By Mento 1 Comments
Welcome all once again to a new Comic Commish, this year (well, October to September '14, which is still technically a year) highlighting the best games of the last console generation for those who missed out for whatever reason. Maybe you were strapped for cash over the last six years, maybe you had three jobs and no time for games, maybe were trampled in a 2006 Black Friday sale and spent all that time in a coma, or maybe you were taking part in one of those years-long isolation tests for astronaut training and now need a few hundred Xbox 360 games to whittle away the time while you're slowly flying to Saturn. I'm going to guess probably not the latter, unless there's something my magnanimous sponsor @omghisam isn't telling me. Maybe his imminent space excursion is why he eats so much easily-transportable kale and lentils.
Anyway, I'll highlight three games of particular importance to me with some MS Paint shenanigans, and then pontificate on a whole mess of other games that were available at the time. There'll be gaps, of course, since I didn't play everything from that period (or maybe didn't like them enough to bother mentioning them, see: GTA IV) but hopefully I'll provide a semi-comprehensive idea of what was going on with video games during that period. Or at least with the more overtly RPG-y ones.
December looks at the first half of 2008. All three consoles had been out for a while at this point, and everyone's getting used to making games for them. There's a lot of stuff to choose from, thankfully.
2008 Is Also When Giant Bomb Appeared, So Video Games Might As Well Have Not Existed Until Now
Lost Odyssey perhaps enjoys (if that's the word) a reputation for being a bit on the dour and melancholic side, but as with Blue Dragon a few months previously there's a lot of classic Final Fantasy ideas packed into an interesting world of immortals and powerful magic and, uh, feelings. Oh man, so many feelings. Lost Odyssey adopts a character development system that's somewhat akin to Final Fantasy 9's (Mistwalker founder Hironobu Sakaguchi's last game with Square, coincidentally enough) in that half the cast are able to link to the other half and learn their skills through some sort of competency osmosis. The player is tasked with handling a balancing act to ensure that the very powerful but skill-deprived "Immortals" are always joined by a few of the skill-heavy regular humans. It's a feature that ingeniously requires constant rotation of party members, getting to grips with what each character is good at and the combat role they're meant to play in the process. And as much as I might make fun of the game's melodramatic tone, it's a gorgeous world filled with some wonderful writing and a surprisingly cohesive plot (for a Final Fantasy-derived game, at least).
Just... don't listen to Radiohead while playing this game and you'll probably be fine. Don't have any scissors or sharp utensils nearby either. This is for your own well-being, folks.
I hemmed and hawed about making Opoona one of my three recommendations for this Commish because it's such a hard game to try to explain to people, at which point I realised that's why it's recommendable in the first place. Opoona is, I suppose, an RPG with many side-quests and mini-games that feature as an element of the game's progression. Opoona and his family crash on a planet which has been all but taken over by malevolent forces and the civilized populations huddle beneath protective domes isolated from one another. In order to move from one dome to the next, Opoona either has to solve the problems currently prohibiting travel or earn enough money to afford the fare, or - quite often - both.
I suppose it would be easier to think of it as a cross between a regular JRPG (albeit one that uses some clever motion controls for all its combat) and an open-world game like Saints Row 2: the second Saints Row specifically because a lot of this "optional side-content" is actually required to earn sufficient currency to continue the main story. But it's not like you're being distracted against your will at all: the various mini-games in Opoona, framed as "careers" that Opoona can begin and then summarily abandon for something else, are as much of the core game experience as all the JRPG combat. As I stated at the beginning, Opoona's in a league of its own in many respects. Just another Wii game that defies any quick and easy genre descriptor, which makes me wonder if Nintendo's console really was the also-ran of the last generation...
Initially, I was rather skeptical of Crisis Core. It was part of this huge wave of Final Fantasy 7 nostalgia that was happening at the time, with that Advent Children movie and a mobile game the West was never going to see. I mean, I enjoyed FF7 as much as anyone else at the time, but in the intervening years the internet worked its magic in the way that only the internet can to make me entirely disinterested in experiencing anything more about Cloud Strife (especially in his modern, intensely mopey incarnation) or Lifestreams.
Crisis Core actually has a lot of things going for it, I would later discover. For one, Zack Fair is the classic Final Fantasy hero archetype: impulsive, gregarious and optimistic to a fault. He was less like the Squalls and Tiduses that had taken over as the de facto protagonist template for Square games and more like the Lockes and Bartzes of old. While anyone playing the game would be familiar with his ultimate role to play in Final Fantasy VII proper, watching certain pieces fall in place before the events of that game took place was kind of interesting. Obviously, there was a lot of bullshit too - I'm still not entirely sure all the transforming monster SOLDIERs and Gacht exports were necessary for fleshing out FFVII's Gaia - but the game's divergent personality and bizarre action RPG combat made it feel like its own thing, and helped to justify a reason for it to exist. And even though you spent the whole game knowing it was coming, that ending is still a punch to the gut. Especially with such a powerful theme like this playing in the background.
The Other Ones!
OK, so now that we're all windjammed out for the year, here's all the other games that didn't quite make the cut but are still worth checking out for all those seeking the best that early 2008 had to offer. I mean, unless your tastes are wildly divergent from my own, and there's every reason to assume that they are. I'm a weird guy who likes Japanese RPGs way more than is healthy, after all.
