RETROGRADING 04.17.04

#12 LUNAR: THE SILVER STAR STORY COMPLETE
Release Date: 10/25/96 (Saturn version), 05/28/98 (PSX)
Developer: Game Arts
Publisher: Working Designs (Sega CD, PSX)
Systems Released on: Sega Saturn, Sony PlayStation

Before I begin I do want to say I know that there is the Sega CD version, along with the recent Lunar Legends remake on the GBA. Both games differ greatly in terms of plot and game mechanics and I would consider them separate games even though the plot is vastly the same. But in the end they are like Tenchi Muyo! and Tenchi in Tokyo to SSSC’s Tenchi Universe. And if you want the Sega CD Lunar: The Silver Star, go to our Sega CD feature and read Williams’ commentary on the game.

I’m sure some people are shocked that I’ve just said a remake is better than the original. But it’s true. So I might as well spend some time listing what I like better about SSSC.

1. Bromides (Let’s get that out of the way right now.)
2. No random battles
3. Luna is given a personality so you can understand why Alex loves her
4. Nall is far less annoying
5. The game is designed to prevent munchkining people who level up for hours so bosses will be ultra easy
6. MORE GHALEON
7. Improved voice acting
8. Incredible music
9. Improved graphics
10. SSSC focus more on plot and character development than random extra dungeons that serve no point except to get you XP and clock more hours on the game.
11. Borgan is not in the game. And no he wasn’t in the Sega CD version of SS. But I still wake up nights screaming from memories of Eternal Blue Borgan on Sega CD and I won’t get to mention him on the countdown any other time so let me just say here and now: BORGAN BAD! BORGAN SCARY! BORGAN FAT! NO EAT LUCARD BORGAN! NO EAT LUCARD!

Now, let’s talk about why Silver Star Story Complete is so great, even though some of the points above will end up getting repeated, but with good reason.

First of all, kudos to Game Arts for deciding as the players of Lunar were older, the characters, themes, and maturity levels of SSSC should grow up a bit as well. It’s a nice touch, and again adds to that surreal alternate universe feeling you get when playing any version of Alex and Luna’s adventures into adulthood. It felt a lot more realistic, and even though Working Designs added in their own sense of humour and pop culture references, the game still held on to the adult feeling that Game Arts designed it with.

Next up, the music. Luna’s voice was incredible. Although she and the songs she vocalized in SSSC are not songs you would ever hear on the radio, and I don’t know anyone that carries the soundtrack with them like they do oh say C:SOTN, the music is still amazing. Lunar’s Game and Music separated are merely good, but they have such a synergistic relationship that together they really bolster each other. After all, Lunar’s core revolves around music, so it would be slap in the face to the game if the music didn’t help lift it into the collective memories of crazed RPG gamers everywhere.

Every character has been given more attention and had their personalities fleshed out. By playing SSSC, you understand the dynamics between Alex & Luna, Jessica & Kyle, and Mia and Nash. Whereas before they just kinda all loved each other in order to wrap up the game nicely in terms of everyone gets some, in the Complete version, we discover why they all love each other and how each couples feelings grow and blossom as they face adversity together. God knows there was no reason to care about Luna in the original Lunar as she was barely in the game. You had her for a few hours, she decided not to go with you, Ghaleon does evil and bam, Luna is a hot evil skank. You know Alex loves her and is saving her for more than the sake of plot advancement, but said emotional ties were never developed enough for the player to empathize with them. Not so in SSSC. Luna sticks around longer, has more depth to her thoughts and emotions, and expresses herself verbally in SSSC. She’s made to be a believable character.

