20 years since the release of Final Fantasy III (VI) in North America

It's hard to believe that it's been 20 years since one of the greatest jrpgs ever was released in North America. Final Fantasy III (although it's proper number is VI) was Squaresoft's final SNES Final Fantasy game but it cemented Squaresoft's place as one of the best jrpg companies in the market.

I remember waiting almost half a day at the video rental store for someone to return the game so that I could rent it and play it. And the game did not disappoint me in any way.

Final Fantasy III was one of those moments in videogames where a developer takes everything they learned and maximized the potential of the console and the combined knowledge of their past entries to deliver an outstanding product that I consider my favorite Final Fantasy game in the series.

From the sprite work, to the music, to the gameplay systems and its hidden secrets Final Fantasy III was full of secrets and gameplay that was easy to pick up. Characters were all given their own motivations and sub plots just waiting for the player to discover. Villains are equally memorable like the goofy octopus Ultros and his constant run ins with the party. It goes without saying that the game includes one of best transformations from a bumbling sidekick introduction to supervillain for the character Kefka. The pre-recorded laugh that would mark his introduction would mark some of the most memorable scenes in the game.

The set pieces are equally praiseworthy. While today's modern games usually resort to destruction or an explosion to mark a setpiece, Final Fantasy III had numerous crazy sequences including: an opera sequence, diplomatic dinner, even an attempted suicide! There are so many moments I love in the game from its epic introduction:

To one of the finest endings ever created for a jrpg.

At the time when most videogame endings were a few sparse minutes with a congratulations screen, Final Fantasy VI had an ending that dedicated itself to wrapping up every individual character arc (well those that you found) and had some of the best music to accompany it (the way one character theme moved into another blew my mind as a kid).

If you have the time I suggest watching Gametrailers excellent Final fantasy retrospective part about Final Fantasy VI here. It covers everything from development, moments and a multitude of other things that make Final Fantasy VI stand out.

Here's to you Final Fantasy III, one of gaming's most classic games, and a well deserved 20th birthday.

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10 Years of Katamari Damacy

I can't believe it's been 10 years since the first Katamari Damacy game was released. From its quirky visuals, jamming music and weirdly satisfying gameplay; Katamari Damacy is one of the weirdest games I ever enjoyed. Part puzzle game and part action game the idea of rolling up everyday objects to recreate the solar system is just as wacky as the characters and their parallel storylines.

Also the intro freakin rocked.

Happy birthday Katamari Damacy!

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My games of the Year for 2013

2013 saw some great games. A lot of great sequels with 2 series returning to form and a lot of fun indie games. The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One also launched this year and while I only got the PS4, the swan song games of the Xbox 360 and PS3 showed how much developers have mastered this extended console cycle.

