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Game of the Year: 2001 Edition

NOMINEES

  • Gauntlet: Dark Legacy (PS2)
  • Grand Theft Auto III (PS2)
  • Final Fantasy X (PS2)
  • Myst III: Exile (PC)
  • Golden Sun (GBA)

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golden sun

2001 Game of the Year - Golden Sun

To this day, the first Golden Sun remains one of the very few original, non-remake or port GBA games that I own. It was also the game that showed me that outstanding and fun, non-Pokemon RPGs were possible on a handheld. Golden Sun really has it all: an epic storyline, amazing graphics, an inspired soundtrack, a memorable cast of characters, and an accessible battle system that is very enjoyable to toy around with. Sure, it didn't come without some low points. For instance, dialogue is sometimes seemingly endless when some characters stop to chat or discuss something. But, that's really all I can think of as a low point right now. Hunting down Djinn is exciting, if not just because it's one more Djinni you can use to boost character stats. Also, the world is so full of magic and diverse people and places that it's a lot of fun to come back to Weyard every once in a while.Essentially, Golden Sun was to GBA-owning RPG fans last decade what Uncharted is to PS3 owners today.

Runner-up: Final Fantasy X

Back in 2001, for some reason, FFX got me as excited as I had been for FFVII before I owned a PS1. There was just something about the very first trailer that came on a demo disc from OPM that just fascinated me. It drew me in. As a result, I managed to convince my three close friends (this was while I was a sophomore in high school) to each get a PS2 for this game alone.It was beautiful, the music was haunting, and the battle system was frenetic and strategic. The Sphere Grid was something we'd never seen anything like before. From start to finish, it was a great game.

Runner-up: Gauntlet: Dark Legacy

This game beat out GTA3 as a runner-up simply because to this day, it still makes its way into my PS2 from time to time. It's essentially just an arcade hack-'n-slash, but it was the diverse cast of playable characters, the motivation to level the characters up, the diversity of the music and realms, and the overall aesthetic that have kept me coming back even nine years after its release.

Previous entries: 1994 | 1995 | 1996 | 1997 | 1998 | 1999 | 2000

Desperately awaiting the Deception

While most of you are surely trying to decide upon your GOTY for 2010, I've been far too busy to do the same. Actually, I can't. I decided to put not only Donkey Kong Country Returns and Kirby's Epic Yarn on my Christmas list (yes, I'm 24 and still write up a Christmas list), but Golden Sun Dark Dawn as well. Why? Because my brother realized he wouldn't have any time to play the game around its release and thought it'd be better if we both got it at the same time and could get around to playing it at the same time. What's nuts about Winter Break is that's when the two of us are going to go into CRAZY HYPER GAMING MODE and play a multitude of games to death. Like, Lords of Shadow, Castle Crashers, the Scott Pilgrim game, DKCR, KEY, GSDD, NFS Hot Pursuit, etc. etc. etc. On top of all that, he'll have WoW's Cataclysm too.

Which by the way very uncool-ly made a surprise appearance at my place of occupation this morning. I was minding my own business in my friend's classroom (my "office" is in the back of his room) while he got his own work done at his own desk while having ESPN on when all of a sudden Deathwing takes over the TV screen. I nearly died. The one place I surely thought would be the safest haven on all the planet Earth from the likes of anything Blizzard, WoW, and Cataclysm was the first place to showcase the commercial for the damn expansion. Pardon me, fate, but I really am trying very hard to avoid that game like the plague. I've got enough console games to play thank you very much. I was in total shock. My friend wasn't even paying attention; I could've gone and thought that I imagined the whole thing. But it was most definitely there. I couldn't believe it and at the same time, I was laughing so hard on the inside about it. Some of you may have seen my tweet about it this morning, lol.

Getting back to GOTY, who knows when I'll be able to write up another one of those posts. I just can't set aside the amount of time I had been for the other posts for the ones I've yet to write. I have a feeling you won't see 2001 until next summer. At least by then I'll probably be able to do 2010 as well.

I managed to nab a copy of the PS3 version of nail'd a day after its release for $29 on ebay. With free shipping, no less. Still hasn't arrived, but can you beat that? I don't care what Gamespot says about the game. I've had great experiences with low-rated games before. Diddy Kong Racing, for example. Besides, everyone knows I stink at non-MarioKart racing games. I play these for the scenery and the unique features I've never experienced before.

Oh, one more thing. Uncharted 3 was announced! I am so excited to be able to track an Uncharted game from announcement to launch. This is definitely the first game I see worth buying a Collector's Edition for.

plane crash!

Ketchup!

I beat FFXIII a few weeks ago. Great ending, if not a little cryptic. I've been leveling up my characters, completing and five-starring missions, and upgrading weapons and accessories ever since. I dislike how hard it is to acquire money, especially now in the endgame when I should be able to find a grinding spot and become loaded.

I've watched a few video reviews for Goldeneye 007 for the Wii. I no longer even remotely plan to buy it. No Pierce Brosnan, new character models for all the other major characters, revamped and revised story, no thanks. I don't care how great a game it is on its own. If it's going to be that different from the original after they sorta hyped it as a Goldeneye remake, then they shouldn't have called it Goldeneye.

Sonic Colors. I'm glad it's reviewing well. From the get-go, it looked like a really great Sonic game. I'm glad that Sega's managed to make a good Sonic game again (last good one I can recall is Sonic Rush Adventure for the DS). I'm not about to run out and buy a copy this minute, but I might eventually. It looks like a good time.