Ghaleon too becomes an incredibly complex character. Back in 1992-1993, he was merely a cult favorite for his actions in the CD games, but with his rebirth in SSSC, Ghaleon becomes more one of the greatest villains in the history of video gaming. Because he’s not really a villain. Call him what you will. A good guy gone bad and doesn’t realize it, a crazed mage out to make things right, even by doing wrong, a person who is confident his idea of what is best for everyone actually is, or simply a being who wants his best friend back, Ghaleon is an incredible villain because he is doing his specific actions not to be a stereotypical megalomaniac pretty boi bad guy who in the end has no real motive for his actions and manages to woo the average gamer who doesn’t look for plot into thinking he’s a bad ass because he seems really powerful. No. That would make Ghaleon Sephiroth. Instead Ghaleon truly believes he is the good guy. That his way is right, and that his actions will be for the betterment of all the world, not just his own. Sure he’ll be supreme ruler of everything, but damn it, that’s an added bonus!

Where Grandia really focuses on a boy growing into a man far better than Lunar does, Lunar manages to eclipse Grandia in several other themes. First is love. Let’s just take Luna and Alex. It starts out as family love as Luna is Alex’s foster/adopted/whatever sibling. Both know they are not related, but they love each other as family. As the game goes on their love turns romantic. And although parts of you wants to hum Dueling Banjos, about this Husband-Brother style, it’s okay because they don’t share DNA. And because Luna’s God. That helps take the sin of the incest. And so it’s all good when Lunar and Alex finally overcome the Magic Emperor and the Vile Tribe and get to be together, happy and as lovers finally at the end.

Although they never do get married, not even in Eternal Blue when the subject is broached. I guess in the world of Lunar, Love doesn’t require a piece of paper or a court ruling eh? OOOH! Political commentary baby!

The game play is probably something I should touch on for a second considering I’m almost out of room for this game. As I mentioned earlier, there are no random battles. It’s all predetermined by a fixed number of monsters running on the map. If you collide with them, you battle. Depending on how you make contact determines which side goes first.

Once combat begins, you have turn based battles as you would in a lot of traditional RPG’s. Baddies on one side. Goodies on the other. And the order of who goes when is determined by speed. However, unlike other games, Lunar has a bit of tactics involved. You characters have to actual go up to the enemy and attack them. It’s not just a walk up, slash slash and walk backwards until their next turn. No, if your opponent is too far away, your characters turn could be spent walking over there. Movement places an important part in battles in Lunar as it can help to prevent an area effect spell from hitting the rest of your characters. It’s a nice added touch to really make the game feel retro and yet innovative at the same time.

And my favorite part of the game? The fact if you are one of those whiny gamers who has to be super tough/cheesing your way through RPG’s by doing nothing but bolstering your characters 10-20 levels beyond what they should be so you can kick some bosses ass thanks to your total and utter lack of strategy, you’re screwed. Why? Because the game checks your level and the bosses levels up according to what Alex’s level is. And Alex will always be the highest level character on your team. How is that for sneaky sneaky? And it means you actually have to think about what your characters are doing and not hope you can power your way through combat mindlessly. Too bad Lunar: Eternal Blue didn’t do that. Wait no. Borgan is in Eternal Blue. Nevermind…br />

Overall, Lunar is one of those games I have never heard anyone say anything bad about. Sometimes it is a person’s favorite RPG. Others merely consider it a good one that still influences each generation of RPG’s that has come after it. But I can’t honestly see how someone couldn’t get behind the plot and characters of this game, as well as enjoy the gameplay.

And the fact there are bromides helps to offset the existence of Nall, right? RIGHT?

#11. Revelations Persona aka Persona: Be Your True Mind
Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Atlus
Release Date: 09/20/96
Systems Released On: Sony Playsation

It’s a Megaten game. One of only two to make the list. I know you’re all shocked about it considering what a whore I am for the series, but it came down to one simple thing: The other Megaten games are in Japanese and as much as I enjoy them, they are not games I actively play over and over again due to all the Japanese. The Megaten games are story first, and thus it takes away from the one to translate in my head or remember what some obscure squiggly line means. The games that ARE in Japanese only on this list are because they are easy enough to understand without a mastery of the language so that even you the readers can enjoy them. Thankfully the two best games in the entire Megaten series are in English.

