My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

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My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Thu May 28, 2020 1:49 am

I've always felt the urge to write about my favorite games and this seems like a better time than any to start on the project. Figured I might as well share it on this forum, so here's #100:

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#100. Rock Band 3 (2010)
Developed by Harmonix

A decade on, the Guitar Hero and Rock Band craze could easily pass as the video game industry’s very own disco moment. Requiring expensive hunks of plastic good for nothing else (unless you’re the type who thinks Dark Souls is too easy with a traditional controller) and supposedly encouraging teenagers to severely overestimate their ability to translate their in-game skills toward actual playing, mockery came easy. Now its success seems all but a blip.

As a teenager at the time, however, it’s hard to overstate the impact these games had on my cultural development. In a series celebrating popular music, Harmonix did not skimp out on their set lists. I have listened to several thousand albums now, but that all started with Rock Band 2 introducing me to Sonic Youth and Bikini Kill. From David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix to Phoenix and Amy Winehouse, the series covered as many styles and eras as possible, with thousands of additional songs available to download. As a collection of music, this is the height of licensed video game soundtracks.

Of course, a rhythm game is far more than its music. Rock Band 3 was Harmonix at their zenith, but this all started with Guitar Hero. The idea was simple; where its most popular predecessor (Dance Dance Revolution) focused on how the listener interacts with music, Guitar Hero focused on the creative side. Naturally, five buttons and a bar offer little in the way of true simulation, but the joy of this process rests more in gaining a deeper understanding of the songs themselves. The simple presentation highlights this single instrument in a sea of sound. Guitar Hero never taught anyone how to play guitar, but it certainly left some of us better attuned while listening. And, for those of us who actually recognized this as a video game, the series offered its own unique and challenging experience; powering through “Free Bird” until finally managing it on expert difficulty gave perfect bragging rights.

Harmonix expanded on this with Rock Band, adding bass guitars, drums, and vocals to the mix (the Guitar Hero series starting with 3 were developed by a different studio). Rock Band 3 stands as the definitive version due to going yet another step, adding a keyboard and vocal harmonies along with a “Pro” mode which could use an actual guitar alongside a more complex variation on the drums. The amount of content and variety is staggering; with 83 songs included on disc and most utilizing all five instruments, that’s well over 300 different parts to play with the base game alone. The sheer difference between these instruments almost makes this five games in one.

Key to Rock Band’s success is the communal aspect. In an era where mainstream multiplayer games were dominated by competitive shooters and fighting games, Rock Band offered something completely different and cooperative. Few games have replicated the asymmetrical unity on display here. Some of my fondest high school memories found four or five of us belting it out for hours, each contributing our own unique part toward a shared goal. This would always come to a screeching halt as we approached midnight and my step-dad asked us to turn that racket down.

The party might have ended, but only because Rock Band was such a singular experience – Rock Band 4 exists, with a few limitations and largely as a way to harbor the massive content during the generation that followed. There was simply no meaningful path forward with how much Rock Band 3 offered. Though it’s easy to mock those days of beating on plastic instruments, this is where I learned to better recognize music as individual parts building toward a singularly cohesive unit.

Plenty of games have left their mark, but Rock Band is one of the few I can say changed me as a person, and that goes beyond opening me up to the world of popular music. After a childhood of fearing my own voice due to various speech impediments, those evenings of wanting everyone to play a part would eventually end with a microphone being tossed my way. Though it may not be the most beautiful voice, Rock Band offered an outlet for me to realize it was safe to sing among friends.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Thu May 28, 2020 3:24 pm

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#99. Animal Crossing: New Horizons (2020)
Developed by Nintendo EPD

Never has a game had a more perfectly-timed release. As the world shut down during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, Nintendo released the latest Animal Crossing, a series which risks bordering on the mundane in its celebration of everyday life. Though I have been playing this series since the Gamecube era, I never quite appreciated all it does until finding myself in a position where a game asking for a little bit of my time each day added a much-needed sense of routine. Where I rarely lasted more than a month with the other games in the series (and even resorted to time travel in my youth…), I have checked in each and every day in the two months since New Horizons’ release.

In a medium defined by constant action, Animal Crossing’s pacing could almost be taken as iconoclastic if not so blatantly innocent. This is a game that demands patience; when you order an item from the in-game online catalog, it will not arrive until the next day. And not in a video game day, where you send your character off to meditate around a campfire, your screen fading to black to consolidate several hours into a few measly seconds. A real day.

If you’re anything like me, the hardest time to play an Animal Crossing game is during the first week. The opening day is excruciating in New Horizons. You start with a tent, and you will likely have that paid off in a matter of hours. You spend this time trapped on a small segment of the island. The rest is there on the other side of that river, taunting you. The solution is immediately obvious but something few will accept. There’s no boss walling off your path, demanding you to get better. There’s no puzzle requiring an encyclopedic familiarity with Oscar Wilde. You simply have to put the game down until tomorrow, and that’s somehow the most frustrating answer possible in a shiny new video game.

Continuing its subversions, Animal Crossing becomes most appealing when it stops being new. If most games want to be the main course, this is the perfect snack; you can safely pick this up and play for however long you want in a day, and even a few minutes visiting your island feels significant with how this works. Find a few fossils, visit the shops to see what new items they have for the day, and anything beyond that is an extra delight.

On a simply mechanical level, not much feels different between the various Animal Crossing games. Each sequel offered its own slight improvements, but New Horizons offers enough new features to almost redefine its central purpose. In previous entries, the player was largely stuck with whatever the game threw their way. Villagers popped in and out, usually right on top of your garden. The focus was always your own house, an encouragement to pay off your loans to have a better sense of control in this otherwise automated world. A chance to decorate a full house was the ultimate reward the original game had to offer, but space was always so limited. The village was an interactive set piece with a few creatures to catch, your only control being over the trees and flowers. New Leaf introduced projects, expensive objects which could permanently alter your village’s landscape, but those were naturally tedious unless you made it big on the stalk market. Waiting was always the name of the game.

New Horizons tossed that lack of control out the window. Not only can you decorate the island, you soon gain the ability to shape the land and rivers. Villagers will live where you want them. The slow build feels especially rewarding in this iteration, reveling in how suffocating the opening act can be before handing you the tools necessary to truly make this island your own. With all these possibilities, the series finally rivals The Sims in sheer simulated living design options. This has an exponential effect on the basics; filling out your catalog by buying out the store has more meaning, since you can always put up a new showroom on the island. You might even hesitate on selling off your duplicate fossils to stage a battle between a T. Rex skeleton and a giant robot at your island’s entrance.

Aside from one small gripe (tools breaking has been a consistently tedious experience), the introduction of DIY furniture has added another great layer to daily activity. Moving away from a purely bell-based economy does wonders for the experience, turning the focus away from simply catching critters until you eventually make a few big sales on the stalk market. With some of the best furniture requiring rare material, there’s always more to work toward even with millions of bells in the bank.

Another key introduction is the Nook Miles program, which rewards the player for daily activity. Yet another currency, this one actually encourages continual play, with many of the best upgrades and props locked away behind these points. Earlier I noted that Animal Crossing has always asked for just a bit of your time each day, but New Horizons offers something more – if you really feel like it, there’s always some little thing you can be doing. From decorating to grinding nook miles to hopping around islands in search of a few more stones so you can finally build your very own imitation Stonehenge, waiting for daily changes no longer feels like a barrier.

At the heart of it all, these shiny new features only add to the already excellent Animal Crossing experience. There’s still the joy of tuning into a K.K. Slider show every Saturday evening or being ripped off by Redd because you didn’t notice Mona Lisa’s eyebrow game was a little too on point. Villagers are still their goofy selves, and added behaviors such as them randomly breaking into song really bring the island experience to life.

The strangest thing about writing this now is that none of us have yet experienced the full New Horizons experience; Nintendo is finally taking full advantage of the ability to update their games, and it seems almost certain big changes are yet to come. Whatever the case, New Horizons has already proven the perfect evolution of an already singular series.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Thu May 28, 2020 5:46 pm

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#98. Paper Mario (2001)
Developed by Intelligent Systems

The Mario series has always been a stylistic oddball, a remnant from an era where character design had more to do with what could pass with limited technology than any semblance of narrative purpose. A plumber fighting a dragon-turtle to rescue a princess is the exact sort of nonsense we’ll accept in an NES platformer without question, because why would we care?

I bring this up because the Mario RPGs were handed the challenge of making some narrative sense of this nonsense. Instead of playing things as simple as the platformers, SMRPG and the Paper Mario games really go all-in on this strange setting, adding a layer of whimsical humor through excellent characterization and then ramping it up through its own bizarre creations. This is where most of the central cast really comes into their own, with special sections focused on Peach really adding to her character. The universe starts to feel like more than a dozen stray thoughts smashed together – or rather, it continues to feel that way, but with purpose!

The fifth generation of console gaming is perhaps the toughest to revisit. Even through the early PS2 era, capturing a sense of fluid motion in 3D gameplay proved challenging for many developers. Most games from this generation simply do not look very good. Nintendo, however, has always had a knack for making limited technology work in their favor. Through its combination of 2D characters and a storybook-styled world, Paper Mario might just be the best looking game from its era. There’s a simple charm about its aesthetics that work even twenty years later.

Paper Mario has the magical feeling of being a beginner-level RPG while offering enough to remain engaging to even the most experienced player. The use of timing mechanics during combat offers a better experience than simply mashing attack until the enemies are defeated like many other JRPGs – all while serving as a reminder that this is a Mario game, where timing your jumps as you land on enemies has always been key. Most enemies having certain weaknesses or immunities also adds at least some thought to basic encounters. Though the game might be overly easy, it never stops being fun. The simplicity of its numbers is also important here, allowing the player to better understand just how much damage they’re doing without much analysis required; these low numbers also keep the battles at a quick pace.

Even if the overarching narrative is simple, with Bowser again kidnapping Peach, there’s so much charm in each of this game’s locations and the characters within. Generic enemies from earlier games are given a chance to shine, and the subplots offer up their own whimsical moments.

Simple is a word I keep coming back to, but I think that’s what really sets Paper Mario apart; this is a minimalist RPG that does everything just right. There’s really not all that much to it, but the presentation is just that strong – and considering how many contemporary JRPGs really came down to rudimentary attacks in everything but boss battles, the lack of complexity does little to hurt. Ultimately, Paper Mario improves what Super Mario RPG started, a comedic RPG that still manages to capture the spirit of a classic Mario game.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Thu May 28, 2020 7:12 pm

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#97. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992)
Developed by Sega Technical Institute

Sega does what Nintendon’t, and nothing quite summarizes 90s culture like a blue hedgehog being treated like the epitome of cool. We were a Sega household but a little bit late to the party – my mother got a Genesis for cheap after the Playstation and Nintendo 64 were already on the market. It came with a collection of six games – the original Sonic, Golden Axe, Streets of Rage, Columns, Revenge of Shinobi, and Super Hang-On. For the first eight years of my life, this console was all I had, picking up used games for cheap from the local video store. It wasn’t until the Christmas of 2000 that I received a Game Boy Color and my very first Mario game, so Sonic was my introduction to the platforming genre.

The second game in the franchise, my personal favorite, felt like the first to truly capture what Sonic was promised to be, a carefree speedster with attitude. The addition of the spin dash to get a quick start certainly helped. The levels were better designed to leave you running at high speeds, forcing quick reactions as obstacles popped in the way. Even certain slow segments forced a frantic energy; I’m forever scarred by a certain corridor in the Chemical Plant Zone where you have to escape drowning by jumping up a series of moving platforms – and to add to that horrifying drowning music, there’s the added risk of being crushed to death by the platforms.

This sense of motion set the series apart from more methodical platformers, and key to this is a sometimes false sense of security. Like most platforming heroes, Sonic will die in only a few hits. Rings protect you from damage, but a single hits sends them all flying. Every damage turns the game into a frantic chase to either collect those dropped or finding the next one. This game is not too difficult, but it pushes the tension in just the right way to reinforce its core tenants. The protection of a few dozen rings makes you feel invincible, which is why anyone ever dared to go charging through these levels in the first place.

The levels themselves are gorgeous; no two zones looked alike. Emerald Hill Zone is a classic opener, followed by the nightmarish industrial Chemical Plant which captures everything right about the series with its twisted paths. Casino Night Zone is an absolute blast, while Mystic Cave Zone captures this perfect sense of peril. Nothing about these levels could be called generic; Metropolis Zone could certainly be called something, but not generic. Sonic the Hedgehog was cool – not the character himself, but his games pushed a certain aesthetic that made other platformers look cheap in comparison. Add in the excellent soundtrack and you really get an unforgettable experience.

While Sonic has rarely outdone the plumber, the first two sequels did etch themselves a particular style few other platformers have successfully imitated. As more and more throwback platformers move toward brutal precision, I hope to someday see someone expand upon the pure frenetic energy Sonic managed to pull off.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Fri May 29, 2020 3:50 pm

This feels like a fair time to point out these are referring to the 'best version' of a game; I'm highlighting the original release more to categorize by era, but there's no reason to play anything but the special edition.



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#96. Devil May Cry 3 (2005)
Developed by Capcom

The transition into 3D gameplay was a challenge for many developers, but there’s always something magical about playing the first game in a series that really gets it right. The first Devil May Cry is certainly a good game (and that’s not nostalgia talking – I played through this entire series for the first time in 2020), but its fixed camera is an obvious relic from when it began development as a failed attempt at the next Resident Evil. Unfortunately, what works in survival horror won’t necessarily be the best option in another genre – especially when many of the controls are contextual based off the character’s relative position. Despite this, the seeds of a great series were obvious even then.

After a major blunder in the form of Devil May Cry 2, Capcom came back with what felt like a total refinement of what the first game promised. Though the original laid the foundation, Devil May Cry 3 defined what would become known as the Character Action Genre. A controllable camera was key, but an extra emphasis on weapon and attack variety really highlighted the style meter.

Where more traditional action games can sometimes devolve into running up to an enemy and mashing the attack button, DMC3 rewards you for changing up the pattern. The meter’s constant depletion encourages frantic action while a single hit resetting the meter requires grace. Combat thus demands your total attention, a constant juggle between attacking one enemy, avoiding the others, and changing up the way in which you are attacking. Your options are diverse enough to make this seamless; an enemy moving in for an attack can be the perfect time to combo your current target into the air, a dodge and attack mixed together in one fluid motion.

A great combat system is not enough alone; Devil May Cry 4 made several improvements, but 3 reigns supreme because it simply has better enemies to use that system against. The game is constantly barraging you with new enemy types, all requiring new patterns to combat; there’s never a routine option to safely fall back on.

Even better, pretty much every boss fight here is phenomenal. Cerberus, Agni & Rudra, Nevan, Beowulf; each requires a totally unique approach. This game perfects the hard but fair boss fight; everything’s so fun that getting to fight these bosses a few times feels more like a gift than a punishment for failure. When you finally figure out the trick to take out something like Agni & Rudra, it sticks with you.

Standing above all of these is Vergil; the Devil May Cry series enjoys tossing the bosses at you again and again as you near the end, but nothing is more satisfying than the way Vergil evolves between stages. The first encounter passes as a simple sword fight with a few neat tricks; a perfect change of pace from the giant monstrosities you usually face. But that final boss fight flips everything on its head; the super-powered devil trigger ability which has been the saving grace during these difficult fights is finally used against the player. The evil twin is a common trope for boss fights, but few make you feel quite so powerless in the face of your own abilities as Vergil.

The gameplay is far from the only stylish feature of Devil May Cry 3. The original game is ‘cool’ in that early 2000s video game way, the type which falls quickly into cheese to anyone outside of edgy teens. Devil May Cry 3 ramps this up in the best way possible, going so hard in over-the-top cheesiness that it somehow wraps back around to being cool in its own odd way. Dante perfectly straddles the line between suave and dorky. He literally does a front flip while riding a motorcycle up the side of a tower.

Even beyond its phenomenal string of boss fights, the conflict between Dante and Vergil is one of the classic video game rivalries. Vergil is the perfect foil, cool in all the opposite ways. His calm and collected presentation suggests a quiet confidence in his abilities; he doesn’t need to show off for us to be impressed by him. They really feel like two sides of the same coin, further highlighting the familial nature of the conflict.