- No More Heroes (Grasshopper, Wii, January) - No More Heroes, the most accessible and down-to-earth that Grasshopper has ever been or might ever be again, features a lot of "throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks" ideas. Suda51's unique sensibility is apparent in both the presentation and the gameplay and, for what is essentially a bunch of boss fights with a lot of padding in-between, there's a solid character action core here. I'm not one for wrasslin moves, usually, but maybe games need more of that business.
- Professor Layton and the Curious Village (Level-5, NDS, February) - What begat a rather long series of puzzle adventure games continues to draw in fans from every walk of life. Level-5 had a great sense of style that set their PS2 games apart from the usual JRPG rabble, and they brought that energy and whimsy and then some to a very British professor's adventures in some incredibly outlandish stories. As long as they knock it off with the matchsticks and sliding blocks in the future, we'll be all set.
- Dragon Quest Swords: The Masked Queen and the Tower of Mirrors (Genius Sonority/Square-Enix, Wii, February) - I'd hesitate to call this a good game. My fascination with it really began some years prior when I first encountered a Dragon Quest rail-shooter game where you were given a plastic sword to swing at the screen. For some reason it just seemed like the coolest thing ever at the time. DQS is a fairly innocuous Dragon Quest spin-off that reminds me more of a Super Scope game now in retrospect, but it's an interesting use of motion controls all the same. I like it a damn sight more than those Dragon Warrior Monster games, if nowhere near as much as Rocket Slime.
- Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Nintendo/HAL, Wii, March) - Brawl disappointed a lot of the hardcore fighter crowd due its easing off of the tight mechanics and introducing more novice-friendly fare like the Smash Orbs, but for the sensible people who approach Smash Bros Brawl as a goofy multiplayer party game it was really more of everything they enjoyed previously. More items, more characters, more modes, more stupid nonsense to stockpile and it all looked stunning in comparison. The bizarre Subspace Emissary mode had a few memorable highlights as well.
- Condemned 2: Bloodshot (Monolith, PS3/360, March) - Condemned 2, likewise, fell apart for a lot of fans of the original, but before it got to that hard-to-justify point where you were shouting at people to kill them, you had such wonderful set-pieces like the early bumfights, the darkly trippy nightmare sequence and that whole tense bit with the bear in the lodge. It may have left players with a sour taste in their mouth upon completion, but was overall a worthy and far more varied successor to the original, which most still regard as the 360's best launch game (those people are crazy by the way: Amped 3 all the way).
- Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis (Gust, PS2, April) - Mana Khemia is actually a spin-off of Gust's various Atelier series, which focus as much on strategic turn-based combat as they do alchemizing and crafting new items from recipes and found reagents. Mana Khemia ties together its magic cookery with a highschool visual novel drama not unlike Persona 4, and there's plenty of goofy moments to enjoy with characters like the overdramatic superhero-obsessed Flay or the "foreign exchange student" Muppy, a tyrannical galactic overlord who looks like a squeaky toy.
- The World Ends With You (Jupiter/Square-Enix, DS, April) - I don't know why I'm putting this here, because I still haven't had the chance to play it myself, but so many people swear by this game. It's certainly not your standard JRPG, what with its odd focus on fashion, music and reapers. Or something. I think I'm just including it so I can guilt myself into buying it later.
- Boom Blox (EA, Wii, May) - Notable for having Steven Spielberg in its credits, Boom Blox is a puzzle game that takes the best parts of Jenga and builds a game around them. Whether your idea of "the best part of Jenga" involves finding new ways to keep a giant stack of blocks from falling over, or reveling in the mayhem once they inevitably do, Boom Blox has you covered.
- Final Fantasy Tactics Advance 2: Grimoire of the Rift (Square-Enix, DS, June) - I didn't think too much of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. I thought the plot had one too many weird flaws (why does Marche strongly insist that none of it is real in earshot of his 'fictional' teammates? Wouldn't they get offended?), the judges and penalties were not an addition I was clamoring for and far too many of FFT's clever little mechanics had to be stripped out to make the game work on a smaller system with way less power. Moving to the DS restored a bit of the game's complexity, and the overall far more agreeable (if generic) story alleviated that element. It's still a far cry from the original PS1 classic, but it got a lot closer and wisely kept everything in FFTA that was worth holding onto.
- Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King (Square-Enix, Wii, June) - WiiWare had a somewhat spotty reputation for pretty much the entirety of its run, since it became a wonderful new avenue for talentless hack developers to unload wave after wave of shovelware and completely submerge the handful of actually worthy games on the platform. My Life as a King took the RPG template and flipped it, allowing you to be the King who issues proclamations to would-be adventurers, building a town that was conducive to their treasure-hoarding and monster-stomping. Deceptively complex, much of the game could be made easier once certain tricks were learned regarding the placement of shops and the sort of adventurer dynamic you wanted to promote to maximize their efficiency. Hardly SimCity territory, but addicting all the same.
Sorry for the unusual amount of Final Fantasy-related games this month. I swear Square-Enix were on some sort of rampage at the time.