Is Xenogears Really An Evangelion Clone?


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Twelve years ago, I stumbled upon a sci-fi RPG called Xenogears that featured anime character designs. As someone who had spent relatively little time with anime, this had little impact on my enjoyment of the game. What set Xenogears apart from most games I had played was its complex story and characters.

Being aware of Gundam, I knew that Xenogears’ use of giant robots wasn’t completely original, but I also wasn’t familiar with another of its inspirations: Neon Genesis Evangelion. This anime series was a major success in Japan, but not knowing any fans of the genre, it was completely off my radar.

When I began frequenting game websites and video-sharing abodes such as YouTube, I finally learned of Evangelion’s existence. On Xenogears videos and threads, I observed comments detailing their similarities – primarily, their use of giant robots and characters with inner struggles. Some posters even went as far as saying that Xenogears was a muddled Evangelion clone. Due to these claims, I eventually decided to purchase Evangelion. Despite not enjoying most anime I’d seen, I figured that I’d love it if the two truly had much in common.

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After watching a few episodes, I quickly learned that the show was primarily about a boy’s inner struggles. There was the overarching plot of a world in chaos (due to a massive meteor strike) being further overrun by mysterious angels, which necessitated finding special children to pilot Evangelions (aka giant robots), but Shinji overcoming his fears and his feelings of abandonment by his father were at the forefront.

Evangelion featured giant robot battles and personal issues, but it didn’t feel as meaningful or exciting as Xenogears. For every rare moment of introspection, there were several juvenile scenes. Personally, I didn’t find them offensive, but they made it harder to take the show’s themes seriously.

Xenogears, on the other hand, was able to tackle touchy subjects such as imperialism and slavery as well as inner conflicts, because of its believable cast. Fei’s personality separation made sense because of the horrible experiments he was forced to endure and not knowing who his parents truly were. Elly having mixed feelings about Solaris was also reasonable, because it was the only home she’d known, but she also had seen the way lower-class citizens were treated at home and on the surface. Krelian’s loss of faith in humanity and God also made sense when his prayers weren’t answered and when he the resistance movement was betrayed due to the greed of a select few.

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Evangelion’s fighting also felt purposeless. A select few children were fighting to save humanity, but it didn’t seem like the angels they were fighting had any reason for being there. The leaders of Solaris, on the other hand, had concrete goals, which they tackled with an elaborate plan. Xenogears’ dozens of characters all had motives for their actions, but I rarely got that impression from Evangelion’s cast.

The visual styles of Evangelion and Xenogears have a little more in common than their stories, characters, and themes. Both make use of giant robots and other science-fiction elements, but Evangelion occurs strictly in an urban environment, while Xenogears includes hamlets, deep sea caves, and aerial metropolises.

 Xenogears’ gear and character designs are also more fantastical. Characters such as Grahf, Id, and Rico are clearly not meant to resemble contemporary humans, while Evangelion’s characters look more realistic. Of course gears and evangelions don’t exist, so they can’t be compared to modern weaponry, but Xenogears has an orchestra of distinct robots while Evangelion has a select few. Overall, I found Xenogears more visually appealing – likely due to its variety.

As for their musical scores, both have some memorable songs, but I’d say that Xenogears has the upper hand, once again. While Evangelion’s theme song stands out, Xenogears has tracks that perfectly suit each area. When you first set foot in Aveh, it feels like you’re in a lively Middle Eastern market. Likewise, you feel like a “man of the sea” when you patrol the deck of the Thames. As for Evangelion -- I couldn’t remember any of its music until I looked it up on Youtube.

So, do Evangelion and Xenogears have much in common? Not really – other than superficial differences. They both use giant robots and their protagonists’ inner struggles are important to their stories, but Xenogears has a lot more going on than Fei’s struggle to find himself. Both play to their mediums well, but Xenogears is ultimately the deeper experience.


The Least Obvious, Yet Most Annoying Cliché


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Living through economic downturns, being a target of violence or theft, witnessing political upheaval -- they're all part of being human. When thrust into turbulent environments, we tend to find comfort in the familiar -- whether it be Classic Rock, a Harry Potter book, or a Super Mario game.

Yet, despite this appreciation for what we already know, we're quick to judge what's banal. No matter how well-crafted, works of fiction containing cliché elements-- ranging from books to video games quickly become grating to an audience who places a greater importance on innovation than fun.

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Originality is typically central to the advancement of a medium, but unfortunately, placing too much importance on the unfamiliar often causes people to reject works that project clichés without thoroughly analyzing them. Rejecting a 40-hour role-playing game because a character has amnesia isn't much different than calling Calvin & Hobbes childish after examining a cover featuring six-year old Calvin in a wagon or refusing to listen to a Mozart piece that uses an arpeggio also found in a Bach composition. 

Hackneyed products are rarely appreciated by critics, but the gaming press is especially notorious for its frequent use of the term 'cliché.' describes a cliché as: "A trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse..." Game journalists commonly use "cliché" to describe elements of Japanese role-playing games, which unfortunately, dulls the term's meaning and leads to a lack of thought-provoking discussion.

Certainly, it makes sense for writers to use "cliché" on occasion, but generally, it's a lazy, stereotypical way to describe games that authors more often than not haven't even played. Deeming the use of characters with amnesia in JRPGs a cliché may illustrate a lack of creativity in designing main character backgrounds or plot devices, but it also denies the potential individuality of such characters.

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Likewise, focusing on JRPG clichés such as "anime character designs" and "save-the-world plots" is a glaring misrepresentation of a diverse genre. Certainly, it's undeniable that such elements exist, but if that's the sole focus of a Tales of Vesperia review, readers who haven't experienced the game wouldn't be aware that the Tales series places more emphasis on character interactions than story, and that Vesperia's central theme is more of a discussion on whether the law should always be upheld rather than a tale on world salvation.

This unfair use of the term 'cliché' rarely extends beyond the JRPG genre in the gaming press. Shortly after the release of the Xbox 360 and the rise of open-world games, sites such as IGN proclaimed JRPGs a stale, archaic genre with an abundance of clichés, while trite elements of other genres frequently went unnoticed.

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IGN portrays Gears of War 2's 350 pound, f-bomb dropping space marines as meaningful characters that enhance its drama, while the opening paragraph of its Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World Review makes the latter title sound like a cliché-ridden relic. In IGN's Gears of War 2 Review, Nate Ahearn writes: 
"Without spoiling anything, Epic did a wonderful job of keeping the focus where it belongs while still giving the new characters meaningful roles that not only enhance the drama but also evolve the motivations of the Locust."

This is inconsistent with Daemon Hatfield's Dawn of the New World Review that focuses on clichés from the get-go:

"Tales of a run of the mill, standard JRPG without a single original idea in its head. Sullen country boy with a bad haircut destined to save the world? Check. An awkwardly translated, incomprehensible story? Check. Monster hunting? Check. This entire package -- from the story to the gameplay to the visuals -- feels like a relic we should have grown out of by now."

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Dawn of the New World undoubtedly features familiar RPG experiences such as monster hunting, but focusing on that particular element (that actually bears little similarity to Pokémon) hides this JRPG's unique content. Due to Daemon's focus on the game's few clichés, readers wouldn't be aware of Emil's growth from a cowardly individual into a more altruistic being who eventually reveals himself as a Norse Mythology-inspired god whose aim is to purify the planet by wiping out humankind.

Mentioning clichés occasionally isn't harmful, but when the term is abused, its use becomes a cliché in itself. It's important to support innovative products and recognize stereotypes, but if what's unoriginal becomes the focus of our examinations, we may miss the intent of what we're analyzing.

If historians only focused on what the Romans borrowed from Greek culture, they would have missed out on their massive road networks essential to their military success and their phenomenal sewage systems that provided for more sanitary living conditions. Likewise, it's important that game journalists don't get entangled in familiar plot devices and instead focus on comprehensive analysis to encourage fair and in-depth video game coverage.


Final Fantasy IV: The After Years--Three New Episodes

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Most RPG fans have probably heard of Final Fantasy IV's episodic sequel by now, but in case you missed out on The After Years due to E3, here's a quick recap.  The After Years is a series of nine episodes that were originally created for cell phone, and now they've been ported to WiiWare.  Instead of receiving a graphical revamp, The After Years looks similar to the original, albeit bigger character sprites and widescreen support.  The world map and towns are replicas of those found in Final Fantasy IV, with a few minor additions.  Over the course of nine episodes, you'll travel to nearly every dungeon and town you frequented in the original, but this time, you'll spelunk a few new caves and travel to previously inaccessible areas, such as the Devil's Road.  Besides featuring a sparse amount of new environments, The After Years also relies on the original's tunes.  So far, I've noticed two new additions to the FFIV repertoire, but for the most part, you're experiencing a slightly remixed soundtrack.

Besides featuring familiar graphics and music, you'll also get to play as many of the characters from the original.  Most of the now-aging characters have several padawans of their own.  You'll find that they have similar techniques, but a slightly neutered skill-set.  For example, Rydia no longer has the ability to summon, and she lacks many of her high level spells.  Characters do have some new abilities, however.  They now have the ability to perform combination attacks similar to techs found in Chrono Trigger, and their magic abilities and physical attack power are partially dependent on the current phase of the moon.  Camping or staying at inns can alter the state of the moon, so use this to your advantage.

Throughout The After Years, you'll find many familiar scenarios and inside jokes that only FFIV veterans will understand.  You'll witness several flashback scenes and references to past events; for example, Yang's wife jokes to his daughter that she won't hit him with a frying pan this time when leaving on a voyage.  Fans of the turncoat Kain, will also behold familiar scenarios.

A full review of the first two scenarios has been available for quite some time, but I'll now bring you a complete review of the three episodes released on July 6th.  These episodes bring back a few of my favorite characters.  One episode lets you play as the karate man, Yang; another has you playing as a cocky black mage named, Palom; and the final episode to this FFIV trifecta has you playing as the dashing ninja, Edge.  Each of these episodes is fairly brief, so I'll write a mini-review for each one.

Yang's Tale

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Coming off of Rydia's episode, which should have been titled, "The World's Ultimate Grindfest," I wasn't expecting much.  Having to gain fifteen levels to complete a dungeon wasn't my idea of fun, but being a glutton for punishment, I prepared to get pummeled by Yang's kicks.  When I fired up his episode, I witnessed this badass martial artist in his full glory.  I was immediately thrown into a battle with many of Yang's students.  After making them look like wimpy white belts, Yang's tale began. 

During the seven years since the end of FFIV, Yang had become king of Fabul, and had a baby with his wife, Sheila.  His daughter, Ursula, was a tomboy who wanted to follow in the footsteps of her father.  She desired to become a strong warrior, but Yang wanted her to become a properly lady.  He didn't seem against training her, but Yang was concerned that she only desired power.  After asking her father to train her, Ursula runs off to Mt. Hobs after he refuses, which is where Cecil met Yang in Final Fantasy IV.  Yang and his gang of monks decide to rush after her, and the adventure commences. 

Much of what takes place on Mt. Hobs is similar to what occurs in the original, but Yang's adventure then takes you to other places.  Yang travels to two entirely new destinations, but much of his adventure will feel vaguely familiar.  Thankfully, his journey isn't too difficult, and there is a  nice balance of story and gameplay.  You won't find yourself gaining fifteen levels here, unlike Rydia's absurd quest.  The new dungeons are nothing special, but at least they're not simply caves like some of the new dungeons in other episodes.

