It is Wednesday again! That mean’s it is time for this week’s Editor Spotlight! This time our editor is Aaron Dobbe! So check out his Top 5 Games here! Do you agree with any of them?
Number 5: Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS)
Man, was this ever a surprise treat. While I’ve always enjoyed the Fire Emblem games, they had historically been a little bit slow and unexciting in my opinion. That changed with this latest entry in the franchise, and it wasn’t long before I had fallen in love with Awakening’s rapid, streamlined take on the classic Fire Emblem SRPG formula. Character development in particular felt much more rewarding in this game than the previous ones; you have a lot more control over how your characters turn out, thanks to a revamped Skills system that encourages you to change your units’ classes multiple times over the course of the lengthy adventure.
The series’ staple Support mechanic has seen a welcome expansion as well; as in previous games, having compatible characters fight side-by-side will cause them to become friends, and fight more effectively when together in future battles. However, in this game, characters who forge strong enough bonds might fall in love and even get married! To avoid spoilers, I’ll just say that deciding who marries who will carry immediate consequences beyond just a blurb in the ending. Once I found out exactly what those consequences are, Awakening was cemented as one of the most memorable games I’ve ever played.
It’s also well worth mentioning the DLC. This is an example of DLC done very, very well. There are a wide variety of bonus maps on offer. Many of them feature characters from past Fire Emblem games, both as friends and as foes. Some take place an alternate future. Some only exist to be extremely challenging, even to series veterans like myself. I bought all of it and enjoyed every one.
I could keep going on and on, but this isn’t a review. Suffice to say that I sunk hundreds upon hundreds of hours into this gem of a title, and everyone with a 3DS should at least check out the demo, even if you aren’t a big fan of other SRPGs.
Number 4: Rez (Dreamcast, PS2)
Set in the near future, Rez tells the story of a gigantic supernetwork called the K-Project (basically the Internet). Eden, the AI that runs the network, has become overwhelmed with the massive amount of data she’s in charge of. In her distressed state, Eden begins to question her own existence and, in a fit of agony, shuts herself down. Without Eden, the network is overrun with viruses that threaten to destroy the K-Project entirely. That’s where you come in! Assuming the role of an elite hacker, you’ll delve into a trippy visualization of the supernetwork, trying to reach the center of the network and reboot Eden. Along the way, you’ll have to fight past both the viruses attacking the network and the gigantic firewalls that see you as a threat to be squashed.
The plot is, admittedly, rather silly. What makes this game great is the gameplay and presentation. Rez is a rhythm-based rail shooter. Everything about the game, from enemy movement to bullet trajectories to the shape of the environment around you, is governed by the thumping beats of the addictive trance soundtrack. And in turn, every action taken by both you and your enemies will add additional layers to the music, causing the gameplay, graphics, and music to blend together to form a single sensational experience. While creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi would go on to create several other games that similarly incorporated music into the gameplay, notably spiritual successor Child of Eden and block-dropping puzzle game Lumines, none of them quite capture the same magic that permeated the relentlessly adrenaline-fueled ride that is Rez. This game didn’t get nearly the recognition it deserves. If you have an Xbox 360, I recommend checking out the HD remake on Xbox Live Arcade – it’s inexpensive, and it’s beautiful.
Number 3: Portal 2 (PC, 360, PS3)
There’s something I find extremely satisfying about a game that gets a lot of mileage from a simple set of mechanics. 2007’s Portal did just that. The game was a first-person puzzler that tasked players with navigating a series of sterile white test chambers using a simple but powerful tool; a gun that can create portals on any flat surface. Need to cross a wide chasm? Fire a portal at the wall on the other side, fire another at the wall next you, and simply step through. By taking clever advantage of gravity and momentum, you could pull of some impressive maneuvers – to master the game, you were required to wrap your mind around this physics-breaking tool and change the way you thought about physical space. Despite all that, though, it was more of a lengthy tech demo than anything else; a fun project that Valve threw in with the rest of the Orange Box. Nobody really expected it to make the impact that it did.
And then Portal 2 came along and was even better. Expanding on the mechanics of the original with new puzzle elements like laser beams, catapults, and paint-like “gels” that can modify the properties of any surface, Portal 2 was a much more intricate and much more rewarding game. The writing was as hilarious as ever, the puzzles were tricky, and the visuals were beautiful (it’s funny how a building in ruins can have a much deeper atmosphere that the same building in proper condition). Portal 2 was that rarest of games: a sequel that lives up to the incredible hype that surrounded it. I recommend picking it up on Steam – not too long ago, Valve released an amazingly intuitive level editor for the game, and both creating and playing user-generated content is a joy.
