I was going to write that out as “9 in ’09, #9,” but then the entire title of this post would have degenerated into a very silly load of numeric nonsense. Instead I’m simply going for arbitrary alliteration. Better than asinine assonance, I suppose.
Anyway. I guess it’s become kind of a tradition over the past few years that I stop and write about the games I enjoyed playing over the previous twelve months, and some people seem to enjoy it despite its narrow point of view (no man can play every game that hits in a given year these days, at least not while holding down a job) and generally sort of navel-gaziness. (“Navel-gaviness” was not a word until this very instant, by the way.) Last year I took the approach of reconsidering the review scores I had handed out over the previous year as a means by which to mostly say “I am so right! I am awesome.” Which was kind of a terrible approach to take, and I apologize. I won’t be doing that this year, in part because it was dumb, but mostly because sometime around the latter half of last year my approach to reviewing made a quiet and subtle shift and I started taking a long view of the reviews I’ve been writing. I think it’s because I’ve become old, but in any case I can’t think of a single review or score I’ve written this year that I would change in the least. So, I’m returning to the format I used in 2007 with my “7 in ’07” posts. Except now I have to do nine of them, because “7 in ’09” seems weird. And if I call it “7 of ’09,” well, that’s just too damn nerdy for even me.
This isn’t some all-encompassing list; I didn’t have a chance to play Uncharted 2 or Arkham Asylum or enough of Dragon Age to get a real feel for it (yet). It’s simply a rundown of games I’ve enjoyed, a lot. Some of which are games that will probably show up on people’s lists next year, since I’ve been dabbling in imports all year. Such as this one!
ImageEpoch | Sega | DS | RPG
Well, it would be nice if this could be on people’s “favorite games of 2010” lists, but so far, no luck. Sega doesn’t want anything to do with it, and I’ve talked to PR and business development folks at several likely third-party publisher candidates who have all told me the same thing: “It’s too hard.” Proof that publishers continue to underestimate the intelligence and resolve of American gamers, I suppose. I hope they all look at sales of Demon’s Souls and the fact that it’s selling incredibly well because it unapologetically tests the mettle of even the most die-hard player and choke on them.
Because 7th Dragon is an exceptional RPG. It’s tough, yeah, but from the portions I’ve played — and admittedly I didn’t finish the game — the challenge is nothing insurmountable to any seasoned RPG veteran. Especially if you’ve played Etrian Odyssey, which comprises a significant portion of this game’s DNA. Its key creators are Reiko “Phantasy Star” Kodama and Kazuya “Etrian Odyssey” Niinou, and it really does feel like a hybrid of the two franchises. Rather than taking the first-person approach of the Etrian games, it plays out as more of what people think of as a standard Japanese RPG. You have a party, you wander around the world map in warrior-train formation, you encounter enemies, you dive into dungeons and measure your progress by reaching new towns and beating bosses.
What keeps it from being just a wannabe Dragon Quest/Final Fantasy-alike are the bits it draws from the Etrian games. No, you don’t draw a map. But you do build a party from scratch, and you do allocate skill points to customize their abilities at each level-up. And yeah, there are super-powered foes (or should I say, FOEs) that visibly roam the dungeons and pounce upon you to create an extremely hazardous situation. In fact, these special enemies are sort of the whole point of the game: There’s a numeric counter that always appears on-screen and it ticks down by one each time you slay one of these wandering minibosses. They’re nasty enemies that take a lot of work to overcome, but as with Etrian’s FOEs, besting one is incredibly satisfying.
I kind of wonder but what the problem with the game isn’t that it’s challenging but that it’s so relentlessly challenging yet so incredibly cute. 7th Dragon is crammed with colorful graphics and charming sprites and super-deformed character art that appears in combat to add a little extra personality to the first-person combat. It could be one of those instances where publishers balk at offering something so saccharine-looking that nevertheless has a vicious temperament. Demon’s Souls probably wouldn’t have made it overseas if it had featured little bobblehead munchkins fighting their way through pastel casts, honestly, and this could end up being one of those situations where the differences in tastes between American gamers and their Japanese counterparts creates an irreconcilable cognitive dissonance of sorts.
In the meantime, I’ll keep holding out hope. It’s a fine RPG that combines the best aspects of several different influences, and if it had been in English it surely would have appeared higher up my list of favorites. Alas: It languishes overseas, and at the bottom of my list.