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Man, this boxshot is big.

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My Top 10 Games of 2008 and more.

Everyone else is doing it, and since I'd jump off a bridge if everyone else was I figured I'd do it too. Here's my personal top ten list of 2008 games along with some extras (I totally stole this format from Shaun, thanks buddy!). Watch out for the occasional spoiler!

10. Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia: The best Metroidvania yet (people who call them Castleroids are dumb). A great main character, awesome story, challenging gameplay, all new monsters and art (!), fantastic bosses, and totally rad soundtrack.

9. Super Smash Bros. Brawl: I loved this game early in the year when I reviewed it, though it was gradually left behind in favor of others. Lately though, I've been playing it again with my brother now that we've moved in together and I'm reminded of how fun it can be.

8. Street Fighter IV: Just cause it's not out in the US yet doesn't mean anything to me! Playing this on genuine Japanese arcade machines is awesome. We'll see if the home versions are as good for me.

7. Fallout 3: I loathed Oblivion. Like, I couldn't play it for longer than 20 minutes. I did enjoy Fallout 3 though, for some reason. Maybe it's because I like Fallout (even though this game isn't really Fallout in any way) but whatever. My biggest issues with it is that it's not an RPG because none of the choices you make really matter (at the end of the game I was a known mass murderer and cannibal, yet the Brotherhood of Steel was still all like "Hey man you can totally join up with us and save the world!") and that the entire game wasn't like the Libery Prime sequence at the end.

6. Persona 4: I loved Persona 3--it's one of my favorite RPGs ever. Persona 4 took that formula and perfected it, and in every way its gameplay is superior to its precessor. Where it doesn't succeed quite so well though is in the story. Though the characters were much more believable in P4, P3 had such a much more epic story (especially the ending, which is pretty much the best final encounter ever). As original as the social link/dungeon crawling combo is though, I'm really hoping they radically change the series again for P5.

5. Left 4 Dead: This game is awesome. There's nothing better than having four people team up to fight zombies post-apocalypse. I can't recommend this game enough for co-op play.

4. Valkyria Chronicles: I love strategy RPGs, and Valkyria Chronicles is among the best ever made. Though it has a few issues, I love its art style and direction, the manner in which its story is told, its characters, the sheer amount of backstory there is to read and uncover, and the many steps forward its taken for the genre. I'm very disappointed at how poorly its been recieved as far as sales are concerned in the US.

3. No More Heroes: Travis Touchdown's hilarious and bloody rise to the top is pure genious. Suda-51, I salute you. While this is basically Boss Fight: The Game 2 (the first Boss Fight: The Game was Shadow of the Colossus, another fantastic title), the bosses are just so over the top and awesome, the art style so stylish, and the combat and controls so right. The ending is epic too. Can't wait for the sequel.

2. Metal Gear Solid 4: Solid Snake's final mission is absolutely amazing. I broke down and bought a PS3 for this game alone, and it was worth it. I can't really say anything about this that hasn't already been said so I won't.

1. Dead Space: This was one of my most anticipated games of the year and it was way better than I expected. I loved this game from the beginning all the way through the end, and I think that it's done an amazing number of things for the genre in that it managed to be heavily action oriented yet still unmistakably survival horror, unlike Resident Evil 4 which was anything but a pure action game.

Special Awards:

Barely Missed the Top 10 (In No Particular Order): Gears of War 2, Braid, Prince of Persia, Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney, Rock Band 2, Professor Layton and the Curious Village, and Mega Man 9.

Didn't Quality Since They Were Remakes/Ports: Final Fantasy IV and Chrono Trigger. Two of the best games ever, but yeah they've been out for like 10 years or something.

Most Disliked Game: Mirror's Edge. I will never understand why some people liked this.

Worst Game: Emergency Mayhem. This is one of the worst games ever made. It represents everything wrong with Wii Shovelware.

Favorite Book I Read: I actually read about as many books as I played games in 2008 so maybe I'll write a separate best books blog post sometime (scratch the maybe, I will sometime this week). Anyway, this is a tie between two books that are a lot older but only recently were read by me: Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light and Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer. They're both amazing stories that I count among my favorite of all time.

Things that are not true about game reviews...

As a bit of a foreward, this is going to be the start of a series of quick and succinct breakdowns of some commonly held, incorrect beliefs about game reviews that I write as I find time and observe them in their natural habitat: the Internet.