Number 2: Chrono Trigger (SNES)
I can’t bring myself to play this game anymore. Is it because it’s a bad game? No, not at all. It’s because I’ve played this fantastic JRPG over and over and over again to the point where I’ve memorized pretty much everything about it. Chrono Trigger is an absolute classic, and for good reason.
The game tells the story of a boy named Crono, an amateur swordsman who lives in the kingdom of Guardia. It’s the year 1000 A.D., and all the neighboring kingdoms are gathering in Guardia for the Millennial Fair. At the fair, Crono meets a girl named Marle, and an unfortunate accident in a teleportation experiment (seriously) causes a rift in the fabric of space, swallowing Marle without a trace. Crono, being the hero he is, jumps in after her… and finds himself four hundred years back in time, in a past version of Guardia embroiled in a massive war with a race of monsters. It’s hard to go into detail without spoilers, but the stakes quickly get much higher than just a search for a missing person. The fate of not just the world, but the entire space-time continuum hinges on your actions.
Everything in this game is about time. Time travel is not just a plot device but a way to solve puzzles – many sidequests require you to go into the past and do something that will affect that location in the future. Even the battle system was an experiment in blending classic Final Fantasy-style combat with real-time mechanics; you’re still picking attacks and spells from a menu, but if you wait too long, your enemies will keep taking turns without you. A beautiful soundtrack, gorgeous sprites and backgrounds, and arresting plot make the closest thing to my ideal JRPG that I’ve ever played. This was one of the games that I played a lot of in my formative gaming years, and it still holds up today. 13 endings and a New Game Plus feature ensure tons of replayability. Everyone has that one game they wish they could forget about and experience once again from scratch – this is mine. Get this game or one of its myriad ports if you’ve never played it – you’re doing yourself a disservice otherwise. The DS version is my favorite, but as long as you avoid the PSX version with its irritating technical problems, you can’t go wrong with this masterpiece.
Number 1: NiGHTS into Dreams… (Sega Saturn)
If Sonic the Hedgehog was given the power of free flight, the result would be something like NiGHTS. And that’s not a coincidence; this game was just one of the many super-cool yet super-weird games that came from the Sonic Team during the Saturn/Dreamcast era. The game was intended to capture the exhilarating feeling of free flight, and for my money it succeeded immensely.
The story takes place in the Night Dimension, the world of dreams. This realm is split into two subworlds; the peaceful, idyllic Nightopia, and the creepy horror-show that is Nightmare. The god Wizeman, who rules over Nightmare, has begun to prey on the humans that visit Nightopia at night, sending his evil Nightmaren to attack the dreamers and steal their dream energy (called Ideya). One of Wizeman’s creations, the titular NiGHTS, objects to this military takeover and tries to stop it, to no avail. And then, two dreamers, Claris and Elliot, appear in Nightopia holding the rare Red Ideya of Courage – the one Ideya that cannot be stolen. This allows them to hold on to their psyche even after being attacked by the Nightmaren and, after stumbling across NiGHTS and freeing him from his prison, embark on a mission to liberate Nightopia, one dream at a time.
NiGHTS is fundamentally a score attack game. After locating NiGHTS in each world, Claris or Elliot will “Dualize” with him, fusing their bodies so that NiGHTS can use their dream energy to temporarily leave his prison. Before he’s forcefully pulled back into confinement, you’ll have to fly around the dreamscape, maneuvering through rings, threading through speed boosters, and collecting items to overload the Ideya Capture and retrieve the Ideya sphere held inside. Collecting an Ideya and bringing it back to the starting location will reset the clock, rearrange all the rings and items in the stage, and let you go off to find the next Ideya. As you do so, you’re trying to keep collecting things in quick succession to keep your combo count up and rack up huge points; to help you do this smoothly, NiGHTS has a bunch of acrobatic moves available (including a loop-the-loop that automatically collects all items caught inside it). Once you’ve gathered all of the Ideya, you take a trip to Nightmare and face off against a giant boss monster. Doing well in this fight will apply a multiplier to your score, so if you’re playing for the leaderboards the stakes are high.
It’s rather difficult to describe, and it might not sound like anything particularly special. But when you sit down with it for an hour or two and get used to the controls, it’s an absolute blast to play. It’s a simple game that’s not hard to beat, but it holds incredible depth for those who look for it. This is an example of a game that did pretty much everything right, and it resonated with me (and so many others) on a number of levels. No other game has provided me with as much enjoyment as I got from mastering this title. If you don’t have a Saturn, you can find the HD remake on PSN, XBLA, and Steam – complete with online leaderboards to go along with the beautifully updated visuals. This was the peak of Sonic Team’s creative output in my opinion, and is a shining example of strong game design.