Thursday, January 17, 2008

My Top 10 Console Video Game List

This was not an easy list. I have been working on this list for a long time – it’s actually been several months since I first wrote these down, but it has been active in my mind for longer than that.

Ask anyone that knows me, I’m terrible at picking out a favorite anything. With all the games I’ve played (which is a lot!), some stick out more than others. I choose games as my favorites by how well they have held up over the years – especially replayability. This list is pretty solid, I don’t see it changing much unless one game moves higher than another because I play it again and love it more than I remember.

I’ll start from 10, and work my way down to 1. More suspenseful this way… no? I’ll also give a little description of the game, and why I chose it. I will not necessarily justify why it is better than the next game though – it’s just not right…

10 – There is no number 10 – Huh? Okay there IS a number 10, but it’s shared by all the games that didn’t make the top 9. Sort of like an “Honorable Mentions” section. When I created this list, I thought of every game that I absolutely loved, and made a list of about 25 games. I added them at the bottom as to not give away what lies ahead. It pains me to see those games, and say to them “You’re not worthy of the top 9!” but my eyes glaze with happiness as I cast them upon 9 through 1…

9 – Legend of Zelda (NES) – the one that started it all. Link’s big debut introduced gamers to the world of Hyrule, where the evil Ganon has kidnapped Princess Zelda after denying him the Triforce of Wisdom. Zelda breaks the Triforce of Wisdom in 8 pieces and Link’s goal is to find them all, and put Ganon in his place.

I have loved this game for over 20 years. 20 years! The music, the items, the octoroks! I have played and beaten this game roughly once a year since it was released. It’s completely non-linear, has no hand-holding whatsoever, and forced you to explore the entire world, use your candle on every bush, plant a bomb on every stone wall, and to blow your whistle on every grid. Maybe I love it so much because I easily remember where everything is still, maybe I love it for nostalgia’s sake, or maybe I love it because it is a truly great game. It’s a combination of those three I am certain.

8 – Super Mario Bros (NES) – Again, the one that started it all for Mario. Sure Mario had other games before this, but this one launched him into the forefront of Nintendo’s market, making him the most easily recognized video game character. Mario runs, jumps and throws fireballs through 8 worlds of 4 stages to save Princess Peach of the Mushroom Kingdom.

And again, a game I have loved for over 20 years… Mario set the stage for all his future games with this one – game elements from this game are seen in nearly every Mario game since. (The first time I saw this game beat was when the controller was in, no, not my hands, but my mom’s!) It is a classic not to be denied.

7 – Animal Crossing (GCN) / Animal Crossing Wild World (NDS) – Hey! Two games can’t occupy one spot! Yes they can, because it’s my list. I chose to lump these two together rather than have them take up two spots because the Wild World is not an actual sequel of the Gamecube game. More of an expanded upon version.

I don’t know that I would have ever purchased this game if not for my wife. I was looking for a game we could play together. I picked up the Gamecube version, and we both instantly fell in love with it. We also both have our own copies of the DS version (Yes, she has her own DS – I love her!!).

It’s a game where you don’t have to do anything, but there is always plenty to do. You start off moving into a new town inhabited by … yes, animals. You move into a very tiny house, complete with a mortgage. When you pay off your mortgage, you’re given the option of upgrading to a larger home, with a larger mortgage, which of course you accept! Digging up fossils, going fishing, running errands for your neighbors, shaking trees, and catching bugs make up the majority of the things you can do in Animal Crossing. A no-stress, very fun (and somewhat addicting) game for the whole family.

6 – Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES) – Link returns in the third installment, and first Zelda game on the Super Nintendo. After Zelda II attempted a side-scrolling route, LTTP returns to the original LoZ style of overhead platforming. The graphics and sound were leaps and bounds ahead of the NES version, and the gameplay itself was absolutely outstanding. New items and abilities, a Light World and a Dark World to explore – all with that classic Zelda feel.

My brother gave me this game for my birthday the year it came out – I remember the price sticker on it being $69.99, and being very grateful that he would spend that on his kid brother. (Thanks brother!) He also played the first couple of hours of it before I did, but I didn’t mind one bit.

The Top 5 – a quick note. If I could only have five video games for the rest of my life to play, these would without question keep me satisfied.

5 – Super Metroid (SNES) – Yowza. Super Metroid is the best Metroid game ever. Period. Metroid Prime was great and everything, and easily the best Prime game, but Super Metroid holds the gold medal in my opinion.

