Remembering 2000: The Biggest Games That Turn 20 This Year
It was the new millennium, and gaming in the year 2000 saw an unprecedented level of change. With the continued rise of online connectivity, the PlayStation 2 and Sega Dreamcast getting settled as the new consoles on the block, and PC gaming proving itself to be a major force in the industry, many of the games that released in 2000 would go on to redefine their respective genres. It was indeed an exciting time to be playing video games, and the impact of the releases of 2000 would go on to set a new standard for releases in the years to come.
Continuing with GameSpot's annual tradition of reflecting on the games of yesteryear--our most recent focusing on 2010--we narrowed down a list of the releases that made not only 2000 a great year in gaming, but also a fantastic start to the new era. Organized by their respective North American release dates, here's GameSpot's selection of the most noteworthy games of 2000, along with our thoughts on why they still resonate with us two decades later.
If you want to see more of our thoughts on different years in gaming, you can find our previous roundups of games we love from years past.
- Remembering 1998: Metal Gear Solid, The Legend Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Half-Life and more.
- Remembering 1999: Final Fantasy VIII, Silent Hill, Resident Evil 3, and more.
- Remembering 2007: Bioshock, Mass Effect, Uncharted, and more.
- Remembering 2008: Fallout 3, Metal Gear Solid 4, Grand Theft Auto IV, and more.
- Remembering 2009: Batman: Arkham Asylum, Uncharted 2, Borderlands, and more.
- Remembering 2010: Red Dead Redemption, Fallout: New Vegas, God of War III, and more.
Crazy Taxi | January 24 (Sega Dreamcast)
Imagine a game where you play as a taxi driver cruising around a stylized version of a real city. It sounds great, right? But what if it were loud, vibrant, and had more personality than you could shake a tire iron at? What if it were CRAZY? Luckily, such a game exists and it checks all of these boxes. Crazy Taxi took one of the most mundane forms of private commercial transport and turned it into one of the most intense arcade racing games around.
My first experience of playing Crazy Taxi was at my best friend’s house during a weekend sleepover. His mom had taken us to the video rental store and told us both to pick out a game. Honestly, I don’t remember what my friend got, but as soon as I saw the box art for Crazy Taxi on the store shelf, I knew I needed to play it. The determined man tightly clutching his steering wheel while barreling down one of San Francisco’s many steep hills, while his customer is standing up in the back and cheering. The cover alone gave off such a powerful energy and it got me good. My friend and I played Crazy Taxi from the time we got home until the wee hours of the morning not realizing just how much time had passed. In that time, I remember learning how to pull off drifts and boosts while singing along with the game's soundtrack, which composed of songs from Bad Religion and The Offspring. It's a miracle that we didn’t get in trouble for making so much noise.
The one thing that really stuck with me is the Crazy Taxi’s overall attitude. From it’s wonderful, over the top characters (BD Joe is the best driver) to the unforgettable soundtrack, it is a game that I will never regret booting up occasionally for a quick arcade run. Its chaotic pull is so strong that I will often play the free mobile version of the original, which actually includes the original soundtrack, while I wait for meetings at work to start. Of course, my love of the series means that I have to close out by mentioning how much I sure would love to see an HD collection of the old Crazy Taxi games or maybe even a new entry at some point. I guess you could say at this point ♪It’s All I Waaaaaaaant! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!♪| Ben Janca, Video Producer
The Sims | February 3
The Sims was the first game to utterly consume me: every waking thought when I wasn’t playing would be spent mentally designing homes, noting down cool sounding names for new Sims, or plotting out storylines in my head.
The Sims was also the first game to make me question if I was a good person or not.
The premise is deceptively simple: create a family, design and furnish their home, and run (or ruin) their lives however you wish. While I’d certainly spend an unhealthy amount of time creating a perfect family before moving them into a beautiful home, I’d also throw a spanner directly into my own works by trying to find the most devilish ways I could to mess things up for my unsuspecting Sims.
I’d ruin perfectly happy families that I’d spent hours designing by making the parents get into fights, or have an affair. I’d get hardworking Sims fired for missing the carpool or homes repossessed for not paying bills. But mostly, I’d try to find new exciting ways to kill off my Sims. Removing the pool ladder was too easy, I wanted to push myself to my limits. I’d painstakingly design bizarre torture palaces with no windows or toilets (and yet with abundant flammable items) that H.H. Holmes would have envied.
Look, I’m not saying I’m proud of all this, but Maxis didn’t seem to care. In fact, it’s their fault. Not only did they give me the tools I needed, but in subsequent expansion packs, they gave me even more ways to get weird with it. I can’t even tell you how long I spent trying to romance Sunny the Tragic Clown, or trying to throw a house party good enough that Drew Carey would come to it.
The Sims can be a humdrum life simulator if that’s what you want. It can also be a bizarre sandbox where you truly get to explore the inner depths of your own psyche. I’m slowly coming to terms with who I am. | Lucy James, Senior Video Producer Of Original Programming
Vagrant Story | February 10
By 2000, I was playing a lot of Squaresoft games. I'd become a die-hard Final Fantasy fan, I'd loved the horror-RPG combo of Parasite Eve, and I'd gotten lost in the weirdo religious underpinnings of Xenogears. Square's action-RPG Vagrant Story hit me harder than any of them, though, because it felt so different from the Square RPGs I'd been playing for years. It dropped you into a medieval fantasy world that was grounded in realism--early portions of the game focus on struggles between a powerful church and an aristocratic state, which felt closer to the real world than most of Square's more out-there games, like Final Fantasy VII and VIII. Vagrant Story was heavy on political intrigue, imagining a world full of armies with divided loyalties, cultists with strange powers, and spies trying to maintain the status quo, like Game of Thrones through the lens of Final Fantasy Tactics.
In the center of it all was Leá Monde, a storied city rendered into ruin by earthquakes but surging with a dark, strange power. While you spend the game trying to figure out what the opposing forces of the world all want with the ravaged city, you're constantly contending with a supernatural force that literally raises the dead. Though Vagrant Story is full of magic and monsters, the people of its world spend the game confused and frightened by those things, facing powers they can't understand but still hope to wield. Even in broad daylight, Leá Monde is oppressive and foreboding, both for the player and for the characters they encounter; even the rank-and-file soldiers following orders in the city fear what they might become if they fall in battle.
Vagrant Story's world and narrative are dark and compelling, and they're bolstered by gameplay that mixes in a bunch of RPG systems to make a tough-as-nails game. Attacks and defenses are based on timing, making combat into a dance, and a dense system of elemental affinities and magic abilities add a whole lot of strategic thinking to any enemy encounter. Yes, a lot of it is tough to deal with--I never did quite master the weapon system--but it leads to intense, difficult boss battles that feel like RPG cousins of encounters in modern games like Dark Souls.
