I don’t talk about vidyagames all that often on here. I did last week, though. It was fun, so here are some more of the games that have really stuck with me over the years. There are actually a lot of games that really helped to shape my tastes, and so for today I’m focusing on two groupings. Let’s look at some JRPGs and a smattering of Fighting Games!
JRPGs, or Japanese RPGs, are a very specific animal. Unlike many western RPGs, Japanese offerings often have a somewhat linear story without much of an open world element. There may well be a game world which you can exploe freely, but in terms of actual progression, there tends to be a single path.
And, you know what? That’s okay. Not everything needs to be an open world game. That is a lesson that a lot of developers could do with learning…
There also tends to be a slightly (or overtly) anime-esque aesthetic. You’ll see this as a theme in the screenshots for some of the games below.
I’ve explored a lot in this genre, but the games that I will go on to list are the ones that really captured my imagination and my heart. I think they’re a big part of why I moved on to “proper” RPGs and I owe them a lot in helping to set my tastes in games.
Final Fantasy VII
In my previous post in this series, I spoke about missing a few months in school during S2. I mentioned playing through Link’s Awakening in this time. The other game that I powered through during this time was Final Fantasy VII. This was my first exposure to Final Fantasy, and to JRPGs generally. I fell in love with the series with this game, and found myself playing a lot more in the genre. The game felt so epic, and it seemed to stretch on and on, with a whole world at my fingertips. I would often load up the game just to explore, do a few battles, play at the Golden Saucer and just sight-see.
The game had a huge impact on my interests and changed what I looked for in video games. This was a really defining game for me but, actually, it was also my least favourite of the three PS1 Final Fantasy games. This shouldn’t be seen as a slight against FFVII, but rather high praise for FFVIII and FFIX.
Final Fantasy VIII
Following on from the amazing game that was Final Fantasy VII, my expectations for the eighth instalment in the series were high. As with the previous game, FFVIII drops the player right into the action and that initial “training” scenario is a lot of fun. Add to this the absolute beauty of the early zone, Balamb Garden… Brilliant!
The story, as it pretty typical of Final Fantasy games, I came to learn, is very good for the bulk of the game and then goes to shit and gets really odd towards the end. There are some really compelling characters in this game, with some of my highlights being Irvine, Rinoa, and Selphie. As with FFVII and, later, FFIX, the music in this game is also fantastic, and I especially love Faye Wong’s song, Eyes On Me:
The game was not perfect, of course. I do find it a bit frustrating that the way the game scales to character level, it actively incentivises you to play less, to not complete any more battles than you need to. Also, the ending. It’s… odd and confusing.
The game also included the minigame, Triple Triad. This little card game may have had even more impact on me the FFVIII itself. By joining online communities around this game, I learned to use graphics programmes such as GIMP, PSP and Photoshop, I learned some PHP, I learned how to moderate and manage an online community… lots of stuff! Here’s a collection of posts on the topic of Triple Triad.
Final Fantasy IX
Final Fantasy IX is underrated. It’s often seen as the weakest of the three PS1 Final Fantasy games. It’s actually my favourite one, so I obviously feel that this is a completely unfair assessment! I think the fact that FFVII and FFVIII popularised the series in the US and Europe with a cool mix of fantasy and sci-fi elements is a big part of this. FFIX took Final Fantasy back to a more fantasy-focused footing.
I enjoyed the story and the more whimsical feel that the game had. There were a few real dead ends, like Quina. That character was strange and annoying. On the other hand, there were some genuinely compelling characters like Garnet, Vivi, Freya and Steiner. I loved the story of the black mages. I loved how each character fitted on the job archetypes from the older games in the series. I loved the locations, particularly the cities such as Alexandria, Treno and, most of all, Lindblum. I know I’m in the minority here, but FFIX might just be my favourite Final Fantasy.
If Final Fantasy IX is my favourite game from that series, then I have to say that Grandia is my favourite game in the genre. It is by far my favourite JRPG. it has a compelling storyline with a truly interesting cast of characters. It has a fun battle system with a particularly interesting magic system. I love building spells, either by stacking elements of the same type, such as fire to make ever more popular fire spells, or by combining elements, such as combining water and earth magic to create forest magic, or fire and earth magic to create explosion magic. It’s really intuitive!
The game also had charm and wit. I don’t think that it has visually aged as well as the Final Fantasy games of the same era, largely because it relied more on 3D graphics which tend to age a lot more than sprites and hand-drawn backgrounds (nothing beat Final Fantasy at the time for incredible hand-drawn backgrounds).
I’m currently re-experiencing Grandia, having picked up the HD remastering and started a new playthrough. I’m not far into the game yet, but am totally pumped for it!
Ni No Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom
This is actually the newest game in this series so far. It’s the game that reinvigorated the JRPG genre for me. I hadn’t really played one of these games for some time, so when this was recommended to me, i was in two minds. I did end up buying this, along with Final Fantasy XV at the same time. I got so absorbed into this game that I have yet to even start FFXV. That’s pretty high praise.