Bottom line: Persona is in the Megaten universe, but yet it’s not. It’s a side story, yet the story is far bigger and more inclusive than the other games to the point where the other Megaten games could be side stories of Persona. (This will become more clear if you play BOTH Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment and understand the juxtaposition of Japanese adaptation of Lovecraftian Mythos combined with Jungian Metaphysics. I’ll eventually cover the Megaten games within Retrograding from Digital Devil Story to the Lost Bible series, but for now, all that matters is Persona, and in a few weeks, Eternal Punishment. Lost? Don’t worry we haven’t even gotten started yet.

Brief plot synopsis of the game: A bunch of kids are playing a game called Persona with unexpected results. The main character passes out into a dreamlike state where he encounters a man named Philemon. When he awakens a bunch of shit hits the fan. The world appears to be two realities (although as you go on you learn there are far far more) overlapping each other thanks to the machinations of a man named Guido. The playable characters discover they have the ability to channel what they call Personas, which are in fact anthropomorphic personifications of their personalities that take the form of Archetypal images or famous demons/spirits/etc from legend and folklore. This power is granted to them by Philemon who works through a hunchback named Igor who concentrates the power of creating Persona in a reality nexus known as the Velvet Room. The main characters must figure out what is real, what is illusion, and uncover a great deal of information about themselves in addition to righting what has been wronged.

Again? Confused? It’s okay. Persona is by far the most intelligent video game series ever made, and the sequels do it even better. Where the other Shin Megami Tensei games merely take characters from folklore and history, Persona does the same thing but gives a substantial plot behind why this occurs, to the point where if I did a literary list of all the books you need to read to truly fathom what is going on in the games, you’d be busy for about a year straight. And that’s if all you did with your spare time was read the books named. Bottom line, even if you’re an American hardcore gamer and you’ve played both English personas and read a translation guide of Innocent Sin, you are STILL missing about 25% of the backstory. Even if you’re a native born Japanese gamer and you’ve played every Megaten game ever, you still won’t get all of what’s going on. Hell, even *I* don’t know, and if you know your Vampire: The Masquerade, you know that I used the Megaten history annotations (With Atlus Japan’s permission) for the official Call of Cthulhu/V:TM cross-over I did a few years back. Whew.

So let’s leave it at this: Even with a huge chunk of the game missing from the US translations (The Snow Queen Quest), and some very interesting changes made to what you do get (Mark is now black and dances crazy!), it is still the most intelligent and sophisticated game ever made. But here’s the best part. Even if you don’t know JACK SHIT about the layers of subtext and hidden plot going on in the game, it’s all good. It’s still exceptionally fun and addictive, and you don’t need to worry about any of the stuff I’ve mentioned. It just happens that Persona is the Gulliver’s Travels of video gaming.

Now: The graphics are pretty poor, even for PS1 gaming. We’re talking 16 bit worthy. But the plot is magnificent, there are multiple endings, over half a dozen playable characters including one you would never know about and to get him you would have to make the game a lot harder for you for 90% of it. There is also an ending, which, if you managed to get it, will increase your playing time for about 20 hours. This game can easily last over 100 hours. And even longer if you try to unlock every Persona within the game. I won’t even try to justify the graphics. But I will say nothing beats chattering with demons to get Persona cards instead of killing them. Oh yeah, and the soundtracks to the games are by far some of the best in the history of gaming. Do you really want me to rant on the velvet room operetta again? I think not!

And I’m going to change things up here. Instead of talking about WHY I love the game for all the myriad of reasons that I do, we’re going to instead talk a lot about what goes on behind the game and how the three Persona games actually connect. Simply because I know a lot of Persona fans won’t get some of what happens. This is going to be a shit load of spoilers, yet at the same time they will not be, so just in case, you may want to skip ahead to game #10 and watch me say the word PIKACHU 100 times.

PHILEMON

The name Philemon first appears in the Bible, with Paul’s epistle to him. Below here is the complete document.