Okay, one last thing: like the writing, Vagrant Story's presentation is phenomenal. For a PlayStation game, it's often beautiful and colorful, pushing the hardware of the time to the absolute brink with incredible art direction, and its soundtrack is unmatched. It's probably my favorite game of its era, easily in my top five of all time, and if ever a game from the height of Squaresoft deserved a remake or a remaster, it's Vagrant Story | Phil Hornshaw, Editor
Dead or Alive 2 | February 29
While Sega Saturn and the first PlayStation were home to many respectable 3D fighting games, the genre really matured with the arrival of Dreamcast and PlayStation 2. SoulCalibur was the premier 3D fighter on consoles heading into the year 2000 and the envy of every non-Dreamcast owner at the time. But Dead or Alive 2 also wasn't far behind, and it too was an impressive next-gen contender capable of turning heads.
Sure, Dreamcast already had a port of Virtua Fighter 3, a then three-year-old hand-to-hand brawler, but Dead or Alive 2 all but drowned it out with flash, vigor, and explosions. At its core, a system of reversals and counterattacks provided a solid strategic foundation for competitors, lending palpable drama to bouts that went this way and that in the blink of an eye. Elaborate stage transitions gave a cinematic quality to the most hard-hitting fights, too. And did I mention explosions? Slam your opponent hard enough into a wall and brace for the quick burst of energy that punctuates the impact.
Dead or Alive 2, while a good shot in the arm for Dreamcast owners, didn't have the staying power of SoulCalibur. It also struggled to maintain its grip on the PS2 audience, who had many more games to choose from in general, not to mention the long shadow of Tekken Tag Tournament overhead. Yet the series continued to thrive, partially due to supporting games that leaned into the series' infamous emphasis on the sexy side of its cast, but also because the fighting system continued to improve on its already strong foundation. Last year's Dead or Alive 6 is a damn good fighting game. And you know what? So is Dead or Alive 2. Even today, its fit and finish feels on point, putting its achievements from 20 years ago in a more impressive light than ever. Even writing this now, I'm struck by how little love it gets from the nostalgic retro-game crowd out there. Dead or Alive 2 deserves to be remembered for what it was, not for what the series at large morphed into. |Peter Brown, Managing Editor
Pokemon Stadium | February 29
One of the coolest features of Pokemon Stadium was the ability to import your Pokemon from the Game Boy games and see them in 3D on your TV. At least, that's what I'm told. In 2000, I didn't care about that at all. I didn't know anything about stats or strategies or what Pokemon were especially good and cool. I was all about those mini-games.
Probably the most iconic of Pokemon Stadium's mini-games was the conveyor belt sushi one starring Lickitung. As a child who'd never seen nor eaten conveyor belt sushi--or sushi at all, for that matter--and had no sense of the value of money, I was especially into this mini-game, where the whole point is to eat more expensive sushi than your opponents. The game tells you ahead of time what's priciest, so I either spent some time studying that or just guessed. Either way, I enjoyed the atmosphere so much that it's one of the few things I can remember from the year 2000.
To me, Pokemon Stadium is synonymous with Lickitung's Sushi-Go-Round. But it was also the game that got us dreaming of a 3D Pokemon RPG on a TV screen, and 20 years later, we have that in Pokemon Sword and Shield. More importantly, I also finally had conveyor belt sushi. |Kallie Plagge, Reviews Editor
Resident Evil Code Veronica | February 29
I'll be honest: I didn't play Resident Evil: Code Veronica on Dreamcast. I was eight years old and still terrified of Resident Evil in 2000. It wasn't until three years later that I got to experience the game via PS2 expanded release after my pre-teen survival-horror awakening. As a then 11-year-old fledgling fan of the franchise, Code Veronica's appeal wasn't lost on me. Code Veronica is a rehash of Resident Evil's best qualities that leans heavily on both challenging and pleasing its most diehard fans. After all, you play as both Redfield siblings in another spooky scenario packed with literally the toughest zombies and bioweapons seen in the series at that point. That alone was enough to seal the deal for me, as I was fiercely passionate about the franchise's protagonists and lore.
Code Veronica is easily one of the hardest games in the series, and for a good reason. Supplies are super scarce, zombies take a ton of bullets, and the larger enemies and bosses are arguably unreasonable (seriously, both the Bandersnatches and T-078 are ridiculous). The game challenged you to be even more resourceful and required you to run past most enemies because if you didn't, you could easily be soft-locked from beating the game. Where previous Resident Evil games were more forgiving of using your resources, Code Veronica punished you if you weren't actively hoarding a stockpile of ammo and health items for the game's tougher sections.
With enough patience, I did eventually overcome Code Veronica's trials, which was a satisfying reward all its own for my 11-year-old self. I'm honestly shocked that I was able to make it through in the first place, but I couldn't resist wanting to see Chris and Claire fight horrifying Umbrella bioweapons. I still have a fondness to this day for the game, even if it's not the first Resident Evil I'd willingly revisit. But if I did, I'm confident Code Veronica would test my survival-horror fortitude and reward my efforts in the same way it did so many years ago. |Matt Espineli, Editor
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask | April 27
The first time I ever played Majora’s Mask was actually on The Legend of Zelda: Collector’s Edition for the GameCube, which, as some of you may know, is infamous for crashing frequently, but only on Majora’s Mask. Since the game only allows you to save when you reset time or by talking to an Owl Statue, I lost progress many, many times. But the game is so captivating that I just couldn’t stop … but I’m also a huge Zelda nerd, so that might have been part of it.
Coming off the heels of Ocarina of Time, which is considered one of the greatest video games of all time, Majora’s Mask decided to take a different approach, focusing more on atmosphere and characters than dungeons and saving the princess. It’s everything a direct sequel to Ocarina of Time needed to be. The most notable part of the game is that it introduced the mask mechanic that allows you to play as a Deku Scrub, Goron, Zora, or Fierce Deity Link. While the rest of the gameplay is ripped right from Ocarina of Time (and that’s not a bad thing), these masks gave each area a whole new set of puzzles and challenges to keep things fresh and unique. Plus, who doesn’t like spinning around Terminal Field as Goron Link?
Nowadays you could play the 3DS enhanced version, which has an upgraded Bomber’s Notebook to help keep track of sidequests and a much more manageable saving system--plus, you know, you could just close the 3DS. But there’s something about those polygonal N64 graphics that really help set the eerie and creepy tone of the game. If time got the better of you and you never got to experience this game, then you’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you? |Evan Langer, Video Production Intern
The Misadventures of Tron Bonne | April 30
Mega Man Legends was the series' first foray into 3D, with light dungeon-crawling action reminiscent of Ocarina of Time, but less refined. It introduced a whole new take on Mega Man, inspired by Saturday morning cartoons, complete with a band of wacky air pirate rivals, the Bonnes. Teisel, Tron, and the oversized baby Bon Bonne practically stole the show, being a constant thorn in Mega Man's side but never erring too far into outright villainy.