So I've been playing lots of FFXIII. Since the end of September, I've been waiting for a relatively unknown game called Battle vs. Chess to come out. It's been through three release dates and now it doesn't have one at all. I really hope it comes out because it looked so awesome! Modern gen Battle Chess!

In its stead, in this period of time between beating FFXIII and awaiting Golden Sun Dark Dawn, I've stumbled across a different PS3 game to buy: Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. It's definitely an odd and unexpected choice for me, personally, because I only learned about the game for the first time a few days ago. I stumbled across a trailer and I was hooked just from that. The game just exudes cool; it doesn't hurt that it's been getting solid reviews. I've never owned a game like this before, unless you consider Midnight Club 2 similar to Need for Speed (is it?). I know it'll be fun (I know it's purdy), and it should at least partially tide me over until Golden Sun comes along and makes me smile with glee for hours on end.

Some of you might be wondering, then, what about DKCR? Well, I read somewhere that some guy wanted to relive the uncontainable excitement he'd keep pent up inside while he waited for Christmas to come so he could see if he got the next DKC game. This guy was 27 or something. I thought, "wow, that's not a bad idea. I've long forgotten what it feels like to want a game REALLY bad and not be able to just go out and buy it. I'm gonna do this!" And so, alongside Kirby's Epic Yarn, I'm holding off on two of my most highly anticipated titles of 2010 until Christmas break. Golden Sun and NFS:HP should keep me busy until then. And Lords of Shadow. And nail'd (if I choose to buy it sooner rather than later). And Battle vs. Chess if SouthPeak ever decides to release it.

Don't ask me why I suddenly desire to own so many racing games. Usually, I'm good with Mario Kart and one other racing game. I own one for the PSP (Wipeout Pure), and two already for the PS3 (MotorStorm: Pacific Rift and ModNation Racers). I guess it's because each one contains features I've never experienced before and I'm interested in checking them out.

Don't know when I'm gonna play all this though. My new job's been keeping me SUPER busy.

Game of the Year: 2000 Edition

NOMINEES

  • Chrono Cross (PS1)
  • The Legend of Dragoon (PS1)
  • Final Fantasy IX (PS1)
  • Eternal Ring (PS2)
  • Pokemon: Gold Version (GBC)

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2000 Game of the Year - The Legend of Dragoon

If there's one thing I remember the most about this game, it's the story. In the year of its release, I strongly believe Dragoon had the best story of all the non-Square RPGs. It was deep and engrossing, got you pumped and sometimes broke your heart, got you invested in all the characters, made you laugh and made you cry, and made your jaw drop several times. Not to mention the FMVs were gor-geous.

The battle system was certainly unique, consisting of picking one combo attack called an Addition that you then had to successfully perform through a series of timed hits. The Additions grew increasingly difficult to pull off as you learned more of them. I absolutely hated the enemy animations as you hit them, though. They'd just keep flailing backwards after each hit and it made battles drag on so much.

I just keep going back to the story with this one, though. It was amazing. The gameplay might get a little irritating at times, but the game's story is just too good to pass up experiencing at least once.

Runner-up - Chrono Cross

Entertaining and complex story. Huge cast of characters. Unbelievably memorable music. A super fun battle system. Sequel to freakin' Chrono Trigger. That is all. Seriously.

Runner-up - Pokemon Gold Version

Day and night. Gender. Day care. Breeding. Probably a bunch of other stuff I can't remember. Bottom line: Gold and Silver introduced many new mechanics to the Pokemon franchise back when it was first released. Not to mention, it also featured a second generation of Pokemon that are very much as memorable as the very first generation was; I don't believe any other generation has been able to match the memorability of the first two. It is also the largest Pokemon game to date, next to Silver of course. You get to explore two whole regions in one game!

As much as I hoped I would be able to overlook the Heart Gold and Soul Silver DS remakes, I find myself wanting to pick up a copy of Heart Gold, haha.

Previous entries: 1994 | 1995 | 1996 | 1997 | 1998 | 1999

Game of the Year: 1999 Edition

New development: I now have a second part-time job, this time teaching at an actual school. Middle school, to be exact. And so I won't have nearly the same amount of time that I've previously had both for gaming and for writing blog posts and generally spending time here on Gamespot. I just want you all to know this so you don't go and think something bad's happened to me.

I haven't decided yet if this means that I'll be revising my format for these posts; maybe I'll just start writing less and not including links. But regardless, on with the show.

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NOMINEES

  • Super Smash Bros. (N64)
  • Donkey Kong 64 (N64)
  • Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage (PS1)
  • Ape Escape (PS1)
  • Final Fantasy VIII (PS1)

And the winner is...

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ape escape

1999 Game of the Year - Ape Escape

I remember the reason why my brother and I chose to buy this game: the monkeys. Growing up, Dom was always super into monkeys. My whole extended family knew it. And so that alone made this game appeal to us. It certainly helped that the game was getting rave previews, looked like a heck of a lot of fun, and really showcased the capabilities of the then-"brand spanking new" Dual Shock controller. Not to mention, the game featured stellar level design, a soundtrack that was well-suited to the gameplay and overall mood of the game, intuitive and easy-to-learn controls, and more innovation than a single barrel of monkeys could ever hold (pun totally intended).

Perhaps the greatest part of this game was how immersed you could get in the game's worlds. The music had a lot to do with it, but more than that, the game had a real potential to become addicting. As the Gamespot review mentions, "'one more monkey' will quickly become 'one more level'". I definitely remember that happening to me. I also remember the difficulty ramping up nicely as I progressed through the game. Much like other collect-a-thon type games of the time such as Super Mario 64 and Diddy Kong Racing, I found myself bouncing back and forth between worlds as I got really stuck in certain places while wanting to keep whittling away at the objectives I'd yet to accomplish.