1:1Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved and fellow-worker, 1:2and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow-soldier, and to the church in thy house: 1:3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 1:4I thank my God always, making mention of thee in my prayers, 1:5hearing of thy love, and of the faith which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all the saints; 1:6that the fellowship of thy faith may become effectual, in the knowledge of every good thing which is in you, unto Christ. 1:7For I had much joy and comfort in thy love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through thee, brother. 1:8Wherefore, though I have all boldness in Christ to enjoin thee that which is befitting, 1:9yet for love’s sake I rather beseech, being such a one as Paul the aged, and now a prisoner also of Christ Jesus: 1:10I beseech thee for my child, whom I have begotten in my bonds, Onesimus, 1:11who once was unprofitable to thee, but now is profitable to thee and to me: 1:12whom I have sent back to thee in his own person, that is, my very heart: 1:13whom I would fain have kept with me, that in thy behalf he might minister unto me in the bonds of the gospel: 1:14but without thy mind I would do nothing; that thy goodness should not be as of necessity, but of free will. 1:15For perhaps he was therefore parted from thee for a season, that thou shouldest have him for ever; 1:16no longer as a servant, but more than a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much rather to thee, both in the flesh and in the Lord. 1:17If then thou countest me a partner, receive him as myself. 1:18But if he hath wronged the at all, or oweth thee aught, put that to mine account; 1:19I Paul write it with mine own hand, I will repay it: that I say not unto thee that thou owest to me even thine own self besides. 1:20Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my heart in Christ. 1:21Having confidence in thine obedience I write unto thee, knowing that thou wilt do even beyond what I say. 1:22But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I hope that through your prayers I shall be granted unto you. 1:23Epaphras, my fellow-prisoner in Christ Jesus, saluteth thee; 1:24and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow-workers. 1:25The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

Not that this is not the same Philemon that appears in the video game, but is directly responsible for that Philemon. This is more just to let you know the first recorded origin of the name. If you really want me to get into a Judeo-Christian dissection of the above biblical text and how it relates to the Jungian Philemon and also the Persona games, I will. But email me for that and I’ll include it when the next Megaten Game shows up later in the countdown.

As I just said, the Philemon from Persona comes from Karl Jung’s writings and babble. Philemon was his spirit guide (or if you ask some Christian Theologists, a demon who misguided and possessed Jung). Jung, like Dante actively shaped the current Christian Church with their writings in a way that was both incredibly fast, but also in such a way that most Christians who do not actively study their belief system probably couldn’t tell you exactly who either man shaped their religion.

The reason Philemon is your character’s puppeteer/guide in the Persona games is because he also led Jung to his beliefs around what he called “The Unconscious Collective.” Although is only touched in metaphor in the first game, Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment really drive this concept home.

The unconscious collective is a belief that a man’s psyche is made up of many levels. The first is the personal unconsciousness. This consists of a superficial layer of unconscious thought. The personal unconsciousness consists of “feeling-toned complexes,” which basically means your emotions and perceptions of the world around you that you do not share with other people. Your personal and private thoughts, fantasies, and impulses. Things you may not even be aware of that your mind thinks of.

The next level is the deeper and more significant level. That which is the collective unconscious. Yes there is a difference. The collective unconscious is where all of mankind’s primitive, primal, and instinctual thoughts still exist. Think of it as a pool of water that every person can drink out of. That is shared with every other person on the planet, many of whom do not realizing they are even drinking. Jung himself described this level of your psyche as a, “storehouse of latent memory traces inherited from man’s ancestral past, a past that includes not only the racial history of man as a separate species but his pre-human or animal ancestry as well.”

Or if you need a third description, try this: The collective unconscious is Darwin’s theory of evolution mixed in with the concept of archetypes. A series of collective thoughts that are shared by every living breathing person on this planet at the same time. A universal history that not every human can tap into simply because of how developed (or undeveloped) their unconscious thought processes are.

The collective unconscious is the basis for everyone’s personality. The building blocks of who you are. On the other side, the personal unconscious is the next block on the structure and is your id and (possibly) your superego, depending on what school of psychiatric thought you give credence to. The next and finally block of your psyche is the ego.

All in all this was a multiple page babble of saying in it’s purest, most simplest form, Revelations: Persona is an allegory or metaphor for Jung’s teachings.