Tron, the genius inventor and semi-love-interest was the breakout character in Mega Man Legends, and so it was only fitting that she receive her own game. The Misadventures of Tron Bonne is one of the strangest Mega Man spin-offs--and for a series that includes both a soccer game and a kart racer, that's saying something. It's essentially a mini-game collection, released well before the Nintendo Wii made that genre en vogue. But it's wrapped around a story of Tron heisting her way into paying off a debt to save her siblings, endearing us even further to the zany family. Assisting her in the quest are a legion of 40 always-loyal, endlessly chipper Servbots--another enduring mascot from the Legends series. There was even a "Torture Room" mini-game to punish any Servbots who got too lazy.
I only caught up with Tron Bonne a few years after it released, after playing Mega Man Legends 2 and wanting more from the series. Its controls already felt a little dated, but its mixture of charm and subversive humor kept me entertained regardless. By modern standards, it's even more a relic of its time, but I keep hoping for a new Misadventure, with new mini-games, to play on my Switch. | Steve Watts, Associate Editor
Perfect Dark | May 22
Seemingly everyone loved GoldenEye, James Bond fan or not. Despite my own affinity for that series, it's always been Perfect Dark that stood as my favorite game of that era. GoldenEye set the stage for how good a first-person shooter could be on consoles, and Perfect Dark was a worthy successor and the definitive console FPS until Halo arrived.
I remember being in awe of how fully featured Perfect Dark felt. A campaign full of gadgets, stealth, and some degree of freedom, complete with support for co-op and PvP (wherein one player tries to stop the other from finishing the level). A hub area you can explore and complete weapon challenges in. And best of all, the Combat Simulator, the game's robust PvP mode that--much to my delight--supported a variety of AI bots to ensure I could play late into the night, even after my friends had gone home.
More than anything, it's the creativity of the weapons that I still love so much about Perfect Dark. Secondary functions for each weapon provided so much of the fun. Whether it was the laptop gun that could be deployed as a sentry or the assault rifle that could be dropped as a proximity explosive, there was a lot more going on than you could see at first blush. It's a shame that the game never received the sequel it deserved--the less said about Zero, the better--although the Rare Replay version at least made the original playable on modern hardware. The gameplay feels a bit thin by today's standards, but I'll always be down for the occasional one-hit-kill match on Complex. | Chris Pereira, Engagement Editor
Space Channel 5 | June 4
I love rhythm games, and naturally, I also love the work of Tetsuya Mizuguchi. Known now for great works like Tetris Effect, Rez, Lumines and Meteos, Mizuguchi's first foray into rhythm games was the super-stylish Space Channel 5 for Dreamcast, a wonderfully unique game bursting with colour, style, and good times. Space Channel 5 revelled in 1960s retro-futurism and big band music, an aesthetic that still feels incredibly cool and bold, at least to me, a 30-something-year-old man who primarily listens to music from the mid-20th century.
When a race of aliens begins capturing humans, forcing them to dance, it's your mission to save the day with the help of Ulala, whose job seems to be some kind of improbable mix of TV reporter, gogo dancer, and gunslinger. It's a call and response game in the vein of Parappa The Rapper, where you'll mimic the movements of the dancing aliens in time with the music. Doing well in that task will help Ulala simultaneously report on the invasion and maintain audience ratings, blast aliens into oblivion, rescue hostages by also blasting them into oblivion, and battle rival reporters and pirates in dance-offs.
It's weird as hell, but it's also so damn confident and stylish. It was true back in 2000, and it's still true now, and that's what makes it so memorable. Playing the game felt like participating in a series of really fun and funky-as-hell '90s music videos--you'd gather a huge, stomping dance troupe as you moved through the levels, Ulala's dance choreography was mesmerising, and it had Michael Jackson in it for some reason, but we don't talk about that anymore. I loved it, writing this blurb made me go back and replay it, and it's still great! Apparently there's a VR version of Space Channel 5 coming soon too, and honestly, if Sega wants to keep bringing back things that aren't Sonic The Hedgehog, I am absolutely on board. | Edmond Tran, Senior Editor & Video Producer
Deus Ex | June 23
There's so much to be said about Deus Ex, like how it revolutionized what we know as the immersive sim, blended FPS and RPG like nothing before it, and gave us a provocative cyberpunk story where choices mattered. For so long, I considered it the greatest game of all time and nothing can replace the way Deus Ex made me look at video games in a new light all those years ago.
What I remember most about Deus Ex was the atmosphere. It painted a dark dystopian future with the proper sights and sounds; the ravaged alleys of New York, Hong Kong, and Paris, the insurgency of a "terrorist" group filling the streets, greed and corporatism neighboring the dying plague-ridden poor folks--and of course, the prevalence of cybernetic body augmentation. As JC Denton, you're the premier super agent of global anti-terrorist organization UNATCO whose objective it is to thwart NSF "terrorists." What's with the quotation marks, though? There comes a point where the game completely flips the script on you in one swift moment. What made this moment powerful was that it was done all in-game, no dramatic cutscenes or drawn-out dialogue.That happening as you're playing induced a sense of panic and thoughts of "what about everyone and everything I knew and had" immediately ran through my mind. To this day, I still remember the moment I first experienced it. And that was only about halfway through the game.
Deus Ex was my first time seeing a deeply developed conspiracy play out in front of me. It's one thing to hear and read about massive global conspiracies, but Deus Ex brought that to my fingertips. The narrative and your actions were intertwined and the freedom to navigate the world was groundbreaking for an impressionable 12-year-old kid. Nothing matched this feeling.
Visually, thematically, and gameplay-wise, Deus Ex nailed exactly what it was going for, but the other key component was the soundtrack. Subtle yet distinct ambient music filled the air at times, while the catchy techno-orchestral songs that ran on loop were infectious and set the ominous mood impeccably.
Predecessors System Shock 2 and Thief share the same lineage and Deus Ex certainly draws from what those games did, but Deus Ex was where all the ideas of similar games that came before it culminated into one of near-perfect execution. |Michael Higham, Associate Editor
Diablo II | June 29
We all have that game in our history that we spent way more time with than anything else. We opted to sink countless hours into it even with nothing new to see, choosing it over fresh experiences just because we loved it so much. For me, that is undoubtedly Diablo II, a game from a period before the term "endgame" existed--not that that stopped me from grinding endlessly in a player-created tradition known as the Baal run.
Essentially, game sessions would be created with sequentially numbered names. Usually, the same group of people would jump from one to the next, with one person--equipped with the ability to teleport and a hack that reveals the map--who would rapidly make their way to the final boss room of Act V. Complete the encounter as quickly as possible, grab the loot as quickly as possible--with loot shared between players, including those using hacks to quickly pick up items--and hope someone doesn't steal your slot in the next session.
