Welcome all to another edition of The 8 Ball! It’s the tail-end of Christmas, so I hope everyone got some decent gifts. Next week’s column will be my personal Top 8 Games of 2017, so that should be fun, followed by a few 2017 wrap-up categories in the next few weeks. Let’s get this show on the road:
Spore may not have changed the game industry when it launched, and it can be a disappointing game, but I still enjoyed it. Arguably, its biggest problems are it didn’t meet the blown up expectations at launch and the shallow endgame content. In that regards, it’s kind of like No Man’s Sky. Spore tries to do too much at once, and arguably it’s best two stages are the first two, where the game keeps it relatively simple. The last “Space” stage can be fun, but there’s no real point and can get extremely repetitive. Still, the creature creator was cool, and it had good music.
#7: Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3
Red Alert 3 might be the best RTS game around, but it’s one that has a ton of personality in it. And honestly, the RTS parts are good, aside from a slightly odd co-op system the game has. But the cast for RA3 features J.K. Simmons, Gemma Atkinson, Autumn Reeser, Tim Curry, Kelly Hu and Peter Stormare, all kind of hamming it up some but in delightful ways. It’s the “right” kind of FMV stuff, like that the old Need for Speed: Most Wanted had, and not the wrong kind of FMV stuff like EA has done since. Also, RA3 is just a fun and colorful RTS game, which is nice, since most of them are somber and varying shades of grey.
#6: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
I remember liking MGS 4 when I played it, but I played it about 3 years after it came out. It admirably did tie up the main MGS series storylines, for good and for bad. Bringing back Vamp was a dumb idea, but the B&B unit was cool. The gameplay was changed up, now it played more or less like a current (at the time) action/stealth game but it still had some weirdness to it, like always. MGS 5 might blow away MGS 4 away in terms of approachable gameplay, but MGS 4 has way more personality and Kojima craziness contained within it.
I don’t care what anyone says, Audiosurf is still a rad game. However, Audiosurf is entirely dependent on your musical tastes, so if your tastes suck, like most people, it might not be that much fun. Audiosurf lets you load up practically any song you want (as long as they are under an hour, I think), and builds a track for you to guide your spaceship along and while collecting blocks. Most people seem to favor the Mono game mode where you just have to get colored blocks and avoid the grey ones for points, but those people are suckers. The best game mode is “Eraser” where you have different colored blocks and have to make groups of 3 same-colored blocks or more. The “Eraser” part comes in where you can remove a color from your field and then restore it later. This is the most strategic and fun mode, at least to me.
#4: Fallout 3
If you want to talk about drastic franchise relaunches, and I may in the future, there is no bigger one than Fallout 3. It went from an isometric turn-based RPG game to a FPS RPG, which still had an action-feel to it. Sure, there might be hidden dice rolls going on with your shots, but the designers hid that away pretty well. Aside from that, the Capitol Wasteland seemed massive and was teeming with quests to undertake, baddies to eliminate and gear for you to collect and may your Vault Dweller a better survivor. Fallout 4 might have a bigger landmass and ditched the weapon durability system (thank god), but it can’t hold a candle to Fallout 3’s storyline or unique settings. Also, Fallout 4’s building system sucked.
#3: Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
Crisis Core is easily within my list of top Final Fantasy games, which is really strange because I am really neutral on Final Fantasy 7. I enjoyed Crisis Core’s battle system with the “DMW” (Digital Mind Wave) constantly running as you did battle. This wheel not only set up when you would level up in the game, but also doled out summons, set up limit break attacks, and gave you beneficial status effects as you played. Zack is also a way more interesting character than Cloud was, mainly because he was a character and not a blank slate. Some of the machinations at the end of the game are a bit muddled, but Crisis Core ends on one hell of a down-note and is really impactful.
#2: Persona 4
Persona 4 was probably the last gasp of relevance when it came to the PS2. By 2008, the PS3 had been out for 2 years, yet Atlus released Persona 4 on the PS2, which is one of the best JRPGs for the system. Persona 3 was a good game, but Persona 4 went a step further, by fixing the battle system, having more memorable characters, and a bigger overall narrative mystery of who is killing people in the small town you’re living in. Of the main Persona games, I still think 5 is the best, but Persona 4 is no slouch, and Rise (in particular) was a great character.
#1: Lost Odyssey
To say that the Xbox 360/PS3 were lacking JRPGs is a pretty severe understatement. While Japanese RPGs did come to the consoles, they weren’t in the vein of turn-based combat, instead electing for more real time combat, like Ni no Kuni, or some form of bastardization, such as all of Final Fantasy 13. Lost Odyssey was probably the best JRPG in that specific console generation, and the maddening thing was, it’s an Xbox 360 exclusive game. It has an evolution of the ring system from Shadow Hearts, where you would have to hold a button down and release it during the timing window. The story is kind of overwrought nonsense, especially the skit stuff, but it has a really interesting concept of your immortal characters being able to link skills with other characters and then learn them. There’s no chance of there being a sequel to this game, but I’d honestly kill for just a good PC port of it.