Let’s start with the obvious. The game is beautiful. The character models are lovely and the locations are stunning. I especially love Broadleaf, the tree-based technological nation. The tech aesthetic and grubbiness are really cool, and nature is still incorporated both in the appearance of the city and the trees and whatnot within the settlement. I mean, all of the cities are pretty, but that one really caught my imagination.
I really like how the fights work as well, ditching the traditional turn-based gameplay for a more real-time, hack and slash approach. It’s all about timing, combos, special moves and other awesomeness.
The kingdom building aspect is also a lot of fun, with the protagonist becoming king of his own land. You can build up your kingdom, or at least your city, recruiting people to help you run it, assigning specific characters to different jobs, and generally breathing life into the whole thing. I won’t say that it’s the most compelling aspect of the game, but it adds another dimension to the gameplay and reminds you about your hero’s role in the world.
No No Kuni II got me back into the JRPG genre and has me actively looking for more! My next will probably be Final Fantasy XV, largely because I’ve already bought it, but after that I’ll be seeking suggestions!
There’s something about the fighting game that gets me going. I think it’s the simplicity of the concept. Oh, I know that modern fighting games are really complex, with special moves, complex combos and thel ike, but the core concept – that of two characters on the screen kicking the crap out of each other – is pretty straightforward.
I grew up playing lots of fighting games. I’ve focused on those that stuck with me the most, but honourable mentions must also go to others, such as Ergheiz: God Bless the Ring, Mortal Kombat 3, Injustice: Gods Among Us, Sould Calibur IV, Super Smash Bros Brawl, Skullgirls, Dragon Ball Fighterz, BlazBlue, Darkstalkers 3, King of Fighters 98, Capcom Vs SNK 2, Guiltry Gear, and, of course, Jump Ultimate Stars. What can I say? I like the genre.
Street Fighter 2
The game that defined the Genre, Street Fighter 2 was a defining game of my childhood and one that, in various forms, I still play a bit today through emulators, downloadable releases and whatnot. I wonder how many times I’ve actually bought this game…
It’s a perfect thing, this game. My favourite characters are Chun Li, Vega, and Ken. That said, I like to play as pretty much everyone, as they all bring a really unique flavour and experience. Well, maybe I’m not quite so keen on Zangief. I like him a lot, but I’m just not good with him.
The game has held up pretty well because, well, sprite tend to hold up better than 3D models anyway. In addition to the fantastic original, I played a lot of Super Street Fighter 2, Street Fighter Alpha 2 and 3, and a little bit of Street Fighter 4. They’ve all been really solid games, but none have quite measured up to the perfect little gem that the original represented. It really primed me to love the genre.
Killer Instinct was a big game for me. It was really hyped up in the games magazines before release and it lived up to the hype. For the time, it looked beautiful, but using sprites that were created from 3D models means that the graphics just do not hold up in the same way as Street Fighter 2.
My favourites in this game were Glacius, Cinder, and Fulgore. They all brought something unique to the table and some interesting special move sets. The games actually doesn’t hold up generally. If feels a bit sluggish these days, but that doesn’t take away from the absolute joy this brought me as a kid.
Marvel Vs Capcom 2
So, I actually love the original Marvel Vs Capcom as well, but the second game improved upon it in pretty much every way, including by massively expanding the roster of available characters. At its core, this game really just feels like a more refined Street Fighter Alpha 2 but with a cooler roster. This isn’t a bad thing, as it’s building on a really solid foundation.
The roster is where this really shines, bringing in lots of really cool and prominent Marvel characters (my favourites included Gambit, The Silver Surfer, and Iron Man) and a mix of popular and more obscure Capcom characters (my favourites from this batch included Akuma, Morrigan, Mega Man, Cammy, and Jill Valentine), adding up to a truly epic roster.
I really liked how the game had you take three characters, between whom you can switch during the match, and all three of which need to be defeated for your opponent to claim victory. I think this worked really well.
I played a lot of this game and it was one that friends always wanted to play as well. I’ve picked up the third game in the series, but it’s not the same. That’s probably less to do with the game and more to do with just not being a kid any more, sitting around a console with friends and playing winner-stays-on. That was a big part of what I loved about fighting games.
The original Tekken was good. Tekken 2 was fantastic. Tekken 3 saw the formula perfected. It was a huge game at the time and took what came before, polishing into a shiny gem of a game. I played a lot of this game and, like Marvel Vs Capcom 2, it’s one that I played a lot with friends.
Because favourite character are, as we have seen, so important in this genre, my favourites from Tekken 3 were Yoshimitsu, Heihachi, Ling Xiaoyu, and Bryan Fury. I loved, once again, how different the experiences were with each character. I loved the speed of playing as Ling, whilst the slow, steady power of Heihachi was really satisfying.
The PS2 title, Tekken Tag Tournament, was also an absolute classic, but it just played like Tekken 3 with a tag feature (much like Marvel Vs Capcom 2) and a (vastly) expanded roster. It’s essentially the same game and, although I loved hem both, Tekken 3 came at the best possible time for me (and my friends) to get the most out of it. Long Saturdays were spent competing in this game, and that was just lovely.
Next time, I’m looking forward to looking at some strategy games and more RPGs. Catch y’all later!