Plenty of games ooze coolness during their cut scenes only to fall back on bland presentation as soon as they hand over control, but Devil May Cry 3 perfectly integrates its aesthetics into the gameplay itself. Though games continue to evolve visually, DMC3 is a perfect representative of the moment when action games moved into the modern era. There have been many imitators, some better than others, but nothing will ever reduce Devil May Cry 3 to a mere nostalgia piece. The gameplay is too smooth, the boss fights too fun for this to not hold up as a true video game masterpiece.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Fri May 29, 2020 6:04 pm

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#95. The Walking Dead (2012)
Developed by Telltale Games

As video games continued evolving, more and more companies began exploring the medium as a predominantly narrative form. Point-and-click adventures set the stage decades earlier, but the seventh-generation era saw several mainstream works which came close to truly capturing the idea of an interactive movie. Many of these attempts had serious problems, especially in retrospect; if the story itself wasn’t nonsense, there was almost always the disappointing realization that telling a proper story meant most choices were merely an illusion.

As the first game to truly set this craze on fire, The Walking Dead does not avoid that latter pratfall. But what it lacked in freedom, it made up for with one of the best narratives to hit the market; the first season of the Walking Dead video game outshined both the comic and the television show, and that’s some serious praise.

At the heart of this is the relationship between Lee and Clementine. Though not father and daughter, their relationship is one of a larger trend during the 2010s to explore the bond between a guardian and the one they must protect. This is one of the best, perhaps only rivalled by Joel and Ellie in The Last of Us – something about the post-apocalypse really brings people together. Lee’s influence over Clementine became a popular meme: “Clementine Will Remember That.” This phrase operates on two levels. The most basic, and saddest, is a reminder that this game will never fulfill its promise of meaningful branching paths. On the other, this game is about how Lee’s actions will shape Clementine’s future. Has his presence left her better or worse off? These pop-ups are a reminder that you’re playing not just for the hero’s sake but his entire group.

Viewing The Walking Dead through a lens where your choices don’t matter can lead to another perspective – this game did manage to get many of us engaged before we realized this fact, after all, and there had to be a bigger reason than the mere anticipation of setting up a line of dominos. While the game at large was railroading us back toward a universal path, the self-contained moments were all stellar. One choice in the third chapter is particularly devastating. You are given the choice between doing something yourself or having another character perform the action; the end result is the same, but it presents a moral quandary you would rarely if ever encounter elsewhere in the medium.

In fact, I believe the true impact of the choices exists not in the shaping of the narrative but a pop-up at the end of each episode. You are presented with a screen showing your own choice compared to all other players. As a game exploring themes of gray morality, you might be shocked when what you considered a rare easy choice has a fifty-fifty split, or maybe you find yourself completely against the world and start questioning your own views. In many ways, these choices operate as a survey of how we collectively reacted to the story.

Whether or not it was a complete success, Telltale set out to make the video game equivalent of a television show, and it certainly ended up being one of the biggest narrative events of the 2010s. As much as we can gripe about a flaw here or there, that largely serves to reinforce a bigger truth; we care so much about its failings because everything else was such a success. Few games have ever left me so emotionally raw.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Fri May 29, 2020 8:48 pm

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#94. Ikaruga (2001)
Developed by Treasure

The shoot ‘em up genre is about as old as video games in general. The basic formula has remained largely the same. You control a spaceship (the spaceship is sometimes a magical girl or homoerotic bodybuilder) and shoot down enemies while avoiding their return fire. The genre is best when it keeps the mechanics simple, instead shaping the challenge around the level design. As such, many end up blurring together, with particularly bothersome entries being little more than trial and error.

Ikaruga offers a unique twist on the formula; instead of avoiding all danger, enemy attacks are colored either white or black. The player’s ship carries a shield which can flip between the two colors, absorbing all attacks that match. Not only do you avoid the damage, but the absorption powers your own special attack. Thus, the game operates as a bullet ballet, relying on well-timed shifts between shield colors to move between the ever-changing attacks.

This is technically a short game; I don’t believe a full play through takes more than half an hour. But this is about as challenging as video games come, even on the easiest difficulty. This is a game you play almost purely for the challenge – look at any screenshot from the hardest difficulty and you won’t believe it’s possible. Then you keep playing because you know it must be and you want to see how. You will die a lot, but that comes with the territory, and it’s always so quick to jump back in.

When we talk about the cultural merits of video games, much of the focus turns toward artistry, which quickly devolves toward narrative. A game like Ikaruga has little to offer in the straightforward search for human understanding which rests at the center of most art; but if we are to view the medium as an art form, and accepting these minimalist games as among the most noteworthy, there must be something beneath the surface. If a great game does not remark upon a human experience, that is only because it is the experience.

Every work of art has a thematic purpose, whether or not the creators were consciously aware what that would be. For a game like Ikaruga, that theme can only be sussed out through the experience: what might seem impossible can be overcome through enough dedication and perseverance. This is at the heart of most challenging video games - the human drive to improve oneself. Some might argue that this is not enough, but what is the point of recognizing video games as an art form if we only apply that term to so-called universal elements between mediums? Some look to the Ikarugas of the world with a certain disdain, as if the players are entering a sado-masochistic relationship with the designers. They think we play these games because we want to suffer, but it’s quite the opposite. We want a chance to win against something we expect not to. Video games offer a simulated chance to overcome strife.

But there is good art and bad art, and nothing’s worse than a game so frustrating that you give up. The artistry of Ikaruga is making everything so fluid that it’s even harder to put down, even as you eat through the hours just trying to get past the second stage. A good challenge brings you inches closer to victory with every new attempt. Add in that Ikaruga’s gameplay is naturally hypnotic with its ever-changing colors, and you end up with something as difficult as it is inviting.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Sat May 30, 2020 4:18 pm

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#93. Shining Force II (1994)
Developed by Sonic! Software Planning (now Camelot)

The Strategy RPG has evolved a lot over the years, but there’s something about the simplicity of this early installment that continues to resonate with me. There’s no permadeath or expansive character interactions; just a straightforward chess battle of hoping to topple the enemy’s leader before they capture your own. In a genre known for heavy punishment at the smallest sign of failure, it’s nice to have a few strong entries which can be taken at a leisurely pace.

Emerging during an era when platformers reigned supreme, the RPGs of the fourth console generation offered a mesmerizing scale. Instead of artificially inflating their length through absurd difficulty spikes and resetting you back to zero after enough failure, these games truly were that big. On the Sega Genesis, few games felt bigger than Shining Force II.

This sense of scale is perhaps why Shining Force II holds a certain edge over most of Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series for me; where the typical Fire Emblem jumps from battle to battle with a cutscene or two between, the Shining Force series incorporates its battles into the world. Thus, the series captures a sense of exploration like more traditional RPGs, searching through towns for hidden treasure and sometimes secret characters. When a conflict transforms a town into a battlefield, there’s more weight than being plopped into a nameless village you’ll never revisit. The ability to explore the overworld gives a nice break between battles and a better sense of how these conflicts connect.

The lack of permadeath also seriously alters the dynamics of combat. This game is not designed for you to treat every party member as valuable at all times, allowing you to take risks as you push your way toward the end. Where other SRPGs can devolve into letting a few overpowered units run ahead, Shining Force allows even the fragile characters to get in a much-needed hit before bowing out. Battles here feel less like running a minefield where one false moves destroys all progress, and that little bit of wiggle room makes all the difference. There’s also just something freeing about being able to actually lose a battle based on in-game conditions instead of hitting the reset button due over a critical hit – an unfortunate side effect resulting from permadeath is it causes you to stop while victory is achievable; you haven’t lost as much as you aren’t accepting the game’s conditions.

Whatever the flavor, the strategy RPG genre is phenomenal at capturing a sense of battles bigger than a lone hero but smaller than a full-blown war. The relief from an enemy missing an attack at just the right time, the panic as you realize your healer is in range of the enemies, the sliver of hope you feel as you scramble to correct that issue; all of this emotion with the necessary time to process what it all means.

Shining Force II feels like the strategy RPG in its most distilled form. The plot which is there is simple. The mechanics are straightforward and forgiving while the battles still offer a challenge. There are dozens of variances on the basic formula, but Shining Force II is a testament on how well this formula worked from the very beginning.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Sat May 30, 2020 6:10 pm

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#92. Batman: Arkham City (2011)
Developed by Rocksteady Studios

For various reasons, the video game industry has always had difficulty with licensed properties. Most of these issues stem from them being used as movie tie-ins, the rights given to cheap studios promising to turn out a game to meet the release date of the movie. Nothing good comes from such restraints.

Back in 2009, Batman: Arkham Asylum was a major turning point. Based off a franchise which has not stopped being relevant for several decades now, Rocksteady was given ample time to bring the Batman franchise to life. Perfectly implementing Batman’s gadgets to produce a stealth-heavy brawler and turning his ample rogue gallery into some mesmerizing encounters, Arkham Asylum stood as not only the best licensed game at the time but one of the greatest games period. Arkham City took its formula and simply increased the scale (whether one is better than the other is up to preference – I enjoy the open world but would never argue against anyone who prefers Asylum’s linearity).

That stealth-brawler hybrid is truly something great. Sneaking through the vents to pick off mooks one-by-one really captures the spirit of the Caped Crusader, but failing at that and descending into a brawl is equally appetizing. Rocksteady forces the player to shift gears here and there, key to perfecting a genre which can sometimes descend into tedium.

The boss fights really change things up, including what ends up being one of the all-time greats. The battle against Mr. Freeze leaves you hopeless when attempting direct approaches, but the room is littered with stealth options. Each success lets you get in a few hits, but Freeze will then counter that option for the rest of the battle. You have to use everything the game offers to take him down. This battle serves as a testament to the game’s simple yet complex design, a brawler that absolutely refuses to let you mash your way through.

Key to capturing the spirit of these characters is that the bosses don’t stay confined to their rooms. The Arkham series is a great example of set piece-based design, each area influenced by those classic villains found nearby. The game is also loaded with sidequests, including a slew of minor adversaries. While these characters will almost certainly never earn a film appearance, their presence here shows how deep the Batman gallery goes while still maintaining fantastic diversity. Only the most ardent fans are likely to recognize Zsasz or Hush, but their presentation here is a perfect argument to become one of those ardent fans. With all this game throws at you, Arkham City captures the terror of Gotham City while other adaptations have to limit themselves to a handful of villains at a time.

The narrative is a wonderful descent into madness; being toyed around with by the Joker is always a fun time, further adding to the chaos of this city. Despite all these villains having their own agendas, everything flows together so well due to Joker getting a little bit of his hands into everything. The final act is a surprisingly complex and somehow tragic web.

With open world games becoming more and more common, it’s becoming clearer what does and does not work. Even if there aren’t enemies covering every inch of the city, the player is provided with enough tools to navigate quickly. Swooping through the sky is always fun, a feature which laid the groundwork for Insomniac’s Spider-Man. There is enough side content to encourage exploring everything you see, and the rewards for everything but the Riddler puzzles tend to be grand.

Batman has been with us since the late 1930s, but few works across any medium capture the spirit so well. This is the all-encompassing experience.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Sat May 30, 2020 8:24 pm

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#91. Portal (2007)
Developed by Valve

To think that one of the most influential games of its era started off as part of a bundle; but at a time when retail games came with the expectation of being worth $60 and thus several hours long, there was no other way this game would have seen a traditional release.

The original Portal is about as singular of an experience as video games come, fitting into that elusive non-block-based puzzle genre which requires crafting entirely unique mechanics from scratch and then shaping ever-increasingly complex puzzles around those mechanics. Sometimes these games become so esoteric no one but a genius will be able to progress past the opening stages without consulting a guide. Creating something accessible for the common player while containing enough of a challenge to make each solution memorable requires a fine balance, and few games have ever gotten that balance quite as right as Valve’s Portal.

Though too familiar to truly go back and appreciate, it’s hard to overstate how well this game handled atmosphere, especially while being presented as a side-game in a Half-Life 2 compilation. Many of these games are plotless affairs, throwing you into a series of levels and that being that. Portal pretends to be this in its early stages, a completely innocuous lab setting where you’re experimenting with a new technology which can create two portals which connect to one another.

The pieces slowly start adding up. The puzzles soon start adding clear safety hazards which will never be a threat, but still far from OSHA compliant. Then host robot GLaDOS adds a ‘consequence for failure,’ being poison gas along the floor below which will instantly kill anyone who falls in. This simple puzzle game transforms into an oppressive horror story.

Well, it would, except for one key feature – GLaDOS is one of the funniest video game characters ever written. Her seething hatred for the player character is barely masked by her robotic voice, and she becomes more and more agitated with every success. There’s a reason this became perhaps the most memetic video game of all time – every line of dialogue is golden.

The back half of the game is where things really shine. The chambers become increasingly decrepit, allowing the player to briefly sneak inside hidden corridors and find the mad ramblings of the previous test subjects. GLaDOS’s threats move from passive to direct, employing poorly-designed but cute little turrets. The ‘final’ stage has GLaDOS slowly lower you into a fire, and then the real game begins; Chell breaks free from the chambers and wreaks havoc through the rest of Aperture Science.

This breakthrough transformed Portal from an off-kilter puzzler to something medium defying. In this post-modernist twist, the player is suddenly thrust against the creator herself. The meta-analysis wrote itself. What does it mean to break free of an internal ruler while still being railroaded by the actual designers? Nevertheless, Portal managed to achieve the feeling of breaking all the rules.

The best part is how this section keeps being the same game, but with the added stressors of obscured progression and outright assault. The game itself starts breaking the design philosophy established in its first half, all to showcase the true genius behind the developers’ creation.

The portal gun is one of gaming’s greatest inventions, this device which proves simple to use but with seemingly infinite possibilities. An extra layer is how the puzzles incorporate the physics engine. While the earliest chambers largely involve connecting two portals to reach distant areas, later puzzles involve generating momentum to leap across chasms. Some of the best moments require shooting more portals while being flung across the room. And who could resist shooting one portal on the ceiling and another beneath your feet, just to see how fast you could go? A few trick angles would even allow the player to catch a glimpse of Chell on the other side.

It’s easy to view Portal as bordering on a tech demo considering its length, but if that’s the case, one must wonder why any developers bother creating full-length games; few games have lingered longer in the collective conscious. Portal is simply to the point, no second wasted as it first teaches the rules, then explores what those rules mean, before finally asking you to break them.

For Portal, the name of the game was escalation. Whether it be through the ever more complex puzzles, GLaDOS’s increasingly mean-spirited dialogue, or the total tonal shift, every new area threw another curve ball. If brevity is the soul of wit, such a tightly-focused experience was destined to go down as a social phenomenon. Though made by a preeminent studio, Portal clearly laid a path for people to be more responsive to the indie game craze which would really take hold with the following year’s Braid. It cannot be overstated how much Valve shaped gaming; where the Steam platform helped open the market to independent developers, Portal was a forceful mainstream nudge to give smaller games a chance.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Sun May 31, 2020 3:56 pm

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#90. Into the Breach (2018)
Developed by Subset Games

The strategy genre comes in a variety of flavors. Do you want real-time or turn-based gameplay? Do you want to command a small band of warriors or control an entire empire? Whatever the case, the philosophy behind the genre all seems pointed the same way – the more complexity, the better. Some of the meatiest games in this genre, usually falling under the 4X subgenre, are so complex that even their in-game tutorials are largely inadequate. The time required to simply wrap your head around something like Crusader Kings II could be used to play through an entire JRPG.

Into the Breach shoots recklessly in the other direction, operating almost as strategy in arcade form. During battle, you are limited to three mechs in a fight against giant insects. Like a standard SRPG, you get to move each of these mechs and then attack. The controls are ridiculously simple, but like so many other great minimalist games, that serves the purpose of allowing the game to build up an intricate web of challenging scenarios based around that simplicity.

Into the Breach never lets up. If there’s ever a moment where you feel in control, know it’s only temporary. Set across four islands, each containing several maps, Into the Breach is an endurance run. Each map is littered with civilian structures, and their destruction reduces your campaign’s HP. Thus, the game is more focused on mitigating civilian losses than protecting your own crew, though both will be necessary for a successful campaign.

