My. Best. Game. Ever.

This feature came about like most of our big multi-writer projects. Through inter-staff babbling. Back in late February of ’08, Bebito said the following:

Right. So I was thinking about my absolute favorite game yesterday. Shining Force II. Then Panzer Dragoon Saga. Then Shining Force II again. It changes from second to second. Anyway, I realized that I haven’t written about either of these in detail ever. Not on 411, not on Insidepulse, not on NATE, never. So, I was going to, but then I thought, “Hmm… I wonder what everyone’s favorite game is.” The only one I knew for sure was Lucard’s: Valykeprofile something or other. Eventually I came to the conclusion that I want to know. And if I want to know, maybe our audience would like to know as well. Sure they’ll eventually find out in our Staff Bios. But that’s just a statement. Why do we love it? Why did it captivate us? Why is it your best game ever? I figured a feature featuring each of Diehard Gamefan’s favorite games would rock.

Before I elaborate on what I’d like to do, what does everyone think?

Then I interjected that in fact, Valkyrie Profile (as it is ACTUALLY called) is not my favorite game, merely what I consider to be the best made RPG of all time. That lit the powder keg, and we were off naming our favorite games and why.

Five months, some screen caps, some editing, and some layouts later, we bring to you 16 of our 30 staffers choices for our most favorite video game ever. The game that defines gaming for us and never fails to ignite our passion for this industry. Please note each of these games is a staffer’s personal opinion, and nothing more. Hopefully this will not only give you insight to our own wacky preferences, but help you to find a writer here that best meshes with your own likes and dislikes.

Things of Note before we begin: Only one game was repeated. There are no games from this generation of consoles, and in fact – only three from the SDC/PS2/GCN/XBX generation of systems. Six games came from the 16 bit era, and four came from the 32 bit era. Either we’re old fashioned, anachronisms, or games really were better back in the day. That’s up to you decide. For now, sit back and take a look at what some of our staffer consider, “My. Best. Game. Ever.”



Michael O’Reilly chooses…


MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat



Publisher: Activision
Developer: Activision
Genre: Simulation
System Released On: PC
Release Date: 06/30/1995

After sitting down and having a good long think, I’ve come to the conclusion that my “Best Game Ever” was a PC title called MechWarrior 2, by Activision. I spent many many long hours in front of my piece of shit 486, and later my Pentium 100 (Or whatever it was), lost in Clanner combat, taking it to Inner Sphere scum. The sound track was amazing, the graphics were outstanding for the time (Though now they are a sad sight.), and the missions were pretty sweet as well.

Add to that the huge level of customizable Mechs, the amount of general customization available, and later the addition of Graphics Card support and Internet multiplayer, and it was damn near the perfect game. I’ve had other games suck me in, I’ve had other games wow me, but no other game has taken complete possession of my free time in a way quite like MechWarrior 2.

MechWarrior 2 was by no means a simple game either. Depth and strategy were just as big a part of the gameplay as good aim. Much of the keyboard was used to control various functions of your Battle Mech. From controlling your radar to setting the speed to powering your machine on or off to ambush enemies, you could do more with a keyboard and joystick before 9 AM than most games ever accomplish in their lifetimes.

The story after Mech 2 is a sad one, but this is not the place for it.

Mechwarrior 2, my Best Game Ever



Lee Baxley chooses…


Final Fantasy IV



Publisher: Squaresoft
Developer: Squaresoft
Genre: Turn Based RPG
System Released On: Super Nintendo
Release Date: 11/23/1991

I feel that Final Fantasy IV is the greatest game of all time. Even Square haters agree that it is one of the best of the series, and it was the game that I can point to that gave me my love of RPGs. Sure there was Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy on the NES before it, but I never stuck with those. I got bored too quickly, but not FFIV.

At the time, the graphics were simply amazing, and still are an excellent example of good sprite-based graphics. But the two aspects that keep this game at the top of my list would have to be the story and sound, which are irrevocably intertwined in my mind. I think Nobuo Uematsu deserves a heaping praise for being a big part about what I loved about the series. I can still hum a good majority of the themes from the game. From the introductory scene where the Red Wings go collect the crystal, to the music that plays in the Mist Cavern, and of course the fight music, which is still my favorite of all the Final Fantasy games.

The characters also had MEANING in this game. Not only were they written well, and you could empathize with them, but they all had a different play-style, unlike every game after this, where you could essentially customize your characters up the wazoo, and they had no individuality. That’s nice, but it’s also nice to have characters be different.

I think it’s pretty cool that Square-Enix has realized that this game DOES have a following, and even if they are doing it to make more money, the game keeps coming out with new versions, starting with the PSX, GBA, and now they are even remaking the game for the DS (a la FFIII). I don’t know how it will turn out, but I’m willing to give it a shot because I love the game so much.



Guy Desmarais chooses…


The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time



Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Genre: Action
System Released On: Nintendo 64
Release Date: 11/23/1998

It’s pretty rare that I remember exactly what I was doing on a certain day at a certain time. I’m not the kind of guy to maintain an agenda or to mark important dates on a calendar. I don’t even write a personal journal. Still, I can tell you exactly what I was doing on November 23rd, 1998, at Noon. I was coming back from high school with my brother and my friend, expecting to find chicken fillets waiting for me to quickly eat them before going back to school just about an hour later. However, my parents had a little surprise for me.

Sure, I did find the fillets, but I also found a copy of Ocarina of Time. Back then, I was still a student, and thus poor. I didn’t expect to be able to buy that game until Christmas, after which I would have used the money received from relatives and grand-parents to buy this game, which was probably THE game I had been the most excited about IN MY LIFE. From there, it’s easy to imagine my reaction when I saw the game waiting for me on the kitchen table. The fillets were gone in two minutes (not even sure I chewed them) and the cartridge was sitting in the N64 immediately after. The only thing I could do before going back to school was get the Kokiri Sword and start chopping grass while exploring the forest and being bugged by my younger brother who said something along the lines of “LET ME TRY! LET ME TRYYYYYYY!”