Games do not start at 10 and lose points

So many people seem to believe this is true, and it shocks me as that's an entirely absurd notion. No one here at GameSpot (and no game reviewer anywhere, I would hope) believes that a game starts at a 10 and loses points as flaws are discovered. The opposite actually, while not entirely accurate, is a much better way to look at it if you want to draw that sort of a comparison.

Think about it: you don't start out a class in school with an A and lose points by not doing homework or missing questions on tests--you have to demonstrate a certain level of competence in order to score a good grade, and the same is true for a game. The problems with a game that we point out in our review merely prevented said game from earning a higher score; they did not lower its score. These two things may seem alike, but they are actually quite different.

Some cool things

So it turns out, much to my surprise, that I don't actually loath everything about Mirror's Edge after all. Though I can't possibly imagine why they would name the theme song "Still Alive" after the Portal song came out--cause let's face it, that's hella dumb (a quick Google check showed that all 10 first page results in a search for "still alive song" were for the Portal one), not unlike the game Mirror's Edge itself--they apparently did.

Anyway, it's a pretty good song, and you can listen to it below, though frankly I would encourage you to open it up in another tab so you can hear it without assaulting your sensabilities with the game's visuals:

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For the record, GLADoS' version is better, but that doesn't mean this isn't a pretty rad song with some nice piano work.

In other, arguably more awesome news, the Valve Store has made actual 18x24" movie posters for all the Left 4 Dead episodes, and has a pretty sweet deal that gets you all four for $14.99. They also have some totally sweet shirts (that cost too much) emblazoned with Bill's wacky lines like "I hate vans" and "I hate the woods."

Differences between Chrono Trigger DS and SNES (Spoilers!)

As I previously posted, I've decided to catalog a list of differences that I noticed between the SNES and DS versions of Chrono Trigger to accompany my review of the game. Please note that this does not include every change--just the ones I caught. Be warned that this includes story spoilers, though I do split the list up into a spoiler-free area and one full of some story spoilers.

Finally, to get you in the mood, I'm going to recommend you listen to this amazing lyrical(!) remix of Robo's Theme on loop.

Update: I've been corrected on a couple inaccuracies by the Chrono Trigger forum and have removed them.

Spoiler-free changelist:
- The game has been retranslated, and while a majority of the game script is near identical, some of the more famous lines have been changed. Examples of retranslations include the removal of Frog's faux Olde English accent, Magus being referred to as the Fiendlord (and consequently, his army is now simply the Fiends and not the Mystics), and the 12,000 B.C. era being named "Antiquity" instead of "The Dark Ages."
- The addition of the PlayStation's new features, which include the bestiary, anime cutscenes, music player, and treasure guide
- The addition of a DS style combat system, which simply moves the commands from the top screen into the bottom screen, clearing up the screen a bit
- The addition of the Arena of the Ages
- Contrary to what I said on On the Spot last week, they actually did add an extra spot for a letter in character names, meaning you can name the spiky-haired protagonist Chrono if you so choose. Just know that it's sacrilege.
- New items. If you thought Rainbow was ridiculous there's a new sword for Crono that's more powerful and has a 90% critical hit rate.
- The formally missing song Singing Mountain was finally added into this iteration

Spoiler-filled changelist:
- The addition of the Lost Sanctum. This is a new quest hub that appears in both Prehistory and The Middle Ages eras, and is a settlement of friendly Reptites that were not associated with Azala. While I appreciate the effort to add these new areas into the game, the quests are totally pants, to borrow a British term. They're self-contained to the village and the surrounding new zones, and it's just full of a bunch of boring fetch quests. I hope you like climbing that mountain, 'cause you're going to be doing it like 200 times.
- The addition of the Dimensional Vortices. This new dungeon is actually a series of three dungeons that appear, one each in the Future, the Present, and Antiquity eras. Each one is composed of single screen areas randomly stitched together (so it is different each time you visit) from all of the dungeons of the game (and including the same monsters that originally appeared in that screen) that culminate in a unique challenge. For example, one of the Vortices requires you answer four multiple choice trivia questions about the game, and another splits your characters up into two separate groups that must work independently. The final bosses of the Vortices are clones of three of your party members, and upon defeating a clone the original receives significant stat boosts. Also, you find out what happened to Dalton, and he claims he will form the greatest army the world had ever seen in Porre, which further ties Chrono Trigger into its sequel, Chrono Cross.
- An additional ending can be found by beating the game and then revisiting the bucket in the End of Time that originally led to the Day of Lavos. This new location effectively welds Chrono Trigger's notions of parallel time travel together with Chrono Cross' idea of multiple dimensions, and most certainly ties together the two games. You witness the fate of Schala (now the Dream Devourer), and see what is proof that Guile in Chrono Cross really IS Magus and not like, another timeline's Janus that grew up without a crazy mom or something.