The ingenious twist on the combat here is that the player’s turn takes place between the enemy’s movement and attack. When they stop moving, the direction they’re planning to attack is shown on the grid along with how much damage they will do. Your own attacks offer a variety of options; surviving in Into the Breach typically has more to do with positioning than outright attacks. While doing some damage can be satisfying, the best option usually involves shoving the enemy so they no longer have a target – even better, you can set them up to attack their own allies. With the game offering the enemy turn order, you can prevent two separate hits in a single move. While being overrun with enemies, you simply must do this; a successful turn can transform your measly three attacks into six or more.

What makes this game so infinitely replayable is the variety of the mechs. There are eight squads to unlock, each consisting of three entirely unique units built around each other’s abilities, along with random and customizable squad options. Each squad is like playing an entirely new game. Where a few are simply based around shoving the enemies, some instead offer the ability to place temporary barriers over the civilian structures, or to turn the enemy in the opposite direction, or to freeze the enemies in place. Each requires you to analyze the situation in a new way, especially since the more powerful abilities have serious drawbacks.

Adding to this is that each mech needs a pilot, who in turn have their own abilities. The right pilots in the right mechs can make an unstoppable force. Pilots can earn experience for additional abilities through combat while you can also earn reactor cores to boost the abilities of both. Unfortunately, any unstoppable force is only temporary. Whether you win or lose a full scenario, you begin the next by sending one pilot back in time, leaving you to scrounge together the rest of your team during the next playthrough. Thus, the game is always fresh, but with just the right amount of continuity.

The islands themselves offer a wide variety, each having their own theme. One has conveyor belts which will move enemies around, while another is also overrun with its own dangerous mechs. The finale unlocks after completing two islands, meaning the islands you choose to tackle are just as much part of your overall strategy. The maps gets consistently harder as you go, but there are advantages and disadvantages to completing more islands. Additionally, each island has seven maps to choose from, but you only have the option of completing four; each map has its own risks and rewards, so you must consider how much you’re willing to risk to get another reactor or a bit more energy added to your health bar.

The best indie games feel as if they come from another dimension where 2D games reigned supreme even after the introduction of the PlayStation. Into the Breach is the minimalist culmination of several ideas we never actually saw. This is a game which feels like it should have always existed; every element present in its design could have been done decades ago. But improved technology is only a tool; it takes a great developer to notice so many overlooked possibilities and mash them all together in one cohesive work. Every part of Into the Breach is simple and clean, yet juggling everything at once proves a suitably challenging experience – the simplicity is a shortcut to the same satisfaction some other strategy games take literally days to provide.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Sun May 31, 2020 5:34 pm

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#89. Devil May Cry 5 (2019)
Developed by Capcom

Devil May Cry just might be gaming’s most inconsistent franchise, but Capcom managed to finally land another outright success with the most recent entry. Devil May Cry 5 has everything fans could have wanted from a follow-up to DMC3, without the shoddy level and enemy design of 4. DMC4’s greatest improvement was the ability to instantly transition between Dante’s four combat styles, a feature which finds a new home here. In a genre all about switching up your attacks, any additional option is fantastic. Devil May Cry 5 feels as smooth and expansive as they come.

DMC5 hits a special niche by having three diverse protagonists, forcing the player to adapt to their unique styles between missions. Nero returns from DMC4 with his fun abilities to quickly shorten the distance between himself and enemies. Dante has a few new tricks, but his familiarity is key to making this a true Devil May Cry experience.

The true highlight here is the third protagonist, V. In a genre all about getting up in enemy’s faces, Capcom came up with the ingenious idea of integrating a summoner. V comes with three familiars who do the fighting for him, though he is always forced to deliver the killing blow. Until that moment arises, you have the option of getting some distance and reading from a book of poetry by William Blake, an action which increases your devil trigger meter. The controls all work very similarly, with the attack buttons giving commands to the familiars. It’s a total innovation that never feels out of place, adding a distinct layer of strategy around your relative positioning.

Devil May Cry has always played with the idea of ‘cool,’ with both Dante and Nero precariously straddling the line between dorky and cool in their over-the-top gestures. V, meanwhile, feels like an effortless success. He’s what everyone who ever shopped at Hot Topic wishes they could be. His weird tendency to recite Blake in every possible situation perfectly contrasts with and sometimes builds upon the series’ tendency toward quick banter. Like Vergil back in DMC3, V acts as a perfect foil.

A cool new feature called the cameo system changes up a few missions. As the three characters’ stories intersect, you will sometimes see what the others are doing. Instead of this being a simple background event, these are other actual people playing another mission. This seamless multiplayer integration is a neat touch, and two missions end up being full-on cooperative.

Outside of these new features, Devil May Cry 5 is a continuation of everything we loved about the series. Excellent gameplay, terrific enemies and level design, and a somewhat cheesy story serving a much more effective central conflict – the only thing missing from DMC3 is the thoroughly excellent bosses, but few games have ever compared to that, and those DMC5 does have are still great. V is enough of a change of pace to make up the difference.

Devil May Cry has always served as the preeminent Character Action Game series, and the fifth entry’s excellence means DMC3 can stop carrying that load all by itself.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Sun May 31, 2020 7:28 pm

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#88. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (2018)
Developed by Bandai Namco Studios and Sora Ltd.

Starting with the announcement of Solid Snake being added to Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the hype started overshadowing the final products. It’s hard not to get carried away when this mega-franchise opened up its gates to gaming at large. The wish-fulfillment surpassed all reasonable expectations; who truly expected to see Cloud Strife or Banjo & Kazooie make it in, let alone Joker and Bayonetta? The cast is an absolute grab bag of gaming’s best characters.

Such hype can be deceiving; there are plenty of character-focused fighters with even larger casts, and none have left anywhere near the impact. The true excellence behind the Super Smash Bros. series is Masahiro Sakurai’s insistence that each character play a distinct role within the meta while having their move set based around their original franchise. The character designs balance on a tightrope between balance and novelty, most to a surprising degree of success.

More additions is far from a guarantee of success; Super Smash Bros. Brawl added a ton of characters but faltered with the actual gameplay, slowing the combat to a snail’s pace while also adding random tripping. SSB4 worked its way back toward the frantic speed of Melee, and Ultimate built upon that.

Ultimate takes it upon itself to highlight the ambition of including every single fighter the series has ever featured. In a controversial move, you begin with only the original 8 and must unlock all others. Tedious as it may have been, watching that roster slowly explode before our eyes was a perfect reminder of how far this franchise has come.

At this point in time, the Smash Bros. franchise is all about possibilities – this can be a competitive one-on-one fighter if you want it to be, but the crazier stages and option for eight players at once makes it one of the best party games. As someone who regularly hosts large get-togethers, this has always been one of the biggest video game hits alongside the Jackbox games.

My relation to this series has always been an important one. With the Nintendo Gamecube being my first Nintendo console, SSBM was my introduction to most of these franchises. I had never played a Metroid or Legend of Zelda game, while characters like Ness and Marth offered a certain unreachable allure. It quickly became my goal to try each of these series out. I met Ultimate from the opposite end; I was already familiar with even the most obscure choices but was impressed by each and every one (except maybe the endless deluge of Fire Emblem characters). It’s fan-service, certainly, but fan-service which guided me to bigger and better things.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is video games at their most chaotic, overloaded with various modes and features and sold with the promise of a massive and diverse roster. None of this would work if the franchise itself did not keep toe-to-toe with those it includes, all thanks to a magically simple fighting system. It may not offer the complexity of more hardcore fighters, but when my experience with those has always been consistently lopsided toward the more familiar player, I’ve always found it more fun when even the worst player has an outside chance.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by Nassim » Sun May 31, 2020 8:13 pm

That's a really nice read, if you have so much to say about the bottom of your list, I can't wait for the top 20 !
Already a few games I would have in my top 50 (Arkham City and Walking Dead season 1 for sure, Portal and Into the Breach possibly).

Regarding the rhythm games, I think at stopped with Rock Band 2. My favorite might remain Guitar Hero 2, or at the very least nothing added after really made me enjoy the game more... more songs sure, that's always welcome, but everything I like about the game was already in the 2nd guitar hero. Somehow I never cared much for the drums, while I actually used to play drums back then.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Mon Jun 01, 2020 3:57 pm

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#87. Night in the Woods (2017)
Developed by Infinite Fall

With the medium focused on stories which are bigger than life - a necessity when so many are built around combat - it’s surprisingly rare to find a game which feels truly personal. Growing up queer in an industrial town on the decline, where being gay was not just taboo but borderline unfeasible, I never expected to find a high quality game reflecting these aspects of my experience.

Night in the Woods is that game and so much more. You play as Mae, a recent college dropout returning home to try to get a grip on her failing mental health. The town is being hit hard after their mines have closed, but she tries to remain above water by reuniting with her childhood friends. The nostalgia beats heavy in the beginning, Mae and Gregg catching up with each other like nothing has changed. But things have changed, and Gregg is now planning a future with his boyfriend. Other bestie Bea is painfully serious, rightfully chiding Mae at various points for trying to regress into childhood familiarity while everyone around her is trying to get by and move on.

A lot of queer representation in gaming feels rather shallow, whether it’s a mainstream game fumbling with serious issues (if they’re even attempting anything beyond a mild reference) or an indie game operating as wish fulfillment in a magical world with no prejudices. Few feel as honest as Gregg and Angus, who are already in the midst of a long-term relationship. Their story captures that underlying feeling of growing up somewhere that has never truly felt like home. In a side-conversation, Bea brings up her own concerns; what are the chances the only two openly gay men their age are going to stick together if they move to a city with more options? Where so many stories hyper-focus on external factors like homophobia, Night in the Woods goes straight to internal fears. Beyond prejudice, finding actual love when your options are so limited feels impossible. Even within one of those impossible relationships, that fear can linger, that your partner has chosen you not out of love but loneliness. By directly confronting these issues, their relationship becomes that much sweeter as the game reinforces what has brought them together.

The game does an equally powerful job representing economic hardship. Early on, Mae’s favorite restaurant suddenly closes shop, a sad reminder every time you cross the town. As you go to meet up with her friends, you realize they’re all stuck in retail jobs; even Mae’s father has been reduced to working at a deli. Upon Mae’s return, Gregg convinces her to join his band practice, where they play a song titled “Die Anywhere Else.” This struck a familiar chord; as a teenager, the idea of spending my entire life in the same place was one of my greatest fears. Yet the sentiment reinforces the theme so well; it seems so simple, but how do you get anywhere else without money? Working class life in a small town feels like a vortex where you start low and can only be dragged lower – which adds an extra layer of sadness that someone like Mae would choose to return.

Traditional for any story involving a small town, there’s something very wrong beneath the surface. Mae’s other close friend, Casey, has been missing for a long time. But what makes this game so special is that it focuses on the more mundane issues. Any exploration of this mystery serves more to reinforce the bond between these characters.

This is about as story-heavy as video games come; aside from a roguelike you can play on Mae’s computer, moments of gameplay beyond exploration are few and far between. Some of those moments are memorable, such as the aforementioned Guitar Hero-styled band practice or a knife fight with Gregg, but what makes this stand as an all-time great is the sheer quality of the writing throughout. It’s not just the main story that shines. Several NPCs you pass on the way to visit Mae’s friends have their own evolving story, giving you an actual reason to stop and chat. With such well-defined characters, Possum Springs is one of the most vibrant towns in a video game.

Adding to this charming town is the game’s simple art style. The characters are cute, anthropomorphic animals, which makes swallowing some of these heavy concepts a bit easier. It’s hard not to fall in love with Gregg the moment he appears, happily flapping his arms as he’s reunited with Mae. The use of warm colors throughout perfectly capture the spirit of its autumn setting.

Though it falls squarely in the adventure genre, few games actually feel like Night in the Woods. Tackling serious subject matters in an incredibly approachable style while ultimately being a story of friendship, it never feels too heavy. While not necessarily pushing the boundaries of the medium, Night in the Woods takes a resonant story and tells it incredibly well.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Mon Jun 01, 2020 9:37 pm

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#86. God of War (2018)
Developed by SIE Santa Monica Studio

The God of War reboot is a bizarre experience. Sony took the edgiest franchise this side of Mortal Kombat and decided to question its morality. The necessity of this was questionable; the finale for the original trilogy hadn’t even been out a decade. Culture is constantly changing, certainly, but many of us already read the first three games as a nightmarish descent into the mind of an enraged madman. Few of us needed to see Kratos with a son to realize his toxic influence.

Not only did the presentation change, but everything from the combat to the level design was completely overhauled. Gone are Kratos’s chained blades, replaced by an axe. The camera is scooted in close like every other modern Sony action-adventure game. An average playthrough will take about as long as the original trilogy combined, as it has moved from a straightforward action series to a semi-open world epic. In fact, this game feels singlehandedly designed to upset fans of the older games.

Somehow, all of this worked. The further you progress, the more and more you realize how natural all these changes are in the creation of a modern God of War. Sony could have easily made this a new property, but so much of the experience is shaped by the juxtaposition between old and new; to know the violence in Kratos’s heart and see him hold back to be a better role model defines this game.

God of War is all about a sense of scale; from the sprawling Lake of Nine which acts as a central hub area to the mountains you must climb to the other realms, this game feels overwhelmingly big. Few games have ever looked this good, but most of these locations go beyond pretty visuals to include clever puzzles which must be navigated. While the previous games already had Kratos facing off against the gods, this wonderful level design even better encapsulates the feeling of him against the world.

It takes some time to adjust to the combat. Lifting controls typically used in third-person shooters was an odd choice for a melee-based action game, but Kratos will be throwing his ax enough to make it necessary. This game was clearly built around the scheme, and what starts as frustration at losing track of enemies as they flank you soon becomes accepted as part of the challenge. Most traditional action games give you a free-flowing camera to keep your eye on everything at once – God of War’s limited camera brings you closer to Kratos’s level, meaning you must work to give yourself a better position.

The bond between Kratos and Atreus is up there with the likes of Ellie/Joel and Lee/Clementine. Kratos’s seething and strict demeanor is perfectly juxtaposed against Atreus’s jovial and curious personality; both of these characters will get on your nerves by design. Kratos plays an over-the-top straight man in this bizarre world, and it’s good to have one character in a position to ask him to lighten up a little; anyone else would get an ax through their skull.

As video games are starting to be taken more and more seriously as an art form, it seems logical that the major studios would shy away from or even turn apologetic for their questionable pasts. The original God of War was egregious even in its own time. The original games still have their place and are great in their own ways, but the 2018 reboot stripped away the juvenile edginess and built upon what really makes the series work - this is an action-packed journey into the land of ancient gods.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Mon Jun 01, 2020 10:46 pm

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#85. We Love Katamari (2005)
Developed by Namco

Video games have always been able to get away with oddity unquestioned. After Super Mario Bros. smashed onto the scene, nothing seemed too conceptually ridiculous. It takes a massive quantity of absurdity to actually register and, boy, does the Katamari series deliver.

The second game in the series, We Love Katamari took everything from Katamari Damacy and made it even better. Your goal is to push around a tiny ball and collect smaller objects which stick to the surface. Anything too big won’t fit, so each level is built around a loop of collecting the small objects until the ball is big enough for the next set; but if you want to maximize your size, you must quickly find those objects which give the biggest boost. Once you get rolling, there’s no stopping. A pencil? Go ahead. A cat? No one’s going to question your morality here. A fleeing school child? Baby, when we’re finished here, every country on earth is going to be shot into space. All will be sacrificed to the beautiful ball.

This is a game that nearly defies genre labels; it can be called a puzzle game, though that doesn’t feel quite right. Katamari became a momentary craze because it’s so singular; it faded just as quickly because there’s no meaningful way to expand beyond what we got here. Like Tetris, Katamari is inimitable and as good today as it was upon release.

The narrative presentation is completely baffling. You play the teeny Prince of All Cosmos, who came to earth because his father destroyed everything else in space and the only way to fix things is the katamari ball. After restoring the stars in the first game, you must now make themed planets for the inexplicable fans of the process. The King will make completely bonkers statements as you progress during the level before giving an equally inexplicable evaluation once it’s all over. This kookiness is a bit of a necessity, since one might actually ponder the morality of their actions here otherwise (save us if anyone even suggests an edgy reboot).