In retrospect, it's sort of a wonder that I loved this and spent so much time playing it (and its Lord of Destruction expansion, which introduced Act V). But that's a testament to the immensely satisfying core gameplay loop that the Diablo series has always offered and that, for my money, no other action RPG has ever quite matched. It's no wonder that I and many others hope for a proper remaster announcement at BlizzCon each year. Picking up Diablo 2 now is a bit rough due to a variety of factors, such as a lack of widescreen support and an unforgiving skill system that provides no room for experimentation. But it's just so much fun to slay demons and collect loot, and its classes--such as the shape-shifting Druid and army-summoning Necromancer--are still as fun to play with as anything you'll find in a modern action RPG. |Chris Pereira, Managing Editor
Marvel vs Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes | June 29 (Sega Dreamcast)
Let's be clear here, Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes makes no sense at all. As a sequel to Capcom's over-the-top crossover fighting game series, MvC2 didn't take a reserved approach with following up its predecessor. Along with an overstuffed and unbalanced roster of 56 fighters, two of which were original characters, Ruby Heart and Amingo, who were never seen again after its release, it had a jazz-pop soundtrack that feels so incredibly out of step with the tone of the versus fighting game series. It's a total mess of a game, yet seeing Marvel vs. Capcom 2 play out with all these details in motion is a spellbinding affair, and I wouldn't have this incredibly loud and unsubtle game any other way.
MvC2 is 20 years old this year, and we've yet to see another crossover fighting game match its level of insanity and exuberance. I first saw this game back at a Round Table Pizza in San Francisco. My younger brother and I watched as a crowd of older kids hunkered around the arcade machine, howling with delight. Just as we were, the kids were caught up in the lively spectacle of seeing a team made up of Cable, Venom, and Strider brawl against another group made up of Cable, Mega Man, and Akuma. Once the fight was over, the older kids put more quarters into the machine. What came next was me and my brother witnessing, for the first time, the single most significant piece of presentation in fighting game history--the MvC2 character-select screen. From that moment, the track "Take You For A Ride" was etched into our collective memories forever.
We eventually got to play the game, but we weren't great at it. I was pretty bad at fighting games back then, though to get good at them wasn't the reason why I played. Going back to Marvel vs. Street Fighter, I always enjoyed just diving in to take my favorite characters on a gauntlet of fights against other bizarre pairings, and MvC2 delivered that to absurd degrees. Eventually, the game came to Sega Dreamcast, and I finally got better at it. Marvel vs. Capcom 2 is a one-of-a-kind fighting game. It's somehow so strange, and out-of-sync with other games of its ilk, it became timeless. The game is coming back for EVO 2020, and seeing this ludicrous grab-bag of a fighter make its return to high-level play has me itching to dig up a copy and give it another ride. |Alessandro Fillari, Editor
Strider 2 | July 29
I always forget how big of a deal Strider Hiryu was for me growing up. From the moment I laid eyes on him in Marvel vs. Capcom, my eight-year-old self was obsessed with his stoic demeanor and long flowing red scarf. So you can imagine how pumped I was when I found out that he appeared in his own standalone arcade games, and not only that, but a modern 2.5D sequel ported to PS1.
Due to my limited finances as a child with a weekly allowance of $2, I wasn't able to grab myself a copy of Strider 2 at launch. But when I did manage to save up enough to get it in 2003--after a long, tumultuous journey to track a copy down--it was a dream come true. At that point, I had waited so long to play Strider 2, and finally there I was, performing all manner of acrobatic jumps as its titular sci-fi ninja while slicing away at every enemy charging at me. But two hours passed, and just like that, the game was over.
While I found myself slightly disappointed at how short Strider 2 was, I couldn't help but feel satisfaction having played it. The game's arcade action design made each of its brief stages a concise, yet memorable thrill. Whether it was a rooftop rematch against the bounty hunting scoundrel Solo or a fight against a cyborg mammoth outside a secret Antarctic research lab, there was always an exciting fight around every corner.
Of course, the two-disc package of Strider 2 also included an infamously misprinted copy of Strider 1--Strider 2 was labeled as the Strider 1 disc, and vice versa. I learned to appreciate the first game more in subsequent years, but Strider 2 still holds a special place in my heart. No matter how you slice it with your Cypher, Strider 2 remains an arcade action classic that's well worth revisiting, if only to see one of the coolest ninjas in games doing his thing. That, and hearing this SICK opening stage track. | Matt Espineli, Editor
Chrono Cross | August 15
Chrono Trigger was my first RPG experience, and the first time I encountered a game that felt like it could tell a smart, well-written, convincing story. It blew my 10-year-old mind and totally changed the way I felt about video games. They could be more than toys or escapist distractions and could carry the same emotional weight and feeling of discovery that made movies and novels so powerful. Chrono Trigger remains probably my favorite game of all time, so when Chrono Cross appeared, I about lost my mind with anticipation.
Though they're not especially similar--in a lot of ways, Chrono Cross is a lot weirder, denser, and dare I say it, anime-er--Chrono Cross still channels a lot of the same fantastical whimsy that made Chrono Trigger such a delight. Traveling between Cross's parallel but differing worlds conjures up the same excitement as venturing through different time periods as you discover the similarities and differences between the locations. But the best part of Chrono Cross is its absolutely massive cast of characters, many of whom are difficult to discover and recruit along the way. The huge cast adds a ton of variety to Chrono Cross playthroughs, and provides a great incentive to replay the game more than once to find people you might not have gotten the first time through.
But the best part about Chrono Cross is the way it reimagines and expands on Chrono Trigger. Its story dovetails with its predecessor in some surprising ways while playing with the idea of parallel universes, expanding on the systems allowing characters to work together in combat, and opening up a different look at Chrono Trigger's established world. It might not be the seminal RPG that Chrono Trigger was, but for fans, Chrono Cross offered a chance to revisit something familiar, while turning out something altogether new. Plus, both its art and soundtrack are gorgeous. |Phil Hornshaw, Editor
Spider-Man | August 30
A few years before Sam Raimi brought Spidey to the big screen, I was able to sit down and play out my superhero fantasy on the original PlayStation, and I still think about the adventure to this day.
As far as playing the game, Spider-Man was the perfect package for a kid to unwrap. There was no overwhelming open world to explore, just self-contained stages asking you to swing here, leap over this rooftop, or beat up this bad guy. That's not to say there aren't some tense moments: I can still hear Scorpion taunt me with "you're time's running out…" as I chased after a kidnapped J. Jonah Jameson.
He's not the only villain that lingers in my mind, either. The Mysterio boss battle is very on-brand for the illusory bad guy. He's the size of a building, you guys. The game's climax also features a unique mash-up we haven't seen since: the Symbiote merges with Doctor Octopus to form Monster Ock. Picture Carnage with the doc's many robot arms sprouting from his back, and you've got a really intimidating encounter for a kid.