Yang's adventure doesn't bring much new to the table, but it is one of the better episodes of The After Years.  The new characters didn't have much of an impact on me, but some of the familiar events and great dialogue provided for some nostalgia.  It's a shame that Yang doesn't say, "ACHOOO," like in the horribly mistranslated FFIV (FFII SNES version), but there are still some humorous moments.  If you wish Yang had died in the Tower of Babil, you might not want to experience this one hour and forty minute adventure, but otherwise, I'd say it's worth the 300 points.

Score: 7.5

Palom's Tale

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Remember that cocky kid with the twin sister who used to conk him on the head?  Yeah?  Well, Palom is back.  It's too bad you can't play as the now deceased mage Tellah (thanks Golbez), but Palom is pretty fun to use despite being somewhat of a jerk.  In this tale, Palom has been entrusted by the Elder of Mysidia with helping some Epopts (Troian clerics).  At the beginning of the journey, you can already tell that Palom is reluctant to go on this voyage across the sea, as he's quite a jerk to the sailors.  He is easily able to intimidate them, and seems annoyed with their use of formalities.  When he lands at Troia, he's instructed to train a new Epopt, because one of the eight Epopts who are needed to govern Troia is ill.  Palom wonders why he was sent, since he's a user of black magic and Epopts are experts in the art of white magic, but he quickly learns that they have other ambitions.

The girl he is supposed to train, Leonora, clearly isn't interested in being a mere Epopt; she desires to become a great sage, and Palom quickly catches on to this.  Leonora seems quite shy and lacks confidence in her abilities, and Palom is quick to criticize her self-doubt and lack of motivation.  He takes her through a new dungeon--a tower south of Troia, where she has to pass a test in order to become an Epopt.  This tower is quite lengthy, with a test on almost every floor.  Thankfully, it's a breeze for the most part due to Palom's repertoire of black magic and the prevalence of healing pots in this multi-storied dungeon. 

Once you return to Troia, you quickly learn that the world is under assault by a mysterious assailant like in the other quests.  As a result, you're entrusted with the safe-keeping of the Earth Crystal, and anyone who's played FFIV should be able to guess what happens next (hint: there's a familiar dungeon nearby).

Palom is a bit snarky for my tastes, but I still had some fun with his two hour quest.  The final dungeon bored me, as I'd already been there in FFIV, but overall, a decent time was had.  Just make sure to save regularly, because the final boss can be brutal if you're not prepared.  By the end of the episode, The After Years' story finally seemed to be progressing, and I'm happy to report that there was no ridiculous cliffhanger as in Yang's episode.  If you have an innate talent for magic and/or admire snarky black mages, this episode is probably worth your while.

Score: 7.0

Edge's Tale

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The previous two episodes followed similar conventions--you guide a familiar character through a short story involving scenarios pulled straight out of the first game, and occasionally, you'd explore a new dungeon.  Well, Edge's quest doesn't entirely do away with these conventions, but it does apply a new scenario system.  Like the beginning of Yang's quest, Edge trains a group of ninjas in the traditional arts of his kingdom.  They seem eager to become the best ninjas in the world, and Edge wonders why, due to it being a peaceful era.  Unfortunately, a foreboding atmosphere is spoiling the temporary tranquility, and Edge realizes he needs some reconnaissance done to figure out what is happening with the world.  Edge's ninjas beg to be scouts for the kingdom of Eblan, so Edge assigns each of them with a mission.  One of his ninjas ends up as a black mage trainee in Mysidia; another is assigned to the Kingdom of the Dwarves in the underworld; a third (female) ninja is sent to Troia as an Epopt trainee; and finally, a fourth ninja is sent to a new dungeon where  a meteor crashed (that you have already seen if you played Yang's adventure).

Each of these ninja missions are dungeon crawls, but the game seems to progress regardless of whether or not you finish them.  Being a ninja has its benefits, as you're often able to easily escape from battle.  However, for some ninja missions, such as the one in Troia, you won't want to escape from battles, because a powerful boss lurks at the top.  For that mission, and the one in the underworld, you'll want to level up your characters.  During the other missions, you can feel free to flee from battle as often as you'd like, due to their easy nature.  What I found interesting about these missions is that one even gives you a gameplay choice where a character's life can be sacrificed.

Finally, after completing all of these missions, Edge will decide to investigate the Tower of Babil himself.  He'll later be joined by his crew of ninjas who will team up to assault the tower's merciless baddies.  You won't encounter Ruibcante this time (or will you?), but you'll witness some familiar events, and will be saved by pure luck.

Edge's quest is an interesting addition to The After Years' library.  It's nice being able to travel to a variety of locations in one episode, but sadly, you've been to most of these locales before.  At least the villagers have new dialogue this time.  If you don't mind fighting (or running) from battles, Edge's episode is worth a play-through.  Edge is one of my favorite characters (personality and appearance-wise), and he generally lives up to his name (although he's not quite as funny as in the original).  If you don't mind retreading familiar ground for two hours, gather some shurikens and get ready to hurl ninja stars.

Score: 7.5


Games Inspired By God

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As I was transcribing and commenting on EGM's Top 100 list, I came across a game that is holier than thou.  This sacred game, Bible Adventures is displeasing to the Lord, but nevertheless I decided to research the company that created it.  Turns out, they have several award winners that for some reason or another never ended up on EGM's greatest games lists.  Some of these classics include: Jesus in Space, Bible Adventures, Spiritual Warfare, Noahs Ark 3D (their typo, not mine), Bible Touchdown, Bible Grand Slam Deluxe, Galilee Flyer, Interactive Parables, and last but not least, GodSpeed. 

These games intrigued me for several reasons, but one thing that amazed me were their clever titles that emphasize the core values of Christianity.  Take Spiritual Warfare for example.  It features what Jesus himself promoted: warfare.  A knight with a sword has a prominent place on the box art, so clearly this is a game about defeating the infidel.  Of course that's not at all like what terrorists in the Middle East are doing, right?  This game clearly represents the Christian ideal of "loving your neighbor as yourself".  Boy, is this Wisdom Tree sure doing devout Christians a service by giving them alternative products to those evil secular games that also promote violence.  The best thing about this ground breaking title however, is that it's only $7.50.  Isn't this incredible deal enticing?  You get a game that has low-quality NES graphics for only $2.50 less than a mediocre XBLA title like Bionic Commando.

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Even though the devil was tempting me to purchase Spiritual Warfare, I resisted, and focused on one of Wisdom Tree's other spectacular adventures.  This game that kept my spirit whole was none other than Jesus in Space.  Unlike some other games on Wisdom Tree's website, Jesus in Space works with Windows Vista and only costs $22.95.  Before I scrounged up some lunch money, I decided to read the description of the game on the developer's website.  The premise even puts classics like Chrono Trigger to shame.  Here is the divine description that is clearly the will of the lord: "Join Captain Paul Hammer, Lieutenant Stu Dent, and Shelbot the Brainy Robot on a "Great Commission Adventure" to teach the Gospel on newly discovered worlds.  Man, don't you love all those clever puns like "Stu Dent?"  Honestly, if I was to travel into space, the first thing I would do is spread the "wisdom of the Lord" into space.  I mean come on, we're incredibly intelligent people right?  We do great things like build up huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons, enslave others, commit genocide, spread faith by the sword, and create biological weapons.  Clearly, God wants us to impart "divine" wisdom found in the Bible to other species that were not fortunate enough to receive "his message".  Well, as fun as journeying to places like "Planet Vet," "Planet Whammo," and "Ice Moon Alpha" sound, I decided to conjure up some new titles Wisdom Tree fans might enjoy.  Here are my divinely inspired ideas:

First I would create a sequel to Jesus in Space called, Jesus' Submarine Adventure.  In it, Jesus would shoot Bibles at enemies of God and mingle with Peter the Dolphin.

My second title is called, Thomas Doubts the Priest.  In this fantastic adventure, Thomas will go around to various churches and harass priests until they expel him from their respective places of worship.  Thomas can throw pies, install cherry bombs in toilets, and spy on priests with binoculars.  The goal of the adventure is to reveal the pedophile priests without getting excommunicated by the church.

Finally, I would create  a sequel to Galilee Flyer called Peter Paddle Battle.  In the game, Peter will challenge good Samaritans to high speed races across the tranquil Sea of Galilee.  If Peter hits Jesus who is walking on water, the game automatically ends.  However, Peter can sink boats using his holy cannon as long as they aren't followers of Jesus.

Unfortunately, God is no longer communicating with me, so I am out of ideas for the moment, but hopefully Wisdom Tree will consider creating these sure-to-be epic games.  Who needs Final Fantasy XIII when you can play Peter's Paddle Battle?


Cheap Game Extensions: The End of Game Grind

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How many times have you played video games where the end-of-game difficulty is a quantum leap over  the rest of the game?  I can think of numerous titles that gave me little trouble over the twenty or more hours I played, when all of the sudden, the challenge ramps up to astronomical levels.   Even if a game that has an erratic difficulty curve is phenomenal, it can leave a sour taste in your mouth.  When I think about difficulty spikes, a few games come to mind: Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, Suikoden V, Dragon Quest IV, and Terranigma.  Sure, there are games in other genres that have this problem (Mega Man comes to mind), but this problem seems to be especially frequent in RPGs. 

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Out of this entire list, Star Ocean: Till the End of time is the most blatant offender.  For the most part, Star Ocean 3 is fairly easy as long as you fight enemies consistently and continue to buy new weapons.  There comes a point in the game however, where the difficulty curve makes a leap the equivalent of a small town like Podunk growing into a bustling metropolis like LA.  I was making quick work of the game's bosses, when suddenly, regular enemies started making me run for the hills.  You would think it'd be wise to sit and fight these insanely difficult enemies to gain massive amounts of experience, but as they say in Star Trek, resistance is futile.  Not only do these enemies send your characters crying to their mamas, but they also give paltry amounts of experience.  Why waste your time fighting these nearly invincible foes when you can waste hours fighting paraplegic enemies that give you the same amount of experience?  The problem is--neither option works.  What you have to do instead, is spend countless hours with a weapon-making mini-game.  Some people might enjoy that kind of thing, but for someone like me that mainly wants to experience the central story, this forced side quest turned me off as quickly as Fabio repels straight males.

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As I mentioned earlier, Star Ocean: Till the End of time isn't the only guilty party.  Suikoden V is another game that infuriated me towards the end.  To me, Suikoden V was a great prequel to the Suikoden series that lived up to the legacy of the first two games.  The politically charged narrative was great, and the various battle systems gave me no trouble as usual.  However, like FFVI, the end forces you to split up into three parties of six.  This probably doesn't sound that bad, but when you consider the fact that you have to spend several hundred thousand potch (Suikoden's currency) on upgrading weapons and armor for your characters, this can be a grueling experience.  I was playing Suikoden V in the summer, and coming home from painting to grind for hours wasn't a fun experience.  I persevered and earned the money necessary to buy my characters equipment, but only because I cared about the Suikoden series enough to see the game's conclusion.  The end of Suikoden V was a pain, but at least I managed to complete it, unlike Star Ocean 3.

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Dragon Quest IV is another game that robbed me of my precious time.  Previously, I hated everything Dragon Quest related, but this was the first DQ (besides the ice cream) that I actually enjoyed.  The scenario system was innovative, and the dialogue was charming, despite the sometimes poor accents.  As you probably already know, Dragon Quest games are about as traditional as you can get when it comes to RPGs, so there's non-stop grinding.  I didn't mind too much throughout most of the game, because the battles are generally fast-paced, and I didn't have to run in circles to level up that often, but things got out of hand at the end of the game.  I had been terrorizing the game's bosses, but the head honcho decided to give me grief.  This sleezebagano decimated my nearly unstoppable party the first few times I fought him.  I took the hint, and spent a couple hours leveling up, so I could thrash him, but once again, I wasted valuable time.  Square-Enix could have easily done a little fine-tuning to balance the final boss, but I guess they wanted us to work for it.  It would have been nice if they only made the extended portion of the game a grind fest, but I guess this is Dragon Quest.