Best of 2013

1. Grand Theft Auto VGTA is back with a vengeance. After a more serious approach with IV, V returns to form and very strongly. 3 characters with overlapping narratives and motivations works very well and keeps the pacing flowing nicely (well excluding near the end of the game which feels rushed). The heists are the icing on the cake which have big risks and big rewards. GTA Online is also a fun diversion and adds a whole new level of gameplay after completing the main story.
2. State of DecayProbably doing the only remaining thing I wanted in a zombie game, it added a survival layer. A survival based open world zombie game which added balancing the search for supplies and survivors along protecting your base and keeping your fellow survivors alive. Permadeath also keeps you on your toes, as any wrong move can hurt your group when you lose your strongest survivor. The negative I found was narrative being weak and a lot of plotlines end abruptly or don't seem as well thought out as they could have.
3. Far Cry 3: Blood DragonThe stand alone expansion/DLC to my 2013 GOTY Far Cry 3 it streamlines elements from that game, adds in an 80s flair and crazy techno laser future. A goofy open world first person shooter that plays up 80s cliches and probably has my favorite game ending on-rails sequence taking the action up to crazy levels as you ride a titanium plated cyber dragon.
4. Papers, PleaseBeing a border control agent has never been this fun. While the gameplay is simplistic, the bureaucracy, characters and branching plotlines make this game a lot more enjoyable than I thought. The day to day events are never boring as dealing with smugglers, revolutionaries while trying to make enough money to pay for your family's well keeps the pressure on you while increasing rules and documentation add new twists to your job everyday.
5. Assassin's Creed IV: Black FlagAssassin's Creed is back with and it's a pirate game. A huge turn around from AC III, the tropical setting, refreshing storylines (both real world and ingame) and tweaks to gameplay made this Assassin's Creed fun to play again. The Templar setting and focus offers a different view to the conflict seen in the last few games and the open world Caribbean make this the Pirates of the Caribbean game I wanted to play since Legend of Black Kat.
6. Retro City RampagePart tribute, part demake and all fun Retro City Rampage is an 8 bit styled open world game that honors tons of 8 old Nintendo games.
7. The Last of UsThe Last of Us surprised me with interesting characters and great gameplay. After a slow start, The Last of Us's story is as intriguing as it is insightful providing a nice counter to the upbeat nature of the Uncharted games. The ending sequence is one of my favorite of this year and a powerful conclusion to a journey that takes almost a year to complete.
8. NES RemixMinigames based off of old NES franchises? While the price may seem high, the mixture of nostalgia and some surprisingly difficult challenges captivates my friends and I whenever I boot this game up. Sometimes based on the best moments of games (nothing like beating the original Zelda in 5 minutes) or all new challenges and twists for existing games. The stand outs are the Remix stages that challenge everything you know about these classic games keeping it refreshing and in short enough bursts to prevent a lot of frustration.
9. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between WorldsI remember after playing New Super Mario Bros, really hoping Nintendo would give the same treatment to The Legend of Zelda. A Link Between Worlds feels like that game and presents the portable Zelda experience that I felt missing from the DS games (I could never stand the stylus control methods). The nostalgic overworld but changes to the classic Zelda formulas keep things from feeling stale.
10. Metal Gear Rising: RevengeanceShort enough to not wear out its welcome but crazy combos and a take of the Metal Gear formula that takes itself both seriously and acts like a parody all at the same time. A great action game, nanomachines son.
11. Tomb RaiderThe reboot to Tomb Raider is beautiful and fun. While it borrows a bit too heavily from Uncharted, Tomb Raider does offer more exploration opportunities and a decent enough origin story.
12. BioShock InfiniteWhile the gameplay wasn't that great Bioshock Infinite's ending provides a fitting end to the Bioshock series or a way to provide infinite sequels.
13. Dynasty Warriors 8A refinement of the already great improvements to Dynasty Warriors 7, Dynasty Warriors 8 improves the combo system and adds the great town building minigame from DW7: Xtreme Legends.
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My personal favorite Soundtracks of the Year 2013

With 2013 over its time to reflect on what a great year it was for games and soundtracks. Soundtracks have the difficult task of complimenting what we're seeing onscreen, to get the adrenaline going or make us feel a certain mood when the time is right. From happy and energetic to high tempo intense action, original to licensed, 2013 certainly had its fair list of soundtracks that I'll remember long after I beat the game.

For audio samples, click the link.