Spider-Man's presentation also deepened my love for the comics. Each stage's loading screen featured a unique comic book cover based on said stage. The game was my introduction to heroes like Black Cat and the Punisher, and it features other Marvel staples I was already familiar with, like Captain America, Daredevil, and the Human Torch. It might have been a Spidey game, but the overarching Marvel universe was still tastefully used.
Insomniac's 2018 Spider-Man adventure has become the standard now, but if you ask me to name my game starring the web-crawler is, it's this one. |Tony Wilson, Video Producer
Parasite Eve II | September 12
For a young video game fan who couldn't get enough Resident Evil but loved the convoluted stories of Square RPGs, Parasite Eve was something special. Mixing a horror story with RPG battle and equipment systems, it felt like a game that was a step away from everything else in Square's catalog, especially in the wake of the blockbuster Final Fantasy VII. Parasite Eve II wasn't quite as standout as its predecessor, but as a Squaresoft take on the sort of survival horror taking shape with Resident Evil and Silent Hill, it's an interesting action-horror experiment.
Parasite Eve II takes a page from other popular survival-horror games of the era, foregoing a lot of the original's slower, more RPG-like systems in favor of an action-oriented take. Battles no longer have you freezing time to attack enemies, but focus more on utilizing guns and protagonist Aya's powers in real-time to wallop them. There's less of a focus on creating weapons and armor to keep you in the action, and the whole thing has a faster feel than most Square games of the time that feels like a step toward some of the battle systems that would become more prevalent in its mainline RPG titles in the years to come.
Though the focus shifts away from horror and more toward action with Parasite Eve II, it's still a strange game full of gross, mutated enemies and plenty of sci-fi weirdness. It's a game in which Square was borrowing from other popular games and figuring out what might work, and what might not. While Parasite Eve might have been the more interesting marriage of horror and RPG, its sequel is still a fascinating game from a time when Square was at the top of the JRPG field and seeing where else it could go. | Phil Hornshaw, Editor
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 | September 19
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater permeated all facets of the culture I grew up in. I'm just one of many who were influenced by THPS in profound ways outside of the game itself, whether it was picking up a skateboard, finding all-new music to fall in love with, or following the fashion and trends that led you to friend groups in middle school. I can easily attribute this to the punk and hip-hop infused soundtracks of these games, particularly THPS 2 introducing me to what became my favorite band of all time in Bad Religion. Now, I haven't forgotten that THPS 2 was an essential game and a major step forward for the budding franchise.
At the time, these games were as close to lifelike depictions of skateboarding as we could get and THPS 2 brought new mechanics to improve the diversity of tricks and ways to connect them all for sweet combos. I mean, no one really connects varial heelflip to a casper slide to a nose manual to a darkslide, but these were at least real tricks we saw on skate tapes and compilation videos. There were also iconic levels like the school grounds, Venice Beach, and the streets of New York, which were much bigger than anything we saw in the first game. And man, I sunk so much time into the intuitive level editor to create an endless supply of wild skateparks for myself.
It's kind of wild that I remember watching the X-Games in 1999 when Tony Hawk became the first ever to land the 900, but having the games with his namesake was the lasting cultural touchstone for my generation, whether they were gamers, punk kids, or the kids I skated with. THPS 2 was that turning point for me and many others. | Michael Higham, Associate Editor
Pokemon Gold & Silver | October 15
Pokemon Gold and Silver arrived in the US at the height of Poke-mania in 2000, but I actually got to play Silver nearly a full year before then--much to the envy of my classmates--thanks to a ROM I found online shortly after its release in Japan. Of course, I didn't make much progress in the game due to the fact I couldn't understand a lick of Japanese, but that didn't diminish just how exciting the title felt. I somehow fumbled my way through the first few hours of the story, completely oblivious to what was happening but in awe of all of the new, exotic Pokemon I encountered along the way.
Once I bought an actual English copy of Silver, I was able to fully appreciate just how remarkable the game was. For the series' first proper sequels, developer Game Freak expanded on everything that made Pokemon Red and Blue such beloved hits. The battle system was greatly refined, new mechanics like held items introduced additional layers of strategy to the gameplay, and there were 100 brand-new Pokemon to collect, many of which remain among my favorite monsters in the series.
A large part of why Gold and Silver were so captivating was their day and night system. Thanks to an internal clock, the titles were able to keep track of the time and reflect that in the game world. This was used to brilliant effect; certain kinds of Pokemon only emerged at certain times of day, adding a sense of realism to the adventure. The games also tracked the day of the week, and certain events--such as the Bug Catching contest--would only occur on specific days, making Johto feel like a small, living world in the palm of my hands.
Gold and Silver would receive wonderful remakes for the DS in 2009, but there's something about the original Game Boy versions that remains endlessly endearing to me two full decades after their debut, and I'm glad I can replay them in their classic form anytime thanks to the 3DS Virtual Console. |Kevin Knezevic, Associate Editor
Command & Conquer Red Alert 2 | October 23
There’s something about old RTS games that truly hits different, and Command & Conquer Red Alert 2 is a shining beacon from that era, beautifully personifying the meaning of progression and the journey towards your goal being just as satisfying as the final end result. It might be my recovery from an offensive push by the enemy, or the ability to lead my units, balancing revenue and spending to keep everything running. Perhaps it’s daring to take a risk to capture an enemy building that kickstarts my adrenaline. As a kid, the game was intimidating to me at first, but the unfamiliar gradually became comfortable, and strategies that were once risky became exciting.
The manner that Red Alert 2 allowed me to show off my taste for destruction with chaotic flash and flair as a kid still remains irresistible to me. Not to mention with the different countries available at my disposal, each with their own exclusive special units, the choice in approach grows tenfold. Should I take command of the legendary German tank destroyer and easily cripple my opponent's War Miners, or do I control the wickedly cool Desolators exclusive to Iraq, turning infantry units into nuclear ooze?
Even better is watching Tanya or Boris pick off enemy infantry with absolute ease and dispatch a group of buildings within seconds. And that's all the while any enemies attempting to infiltrate my base are zapped by my wall of Tesla or prism towers, shot down by flak cannons or Patriot missiles, and held at bay by my naval defenses, creating an impenetrable fortress that no wave of enemies could hope to capture, whether by air, land, sea, or chrono travel. No matter how my army was built, or when I was playing, the payoff and the feeling remains positively the same.
I certainly have a soft spot for the absurd campaigns, with their tongue-in-cheek humor even though some of the writing might lead to a cringey expression or two, but my way of playing the game wasn’t really with the campaign. Instead, my time spent with the game the past two decades was more like this: I would start up Skirmish. Set up a map that allows at least more than four players. Move the game speed to six. Allow superweapons. Set every AI to hard difficulty against me, see how long they would last, and of course, try not to feel too cocky when they wouldn’t last very long. |David Ahmadi, Video Producer
Mega Man Legends 2 | October 24th
Who doesn’t love a good adventure about treasure hunting? The Mega Man Legends series gave us that and then some. This 3D take on the blue bomber is still one of my favorite series Capcom has ever made. I was hooked from the first game and even loved the spinoff, Misadventures Of Tron Bonne. You better believe I was very excited once I learned about Mega Man Legends 2. You also better believe how heartbroken I was when I realized we may never see a Mega Man Legends 3. One day we’ll get our boy off of the moon.