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The final flagrant fouler I'd like to mention is Terranigma.  In comparison to the other games I mentioned, the crimes committed by Terranigma are minor; Terranigma's end is the equivalent of shoplifting, while the other games committed capital murder.  I recently played through Terranigma, and I only died a couple times during the entire game, mostly due to careless mistakes.  Fast-forward to the final boss, and the game is suddenly incredibly unbalanced.  Terranigma warns you to save before descending to the underworld to encounter this godly foe, but with three save files, it's likely that some gamers would ignore the warning.  There was a reason for this warning: You can't return to the surface to level up to prepare for this brutal boss encounter.  Due to using an emulator, I managed to beat the final boss with relatively low levels (level 29 to be exact), but it took nearly two hours of utilizing my quick reflexes and the handy save state option.  If I had known about this unbalanced final boss, I would have gained two to four extra levels to do uber-damage to this titan.   This boss is so unbalanced that players with a character level of lower than 31 will have an extremely difficult time defeating him.  When you're below level 31, your attacks do a paltry 2-5 damage, so you have to strike him for what seems like an eternity.  This game is old, so I can let that slide, but it's inexcusable that games of today are still using these cheap gameplay extension tricks.

After experiencing multiple games with erratic difficulty curves, I've decided that enough is enough.  I'm sure that I'm not the only gamer that feels this way, so I thought I'd ask what you, the gaming community thinks.  Are games with huge difficulty spikes inexcusable in this day and age?  Should developers spend more time balancing their software?  Is this kind of practice acceptable as long as they warn us ahead of time? 

It is time for game developers to hear our voice.


Terranigma: Unraveling The Mystery

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Welcome to part two of my journey in the world of Terranigma--a relatively unknown Action-RPG classic that never reached our shores.  To catch up on my sojourn in this mysterious world, review this entry.  Like my previous journal, spoilers await, so those of you who plan to explore the world of Terranigma would be advised to avoid this manuscript as if it were swine-flu.

For many of you, time is of the essence, so here is a brief synopsis of my previous journey.  I, the mischievous boy known as Ark, lived in a village known as Crysta, which I previously believed to be the epicenter of the Universe.  One day, I violated the Elder's trust and opened a mysterious door that brought a calamity upon my village.  The Elder then made me aware that this village was a part of a vast underworld and sent me on a journey to restore my village.  After activating five towers and restoring five continents: Eurasia, North America, South America, Africa, and Australia, my village reawakened.  The Elder then sent me on a journey to restore the world above.  I transformed what was once a barren wasteland into a world that was full of lush vegetation, flocks of birds, animals that roamed the Earth, and I brought about the restoration of humankind.  This journey was a grueling experience, so I lost consciousness for three years after reviving humankind.

Returning to the present, I awoke in small village in Tibet teaming with yaks and monks.  I hadn't witnessed a single human since my journey to the surface of the Earth, so this was a surprise.  I was made aware that I had been out cold for three years, so I once again attempted to find my place in this rapidly transforming world.  Before awakening, I had heard the Elder's voice.  He entrusted me with a new task: revive "The Genius".  Could he have been any more vague?  First, I was thrust into a land devoid of life, and now, I had to find a "Genius" in a land that was the polar opposite of what I had previously witnessed.  I wondered why the Elder knew so much? And why did he desire the revival of the surface and its inhabitants, when he previously secluded me and the rest of his village from the outside world.  I realized that regardless of what the Elder was thinking, I must press on with my journey; otherwise, there would be no hope of returning to my beloved homeland.

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I decided to meet with the spiritual leader of this village hoping that he'd direct me towards this "genius".  I didn't find what I was looking for, but a traveler from afar interrupted our meeting and notified the village ruler, Kumari, of his missing granddaughter.  Apparently, the old man's granddaughter frequented this hidden village that was once home to her deceased parents.  As I expected, they asked for my assistance, but I was willing to oblige, since I figured this might give me a starting point for my next journey.  I immediately set out in search of this girl and the hidden village.  Without much difficulty, I discovered this village in the middle of a desert.  For a hidden village, it was quite a lively place.  Village people went about their business and they seemed to like this girl I was searching for.  After entering a house where she was mentioned, I discovered her after crawling through an inactive fireplace.  Being covered in soot was no big deal, but I was furious when she rejected my offer to take her home.  Her tantrum made me reconsider my options, so I decided to cool off at the local inn.


After resting, I awoke to a town full of the undead.  These walking corpses were out for my blood, so I had to quickly devise a plan to save myself and the girl.  I wondered why these people that were previously human were suddenly undead?  Did someone cast a spell on them?  My racing thoughts had to wait while I hunted for the girl through unconventional means.  With the help of the girl's scarf, her dog, and a holy emblem, I managed to find her amongst the hordes of the revolting undead.  When I discovered her, she was once again angry, but at least she was a little more talkative this time.  She informed me that she had created a mirage to make this undead city look like the town she formerly inhabited.  This girl, Meilin, hadn't gotten over her dead parents, so she would frequent the city to relive her memories.  Her powers enabled her to do so.   This time, I was able to take her back to her grandfather without any major problems.

Meilin's grandfather was joyful upon her return, so he and the village leader gave me directions that would enable me to reach new lands.  Their advice was to travel to a camp of nomads that would teach me how to cross a seemingly endless desert. 

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When I reached the village of the nomads, they clearly resented city-dwellers like myself, but they imparted their wisdom that would enable me to cross the vast desert to the west.  I basically had to follow certain landmarks that would allow me to reach the exit without much trouble.  After sweating buckets, I reached a land abundant with chlorophyll.  These grasslands were a refreshing change of pace.  I soon discovered a medium-sized town, and decided to enter.  This was the village of Loire, and it appeared to be a European village.  The town of Loire was governed by a monarch who resided in a nearby castle, but it was also home to an interesting group of villagers; most notably one that had aspirations of liberty and democracy.  His wishes seemed like a pipe dream in this strictly governed domain, so I ignored him and decided to enter the castle.

The castle was home to a king, guards, servants, and a princess.  This princess was of a foreign land--a village of which she was the last remnant, so the king took her under his wing.  A female knight under his command named Fyda was responsible for the princess' protection.  I was soon made aware that this princess was mute, so foreign suitors had been entering the castle with the goal of helping her regain her voice. I tried my hand at making the princess speak, but I failed miserably.  As a clueless foreigner, I felt hopelessly lost, so I went in search of a solution.  By sleuthing, I had discovered a few clues: a Robin Hood-like figure was locked inside of the castle, the king appeared to have a bad reputation, a townsperson mentioned he was looking for a mushroom in a small forest, and there was the village the princess was from.  The princess' former home was guarded by a dense forest that was impassable without a certain item.  A magical bell was needed to guide a person through this forest, and it was in the possession of the king, so the only way to obtain that item would be to resort to thievery. 

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With the forest impassable and the thief locked up, there was only one option--I went in search of the mushroom.  I brought the magical fungi back to the townsperson who requested it, and he soon concocted a sleeping potion, which he then gave to me free of charge.  Being mischievous and not wanting this generous fellow's work to go to waste, I decided to enter the kitchen of the castle and slip a bit of this tasty potion into the cook's stew.  I then exited the castle, and made my return after dinner.  The guards were out cold, so the first thing I did was pilfer the keys off a sleeping guard. I then used my newly acquired key on the lone thief's jail cell.  He thanked me and gave me some advice.  I was told that the king's treasure was hidden behind a statue in his room, so I made like Locke and bolted into the monarch's bedroom.  Sure enough, the statue near his bed contained a secret.  I pushed it to the side and crawled through a hole in the wall to discover a tower.  The king's bell awaited me at the top of the tower.  After obtaining my prize, I quickly escaped the castle without being detected.  I then entered a dense forest maze.

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Without the bell, this forest would be impassable, so I equipped it to guide me in the correct direction.  I soon discovered the bridge to the village, but it was in worse shape than Zenan, so I had to take a longer route.  After reaching the village, I found that Meilin (the girl I saved previously who created the mirage) had been following me.  What was more interesting however, was that this village looked exactly the same as my hometown, except for the fact that this place was devoid of life.  The princess was from this village, and she looked exactly like my hometown sweetheart, Elle.  Her name was even the same.  What the hell was going on here?  Unfortunately, I couldn't go any further because of a pack of wolves that were guarding the village.  An item I discovered deep within the forest repelled the wolves who would have torn me to pieces, so I was then free to enter.

Once I was inside the town, I discovered the village's past with the help of Meilin.  Meilin had the ability to see what had transpired, so she offered to create a mirage in the hope that Elle would then speak.  We quickly returned to the castle, and Meilin unleashed her mirage.  In the mirage, we discovered that the king had been seeking a great treasure hidden in this village, and no one would reveal its location.  In a rage, he decided to wipe out the entire village.  Elle was the only person saved for unknown reasons, but her parents had been murdered.  After knowing that Elle had discovered the truth, the king expelled me from the castle.  I rested a night before proceeding onward in my journey.

The next morning when I awoke, I discovered that the king was dead and Princess Elle was nowhere to be found.  Had Elle murdered the king?  Was the princess kidnapped?  I was unable to return to the castle to find the answers, so instead, I participated in a town election before moving on.  Through voting, I helped the citizen wanting liberty and democracy obtain a position of power.  I then moved on to a previously inaccessible area guided by a toll booth.

I soon reached a small Portuguese fishing village where I received word that the Castle of Spain had turned into a nightmare.  Columbus, who had recently returned from an overseas voyage had been imprisoned there unjustly, because he was blamed for the death of the Queen's three sons.  Apparently, the Queen went berserk and  murdered everyone in the castle.  I decided to see if the rumors were true, so I headed to the Castle of Spain with the hope of rescuing Columbus and securing a vessel to cross the sea.

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Upon arriving at the castle, I noticed that it emitted a foul odor and the grounds were seeping with poison.  The Castle of Spain was filled with puzzles and difficult enemies.  Four portraits were missing jewel eyes, so I had to return the jewels to their proper sockets.  These jewels wouldn't be easily obtained, so I immediately proceeded to solve the castle's difficult puzzles.  Upon solving them, a chandelier crashed to the floor and created an opening to the dungeon below.  I sensed the famous explorer's presence, so I jumped into the abyss.  I was confronted with strange 'Simon Says' mini-games and an 'attack-the-correct enemy' sequence before I finally encountered the undead queen: Bloody Mary.  My normal weapon of choice wasn't doing much damage, so I quickly brandished a light spear and turned her into mincemeat.  I then proceeded to Columbus, who looked like he hadn't taken a bath in months.

Columbus thanked me, and offered me his vessel.  Being an intrepid explorer, I had to accept, but I first wanted a good night's sleep.  During the evening, Fyda (Elle's bodyguard) came to me and requested that I take Elle with me on my journey, since she was in grave danger.  I didn't know who was after her, but I willingly obliged.  The next morning, I set sail, but we all know how ship voyages turn out.  Not only are ships often reduced to rubble from storms, but they often have to deal with sea monsters and ghosts.  As luck would have it, during the night I heard a scream.  Elle was in the clutches of a ghost, but I quickly fought off the howling banshees.  I put in a good night's work, so I thought I would lay back and catch some z's.  Like a famous spiky red-haired hero, I got out of bed late after the ship had arrived in the New World.   I noticed that Elle was missing, but I was handed a letter by a fellow sailor.  The letter revealed that she had indeed killed the king and didn't want to be a burden to me, so went off gallivanting.