After her mission of eradicating all of the remaining metroids on their home planet – SR388. The last metroid she happens upon mistakes her for its mother, and Samus decides to donate it to science. However, immediately after she leaves the space station, the baby metroid is captured by the space pirate Ridley, and Samus pursues to the place where her first mission took place – Planet Zebes.

With new weapon upgrades, speed boost, super missiles and super bombs, a grappling beam and an x-ray visor at your disposal, what’s not to love? The SNES title expanded heavily upon its NES and Gameboy prequels, and created a beautiful world, with music that is forever favored in my heart.

4 – Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES) – Nintendo and Squaresoft made magic together, combining two of my favorite elements: Mario and RPG. Who would have known that it would have turned out so great? Not the typical Mario story – sure, Bowser kidnaps Peach at the beginning, but that’s resolved after the first five minutes. Bowser’s castle is claimed by Exor, a giant sword that stabs straight through the center of his castle, in the name of the Smithy Gang. You are then tasked with collecting the seven stars and defeating Smithy.

Mario RPG was built upon Final Fantasy-ish turn-based combat, a magic system using flower power, different weapons and armor that you find/buy and equip, and a great cast of Mario characters, new and old. You could have three members in your party at any given time with a total of five to choose from (Mario, Mallow, Geno, Bowser, and Peach). A special highlight in my opinion was the non-random battles. Battles were started when you ran into a baddy on the board (or they ran into you). Another great feature was the Timed Hits. Timed Hits would give you an attack or defense bonus if you could press the respective button at a certain time. It was different per character and per weapon and added an extra element to the game to keep you more involved in battles. The music was also especially phenomenal...

I purchased this game myself for $69.99. This was the first game that I had purchased myself, brand new. I loved Mario, and loved Squaresoft. This was a match made in heaven in my opinion, and was sadly the only collaboration the two ever shared.

3 – Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64) – Again, Yowza. OOT gripped Zelda fans, and guided them into a Hyrule light years ahead of its era. The first third-person Zelda game achieved what many third-person games had failed terribly – great control and camera angles. The game moves fluidly without error. The story told is one now of legend, as our young hero Link travels time as a child and as a young adult to save Princess Zelda from the evil Ganondorf.

OOT was simply breathtaking when it came out over ten years ago, and has aged well over those years. This game set the bar high for future Zelda games to emulate, and I personally don’t think any newer Zelda games have attained that height – which isn’t to say Twilight Princess and Wind Waker aren’t good, they’re just not as good as OOT.

Some of the things that make this game so wonderful: Traveling back and forth through time – accomplishing things in the past impacting the future was brilliant. Using the Ocarina to travel the land was also a great feature, as was having your very own horse, Epona.

The music score ranks very high for me. Just this morning as I was getting ready, I was whistling the tune from all the shops in the game, and to my pleasant surprise, my wife started whistling it too. Some music from the game of course originates from previous Zelda games, but a lot of the music made for OOT is carried on in variations in all future Zelda games (to my knowledge at least!).

2 – Secret of Mana (SNES) – The main character, Randi, pulls the Mana Sword from its resting place, and his town is swarmed by monsters. Believing that if Randi leaves the town, that the monsters will go away, he is exiled. He later meets Purim, who rescues him from being eaten by goblins. As he reaches the next town, he meets Purim again. Purim is on her way to a witch’s castle to free her boyfriend from the witch’s control. Unable to enter the witch’s castle due to an impassable road, Purim and Randi head to Gaia’s Navel where they meet the third member of the party, Popoi. The three are then thrust into a wild journey that involves saving the world from being destroyed by the Mana Beast.

Where to start? I bought this game from a friend for $5.00. It’s an action RPG made by Squaresoft in which the player has three characters, one of which he controls and the other two are controlled by the computer. You can cycle through, and use any of the three that you would like, at any time. Secret of Mana had some truly brilliant music, and a very good story with a surprising ending. Looking back on it, I remember it not being fair, and being a little upset about it, but now that time has passed, I know it was just good storytelling.

This game introduced the Ring Menu – by pressing the Y-button, you pulled up the menu for the character you were currently using, and pressing X-button pulled up the computer controlled character’s (pressing it again, pulled up the other computer controlled character). The ring menu is just what it sounds like, all of your options pop up over your character in a circular format, that you could easily scroll through by pressing left or right. Pressing up or down brought up another set of menus.