The levels expand upon the basic concept in several ways. Many have you in search of specific objects, such as paper cranes or clouds. One memorable level ends the moment you collect either a cow or bear (or anything which may be confused for such), forcing you to navigate around these objects until you’re big enough to collect something good. The highlight is the simple but ambitious As Large as Possible finale, where you start with a 1 meter ball and have 17 minutes to reach 500 meters; but since the game lets you keep going to get as large as possible, it’s always fun to go back and break into the thousands. There’s something mesmerizing about rolling up literal landmasses and looking back to realize you started by getting knocked around on a street corner. All of these stages are backed with music as strange and wonderful as the game itself.

Katamari is one of the purest experiences in gaming, a simple yet addictive exercise in growing very large. There’s no hidden meaning or anything to analyze. A team at Namco simply came up with a fun idea and immediately grasped everything which would make it excellent.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by letmeintomyzone » Tue Jun 02, 2020 2:50 am

Really enjoy this project!

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Tue Jun 02, 2020 3:14 pm

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#84. Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne (2004)
Developed by Atlus

The JRPG genre has largely achieved its popularity based on its ability to present narratives of an epic scope. Balancing the gameplay has proven a challenge to many developers. Common enemies tend to collapse after enough basic attacks, while the few challenging bosses can be overcome by grinding levels for a bit. It’s rare to find a truly challenging JRPG that isn’t caused by the player being perpetually under-leveled, but Atlus has made an art of this feat.

Now overshadowed by its more narrative-heavy spinoff, Persona, it is sometimes hard to remember the minimalism intrinsic to Nocturne’s design. Where most series focus on the battle between good and evil, Shin Megami Tensei treats this as a struggle between order and chaos. Nocturne takes these sides to the most extreme point; the protagonist, Demi-fiend, is forced to choose one of several questionable options. The lack of a satisfying alternative is maddening, lending well to the game’s oppressive atmosphere. There is one clear option to reject everything, but chances are you won’t like who you are working with toward that goal.

Most fantasy settings tend to stick to a few familiar flavors (what’s an RPG without Medieval castles?), so something like Nocturne’s demon-infused Tokyo immediately stands out. The dungeons are shopping malls, hospitals, construction sites; anything to reinforce this was once our world. Few games feel so outright desolate.

Unlike practically any other JRPG, the draw here actually is the gameplay. Grinding might help, but Shin Megami Tensei is all about strategy. Like most JRPGs, enemies have their weaknesses and resistances. But where those exist largely to do a bit more damage in other games, Nocturne’s entire combat system is built around hitting the right enemy with the right move.

The Turn Press system makes every move count. Hitting a weakness gives an extra chance to attack before the enemies get their turn, up to a full round of additional attacks. With a varied enough team, you might be able to wipe out the enemies before the game ever rolls over to their turn. On the other hand, missing an enemy takes two attacks away, while having your attack repelled or absorbed immediately ends your entire turn. Thus, battles become a mad dash to identify what works, as you need those extra turns.

Like Pokemon, a major selling point here is that you can essentially capture the game’s many demons. Your party consists of Demi-Fiend and three demon allies, but these demons have limited use and level slower. Where the game shines is the ability to fuse demons to make something stronger, the resulting demon gaining otherwise unobtainable skills from its parents. The massive amount of demons are a necessity, as there are enough ultra-hard bosses where you will want an entire team that can hit any available weakness. Additionally, SMT is a rare JRPG series where stat boosts actually mean something, so having a support unit is also feasible. The benefit to a challenge is that variety counts for more.

With move sets being limited, choosing which form of an attack to keep can be a surprisingly hard decision. In most RPGs, a spell which does the same damage but can hit all enemies would be the logical choice. Here, it might be better to keep the version which can only hit a single target, lest you hit something which can absorb the attack and negate any benefit. There is also a spell type which always does neutral damage, which seems like a safe choice until you remember the need to hit weaknesses. Luckily, the ability to summon previously discovered demons negates any permanent damage from a poor decision. Any time your team falls behind, you simply have to make a new one.

Few JRPGs have tension as a selling point, but almost every single battle in Nocturne left me on the edge of my seat. Each new area means a new set of enemies you must analyze, making this a constant game of risk vs. reward. With instant-death attacks which can actually work and enemies that can wail upon you the moment they hit an ally’s weakness, one bad turn can ruin everything. What makes Nocturne actually work is that it gives you the tools to mitigate these risks. Why even enter a battle with a weakness once you’re able to fuse a negating ability to turn that weakness into a strength? The massive compendium offers an endless sea of possible demons; the greatest puzzle in this game is figuring out how to get this ability onto that monster with the least amount of fusing necessary. Your demons are what you make of them.

Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne fills a unique niche, almost like the antithesis of the traditional JRPG. Anyone expecting a party of plucky heroes fighting against evil will be disappointed. But for those who want to see what the JRPG can offer when focused on making every single encounter have weight, few have ever done it better.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Tue Jun 02, 2020 4:41 pm

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#83. Star Fox 64 (1997)
Developed by Nintendo EAD

Rail shooters feel like a relic from a bygone era. As games become more focused on open exploration, the idea of a genre built around giving the player minimal control seems archaic at best. I believe part of the genre’s failure stems from Nintendo’s inability to truly follow up on Star Fox 64. Where most major Nintendo franchises laid the foundation for classic genres headed into a new technological era, the company seems to have given up on attempts at giving this genre the same treatment. Perhaps this perception is partially true; even this highlight of the genre was incredibly short for its era, though maybe some indie dev out there will stumble across the formula and make a phenomenal throwback.

Star Fox 64’s short, simple nature is what made it work. From an era when arcades still had their influence, part of the charm was to jump back in and try to outdo yourself. The game offered a variety of paths, all revolving around completing certain tasks during the levels. While reaching the end could be easy, actually managing to go down the hardest path required some serious skills. All of this works to make each new playthrough both unique and rewarding as you work toward the top path.

While being admittedly cheesy, there’s something about Star Fox 64’s presentation which holds up more than most games from its era. The on-rails presentation allowing complex scripted events and noninvasive dialogue gave the game a surprisingly cinematic feel. Despite the short length, every level feels like an epic space battle.

This feels like a point I’m hitting over and over, but purposeful simplicity is just as valid as complex game design, and it’s a shame major studios seem convinced they have to add in dozens of features to every game they make. Sometimes, it’s nice to start up a game and be done with it in the same sitting. The level design in Star Fox 64 is tight and to the point; it’s not that it lacks content as much as it is stripped down and focused on making every second count.

Blazing through space, shooting down enemies and avoiding their attacks, all of this adds up to a fun experience. Even if the genre had nowhere to go from here, Star Fox 64 set a new standard for narrative presentation. In a way, the game marks a turning point between two eras. While being the peak of a dying genre, it stands as a predecessor to the non-interruptive narratives that FPS games would soon specialize in.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Tue Jun 02, 2020 7:32 pm

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#82. Pokemon Black and White (2011)
Developed by Game Freak

The Pokemon series is one of the hardest to consider in comparison to itself. Red and Blue got the ball rolling and established the formula which would define the rest of the series, but shoddy programming and simplistic combat left much to be desired. Gold and Silver fixed the technical errors while taking the battle system up another notch by splitting the special stat and introducing two new types. Ruby and Sapphire added another layer to combat with abilities, but was bogged down with an overdeveloped world which was tedious to explore. Diamond and Pearl made the final essential gameplay change; where each type was previously associated with either attack or special attack, this now depended on the individual move. But yet again, the world itself was not as fun to explore. Every game in the 3D era has brought its own problems, whether it be X/Y’s technical flaws, Sun and Moon’s overbearing narrative, or Sword and Shield cutting back despite being the first mainline console Pokemon.

This leaves the period after Diamond and Pearl but before the 3D era in the perfect sweet spot; Black and White has all the positives of its predecessors and tops it off with the best region since the earliest editions. What really made this generation special was being the first since Red and Blue to only offer new Pokemon during the main quest. While these 156 Pokemon may not be the most popular set, they really made Unova stand out as its own unique region.

In a series where the plot tends to be an excuse and the villains are largely cartoonish, Black and White achieved something special with N. Where others are selfish or misguided (what either team in Ruby and Sapphire thought they would accomplish is still completely beyond me), N’s goals seem perfectly reasonable. For whatever reason, Nintendo decided to actually confront the vague dogfighting tones present since the beginning. N stands against Pokemon battles, only pursuing that path in hopes of someday convincing others to give them up. His goals may ultimately be naïve, but there’s something great about a sympathetic villain who will actually listen to reason.

Of course, Pokemon is one of the rare JRPGs that sells itself more on its gameplay than the narrative presentation. After all the advancements of the series, Pokemon Black and White benefits from the most complex version of rock paper scissors. Now with eighteen types to choose from and hundreds of moves which hit in different ways, Pokemon is an infinitely variable series. The Nuzlocke challenge was born for a reason; tons of us are always looking for a new excuse to revisit these games. Even without any special rules, it’s fun to go back and try out a new team. Unova is an easy choice when considering which region to revisit, with Black and White 2 offering an excellent change in variety if you tire of seeing only the native Pokemon.

Pokemon is a series where everyone has their own favorite era. For me, the mechanics introduced in Generation 4 are absolutely essential, and anything beyond that depends on which particular regional qualities you prefer. From my perspective, the New York City-based Unova is simply the most inspired.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by Jirin » Wed Jun 03, 2020 1:25 am

2000 cool points for you for including Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne.

I would have it in the top five.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Wed Jun 03, 2020 3:15 pm

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#81. Super Smash Bros. Melee (2001)
Developed by HAL Laboratory

As much as the roster keeps increasing, there’s something about Super Smash Bros. Melee that hasn’t been outright replaced by Ultimate like its following two sequels. Part of this is certainly nostalgia, but there’s something to be said about a tighter roster and Melee’s fluid motion.

When I finally got a Nintendo Gamecube, the only consoles I had owned before were a Sega Genesis, a Game Boy Color, a PlayStation 2, and a Game Boy Advance. Thus, my experience with Nintendo was largely limited to the Pokemon series and Super Mario Bros. Deluxe; there were certainly others I could have picked up with the handheld systems, but I had no one to push me in the right direction. Since I wanted this system to be able to play with more friends, my first games were Mario Kart: Double Dash and Super Smash Bros. Melee.

Beyond its (now small) roster, this game was loaded with Nintendo content. I could get lost in the trophies and their descriptions. With friends as clueless as I was beyond the colorful platformers of the time, this was my first real gateway into gaming at large. Melee guided me to Metroid Prime and F-Zero GX. Getting lost in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker in turn led me to discover GameFAQs on the final day of its third character battle, where Link himself narrowly defeated some obscure character named Cloud Strife. While my interest in those contests turned into my biggest gateway, it all started with Super Smash Bros. Melee’s celebration of its own history.

There are few games I have invested more hours in than Super Smash Bros. Melee; even after the release of Brawl, most of my friends preferred the feeling of Melee (which was then compounded by my Brawl disc inexplicably not working for a year before suddenly working again). Mario Kart was fine enough, Mario Party fun in its own stupid way, but Melee dominated all up until the Rock Band craze (which itself largely signaled the end of video games in my social life, replaced by board games as I entered college). My preference for games leans toward the single player experience, but Melee has always had its own special pedestal.

Part of the appeal over later sequels is the simplicity. Roster additions starting with Brawl felt more and more specialized (which is not bad, considering I place Melee and Ultimate on a near equal level). With only 26 characters and a few of those being clones, it was easier to learn how to fight with and against each potential style. In the end, if you mainly play with a few friends and those friends tend to stick to a handful of fighters at best, a larger roster does not change too much. I always preferred the frenetic feel of Melee, even as a casual player. Something about falling faster made every second more urgent.

So, yes, a large part of this inclusion plays into my nostalgia; but while compiling a work on the hundred games which influenced me most, it would be wrong to exclude something which dominated nearly a decade of my life. The simple fact that Melee vs. Ultimate is an argument at all is a testament to how much Nintendo got right all the way back in 2001. Even with the series pushing 80 characters, it is all based around Melee’s core design.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by Nick » Wed Jun 03, 2020 4:33 pm

I enjoy all 5 Smash games to varying degrees, but the jump in quality from the original Smash to Melee was astronomical, an absolute quantum leap in gaming.

I'd probably rank them like:

1. Ultimate
2. Melee
3. Smash 4
4. Brawl
5. Super Smash Bros.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Wed Jun 03, 2020 6:17 pm

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#80. Shovel Knight (2014)
Developed by Yacht Club Games

Even with a successful transition into 3D, the platformer saw more of a distinct split than an outright evolution. The slick gameplay present in 2D platformers simply cannot be reproduced with a third dimension. Unfortunately, despite remaining its own distinct genre, mainstream gaming continued marching on with its focus on new technology. The 2D platformer did not get shafted like the shooter, but the few throwbacks during the sixth generation rarely came close to the classics.

Thus, it’s no surprise that the indie game boom largely revolved around the platformer. Braid broke through with its mixture of platforming and unique time mechanics, while Super Meat Boy turned the genre into an absolute nightmare of precision platforming. A truly timeless genre, people were finding more and more ways for the platformer to evolve.

Out of all these great games, few balance the nostalgia with innovation as well as Shovel Knight. With Yacht Club Games largely limiting their presentation to what could be handled on the NES, an image from the game could easily be placed next to Mega Man or DuckTales and anyone unaware would believe they were from the same era.

Shovel Knight is a challenging game, but not quite to the level of something like Super Meat Boy or Celeste. Instead, it’s a fun take on “Nintendo Hard,” again calling back to its obvious inspirations which were designed to be impossibly challenging (which was in part to artificially increase their length). At the same time, Shovel Knight never punishes the player through the same methods like a total reset, offering more of a Dark Souls-like mechanic where you must recover lost money. This game blends retro and modern design philosophies seamlessly. This means, while replicating the difficulty, there’s nothing artificial about its length; Shovel Knight is bulky for an NES-style platformer, and that’s before getting into its several campaigns (an important note is that I played this game years ago without much research and never realized how expansive this game would end up; it is here based on that first campaign alone. If the other campaigns hold up to the first, then I’m likely undervaluing the final product).

While discussing a relatively new medium, it’s easy to let certain things slide due to nostalgia. With something as complex as video games, certain genres attained their peak form sooner than others. The 2D platformer was one of the earliest to reach its heights, with the original Super Mario Bros. still being a seamlessly designed game. Something like Shovel Knight is less like an evolution and more of a refinement, a greatest hits of what made the NES era so important. Shovel Knight has it all and more, with intricate design offering a more fluid experience. Certain moments even invoke the hardware limitations of the NES, but as an intentional element of the design.

Plenty of games come along selling themselves on nostalgia, especially on Kickstarter. Some games like Mighty. No 9 and Yooka-Laylee exploited this desire with the involvement of people who worked on earlier successes like Mega Man and Banjo-Kazooie. Yacht Club Games understands there’s more to a good nostalgia piece; a mere replication will never stand up to the original. Something like Shovel Knight only comes about with a generation who grew up with the classics, those idealistic kids who played the same games over and over again to the point they simply had to learn how to create their own take.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Wed Jun 03, 2020 7:34 pm

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#79. Tales of Vesperia (2008)
Developed by Namco Tales Studio

Tales is a messy series; as far as narrative JRPGs go, Tales tends to be filled with generic plotlines and annoying characters. Whatever benefit later entries carry is largely negated by drawn out nothingness. Breakout hit Tales of Symphonia avoids this with a few strong characters, but certain parts remain lacking. Tales of Vesperia was an outright improvement on everything the series had to offer, from a strong cast of characters to its subversive story to continued advancements on the gameplay. The only reason this game didn’t ascend to classic status was some poor decisions during its release; Microsoft spent a few years trying and failing to appeal to a Japanese audience, resulting in a bunch of largely bland JRPGS being exclusive to the Xbox 360. Vesperia was the highlight of the bunch, but that did not mean anyone went out of their way to buy it. Most fans of JRPGs went with the other consoles, and Namco was pushing out enough Tales games that people could get their fix elsewhere. A definitive edition was finally released on all the major systems in 2019, but its legacy as one of the few great JRPGs of the seventh console generation is destined to be neglected.