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I wasn't sure what to do in this racially diverse, strange new land, so I decided to look around the town of Freedom.  Despite this town looking like it was straight out of the 1800s, I encountered a skateboarder that would put Tony Hawk to shame.  I soon befriended him, and met some inventors that populated the town.  In a previous town, someone had been working on a camera that was completed with my assistance, so I decided to aid a couple good souls once again to benefit humanity.  I helped someone who was in the process of creating electricity, and I aided someone working on a device that allowed for two-way long distance communication.  These were strange devices, but perhaps they could bring prosperity and change to humankind.  I also engaged in some trade while touring this town.  I soon learned about two other towns: one was a farming village to the north, and another was a town in South America where every day was a carnival.

In the farming village, I discovered that there was a prominent inventor who had created a flying device, but he had gone missing ever since he crashed into the Great Lakes.  I attempted to enter the Great Lakes, but someone was guarding the entrance, awaiting his wife.  I decided not to end the pathetic man's life, and instead, proceeded to journey south.  A large river hampered my progress, but a builder was willing to do something about it if I could gather some logs.  I discovered a tiny forest full of evil stumps, and I started hacking away faster than Paul Bunyan.  Soon, I brought the engineer some logs, and he quickly constructed a bridge.  Once it was complete, I journeyed on to the carnival town of Liotto. 

There, I heard about a tower in the sea that was under attack by monsters.  Before heading out to kick some monster tail, I stopped at this romantic spot with Meilin who I had encountered again recently.  She wanted me to reveal my love for her at night, but alas, an image of Elle appeared, so she was out of luck.  With a hole permanently etched in her heart, she yelled at me and decided to skedaddle. Ignoring Meilin's outburst, I decided to rest once again.

In the morning, I journeyed to Mermaid Tower by boat, and cleared out the tall underwater structure that was infested with monsters.  How I could breathe underwater was a mystery, but I managed to free the mermaids from captivity.  One of them, was the wife of the man guarding the Great Lakes, and she had become a mermaid after dying in a shipwreck, due to reincarnation.  She bestowed me with a ring to give to her husband, so he could rest in peace.

I quickly returned to the Great Lakes and presented the annoying guard with a ring from his wife.  He thanked me and spontaneously vanished, so I proceeded to enter the cave underneath the lakes.  This cave was a clearly a giant monster's lair.  I fought off venomous enemies, traveled through underwater portals, used flippers to swim, and fought off starfish parasites plaguing a dragon.   These starfish had been holding Will, the man responsible for inventing the airplane hostage, so after a lengthy battle, I managed to secure his release.  Unfortunately, Will no longer had the parts to build another airplane, so I had to head to Yunkou where the parts were supposedly located.

I once again had to travel by sea, but before heading to Yunkou which was near the coast of China, I traveled to Neotokio in Japan.  This town was similar to late 1990's Japan with modern amenities such as TVs and computers.  It also featured a developer's room, where I got to meet various developers of Terranigma.  I don't know what developers are, but it was cool nonetheless.

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I then reached Yunkou, and found that Fyda lay ill in a bed at the inn.  Being clueless when it comes to medicine, I decided to seek out a doctor.  He told me where I could find some Ginseng to create medicine, and after I obtained it, he quickly concocted a potion.  I presented the potion to Fyda, and she was thrown into a dream state.  There, I discovered that she was the one responsible for killing Elle's parents.  She didn't want to, but was forced to by the king in order to save Elle's life.  This atrocity was haunting her, but I reminded her that it wasn't entirely her fault, and she gave me a useful piece of information--that Elle was at the nearby Dragoon Castle.  I proceeded to Dragoon Castle where the skateboarder Perel was awaiting me.

Why was he here?  I don't know, but he offered to create a distraction so I could sneak inside the castle.  His distraction allowed me to make like Shadow and sneak inside the castle.  Instead of being a typical dungeon filled with monsters, this area was more Metal Gear- esque.  I couldn't break necks like Solid Snake, but I managed to sneak past guards holding flashlights with some running shoes I had obtained during a side trip to Australia.  When I reached the castle's prison, I encountered Elle hanging in chains.  As I went about rescuing her, I fell into a pit below.

 It turns out that Meilin had created a mirage of Elle.  She was angry with me for breaking her heart, and she had also been working for the owner of this castle (who was in league with the king who had destroyed Elle's village), all along.  I foolishly fell for a few other illusions, but Meilin was later done in by her own trickery.  Her boss, Mr. Wong, had turned on her since her usefulness had ended, and he decided to kill us both.  Fyda later appeared to help rescue Elle from his clutches.  A mercenary Mr. Wong had hired, Royd, who I encountered briefly in other parts of the world turned on Mr. Wong, so I managed to escape with Elle.  I discovered that Mr. Wong had been working for someone named Beruga that lived near the town of Mosque.  With this knowledge, I headed back to meet Will who had built an airplane.  I then borrowed Will's amazing airplane, and flew to the town of Mosque in the Middle East.

 When I reached Mosque, I was overcome with a feeling of dread.  The city appeared to be ran by religious zealots who worshipped a messianic figure known as Beruga.  Apparently, he was a renowned scientist who had been dead for ages, but his revival was imminent.  Bergua's place of residence was a futuristic monolith to the south, so I prepared to infiltrate the tower by land. 

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This structure was unlike any building I had ever encountered.  It was completely mechanized, and was dark upon entry.  I found a switch to return power to the structure, so I was then able to see and access the elevator.  I made my descent into the tower with this handy elevator, and fought robots gone rogue.  I solved numerous puzzles and activated switches on each floor to progress further into the tower.  When I reached the bottom, I encountered a giant security robot that wielded machine guns and had several legs.  It was one of the most difficult encounters of my journey, but I managed to cripple the three-legged mechanized beast.  After beating him, the great Beruga awakened from his long slumber.  He congratulated me and proceeded to show me his plans.  Beruga planned for a world where only a few would survive, and they would become immortal while the other pathetic humans would perish.  I sensed this mad scientist's evil nature, so I planned to run my sword into the fanatic, but my effort was in vain.  His robots seized me, and proceeded to squeeze the life out of me.  Beruga then initiated an attack that engulfed Neotokio.  I also remember him mentioning that his liege from the underworld would soon awaken before I  passed out. 

After I was unconscious, I heard the Elder's voice.  He congratulated me for finally awakening "The Genius".  The Elder mentioned that my quest was complete, and that I could now rest for eternity.  Had I been used this entire time?  I thought I was a goner, but the ruler of Tibet managed to revive me, and I found myself in the village where my quest for "The Genius" began.  Beruga was obviously quite powerful, and an impending calamity threatened the surface, so it was clear that something had to be done.  I went to the Kumari, the village leader seeking what I must do.  He sent me on a quest in search of five starstones.  I feared that I was being used again, but I mustered up courage and took a chance.

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Vague hints of the locations of these starstones were offered: they could be found in a dream, a desert, a ruin, a cold land, and a mountain peak.  Finding these locations proved to be a bit difficult, but I managed to receive one stone from a scientist atop a mountain in Austraila.  I found the next stone inside a skeleton in the Sahara desert.  The third stone was in Greenland, which had to be reached by unconventional means.  I found a hidden forest in South America that was home to migrating birds.  One of these strong gulls managed to carry me across the ocean to Greenland without a hitch.  Upon my return, I entered some ruins in western South America that featured a goblet.  This goblet took me to a dream world featuring characters I had encountered during my journey, but with different names.  After the dream's conclusion, I found a starstone at my side.  The final starstone was the most difficult to obtain.  It was beneath the now uninhabited Neotokio.  On a police transceiver, I heard a girl's voice that was coming from a sewer below the city.  After traversing the sewer and finding a key, I managed to save her from a lion that nearly devoured her.  It turns out that this lion was a grown-up version of the lion  I helped towards the beginning of my journey.  He let the girl go, and I obtained the last glowing starstone.

With the starstones in hand, I proceeded to a massive graveyard in a desert in Antarctica (I know, crazy right?), and there I placed the starstones inside five skulls.  A spirit appeared, and asked me why I was able to survive all these near-death experiences?  He explained that I was able to survive because I was the hero.  This spirit was the light side Ark, my spirit, and I was the dark side Ark.  We would work in tandem to save the world.  He explained that this Earth ran on a cycle.  Birth and rebirth were ever-present in this world and even the world could be destroyed and recreated, but someone had thrown this process off.  Because Beruga had been revived, the world was thrown into chaos, and it was up to me to do something about it.  The spirit then zapped me with a beam of light and I went unconscious.  He told me to dream about the Earth.

My dream was an usual one--I was a baby in the village of Storkholm (the surface parallel to Crysta), and the Elle of my home village walked in my room.  A voice told her to kill me, so she took me to the basement that looked just like the place where my journey began and proceeded to do so.  All of the sudden, the Elle from the surface walked in, and she was surprised that there was another Elle.  Before she could do anything, Yomi (the creature I unleashed from Pandora's Box at the beginning of the game) told my childhood friend Elle to kill me.  Before this could occur, several distant voices reached me.  Kumari, the elder from Tibet, the great tree I saved, and the animals I had revived told that I was the only hope for the world's revival.  Yomi then immobilized me and the Elle from the surface, and told my childhood friend, Elle, to kill me.  He mentioned that I no longer had any use after reviving Beruga.  The Elder had ordered my death, and this was necessary in order for Dark Gaia to revive.  Elle refused to kill me, so Yomi decided to carry out the deed, and she sacrificed herself in order to save me.  In her dying breath, she mentioned that she had always wanted to be with me, so I was deeply saddened by her passing.  I wondered why I had even gone on this journey in the first place?  Did I cause the death of my good friend because of my childish antics and need for adventure? Now was not the time for questions however, because I still had a world to save.

A box similar to the one I opened at the beginning of the game was in this basement.  What was inside?  Yomi.  This Yomi was light side Yomi, and appeared not to have evil intent, but one can never be too sure.  He mentioned that great treasures could also be found inside the box that were previously hidden from the king.  The village was guarded with wolves (or the spirits of the villagers) in order to protect the treasures.  What were the treasures?  Powerful hero equipment that's a perfect fit for a demon slaying badass like yours truly.  After donning the equipment, I was ready to waltz out of the village when a bird delivered an important message.  This message was from my allies who told me to meet at Beruga's tower in Siberia.  One transatlantic flight later, I arrived at Beruga's doorstep.  As I entered, I would encounter the old man from Lhasa, Fyda the swordswoman, Perel the skater, Royd, a former mercenary, and Meilin.  These allies would help me overcome many obstacles.  They activated numerous switches and destroyed deadly turrets and security cameras.  As we were about to corner Beruga, he climbed aboard his airship, but we managed to board the ship, just in the nick of time.   

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My allies had found some time bombs earlier, so they handed them to me to plant on seven of the ship's computers.  I armed the bombs, and we detonated them shortly before we reached the ship's sole escape pod.  We discovered that Beruga had already reached the escape pod, and he mocked us saying that the computer needed to be operational in order for the escape pod to function.  As smart as Beruga was, he ended up falling into the ship's propellers as he backed away from us.  The cause of his demise will likely go down in the annals of history as being the most ridiculous death of all time.  Even though we managed to destroy "The Genius" (or rather "The Idiot") our mortal coil had expired, or so we thought.  Somehow, a gull had managed to reach the high elevation we were flying at, and it carried me to safety.  My allies decided to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of humanity.  I hastily returned to the surface of the Earth aboard the wings of a bird.