I didn’t do much with that game that afternoon, but I was already hooked. I bragged all day long at school about how I had played Ocarina of Time while everybody else didn’t. I ran back home just before supper and enjoyed more of Link’s biggest adventure to date. It wasn’t long before other people bought the game in the neighbourhood and joined the fun. We competed to see who would finish the game first. I had a pretty good head start, but my legendary lack of talent made me waste the week-long lead I built when I got to the Water Temple. I ended up finishing it just after my brother, but about a week before my girlfriend, despite her getting the game only around Christmas time. Yeah, that’s how bad I suck.

I guess that Ocarina of Time has such a big place in my heart because of all the good memories associated with it. However, it also occupies the top spot on my “best games of all time” list because it is such a wonderful adventure. It was the first time I was playing a game that put such an emphasis on storytelling. I had been playing Zelda games for a long time, but never before had they explained the origins of Hyrule, the three Godesses, the history of Ganon and many other tales that are now a part of The Legend of Zelda.

It was also the first time that a game offered so much to do. Outside of the main adventure, I could spend entire days simply playing bombchu bowling, trying to get the best score at the shooting range or simply exploring the large world while horseback riding. I remember being completely obsessed with collecting Gold Skulltulas, going all around Hyrule very slowly, hoping to hear that familiar crawling sound. I remember discovering that the Ocarina could be played as a real instrument and trying to find a way to play the Imperial March on it. I remember spending so much time trying to beat the running man in a race before reading that he couldn’t be defeated.

This game will forever be remembered as one of the best 3-D action games. It might also be known as the franchise’s brightest moment. For me, it will always be so much more. Sure, nostalgia can always go a long way when it comes to appreciating older games. Still, when I go through Ocarina of Time again every once in a while, it’s not the nostalgia that keeps me playing, because that part always wear off after a couple of hours. What keeps me coming back is the exceptional design, the fun gameplay and the fact that it is still the most engrossing adventure I have ever played


Chuck Platt chooses…


Fire Pro Wrestling D



Publisher: Spike
Developer: Spike
Genre: Sports – Wrestling
System Released On: Sega Dreamcast
Release Date: 03/01/2001

Fire ProWrestling D (FPD) was not my first wrestling game. That was Tecmo World Wrestling on the NES. FPD was not my first import game, that was Front Mission on the SNES. Hell, FPD wasn’t even my first import wrestling game on the Dreamcast, that honor fell upon Giant Gram. What Fire ProWrestling D was is my most complete and total video game addiction.

When I bought FPD, it was $10 and part of a lot of Dreamcast import games. I was going through a phase, trolling eBay for those last few Dreamcast games. I was searching for a cheap copy of Garou Denetsu: Mark of the Wolves. Sadly, I never got one, but what I did get was Fire ProWrestling D. Even after receiving FPD in the mail, it went to the bottom of the pile. I had tried, and failed, to grasp other Fire Pro games before, on the SNES and the GameBoy Advance. I wasn’t moved by them. So, beneath JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and Project Justice, which this article could just as easily have been about, sat FPD. On a whim, I threw it in and my life as I know it was permanently altered.

Hyperbole? Not really. After the first three matches, which I lost to the CPU in embarrassing fashion, I started waking up early. I skipped breakfast. Whenever my wife was asleep or at work or not around, I was playing Fire Pro. GameFAQs provided me with a shocking amount of content. I printed off the menu translations and I bought copious amounts of VMUs. I even paid for phone internet, despite having cable, just so I would have access to Blackhart’s hacked moves and Jae’s Toryumon pack and Substance J’s Osaka Pro pack. All of which leads to an aside.

My love for and addiction to Fire ProWrestling D would not, could not, have happened in a different wrestling atmosphere. In the U.S., the WWE was the only game in town, to the uninformed viewer, but Ring of Honor and Chikara and JPW and XPW and a dozen other indies were heating up. American wrestling was going through a revolution. I still remember how excited I was to have ‘American Dragon’ Bryan Danielson execute the Cattle Mutilation or having Low Ki knock someone out with a kick to the head.

In Japan, there were a pair of plucky upstarts that made my imagination swim: Toryumon and Osaka Pro. Toryumon, now known as Dragon’s Gate, was founded by Ultimo Dragon and featured his students. The world may never see a class of wrestling students of that magnitude again. CIMA, TARU, Sumo Fuji, SUWA, Magnum TOKYO, Genki Horiguchi… the endless variations of 2 vs. 2 and 3 vs. 3 and 4 vs. 4 matches these guys had was amazing. As I read about them and watched their matches on VHS tapes I bought for $10 a piece from a guy in California, I reenacted the in Fire Pro. Osaka Pro, with it’s wrestling clowns and monkeys and Black Buffalo and the champion, Super Delfin, was something else. Wrestling as performance art. I even got my wife to watch it. Now, with Chikara and AAA going nuts, it’s less special, but I fondly remember those early shows.

With wrestling at a high, for me at least, Fire Pro’s love it or hate it controls and Japanese menus and 16-bit graphics was my passion, my Best. Game. Ever.

I still have 8 VMUs full of Create a Wrestlers, downloaded moves, and downloaded mats. Damn it, now I want to play again. Four Horseman vs. Crazy MAX? Hells yeah!



Misha chooses…


Super Bomberman



Publisher: Hudson Soft
Developer: Produce
Genre: Action
System Released On: Super Nintendo
Release Date: 11/20/1992

Multiplayer Gaming = WIN. This isn’t news, even on consoles, although XBox Live would prefer you to think that it is. Long before the Internet gave nerds the world over the opportunity to hurl badly-spelled abuse at people 3000 miles away, Nintendo and Sega were kicking off a multiplayer revolution, and folks were gathering round TV screen in their masses; two, three, four, sometimes even five to a machine. And that’s where Super Bomberman comes in.