So where does Philemon fit into all this? Well, as I have said Philemon was Jung’s spirit guide. And many scholars have debated whether this would be spirit was benign or evil can be debated in the same way Philemon can be viewed as either or even just manipulative and bored by Persona players. It was funny that when changing the names of both characters and quickly giving a background of both Nyarlathotep and Philemon to people unfamiliar with both, an overwhelming majority viewed Nyarlathotep as the closest of the two to what we conceptualize as good or at the very least, the lesser of two evils.

Although a clinical rational person would say that Philemon is a sign that Jung was Schizophrenic, a point that could be amplified by Jung’s obsession with the occult, many people believe that Philemon was either a true spirit (Again, whether good or bad is up to the reader of the works and analysis by outside sources) or is merely the ultimate achievement for the human mind: direct contact with a anthropomorphic personification OF personification itself. In other words, a conscious tap into the unconscious collective. However, Jung dismisses that idea and states emphatically that Philemon is another being entirely.

“Philemon and other figures of my fantasies brought home to me the crucial insight that there are things in the psyche which I do not produce, but which produce themselves and have their own life. Philemon represented a force which was not myself. In my fantasies I held conversations with him, and he said things which I had not consciously thought. For I observed clearly that it was he who spoke, not I. . . . Psychologically, Philemon represented superior insight. He was a mysterious figure to me. At times he seemed to me quite real, as if he were a living personality. I went walking up and down the garden with him, and to me he was what the Indians call a guru.”

And that is a nutshell is Philemon. In Jung’s version’s , Philemon is an elderly man with wings and a halo, treading on a serpent while holding a pair of keys. In the video games, Philemon is a Bishonen with a half mask and a butterfly. Both of these images relate back to the archetypes again. The Butterfly is the archetypal image for the soul. In fact the ancient Greek word for Butterfly is psychi. Now soul and butterfly are two separate words in modern Greece. But hey, the past is what matters most when dealing with Jung.

As for the mask? What’s the latin word for mask? PERSONA. Cue rim shot baby.

Now that you know who/what Philemon is I can get back to the game. And I’ll end this section by saying here’s the most important thing in all of Persona that a lot of gamers overlook. Philemon is NOT the good guy. He is anything but. The only reason players classify Philemon as good is because he helps you out. And that’s incorrect.

See, Philemon is playing a stupid little game. He’s taken someone else’s toys and is causing havoc. Who do you think allowed Guido to tap into the foundation of reality itself? Who do you think gave Guido and other evil humans personas? It wasn’t Nyarlathotep. He wasn’t even in the first game and comes out in both Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment and denies any involvement with the events of the first game. And hints that it was all Philemon. And in truth it was. Philemon is the only spirit guide in all the game, and Nyarlathotep, through the events of both P2’s shows he does not have direct access to the unconscious collective or the ability to trigger the persona ability in human psyches. Those that help Nyarlathotep in P2 are because of a bet the Crawling Chaos made with Philemon and Philemon gave said people access to Personas, all while being evil.

Philemon didn’t know he was bringing the Voice and Soul of the Outer Gods into play with his silly actions in Persona: BYTM. Remember Nyarlathotep is Chaos incarnate. The only God that actively pays attention to humanity as well. Philemon lets Guido f*ck with reality to the point where there are two realities encroaching on a specific plane of existence at once. Not only that, but he directly allows a large group of humanity access to the unconscious collective. Well, large considering how many people at once were dicking around with the ability to psionically harness archetypal figures and do battle with them. You’ve got a massive amount of chaos and reality distortion going on by something OTHER than the being which is the personification of it. Add in the fact you have someone playing with Nyarlathotep’s toys and screwing up reality in a totally blatant fashion whereas the Crawling Chaos is all about subtleness and slowing driving humanity mad one soul at a time, and not only will he notice, but he will be PISSED. Especially when it’s a rinky-dink spirit doing all of this.

Nyarlathotep is in fact playing the role of the good guy from a moral and ethical standpoint, taking responsibility and cleaning up Philemon’s mistakes. And Nyarlathotep steps in specifically to teach Philemon a lesson and also bruise the spirit guide’s ego. And that my friends, is how Innocent Sin comes to be and the essence of its plot. At least for the non humans involved. And Philemon’s whiny little temper tantrum after Nyarlathotep object lesson is in truth the basis for the events that become Eternal Punishment.