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Looking for clues of where the ship landed, I went to a scientist atop a mountain in Australia.  This scientist had previously given me a starstone, and he saw this plane crash as a sign that the world was going to end.  I disregarded his pessimistic attitude and headed towards South America where he believed the ship crashed.  First, I explored the water, but it was no use--the plane was nowhere to be found.  I then began checking previously explored areas on the continent itself, and I discovered a new crater in the Earth where I had first accessed the surface world.  Strangely enough, the world's most famous explorer, Columbus, was standing right beside the crater.  He warned me that I may never be able to return (where had I heard that before?), but I jumped in anyway.  I then found myself in the underworld with all bones intact. 

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What was there to do in this dark recess of the planet?  I decided to go to the Elder for answers.  The village inhabitants acted quite strange, and they even turned into spirits when I approached them.  Then, I reached the room of the Elder.  He complimented me on a job well done, but then went on to explain that I had seen too much.  A vortex opened and the Elder and I warped to an unknown location.  I found myself on a never-ending bridge.

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The Elder mentioned that I was in the center of the underworld's sun.  He spoke about the light and the dark side, and how humankind were replicas of the crystal blue, and that they'd eventually revert back to that form.  There was a duality in this world--a balance of light and dark, but it was now time for the dark to conquer the light.  Dark Gaia required my death in order for this to occur, so the Elder (or Dark Gaia's spirit) sent me to my doom.  I was more powerful than he expected however, and I was able to vanquish this dark god.  It turns that the Elder's true form, Dark Gaia was sealed away all this time, so he needed me to revive Beruga to bring about his revival.  Dark Gaia expected me to perish, but instead, I managed to defeat him and create a bright future for the surface world.  After defeating Dark Gaia, my light side spirit spoke to me.

My light side spirit explained that I was hidden away in the village of Crysta, so I would be unable to meddle in Dark Gaia's affairs.  He had recognized me as the legendary hero, so he created a copy of a light side town and held me prisoner.  This place wasn't meant to exist, so it would soon disappear.  The surface world was all that would remain.  Even I would disappear for good.  The spirit gave me one last chance to walk around the village, however.  I felt a sense of despair as I walked around my once lively home.  Everything I had once known was forever lost.  I now understand the sadness that overwhelmed Elle when her homeland was crushed by a greedy king.  What did I go on this journey for?  I could have been happy and lived a carefree life in my faux village if I just minded my own business.  Yomi appeared and tried to comfort me.  He explained that I was basically a god-on-Earth with my ability to bring life to the world.  Yomi also mentioned that good and evil would always exist as long as humans were alive, so the cycle would be never-ending. 

Yomi not only tried to cheer me up, but I finally learned what he was.  Apparently, Yomi was the creature that humankind and animals had evolved from.  We evolved from his state, and may eventually return to his state (but that's not such a comforting thought if you ask me).  With nothing else left to tell me, I decided to accept my fate and sleep eternally.

Before perishing for good, I experienced one last dream.  Elle appeared, and mentioned that she tried to kill me when I was a baby at the Elder's command.  She failed because she realized that we were all individuals and shouldn't simply live at the command of one entity.  Elle told me we would meet again, and my last memory was my transformation into a bird, where I'd watch the world grow older...

But there is one last memory.  Someone knocked on Elle's door at the close of the adventure.  Could it have been me?


E3: Full of Surprises, But Can't Seem to Escape Sequelitus

E3 is always a time of excitement--almost like a gamer's Christmas.  Each year, my excitement has risen to unprecedented levels, but sometimes that temporary high sinks faster than I can beat my grandmother in Battleship.  Last year's E3 was one of those years.  Games like Wii Music made a mockery of what gaming is about (okay, it's not as bad as the Spike TV awards, but it's close), and very few exciting games were announced.

This year, we actually received quite a few surprises, but the problem is--most of those are sequels.  The majority of the Xbox360 sequels announced yesterday didn't surprise me, but several games today did: Super Mario Galaxy 2, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Metroid: Other M, Golden Sun DS, and most surprising of all was Final Fantasy XIV.  There was always a slight possibility that Mario Galaxy would receive a sequel--I believe IGN announced it as a rumor some time ago, but I never expected Nintendo to actually go through with it.  Nintendo does milk Mario, but typically, the main games in his series are original titles.  We haven't really received sequential Mario games since Super Mario Bros. 3 on the NES.  You could say that Super Mario World had a numbered sequel, but to me, Yoshi's Island is an entirely different game.  Basically, after the NES era, Nintendo only produced one main Mario title per system (RPGs excluded).

Normally, I'd be disappointed that Nintendo is releasing another Mario sequel so soon, but with all their focus on casual games as of late, first-party games from the Big N are slim pickings.  I'd accept a sequel to almost any Nintendo franchise right now--Mario, Zelda, Star Fox, Pikmin, Metroid (well actually, enough Metroid Prime), just as long as it's not another Wii Music or Animal Crossing rehash.  I expected to see a new Pikmin or Zelda, but instead, I experienced a deluge of Mario footage.  Mario Galaxy retains its title as my favorite Wii game two years later, so I was excited to see a sequel.  I'm not that enthused about Yoshi being back, but the courses look as imaginative as ever.  Sure, Mario Galaxy 2's graphics haven't really changed from the original, but when they're better than the visuals of 99.9% of the other Wii games out there, who's complaining?

New Super Mario Bros. Wii is another Mario  sequel, but the original sold over 13 million copies, so I don't expect to see any major outbursts.  I'm glad that Nintendo finally implemented cooperative gameplay in a Mario game without adding the ridiculous connectivity of games like The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords.  If Little Big Planet is anything to go by, there could be some problems having four players on difficult platforming segments, but it should be a blast for the most part.  The graphics look fairly rudimentary, so there shouldn't be any graphical slowdown or other technical problems, and I doubt lag will be an issue, since Nintendo is unlikely to include online play.  I'm excited to see how this game will turn out.

The two games that surprised me the most at Nintendo's press conference, however, were Metroid: Other M and Golden Sun DS.  I loved the Metroid Prime games, but they were beginning to grow stale, so it was a wise move on Nintendo's part to partner with Team Ninja to reinvigorate the franchise.  Metroid: Other M looks to be an action game like Ninja Gaiden, but hopefully it won't feature that series legendary difficulty.  I'm also a bit worried that the game won't feel like Metroid, but Metroid Prime surpassed my expectations, so maybe this will too.  As for Golden Sun, that game has me really excited.  I only experienced a few hours of the first Golden Sun, but I loved what I played.  The game felt similar to Lufia and Wild Arms, and really had an old-school vibe.  Everything from the music to the puzzle-based dungeons felt fresh on a portable system.  The 3D graphics of the new Golden Sun look a bit ugly, but I'm sure the gameplay will be great.

What I found most surprising today, however, was the announcement of FFXIV.  When I first heard the "fourteen" come out of Jack's mouth, I thought he made a mistake, but sure enough, Square-Enix plans on releasing a new online Final Fantasy in 2010.  Who knows if it'll stay exclusive to PS3, but it was a surprise nonetheless.  We all know how exclusivity went with the last FF (that isn't even out yet), so it wouldn't surprise me if FFXIV was also released for PC and maybe even 360.  FFXIV's graphics looked impressive, but it's unlikely that any of that was in-game footage.  Frankly, I'm not that excited yet, because the FF series has disappointed me ever since the Square-Enix merger and I'm still waiting on FFXIII, but it's still an exciting development nonetheless.

I'm surprised that Square-Enix made another online game part of the FF series proper.  FFXI alienated the majority of the FF fan-base, so it seems foolish to repeat the same mistake.  Oh well, I guess the revenue from MMORPGs must make up for it.  I'd like to see an improved PvP system and an involving story, rather than another Everquest clone, but chances are that Square-Enix will ignore my pleas once again.  I was eagerly anticipating FFXI three years prior to its release and was letdown when I realized it was simply an Everquest clone combined with the FFIII/FFV/FFT job system.  I'd love to see an MMO where you could purchase castles and airships with a clan and engage in battles over contested territory--an MMO where you can actually influence the fate of the world.  I'm sure it'd be difficult to balance the gameplay in a title like this, but it's something that might get people like me who don't normally play MMORPGs interested.

Despite the rampant sequelitus, this year's E3 has so far been a significant improvement over the previous year.  I'm glad that Nintendo is still making hardcore games and it's good to see that plenty of third-parties have hidden aces under their sleeve.  I'm hoping that I'll bear witness to even more surprises tomorrow.


Terranigma: A Linear Adventure Into The Unknown

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Most gamers have heard of the revered RPG behemoth--Square-Enix, and possibly even their most famous franchises: Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, but few have heard of their lesser known titles such as Last Remnant and Infinite Undiscovery.  Well, if you think these titles are obscure, try SNES-era RPGs by Enix, like Terranigma.  I'm no Enix expert by any means, but I've heard great things about this RPG that never reached the land of the SUV and Bacon Double Cheeseburger.  I recently discovered this game after watching videos of RPGs on Youtube.  After conversing with other gamers and researching it, I learned that Terranigma was a renowned action-RPG that never reached America.  It's the third part of a series that includes: Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia, and Terranigma.  European gamers often get shafted when it comes to RPGs (they never received the legendary Chrono Trigger!), but for once, they were able to scoff at lowly American gamers while slowly grinding our beloved freedom fries into dust.

For the record, I've only played Illusion of Gaia, so I don't know how Terranigma compares to the first game in the series, but it at least appears to be a significant departure from Illusion of Gaia.  It carries over the mysterious nature of that game, but the visuals, soundtrack, battle system, and plot share little with its predecessor.  Due to the rarity of Terranigma and the fact that it wasn't released here, you'll have to spend over one thousand dollars if you want to play this fabled action-RPG legally.  I'm not a promoter of piracy, but unfortunately, there is only one way to play this rare RPG, and that is via the Internet.  Luckily, this game was released in the UK, so there is an English translation available for those of you who want to get your hands on this game. 

I already explained what Terranigma is, but I'm not here to tell you how it compares to other SNES action-RPGs.  Rather, I'm going to chronicle my experiences from the first two chapters of one of the most mysterious games I've ever played.

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When you first fire up Terranigma, you find your main character, Ark, lazing away in his bed, like a spiky red-haired character we've all come to love.  Ark seems not to have a care in the world, and is known around town as a mischief maker.  The adults scattered about the village seem to despise Ark, while the kids love him for some reason.  There's a reason for this, as Ark is known to throw pots at villagers, shut down mills, steal food, and flirt with a village girl.  There could be more to why the villagers hate Ark, but the game chooses not to reveal whether that is the case.  Even though there doesn't seem to be much occurring in this peaceful little hamlet, there is a mysterious air that permeates the village.  Large bubbles seem to be floating through the air for no apparent reason and village people claim they can see another world in a lake, but these aren't the most inexplicable elements of the town.  What I found the most strange was the fact that the village had no visible exit, and a mysterious door existed in the Elder's house that was supposed to remain unopened.  We've all been kids at one time or another, so most us would find what happens next pretty predictable.  One day when the Elder is gone, some locals convince Ark to help them open the door, and he obliges.  A couple pots is all it takes to break down this fine piece of woodwork.