Mega Man Legends 2 kind of blew my mind when I played it as a kid. There were multiple islands for me to explore now and there were so many cool sub-weapons and upgrades to hunt the parts down for and craft! It felt like such a big game to me. Even though the game came out late in the year I remember spending most of my time playing it the following summer when I was staying at my grandparents' house for a few weeks. It was the dream setup, nothing but time to play games on the console I brought along with me and a loving grandmother who wanted to basically feed me all the time. Probably one of my favorite memories from this is having most of my large family (my mom had 9 other brothers and sisters) all gathered around the TV trying to help me get through the quiz section of the game that was all based on real-life knowledge. I honestly don’t remember what it was for, or why it needed to get done, but I loved that everyone crowded into the room to watch me play a game I loved! Maybe this is why I enjoy streaming games so much now?
Mega Man Legends 2 in retrospect may not be the strongest entry into that series, but the fond memories of playing it still hold it high up in my mind. Besides the memories, the one thing that really stuck with me is that soundtrack. Wall to wall bangers I tell you. Many of the songs on that soundtrack used to be on study playlists going forward until college and I still listen to them from time to time. I still hope that we will one day be able to see the characters we were introduced to in the Legends series. The Bonnes were fantastic antagonists, and I’ll admit, as weird as it was, I had a bit of a crush on Tron while I was growing up. It’s been great to see her and Mega Man Volnutt be recognized and still show up in fighting games like Marvel vs Capcom and Tatsunoko vs Capcom. I’ll forever hold out hope that we will one day see Mega Man Legends 3 in some form. One day. Someday. Please? |Ben Janca, Video Producer
Spyro: Year of the Dragon | October 24
For me, Spyro: Year of the Dragon is like the last day of senior year. You've done this before (played the first two Spyro games), but it'll never be the same after this. To me, Year of the Dragon is basically "the last good one."
I love Year of the Dragon because it reached Spyro's full potential on the PS1. The levels were bigger than ever (even bigger than the PS2 follow-up, Enter the Dragonfly), and coming at the tail-end of the console generation, they looked better, too. It was also the first time we got to explore those levels as characters other than Spyro. Sheila the kangaroo could double-jump through the world, and the space monkey Agent 9 wielded a zany laser blaster, just to name two.
Plus, as a kid, I enjoyed any adventure that included extra minigames, and Year of the Dragon offers even more than its predecessors. You know skateboarding Spyro is plain raid, even if it was just capitalizing on the up-and-coming Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series. |Tony Wilson, Video Producer
Tekken Tag Tournament | October 26 (PlayStation 2)
My fondest memories of Tekken Tag Tournament start with the opening CG intro. Something about that electronic track bumping out over scenes of the Tekken cast looking all stylish, and getting into occasionally action-packed situations, got me so ready to play the game. As someone who picked up a PS2 at launch and a copy of Tekken Tag, you can imagine the excitement naturally embedded into recounting memories around it.
While I admit that half my love for playing Tekken Tag came from the thought of playing a next-generation game, it was still a brilliant fighter in its own right. The 2v2 tag-team mechanic seems deceptively simple at first, but everything changes once you realize that a match is over the moment one of your fighters is knocked out. The complexity of strategically tagging in and out of a match meant that fights weren't just extended Tekken brawls, but fast-paced, nuanced battles that challenged you to execute swift combos while pulling out fighters at the right times. Tekken Tag was further elevated by a roster that included almost every character that had been in a Tekken game at that point, which made the team and match-up possibilities feel endless.
Of course, I wouldn't appreciate or grasp Tekken Tag's mechanical complexities until I was older, but I want to believe my eight-year-old self did latch onto some of these systems and complexities. If anything, my time spent with the practice mode's 10-hit combo training was probably one of the earliest moments I ever had trying to get good at a fighting game.
Tekken Tag Tournament is probably one of my favorite fighting games of all... Oh, wait, I need to apologize. I can't end this write-up without mentioning Tekken Bowl. Seriously, that extra mode is ridiculous; it's just bowling but with Tekken characters. I honestly spent just as much time playing it as I did the main game. Anyway, Tekken Tag Tournament is one of the most excellent 3D fighters around and well worth revisiting. | Matt Espineli, Editor
SSX | October 30
There was a time when extreme sports games were dominating, with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater starting the wave and snowboarding games like 1080° Snowboarding and Snowboard Kids also seeing massive success. SSX followed that initial push, releasing in the Playstation 2’s launch window, and becoming not only a must-have-game for the PS2, but one of the reasons to purchase a PS2.
I vividly remember excitedly heading over to see my friend, who had just gotten a PS2, and all of us popping in SSX, not sure what to expect. What we found were dazzling downhill courses with the best graphics I’d ever seen for a snowboarding game. All of the courses were full of ramps for doing tricks, and had multiple routes, making them all the more fun. Even when we thought we were going completely off-course, we’d suddenly break into a secret area that kept us heading in the right direction. Taking clear inspiration from Tony Hawk Pro Skater, the game was a perfect meld of racing and trick performance, with tricks adding to both your score and your boost power, helping you to win a race.
The game was so much fun, we ended up fighting over whose turn was next, with SSX being the smash hit of the various launch titles my friend had picked up. It far surpassed any snowboarding game I had played before, and the SSX series still remains my favorite of the genre. | Dave Klein, Video Producer
Jet Grind Radio | October 31
One of the first things you see after starting up Jet Grind Radio is an ominous black screen that displays a warning, complete with an image of the main character with a large red X over him.
"Graffiti is art. However, Graffiti as an act of vandalism is a crime...Sega does not condone the real-life act of vandalism in any form."
It's certainly a dramatic message, especially for a game that's largely just a hyper-stylized jaunt through Tokyo-to. Back in 2000, this ominous warning stuck with me, and when I first started the game, I felt I was getting into something I shouldn't have. But when the opening title screen began, with a member of the GG's gang barreling their way through a bus station on their roller-skates as Hideki Naganuma's "Let Mom Sleep" blasts in the background, those anxious feelings went away. I knew from that moment that I was going to love Jet Grind Radio.
I was a die-hard fan of the Sega Dreamcast, and playing through Jet Grind Radio was one of my fondest memories of the system. With a focus on skating and pulling off elaborate graffiti designs with your chosen character, along with a killer soundtrack amping up your every move, it made being an anti-establishment vandal in the game's gorgeous cityscape seem so cool. Jet Grind Radio was one of the pioneers of the "cel-shaded" look, which gave it a distinctive feel that was unlike anything I had seen at the time.