It's a shame that there has yet to be an Ape Escape game to top this one and the franchise has seemingly turned more towards minigame collections than platforming games, but this first one in the series still stands today as an excellent 3D platformer, one full of variety that always has something new in store for the player and that keeps the player wanting to play just a little bit more.

Runner-up - Final Fantasy VIII

I have yet to beat this game, but I'll be damned if I don't love it. I used to hate it - or at least I grew to hate it - after an eighth grade me determined he couldn't really make sense of the Junction system and the story was not moving quickly enough and wasn't interesting enough thus far to warrant continued play. It wasn't until 2006 that I picked up the game again as a sophomore in college and gave the game a real solid shot.

Like the recent FFXIII, FFVIII doesn't have MP (Magic Points) for spellcasting, nor does it have spells or summons in the typical sense. Spells are "drawn" from enemies during battle and can actually be "Junctioned" to characters to augment their stats and resistances. There is a compromise to be made between using magic and not using magic so that your stats don't go down, but there is fun to be had in mixing and matching...and giving your characters over 7000 health before the end of the first disc. Summons, or Guardian Forces (GFs, for short) in this case, can each be equipped onto any character and accumulate Compatibility as they remain with each character. Compared to FFVII, I feel like FFVIII has a much more diverse and exciting cast of summons, and the various abilities they each can learn (yes, the summons learn abilities themselves!) come in real handy, depending on different circumstances. For example, adding new junctionable stats for a character or new commands for a character to use in battle (e.g. Leviathan's Recover ability grants the equipped-to character access to a battle command that instantly cures the selected character of any status ailment and restores their HP to full).

Much like FFXIII, I feel FFVIII was largely misunderstood because many people didn't understand what to do with the lack of MP and a battle system that was so subtly complex. Also, again, the story didn't really click with many either. It must be a "III" syndrome or something. All I know is that as an older individual, I enjoyed the game a heck of a lot more than I ever did as a kid. Furthermore, the game still stands today as a graphically impressive entry in the vast library of PS1 RPGs.

Runner-up - Spyro 2

I don't really know what to say about this game, to be honest. There isn't a PS1 Spyro game that I don't like, though I definitely love this one the most. There's just so much more atmosphere and detail in this game's worlds, not to mention that this was the first Spryo game to allow Spyro the ability to climb and swim and have other powers, too. One aspect of the Spyro games that I really enjoy is the exploration; the levels always encourage that the player explore every square foot. I know for a fact that it was the moment when I found some really secret spots in the Autumn hub world that I truly fell in love with the game. The game is just great, through and through. It did for the Spyro series what DKC2 did for Donkey Kong Country.

Previous entries: 1994 | 1995 | 1996 | 1997 | 1998


Game of the Year: 1998 Edition

Inspired by the likes of NeonNinja and hart704 (a.k.a. HartKnight), I am in the process of playing catch-up with a GOTY series of my very own. Since my hobby of playing video games began in 1994, that is where I began, even though a few games I own were released prior to that year. My goal is to reach 2010 by the end of the year, so that my own GOTY 2010 post can sit right alongside many of yours'.

Here's how I've chosen to make this work: I will display a list of up to five nominees and then choose the GOTY and two runner-ups from that list. The nominees must be games that I have played. The games are categorized by release year, not by the year in which I first played them. All decisions are final. The judgment calls were made not by how the games have lingered nostalgically in my mind at my current age, but by how I believe I would have voted at the end of each year.

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NOMINEES

  • Banjo-Kazooie (N64)
  • Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (N64)
  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)
  • Brave Fencer Musashi (PS1)
  • Riven: The Sequel to Myst (PC)

And the winner is...

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1998 Game of the Year - Banjo-Kazooie

Back before Banjo-Kazooie was released, it was one of those games that I just knew was destined for greatness. It's one of the few games that required me to satiate my hunger for the game with repeated gawking at screenshots printed in my Nintendo Power, reading and re-reading and re-re-reading of any bit of news presented in said magazine, and repeated viewing of the promo casette tape that had arrived in the mail. Heck, I remember being over at a friend's house (the same friend who made the DKC soundtrack tape for me, if you remember that story) and looking through his issue of NP just to get another fix.

An interesting story, lots of exploring and collectables to gather and/or use, thematic worlds that riveled those found in Super Mario 64, an AWESOME hub world, and an incorporation of the game's music into everything in such a way that has never been duplicated since. You can lose yourself in this game, just because of all the exploring and other things you'll want to do.

Banjo-Kazooie was also the first platformer, I believe, to feature backtracking. In other words, skills and abilities acquired later on in the game would need to be used in earlier worlds to uncover and access more items, Jinjos, notes, Jiggys, etc. It's something that is so commonplace now, but it was quite new and exciting back in 1998.

To this day, Banjo-Kazooie still stands up very well in terms of visual presentation and quality of gameplay. I myself have played through the game a few times and it never grows old. It's always an adventure through Gruntilda's tall and mysterious castle. And who can forget the infamous sand castle and the colored eggs?

Runner-up - The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

I honestly don't know what possessed me to become interested in this game. If I had to speculate, I'd probably say it was the fact that it was a new Zelda game that was coming out and because I'd missed out on all the hype surrounding A Link to the Past and had played a little of the original game for the NES, I was excited to join in with everyone else for this one. Little did I know what I was getting myself into.