Purim and Popoi had access to defensive and offensive magic respectively, while Randi was your fighter. The magic spells were made up by eight different magic spirits. All of three of the characters could use any of the weapons you found – there were no weapon restrictions whatsoever. Each weapon and magic spirit could be leveled up as well.

There have been quite a few Mana games since Secret of Mana, and not one has been able to live up to it. There was a sequel to Secret of Mana that was not released in North America, and though I have heard it was just as good as the original, I have never played it and can’t verify that claim.

And finally, the number one…

1 – Final Fantasy Tactics (PSOne) – There is a special place in my gaming heart for FFT. The story is a deep and dark one, as the protagonist Ramza follows his heart in doing the right thing in a corrupt world. The music from this game very nearly pushes it over the edge to being my number one game – it’s that good. While I don’t own the soundtrack, I do still have plans to pick it up on eBay.

FFT is a turn based strategy game. Just looking at the back of the case will tell you that it’s a Final Fantasy game – at the bottom of the back case are pictures of all of the job classes in FFT. And honestly, that’s what sold me when I bought this game years ago. I was in EB Games, and saw FFT, and upon looking at the back of the case, and seeing the easily recognizable Black Mage and White Mage, I took it straight to the counter and bought it. I was also persuaded by the other class pictures on the case, including the Archer, Ninja, Monk, Mime, Dancer, and Time Mage.

There are 19 available job classes that you can have your units learn ~400 skills from. Classic jobs with the outfits originating from previous Final Fantasy games are present. Once you have learned a skill, you can use it even if you switch jobs (so long as it is in your secondary skill set. With so many job classes, you can play through the game with a different group each time. There are also a ton of player made challenges (as can be seen on Gamefaqs) in which you play through game with all your characters having the same job, or using limited skills, etc.

Besides the original Legend of Zelda, I doubt I have played through a game more times than this. I have a memory card full of save data for this game, but it’s still not an accurate record of my history as I had saved over older game saves in the past. This game probably also holds my record for most hours played upon, though again, I don’t have an accurate record.

FFT also spawned a Gameboy Advance creation, though I won’t call it a sequel. It’s far too lighthearted. While it’s a great game in its own right, it’s apples and oranges in comparing it to the original. There’s also Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, which is sort of like a Real Time Strategy Tactics game – using many of the same design as Final Fantasy Tactics Advance did. Japan also recently received Final Fantasy Tactics A2, which has yet to be released in North America. Why did I include all this? Because these are all great games, spawned from an even greater game, and it makes me love the original even more.

Honorable Mentions

· Metroid (NES) – the original; great exploring element; epic music; tough game

· Kid Icarus (NES) – made by Metroid’s creator; linear game; extremely difficult, but highly entertaining; beating it gives you a real sense of accomplishment; AWESOME music

· Castlevania: Dawn of Souls (NDS) – I already liked Castlevania, but this first to the NDS made me see it in a whole new light; great story; lots of dark elements to it; very catchy music; soul capturing system is the best yet

· Final Fantasy VII (PSOne) – the only game I have had that I broke the clock on, it stopped recording my time played at 99 hours L; if I absolutely had to choose a title as my number 10, it would have been this one

· Legend of Zelda Majora’s Mask (N64) – Great Zelda game, just not as good as the others, number 5 on my overall Zelda games

· Legend of Zelda Phantom Hourglass (NDS) – Excellent Zelda game, number 4 on my overall Zelda list; it’s a rare instance when I play a game through, and then play it through again – this may have been the first actually.

· River City Ransom – “BARF!”

· Secret of Evermore (SNES) – Very similar to Secret of Mana, though not a sequel; just a game using the same exact engine made by the same creators

· Soul Blader (SNES) – Never played the English version of this game, but I have beaten the Super Famicom version many times without knowing how to read Japanese; holds a special spot among my favorites

· Super Mario Bros 3 (NES) - Leaf power, overworld view and stage selection; this Mario Bros had it all, and took the whole series to the next level.

· Super Mario World (SNES) - SMW expanded upon SMB3, adding the superior graphics of the SNES and a larger world to explore, not to mention riding Yoshi!

· Zombies Ate My Neighbors (SNES) - This game stands out for me as a great two player game; it has quite a cult following as I understand it; a very cartoony game that revolved around you using different weapons to defeat various zombies, chain-saw wielding maniacs, and gigantic babies. Konami at its finest!

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