Simply put, there is no other game that has given me the amounts of enjoyment over the years that the first Super Bomberman game did. This is almost entirely due to the fact that during the 16-bit heyday, I had a bunch of gamer friends who lived just around the corner and needed no persuasion to come round for some four-player explosions.

Our contests were legendary… The in-game vocabulary developed at an alarming rate (the flame-range-extender pickups were referred to at ‘Kirbys’, on the basis that if you gave Kirby a Bart Simpson haircut, he’d look like that. The super-flame ‘Golden Kirby’ pickup had its own theme song). One weekend, I hunted through three different gaming shops to find a SNES pad in the shape of a Megadrive (Genesis) one, just so my Sega-owning friends could have a more familiar pad to play on (and thus be unable to blame an unfamiliar pad for their poor performance).

The game itself? Adventure mode was average. The graphics and sound would be considered primitive. But to this day, the only game to come close to the level of multiplayer enjoyment I had from Super Bomberman is the early versions of Counter-Strike, when I would play for hours on end at a LAN cafe in Central London. And that’s only because we’d have 12-on-12 matches on the in-house servers with insults, tactics and blasphemies being hurled around the gaming area.

Multiplayer Gaming is good. Multiplayer Gaming with people in the same room as you? Infinitely better, if only because you’re not going to be a douche when the player you’re pissing off can reach out and slap you round the head. Super Bomberman is the pinnacle of this, and thus I respect it as my Best. Game. Ever.



Aaron Sirois chooses…


Final Fantasy Tactics



Publisher: SCES
Developer: Quest
Genre: Tactical RPG
System Released On: Sony Playstation
Release Date: 01/28/1998

A little more than ten years ago, my best friend got a Playstation. While at first, the only games we played for it were Tekken, Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game, and Megaman 8. However, one day he picked up a copy of Final Fantasy VII. This kicked off a love affair between him and Square, so it wasn’t even a year later when he picked up Final Fantasy Tactics.

I fell in love immediately.

Each battle was like a chess game between myself and some unforseen dark opponent. We’d each chose our warriors and pit them against each other. May the best man win. I could spend hour after hour customizing my champions, switching job classes and granting them new abilities. I could spend hours more creating new ways and combinations to create the perfect warrior. (A Knight with dual wield, teleport, a bracer, and equipped with a Ragnorok and Excalibur.) I’m a person who hates grinding, yet I would play a single stage for hours to grind experience and job points needed to beef my guys up. Usually this would revolve around turning an enemy into a chicken and constantly using steal gil or power break. (Although I’ll give you the best option here. Find a spot on the battlefild where there are five even level spots in the shape of a cross. Place a Monk with chakra in the cneter. Surround him with your other party members and have them constantly use “accumulate” or cast “protect”. If the monk continually casts “chraka”, you’ll never run out of magic or hp, and you’ll be set for the entire battle. Just make sure noboby uses counter, or you’ll destroy the enemy without any problem.)

Ok. You see that? I can’t even talk about the game for a few sentences without rambling on about strategies and jobs and what have you. That’s how much I love the game.

The story was incredible, even if the game had more Engrish than most. You played as a young cadet who always wants to do what’s right, but discovers what’s right isn’t always clear when it turns out his own family is plotting to ignite a global war. Add this on top of his sister being kidnapped, a high priest plotting to take over the world, and mysterious stones that transfer ordinary men into giant demons of old that have more power in their left pinky than you’ve got in your entire body, and you’ve got the recipe for a hell of a quest. I’ve spent hundreds of hours on this game, and even managed fifty or so on the PSP port of the game. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve faced off against Wiegraf at Riovanes, or Vormav in Mulond. And that number is only going to get higher.

Final Fantasy Tactics is the best game ever.

Period.



Charlie Marsh chooses…


Earthbound



Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Ape Studios
Genre: Turn Based RPG
System Released On: Super Nintendo
Release Date: 06/01/1995

EarthBound is the best game ever. If you don’t like it, you suck. Now, no doubt you’re saying, “Well that’s just your opinion, you don’t have to be so harsh if people don’t share it,” and I guess that’s true. I’m right though.

EarthBound is, quite simply, magical. It managed to take a kid, me, that is decidedly uninterested in RPG’s and got him to say, “Holy crap, I like this.” You’d think that would open the door for interest in other RPG’s but, with one exception, you’d be wrong. So why EarthBound? I tried to answer that question about Chrono Trigger and couldn’t come up with one. I don’t really know why EarthBound is my favorite game ever and why it stands as one of the only two RPG’s I like. It just is.

The most important part of a game to me is its story, and it’s a damn good one in EarthBound, but it’s pretty standard RPG fare. Teenage boy sets off to save the world? Yea, it’s been done, but everything else about EarthBound sets it apart from the rest, to me. The ginormous world, overflowing with people to interact with, the expansive battle system, and, my personal favorite aspect, the fart jokes the music. Its soundtrack is particularly epic and it features tracks ranging from foot-tapping-good to just plain beautiful. There aren’t many games that I can say that about. Yea, even as a 21 year old, I still laugh at the campy humor. It’s the kind of guy I am.

The main reason I like this game, above all else, is that it’s fun. There is a perfect balance of walking and talking vs. fighting sequences which makes me forget that I’m going against my principles and playing something out of a genre I despise more and more as the years go by. Great gameplay, a great story, great music and all its charms in between all equals a simply fantastic game.

I’ve often recommended EarthBound to people who have never played it, and they were rather underwhelmed. Somehow, we’re still friends. I recognize that it was somewhat graphically and gameplay-ly inferior to other RPG’s of the time, and certainly compared to some of them that have come out lately, but that doesn’t make them better. I still couldn’t tell you why I like EarthBound so much, but whatever it does right, it does it well. It’s just extraordinarily fun to play, any time. I still recommend tracking it down if you’ve never played it, but I recommend keeping an open mind about it. If Nintendo ever gets off their ass and localizes Mother 3, I recommend that, too, but that’s a rant for another time.