Yes, this was my first LoZ game, and I really don't think I've played any other one since that's been better. The way it begins so innocently, almost like you're in a fairy tale of sorts, and quickly escalates from a children's hero tale to a story about saving the entire world of Hyrule was truly something to behold for me. NeonNinja had mentioned in his GOTY 1998 post that "all it took was to run across Hyrule Field for the first time...and suddenly, it became clear. Nintendo had created a world in which any gamer could become enamored with, enchanted by, a world that seemed more vivid than any we had ever seen." Hyrule Field wasn't as striking a grand occasion for me as it seems to have been for NeonNinja, but I do recall there being a moment when it really struck me how large the world of Hyrule was. It was a diverse world, with plenty to see and explore. I'm sure I'm not the only one swam down the stream into Lake Hylia or swam upstream into Gerudo territory, or just stopped to admire the scenery in a temple while the atmospheric soundtrack played in the background. Things like shooting an arrow into the sun to get Fire Arrows just plain stunned me. Sure, this is usually how things go in LoZ games, but it was all new to me. Swords, magic, maps and compasses, a new, functional present from everywhere you go, heaping doses of lore. It was astounding. It was a masterpiece right out of the box. It is timeless.

I cannot wait to play through it all over again on the 3DS.

Runner-up - Riven

Now if only Riven would be released as a PSOne cl@ssic on the PSN so I could download it onto my PSP. Riven took everything that was great about Myst and blew it all over the top and out of the park. The story was much more palpable and present this time around. If there's one thing I remember about the game, it was that no matter where I was, I always felt as though if I turned around, Gehn would be standing right behind me. Needless to say, if there was a door to lock or close behind me, I made sure to lock or close it.

What I absolutely love about Riven, more so than its beauty and the musical score, is how subtle Cyan was in incorporating puzzle elements into the world they'd created. Things were more or less staring you in the face all through Myst; you knew it all served some purpose, you just needed to figure out what to do with it all. In Riven, little clues appear here and there for both local puzzles and the major puzzles that must be solved towards the very end of the game, but nothing's as surreal as it was in Myst and so most times, you'll encounter things that seem there just for decoration or to serve purposes that you couldn't possibly need to be concerned with as the lowly visitor to the world. And yet it isn't just decoration and you do need to be concerned about what everything does (My mind recalls the little insignificant Hangman game in the schoolhouse on Jungle Island. It turns out that's how the player is supposed to learn how to read D'ni numbers, a skill that is critical to solving the endgame puzzles.). It is entirely possible to miss certain very significant things if you just wander through, taking everything in with casual glances. Everything exists as it does for a very specific reason and once you realize that, you'll be more prepared for what lies before you in the endgame. Even though I was still quite young when this game came out and thus chose to use the Journal portion of the strategy guide to help me through the game, I still experienced a "holy mother of OMG" moment when it all clicked inside my head how everything had come together. It really does blow your mind.

Previous entries: 1994 | 1995 | 1996 | 1997

Game of the Year: 1997 Edition

Inspired by the likes of NeonNinja and hart704 (a.k.a. HartKnight), I am in the process of playing catch-up with a GOTY series of my very own. Since my hobby of playing video games began in 1994, that is where I began, even though a few games I own were released prior to that year. My goal is to reach 2010 by the end of the year, so that my own GOTY 2010 post can sit right alongside many of yours'.

Here's how I've chosen to make this work: I will display a list of up to five nominees and then choose the GOTY and two runner-ups from that list. The nominees must be games that I have played. The games are categorized by release year, not by the year in which I first played them. All decisions are final. The judgment calls were made not by how the games have lingered nostalgically in my mind at my current age, but by how I believe I would have voted at the end of each year.

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NOMINEES

  • Star Fox 64 (N64)
  • Goldeneye 007 (N64)
  • Diddy Kong Racing (N64)
  • Final Fantasy VII (PS1)
  • Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back (PS1)

And the winner is...

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1997 Game of the Year - Final Fantasy VII

Let's think about this for a moment. Was there really any doubt that FFVII would take the glory this time around? Okay, maybe just a little. But for all the other nominees' notable traits and accolades, none of them rises above the number of notable traits and awards that FFVII has won for itself over the years.

Coming off the gaming high I experienced from my first foray into the still not-so-openly popular genre of RPGs, compliments of Super Mario RPG, this was my second RPG ever. It was many people's first RPG. It's the RPG that made RPGs go mainstream and begin to grow to be immensely popular. Thus, it's partly to blame - though in a good way - for the fact that many non-RPGs these days now feature RPG-like elements. Simply put, FFVII did a helluva lot for gamers, Square, and the industry as a whole. Despite what the anti-FFVII folk say.

Fond memories of this game...viewing characters' HP totals rising easily above 400 (the highest HP total I ever reached in SMRPG was somewhere in the high 300s); viewing characters' damage output easily rise into the thousands; watching the game in action for the first time at my cousin's house, being introduced to chocobos for the very first time and jumping at the sound the game would make each time the screen would swirl into a battle scene; watching my cousin play months later while fighting Sephiroth, watching him narrowly live through a tremendously doomful Nova spell; for years, making it a cardinal rule that no other source of noise or music could be playing while someone in the room was playing FFVII; everything else and in-between. Most recently, writing up my own Enemy Skill Materia guide last summer.

Having played through the entire game three times now, two times completely (except for Ruby Weapon), I've got a playthrough of the game down to a science. I use certain characters at certain times, give certain materia to certain characters, steal from certain enemies for certain reasons, train for Limit Breaks in certain places, etc. etc. etc. Part of the fun I enjoy from this game these days comes from reliving this routine each time I decide to play through the game.

