That's because this game was originally released in Japan as...well, not a Mario game at all, but a strange game called Doki Doki Panic. The playable characters fo that game were replaced in favor of the beloved characters of the first Super Mario Brothers, Mario and Luigi, with the added advantage of being able to choose which character to play, all of whom possessed different advantages, and included Princess "Peach" Toadstool and Toad. This was just a very imaginative universe and quite the departure from the first game of the series, with villains you'd hit with their own eggs, flying carpet rides and lots of digging in the sand for cursed keys. Oh and there was that fun slot machine thing at the end of each level.

4. Super Mario Brothers 3 - Going back to the original Mushroom Kingdom premise, Mario must save Princess Toadstool from that no-good King Koopa. The Mushroom Kingdom looked a whole lot cooler this time around since the first Super Mario Brothers, with raccoon tails and differently-themed levels that took you to deserts or a world of giants or an ice world...all while recapturing the little things that made the first game so special....mushrooms, fire flowers, star men...flying airships each helmed by one of Koopa's offspring...

5. The Legend of Zelda: A Link To the Past - The real-time RPG starring the loveable Link had our hero pit against the evil Gannon once more. There was a whole world to explore, each victory allowing access to another part of the land, involving invisibility cloaks and the like in a wonderful fantasy setting. Involving many side quests and puzzles, this was the best of the Zelda franchise with another great story that the best of RPGs can claim to have.

6. The Legend of Zelda - The intial game to introduce us to the world of Zelda appeared on the original Nintendo, with dungeons and secret entrances to caves of fairies and treasures. It was like nothing ever seen before and catapolted Link's world to the forefront of flagship titles for the system.

7. Super Mario Kart - Those loveable characters from the Mushroom Kingdom make their transition from their traditional roles to go-kart riders in Super Mario Kart, a racecar game like no other, involving four cups to strive for, battle mode, the infamous Rainbow Road, and plenty of accidents-in-waiting like red shells, banana peels and lightning bolts that shrink the competition down to size. There are eight playable characters in all, a pair of which each have similar strengths. The fun doesn't stop as you maneuver through ice tracks, sandy beaches and ghost houses to knock your fellow drivers off of the track in an attempt to claim the top prize.

8. Super Mario World - The game that came along with my Super Nintendo system for free: one of the best. I haven't played a Mario game since that has captivated my interest as much as this one has. Once again, the land of Mario is expanded into a wild world, with appearances by new characters such as Yoshi, and new concepts such as the cape and the bonus Star World.

9. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game - Limitless hours of my youth (and quarters) were spent at my local Circus Circus avoiding the ski ball lines to play on arcade games. I was obsessed with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at the time, so this game was like a little slice of Heaven to me, with all of my favorite characters, heros and villains alike, coming to life outside of the cartoon to interact with my favorite Donatello. Bebop and Rocksteady, Shredder, Baxter Stockman...And if you died, you could just stick another quarter in to continue the game instead of having to "earn" your place in the game.

10. X-Men: The Arcade Game - And when my obsession with the Ninja Turtles had wained, the comic nerd in me found a new love in the form of the exact same style of gaming, but with the X-Men characters battling hordes of sentinels and Wendigo and Magneto. I loved playing the part of Dazzler, and it was always fun to have friends there in the game with you.

11. Mega Man 2 - Mega Man lived in a simple universe. He fought evil robots in a nice side-scrolling game with graphics that got the job done. You got to pick one of nine bad guys' levels to face, at the end of which you confronted the evil robot himself (named Metal Man or Snake Man or whatever). It was best to pick an easier level to defeat first because you gained the robots' powers as you defeated them, so the harder guys became easier to beat. Once all nine levels were defeated, it unlocked another bad guy...it's a whole thing.

12. Mike Tyson's Punch-Out! - Working your way through the throngs of Mike Tyson's bitches was awesome. Each opponent had a different weakness. Everyone remembers King Hippo's pant-dropping moments, right? And yes, Mario's been fired from letting the princess get kidnapped too many times by this point, so he got a job as the referee.

13. Breath of Fire III - More of the same in the world of RPGs, but a damn good game with a great story and characters to match.

14. Wild Arms - Yes, I like the RPGs.

15. Sim City - You could build a city from scratch in this game, provided that you made decisions that earned approval from the city you built. Then you could clean up after all of the messes made by nature, including...monsters. But it was fun earning things like museums as your population increased. Kind of boring when I look back...but it entertained the hell out of me back then.

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