No, you know what? That’s a rant for right now. I want to play Mother 3 damn it! I highly doubt it would eclipse EarthBound in my opinion, but damn, if EarthBound is any indication, Mother 3 just has to be good.



Matt Yeager chooses…


Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas



Publisher: Rockstar Games
Developer: Rockstar North
Genre: Action
System Released On: Sony Playstation 2
Release Date: 10/26/2004

When this idea was thrown at the staff, it stumped me. After playing a lot of games it was hard to think of just one game to single out and declare that it was my personal best game ever. Should I choose the game that I think is technically the best game even if it is not my favorite one? Or should I choose one with the most emotional connection? Even then that only narrows the amount of games down. On of my earliest memories is playing Land, Sea, Air on the Atari with my Dad. Or how about Halo 3 which is the first game my wife played through the complete game with me? I could keep on going.

Instead of choosing a game that way I thought about what I would do if I had to give up every single one of my games, except for one. After that it was easy to choose. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Yeah, the game has it’s flaws. Completing the final Zero RC mission is still something I haven’t been able to pull off, and flight school made me want to break the controller, but when you get right down to it San Andreas offers a higher variety of gameplay than just about any other game out there. Dirt bike racing, car racing, air to air combat, stealth missions, on rails shooting, 2D arcade games, gambling, dating minigames, sword fights, photography, rhythm dancing games, lots of items to collect, RPG-style stat upgrades, and more. San Andreas is the definition of an ambitious game.

The missions of that game took all of these elements and combined them together. Like hijacking a plane, parachuting onto a dam, stealthily planting explosives, then having to flee by boat. Hell, it’s one of the only games out there that I can think of with it’s own Urban Myths. People kept insisting that they have seen a yeti in the woods in the game, which marks the first time I’ve ever heard of people hunting for evidence of a yeti within a virtual world.

Sure, by doing so many things at once the game doesn’t do some of the activites as well as a game where the focus is just on one of the various genres respresented, however three years later there still isn’t a game like it that manages to cram in the variety found in San Andreas. Even GTAIV pales by comparrison since it lakes the mission variety of San Andreas. That is why San Andreas is my best game ever.



Chris Bowen chooses…


Super Mario Bros.



Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Genre: Platformer
System Released On: Nintendo Entertainment System
Release Date: 10/18/1985

It’s almost impossible to look at the original Super Mario Bros. without thinking of everything that it caused. One usually looks at the fact that it saved the entire industry from the Crash of ’83, or the massive step up that a game like SMB was from games on the Atari, Intellivision and ColecoVision, or the plethora of copycat games that it inspired, or the fact that you can get Mario has whored himself to virtually every genre on the face of the Earth to build Nintendo’s empire, etcetera etcetera. Not many people still look back at the game itself, from a pure playing standpoint. Allow me to delve into my all-time favourite game from the only perspective that truly matters: the one involving the player holding a controller.

I first played SMB in 1986. I was six years old, and we got the game when we got our NES. It was above and beyond anything I’d seen prior to that point, as most of what I’d seen was either in pizza parlours and small arcades, or on an Atari VCS. Bright, shiny colours, detailed sprites, and great control sucked me in, and my improving skills as a gamer meant that I would stick this one out for the long haul. I sincerely think that not having the internet, or GameFAQs, or a hojillion monthly magazines at the time was a true boon to my enjoyment of the game, because I can say with honesty that I found most of the secrets in the game by myself. All the invisible 1UP mushrooms, the secret pipes, the warp zones, all of them were found by me in moments of curiosity. Nowadays, a game like this, released a month earlier in Japan, would have been hopelessly disected and obliterated by the OCD crowd. By the time it hit American shores, we would be able to beat it just by piecing together bits of the 348423 FAQs already out from people with names like “GoombaFucker23941”. I remember getting to the end of world 3, and actually being distressed at being told the needy bitch I was supposed to be saving was in yet another stupid castle. That would never happen today, as I would know exactly what was coming at the end of World 3 after watching it on Youtube.

In short, it took me a long time to have the skills to finally, fully beat Super Mario Bros., and I did it again and again as a child. However, what’s surprised me is that I still pick it up quite often to go through it again and again, well into adulthood and approaching thirty. It’s not even a case of general nostalgia, which has a bad habit of going away the moment you realise that your nostalgic memories from simpler times should stay in times as simple as the object of the memory itself; it’s a case of me generally enjoying the game – a perfectly balanced game with a perfect learning curve – even to this day, twenty-two and a half years after it’s initial release.

Super Mario 3 was an overall “better” game. Super Mario World brought the SNES to prominence. Mario 64 was – and in many aspects, still is – the definitive 3D platformer. And Mario Galaxy is the epitome of the evolution of Mario as a franchise, and platforming as a genre. It doesn’t matter. You always remember your first, and after being teased by lesser titles for most of my youth to that point, Super Mario Bros. popped my gamer cherry and turned me into the hardcore gamer that I am today. And unlike most people that use that metaphor, I don’t mind going back for a good ol’ romp now and again, to this day.



Nate Birch chooses…


Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millenium



Publisher: Sega
Developer: Sega
Genre: Turn Based RPG
System Released On: Sega Genesis
Release Date: 12/16/1993

This is a tough decision, as there are a few games in contention for my favorite of all time, but ultimately there’s never been another game I’ve lusted after with quite as much enthusiasm as Phantasy Star IV.

When I was younger, I wasn’t much of an RPG fan. I didn’t have time for experience points, character classes or any of that foolishness. Having to read through a thick manual in order to play a game almost seemed like I was being forced to learn (when I wasn’t even in school!) To hell with that. I sampled the Final Fantasies and the Dragon Warriors, but they didn’t appeal. Even the relatively light RPG action of Zelda was enough to turn me off. All this would change when I discovered Phantasy Star IV though.

I’d stumbled over a preview of the title in a gaming magazine (heck, it might have been the old dead-tree version of Diehard Gamefan for all I know) and later rented the game on a whim. Not expecting much, I popped the game into my Genesis and was immediatley entranced. By the end of the weekend rental I’d played through about half of this 40-hour game and my ass had to be surgically separated from the couch.