My personal favorite Soundtracks of the Year 2013

1. TearawayTearaway's soundtrack stood out to me since so many tracks slowly build up for an audio treat. Pilgrimage is a great example of this. The way it starts with just 2 instruments before kicking up a notch is great. It really complimented the unique nature/feel of the world.
2. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between WorldsComprised of remixes of older Zelda tunes and new ones, A Link Between Worlds has the right mix of nostalgia and updates to make it a fun soundtrack to listen to. Hyrule Field 2 stands out to me as a grand version of the Zelda theme .
3. Grand Theft Auto VWhile GTA games have always had great licensed soundtracks, this is the first one to include actual ambient music during gameplay sections. Used particularly well during the heist sections, my personal favorite is A Haze of Patriotic Fervor. It compliments the frantic action paced nature of some of the missions really well.
4. Far Cry 3: Blood DragonThe Main Theme captures the feeling of old 80s soundtracks so well
5. SimCityAfter hours of waiting and patches and ultimate disappointment one thing that I did really enjoy about SimCity was its fantastic soundtrack.
6. BioShock InfiniteBioShock Infinite probably contains one of my favorite character moments in 2013. Will the Circle be Unbroken's moment of calm and yet subtle hint at the narrative was a perfect choice for the game's soundtrack.
7. Papers, PleaseNothing says ex-Soviet republic like the theme to Papers Please.
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15 years of Metal Gear Solid

While I was in highschool I had a Nintendo 64 and never got to play the original Metal Gear Solid until I owned a PlayStation 2. However from the moment I put that disk into my console I was hooked. The story, presentation and gameplay were all top notch for the time. The voice acting was also leagues ahead of anything else heard at the time, I remember my friend and I were in awe with the voicework for Snake and Ocelot during their first duel. And while some things haven't aged well (character models), the game still has some of the best story and twists in the entire franchise.

Mixing biology lessons, nuclear deterrence theory all while in the backdrop of trying to stop a terrorist attack Metal Gear Solid was a game that set the standard for cinematic games that perhaps only Metal Gear Solid 2 was able to surpass.

Happy birthday Metal Gear Solid! The best is yet to come.

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20 years of Secret of Mana

I can hardly believe it's already been 20 years since the release of Secret of Mana. One of the first coop action-rpg games I played with friends and family. I remember the first winter we spent grinding spells and weapons all for the additional points of power. While I never had a multitap, the idea of playing 3 players was something I always wanted to do.

Featuring 3 distinct characters (although they all used the same weapons) the Secret of Mana's mix of fantasy and technology worked. The globe trotting adventure featured Cannon travel, a sandship, killer rabbites and even Santa Claus. The Thanatos fight remains one of my favorite boss encounters due to the remixed theme music they played. And the opening alone (music embedded) was worth the price of admission.

Definitely one of my favorite SNES rpgs, I recommend anyone who hasn't tried it to give it a shot.

Now you're talking number one!

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Driving my truck - A look at the audience for the simulator game

I'll admit after the brilliant Giantbomb quick look of Euro Truck Driving Simulator 2 I downloaded the rather lengthy demo from the official webpage and played it for quite a while. They don't sound like a very entertaining game yet, somehow when I'm playing everything just clicks together for a rather calm experience (well except those extra heavy loads that can really unbalance your truck when turning). As crazy as it may sound my friends and I were talking about how Euro Truck Simulator 2 was a mix between Shipping Wars and Need for Speed.

Yet after doing a bit of research I found that these simulators have a huge niche appeal. As a kid I remember playing Microsoft Flight Simulator for hours at a time at a friend's house. Sure the graphics were primative yet somehow there was no game experience like it. Flying, landing and seeing the rather authentic simulation of how to fly a plane was amazing as a kid. Here I am years later driving a 16 wheeler across Europe to deliver loads of potatoes before I run out of gas in the middle of a rainstorm.

Gamasutra has a rather interesting article about the rise (or is it return) or specific the simulation game genre: Who's Buying All These Niche Simulation games anyway?

"There are kids 8-12 playing the games - players who are not yet into FPS or other core genres, but are captivated by the idea of driving these big vehicles. I guess every boy at age 7 or so wanted to drive a cement mixer or garbage truck or something similar,"

And then there's the strong 35+ male audience -- "basically people who have some professional, or should I say emotional, ties to trucking or transportation industry typically," Sebor notes.

Goofy, underrated and yet somehow very enduring to me I'm glad that games like these still exist in today's post Modern Warfare world.Now if you don't mind I have some cargo from London to Leipzig that needs transport.

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