Tales is one of those series JRPG fans wish was consistently better for one clear reason; instead of having turn-based combat, the series plays like a Smash Bros-styled fighter, where a simple directional input changes the attack. Each character is more than a new set of stats, coming with their own play style. This might mean little alone, but Tales is a rare JRPG series with multiplayer, allowing all four party members to be controlled by actual players. While there are plenty of online RPGs, there’s something about the local coop in this style that stands out.

Even without the multiplayer, these mechanics provide an enjoyable alternative to navigating through menus. This would never outright replace turn-based gameplay (a few series do actually use it well, as rare as they can seem), but it’s certainly a unique twist on an otherwise traditional JRPG. For a series where the narrative is rarely above average, addicting combat was a necessity. Tales is always a pleasure to play, even if the urge to skip through cut scenes can be strong.

Vesperia, however, is great through and through. A lot of this relies on the cast; the grand narrative scope isn’t the clearest, but the story instead sustains itself through smaller acts where we dive into Yuri Lowell’s mindset. Where the typical JRPG protagonist tends to be either annoyingly optimistic or brooding, Yuri is jaded but in a believable way. He has seen suffering and knows some problems won’t disappear on their own. Most protagonists are taking fate into their own hands, but few act as straightforward vigilantes.

While falling into more traditional tropes, the other characters are simply handled well. Raven plays the failed Casanova, the detached type with a playful persona who must be hiding something. Rita’s rude behavior plays well off the other characters. And then there’s Redepe, a blue dog who smokes a pipe and fights by holding a dagger between his teeth. What’s not to love?

Despite its many flaws, Tales is a series where every battle is fun. Remove those flaws and you get an outright masterpiece.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Thu Jun 04, 2020 4:03 pm

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#78. RollerCoaster Tycoon (1999)
Developed by Chris Sawyer Productions

Our first exposures to a medium can help shape how we process that medium going forward. Throughout my childhood, there was no game I played more than RollerCoaster Tycoon. I believe this had a strange effect. My attention was drawn to other simulators, but I couldn’t quite wrap my head around SimCity 3000. And while the term existed before, the following years saw an uptick of games with ‘tycoon’ in the title. Even as a child, I was wary of what that meant. While Pokemon had Dragon Quest Monsters to scratch a similar itch, RollerCoaster Tycoon stood alone. This time searching and failing to find something suitably similar must have influenced my current perception of art. I’ve never been one to focus too much on one particular style; I want to get my hands into a little bit of everything. After all, there’s no way of knowing where I’ll find the next game to resonate to such a degree – aside from two being in the same series, my personal top 10 games have little in common.

Though not quite an indie game due to being published by Hasbro, RollerCoaster Tycoon certainly operates in a similar manner. The game was almost entirely created by Chris Sawyer, with some help from artist Simon Foster and composer Allister Brimble. Even in 1999, the graphics were archaic, but that lent a simple charm to the experience. In fact, I think the simplicity is part of what makes scrolling over the park so fun. The sense of motion Sawyer managed to create is surprisingly smooth.

The game is straightforward in its purpose; you must run an amusement park for a few years and achieve a certain popularity. There are few bells and whistles in the basic presentation, which in turn draws more attention to your personal creations. The park management is fine enough (if a little too easy as an experienced gamer, though my childhood self never quite got there), but the draw is building bigger and better coasters. The grid-based system makes this a straightforward process with physical constraints being simple to learn; rides must be two solid steps above to pass over one another, getting over a hill requires either enough momentum or a chain, etc. Designing a great coaster requires just the right speed around corners and hills; the simple design makes it easy to pick out and correct the sections which aren’t working.

The park guests give an incentive to make various rides. Some are too afraid for even the most basic coasters, while others live for thrills – within certain limits. Each ride has meters rating their intensity and their tendency to cause both excitement and nausea. Make a death trap and no one will ride it; these restraints are key in enforcing realistic designs.

The different parks which operate as the game’s levels do a nice job of emphasizing various mechanics. First level Forest Frontiers is situated in a narrow clearing, putting an emphasis on more compact rides - but there’s also the option to buy more land for the park. Evergreen Gardens really ramps up the management game. If you’re not paying enough attention, your park rating will dip as its sprawling paths will become a sea of vomit. Penultimate park Rainbow Valley completely prevents landscape changes; there’s always something which sets these parks apart.

RollerCoaster Tycoon is simply a game which handles its concept very well. What the sea of imitators did not understand is that designing rollercoasters is a certain joy which does not really exist elsewhere. The selling point here was the rollercoasters, not the ‘tycoon.’ Which is not to knock on RCT’s management system; these two concepts played into one another, giving the player a reason to care about the quality of their rides beyond simple aesthetic pleasure. This game would have never had the same draw if it was a mere sandbox.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Thu Jun 04, 2020 5:56 pm

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#77. Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (2009)
Developed by Chunsoft

Mixing the visual novel with the escape-the-room genre, 999 is a game that works in ways you would have never imagined. The basic premise suggests something from the most macabre horror movies. Nine characters are locked in a sinking ship and told they must play a deadly game. Explosives have been planted inside their bodies. They can only proceed through doors which require certain combinations related to numbers on their bracelets. When one player races ahead in a mad frenzy and gets himself blown up, their situation becomes clear. Despite sounding like the video game version of Saw II, 999 transcends this to somehow become one of gaming’s most compelling narratives.

The doorways are an ingenious way of including seemingly innocuous choices. Each door has a number from one to nine. To enter a door, the characters must add up their bracelets together to reach that number; if they go above ten, they instead add the digits (so 17 becomes 8 – the game luckily does the math for you). This results in only certain combinations being able to go through each door, with at least three being required. When you first begin and lack a read on any of the characters, whatever door you choose may as well be random. But the deeper you get into the game, the more you realize the need to learn more about certain characters. This, in turn, leaves another set of characters to their own devices in another room.

Unfortunately, the greatness of 999 is buried so deep within that it’s impossible to discuss much more without diving straight into spoiler territory. The escape room puzzles are fine, but this game achieved its greatness through the handling of its narrative – if you are not familiar with where this game is headed and do not want to ruin the experience, I suggest stopping here.

Your first ending will come shockingly early. Most likely, some character will suddenly start picking everyone else off. Naturally, this is very unsatisfying. The game will encourage you to play again, so you try a different path. As you switch up the doors, you will stumble into another ending. Certain elements will click together (…or you’ll consult a guide) and you’ll eventually reach one of the truer endings.

Somehow, neither of these paths are enough on their own; to actually finish this game, you need to learn a password in one and use it in the other. 999 taps into the meta in a very unique way; by playing the game over and over, the protagonist is somehow picking up on these alternate realities. This means, in the default state, survival is impossible by design. This also means all these other endings are semi-canon; they may not happen in the true ending, but Junpei has still experienced those realities. The fact the game ultimately offers an explanation for this is the cherry on top.

Video games have a hard time handling narrative; if it’s too straightforward, it sometimes feels like the game is randomly being interspersed with a movie. Providing alternate progression can shake things up, but finding the balance between excellent writing and true variation is quite difficult. 999 simply decides to have it both ways. What you learn down these stray paths is as key as the final result. This game is loaded with great characters opening up your mind to distinct possibilities, and the individual moments really shine. Strangely, despite being a puzzle game, the most memorable is the easiest thanks to its integration with the narrative.

Alongside the more popular Portal and Bioshock, 999 stands as one of the great late 2000s games which truly questioned what it meant to tell a story in this medium. With a twist that blurs the line between player and character while somehow treating multiple endings as interconnected, 999 offers an unforgettable experience - but its greatest trick is using all these stray elements to keep casting the same characters in different lights.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Thu Jun 04, 2020 8:48 pm

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#76. EarthBound (1995)
Developed by Ape and HAL Laboratory

If Super Mario Bros. was weird out of an aesthetic necessity, Nintendo’s Mother series feels like their attempt at being as intentionally chaotic as possible. Perhaps the most striking thing about EarthBound’s style is the setting. Where most fantasy stories are set in distinct worlds with a tendency toward other technological eras, EarthBound is set in a modern bizarro version of America. Its surreal presentation of modern society makes it feel more alien than a traditional fantasy. We can easily accept combat when it features warriors and fantastical creatures. Seeing a kid in a striped shirt and shorts beating up on crows and hippies feels uncanny, simultaneously otherworldly and familiar.

Everything about this game feels like it was randomly generated. The overarching plot stays rather buried as Ness seeks out magical sanctuaries. Every location surrounding these sanctuaries feels pulled from another reality. Cults, evil circuses, a shadow city; everything’s so consistently unconnected that it somehow starts making its own twisted sense. The game is dominated by goofy unease, which is not an easy form to maintain but EarthBound rarely falters. There’s moments where the game even teeters on the edge of outright horror. Tonal inconsistency is usually a bad thing, but EarthBound made it central to its identity.

Where most RPGs have some clear big bad to pursue, the lack of a clearly defined evil makes each area shine. You play this game less to advance the overall plot and more to see what the game will throw at you next; completely unpredictable, EarthBound is consistently fresh.

Despite being a turn-based RPG, there’s something frantic about the game’s combat. The enemy designs are all insane and paired with psychedelic backgrounds and pounding music. HP loss rolls over like a gas meter, meaning mortal damage can potentially be prevented if the character is healed in time. This forces you to power through the battle menus, which itself can cause even more damage.

Really, the music deserves its own special mention. Few video game soundtracks are this good. Most of the battle themes carry a psychedelic jazz feel, but the game also has its moments of pure ambience, ranging from the peace of a safe location to the droning horror of the final battle. I’m not sure the aesthetic oddities would work quite so well without such an intricate soundtrack.

Like other Nintendo JRPGs, EarthBound is disarmingly simple. But that does not mean battles are easy. This game can really ramp up the difficulty at times, and you must make the best use out of your limited abilities. Each of the party members have their own unique twist, meaning tactical consideration is key to successful boss battles.

The whole thing is great, but the ending deserves special mention. There’s a reason Giygas stands out despite barely having a presence throughout the game. He feels like a pure embodiment of evil, unable to truly be comprehended. The section leading up to him is just as dire. Adding to the cosmic horror is the battle ending in a truly jaw-dropping twist; the game plays a sneaky trick on the player that will hit like nothing else.

Infinitely clever and outrageously funny, EarthBound is a JRPG like no other.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Fri Jun 05, 2020 3:14 pm

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#75. Left 4 Dead 2 (2009)
Developed by Valve

With all our time waiting for any follow-up from Valve for most of their series, it’s hard to believe there was a moment where we collectively complained about them making a sequel too soon. Released exactly one year after the first game, Left 4 Dead 2 seemed unnecessary. A few new special zombies and weapons were nice, but did that really justify a full-priced sequel? Years later, L4D2 has now absorbed nearly every piece of content from the original. Between the first game being virtually reduced to a trap for the uninformed (why are these two games the same price on Steam?) and the sequel going from questionable to the definitive experience, there are few series with a more bizarre history.

Of course, people were willing to jump into the sequel anyway because the first game was that good; all these minor improvements only made things better. For whatever reason, video games built around cooperative gameplay are few and far between. There are plenty of team-based shooters if you want to play with friends, but the experience of fighting against AI feels a bit more focused. Where losing in something like Team Fortress 2 can be blamed on a skill gap between teams, failure in Left 4 Dead is almost always due to poor strategy and communication.

Left 4 Dead is built around an old horror trope. Well, there’s zombies, obviously. But what I really mean is this obnoxious tendency for otherwise well-equipped characters to suddenly split up. There’s always some player who gets distracted while their teammates are charging ahead who then fails to say anything until a hunter has them pinned. In many ways, Left 4 Dead operates as a babysitting simulator. You must keep your eyes on your teammates at all times and hopefully convince them to do the same. While the logic could be to wait up for the straggler, the game is also designed to punish lollygagging. Large swaths of this game are best handled pushing forward as a cluster. Special infected simply don’t have the numbers to stop all four players simultaneously. But getting people to understand the need for constant progression is the real challenge.

The game also wants to prevent that optimum strategy whenever possible, which is where the special infected come in. Despite having the least direct damage output, the boomer and spitter might be the most dangerous due to their ability to divide the party. Without quick reactions, the smoker, jockey, and charger will drag someone away. The tank simply knocks everyone about, and his ability to hit multiple targets forces the team to distance. But these are never insurmountable hurdles; enough attention to one another can mitigate their presence entirely. What can a hunter really do if everyone is in melee range of each other? This is a rare game where friendly fire is essential to the design, to put at least some risk in the dominant strategy.

The inclusion of various modes helps Left 4 Dead hold up as one of those infinitely replayable games. The basic campaigns are the central experience, with several levels of difficulty and each consisting of multiple levels to navigate. Valve clearly had a lot of fun designing these individual levels. From stealing a race car from a mall exhibit to a journey through a tunnel of love to a swampy shantytown, there’s always some set which stands out. Additionally, several sections are perfectly designed to amplify risks. There are places where you must jump down with no way to return; someone lagging behind becomes easy pickings for the infected.

Just as essential is versus mode, where two teams switch between playing the survivors and special infected. Simply being able to learn how the special infected operate is a nice feature. It still offers largely the same experience as the campaign mode (as the goal is to get as far as you can on each level of a campaign; whichever team gets further wins) but hopefully with more logical infected. Strangely enough, playing as the infected can feel even more desperate. Despite their dangerous presence, they really can’t do much alone. The game tends to cycle between a single Boomer or Spitter and three with pinning abilities – a skilled team could separate the pack and take down most of the team at once, but that requires perfect communication and timing.

Left 4 Dead excels at cooperative mechanics. Many cooperative games can devolve into each player playing their own part, but Left 4 Dead forces so many dire situations that constant communication is an absolute necessity. While this may be frustrating, playing with enough inexperienced people offers one distinct benefit. The next time you see a horror movie where the characters inevitably split up, you’ll realize that’s somehow one of the more realistic plot points.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Fri Jun 05, 2020 4:43 pm

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#74. Super Mario Bros. 3 (1988)
Developed by Nintendo EAD

As someone born in the early 90s who didn’t really start consuming games in large quantities until the Gamecube era, playing anything from the early Nintendo consoles required intentionally going out of my way. I’ve played pretty much all the classics at this point; Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Kid Icarus, Dragon Quest, Castlevania, DuckTales, Ninja Gaiden, and so on. These games are largely pleasant enough, but most laid the foundation for even better sequels. Few are singular enough to be more than a historical experience; Mega Man 2, Tetris, and Punch-Out!! stand out, even to someone with no particular nostalgia for the era. Even modernized versions of those latter two are closer to variants than direct improvements. It only seems fitting that the cream of the crop was a sequel to the game that kicked off the era.

Likely due to the popularity of Super Mario Bros. and the simplicity of the genre, the NES era was dominated by the platformer. Thanks to a certain popular design philosophy, many of these were brutally hard, and the limits of the console produced some frustrating level designs. Few things will make me drop a game faster than enemies which immediately respawn combined with outrageous knockback. But Nintendo themselves have always been in the business of family friendly content, and the early Mario games always ramped up their difficulty smoothly.

The 2D Mario games are built around a certain simplicity. In general, you run from one side of the screen to the other, with most enemies able to be defeated by simply jumping on their heads. Even the original is still a great game due to the fluid controls, but Super Mario Bros. 3 built upon that with stellar level design. Where the original only offered a fireball upgrade, 3 introduced a slew of fun items. The highlight is the tanooki suit, giving Mario the ability to fall slowly, fly, tail whip enemies, and even transform into a statue for a ground pound attack and invulnerability. The later games would especially build themselves around various power-ups, but it all started here.

With improved graphical capabilities, this is where Mario truly comes into its own stylistically. The world is filled with more color, while the koopa kids offer a nice change of pace from simply jumping over Bowser like in the original. Where the original was limited to a few basic level designs, 3 offered more styles while also introducing auto-scrolling stages. These force a sense of urgency in an otherwise gentle experience. The addition of a world map connecting these levels added to the idea of progression.