About a week later I tried to rent it again to continue my adventures, but the game was gone. The store had cleared it out and it was no longer available to rent. I searched high and low, but couldn’t find anywhere else to rent or buy it. I’m not sure what I did to anger God, but apparently he had seen fit to reach down and erase this amazing game from existence only days after I’d discovered it. For months I’d keep a close eye on every video game case in town, hoping it would finally show up. Christmas came and went and in one of those classic crushing Christmas morning moments I ripped open a Genesis game sized gift only to find Phantasy Star III in it instead of IV. Anyone who knows Phantasy Star knows what a kick in the nuts that is.

Finally though, a ray of light, a miracle. I found a copy of the game, a used copy, for 80 bucks. I didn’t care, I collected up every dollar, piece of change, arcade token and pog I could, ran down to the store with my stuffed pockets jangling and bought the hell out of that bitch. Was it worth it? Fudge yeah.

Phantasy Star IV was a remarkable Genesis game in every aspect. Its graphics were amongst the best on the system, as they were rich, colourful and varied with detailed well-animated monsters and eye-popping attacks. Its soundtrack was amazing, epic yet futuristic all at once. The battle system is deep enough to allow for some solid strategy, but it isn’t bogged down my excessive complexity. The story, told through beautiful anime-style art (at a time when we North Americans weren’t yet drowning in a tsunami of Japanese animation and comics) was expertly constructed and paced. You start humbly and the game sets before you a series of adventures and antagonists to defeat, each one bigger and more threatening than the last. The game escalates perfectly, culminating in perhaps the best final boss battle I’ve ever encountered in an RPG (and I’ve encountered a lot). The characters all feel alive, unique and likeable in a way video game characters rarely are. The dialogue is sharp and at times the game is just plain funny as hell (apparently main female protagonist Alys has slept with half the NPCs in the game). Oh, and yes, since this is a Phantasy Star game there is a tragic death, and when it happens it’s a genuinely affecting moment (unlike say, in Final Fantasy IV, where there’s so many pointless “heroic sacrifices” and deaths the characters just start to come off as either incompetent or suicidal).

Some wizened and cranky old hardcore gamers turn their nose up at PSIV, citing the original Phantasy Star or Phantasy Star II as the best in the series. In later years though I’ve gone back and played the first two games in the series and my opinion of IV has not been changed. In fact, playing the earlier games only made me love PSIV all the more as I now noticed the myriad of callbacks and references to earlier games found in PSIV. Phantasy Star IV was no longer just an amazing stand-alone game, but the climax of a groundbreaking 100-hour plus trilogy (I’m not including PSIII as that game is really more of a side-story). As sad as I am that we’ll probably never get to see another true Phantasy Star game, in a way I’m glad. This was one of the few RPG series that was allowed a true, satisfying final chapter to it’s story. As much as I’d like a new PS game there’s really nowhere else for the series to go, Phantasy Star IV ended the saga in near perfect fashion.

Sega has already released Phantasy Star II and III on the Wii Virtual Console. When PSIV hits, buy it. That’s not a suggestion, that’s an order. Maybe if enough people buy it Sega will pull their heads out of their asses long enough to give Rieko Kodama the go-ahead to design a new RPG (The poor girl is currently stuck making Brain Age rip-offs, an absolutely apalling waste of talent). Come on, the game’s got half-inch tall 16-bit strippers! I know you can’t say no to that.



Michaelangelo McCullar chooses…


Duke Nukem 64



Publisher: GTA Interactive
Developer: Eurocom
Genre: First Person Shooter
System Released On: Nintendo 64
Release Date: 11/14/1997

I may get yelled at for this one, but who gives a fuck? When Bebito came up with the idea for writing about our favorite game of all time, my first though was GTA: San Andreas. To this day, I can whip that motherfucker out and spend hours just pulling insane stunts on my motorcycle. But someone else (coughYaegercough) laid dibs. Even though Bebito said it’d be cool for two people to write about the same game, I wasn’t feeling much for sloppy seconds. So I thought about other games that have brought me immense pleasure.

It took about 3 seconds.

The year was 1998. Me and my buddies Tre, Dan, and Berdugo were all twentysomething slackers; friends since junior high and even further. We all punched the clock at some menial ass jobs from Monday through Friday. But Saturdays? Those were a sacred routine.

We’d roust ourselves out of bed about noonish, after crawling into bed the night before about 3 or 4AM after a night of beer and pool. We’d hook up and head down the street to Casita Dominguez for our breakfast/brunch/hangover cure. Then a car trip to Starbucks for some quad-shot venti breve lattes, just to make sure we were awake. And then?

12 hours of split-screen Duke Nukem deathmatches.

Sure, when we look back now we see the graphics were shitty. And I’m pretty fucking sure that hour upon hour of staring at a small cube on a 27″ TV contributed heavily to my 20/400 vision. But you know what? Who gives a shit? There was nothing more fun than running around the maps, killing my buddies and trying not to get killed. Coming up with fun and inventive ways to kill. I used to camp at one end of the hallway on the Stadium level, with my shotgun and explosive shotgun shells, just waiting for someone to peek their heads around the corner so I could blow them up at 100 yards. Tre was all about the plasma cannon. Dan loved to get the jet pack and camp in the stadium proper with his rocket launcher and homing missiles, and Berdugo’s weapon of choice was the shrinker. Trust me, nothing was more humiliating than getting shrunk and stepped on.

We played that fucker nonstop, only taking breaks to smoke and when someone’s eyes got Sahara-dry from staring at the TV for too long. And the best part of the game, something I’m shocked few other games have adopted, were the deathbots. If there was ever a reason that one of us couldn’t make it Saturday, no problem. Plug a deathbot in and never miss a beat. It was our religion, our relaxation. The chicas in our lives knew not to call or bother us on Saturdays. And the girl who couldn’t respect the sanctity of Duke Nukem Time would invariably get the heave ho.