Philemon lost the bet with Nyarlathotep on the true nature of humanity, and instead of accepting his loss gracefully and admitting he got stupid with his manipulations of mankind, he tries to start the game over in the new composite reality created to patch up where Philemon poked holes. He uses those humans that fell into the “losing” category from the IS events and ends up creating such a level of Déjà vu, that the warped and damaged reality begins to resurface on the fixed one. And that means Nyarlathotep not only comes back to have to fix things AGAIN (Something, as chaos incarnate, he despises having to do), but the dark mirth and sadistic humour he had in IS is replaced with malice and outright venom for the player characters and Philemon. And guess what? They’re earned the wraith of Nyarlathotep and are in fact, clearly in the wrong on a cosmic scale. Of course, none of the characters realize what they are doing is wrong, because Philemon has neglected to mention that. As such the characters are put through a literal hell by Nyarlathotep who only wants to restore reality so he can begin a cohesive form of chaos instead of the absolute extinction of existence which is what Philemon’s actions would lead to if left unchecked. And knowing all of this, it finally makes sense why Tatsuya punches Philemon. Because all three games are the result of Philemon making one big cosmic f*ckup.

This sounds like I’m totally on the side of Nyarlathotep. I’m not. He’s not good either. He’s the Voice of God. He’s doing his job. Albeit in his own twisted and depraved style. Just re-interating what is said by both higher entities throughout all three games without the bias of being the player characters and thus automatically forced into viewing Philemon as good.

1. C. G. Jung. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious
2. Calvin S. Hall and Gardner Lindzey. Theories of Personality
3. Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious
4. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections
5. Lovecraft, Nyarlathotep
6. Lovecraft, Anything really. Just buy an anthology.
7. Kurimoto Kuru, Makai Suiko Den
8. Kurimoto Kury, Makyou Yuugeki Tai
9. Yamamoto Hiroshi, Diable de LaPlac
10. Kazami Jun, Cthulhu Opera
11. Shinkuma Noburu, Alhazreed No Gyakushu
12. Umehara Katsumuni, Nijk rasen no akuma
13. Hideyuki Kikuchi, Yig (The Beautiful Evil God)
14. Hideyuki Kikuchi, The Witch God’s Groom
15. Aya Nishtani, Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Story
16. Aya Nishtani, Anything really. If you can find it, buy it.

Whew. 6 pages of psychobabble. I hope I haven’t totally scared you off Persona by this point. The whole point of all of this was to say, “Hey! Persona’s an incredible thought provoking video game, that if you pay attention to everything done and said, it will really cause you to think about not only the concept of reality vs illusion, but also your concepts of what is good, what is evil, and so much more. It may be one ugly video game, but it is the start of the deepest, most complicated stories ever. And I don’t mean just in video gaming. I mean EVER. You don’t have to be as anally insightful or obsessive over the game as I obviously am. The game can easily be enjoyed for the surface value and plot. But underneath the skin of the game lies a rich tapestry of commentary no other video game series has yet to even try and achieve.

Get Persona; Be Your True Mind. Get it by any means necessary. Although it is *only* 11 on this countdown, you will need it to full appreciate Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, which is much higher on the countdown. The story, the music, the characters, the crazy dancing, the befriending demons, and the fact you can spend into triple hours with this game should be reason enough as to why every game needs to own this masterpiece. And if you need other reasons, try reading everything I wrote a few times until it actually makes sense to you.

#10. Pokemon RGBY
Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: 02/27/96 (Red and Green) 10/1996 (Blue) 9/12/98(Yellow)
Systems Released on: Nintendo Game Boy

Well, I don’t think anyone is surprised this game made the list, eh? But I’m sure a lot of people are surprised knowing I’m one of the biggest Pokemaniacs on the planet, that the games not #1.