Like many great games, the selling point of Super Mario Bros. 3 is the way it mixes simple controls with intricate level designs. Anyone can pick this up and play, but it takes skill to survive the later stages. The 2D platformer has always been around, and while there are constant innovations, nothing has outright replaced the simple charm of this early masterpiece.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Fri Jun 05, 2020 6:53 pm

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#73. Red Dead Redemption 2 (2018)
Developed by Rockstar Studios

Where the Grand Theft Auto series has almost always descended into absurdity, Red Dead Redemption serves as its mature younger brother. RDR2 pushes certain elements of realism so hard that it almost reads like parody of the modern AAA open world game. Some of the choices seem detrimental to the experience. Not including real fast travel in such a massive world is absolutely bizarre. Despite open world games tending to lean toward endless possibilities, there’s a specific way Rockstar wants you to engage with this game.

By pushing all these various elements, what Red Read Redemption 2 lacks in instant gratification is replaced by a sheer sense of scale. The constant retreading of the same roads helps form a familiar land, and there’s always something just off the main path to check out. Additionally, I simply find riding horses over the land a fun experience. Where most open world games offer a land for the player to conquer, Red Dead Redemption 2 instead seeks to overwhelm. This world is not an endless playground but something which must be survived.

As far as gameplay goes, the dead eye mechanic is Red Dead Redemption’s central selling point. Arthur can freeze down time and focus on a cluster of enemy’s, then unfreeze time and shoot them all at once. In addition to making massive gunfights more manageable, this is also a neat way of capturing the feel of old western movies. RDR2 also subscribes to Rockstar’s philosophy of including a little bit of everything; there’s loads of minigames to play and devices with their own unique mechanics.

Acting as a prequel to the original game, the player takes on the role of Arthur Morgan. He belongs to a gang coping with the end of the Wild West. There’s no place in this world for these people anymore, so much of the game finds them constantly relocating. This aimlessness really mixes well with the world, with each act change truly feeling like a distinct moment. The slow rides across the land give ample time for long conversations. This band of outlaws really feel like an old team in the midst of falling apart. This is one of the great traditional narratives in gaming, and there are some shocking twists taking full advantage of the game’s ‘realism’ bend.

These outlaws get up to a bunch of crazy schemes, and being able to play a part is a joy. This massive world is covered in perfect locations for its hundreds of shootouts. By always trying to include a little bit of everything, Rockstar ensures every mission has its own unique gimmick. From the classic bank robbery to train heists and hot air balloon trips, RDR2 keeps the player on their feet.

There are also loads of memorable side missions which have a tendency to go further off the rails than the main plot. During one memorable encounter, you meet a Nikola Tesla expy who recklessly experiments with new technology. There’s also dozens of oddities scattered across the land, from a house which has been struck by a meteor to various horror creatures. Hunting is highlighted by the inclusion of a bunch of legendary animals which offer great rewards; the variety of animals in this game is impressive. There’s always something to find.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is about as ambitious as video games come. The fact they intentionally avoided common quality of life mechanics while including almost everything else is a striking decision. Some people won’t enjoy that tedium, but it results in one of gaming’s true epics.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Sun Jun 07, 2020 1:22 am

No updates today because I wanted to work on editing the query letter for my novel.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by Holden » Sun Jun 07, 2020 1:33 am

BleuPanda wrote:
Sun Jun 07, 2020 1:22 am
No updates today because I wanted to work on editing the query letter for my novel.
Okay hold up I gotta know more about this novel
"The better a singer's voice, the harder it is to believe what they're saying."

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Sun Jun 07, 2020 3:47 pm

Holden wrote:
Sun Jun 07, 2020 1:33 am
BleuPanda wrote:
Sun Jun 07, 2020 1:22 am
No updates today because I wanted to work on editing the query letter for my novel.
Okay hold up I gotta know more about this novel


Well, here's my current version of the query letter; it lacks quite a bit of information since it has to be around a single page, but this is how I'm trying to sell the thing (I'm currently working with an agent who does query critiques as a side thing since summarizing like this is nowhere near my strong suit):

"17-year-old Slivchek wants to watch his city burn. His plan requires binding a dragon to his will with the Bloodthorn Ritual. Coercing the dying Balathor into this oath proves surprisingly easy. But as they travel, Slivchek learns dragons are not sadistic monsters. He is now torn, wanting revenge but not willing to force Balathor into this violent role. Instead, Slivchek settles on destroying the sacrificial device which killed his sister. Still commanding Balathor, Slivchek realizes the evil in having enslaved an intelligent being. With the oath binding them for life, releasing Balathor is not possible. Slivchek must find another way to clear his conscience.

17-year-old Ingebelle is halfway through a religious quest to cleanse the outside world of poison. However, the goddess has not communed with her as promised. Ingebelle fears she is leading her companions down a doomed path. After all, dragons are rumored to kill anyone reaching the final stretch. Ingebelle feigns confidence, praying the goddess is testing her devotion. But if the goddess remains silent, Ingebelle doubts her own ability to speak up before it’s too late.

The Bloodthorn Dragoon (88,000 words) is a young adult high fantasy. The story is told through Ingebelle, Slivchek, and two other young men who join Ingebelle’s quest. The novel stands alone with room for expansion. It should appeal to fans of character-driven fantasies such as Six of Crows and There Will Come a Darkness. With one protagonist being black and another being gay, this should also appeal to those seeking diversity in fantasy."



I don't have enough space to go into the other two characters (despite them actually being my favorites of the four) in the query. Luckily, I can here. The key thing to understanding a lot of this is that all of humanity has been trapped on a plateau - everything outside this plateau has been smothered by poisonous smog for thousands of years. People live in fear of dragons, and the device to which Slivchek's sister was sacrificed supposedly protected the city from dragons. So, essentially, everyone lives in isolated communities with little knowledge of what truly lies beyond their borders. Most books from before the smog have also been destroyed, severing their connection to the past.

16-year-old Buckscrag is a boarc (think boar-orc, essentially) who has spent his entire life working at a castle as a prince's personal guard. He's fallen madly in love with his prince, but those feelings aren't shared. Still, the two plan to run off together to explore their world. They take Slivchek's 'attack' as the perfect opportunity to sneak away and end up joining Ingebelle's group. Buckscrag struggles with both his same-sex attraction and the history of his species. The boarcs have always been used as servants, and their origins are entirely unknown - any new boarc at the castle is delivered under cover of night. Buckscrag has never even met a female boarc. As he begins processing the horrific treatment of his species, which he has largely been spared from due to his privileged position, Buckscrag realizes the need to live for himself and help his own species.

Wilhelm has spent his entire life in a cabin in the woods with his now-deceased mother. She left him a journal promising to explain their solitude once he's become accustomed to this world, requiring him to travel to a hidden lab. Naturally, this 14-year-old boy is too curious to wait and immediately sets out. When he stumbles inside his first city, it becomes painfully clear he's the only person with dark skin. During Slivchek's 'attack,' he is almost killed by someone who has started setting fires to make Balathor look more dangerous. The problem is, this man does this not because Wilhelm is a witness but because he believes Wilhelm's presence will bring people 'hope.' As he seeks shelter with Ingebelle's group, one of her companions reveals the likely truth of the smog. The people who created their plateau were a racist theocracy, and this man believes the smog was the result of a genocidal attack. Discovering the secrets of Wilhelm's journal becomes all the more important, as learning about his mother's history may reveal others have somehow survived among the smog. This, naturally, makes Ingebelle's quest to cleanse the poisons all the more important.

...and I somehow forgot to mention that Wilhelm has been approached by a ghostly sorceress promising to teach him magic. There is only one sorcerer at a time in this world, so Wilhelm is about to become one of the most powerful people on this plateau. The sorceress herself died fighting Balathor, which is what gave Slivchek his easy path.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Mon Jun 08, 2020 2:36 pm

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#72. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009)
Developed by Naughty Dog

Attempts to capture the magic of cinema in video game form have been around since almost the beginning. Many end up leaning closer to one of these mediums than the other. Early attempts such as Dragon’s Lair simply showed scenes while requiring sudden button presses to keep the scene going. A lot of other ‘cinematic’ games grind to constant halts, forcing the player to drop their controller while a cutscene plays out. When all the awe and spectacle is limited to these moments, it can make the actual action disappointing. While Uncharted has never been free of cutscenes, the best moments are all part of the gameplay.

Lacking a better term, Uncharted 2 is one of the top examples of the setpiece action-adventure genre. Few games have such stunning openings. Nathan Drake wakes bloodied in a train, which he quickly realizes is dangling precariously over a snowy cliff. After falling to the railing at the bottom, the game immediately switches to the player’s control. You must guide Nathan Drake up the train as everything falls apart. Few moments in ‘cinematic’ gaming feel so visceral; if this is where we begin, what other tricks does Uncharted 2 have up its sleeves? This is a game about constant escalation which dares to puts its best foot forward.

The inspiration is obvious – Uncharted is essentially the Indiana Jones franchise in video game form. But plenty of games feature harried archaeologists running into thieves and waking ancient evils. What other attempts lacked was the ability to capture the extravagant situations Indy would find himself in.

Key to Uncharted 2 is the smoothness of its gameplay – the first game set the stage, but combat was a clunky mess. The sequel throws a lot at you as it switches up the sets, but it’s never hard to transition. While several sets simply require climbing, the best moments mix navigation with a constant threat. One early highlight finds Nathan fleeing through a collapsing hotel while assaulted by a helicopter. Even when he finds brief cover from the copter, more enemies pop around the corner for shootouts.

The sequence leading to the opening train wreck (the first part of the game being the typical “how did I get into this mess” presentation) is just as exciting, requiring Drake to jump between train cars and fend off gunmen as he’s carried from the jungle up to the Himalayas. Another highlight involves a tank. Uncharted 2 succeeds at making everything look impossible before offering a path to victory.

Even outside the big action sequences, Uncharted 2 has a compelling narrative. The characters are strong, with Nathan Drake being one of the better-defined video game protagonists. He’s always ready with a quip when things go wrong, but his close bonds reveal his heroic nature. The sense of escalation is matched by the unfolding plot, going places you could never imagine.

It is sometimes easy to mock a game for being too cinematic; after a certain point, it can feel like the developers only told their story in video game form because they couldn’t get anyone to fund their movie. By so effortlessly integrating its narrative into the gameplay, Uncharted 2 set a new standard.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Mon Jun 08, 2020 4:48 pm

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#71. Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony (2017)
Developed by Spike Chunsoft

Though classified under the wider visual novel umbrella, Danganronpa is far from an experience where you press a button to forward the plot. Danganronpa owes much of its existence to the Ace Attorney series, where plucky lawyer Phoenix Wright defends the innocent from a nightmarish justice system. Where Ace Attorney tends to balance playfulness and gravity, Danganronpa acts as the cynical and edgy younger sibling.

The situation in each game is immediately dire. A high school class finds themselves kidnapped by an evil bear named Monokuma. Taking inspiration from Battle Royale, the class is forced to kill one another. Where it differs is that Danganronpa avoids a simple killing spree by shifting the focus to getting away with murder. To escape, a student must kill and then avoid being caught by their classmates during a ‘class trial.’ Those who fail are executed in an excruciating and thematically relevant fashion.

What makes these games such compelling mysteries is the limited cast. By taking elements from the dating sim subgenre, you are given several opportunities to spend one-on-one time with characters between cases. Thus, these aren’t just random characters being brought in only as they become relevant. By spending the entire game with this same cast, every new death carries weight. With each new case knocking out both the victim and killer, the cast is ultimately reduced to only a handful. With such a colorful cast of characters, this can be devastating.

Danganronpa makes effective use of archetypes. None of these are ordinary teenagers. All of them have exceptional skills and have been granted the ‘ultimate’ label. The protagonist here, Kaede Akamatsu, is the Ultimate Pianist. Others include the Ultimate Entomologist and the Ultimate Cosplayer. Archetypes allow the player to immediately get a sense of this gigantic cast. More importantly, stark archetypes leave room for striking subversions during the cases.

Danganronpa V3 builds upon the gameplay of the earlier games. Where the original is all about pointing out lies and the second introduced the ability to support claims, V3 introduces the option to tell your own lies. What differentiates this from Ace Attorney is that these are not true legal cases; the killer is already known due to Monokuma’s constant surveillance, so he is only looking for the class to correctly identify that person. In V3, the player must use whatever means necessary.

Additionally, these games are just stylish. Instead of the straightforward presentation of Ace Attorney, dialogue during the class trials is a chaotic mess. People speak over one another, and the difficulty of drawing attention to a specific statement involves literally shooting through the background noise. Even with unmoving sprites, the game manages a feeling of constant motion during the trials.

To discuss what makes this entry so grand involves going into specifics. Due to the nature of its plot, discussing anything beyond the introduction can spoil the experience. Being a mystery game, I heavily suggest stopping here if you have any interest - I will be spoiling everything.

Again, these following paragraphs will spoil everything, including a few references to earlier games in the franchise; mysteries like these need to be experienced blind (In fact, don’t even look these games up – I had the first game spoiled due to a simple search).

The Danganronpa franchise is built around the idea of a limited cast where literally anyone can die. While there may be shades of plot armor in the first game with two of the survivors being rather obvious, the second made sure to subvert those expectations. V3 does this immediately.

Earlier, I had to falsely claim the protagonist was Ultimate Pianist Kaede Akamatsu. Halfway through the first case, you are presented with the familiar option of choosing the killer. As you consider the options, the truth begins to dawn; she has been the killer all along. Once she accuses herself, the game shifts perspective to Ultimate Detective Shuichi Saihara. With the first victim having an unknown Ultimate ability, V3 dared to eliminate two of the most intriguing characters right off the bat. Anything goes.

In fact, V3 goes to great lengths to pull the rug out from under the player again and again. This is not limited to the mysteries. Where the previous execution scenes were largely playful besides the very first (a remnant predating the decision to make the series darkly humorous instead of bleak – something like this would be nauseating with the wrong tone), Kaede’s death is horrific. Besides the moments where you stumble across the body, the earlier Danganronpa games rarely try to disturb the player. There are moments in V3 which are uncharacteristically exploitative.

At the same time, there’s something about V3 which feels too familiar. The middle cases seem to hit the same plot beats as the earlier entries. Even the subversive fifth case, the first in the series where Monokuma is as clueless as the rest of the cast and even the victim is unknown, revolves around characters in the same general roles as those involved in Danganronpa 2’s fifth case.

This all leads into one of gaming’s most controversial endings (at least for those who have experienced it). As usual, the finale revolves around identifying the mastermind behind Monokuma. The revelation that Kaede actually wasn’t the first killer is somehow immediately overshadowed by a bigger revelation; the mastermind actually says the title. ‘Danganronpa’ is nonsense, translated as ‘Bullet Refutation.’ It describes the series but never has reason to be spoken within the narrative. Never has a title drop been more jarring.

When the game was announced, ‘V3’ seemed a necessity to differentiate it from an anime sequel to the first two games titled ‘Danganronpa 3.’ That, too, turns out to be part of the meta-experience – the ‘V’ is actually a roman numeral; this is the 53rd Danganronpa in the nightmare universe where this game is set. Instead of being a direct follow-up to the earlier works, Danganronpa V3 imagines a world where the Danganronpa video games became a bigger hit than The Beatles and evolved into an exploitive reality show. All of the characters are sacrificial actors with implanted memories.

This serves one grand purpose which is easy to misunderstand. Playing Danganronpa offers a macabre pleasure, and this fourth-wall breaking finale allows the characters to directly confront the player through their interactions with the show’s audience. What sick monsters are we to enjoy repeatedly watching this same scenario play out over and over? Many reacted to this ending as if the game was pointing an accusatory finger; but we are not the same as this audience who devolved into demanding actual killing. The game never offers a firm explanation, but that’s because we as the players should be able to answer ourselves.

So I should close this out by answering that question; if I’m not some sick monster, why do I enjoy something as macabre as Danganronpa? It’s the same reason I play any other video game, to face off against adversity in a controlled environment. Danganronpa specifically captures the feeling of loss in a safe manner. Due to its structure, the connections to these bizarre characters feel stronger than almost every other franchise. To play a video game involves being more than a passive audience. I don’t play Danganronpa because I want to watch these characters die. I play Danganronpa because I want to help guide those remaining to safety.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Mon Jun 08, 2020 6:56 pm

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#70. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (2005)
Developed by Level-5

Dragon Quest was the first JRPG to find real success, and the series has purposefully kept to simple mechanics ever since. Due to this lack of evolution, most of the Dragon Quest games are acceptable favorites. VIII simply hits a specific niche which resonates with me. Where earlier entries are as aesthetically simple as the mechanics, VIII pairs the classic gameplay with an ever-expansive world.