Yes, the graphics have finally begun to age, even to my eyes, but the game is not overrated. To this day, it's a game that many gamers still love to play and talk about. If the fact that a game's popularity hasn't weaned much in over a decade means that it's overrated, then so be it. I'm still waiting for a remake.

Runner-up - Diddy Kong Racing

Karts, hovercrafts, and airplanes. Prehistoric desert, snow-covered mountains, tropical islands, a medieval forest, and a galaxy far away. Gold balloons, silver coins, boss battles, trophy challenges, and battlefields. Upgradeable weapons. Open-ended, adventure-sty1e racing with an exciting exploratory element. This game put Mario Kart 64 to absolute shame back in 1997 and there wasn't even really any pre-release hype for it.

To this day, it's one of the top five games that I hyped to death as a kid waiting for its release (this one, even more so than SMRPG and DKC2 combined). I believe I've mentioned once before that when I was a kid, there were a few occasions where I'd be so excited for a particular video game to come out that ordinary day-to-day living was absolute torture with the game not yet in my possession. I used to have a wide-ruled notebook that I used as a "journal" and in the months prior to DKR's release, I actually wrote brief paragraphs detailing certain aspects of the game. Why? So that I wouldn't explode from anticipation. This act of writing about the game actually satiated my passionate need for the game, at least for a few days. Just yesterday, in fact, I found the notebook where I wrote all these DKR "blog posts". Hysterical. One would think I was an eleven-year-old working for Gamespot or Joystiq or something, what with my previews and all. I'd also printed world maps from the game's official website; they were glue-sticked onto some pages. Again, hysterical. It's been a loooooong time since I've been that excited for a video game. I suppose that's partially why I feel games aren't what they used to be. Of course, I am much older now and that might have something to do with it too. I have since learned to be more patient. ;)

Bottom line: I still love this game to death. Its soundtrack alone is just as good as any of the DKC games' soundtracks. It's a real shame Rare couldn't do the game justice in its attempt to port the game to the DS three years ago. They destroyed everything great and sacred about the original, and it goes down in my own personal gaming history as both one of the worst games I've ever played and one of my biggest gaming mistakes of all time. Adding insult to injury, the game scored one-tenth of a point higher than the original game did here on Gamespot, which is all the more painful given that GS didn't exactly score the original too fondly (6.6).

Runner-up - Goldeneye 007

Ahhh, my first FPS. It had a lengthy single-player campaign and possessed a multiplayer component that truly provided endless hours of fun and laughter. Not to mention, the game looked amazing (no surprise, it's another Rare game). Friends would come over and we'd play non-stop. We'd get together with family and play non-stop. I remember New Year's Eve '97 fondly for the sole reason that I had brought my N64 and four controllers to my grandparents' house that year, with Goldeneye and some other games, and me, my brother, and my cousins had somehow managed to get my uncles to play with us as well. Facility, for the win.

Like DKR, this is another game I'd gladly jump back into tomorrow if I had the time and opportunity (to take on the higher difficulties!). It has definitely held up real well over the years and is still a blast to play.

That said, the imminent releases of Activision's new Goldeneye games bring hope of new Goldeneye to enjoy and make memories with, but at the same time, I am very weary. The more I see of them, the less I'm excited about them. Only time will tell.

Previous entries: 1994 | 1995 | 1996

Crystal or Ci'eth?

What you will find below this preface are my impressions of Final Fantasy XIII after 30 hours of gameplay. I am at the start of chapter 10 of the 13. The game has opened up, to a degree; the "tutorial" has been over for a few chapters now. If you haven't played the game before, be warned that while I'll try not to include spoilers, a few may still pop up in course of discussion. Read at your own risk.

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Crystal or Ci'eth?

That's the question I now ask myself when it comes to Final Fantasy XIII. Those of you that have played the game most likely understand the metaphor. Is the game on par with previous FF titles or is it a positive evolution for the series in general? Or, is it an utterly complete mess and a definite step backwards for the series? Essentially, is FFXIII destined for eternal life as yet another cl@ssic gem in the FF series or is it condemned to be the horrifically ugly black sheep of the series, offensive and repulsive to many?

Well, if I had to definitively choose one or the other, I'd go with Crystal. But, from what I've experienced so far, I can't necessarily put this crystal next to other FF "Crystals" such as FFIV, VII, VIII, IX, X, and XII. At least not yet. ;)

bresha

STORY

It's an interesting comparison to make between FFXIII and its predecessor, Final Fantasy XII. Both were not received as unanimously positive as is usually expected for a Final Fantasy title. As expected when it comes to Final Fantasy, they differ completely when it comes to atmosphere and story. Whereas FFXII was a grand story about goings-on in the world in general and how a band of strangers came together to right the wrongs of the Empire as a subtle "army" of six, FFXIII is an "us versus them" tale at a much more intimate level. In FFXII, the major events happened away from the party for the most part, as they were traveling from place to place. In FFXIII, everything happens to the characters themselves, the government and world topology having a direct effect on everything they do.