Chrono Trigger

Just as a heads up, the review for the DS version of Chrono Trigger will be up this Friday. Chrono Trigger has remained one of my favorite games ever since I first played it 13 years ago on the SNES, and I'm really excited that I get to review the rerelease of it now. So, because I'm a huge fan of the game and remember way too much about it, I'm going to write up a list of major differences between the SNES and DS versions that I spotted while playing here. If you're so inclined, you'll be able to see this list--which by no means includes all of them--after the review goes live. It will include spoilers though, so, ya'know, you may want to hold off on reading it until you've finished the game.

See you in the future!

What I've been up to

The last couple months have been pretty busy for me, so I've kept off the grid as far as blogging is concerned. Between my real job, reviews, moving, and trying to have some semblence of a social life I've just had a lot going on.

My blogging situation isn't going to be improving in the near future, but if you're in need of your Lark fix (for some reason), one thing that I have found the time to do is Twitter fairly frequently, and you can follow me here if you want to opt into that. Be warned: unlike this blog I don't bother censoring myself, so if you like creative swearing you may occasionally see some new phrases to add to your personal dictionary. Also, I tend to make sweeping generalizations completely baselessly. But at least I don't talk endlessly about sandwiches!

Anyway, lately I've found myself playing the following games:

Dead Space
Dead Space has displaced Metal Gear Solid 4 as my favorite game of the year. I could type like 2000 words about this but I totally already did. You should go read it.

Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia
My opinion of this game has evolved over time but I now see it as my favorite Castlevania yet. Overall, I think that Aria of Sorrows is a superior game because it had a better story and there isn't as good of an actual sense of progression in Order. But I love the artwork, the new combat system, the difficulty, and that you can explore beyond the castle walls.

Gears of War 2
So when I was at Comic-Con and Cliff announced that there'd be a full-sized Lancer I thought about how cool that was. Then I saw it on Amazon and said DO WANT and one-click bought it, then immediately regretted it. But since I can't one-click-cancel-an-order I just let it be (4+ clicks is way too much). Now I have it at my desk and don't regret being able to annoy my coworkers with it at all. Oh yeah, Gears of War 2 is super fun--much better than Gears 1.

Mirror's Edge
So back when this was everyone's critical darling around E3 I was interested. Then I saw it a couple weeks ago and decided I didn't like it. Then I played it for a bit and wasn't impressed. Now that I've played it for more than 10 minutes though, I can say that I hate it with all my being. It's a great idea and while I love some of the stuff it does (like running through doors, which is awesome), but it doesn't deliver at all as far as I'm concerned. I hate how it looks, I hate how it tries to tell a story, I hate how I can't turn 5 degrees without visual tearing in several places on screen at once, I hate how the "where do I go?" button simply points you in the right direction even when that's two floors above, and I also hate puppies and rainbows.

Time Hollow
As a fan of "visual novel" games for the DS like Phoenix Wright and Hotel Dusk, I picked this title up. I didn't beat it--quickly ditched it actually for Castlevania--but from what I played it's not something I'd be interested in. Linearity is something that games like this are all about, granted, but when you've got like 12 places to go and only one of those places has what you need (and it's hidden, of course), it gets frustrating fast.

Left 4 Dead
I totally haven't played this but I want to. I should download the demo. That said, I finally ended up taking a sweet "Dead Air" promo poster we were sent and turning it into a profile theme like I've been meaning to for a while. Shaun would be proud.

Chrono Trigger
Half my lifetime ago I first played this game on the SNES, and the years and transition to the DS have not soured it at all. I'm working on the playing it for the review now, so check back later for my final word. One thing though--I'm quite amazed at how much I remember of this game.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4
I've only played this for about a half hour but I'm already liking it better than Persona 3. The intro is still slow, but it makes a lot more sense. I'm also reviewing this so look for this later as well.