When I first played this back in 2005, I had never encountered a game which felt so big. Most JRPGs tended toward overworlds which essentially truncate the locations for easier navigation. Dragon Quest VIII keeps everything to scale. Combined with the gorgeous cel-shading, this is easily one of the most aesthetically pleasing games of its era. There were so many moments where I would stop playing to stare in awe at the land. More games have moved to this presentation style, but few match the sense of wonder found here.

Matching the visual scale is the game’s massive length. The overarching narrative is incredibly simple, but most of the game consists of self-contained missions with a ton of charm. Each new location has its own story. Games of such size usually have a ton of empty space, but every inch of Dragon Quest VIII has purpose.

The gameplay is simple, but that does not mean it’s shallow. Each character comes with their own sets of skills which the player can control, giving variance to different playthroughs. Boss battles tend to be strategic affairs. The only real problem is the series’ overreliance on metal slimes; there are a few points where it feels like you have to grind to keep up, and that largely devolves into hunting the same rare monsters over and over.

The series in general is charming, but that’s really brought to life here. The creatures have tons of distinct designs and their own silly mechanics. Some early monsters will simply devolve into laughter for their turn, while another will waste its turn casting a late-game spell for which it lacks the MP. The world captures everything from rural country sides to sprawling kingdoms to frozen grottos. The central cast all have their own quirks. The highlight is Yangus, a bumbling bandit with a thick Cockney accent.

The minor quests each offer their own distinct atmosphere. Some can be somber, such as a kingdom in mourning. The one which sticks out most happens in the kingdom of Argonia, where the party must assist the spoiled Prince Charmles (Get it? Charmless? This series loves its puns) in hunting giant lizards. Charmles joins the party, but completely fumbles everything he does and ends up running away. These diverse quests help sustain this massive journey.

Dragon Quest VIII is an exceptional JRPG not because it pushes the genre forward, but because it offers the basics in stellar form. It might seem wrong to praise a game purely for offering a stylistic improvement over its predecessors, but there’s no need to fix what’s not broken. VIII takes the familiar and makes it bigger than life.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by Jirin » Mon Jun 08, 2020 11:04 pm

Based on your love for JRPGs I'm *really* hoping you have the Trails series somewhere on this list.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Tue Jun 09, 2020 2:25 pm

Unfortunately, I have not yet played the Trails series (though I added them all to my steam wishlist just now so I can remember to get them during the next steam sale). I don't have too much time for video games these days, especially when I'm working on my novel - a typical day sees me working 8 hours and then writing for most of the evening. I have plenty of free time now thanks to current circumstances, but I'm still playing catch-up on the major releases of the last few years.


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#69. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (2004)
Developed by Intelligent Systems

I realized after starting this project that writing about the Paper Mario games would be among the hardest. Having not played either game in over a decade now, certain elements have blurred together. Add in that The Thousand-Year Door is a sequel in the most traditional sense, and how do I say enough about both without repeating myself?

There are other series with multiple entries, but most have distinct enough features that I can really hone in on those specific quirks. The Thousand-Year Door is Paper Mario but bigger and better, but not in a way which makes the predecessor obsolete. Unlike comparing Left 4 Dead to its sequel, Paper Mario and The Thousand-Year Door remain distinct experiences due to features typical of the JRPG franchise. They have their own sets of characters and stories, with both having great writing. The real sticking point for both deserving their place on this list is that Paper Mario’s charm is in its simplicity; TTYD making things even slightly more complex means certain people will prefer the original.

The two chapters from The Thousand-Year Door which have stuck with me the most come from opposite ends of the spectrum. Both highlight distinct traits that make the Paper Mario series so good. The first is chapter 3, which features Mario fighting his way through a series of arena battles. Where most Paper Mario chapters are full of areas to explore, the Glitz Pit remains focused on combat. There are a ton of battles to fight through, and each comes with their own stipulation which limits your options. This can really force the player to change up their strategy. Champion Rawk Hawk is one of the more memorable characters in the series, his narcissistic attitude perfect encouragement to climb the ranks and beat him down.

Chapter 6, on the other hand, is all about Paper Mario’s humorous sense of storytelling. Mario finds himself on a train with a bunch of odd passengers and eventually gets caught up in a series of mysteries. This pseudo-Christie narrative gives the writers a perfect opportunity to go crazy. An encounter involving a ghost’s diary plays an especially fun trick on the curious.

Changes to the battle system help make the partners feel more distinct. TTYD gives partners their own HP value, making them feel more like traditional party members. The game also introduces an audience who have various interactions throughout the game. These changes aren’t huge, but that’s key to the signature simplicity.

Like its predecessor, TTYD cuts away to Princess Peach. Getting to actually know the princess rarely happens in the main series, and she is a lot of fun here. We also get a few moments to play as Bowser in classic Mario inspired levels.

There’s not much more to say about The Thousand-Year Door in comparison to the original. The first Paper Mario is a short and simple JRPG, a genre which usually goes for complexity and epic quests. The Thousand-Year Door is more of this, but where everything feels slightly improved. The Mario series has tons of spin-offs, but few feel as key to its grander identity due to the charming handling of its universe.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Tue Jun 09, 2020 6:52 pm

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#68. Mass Effect (2007)
Developed by BioWare

Would Mass Effect even be a Western RPG series without promising a ton of stuff it would never pull off? Perhaps the most disappointing thing is that it almost managed this incredible feat – practically everything went off without a hitch besides that infamous ending. Not even the entire final act, but the last fifteen minutes was enough for certain people to toss aside the entirety of what was otherwise among the most fulfilling stories to emerge from gaming. We only got this invested in the first place due to the strong beginning.

It’s difficult to think of another game that establishes a new universe so effectively, especially in a science fiction setting. Humans are the latest species to join galactic civilization. An ancient network of relays allows near-instantaneous travel across space. Commander Shepard becomes the first human Spectre, special agents granted nearly unrestrained authority by the central governing body. Some great menace is lurking at the threshold, and it is Shepard’s job to both figure out what is happening and convince the Council to take this threat seriously.

What sets Mass Effect apart from so many other fantasy worlds is the intricate histories and conflicts of its various races. The battle between the quarians and geth starts off as the most straightforward. The quarians created an artificial race, grew nervous, and ended up losing a war against their own creations. With the quarians stuck aboard a Migrant Fleet and the geth now joining the bad guys, it’s easy to choose sides (for now).

The conflict between the krogans and salarians is a lot ickier. Galactic civilization was nearly overrun by another species known as rachni until the krogans were discovered. The salarians turned this primitive race into a weapon, only to neuter the species once they, too, started to be perceived as a threat. Both sides have a perfect argument. The salarians essentially committed genocide, but the krogan really are that dangerous. Of the major races, only the turians and asari really seem to have their stuff together.

The character designs are top-notch. All of these species have unforgettable appearances. Both the krogan and turians are reminiscent of dinosaurs, but in very different ways. The bulky krogans carry raw strength while the slender turians are far more graceful. Asari are more humanoid, though other species seem convinced of their own similarities. The quarians are mysteries, forced to wear full-body suits due to their weakened immune systems. Mass Effect avoids the trope of sci-fi stories tossing us dozens of bizarre designs as background characters; each of these species has an explanation for their evolution. Mixed with their rich histories, BioWare was able to emphasize the plights of these individual species with nuance.

In classic BioWare fashion, this game is all about an interactive narrative where the player can make big decisions. While the system they use offers little freedom (consistency is rewarded), the mere possibility of another path is compelling. The story is strong enough that I ended up doing three separate playthroughs (one good, one bad, one consistently making poor choices). The game is also loaded with side quests, most offering their own intense choices.

The party members are of varying quality – what would have otherwise been a jaw-dropping moment is reduced by the mundanity of the human party members – but the best are some of my favorite video game characters. Tali and Liara need the sequels to really come into their own, but krogan Urdnot Wrex and turian Garrus Vakarian are unforgettable. The krogan could have easily been a background species, existing more as a potential threat than true characters. Having one on the central team offers a perfect window into their disturbing history and disparate culture. Wrex’s blunt nature also leads into a lot of the best lines. Garrus’s character arc is one of the trilogy’s strongest suits, with his struggle between following the law and true justice being perfectly established here.

The combat system is something else – BioWare mixes third-person shooter mechanics with an RPG power system. While this can be a bit wonky and is perfected in the later games, the series really hit upon something with this combination. I mentioned playing through this game three times to see various ways the stories could unfold, but I would have never wasted my time if the gameplay wasn’t equally engrossing.

Mass Effect is the beginning of a beautiful trilogy; while the gameplay might show its age when compared to the sequels, its sense of world-building is matched by few others. By setting up an entire galaxy where half the species seem on the verge of slaughtering another, it established a complex narrative rife with palpable tension which would ultimately sustain the entire trilogy. While the sequels would feature more dangerous external threats, the original made sure to inform us the galaxy was doing a perfectly good job imploding on its own.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Tue Jun 09, 2020 8:27 pm

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#67. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004)
Developed by Rockstar North

With both Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption 2, Rockstar was explicitly aiming to make compelling narratives. For whatever reason, their idea of ‘compelling’ involves a lot of unnecessary realism and bleak presentation. Despite its sometimes silly nature, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas managed to say just as much if not more.

After the success of Grand Theft Auto III, Rockstar used the same basic engine to build two compelling period pieces. Vice City was an 80s throwback, letting the audience play out their Scarface fantasies in an obvious Miami expy. San Andreas jumps ahead a few years to 1992, setting itself in a fictionalized Los Angeles on the verge of riots over police brutality.

While III had a silent protagonist and Vice City’s Tommy Vercetti is a violent sociopath, San Andreas’s Carl Johnson is surprisingly sympathetic. He gets just as involved in a bunch of horrid schemes as the others, but the game manages to create a more justified sense of desperation. Tackling both its heavy subject matter and featuring a black protagonist in an otherwise exaggerated atmosphere seems like a recipe for disaster, but Rockstar treats those specific elements with enough care to avoid creating a stereotypical gangsta narrative.

Though III gets a lot of the credit for bringing the series into mainstream culture, its sequels brought enough quality of life changes to make that game almost obsolete. III doesn’t even have an in-game map, which seems almost unthinkable for an open world game. Even the camera in Vice City feels off when compared to San Andreas. Rockstar kept outdoing themselves during the PS2 era, resulting in more fluid controls, a customizable character, a simply gigantic world to explore, and a bunch of nonsense to keep things interesting. The budget and production time keeps ballooning with each sequel, but I still believe San Andreas stands as the height of the series – IV takes itself too seriously while V goes so hard in the opposite direction that it comes off as a particularly bad season of South Park. The basics work just as well in San Andreas without having to put up with these detrimental qualities.

Part of Grand Theft Auto’s success is that it’s fun to simply mess around without making any progress. The series brings modern cities to life in a way few others have managed, and it’s fun to play as an agent of chaos. Through the variety of vehicles and weaponry, there’s always something more to try out.

San Andreas also has killer radio stations for scoring the mayhem. Whether you tune into Playback FM for some Public Enemy and Eric B. & Rakim or turn the dial to Radio X to get some early alternative jams from Rage Against the Machine and Soundgarden, there’s always something great reinforcing the game’s era. The most striking inclusion is K Rose, a classic country station which makes sense as soon as the game world really opens up.

What I find striking is how San Andreas manages to incorporate its many distractions into the narrative. CJ’s story starts small, simply helping those in his neighborhood. Somehow, he gets dragged into bigger schemes in all these new locations – but there’s a certain point where he’s hit with a wakeup call. That opening tension has never gone away. CJ simply left his neighborhood. Grand Theft Auto has always had an absurd upward progression, but San Andreas pulling us down to earth helps set the stage for a phenomenal finale.

Grand Theft Auto always tries to have a little bit of everything. Though the series since III has been largely consistent, only San Andreas lands all of its punches.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Wed Jun 10, 2020 7:29 pm

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#66. Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age (2017)
Developed by Square Enix

If Dragon Quest VIII perfectly merged the classic gameplay of the series with evolving visual capabilities, Dragon Quest XI is that plus more. The appeal to a classic structure feels even more relevant in its era, when Square Enix’s other flagship franchise turned away from turn-based combat to little success. The JRPG is not quite what it used to be culturally, and sometimes it’s good to stick to a familiar formula. Honestly, turn-based combat is like the 2D platformer; it only feels archaic because it’s an idea that worked from the beginning. There are variations, but there’s nothing which can outright improve upon it without becoming something else entirely.

The changes XI does make keep to the simple nature while giving the player more control. Previous Dragon Quest games required choosing everyone’s actions at the same time, and then the entire round would play out. Here, you get to choose actions as the individual turns come up. The game also has a larger cast than earlier entries, which is incorporated with the option to change party members mid-combat. Overall, Dragon Quest XI feels like a hybrid between its own series and where Final Fantasy might have ended up if it stuck closer to FFX. Even the ability board feature feels straight out of the PS2 Final Fantasy era.

Like VIII, XI features a massive world to explore. This time around, locations are more clearly divided, but they still evoke a massive sense of scale. This is simply a gorgeous game to look at, and its colorful art style is a nice change of pace from most modern epics. There’s something about Akira Torimaya’s style which speaks to me, even if a lot of his characters end up looking similar. The individual enemies and subplots are charming as always. It’s simply rare to get something with such a grand scale while maintaining a consistently pleasant atmosphere.

The characters in Dragon Quest tend to be two-dimensional, but many in XI have stronger personalities. The biggest surprise is Sylvando. When you first meet him, it’s easy to assume he’s going to be the worst gay stereotype. He’s flamboyant and loud, but the narrative never relegates him to comic relief. He’s as brave as any knight; he simply wants to make people smile while protecting them. There’s a ton of other baggage usually associated with this type of character, but Sylvando is simply an exuberant presence. His storyline also runs deeper than this surface presentation, showing he has his own conflicts to sort out. While his behavior can still come off as stereotypical, it’s never in a negative fashion – and I have met plenty of gay men who intentionally put on this sort of persona. What’s wrong with being flamboyant?

Dragon Quest XI is a game for those wanting an update on something familiar. Everything about it feels like a greatest hits collection of JRPGs from the genre’s glory days. If this is just the same Dragon Quest as always, then that simply means there’s never been anything wrong with Dragon Quest. But it’s all that and a little bit more.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Wed Jun 10, 2020 8:58 pm

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#65. Final Fantasy XII (2006)
Developed by Square Enix

It feels like every Final Fantasy since VII has split the fanbase. The polar opposite of Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy has always tried to redefine itself. Those between IV and IX were slight variations, focusing more on different ways to build your characters while featuring the same combat system. X overhauled that central system but still felt like a Final Fantasy. XII goes so hard in the other direction that, if not for its title and a few familiar creatures, one could have easily assumed it was a new series entirely.

I’m not going to pretend Final Fantasy XII is flawless. Previous Final Fantasy games have some of the most beloved casts in gaming – the only great character from XII is Balthier. For whatever reason, XII went with a more subdued and realistic art style, leaving most of the cast looking mundane. A messy production left non-entity Vaan as the protagonist, and the narrative is almost impossible to follow. Those drawn to the series for its stories had every reason in the world to be disappointed – it took until the 2017 rerelease for it to really click with me.

But once it clicked, it hit hard. XII is sometimes derided as a single player MMORPG. For me, it lands in the perfect place between the two genres. This is about as big as JRPGs come, yet it never gets as overwhelming and demanding as a full MMO. There’s so much to explore, but it never leaves you waiting or needing to endlessly grind.

A common complaint from its release now seems rather precious. Instead of controlling every individual action for each character, the game has something it calls a gambit system. You are given up to 12 lines of “if x, then y” statements for each character. The earlier lines take precedence, so you can set up your healer to raise the unconscious first, heal if no one is knocked out, and then attack if no one needs healing. It’s an ingenious system which allows fluid combat, which is key since this game avoids random encounters by having enemies integrated into the locations. With more RPGs moving toward action combat where the AI controls everyone but the main character, it’s shocking more games haven’t expanded on this feature to give the player precise control over their teammates. The only other game I know which uses a similar system is Dragon Age. While this can cause a lot of battles to essentially play themselves, I find this intricate programming preferable to mashing the attack button against random mobs. The player can always give commands when necessary, and there are plenty of hard encounters which will require restricting the programming. Combat in XII feels a lot more tactical than its predecessors, even when much of it is hands-free.