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What does Ark find inside?  An incredibly dark room with a bluish hue and a stairway leading down.  After descending a couple staircases, Ark comes upon a mysterious box.  In order to open it, he as to wait patiently.  A voice calls him, and he decides to give in to his unknown beseecher.  He unleashes a mysterious creature that expresses his gratitude, but won't tell him why he was trapped.  Ark's close lady-friend, Elle slowly enters the room as they are speaking.  During the conversation, Ark notices that Elle has been rendered motionless, as have the other village people.  The creature remains with Ark and gives him a jewel box, which is basically his portable inventory, but leaves it up to Ark to figure out what is going on.  Ark then returns to the only conscious village-person, the Elder.  The Elder had left the village while Ark opened the door, and he seemingly knew what Ark would do.  Clearly, the Elder knew what Ark had done, and seemed to understand the predicament the world was in, but he gave Ark a bit of guidance.  He mentioned to Ark that the village people could be saved, only if he traversed the world and activated the five towers.  Apparently, the village always had an exit, but it remained hidden to the public eye, so they would remain unaware of the world around them.  The Elder revealed the exit that once was invisible to Ark, and sent him on a journey into the unknown.

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As Ark set out into the world, he noticed that the world he was previously unaware of was a bleak one.  The terrain was much like the surface of the moon, with rivers containing molten lava and there were ice crystals strewn about.  There were no noticeable villages--only the village he had come from and five towers.  There didn't appear to be a sky above, but rather, a blue sphere that intersected the world.  What this sphere was remained unknown to Ark, so he decided to climb the first tower.

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Ark would ascend a tower that was home to monsters, puzzles, traps, and a guardian.  When Ark reached the guardian, he would fight the leader of the monster horde, and then activate a room which revived a continent called Eurasia.  After reviving a continent and what looked like people from his village, Ark proceeded to his next destination--another tower.  Ark would then climb this tower and three others; each with increasingly hard enemies and puzzles, and would revive four other continents: S. America, N. America, Africa, and Australia.  He couldn't see the revived continents, but it was apparent that people in his village were being revived one by one.  After having completed his mission, Ark returned to his village and found everyone returned to their original state.  He then spoke with the Elder who congratulated him, but then let Ark know that this was just the beginning.  The Elder informed Ark of a hole that existed near the village that would let him go to the "World".  Ark informed a crying Elle of his imminent departure and then preceded to enter the hole, which the Elder had made him aware that he'd be unable to return from until he revived the world.

Ark didn't know what awaited him on the other side, but being adventuresome, he decided to enter the hole.  He immediately noticed that this world was a barren wasteland devoid of any kind of life.  There were no humans, no plants, and no animals.  Ark then set off on his journey to revive life on what appeared to be the continents of Earth (the land masses he had resurrected earlier).  His first destination would be the innards of a dead tree that was infested with monsters and poison.

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The innards of the tree, which led underground were enormous--considerably larger than the towers he had previously entered.  Its inhabitants were vicious, and there were rivers of poison and water.  Ark's journey was long, but he discovered two items that would make his life easier: an antidote that would protect him against a room filled with poison, and flippers to navigate water.  He proceeded to enter a room containing poison to discover a massive monster that obviously was the commander of the monsters.  After waging an epic battle, Ark defeated the monster and revived the great tree, as well as vegetation all over the world.  Ark could converse with this vegetation, but the vegetation made him aware that much more of the world needed to be revived.  They mentioned that he'd need to awaken birds that existed on a northern continent.

Ark still didn't know anything about this mysterious world, or what his purpose was, but he proceeded to awaken the sleeping birds.  It wasn't an easy task, but after doing so, the birds were willing to take him to other continents, so he could complete his mission.  Ark would soon revive the animals of the world, which would then help him cross Arabia to reach Tibet.  He didn't know what the fourth thing he'd be reviving was, so he assumed there was still more of the world to explore.  Ark climbed an enormous mountain, survived avalanches, and fought a difficult boss called Dark Morph, and then received a message from an unknown source saying he had "revived the world". 

Ark would then awake in a land that included beds and humans other than those who inhabited his village.  Who these humans were and what happened to this world would remain unknown, but it is clear that Ark revived those bipedal creatures that once slept.  What is the connection between his homeland and this mysterious new world he had been reviving?   Why had it laid dormant?  Is there an ultimate villain?  Was the human race responsible for the destruction of the planet?  Who was the mysterious Elder of Ark's village?  These are all questions that will hopefully be answered after venturing further in the mysterious Terranigma.


EGM #100: A Trip Down Memory Lane

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When EGM was shut down a few months ago, I felt that a part of myself was lost.  I had been an avid reader of EGM since issue #109 with Tomb Raider 3 on the cover, so the magazine coming to an end after ten years of reading each issue cover-to-cover came as a big loss to me.  Afterwards, I considered buying up old issues of EGM on Ebay, but I lacked the necessary funds, so I decided to settle with one issue I'd always wanted.  The issue on my mind was #100, which not only contained EGM's top 100 games list, but it also included a brief history of the magazine.  Being a devoted EGM fan prompted me to score this fabled issue on Ebay.  Fortunately, I didn't have to pay an ungodly price, as would have happened if I purchased one of the first few issues of EGM.

After a couple weeks of waiting, my well-maintained issue arrived.  Memories of days as a middle and high school kid rushed to my brain where I eagerly awaited each new issue of EGM.  I'd often flip through the entire magazine checking out what previews and features awaited me in each issue, and I'd sometimes quickly browse through all the review scores.  If I had time that day, I'd then begin to read the magazine starting from the cover and would work my way towards the end over the course of the month.  Even though EGM issues during the early Ziff Davis era were massive, I seemed to tear through them at an inhuman rate.

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One thing I had always admired about EGM when I started reading it, was that the magazines were strictly about providing interesting content in a fun way.  Unlike the journalism of today, reviewers then weren't as cynical and critical.  I'm not saying I want reviewers to be biased fanboys, but today they sometimes focus far more on the negative aspects of games than the positive.  EGM #100 fell in line with those early days when I started reading the magazine.  Despite sometimes being overworked, all the writers were very enthusiastic about the products they covered.  They scoped out rumors on the Playstation 2, the upcoming Sega system, which would later be called the Dreamcast, and even a Nintendo 64 successor, and all this was back in '97.  EGM also wrote detailed previews of upcoming games, including some that would never make it here.  This issue also had many excellent reviews on games ranging from Saturn Bomberman to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

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It wasn't the reviews and previews that got me the most excited however; what I actually enjoyed most was the massive write-up on EGM's 100 favorite games and the small feature on the history of the magazine.  EGM's top 100 games were not necessarily the best titles in existence, or even the best titles of their time; rather, these were games EGM staffers would take with them if they were stranded on a desert island (I'm sure many later readers remember their top 5 desert island games feature).  Were these top 100 games good choices?  Well, that's all a matter of opinion.  I agreed with some choices, and disagreed with others, but the great thing about this list is pretty much all the games are high quality games regardless of whether they're your favorite games or not.  It's a nice list to have at your side, especially if you're a collector, or at least a person that likes to experience games of ages past.  A couple of the titles are a little iffy, mostly the sports games, because many of them don't hold up well today, but they were fine titles for their time.

Describing every game in this feature would rack up a massive word count, so I'm going to stick with describing how well EGM's top 10 picks hold up today.  Afterwards, I'll list what my top ten picks from the dawn of time up until 1997 would have been.

First I'll start with EGM's least favorite game on the top ten list, Saturn Bomberman.  Here's what EGM had to say about it:

"The game: You still get the same little Bomberman character who likes to blow up his friends (and enemies), but this time he's on the Saturn with up to 10 players at once.  It's as good as multiplayer gaming on the consoles gets.

It made the list because: If you have a copy of Bomberman and can rustle up at least four friends, there's really no reason to play any other game--or even leave the house.  It's simply the greatest party game on the planet.  And Saturn Bomberman is the best incarnation of this classic series yet.  Sure, the Super NES and TurboGrafx-16 versions come close, but now 10 players can try to blow each other to bits in a Hi-res Mode that is incredibly hectic and fun (although it burns the eyes a bit; Eight-player Mode's a little easier on your vision). Plus, you get options for team play and the ability to lob bombs from the sidelines after you die.  Revenge is a wonderful thing.

Coolest part: Realizing that you've trapped your opponent(s) with bombs just as the one-ton weights are about to clobber you from above.  Yep, you can start panicking now.

Don't you hate it when: You start trash-talking before a multiplayer game, only to start and trap yourself with two of your own damn bombs.  D'oh!"

What I have to say: Saturn Bomberman had just been released, and received EGM's prestigious gold award, so maybe they were a bit hasty in placing it in the top ten, but from what I've heard and seen, Saturn Bomberman sounds like an excellent party game.  I haven't played many Bomberman games, but each one I've played has been an excellent group experience, and expanding that mode to ten players was unprecedented at the time.  Four-player was starting to become a big thing during that era with games like Mario Kart 64 and Goldeneye, but having ten people packed in one room must have been a great experience for those with a Saturn, a couple multitaps, a room full of controllers, and plenty of gaming friends.  I'm sure this experience isn't as fresh today, but I had some fun with Bomberman on XBLA, so this game may still be worth checking out.

Game number nine, Final Fantasy VI (FFIII SNES), is a game that is often considered the king of RPGs by people that were fans of the genre, pre-FFVII.  Here's what EGM had to say:

"The game: A traditional, Japanese RPG with more gameplay extras than any other title in gaming history.  It has a super-long quest, multiple (and interchangeable) characters and a fun, menu-driven realtime combat system.

It made the list because: OK, where should we start?  The graphics are rich and beautiful, as is the music.  The cast is crammed with personality.  The story line is magical and so involving that you may need to keep notes to follow its twists and turns.  Heck, you even battle dinosaurs!  We could go on and on.  Very few people can argue that FFIII isn't a AAA title (we'd like to be in on that argument).  It's the game that revolutionized the genre, while keeping old-school RPG fundamentals alive.  It's also far more rewarding than FFII, and just a tad better than the awesome FFVII (FFIII offers more varied gameplay).  We'll love this game forever.

Coolest parts: Trying to decide which characters are going adventuring with you and which are staying behind on the airship to twiddle their swords.  And what about how awesome each character is?  Some have Street Fighter moves (how's that for RPG innovation?), some can transform, some have special attacks, etc.  And don't even get us started on the opera scene.  Then there are the Chocobos, the Espers, the mechs...hoo boy--there are too many "coolest parts" to list.

Did you know: Final Fantasy III is actually called part six in the series.  It's only called FFIII because it's the third one released in the States.  And--you guessed it--Final Fantasy VII for the Playstation is the sequel."

What I have to say: Like EGM, I feel that FFVI deserves its place on this list, and I actually probably would have placed it even higher.  FFIV was my first Final Fantasy and I still love it even today, but FFVI implemented some major changes that kept the genre from getting stale.  FFV gave us a deep battle system, that expanded upon the original NES FFIII, but FFVI combined some of the best aspects of FFIV and V.  In the first four FF games, one of your main goals was to save the crystals.  In FFV, the crystals were finally destroyed, and this alluded to the new direction the series would take afterwards.  FFVI forever altered the way in which RPG stories were told.  You could say that this formula came from some earlier RPGs like FFII (NES), but most people first saw the Resistance versus Empire story in FFVI. 