The game itself? Um…couldn’t tell you. I don’t think any of us actually played the single player game. I’ve heard stuff about strippers and titties on the glass. So what? Dude, I’m from Dallas, and back in 1998, there were more strip clubs in Dallas, TX than in any other city. So I didn’t need pixilated mammaries to get me off. In fact, many a Duke Saturday ended up at the Million Dollar Saloon. Roxanne, Star, Jasmine…

Strike that last sentence.

Look, all you need to know is that, to this day, nothing defines my twenties better than Duke Nukem 64. And ten years later, we’re all older, more responsible adults. We’ve got jobs. Some of us are married. Some of us have kids and mortgages. And some of us are on shaky (to say the least) speaking terms. But I’d bet my paycheck that if you put us four in a room with an N64 and a copy of Duke, we’d forget all about the outside world as we chased each other around the Pirate level. And that, my friends, is what video games should be about.



Robert Capra chooses…


Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal



Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Insomniac Games
Genre: Platformer
System Released On: Sony Playstation 2
Release Date: 11/02/2004

I’ve always loved platformers. I know they’re looked down upon nowadays, what with you kids and your games that teach you to kill people with a plastic bag; but still, give me a pointless jump over a randomly placed pit of lava over hiding in a locker any day.

I also like blowing things up.

The Ratchet and Clank series combined these two loves, using complicated high-energy fusion devices and adding some tasty, tasty bacon for flavor.

Choosing which Ratchet and Clank game was my favorite would be like choosing which of my children I would save from a psychotic pedophile that was on fire. Each of them is special in their own way; each contributed something magical to my life. But for the purposes of this article however, I did what anyone would do in the hypothetical situation outlined above. I flipped a coin. (Yes it was a five-sided coin. Shut up.)

Up Your Arsenal was the third installation of the series for the PS3. With every iteration of Ratchet and Clank, Insomniac showed off their skills by polishing up the previous edition and adding something new. UYA was the first in the series to offer online multiplayer (as well as local), it included the use of vehicles, both land and air, and introduced the leveling up of weapons. And what weapons they were.

The Plasma Whip, The Infector, The Suck Cannon, The Rift Inducer, Quack-O-Ray; each of them a delightful little bundle of whup-ass. But the one that stood head and shoulders above the rest, the one that made this game my favorite, was the Agents of Doom!

Not a gun per se, the AoD would launch an egg that would hatch open and release four little robots. Four tiny little psychotic, heavily armed, kamikaze robots. They would run towards the enemy, firing away, and when they ran out of ammo, they’d explode. I would use this gun to the exclusion of all else, cackling manically as they ran forth to do my bidding. Shouts of “Kill, my Doombots! Kill for your master!” would flood my apartment as I would froth and flail about, watching these miniature machines of the macabre mow down monsters maliciously.

Let me pause a moment to point out that the previous sentence was pure hyperbole. Please put down the phone, as the nice men in the clean white coats are well aware of my address and are treating all calls regarding me as pranks now anyways.

But seriously, I did laugh my ass off.

Which is why I love this game. It’s fun! It’s got more fun per cubic centimeter than an entire barrel of compressed and freeze-dried monkeys. Some games you play for the challenge, some you play for relaxation, and some you just play for the pure entertainment value. And for that reason, Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal will always hold a special place in my gaming library, long after its brethren have been burned and mutilated by that crazy guy on fire.



Bryan Berg chooses…


Final Fantasy IV



Publisher: Squaresoft
Developer: Squaresoft
Genre: Turn Based RPG
System Released On: Super Nintendo
Release Date: 11/23/1991

I can vividly recall the day when I realized Final Fantasy IV was more than just a game to me. It was a Friday in June 1999. I had just graduated high school; I had lots of money and even more free time. I happened upon my local Funco Land to peruse the used game racks. I emerged with two games that day – NHL 99 for Playstation and Final Fantasy 2 (as it was called then) for Super Nintendo. Little did I know how important this day would be in my life as a gamer.

I ended up playing the hell out of NHL 99, a game that ended up rekindling my obsession with hockey that had dissipated in high school. But Final Fantasy 2 was the real story of that day. First off, the game was eight years old. Secondly, and more importantly, it cost a whopping $60. Remember, this was at a time when new games for Playstation cost $50, so the price tag of $60 for a nearly decade-old game was extremely steep. But I didn’t even flinch. I HAD to have it. And even though $60 was an astronomical sum for a 17-year-old kid, I knew right away that I did the right thing.

Turning on my SNES that day was an exercise in sensory stimulation. The music, the graphics, the gameplay – they all brought me back to fifth grade, when a nine-year old version of myself was blown away by this new and amazing game called Final Fantasy 2. My older brother played the game virtually non-stop back then. My only chance to play was when he needed someone to level his party up. I was always in awe of this game, but I was too young to understand it and way too naive to truly appreciate it. Eight years later, I was finally presented with the opportunity to really experience Final Fantasy 2 for the first time. I wasn’t about to pass it up. And so it began.

It turns out that the cartridge I bought had a flawed battery – that’s what happens when you buy such an old game, I guess – but I didn’t care. If my saved game was erased, I’d just start a new one. Six-hour gaming sessions became the norm with this cartridge, not just because I was afraid of losing my progress, but because saying goodbye to this game was simply too hard. I identified with the characters and felt sympathy for their plights. I fell in love with the soundtrack and had to hear it over and over. I even loved how characters could express derision towards each other by jumping up and down. Everything the game threw at me was more exciting and more memorable than the thing before it. Suddenly, the memories of fighting random Goblins were being replaced by the vast landscape of this classic game. Slowly, the adventures of Cecil and company were becoming part of my own life, and I cherished every second of our time together.