The game had so much style to go with its substance. Getting to know all of the characters, including Professor K., Beat, Gum, and Combo, was a joy. But what I really loved about JGR was getting to master my skating and tagging skills while getting the best of the bumbling and overly-militarized police force. Jet Grind Radio is a game about counter-culture, and in 2020, I feel that its message and upbeat vibe resonates so much. Thinking back on that opening warning now, it comes off as so dramatic, especially considering how other games at the time were far more violent and grotesque. But I guess when a game like Jet Grind Radio pokes fun at the establishment and challenges authority with its graffiti in all of its cel-shaded glory, that message can still resonate with people years on. |Alessandro Fillari, Editor
Shenmue | November 6
I remember reading magazine articles hyping up Shenmue’s release, and my friends and I being absolutely enthralled by its sheer scope. A game where you could explore every nook and cranny of Yokosuka, Japan sounded unbelievable. Remember, Shenmue was released prior to Grand Theft Auto III, so the idea of an open city game was brand new. According to Yu Suzuki, the game was so massive, it would have taken up 50-60 CDs, and the developers had to come up with a new method of data compression to fit the game on a more reasonable three discs.
When I excitedly got my hands on Shenmue, it wasn’t quite as massive as I initially envisioned. Most of the houses you’d walk up to had locked doors you’d never be able to enter or interact with, but as a kid who dreamed of one day visiting Japan, I still loved that I could explore a Japanese city, even with the limitations. The story was fairly generic, a basic revenge plot as protagonist Ryo Hazuki searched for the man who killed his father. The combat was similar to fighting games with combos, but cutscenes heavily relied on QTEs, with Shenmue being one of the very first games to implement them. The city was mostly open to explore, but it mostly became a detective-style game where you’d find out information, then need to wait around until a specific time for the next event to start. I distinctly remember getting stuck on the first disc because I missed an important meeting time, and waiting out my final days in the arcade. And, lest we forget about the fact the game was so incredibly expensive to produce, despite 10% of Dreamcast owners purchasing the game, it still couldn’t recuperate its costs.
But in spite of its flaws, Shenmue truly was ahead of its time. Rockstar would use a similar free-roam open city approach to Grand Theft Auto III and find massive success. While Shenmue has become fairly divisive, with some people outright hating the game and its slow pace, I find myself on the opposite side of the coin. I recently replayed Shenmue and still found myself having a blast exploring the city of Yokosuka, trying to cram everything I could into the game’s time management system and driving around a forklift--which the game was notorious for having as a requirement--all while trying to uncover the seedier side of the city. |Dave Klein, Video Producer
Capcom vs. SNK: Millenium Fight | November 9
My childhood consisted mostly of me getting my ass kicked at various Street Fighter games, and no one wanting to play King of Fighters with me, so when Capcom vs SNK: Millenium Fight 2000 came out, I was ecstatic--I was finally able to beat my friend's Ryu and Zangief with my long-in-waiting Terry Bogard and Kyo Kusanagi. Its smart, ratioed tag system has always stood out to me as something more tag fighters should have tried, especially after the sequel's improvements.
Putting together a team of characters with different ratios was always an interesting tactical consideration between me and my friends. The collision of Street Fighter and King of Fighters was a special thing for me as a relative misfit when it came to fighting games among my friends. The action was fun and frantic, and it never let up. It was full of personality, too. Seeing Ken throw Terry's hat to him before their match was one of the best surprises I've ever been treated to in a video game--it was also the first time I saw Ryu and Ken fist-bump each other before a fight. If you're a fan of Street Fighter or King of Fighters, then Capcom vs SNK: Millenium Fight 2000 is absolutely essential. In my opinion, no game since has done a better job of serving fans on both sides of a crossover. Heck, it's worth playing just for the SNK-style portraits of all those Street Fighter characters.
Now if only Capcom can realize what's important, rekindle the fire with SNK, and bring us that third game. | Mat Paget, Tech Commerce Editor
The Operative: No-One Lives Forever | November 9
When you think of first-person shooters that defined the turn of the millennium (what a weird sentence to type), most people turn to games by Valve, id, and Epic. But to a certain sect of PC gamers, there's another name that stands right up there: Monolith. The studio is most recently known for the Middle-earth: Shadow Of... games were also responsible for some of the best PC FPS games of that magical of video games: Blood, Alien versus Predator 2, Shogo: Mobile Armor Division, and my favourite: No-One Lives Forever.
In a time when FPS games were basically all about macho American spacemen, NOLF brought us the sassy former cat burglar, Cate Archer, in a game that went all-in on being a 1960s superspy homage, and what a refreshing revelation it was. Drawing on influences like early James Bond films, the Avengers (not the ones you're thinking of), and Diabolik, it was a game I remember fondly for being charming and humorous with its sharp dialogue and great characters, as you helped Cate (an agent for international agency UNITY) subvert the plans of the terrorist group H.A.R.M.
But more than that, I remember it fondly for being a great stealth action game, one of the few games of the time that encouraged you to take sneaky and undetected approaches when available, and provided you with a variety of silenced weapons and amusing spy tools to do that with--think explosive lipsticks, sleeping gas in perfume bottles, hairclip lockpicks, and ... robot poodles. The sequel expanded on a lot of these stealth concepts significantly, but upon revisiting the original, it's amazing how many modern characteristics of today's FPS games were present in NOLF 20 years ago. GameSpot's review at the time (written by the one and only Erik Wolpaw) said the game's "unrelenting inventiveness shows in virtually every aspect of its design", and that's definitely how it deserves to be remembered.
Unfortunately, you can't buy NOLF today. As much as I'd love to see a remaster or an official re-release, the rights to the series have sadly been tied up in legal hell for a long, long time, with the IP split somewhere between Warner Bros., Fox, and Activision. It's incredibly unlikely we'll see Cate Archer make a proper comeback anytime soon, but thanks to its enthusiastic community, there's still a way to revisit NOLF and its sequel, and I urge you to do so. |Edmond Tran, Senior Editor & Producer
Final Fantasy IX | November 13
Final Fantasy IX released toward the end of the PS1's life cycle. While its cinematic cutscenes do push the console to its technical limit, its gameplay is a beautiful return to the roots of the franchise--and that's why I adore it.
FF IX does retain the previous two entries' Active Time Battle system, but your party members are beholden to specific character classes. Zidane is a thief, Freya is a dragoon, Quina is a blue mage, and the list goes on. What's more, each character can enter a Trance state that always seemed like FF's take on a Super Saiyan form to me.
These classes are strongly tied into the game's story, one full of medieval intrigue and life-sustaining trees that piqued my young mind more than the rebellious zipper-punks of VII and VIII. I still think of Vivi as one of the series' most fascinating characters: he's a prototype clone who fell off the back of an airship, oblivious to his original purpose of being a spell-slinging piece of cannon fodder for future wars.