FFVI was also special because it included magic and technology in one world--it combined the old world with the new.  FFIV had some great characters, but they weren't all that developed in comparison to FFVI's epic cast.  Characters like Sabin, Shadow, Cyan, Locke, and Celes, are arguably still some of the best RPG characters.  This was an era in which effeminate males didn't dominate the RPG landscape, and women actually played a prominent role in the story.  FFVI was also home to one of the most memorable villains in RPG history.  Instead of just being some evil, cold-hearted bad guy with his heart set on world domination with no reasonable motive, FFVI actually had a believable villain.  Kefka is the definition of insanity--he craved power, and probably loved to torture animals as a kid.  Kefka is analogous to the Joker in Batman, so there's a reason that he's a memorable villain.

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There's so much that could be said about FFVI's story and characters, but it also featured incredible 2D artwork, a musical score that was unrivaled at the time, and memorable sequences like the Opera House, the Phantom Train, Celes' attempted suicide, and the destruction of the world.  In this game, there were even non-linear sequences and optional characters.  There was also some moral ambiguity, flashback sequences that you had to reason through to understand, and you could possibly lose certain characters.  It is obvious that FFVI deserved its position on this list.

Game number 8, Contra III: The Alien Wars, is one of the SNES' most difficult titles, and a favorite among masochistic gamers.  Here's what EGM had to say:

"The game: Just like the original Contra, except a thousand times more intense.

It made the list because: Talk about sensory overload!  This game has everything: huge Bosses, Mode 7 stages, ultradeep gameplay--all wrapped up in a beautifully atmospheric post-apocalyptic package.  You get all the great control of the original, except now with new moves and the ability to carry and switch between two devastating weapons.  But what really sets this game apart are its Bosses.  No two can be toppled the same way. (Our favorite is the giant robot who smashes through the wall and lobs time bombs at you.)

Coolest Part: Beating the game on normal or hard and watching the final Boss claw after you as you cling to an ascending helicopter gunship.  And, of course, playing simultaneously with a buddy/sibling.

Where have I seen that before: Go back and watch the intro to Contra III: Alien Wars.  Hmmm.  Think maybe the folks behind Independence Day were fans of this game?"

What I have to say: Contra III is one of those games that you either love or hate.  It's clearly a well-made game, but it's incredibly difficult, and definitely not for everyone.  People who cut their teeth on nearly impossible NES games or walked on hot coals barefoot as a daily routine are the kind of people who love games like Contra III.  Personally, I couldn't hack it.  Honestly, I had never played a Contra game until this was released on Virtual Console, but I ended up giving up after four or five tries.  It's a fun game with plenty of action, vehicular mayhem, and interesting Mode 7 sequences, but I just found it too difficult to get into.  I had no problems with Mega Man 2 and 9, thanks to infinite continues, but Contra gives gamers the shaft in this regard.  I would have rather placed Mega Man 2 on this top ten list, but Contra is a favorite among hardcore gamers, so I can understand why EGM gave it its number 8 spot.

Game number 7, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, is a title that was often overlooked due to gamers craving next-gen systems, and their dismissal of the game's pastel art style.  Here's what EGM had to say about this overlooked game:

"The game: Super FX2-based side-scrolling platformer with the most amazingly unique graphics the Super NES has ever seen.

It made the list because: Yoshi's Island is as much a piece of art as a game.  It's like a huge, playable coloring book.  Unfortunately, the game couldn't have been released at a worse time, going unnoticed by quite a few gamers.  Trust us--Yoshi's Island is the epitome of platform gaming, falling only inches behind Super Mario Bros. 3 as the best 2-D platformer of all time.  Beautiful graphics, great gameplay, lots of bonus options and mini-games and well over 50 stages--what more could you ask for?

Coolest part: All of the "morphmation," what Nintendo calls the stretching and warping of the game characters.  Also, your mad dash to rescue Baby Mario after he's been knocked off Yoshi.

Did you know: Yoshi's Island was in development for over three years before it was finally released.  The game was redone almost from scratch at least once, but the end result shows that the time taken was certainly worth it."

What I have to say: Yoshi's Island deserves its lofty position among the greatest video games.  It's a fantastic 2D platformer that still holds up remarkably well.  Initially, I didn't like the art style and thought it was a bit disappointing, especially in comparison to games like Chrono Trigger and the upcoming Mario RPG, but I later grew to love the game's unique pastel visuals.  Besides having stylized visuals, Yoshi's Island also had several unique concepts.  You were tasked with keeping watch over a baby version of everyone's favorite plumber and spaghetti connoisseur, and keeping him on Yoshi's back wouldn't always be easy.  Playing smart was important; otherwise, you'd have to hear Baby Mario's piercing cry.  Tossing eggs in all directions at your enemies was another unique concept, but what was particularly cool about Yoshi's Island were the vehicles you could morph into and the changing environments.  Yoshi's Island was a refreshing change from standard running and jumping platformers, so this game definitely stands the test of time.

Game number 6, Super Metroid is a classic adventure with non-linear exploration that would spawn a new genre (Symphony of the Night fans, pay homage).  Here's what EGM had to say:

"The game: It's a bigger and better version of the futuristic 8-Bit platform/action classic.  Super Metroid has tons of levels, weapons and secrets.

It made the list because: Boy, if you've played Super Metroid, then you wouldn't ask why.  From the exciting intro (with elements taken from the end of the original Metroid game) to the emotional ending, this 16-Bit sequel is simply stunning.  This game takes skill, brains and technique to complete successfully, and you'll love every minute of it.

Coolest part: Seeing you-know-who come to your rescue in the end.

Did you know: You get to see Samus in her bathing suit if you beat the game in under three hours.  Also, if you let the demo run uninterrupted, you can see a slew of Samus' secret moves.  A few of us didn't even notice the educational demo until after we beat the game.  Better late than never, we guess."

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What I have to say: I missed out on Super Metroid when it was originally released (I was one of those who received Donkey Kong Country for Christmas), so I missed out on its unique level design, countdowns, and surprising plot-twists.  Super Metroid also featured massive bosses, a plethora of weapons and power-ups, and the haunting melodies really added to the experience.  This game would later be chosen as EGM's favorite game, and while I don't share the same sentiment, it's still an incredibly fun,  ground-breaking game that must be played.  Luckily, you can now experience Samus' best 2D adventure on Wii Virtual Console.

Game number 5, Street Fighter II Turbo, is a famous 2D fighting game that is often considered to be the best of the original Street Fighter II series.  Here's what EGM had to say:

"The game: The second SFII game to come out for the Super NES.  This one added speed and playable Bosses to an already successful formula.

It made the list because: This is the best and newest Street Fighter that still plays like the classic.  The series changed when it became "Super" and later "Alpha." But many of us still like old-school SFII best, and Hyper Fighting is as good as old-school gets.  Excellent control on an excellent translation of an excellent fighting game engine.  Need we say more?

Coolest part: Playing this game for hours and hours until your thumb just couldn't take anymore.

Coolest code: Pressing Down, R button, Up, L button, Y, B on the second controller while the word "Turbo" scrolls across the opening screen.  Now you can pick a 10-star speed setting.  This is Hyper Fighting in the truest sense of the phrase."

What I have to say: Street Fighter was one of the major reasons for the SNES' success, so I'd say that Street Fighter II definitely deserves a spot on EGM's top 10 list in some form or another.  It's still a fun game, but I actually preferred Super Street Fighter II and the recent HD release in the series for XBLA.  Unlike many pitiful arcade conversions like Altered Beast, Street Fighter II proved that a solid conversion could be done on the 16-bit consoles.  Learning all of the characters' moves and fighting with friends was a blast, and is still an enjoyable experience today. 

Game number four, Super Mario 64 was arguably the most influential title when it comes to 3D games, so let's look at what EGM had to say:

"The game: This adventure stars a familiar plumber in a very unfamiliar setting: breathtaking 3-D worlds.  But you already knew that.

It made the list because: Take your pick: Its selling power put the N64 on the map.  Its look and feel spawned a new era of 3-D adventure knockoffs (Banjo Kazooie, anyone?).  Its many secrets, shortcuts--and even its bugs--fueled the hype that made it one of the most-talked-about games ever, certainly one of the best selling.  But most importantly, its game-play showed that as far as 3-D gaming goes, we haven't seen anything yet.  Just about everything in Super Mario 64 works flawlessly--the analog control, the puzzles, Mario's new moves, the way most levels offer new challenges each time you visit them.  Sure, the game has its tiny flaws, especially in the camera department.  But we're talking about a title that's as revolutionary today as the original Super Mario Bros. was back in the mid-'80s.  It's not easy creating an entirely new genre, no matter how many times Shigeru Miyamoto has done it.  And while Super Mario 64 isn't quite as challenging or fun as Mario 3, no gamer should die without playing--and beating--it first.

Coolest part: Seeing someone pull off the ultimate trick--reaching the roof of the castle before ever nabbing a single star.  Trust us, it can be done.

A sleeper hit?  Superstars--even digital ones--are just as "human" as you or me.  Case in point: If you leave Mario alone for a minute or two, he'll sneak in a quick nap.  Talk about your computer AI advancements!"

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What I have to say: Unless you're an extreme Sonic fan that wants to bludgeon Mario with a wrench, you probably agree with me that this game was a must-pick for EGM's top 10 list.  The first time I saw Mario 64 in my friend's EGM during 5th grade, I was blown away.  I hadn't played many 3D games outside of arcades, so I was highly impressed by Mario's new look.  I thought that the game couldn't possibly fulfill my lofty expectations, but when I received a hands-on experience with the game at a Toys RUs demo kiosk, my jaw literally dropped.  Holding the N64 controller was a bit awkward at first, but the analog control was so accurate that I actually felt like  I was Mario.  I was impressed enough by Bob omb Battlefield and the Castle portion of the game, that I sold my Genesis and took a thirty minute bike ride to Toys R Us a day before the N64 was supposed to launch to purchase the system.  I don't think I've ever been that impressed by a game, and it remains my favorite Mario game with the possible exception of Mario Galaxy to this day.

Game number 3, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is often viewed as one of the most ground breaking titles in the Zelda series besides the original.  Here's what EGM had to say:

"The game: A sequel to the 8-Bit action-RPG series, with better graphics, new tools and weapons, and more worlds to explore.

It made the list because: A Link to the Past takes everything that made the original Zelda such a classic and supercharges the entire package.  The graphics are improved tenfold over the original, and the levels--especially outdoors--are huge (remember the forest maze?).  The environments are also much more interactive than in previous Zeldas (remember lighting the torches in the dungeons with your lantern?) Part three of the Zelda series is clearly the best action-RPG ever made.

Coolest part: Remember seeing the rain for the first time?  Remember thinking how awesome your Super Nintendo is when you saw that rain?

Did you know: In our reader poll for top games of all time, Zelda 64 received a dozen votes.  Peculiar, wouldn't you say, for a game that isn't even out in Japan yet?  We're sure the game's gonna be awesome, too, but let's not jump the gun yet."

What I have to say: I loved Super Mario World, but A Link to the Past was the first SNES game that I really got into.  My dad for the most part doesn't like video games, but one of the few games he ever enjoyed was the original Zelda, so he was actually interested in seeing this title.  Stumbling around finding the entrance to the castle must have stumped him, because he never again expressed interest in playing the game.  I on the other hand, felt that A Link to the Past was a massive improvement over the original Zelda.  There was a story actually told in the game itself, the music was excellent, the graphics were significantly better than its predecessor, but more importantly, the gameplay was altered in monumental ways.  You still used tools, but the puzzles were much more in-depth, the boss fights were memorable, and the new tools were clever.  It remains my favorite 2D Zelda to this day and definitely deserves a place on EGM's top ten.