I’ve always been a fan of how Final Fantasy manages to reinvent leveling, and the license board started off as an intriguing concept which was fully brought to life in the rerelease. The original version gave everyone the same board, giving the player control over what path to send their characters down. The Zodiac Age mixes this with the underutilized job system and dual-classing, limiting the characters but guiding them down distinct paths. Deciding which ability to go after next is always a tough decision. Every RPG should aspire to make levelling this fun.

While I mentioned that the art style does little favor for the characters, the world itself is breathtaking. Few cities in gaming feel as alive as Rabanastre. Having enemies scattered across the land leaves every location bustling with life. Later locations are colossal, and the pure variety makes it feel like you are truly trekking across every inch of this world. There are dozens of side quests, and I wanted to do all of them just to visit every corner. In fact, I believe this is the only game where I bothered to get the Platinum trophy, simply because I was having so much fun seeing all this game had to offer.

Beyond simple scope, the world has a mesmerizing layout. Nearly every location has some passage sitting just out of reach. Many late game quests involve revisiting these areas and finally seeing what lies beyond those gates. Final Fantasy XII is constantly building a sense of intrigue.

14 years later, Final Fantasy XII still sits in a perfect niche. The only game I know which captures that not-MMO style is Xenoblade Chronicles. How more games haven’t followed in their footsteps is baffling, though it takes a lot of effort to make a world this awe-inspiring. While never capturing the typical Final Fantasy charm, XII managed to excel with its own distinct magnificence.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Wed Jun 10, 2020 9:57 pm

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#64. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth (2014)
Developed by Nicalis

I kind of hate liking The Binding of Isaac as much as I do. Everything about its aesthetic falls into this unbearably edgy form of dark comedy. Where Zelda has Link breaking open pots, Isaac is stuck sifting through piles of poop as he fights against evil. There are even several allusions to internet memes like rage comics. Nothing about this should work for me.

But with hundreds and hundreds of hours played, I cannot deny this is one of my favorites. Everything about its gameplay design makes it easy to just pick up when I have a little bit of free time, and the cycle tends to suck me into several subsequent attempts. This is as addictive as video games come.

While designed to look like a Legend of Zelda game, Binding of Isaac plays more like a twin-stick shooter. You control Isaac, a poor child attempting to escape his abusive mother. After making his way into the basement, he has to fight his way through enemies by shooting them with his tears. Each floor has a treasure room and a boss fight, both of which give power-ups.

Binding of Isaac excels through the sheer volume of its content. With the latest expansion, there are over 400 items which change Isaac’s stats. These vary from simple stat boosts to total changes in gameplay. One makes Isaac spew a torrent of blood, piercing objects and killing most enemies within seconds. Another turns his tears into remote controlled missiles. With its semi-roguelike nature, every playthrough is different. Part of what makes this special is how these various items can synergize, and particularly poor combinations can make things impossible – there’s nothing quite like having exploding tears which boomerang their way back to Isaac any time he misses.

Part of the fun is how this game slowly evolves. In the beginning, there are only six levels, culminating in a fight against Mom. As you keep playing, more and more stages unlock with various paths – a full playthrough ends up being twelve stages, with most floors being larger than the last. These levels also have distinct variations which can randomly pop up. While a few bosses are always set, most floors have dozens of options, and they each offer a fun fight (except The Bloat, of course). With each playthrough lasting between a few minutes if you’re unlucky to around 40 if you manage everything, Isaac is short enough to give multiple fulfilling attempts in the same sitting.

The game is also loaded with alternate characters with their own specialties and handicaps. There are also several challenges which give specific loadouts; some are silly while others are as challenging as the game can get. All of these features come with the additional incentive that successful completion unlocks a new item. There’s always something more to do.

The Binding of Isaac borders on infinite variability. Plenty of games can claim the same. What makes this game in particular special is how simple yet challenging it can be. Anyone can pick this game up with ease, as the gameplay simply consists of moving and firing. But like any good shooter, getting down enemy patterns is the key to success, and Isaac is loaded with hundreds of fun enemies to master. Or you might just end up with a combination which kills even the final boss in ten seconds – either option is fun.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by Nassim » Thu Jun 11, 2020 8:27 am

BleuPanda wrote:
Wed Jun 10, 2020 8:58 pm
A common complaint from its release now seems rather precious. Instead of controlling every individual action for each character, the game has something it calls a gambit system. You are given up to 12 lines of “if x, then y” statements for each character. The earlier lines take precedence, so you can set up your healer to raise the unconscious first, heal if no one is knocked out, and then attack if no one needs healing. It’s an ingenious system which allows fluid combat, which is key since this game avoids random encounters by having enemies integrated into the locations. With more RPGs moving toward action combat where the AI controls everyone but the main character, it’s shocking more games haven’t expanded on this feature to give the player precise control over their teammates. The only other game I know which uses a similar system is Dragon Age. While this can cause a lot of battles to essentially play themselves, I find this intricate programming preferable to mashing the attack button against random mobs. The player can always give commands when necessary, and there are plenty of hard encounters which will require restricting the programming. Combat in XII feels a lot more tactical than its predecessors, even when much of it is hands-free.
Until 2 weeks ago, I would have said that any RPG where you only control one character during the fights is a deal breaker for me. That ruined for me FF12, FF13 (among other issues), FF15 (the worst offender, never had any idea what was happening during the fights), Persona 3 (given how much I loved the 5, I am eagerly wairing for some king of reissue of the 3rd where you can give orders to the full party, I know there has been one, but really the terrible decisions by the AI was a real issue in the original version) and Star Ocean 2... and that's why I have stayed clear from the Final Fantasy 7 remake so far.
For some reason, it is working so far for Xenoblade Chronicles, so maybe the curse is left, and I have often seen or read that the gambit system in FF12 was actually a great way to manage this issue. I don't think I gave it enough time to properly use it, wouldn't mind giving it another shot if I had the time.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Thu Jun 11, 2020 3:24 pm

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#63. Mario Kart 8 (2014)
Developed by Nintendo EAD

Before Melee and when I had to visit my cousins for a chance to play anything Nintendo, Mario Kart 64 was the easiest way for us to all play together. Some have been better than others, but the Mario Kart series has moved from there with a general upward trajectory. The latest entry feels all-encompassing, avoiding technical pratfalls while being loaded with excellent tracks.

A key element about both Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. that I see many complain about is the luck-based elements. Smash luckily has the feature to turn those random elements off. As a kart racer, items are central to Mario Kart’s design philosophy. What I think people overlook is that these elements are what raised these series out of their niche genres. Both traditional racers and fighting games have a glaring flaw due to their focus on skill. New players are going to be trounced. While these games are good for actual competitions, anyone stuck with a few inexperienced friends is going to have a rough time convincing them to keep trying. I’ve met a few fighting game enthusiasts who simply can’t participate in their hobby – they’re caught in an awkward place between being too good for locals but not good enough for professional tourneys.

In Mario Kart, items give everyone the feeling they can influence the race, no matter their skill level. Key to Mario Kart 8 is there being enough ways to mitigate damage as the top player. Skill is still the determining factor 90% of the time, but that little sliver gives everyone else hope. For anyone who prefers playing with ordinary friends, this perception is a must. ‘Realistic’ racing games simply can’t offer that experience.

With 48 tracks, Mario Kart 8 is by far the largest game in the series. What makes this truly special is that there are many I love and very few (if any) I outright dislike. By offering both quality and quantity, Mario Kart 8 goes one step beyond its predecessors.

The highlight here is Mount Wario, a track which feels more like skiing down a snowy mountain than a traditional race; unlike most other tracks, Mount Wario does not loop. This is simply one massive track. Each track carries a distinct energy, from racing through a flashy nightclub to balancing atop an eel to staples like Bowser’s castle and Rainbow Road. Plenty of great classic tracks come back, while the DLC expansion (which comes with the Switch version) features tracks based on Zelda, Animal Crossing, and F-Zero. There’s just so much on offer here, and it’s all top quality.

For those looking for a challenge, the game introduces a 200cc mode. At this speed, every track becomes a nightmare to navigate. I feel like anyone who played this series started off by bashing into walls and drifting off edges during sharp turns. 200cc is a new way for even experienced players to revisit that frustration!

Mario Kart has always filled its niche with quality games, but most entries lacked a serious oomph. They were the side game that you might as well purchase if you’re already getting a Nintendo system, rare games which go well with parties. With so much quality content and smooth mechanics, Mario Kart 8 is the first time the series has felt like a central draw.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Thu Jun 11, 2020 4:58 pm

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#62. Mass Effect 3 (2012)
Developed by BioWare

How wonderful it would have been to experience a game like this before the internet outrage machine. It felt as though everyone had made up their mind about this game’s awful ending before even touching the game itself. And that ending certainly put a damper on my experience – after playing the first two Mass Effect games multiple times, I only bothered with a single playthrough of Mass Effect 3. There seemed to be little point in seeing how my choices would affect things when the series ended in a funnel. But this is an epic RPG, and focusing so much on a failed landing ignores everything else which this game does remarkably well.

Mass Effect 2 transformed the original game’s wonky combat system into one of the best I have ever experienced, and Mass Effect 3 builds upon that. The RPG mechanics naturally lock the player into a certain role, but the addition of cooperative multiplayer missions give the option to experience tons of styles. I mentioned before that I only played through this game once, and while part of that was due to the ending, another part is that the game simply offered more chances to experience all the different styles without needing to start a new campaign. While integrating success here into the campaign was a questionable choice, this decision did force an active community into what turned out to be one of the game’s strongest aspects. There’s also the simple pleasure of finally being able to play as the other species in the series, each coming with their own abilities.

Like so many other choice-based experiences, Mass Effect 3 makes up for a lack of true control by having consistently stellar writing – the real reason the ending is so bad is not the lack of impact from previous decisions but by the entire experience feeling disconnected and poorly written when compared to everything else. They tried to go the 2001 route without surrealism, and this is simply not what the series was building toward. This feels particularly egregious because the rest of the game juggles so much more with style.

Each of the Mass Effect games capture the galaxy in a different atmosphere, and the apocalyptic nature of 3 fulfills what the series was promising would happen. Watching these worlds being attacked is devastating, which really emphasizes our investment in these alien species. The biggest success in this story is managing to focus on the interspecies conflicts which have been brewing since the first installment. Everything comes to a head here. One would think people would come together in such dire circumstances, but so many of these species have been pushed to the edge. A galactic civilization built upon acts of genocide, several species doubt their survival whether or not the reapers kill them all. Many games with dire situations can feel like the protagonist is being distracted by minor squabbles, but this game benefits from the series having weaved an intricate political web. Even with the entire galaxy falling apart, every minor issue has a sense of urgency because Shepard needs everyone unified without distractions.

Despite one glaring flaw, Mass Effect 3 feels like everything fans could have wanted – an oppressive atmosphere, strong writing and callbacks, all wrapped around a perfect third-person shooter/RPG hybrid.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Thu Jun 11, 2020 6:32 pm

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61. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (2017)
Developed by Capcom

The Resident Evil series has now gone through three distinct eras. The original games helped establish the survival horror genre, while Resident Evil 4 turned the series toward the third-person shooter genre. Neither of these eras were particularly scary. The earliest games might have gotten a few jumps here and there, but they were built more around the tension of navigating a contained location with esoteric puzzles. The horror was largely aesthetic.

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, on the other hand, took a ton of influence from contemporary indie hits and delivered one of the most terrifying video game experiences. The problem in earlier entries is that, no matter how scary the monster you faced, you were playing an armed officer. Here, you play a completely ordinary person who was simply searching for his wife after receiving an alarming video. Mix in some seemingly immortal enemies, and you get a recipe for hopelessness. Every moment is suspenseful, as you never know when the Bakers will show up.

The opening sets the stage so perfectly. Having the first encounter be Ethan’s own wife establishes something being very wrong – and things were already bad with the basic concept. There’s a moment during this fight where you will likely assume you made a great mistake, only for the moment to keep playing out. So many horror games have introduced grotesque scenes as punishment for failure. Having such a moment be a scripted event results in several forms of emotional whiplash, establishing this game will be just as terrifying as it first appeared.

Like the original, Resident Evil 7 does a perfect job of keeping itself contained to a small location. The Baker Mansion is intricate, filled with dozens of horrifying corridors. This location also avoids the typical video game mansion design, where there are rooms which seemingly serve no purpose beyond being a puzzle in a video game. This feels like a place people might actually live, which makes the nauseating design all the more effective. There’s more to this game, but the slow pacing really emphasizes every corner.

The Bakers themselves are among the more striking villains I have encountered. RE7 draws explicitly from the Texas Chain Saw Massacre in tone, and they are a perfect take on the redneck hillbilly trope. The game also doesn’t settle for that somewhat problematic design; there’s a sad, twisted tale beneath these events to make this more than just the story of a man escaping psycho killers. Every encounter set my heart racing, though it’s a strange effect of video games that they are least intimidating during their boss fights. Like the shark from Jaws, they operate better as a threat than a direct encounter. The common mooks known as Molded are equally terrifying, operating more in the Lovecraftian pulsing horror vein.

The game maintains a consistently stressful tone while also shaking things up every stage. Some of my favorite moments involve VHS tapes which Ethan finds, putting the player in control of previous victims. Their integration is ingenious, as Ethan learns key details to aid his own survival. The best of these places a character in a morbid escape room puzzle straight out of the Saw franchise (with two of the franchises featured in this list seemingly drawing from Saw, I guess that series was good for something after all).

The best things about Resident Evil’s constant reinvention is that each era has featured at least one all-time great video game. When these games change things up, they have purpose in doing so. There are times where Resident Evil 7 barely feels like part of the actual series, yet it feels like the fulfillment of what Resident Evil would have offered from the beginning if it only had the technology.

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Re: My Personal Top 100 Video Game Project

Post by BleuPanda » Thu Jun 11, 2020 6:39 pm

Nassim wrote:
Thu Jun 11, 2020 8:27 am
BleuPanda wrote:
Wed Jun 10, 2020 8:58 pm
A common complaint from its release now seems rather precious. Instead of controlling every individual action for each character, the game has something it calls a gambit system. You are given up to 12 lines of “if x, then y” statements for each character. The earlier lines take precedence, so you can set up your healer to raise the unconscious first, heal if no one is knocked out, and then attack if no one needs healing. It’s an ingenious system which allows fluid combat, which is key since this game avoids random encounters by having enemies integrated into the locations. With more RPGs moving toward action combat where the AI controls everyone but the main character, it’s shocking more games haven’t expanded on this feature to give the player precise control over their teammates. The only other game I know which uses a similar system is Dragon Age. While this can cause a lot of battles to essentially play themselves, I find this intricate programming preferable to mashing the attack button against random mobs. The player can always give commands when necessary, and there are plenty of hard encounters which will require restricting the programming. Combat in XII feels a lot more tactical than its predecessors, even when much of it is hands-free.
Until 2 weeks ago, I would have said that any RPG where you only control one character during the fights is a deal breaker for me. That ruined for me FF12, FF13 (among other issues), FF15 (the worst offender, never had any idea what was happening during the fights), Persona 3 (given how much I loved the 5, I am eagerly wairing for some king of reissue of the 3rd where you can give orders to the full party, I know there has been one, but really the terrible decisions by the AI was a real issue in the original version) and Star Ocean 2... and that's why I have stayed clear from the Final Fantasy 7 remake so far.
For some reason, it is working so far for Xenoblade Chronicles, so maybe the curse is left, and I have often seen or read that the gambit system in FF12 was actually a great way to manage this issue. I don't think I gave it enough time to properly use it, wouldn't mind giving it another shot if I had the time.
Persona 3 with controllable party members is great - there's rumors going around that Persona 4 Golden will be released on Steam soon, so hopefully the PSP version of Persona 3 will eventually follow. Also, I don't think I mentioned it explicitly here, but I'm talking about all the games here in their optimum form; the re-release of XII seriously improved things. The original version was definitely a bit tedious, which made the lack of control extreme - the remake includes a 4x speed option which further increases the game's focus on exploration.

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