Since that fateful day in June 1999 when I dropped an entire day’s pay on Final Fantasy 2, the game (now known as Final Fantasy IV) has become infinitely easier to find. I’ve since replaced my cartridge with the Playstation and GBA versions, and I find myself replaying through the game at least once a year. Final Fantasy IV just has the perfect blend of action, intrigue, and drama; there is nothing about the game that I don’t love. And it’s that blend that keeps me coming back. I’ll play it to hear the soundtrack one day; the next, I’ll want to see a certain plot twist play out. Even though these elements are very familiar to me, they have a certain way of remaining relevant. There might be games that are technically better than Final Fantasy IV, but there will never be a game that means more to me.



Mark B. chooses…


Tetris



Publisher: Multiple
Developer: Alexey Pajitnov
Genre: Puzzle
System Released On: Pretty much everything since its invention
Release Date: 06/1985

The problem with a “Best Games Ever” list, be it written by one person or many, is this: opinion is the name of the game, and no matter how strong yours is, someone else often has one that is, in most respects, equally valid. Many games are fantastic for all sorts of reasons, and we all, I think, have many, MANY favorites. After all, the longer you play games, the more likely you are to find games you love, just like anything else. But that love is based on personal experience or opinion, and someone else’s personal experience or opinion might cast that game you love so much in a wholly different light. Who is right here? Who’s opinion is valid? Flame wars erupt, people get butthurt, it becomes a gigantic mess that ultimately ends in tears and suffering for all those involved.

So instead I will say this: Tetris is the single greatest video game ever created by virtue of being both one of the most imitated video games ever created and the most prolific game ever created. It is available, in some incarnation, for virtually every video game console ever created, as well as your operating system of choice, your cellular phone, your PDA, and your iPod. More people have played and purchased Tetris than virtually any other game on the planet, and no matter what version of Tetris you are playing, much like sex, even when Tetris is bad, it’s still pretty good. And hey, without Tetris, how many other awesome puzzle games wouldn’t exist in their present incarnation, if at all? Klax, Columns, Super Puzzle Fighter, Bejewled, Dr. Mario, Lumines, Meteos, and more than a few other less notable puzzle titles owe their existence to the brainchild of Alexey Pajitnov, and more than a few developers made some serious bank off of a game that, essentially, netted the creator (initially, in any case) little more than free rent and a PC.

In simple terms: If someone tells you that they do NOT like Tetris, but that they DO like puzzle games, THEY ARE A FILTHY LIAR.

But why do I love it? Because it’s easy to love. Putting together oddly-shaped combinations of bricks so as to fill out a line and thus eliminate it? Simple. Doing so when the blocks you are supplied are moving faster than your brain can work around? Maddening. It’s incredibly simple to work around, incredibly complex to do well at, and deliciously addictive in concept and design.

Historically, Tetris is hugely significant. Financially, Tetris is a cash extracting juggernaut. Many, MANY people all across the world have played Tetris, and there may well come a day where no one on Earth can say, “No, sir, I have never played this thing”… and, more amusingly, it may well be in our lifetime.

How in the hell can someone not love that?



Bebito Jackson chooses…


Shining Force II



Publisher: Sega
Developer: Sonic Software Planning (Now Camelot)
Genre: Tactical RPG
System Released On: Sega Genesis
Release Date: 10/19/1994

I’m in a constant undying conflict within on what my favorite game of all time is. One second it’s Shining Force II, then it’s Panzer Dragoon Saga, then it’s Shining Force II, back and forth and back and forth again. But after sitting down and forcing myself to come to terms with it, there was only one choice: Shining Force II.

Why? Because after all of these years, after all of this time, I would still play it from start to finish. PDS? Incredible game. Phenomenal game. I have a shrine for it in my bedroom I bow down to before sleeping at night (right next to the one dedicated to Sonic). But as much as I love it… I have no desire to play it ever again. The memories are good enough. But SF2 I will retrogame and retrogame again until the day I die. It’s almost infinitely replayable.

Why such high replayability? For one there are 30, count em’ 30 playable characters. Many of them hidden. Even with 12 party deep battles it’s virtually impossible to evenly level up and evenly play as all of them (Although I did; but I’m insane) and you’ll inevitably fall into a group of comfortable favorites. Once you beat it with those guys, go back and use the others! Then the others! Then mix and match your new favorites and do it again! Then go back and play it on a different difficulty setting!

And speaking of all those playable characters; their classes spanned all over the board. In addition to the standard fair of mages, swordsman, knights, archers, priests, and warriors Shining Force II had awesome stuff like a Werewolf, a Golem, a Phoenix, a Robot, a giant Tortoise fire breathing monster, a giant NINJA RAT, and an immortal Baron vampire! On top of all that, increasing the replay value even further, there were hidden classes with many characters having a choice of which class they’re promoted to.

These guys weren’t just throwaway pieces of cannon fodder either. Many of the characters had story arcs with nearly 50% of the team contributing to the overall story in some meaningful way. Without even going into all the subtle romance allusions, some characters that would eventually join the Shining Force were initially out to destroy the team. Then you’d have a character turn on you and you’d have no choice but to kill them. One of your party members is even responsible for accidentally releasing the very demon you have to fight thus dooming the entire planet! Awesome.

And the graphics? Beautiful. I remember playing back when I was 14 years old and almost taking those stunning Genesis graphics for granted. It’s funny because I actually played SF2 before I played SF1 and it was after seeing the original that I realized the graphical leap was even more astounding than I had thought. Remarkably the graphics hold up to the test of time.

The music? Our own Bryan Berg was talking about incredible videogame music the other day and I immediately thought of Shining of the Holy Arc for the Sega Saturn’s battle theme and how I loved that one song so. But even as I write this I’m remembering the entire soundtrack from SF2 and how great it all was. Taken as a whole it’s a classic that will forever reverberate in my mind’s ear.