Having played the PC version not long ago, I can confidently say that FFIX holds up. If you've never experienced one of the best FF games out there, you can always try out the recent Nintendo Switch port too. | Tony Wilson, Video Producer
Banjo-Tooie | November 20
Banjo-Kazooie is one of my favorite games of all time, and it's really special to me. My mom and I played it together--I'd make her play the scary underwater parts, and we'd take notes for Grunty's quiz in a Lisa Frank notebook. We'd played the game tons of times, so when Banjo-Tooie came out, we were ready.
In the end credits sequence of Banjo-Kazooie, there's a series of cryptic hints involving eggs and areas you can't access in the game. We had been hoping that Banjo-Tooie would provide some answers, but it didn't, because the "Stop 'n Swop" feature didn't actually work. But other than that, there was plenty to dive into. Banjo-Tooie is much more vast than the first game, which really hit me when we reached Jolly Roger's Lagoon--its small above-ground area belies a vast underwater land to explore. I was a few years older and finally had to face my water-level fears, which I did, somehow. I was rewarded with a boss fight against a boil-covered angler fish that really helped propel my interest in ocean cryptids, and it's one of my most vivid gaming memories from that era of my life.
From the boss fights to the scale of its levels and overworld to its multiple playable characters, Banjo-Tooie was just more than Banjo-Kazooie. It never quite recaptured the magic for me, but it's a game I enjoy revisiting, because while I remember key parts of it, I never mastered it the way I did Kazooie. Now, 20 years later, I can play Banjo-Kazooie with my eyes closed only to move on to Tooie, where everything is familiar somehow but not part of my muscle memory. Tooie is a good reminder of what my mom and I loved about Kazooie when we first played it, and I hope I can preserve that feeling even as I replay them both year after year. |Kallie Plagge, Reviews Editor
Breath of Fire IV | November 28
The only game in Capcom's Breath of Fire series that I played was the fourth entry on the original PlayStation, and it's a game I hold in high regard. During 2000, I was utterly enamored with JRPGs. I'd talk about the Final Fantasy series with friends often; we'd share our favorite selections for party-members and debate which villain from the series was the best. Everyone loved FFVII's Sephiroth, but I never saw the appeal--I tended to prefer the hero of the story. Around this time, I was looking for another game to play, and a friend told me about Breath of Fire IV. I ended up enjoying the game a lot because it had all the things I looked for in a JRPG, such as a fun cast of characters, cool magic spells, and an exciting, vibrant world to explore. But what really stuck with me about it was that I somehow found common ground with the game's main villain.
What made Breath of Fire IV so different from the norm was that it had two different stories, told from the perspectives of the silent protagonist and human-dragon hybrid Ryu and the game's primary antagonist Fou-Lu, an ancient warlord who crawls out of his tomb to a changed world. These parallel stories formed a larger whole; Ryu's story was about optimism and the value of friendship, while Fou-Lu's tale was a bit more nihilistic, showing the cruelty of man and how harsh the world is. All of this was a lot for a younger Alessandro to take in, yet I found it so compelling. Once the story brought these two characters together, I felt conflicted about seeing them inevitably face off. Even though Fou-Lu was undoubtedly the villain of the story, I still sympathized with his ordeal, which I didn't expect to happen at all.
When I think back on Breath of Fire IV, I remember it as the darkest JRPG I played at the time, even surpassing Final Fantasy VII in some regard. I went back to my friend who'd told me about the game, but he wasn't that interested in giving it a shot. Final Fantasy IX was out, and that's all he wanted to talk about it. Twenty years on, I still think of Breath of Fire IV as one of my favorite JRPGs ever. While its dark side was an undeniable part of its story, it always carried a level of optimism and hope that was so endearing. Now that Capcom has been on a recent upswing, I still hope that the developers will give their long-lost JRPG series another look. |Alessandro Fillari, Editor
Grandia II | December 6
As a Dreamcast owner and huge fan of JRPGs, 2000 was a huge year as both Skies of Arcadia and Grandia II were releasing to the system. Among Dreamcast owners, there was a battle over which game to buy, and which was superior. As I purchased Grandia II and my little brother purchased Skies of Arcadia, I was lucky enough to experience both ... and ended up falling in the Grandia II camp.
The game follows Ryudo, a type of mercenary called a “Geohound,” which are known for taking money to kill monsters--and hated for it (so basically a Witcher). After being paid to escort a songstress of the Church, Elena, Ryudo gets wrapped up in a plot involving the warring gods of the world as he fights to protect his party members, and eventually the world, from these forces. While Grandia II has a turn-based battle system, it boasts a unique active combat system, where everyone has a time gauge and certain moves are capable of knocking back these time gauges or even stunning them. This, along with being able to see the enemies you fight on screen (similar to Chrono Trigger) as opposed to getting pulled into random battles, helped elevate the gameplay and minimize the grind to get through it.
In replaying the game recently, I found the dialogue to be pretty childish, but when I first played the game as a teenager, I remember being completely wrapped up in the plot and characters, with a revelation near the end completely shocking me and becoming one of my favorite moments in any game I’d ever played. Between this and its stand out gameplay, Grandia II took the Dreamcast JRPG throne. | Dave Klein, Video Producer
American Mcgee's Alice | December 6
American McGee's Alice was a dream game for me at nine years old. It took the well-loved world envisioned by Lewis Carroll and exposed it to a gritty underbelly that those familiar with the original material could argue was already there from the start. The themes in the original Alice's Adventures in Wonderland naturally lend themselves to the dark and twisted creations apparent in American McGee's version. Alice is steadfast, tough, and frustrated with her situation. The Cheshire cat is as much a help as a hindrance, and Wonderland is reincarnated into a bright and violent world to be bested and whose tyrannical leaders must be defeated. Each realm in the game is fantastically memorable, from the chess-themed monochrome Pale Realm to the leafy and confounding Majestic Maze.
Beneath the madness and horrible creatures, though, is Alice and her arsenal. Equipping a jack-in-the-box bomb or a croquet mallet suit certain combat scenarios perfectly, while feeling decidedly Alice-appropriate. The ease of switching between weapons and the steady flow of enemies keep combat feeling fluid and exciting. In turn, these mechanics collide with the narrative in a sensible and satisfying way that makes the whole game feel cohesive in its vision and wildly enjoyable to play.
For a kid in a world that's just about to figure out that "emo" is a thing, American McGee's Alice was the ultimate dark fantasy for me, quite apart from making a powerful statement about an unassuming girl winning out against all odds and beasties. There is little question over why the game has maintained such an avid cult fanbase desperate for a third Alice game. Alice's personality is consistently entertaining, her varied arsenal keeps combat exciting, and watching her fight through psychological demons is still immensely cathartic. | Jess McDonell, Host/Video Producer