It’s funny because I own two copies of both Red, Blue, and Yellow now. And one of Green. All 7 completely played out with a team of 6 all at level 70 (makes Poke Stadium a challenge). And you can see my playing style completely change from cart to cart. My original game has a team of the following: Charizard, Articuno, Butterfree, Raichu, Marowak, and Gyarados. On paper, it looks great. Until you notice four of the six have Flying as part of their types. A single electric Pokemon could wipe two-thirds of the team out. But way back when, I was playing the game in Japanese long before there were FAQ’s about the game. My original thought was “I should either make an ICE master or a FLYING master, as there are none in the game.” And for the most part that is what I did, but then kept my two favorite Pokemon to be protected against electricity. The team would never hold up in straight human vs human trainer battles, but against the computer it was a pretty solid team. And of course at the time, no one else had the game that I knew of (and wouldn’t for many months) as it hadn’t been released stateside, and so playing against another human never really crossed my mind.

Now of course, everything is different. You need a team for solo battles, tag battles, and for against the computer. And they’re almost always different Pokemon, moves, and items behind held. Yet at the heart of it all the game’s purity remains intact: Small children engaging in cockfights with monsters of various shapes and sizes.

So what about Pokemon makes it so great? Besides 151 adorable monsters that say “make plush version of me that children will want to collect,” it’s a game I have yet to truly find a fault with. Those same 151 playable monsters have all their own unique personality. They all look different, have totally different move sets, strengths and weaknesses, and above all, they are completely and utterly customizable. Your Muk will not be the same as Jimmy’s or Sally’s. Not only because of your particular moveset, but stats as well. In essence, Pokemon has unlimited combinations for your six monster team. You could have six Mewtwos and they would all be able to be different from each other. Ad even though that team would be cheap cheese, it still shows the flexability and customization that out of all video games, only Pokemon could provide. Now yes, there are other games that try to do it. But they all do it second rate. Everything is scaled down.

Demikids? You can’t pick moves. Robopon? A joke. Yu-Gi-Oh? Nothing beats a game that tries to rip off not one but TWO franchises, eh? Suikoden? HAHAHAHAHAHA. Everything Suikoden tries to do, the Pokemon games to better in every way shape and form. Suikoden merely has the numbers, but the characters lack the depth and modification abilities that you can do in Pokemon. And the list goes on.

Bottom line: If you are looking for a game that gives you statistics up the yin yang, or just a game that allows you complete and total control and thus total personal accountability for whether you win or lose (Can’t blame the joystick or the computer for cheating in this game!), Pokemon is what you crave.

Next up, Pokemon is one of the few games that can truly be called open ended. Look at all the different missions. Get the 8 badges. Beat Gary and the Elite 4. Get Mewtwo. Get Mew. Complete a Pokedex. Get your team up to level 100. Make sure you have the best possible stats and movesets for the Pokemon you will use in the team. Pokemon is one of the few games that you can clock over 100 hours at and you will still have things to do. Imagine how long it would take you to get 151 Pokemon all up to level 100 with the best moveset you can think of for each one. You wouldn’t need another video game ever if you had that kind of drive.

This is also one of the first Role Playing Games to actively promote itself as a game you can play against your friends. It’s a turn based Street Fighter. You can play against friends and there is an element of surprise as you wonder who your opponent will bring out next and what kind of moves they have. With the slow death of arcades around the country, it’s the closest thing you can get to the feeling I had back in the early 90’s playing Street Fighter 2 with a line of people waiting to take on the next player. But unlike SF, where it is all about skill, you could be playing some doofus and he would just happen to have an entire team of Pokemon that had type advantage over yours. It adds to the thrill of the game, because no matter how good you are, the other player has a decent chance of beating you.

For an old GB B&W game, the original Pokemon RPG had incredible graphics, even if said graphics were generally still frames of the cuddly animals. Pokemon Yellow however, mixes things up by improving the graphics of not only the Pokemon, but the entire game in general. Pokemon Yellow even adds voice acting with Pikachu being able to speak. It’s just too bad they didn’t do that with the other characters as well. I believe PKMNY was the first GB game to have voice acting as well, as I can’t find any other games from before then had anything other than MIDI’s for noise and music on them.