The gameplay and plot? Trendsetting. I’ve heard some say that the story and play mechanics are unoriginal and basic. These people are idiots. Shining Force was the first tactical rpg in English! Shining Force CREATED the genre conventions that future strategy rpgs were to relentlessly steal! That’s like looking at Super Mario 64 and complaining about its unoriginality because there are tons of inferior copycat 3d platformers running around. Fire Emblem developers, Intelligent Design, during the infancy of the franchises openly admitted (literally under oath in a court of law) that Shining Force had superior gameplay, graphics, etc. and they wanted to follow suit. By Nintendo and Intelligent Design’s own admission they copied the later produced Shining Force games because the series was the standard bearer for the genre. That’s not me bashing one franchise to praise another, because I love both, but rather it’s to convey how influential this game is to every strategy rpg you’ve ever played from Tactics Ogre to Disgaea to Final Fantasy Tactics. Back in 1994 this stuff was incredible. And it remains just as fun today.

It doesn’t stop there. I didn’t even mention the tough as nails hidden battles. Or the secret mithril weapons you can make. Or how nonlinear the game is. Or how well written the game is. Or how charming it is! How funny it is at times! Oh god people, can you tell I’m foaming at the mouth right now? I’m barely scratching the surface. There are so many reasons not only to love but also to respect this game. Some strategy tactical rpgs still don’t stand up to it and those that do only do so because of the groundwork this series laid. Yeah, talking about it now affirms it even more… Shining Force II is definitely my Best. Game. Ever. It probably should be yours too.

…that or Panzer Dragoon Saga. ;)



Alexander Lucard. chooses…


Guardian Heroes



Publisher: Sega
Developer: Treasure
Genre: Beat ‘Em Up
System Released On: Sega Saturn
Release Date: 06/15/1996

It’s very rare to say that a game is the best of a single genre. It’s even rarer for a game to cross over and be awesome at multiple genres. Even games like Sigma Star Saga, recipient of our 2005 GBA GOTY award and which blended Shump and RPG action together merely only managed to get an “Enjoyable” rating. But for a game to be amazing at not one, not two, but three genres? Well, that would be nigh impossible, right?

WRONG.

Enter the greatest game I have ever played: Guardian Heroes. Guardian Heroes was a blend of three of my four favorite genres. You had the Beat “ËœEm Up action of 1-2 characters taking names and kicking ass through a whopping THIRTY stages in the same vein as Double Dragon or Streets of Rage. You had action RPG elements as you would earn experience points through each level and then between levels, you could assign your points to six different stats. You also had the ability to play the game as a straight button mashing Beat “ËœEm Up with an in game menu for spells, or, and this is a big OR, you could play the game like a 2-D fighter. You can cast spells and special moves like one would do a Hadouken with Ryu or a Scorpion spear. The only thing missing from the game is some Bullet Hell goodness, and even that is almost there thanks to the sheer numbers of bad guys you’ll be stabbing, bashing and setting on fire through this amazing title.

There is so much to do in the title it’s not even funny. You have your standard story mode where you can play by yourself or with a friend in an awesome two player co-operative that has more endings and end bosses than any game I had ever played before. In this story mode you’ll have a computer controlled ally known as the Golden Undead Warrior. You can control his AI in several different ways ranging from, “Just stand there because I am awesome and can beat all these guys by myself” to “HULK SMASH” mode where the GUW just slaughters everything in its path. Of course doing this nets you far less experience so your character will be a bit weak when you face major bosses, so I advise against this.

There is also a versus mode where up to six people can play the game at once. Here the game takes on even more of a 2-D fighter feel, but also that of a pro wrestling game where there is nothing but chaos and brutality as far as the eye can see. Now, you might be wondering how a six player battle can be possible when there are only 4 playable characters and 1 unlockable character in the game. Oh, the 6th character must be the Golden Undead Warrior and so you and your friends will be using the same six guys with different palette swaps repeatedly?

WRONG AGAIN.

Every single character you encounter in the game from the background NPC’s to the holy crap Golden Silver boss from Gunstar Heroes are unlockable to play in this mode. There are approximately FIFTY characters to choose from and with a ton of customizable options ranging from time limits to individual level settings to tag team and six man tag team matches. The Vs. mode of Guardian Heroes offered more options and customization than either of the first two Super Smash Bros games.

Guardian Heroes is also one of the first 3-D 2-D games. Confused? Well there are three “layers” to the battles. The first layer is the foreplane, where your characters will appear largest. The second is the middle plane, and finally there is the back plane. Characters and opponents can switch between the planes to attack, dodge, and maneuver their way across the battlefield. It brings a new level of strategy to the Beat “Ëœem up genre.

There’s so much to this game you can’t help but love. It has the deepest and most intricate story I’ve ever seen in a Beat “ËœEm up, and it manages to be comical and mature at the same time. Which so many potential plot twists and dialogue that changes depending on what stage you are in and the character(s) you are playing with, you are guaranteed a vastly different experience every time you pop the disc in your Saturn. The anime style graphics and opening CGI movie are stunning and it really highlights the power of the Saturn compared to the PSX that well, could not play a quality 2D game to save its’ life (X-Men vs. Street Fighter anyone?).

The soundtrack is amazing. Although none of the songs are amongst what I consider the best single track from a video game (Those would be the Bubble Bobble theme or the Velvet Room Operetta from Persona 2), it is pound for pound the most solid video game soundtrack ever, with tracks ranging from J-Techno to classic RPG string based arrangements.

Guardian Heroes is quite simply the best video game I have ever played. It’s amazingly balanced, the story is captivated, the graphics are breathtaking, the music is sublime, and I have never had more fun playing a title that I have with this deceptively deep brawler. Whether I’m playing it by myself, with a friend, or with five other friends, there is always a big smile on my face. This is my soul cleanser. After playing an awful game like Juggernaut, Nightmare of Druaga, or Hoshigami, I know that I can always turn to my Saturn and enjoy one of the greatest games ever made. I was always a casual gamer in middle and high school. There were a few games I liked and I stuck to those. Shining Force. Street Fighter 2. Devil’s Crush. Eye of the Beholder. Guardian Heroes changed all that. It made me fall in love with gaming. How could any other game possibly compete with that?

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