Another point for comparison is the characters themselves. FFXII's cast is composed of three pairs of characters that each share a certain bond. Though the party first comes together in a very interesting way, there never appears to be any kind of real bonding or unity to be had. One would think with all that wandering around their world, they would become the tightest of friends, but at the end, they go their own ways; Vaan and Penelo end up pretty much exactly where they left off, only now they have acquaintences in high and illicit places. It quickly became clear with FFXIII that Square Enix had placed a much stronger importance on creating deep characters this time around, more in keeping with how their characters were in pre-FFXII titles. The longer you play, the more you learn how intertwined their individual stories are, which is pretty fascinating to be honest. Then, you wait to see how it all comes out into the open. Along the way, there is emotional venting and personal maturation. As of only the third chapter, the characters begin to change and/or grow in a way that has never really been seen before in a FF game. Perhaps one or two characters would evolve as the story progressed, but not all of them at once. It will surely be interesting to see where things go from where they are now.

No character is there just to fill a spot. They all have a purpose. They all matter.

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THE "TUTORIAL"

Let's talk about the dreadful 25-30 hour "tutorial" that consumes the first half of the game. Is there a tutorial that seems to last that long? Ehhhh, I guess. Did it feel like I was playing through a tutorial? NO! Stupid, stupid, complaining people! The further you progress, the less actual tutorials you encounter. For the latter half of the time I've played so far, I don't even recall viewing any tutorials. You need to learn how to play the game well; otherwise, you very quickly become screwed in battle. Anyway, I definitely preferred the live tutorials here to the text-only ones that I remember from past games like FFVIII.

In the first nine chapters, the game forces you to experiment with different paradigms (role combinations) and create strategies that you'll probably end up using through the rest of the game. And let's not forget: Your party at any given time is what it is based on what's happening with the story at the time. The story is progressing right from the very start. So I don't see why everyone was up in arms about it. The story is what kept me going; it's what should keep you going if all else fails. It is true that FFXIII starts off and progresses rather slowly at first, but when things really start to come together, slowly but surely, you will see why it was done the way in which it was done (On that note, be sure to read the Datalog entries! They add so much to the overall experience.).

I thought all the party swapping was actually an excellent way to keep you informed about how each character was doing at any time.

GAMEPLAY

Linearity. It's the word that got tossed around like Cheetos at a kids' party, back when FFXIII had just come out and was walking down Review Street. Usually, it was a word spoken or typed with a negative connotation, as though linearity in a game had suddenly become obsolete. The argument against linearity is synonymous, at least in my mind, with the argument regarding how important graphics are to a game's appeal and enjoyment. It doesn't matter. Not every game that comes out these days needs to be an open sandbox. I say, as long as a linear game has enough content to make its cost worth it, it's okay. A $60 game that one can beat in less than ten hours and not want to play again just isn't worth it. But I digress.

battle

It seems to me, now that I've played quite a bit of the game, that the flak FFXIII had received in this department was in no small part because of its predecessors, FFX and FFXII.

  • FFX was very linear, but it seemed like nobody really minded back in 2001. FFX was one big journey, a pilgrimage of sorts. Nobody really minded the linearity, but maybe that was because you eventually got an airship to let you fly back to previously visited locales. As far as I can tell, FFXIII doesn't let you do this. But FFXIII is a different kind of journey. Perhaps there's absolutely no need to go back to old locales at all.
  • Also, FFX let you grind. Character development took place on the Sphere Grid, and characters were able to gain Sphere Levels to use on the Grid by gaining experience from randomly generated battles. Tidus could run around in a circle to gain levels from these battles. In FFXIII, there are very few places that allow for quick and effective respawns that are great for power leveling. Even so, the player will eventually hit the end of the road in each role of the Crystarium for each character and that'd be it for the time being. Continuing to create respawns would only serve to store up a CP reserve for the next time the Crystarium is expanded. It doesn't help in the now; it only helps you reach the "end" sooner next time. This can make the game frustrating to some, as they're forced to keep retrying until they make it through the battles before them, knowing that their characters are already as developed as they can be.
  • FFXII was clearly inspired by Square Enix's experiences with FFXI. The player took their party through open areas, full of enemies that were clearly visible and able to be engaged right there on the spot, with no separate battle screen. Though the player ran around as the leader, he was in control of all three party members at any time. I personally loved the battle system of FFXII; it's what drew me to the game years before I finally played it for myself, before I found the story interesting. FFXIII does not have open areas, although I do believe there is one open area in the game...I just haven't reached it yet. This area is FFXIII's Calm Lands. The problem is simply that we went from open exploration to restricted travel through clear-cut passageways. It's not hard to see how many people interpreted this as an inexcusable step backwards.

But it was necessary, I feel, because it goes along with the story. While I believe that SE's excuses for the exclusion of actual towns in the game were incredibly silly (much like their excuses as to why a FFVII remake on an updated console is an impossible endeavor that would take decades to create), I can't imagine how this game would function with towns. As I can't go into further detail without unleashing story spoilers, allow me to just leave it at that. I went into this game thinking I would miss the towns terribly, but now that I've experienced a bit of the story, I know that towns just wouldn't have worked. There really is no need for them.

l'cie brand

Let's talk about the pacing. From the CP costs of nodes in the Crystarium to how each segment seems to be just long enough before a new cutscene or change in party occurs…it's astoundingly fine-tuned. Such things may have irked others, but I found it refreshing. I've never played a game so finely tuned in these aspects, and it certainly kept things interesting…and me interested, for that matter. One thing I have to mention, specifically, is that I really admire how much effort they put into the pacing. How do you even go about implementing something so obviously intentional???