And speaking of MIDI’s, it is amazing how catchy and great the music for the Pokemon game are. Consider that when Pokemon hit the shelves in the late 90’s, we were used to the Saturn and Jaguar and PSX going full out with orchestral soundtracks or actual songs that you would hear on the radio. And yet none of those songs were jammed in my head to the point where I would be humming them while walk to class or while cuddling a young lady post coitus much to their dismay. Ah often I heard, “You love Pikachu more than me, don’t you?” And quite honestly, the answer was yes.

Aside from the original Legend of Zelda song, the music from the original Pokemon game are the only tunes that can get stuck in my head for days from a video game just from hearing a brief set of notes from it.

Like it or not, Pokemon is the measuring stick for franchises right now. Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat had their time in the sun. Final Fantasy proved that it only appeals to gamers and crappy ones at that. Just remember when Square tried to do a movie, the majority of humanity saw they lacked any ability for character development and that’s when the company had to come crawling to Enix to stay afloat. Pokemon managed to do what Super Mario Bros, Mega Man, and damn near every other franchise just couldn’t do: become appealing to a majority of people worldwide that have never even touched the video game. Case in point happened today. My friend Chris and I were talking. He has never played a Pokemon game, but from exposure to me, he can probably name 50 or so Pokemon. He told me today he was considering buying PokeCol for his Game Cube because it sounded really neat from all he had read about it. He thought it was neat they made a Pokemon Role Play Game. I informed him Pokemon started off as a Roleplaying game and the meat of the games are rooted in that genre. He had no idea. And Chris is a very savy gamer, albeit it more a PC one. People know Pokemon from the CCG, the movies, the cartoons, the toys. Pokemon has managed to bigger than the gaming industry to the point where Pikachu is one of the most recognizable pieces of pop culture in the world, along with Bart Simpson, Mickey Mouse, and Coca-Cola. Not bad for a character not even ten years old yet, eh?

I can talk to you about the fact that Pokemon creatures don’t even talk in the game, and yet each one has a rich and detailed back story behind each and every one, thanks to Pokedex entries, in game events, and general knowledge not put in the games. And before anyone says that doesn’t count as characterization for the game, I give you the massive amount of writing on each King of Fighters game by SNK and how 99% of those stories are never actually in the game. Because they don’t need to be. Pokemon, like KOF, goes beyond a mere cartridge and becomes a fully interactive environment.

In the end with Pokemon, you have a Utopian environment. Man, beast, and nature all live in harmony. The only violence that occurs is sport, like rugby or boxing, and no one is ever seriously hurt. There is no real concept of evil, except for a few maligned individuals who are thankfully inept as they are dark. I mean after all, a ten year old boy can stop a world wide mafia like organization. How tough can they be? And most of all, like every good RPG, the story is about maturity, wisdom and growing from a boy into a man (Sorry ladies, you can’t be a girl until Crystal came out!) It’s about creating a bond with your friends and becoming a family with them. Even if those friends are dragons or electric rodents, or dinosaurs that bludgeon people with femurs and wear their mother’s skulls as a war helmet into combat.

It’s almost impossible for me to sum up why Pokemon is one of the greatest video games ever made in just three pages. I’d love to run long, but I did that already in Persona. You’re up to 13 pages if you’ve made it this far and I thank you for being that interested in the countdown. Just accept that Pokemon is anything BUT a kids game, no matter how cute it looks. That it is a game that requires skill, intelligence and foresight, not to mention a lot of patience. I honestly can’t imagine a person coming up with a reason that they couldn’t like this gave, save for the fact they’re scared to admit they like a game that also appeals to a 7 year old. But funny. When I was in single digits I was a Contra, Castlevania, and Kid Icarus fan, and I can’t see anyone calling those games for kids. So how can you Pokemon? Just pop in the cart to your game boy and see why it’s by far the best game for that system, and the best way to kick off the top TEN to this countdown.

I’ll see you next week with a game that teaches you robots were created by 3 headed demon dragon gods.