Trite end-of-year thing, part 0.1: Dishonorable mentions

You know, it’s always the little gifts that resonate the most. This year, my sister followed up on the Katamari magnets from two Christmases ago with a Cactaur button. It is, as they say, rad. I keep telling her she should make a business out of making these completely great character pins, but she has too much integrity to sell out like that. How indie!

I like how my phone’s camera managed to capture everything with crystal clarity except the subject of the image. But speaking of Cactuar….

Dishonorable Mentions: Best games I played this year that weren’t from this year

Despite the glut of brilliant games released this year, some of my best experiences came from games developed quite some time ago. And not just my usual predilection for dabbling in all things retro — these games sucked me in for far too many hours. Because they’re good! So they deserve a mention, even if they’re not really 2007 titles.

Final Fantasy VI Advance | 1994
I’m not one of those people who worships at the altar of FFVI, because Square (Enix) is still perfectly capable of churning out quality Final Fantasy games, even after betraying Nintendo and upgrading Tetsuya Nomura from art monkey to grand design silverback (and all those other things that FFVI fanboys whine about). Still, the last “classic” Final Fantasy probably struck the single best balance the series ever saw between style and content, between freedom and linearity, between challenge and complete brokenness. It was the most open entry of the series until XII came along. And it’s all 2D, which means it moves at a quick pace without infuriating load times or needlessly flashy battle animation. The new GBA translation was solid, too, managing to bring the script and naming conventions to current standards without crapping all over the perfectly excellent (albeit edited for space constraints) original script. Best Final Fantasy ever? No, but pretty gol-dang great regardless.

Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions | 1998
The new translation for FF Tactics was even more welcome, since it finally allowed the intricate plot to be coherent for an English-speaking audience. Sure, you have to read all the Zodiac Brave bonus info to keep up with the machinations of pivotal characters who never actually appear in the game, but that’s no burden, really — Matsuno and crew sunk a ton of effort into the supplement content, with character bios that change over the course of the game to reflect their current status. That is precisely the kind of detail that makes the Ivalice games so good. Well, the real Ivalice games. The other new additions (characters and jobs) weren’t really necessary — they just make the game even easier to beat once you get over those initial sticking spots — but the move to a portable system was all it took to get me to play all the way through the game in Japanese and most of the way again in English.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence | 2004
The first couple of hours of this game kind of… suck. But once you get past that hump and into the real meat of the mission, MGS3 is the most substantial and engrossing game ever to bear the Metal Gear name. I’d have bought it just for the showdown with The End, really. But the rest of the game is exceptional, too, so it all works out. Well, except that beginning portion. And the finale drags a bit. OK, so it’s as rocky and uneven as anything else Hideo Kojima has ever created — but while his shortcomings and excesses are on full display here, so are his brilliant flourishes and visionary ideas. It is a victory, on the balance; roll on Guns of the Patriots.

Cave Story | 2003
My addiction to Avernum V can be chalked up to two things: Mass Effect rousing my interest in western RPG design, and Cave Story serving as an inspiring example of the sheer potential inherent in independent games. I never quite took to the floaty jump physics, but everything about this game is difficult not to love: simple graphics packed with personality, an interesting story, a well-structured adventure that slowly becomes less linear and more open as you advance. Not bad for the work of a single person, really.

19 thoughts on “Trite end-of-year thing, part 0.1: Dishonorable mentions

  1. More evidence that I suck: I blew my chance at some free swag by posting my address right on here (thanks for deleting it and making me not look like a fool!!…although saying it here reveals me as the criminal, so…) AND I didn’t like Cave Story. The physics are WAAAYYYY too floaty such that I found the game infuriatingly difficult and die/load/trudge 5 minutes/die/repeat happy. Sure it’s free and it’s like Symphony of the Night done as a 2D shooter but it is in no way the be-all, end-all of games that some would have you believe. See also Nights on the Saturn, which I have always secretly felt was an unjustly beloved game because everything about it was unimpressive within a half hour of gameplay.

  2. Interesting, I found the jumping physics in Cave Story to be perfect. A little floaty, granted, but the freedom and precision allowed by them is almost unmatched in my experience. Probably just a personal preference though.

    Also, MGS3 is the most deeply flawed game I love to death.

  3. I apparently fail as a FF fan, as I always thought the Gigantaur with the handlebar moustache originated in VIII, not VI. Man I want a Cactaur.

    I should probably check out Cave Story sometime, all my friends who’ve tried it raved about it.

  4. I ADORED the floaty, forgivable physics of Cave Story. I wish more platformers controlled like that. Glad you finally got around to playing and enjoying it — I still haven’t gotten around to playing up to the final, final ending.

  5. Anyone who doesn’t like Cave Story played it on a keyboard. The game is perfect.

    And the Gigantuar originated in FF8, but was retconned into FF6 by the heathen retranslators Square hired to piss all over FF6’s PRISTINE original script. “Deathgaze”? PUH-LEASE.

  6. Irony is: correct translations being called “heathen” by supposed fans of a game in favor of censored and mistranslated earlier lines. Nevermind that if they want those translations back, they can always pop the original in and play that. Nope, progress must be denied for sake of misplaced nostalgia…

    FF6A is the only one of those I’ve actually played (unless you count my original playing and disliking of FFTactics on PS1). Draw your own conclusions from this.

  7. While I agree with Sky Render, I like the genuine irony of his using a screen name that originated with FFVI’s original, slightly inaccurate script.

  8. My favorite example of some people’s irrational attachment to an inaccurate bit of translation is “Lali-ho!”

  9. Cave Story is excellent, and the graphics get a lot better after the first 5 minutes. I also really liked the music. A gamepad really helps. If you can find a Saitek 880, buy it. They were $9 at Circuit City. They are gamepads for the PC with a Street Fighter 6-Button layout and shoulder buttons, very lightweight. They have a wierd d-pad that is actually very good in practice (just after the SNES in quality, in my opinion). There are 4 or so variants with weak dual analogs added, they are good but more expensive and heavier. I bring it up because that’s how I played Cave Story.

  10. You know what’s even better? A Sega-manufactured Saturn-style USB controller. That’s how I played it initially. Then I switched over to a GPX2.

  11. I have both iterations of the non-alalog Saturn pad and an adapter for my Dreamcast. I felt kind of let down by the pads after all I read about them on the internet. They are a bit cramped for my smallish hands and the shoulders are awkward. Also the d-pads are kinda sharp-edged. But then, I never got too good at Street Fighter 2/Alpha, so maybe I don’t know what I am talking about. almost anything is better than the keyboard though.

  12. Which Saturn pad was the good one, the one that was an upsidedown U, or the one that flared at the shoulders on the top of the pad? It important for me to know, since it is referenced to much, which of the two designs fighting game fans always talking about. I will have to dig out my old pads and try again.

  13. Sorry to monopolize the comments. Slow day at work. The Saitek 220 is the gamepad I recommend, not the 880. Has anyone tried the corded Xbox 360 controller? That looks like it might be good, but I haven’t really used the d-pad yet.

  14. I did in fact play it using a keyboard and it made me want to chop off my hands and implant USB ports into my new stumps so I could control games directly.

  15. That took entirely too long. Thanks, Juan.

    I played Cave Story with an original PSX controller. It was just about perfect, although I suppose a SNES pad would have been better.

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