Nowhere in the game is this more put through its paces than in the boss fights. In FFXII, the difficulty during boss fights came primarily from status ailments. In FFXIII, boss fights are always challenging, simply because Square Enix set them up knowing full well that until chapter 10, they knew –for the most part - exactly where the characters would be in their development at the time of each confrontation. In this way, they designed and developed the boss fights to match the expected stats. You can't just say, "oh, I guess I have to go grind and level up some more" because if you've maxed out each playable character's roles in the Crystarium's current level of expansion, then there's nothing else you can do to enhance your characters, save for weapon/accessory upgrading. If you fail the first time, you've just got to take a look at your Paradigms and then try it again. There's really nothing else you can do. Swap paradigms faster. Be more conservative; heal more often. Whatever it will take, maxed out, it's all you can do to just adjust your strategies…because your stats are the best they're going to be at that point. I have to say, I love this. The challenge is most definitely there, and it really pushes the player to push their own capability and skill with the battle system to the limit during each and every encounter.

crystarium

Yes, the battle system mostly consists of the player swapping out role combinations and letting Auto-Battle do what's best not just for your two supporting characters, but for the party leader sometimes as well. I'm okay with this. For the most part, in FFXII, I let the game dictate what my supporting characters did, based on the Gambits I'd set in place. So, this isn't too much of a departure from that. Although, I do wish I had at least partial control over my other party members. I enjoy swapping Paradigms on the fly to do quick buffing and debuffing and heals before changing over to heavy offense with a team of Commandos and Ravagers. That's where the strategy and heart of the battle system is.

MUSIC

I have to say, at first, I wasn't as in love with the music as I have been with prior FF games. FFVII's music is timeless as far as I'm concerned. Every modern FF game has had really great music, even if it hasn't been composed by Nobuo Uematsu. But, FFXIII's takes some getting used to. There are incomprehensible vocals in quite a few of the tracks, and it's definitely a diverse soundtrack. From Snow's theme to Sazh's theme, from this to this to this, there's definitely a smooth, futuristic sound to the whole thing. I'm diggin' it.

In Closing...

It's an interesting mix of many Final Fantasy games that have come before. It's got the linearity and Sphere Grid-like Crystarium from FFX and the futuristic sci-fi feel and lack of MP from FFVIII, for instance. But one thing that Final Fantasy XIII has that no prior FF game has ever really come close to having are really well-developed characters. We're talking very three-dimensional people here. I think if nothing else, that is what I remember the most about FFXIII when all is said and done.

For those that haven't played the game yet: Ignore what "everyone else" is saying. If you want to give the game an honest shot, go ahead and check it out. Stick with it until the end of ch9, at least until the start of ch8. If you're not down with the battle system by that point and the story hasn't made you laugh and/or tear up at least once, and you're not interested in what happens next to the characters, then by all means, stop playing the game. But I really like it. It's not a typical FF as we've come to view and experience FF, but it's by no means a bad RPG. In fact, I strongly believe that unless the plot becomes outrageously absurd, FFXIII is a shoe-in for a spot as a GOTY 2010 nominee in my book.

Game of the Year: 1996 Edition

Inspired by the likes of NeonNinja and hart704 (a.k.a. HartKnight), I've decided to start up my own GOTY series. Since my hobby of playing video games began in 1994, that is where I shall begin, even though a few games I own were released prior to that year.

Here's how I've chosen to make this work: I will display a list of up to five nominees and then choose the GOTY and two runner-ups from that list. The nominees must be games that I have played. The games are categorized by release year, not by the year in which I first played them. All decisions are final. The judgment calls were made not by how the games have lingered nostalgically in my mind at my current age, but by how I believe I would have voted at the end of each year.

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NOMINEES

  • Kirby Super Star (SNES)
  • Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES)
  • Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong's Kong Trouble (SNES)
  • Super Mario 64 (N64)
  • Wave Race 64 (N64)

And the winner is...

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smrpg

1996 Game of the Year - Super Mario RPG

I don't know the story behind where this game's concept originated, but I was terribly intrigued by it from the first screenshots published in an issue of Nintendo Power. I think it was the appearance of Mario that drew me to it, and words like turn-based and RPG still meant nothing to me until I had the game in my possession and had begun to play my very first role-playing game.

I got it as a present either the day or the day after I got my braces. I think it had literally come out that day. I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. I can remember discovering timed attack bonuses and timed blocking. I remember all the memorable music and the huge cast of memorable characters. I remember the diverse array of locales and the depth of personality that was infused into each and every person and place.

I remember after a few weeks of playing it, my dad found Nintendo Power's strategy guide in a store somewhere and bought it for my brother and me. At first glance inside, we were shocked to discover that we were not even a quarter of the way through the game yet at that point; there was still so much to go...and we had already felt like we had come so far. This is when I discovered RPGs are long games.

Perhaps my most favorite gaming memory when it comes to this game isn't recalling how long it took an RPG newb like I was then to beat the game, but how my brother and I would always break out a calculator when we encountered a boss fight. We were previously accustomed only to life bars or OHKOs. The invisible numerical health total was a new concept for us. So, the guide would tell us how much HP the boss started out with and as we dealt damage, we'd subtract it from the current total. One of us would be playing, the other would be on calculator duty. Even though both my brother and myself can kinda beat the entire game in one sitting these days, back then, boss fights were harrowing experiences with many close calls and narrow victories. And that's what I remember the most: my first fight with Bowyer in the forest, my first fight with Bundt in Marrymore, my first fight with Yaridovich in Seaside Town, my first fight with Smithy. Subtracting damage on a calculator.

As I said before, this was my very first RPG. It's also the only Mario RPG I've ever played. I've tried to get into the Paper Marios and Mario and Luigis - my brother owns a few - but none come close to the original one made by Square. They just...don't come close.