Game number 2, Super Mario Bros. 3 was a pop culture phenomenon.  It was discussed at the work place, and could even be found in movies.  Here's what the old men at EGM had to say:

"The game: The third chapter in the insanely successful Super Mario Bros. series, it's also the single best platform game of all time (as well as the second best game of all time).

It made the list because: Super Mario Bros. 3 took the series back to its roots, but expanded upon the original game in every way imaginable.  No other game since has been able to recapture the spirit of adventure and enchantment found in Mario 3.  There are dozens of worlds to explore, tons of secrets to find, minigames up the wazoo, perfect gameplay and special animal costumes that grant never-before-seen powers.  What, for instance, could be better than batting turtles with your tail after nabbing the Leaf power-up?  Or how about sprinting and launching into the air for a few seconds of flight to grab those hard-to-reach coins?  And for the first time, the levels were spread out on an overworld map that sprawled in every direction (but watch out for the roving Hammer Brothers!).  The entire game just cries out to be explored!  Best of all, the All-Stars version on the Super NES is like a dream come true--everything is re-created perfectly, but with gorgeous graphics and better sounds.

Coolest part: Using the Whistle from Zelda to get to the hidden Warp Zones!

Just a reminder: We're not including compilation games on our Top 100, or Super Mario All-Stars would be the clear-cut number one game of all time.  It's a sin not to own this king of compilations!"

What I have to say: Mario Bros. 3 is the first game I remember playing religiously.  My dad had an Atari, and I played that on occasion, but the NES is where most of my early game memories lie.  I played the original Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt, Zelda, and a few other titles, but none drew me in as much as Super Mario Bros. 3.  This title was so popular, I remember a secretary at my dad's job talking about where to find the whistles.  This is the only time I can remember adults actually talking about video games in a positive light outside of gaming publications.  Super Mario Bros. 3 was a monumental title, because it unleashed a baker's dozen (well actually, more like a donut shop) of creative levels.  These levels featured some things from previous Mario games, but you actually felt like you were in the Mushroom Kingdom this time when you were climbing through pipe vaults, sliding on ice, and whacking giant goombas.  The unique power-ups, unrivaled level designs, and great graphics made Mario Bros. 3 a must-have game.  I recently played through this game again on Mario All-Stars, and it convinced me that Super Mario Bros. 3 deserved a place on EGM's top ten list.

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The final title on EGM's legendary top ten is a game from Soda Popinski's homeland.  Alexey Pajitnov provided us with a ground breaking game that was not only popular among gamers, but was also a hit among the masses.  Here's what EGM had to say:

"The game: Spend half your life forcing six differently shaped blocks into neat rows at the bottom of a well.  Spend the other half waiting for the straight, skinny block so you can score a "Tetris."

It made the list because: Let's forget for a sec' that 40 million people worldwide play Tetris.  Let's forget that for most people--it's the single most addicting game on the planet.  Let's forget that it paved the way for today's most exciting flashy, combo-ridden puzzle games.  Tetris is as pure as a video game can get.  It's just you, seven blocks and a well.  Your goal is incredibly simple: line up the blocks in rows and make them go away, preferably four rows at a time, to make room for the never-ending rain of blocks from above.  When the right blocks come your way--and if you can manage to avoid mistakes--the game can be relaxing.  One mislaid block, however, and your duties switch to damage control, a mad, panicky dash to clean up your mess or die.  No, Tetris doesn't look, sound or play like any other video game.  Nevertheless, it's complete gaming bliss. 

When it came time to pick the best version of Tetris, we found ourselves in a pickle.  First, we fired up the old Tengen version for the NES (you remember--the one Nintendo filed a lawsuit over because Tengen cracked the Big N's lockout chip?).  We were really, really hoping this version was as good as we remembered.  After all, wouldn't it be as cool if the greatest game of all time was an outlaw?  Alas, the Tetris packed with Dr. Mario for the Super NES plays a little better (it's easier to control the speed of your blocks' descent, and the Two-player Mode is more fun than the one in Tengen's).  Still, many on the staff argued for the Game Boy version.  You can take it anywhere and still play two-player games with the link cable.  After hours of bickering, we finally realized that Tetris pretty much plays fine no matter which system you use to rock your puzzle blocks, whether it be a PC, console, Game Boy or a $10 keychain.

Coolest part: Knowing that whenever you get bored with the latest 3-D adventure or shooter or side-scroller or RPG or sim, Tetris--and its seven blocks--will be waiting for you, always.

Did you know: The greatest video game of all time was never originally intended to be a video game at all.  When Alexey Pajitnov invented Tetris, his intention was merely to create a mental exercise for fellow Russian scientists."

What I have to say: Tetris was certainly a ground breaking game, but does it deserve the top spot on this list?  I'm going to have to disagree with EGM here.  Tetris is fun in short bursts, and I'm sure that's why they chose it, as they planned on moving to a desert island after all, but frankly, I'd get sick of Tetris fairly fast.  I'd say it's fine for a top ten pick, but it definitely doesn't deserve the coveted numero uno position.  I'm curious to know if the old EGM crew still frequently plays Tetris.  Tetris is obviously still somewhat popular, because a DS and Wii iteration were recently released.  I've moved on to other puzzle games since, but there's no doubt that Tetris was an innovative game, no matter your opinion on it.

This article is already unbelievably long, but I promised to include my top ten picks from 1997 and the years preceding.  Here are my top ten favorite games of the era:

1)Chrono Trigger

2)Secret of Mana

3)Final Fantasy VI

4)Final Fantasy IV

5)Final Fantasy V

6)Final Fantasy VII

7)Mario RPG

8)Mario 64

9)Seiken Densetsu 3


I was tempted to include the Lunar games, but I've only played the Playstation incarnations, which were released post-1997, so I'm not sure how the Sega CD versions hold up.  I'm obviously an RPG fan, so here are some of my favorite games from that era that aren't RPGs:

1)Mario 64

2)The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

3)Super Mario Bros. 3

4)Mario Kart 64

5)Super Metroid


7)Yoshi's Island

8)Kirby Super Star

9)Sonic CD

10)Mega Man X

If you made it through this feature without consuming a 12-pack of energy drinks, you're either Seanbaby-cool or an immortal walking this Earth in disguise.  Regardless of how many energy drinks you consumed while reading this article, I hope you enjoyed this feature on one of EGM's best issues. 


Obscure Japanese Games: Ganbare Goemon 4

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I'm impressed.  You've made it this far, and you're probably sick of Goemon by now, but you might as well read my final entry on the Goemon saga.  If you read my previous entry, you'd know that Goemon 3 was a significant departure for the franchise.  It wasn't universally liked among Goemon fans, so Konami wisely decided to take away certain RPG elements and bring the last game of the franchise back to its roots. 

Goemon 4 features a world map like Goemon 2 and a familiar town-level-dungeon structure.  What's different about this game however is that the game is divided into four distinct, character specific worlds.  Your giant robot friend--Goemon Impact is lured into space, and it's your job to rescue him and the universe (that's what I think you're doing anyway).  Each area is an entire world, and usually consists of four levels, two towns, and a dungeon.  The towns typically have a couple puzzles to solve that require a knowledge of Japanese, so us Gaijin are once again out of luck.  Some puzzles require you to complete fetch quests in a time limit, and others force you to sift through a dialogue tree consisting of six or more branches.  If you know a moderate amount of Japanese vocabulary, you should be okay, but you'll likely want to keep a FAQ handy, or you can resort to the timeless method of trial-and-error.  Many of these puzzles employ foxes, which are often tricksters in ancient Japanese tales.

Besides having puzzles to solve, the towns once again feature inns and an assortment of shops.  Instead of encountering humans, you'll now encounter aliens, as you're in outer space.  Luckily, they won't attack you unless you misuse your weapons.  You can also earn money and heal yourself by running into sexy space chicks (don't worry, Goemon games are safe from the evil Jack Thompson).  The towns in this game are quite annoying, mainly because of all the random tasks you have to complete, but be patient, and you'll be rewarded with plenty of challenging platforming segments.

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Goemon 4 has the most difficult levels you'll find in a Super Famicom Goemon.  They don't feature challenging puzzles like Ganbare Goemon 3, but the platforming segments may cause premature balding if you're not a platforming expert.  Many of the stages are strangely themed after sports like baseball, soccer, football, and rugby.  Maybe some of Konami's employees that had worked on their sports titles were moved to the Goemon 4 project.  Some of these levels are quite difficult.  You'll have to jump from bat to bat over huge chasms as they're swung when the baseball players are moving vertically;  you'll ride moving soccer balls over pits while praying that you'll land on the next moving object; and you have to ride balls down a shaft while avoiding baseball pitchers and spikes lining the walls.  The developers of this game are obviously sadists; not just because of the level design, but also because checkpoints are rare.  Players who thought the first few Goemon games were too easy and Mega Man fans will probably love this game as a result. 

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In each world, you'll control a single character.  In Goemon's levels, you'll feel like Tarzan as you're swinging from block to block with your Chain Pipe.  In Ebisimaru's levels, you'll not only have to make use of ninja stars that ricochet, but you'll also end up donning a ballerina costume.  Even though ballerinas are supposed to be delicate, Ebisimaru can drill through solid rock while wearing a tutu.  Despite being smaller, Sasuke has a little more manly ability.  He can scale any type of cliff once you've learned his special move.  Yae, however, has one of the best abilities of them all.  Not only can she turn into a mermaid, but she also wields a bazooka that would put Fox McCloud's pea-shooter to shame.  After completing a certain event, Yae obtains the ability to lock onto multiple enemies.  This is handy against continually respawning enemies.

I know, you're expecting me to say that giant robot battles make a repeat appearance, but surprise!  They aren't a part of this Goemon.  Instead of regular boss fights, or boss battles as Impact Goemon, you'll now fight enemy head honchos via button-mashing mini-games.  If you thought the beer (or "cider") chugging mini-game was tough in Chrono Trigger, you better get ready for some sore thumbs.  Some of these mini-games not only require you to repeatedly mash two buttons alternately; they force you to hit certain gauges at the correct time as well.  The instructions are difficult to understand without knowing Japanese, but typically you'll have to hit a button when the bottom arrow flashes, and then you can start pounding away on the buttons.  You'll want both hands free for the button mashing, because you have to be lightning-fast.  Your neighbors will probably wonder what the racket is, but their jaw will drop when you tell them you beat Goemon 4.  Remember how impressed they were when you beat Mario Bros. 3?  Well, tell them to multiply the difficulty of that times ten.  Just don't get cocky, because the final boss encounter is a grueling experience.  One minor mistake in a lengthy sequence lasting nearly ten minutes can cost you a victory, so be prepared to hit the continue screen, unless you're playing with an emulator where you can use save states.

Despite not understanding much of the plot and dying quite a few times, I had a good time with Goemon 4.  If you enjoy playing games like Mario: The Lost Levels, Mega Man 2, and Mega Man 9, you'll probably have a great time.  Otherwise, you might want to pass.  If you do choose to pass however, you'll miss out on some wild level designs and great music, but then again, you can get plenty of that in the first two games.  I hope you enjoyed this series on Ganbare Goemon, and I may be back with another round if I ever decide to play the NES installments or the second N64 Goemon game. 

My final words of advice: If you're one of those people who throws Wiimotes at your TV screen, take deep breaths while playing Goemon and make sure you're playing in a soundproof room where no one can hear you screaming obscenities or mashing buttons. 

Ganbaru! (Do your best!)

*All images courtesy of Hardcore Gaming 101

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