Runner-up - Super Mario 64

What is there to say about this game that hasn't been said elsewhere several million times? Alongside Mario himself, this was probably most gamers' first foray into three-dimensional gaming. It was big, it was pretty, it was diverse, it was innovative, it was ambitious, it was fun, and it just begged to be explored thoroughly from below the moat to high up in the clouds.

More than the excellent gameplay, I fell in love with a certain surrealism I found in the levels. The castle itself had very Myst-like qualities to it. We were jumping through paintings and stained glass windows. Stuff we toyed around with in certain levels or parts of the castle had a direct effect on certain other parts of the castle or the surrounding area. Super Mario World may have had more than its fair share of "WTF!?" shocking secrets to find, but Super Mario 64 certainly had a definite mysterious allure and series of "holy crap!" mind-blowing moments to call all its own.

Runner-up - Kirby Super Star

Only when Kirby Super Star Ultra came out two years ago did my brother and I realize how truly short and easy this game is. That said, more than a decade prior, we sure struggled our way through The Great Maze Offensive and Milky Way Wishes. We never beat the Arena. But boy did we have fun playing our way cooperatively through everything over and over again, picking our favorite powers and hugging ourselves to heal along the way. The game is a real charmer, through and through, and always a pleasure to play.

Previous entries: 1994 | 1995

Game of the Year: 1995 Edition

Inspired by the likes of NeonNinja and hart704 (a.k.a. HartKnight), I've decided to start up my own GOTY series. Since my hobby of playing video games began in 1994, that is where I shall begin, even though a few games I own were released prior to that year.

Here's how I've chosen to make this work: I will display a list of up to five nominees and then choose the GOTY and two runner-ups from that list. The nominees must be games that I have played. The games are categorized by release year, not by the year in which I first played them.

As of this past Monday, all nominees, runners-up, and winners have been decided. All decisions are final. The judgment calls were made not by how the games have lingered nostalgically in my mind at my current age, but by how I believe I would have voted at the end of each year.

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NOMINEES

Jumping Flash! (PS1)

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie (SNES)

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island (SNES)

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest (SNES)

Myst (PC)

And the winner is...

yoshi'sisland

1995 Game of the Year - Yoshi's Island

Following the release of Rare's instant platforming gem, Donkey Kong Country, Shigeru Miyamoto was instructed to make Super Mario World's sequel look more like DKC than another Super Mario World. The result was a colorful and cartoony, not to mention incredibly charming, platformer starring adult Mario's newly acquired dino sidekick, Yoshi.

Gee, what is there not to love about this game? The game looks great, and the music is joyful during the outdoor romps through the island's wilderness and suspenseful each time the player traverses through a fort or castle. Each mini-boss and boss have such character, you want to replay their levels just to fight them again. The challenge of finding all the hidden red coins, gathering all five flowers, and attaining and maintaining 30 points of health in each level was indeed a hearty one. To this day, I still haven't succeeded in this endeavor in the last two worlds. Thankfully, there are items in the form of different kinds of watermelon and health items, among some other things, and fun mini-games to earn these items. The game screams replayability.

In fact, that's primarily why it won over the runners-up (especially one in particular). I can still remember how excited I was for this game to be released and I remember how my brother and I didn't buy a new game for eight months after we got Yoshi's Island. Eight months. We probably went back and played older games in that time, but if memory serves, most of the time was spent playing the game shown above.

Runner-up - Donkey Kong Country 2

Yes, I believe DKC2 is the best game in the DKC trilogy and certainly one of the best, most challenging platformers I've ever played, but in the end, I made the hard choice to put Yoshi's Island on top. It was the eight months thing. Sorry, Diddy and Dixie!

Now that said, this game's no wimp in comparison. Its predecessor did a great job showing how a 2D platformer could take you through realistic-looking natural environments while creating a genuine atmosphere in each one that sucked you in while hunted for secrets, shiny items, and yellow fruit. DKC2 took it to a whole other level, though. The mood was much darker; you were on a rescue mission. There was also a pirate motif and you can't deny how awesome that was.

For me, what made DKC2 better than DKC were the pronounced bonus "levels"(as opposed to "rooms"), Dixie's heli-hairspin and the better use of animal buddies, and the air of desperation you could hear in most of the music tracks' bridges.

Runner-up - Myst

I'm willing to bet many of you haven't played Myst before, but I won't say "Shame on you!" Historically speaking, I'm sure you at least know of the game. It's the game that made PC gaming what it was in the 90's and most of last decade. Myst showed the world that PC gaming could be popular and mainstream and that there was certainly a market out there for games made for personal computers.

I was only nine when Myst was first released; my cousin who also owned the game was twelve at the time. He was able to solve most of the puzzles on his own while I had to resort to the use of three strategy guides. Before you smirk or reprimand me, different guides for Myst explained things differently. Even if the wording was ever so slight, it made a difference for me. Also, one of the books actually walked through the game from the perspective of some random photographer that happened upon the Myst book; that particular guide felt like I was reading a journal or an exciting novel, exploring the Ages along with him, discovering all their secrets and odd mechanisms.

I fell in love with the surrealism that abounded, just on Myst Island alone! Who thought you could raise a whole ship out of the water by the dock by touching a few specific panels along the island's central walkway? Who knew you could make a tall tree grow even taller by powering up a boiler and turning a metallic wheel? I could spend hours on Myst Island itself, just toying with everything and being fascinated by the relationships between certain landmarks. My love for scavenger hunts, connect-the-dots mysteries, etc. either started or was discovered with this game.

Previous entries: 1994