Saturday, September 22, 2012

Video Games: Most valued

Some video games give me a sentimental feeling about the past. For games to end up in this list, the games have to be more than just good. The whole atmosphere and feeling of the game have to be great. This is also the reason why many of the games you will see here have really good music.

The most important aspect to a game is...soul. And if you have ever had a favourite game even after 10-20 years, you know what that means.

I will not list them in any order this time, though. Let's go:

Grand Theft Auto - Vice City (PC)

 This game just barely made it into the list, but I still consider it to be good enough. I don't play this game any more, but I still have good memories of it.
You play as a thug who is building his own crime empire in a city that strongly resembles Miami. The game is set in 1986 and contains many famous songs from back then. This adds a lot to the beautiful 80s feeling and the very nice graphics of the game. It feels like Miami Vice, just that you control what happens.

When the game came out, it was innovative. I remember, back then, most games were very linear. You went from one level to the next. This game, however, is different. You can move freely within the city limits, although you have to unlock some urban parts of the city one by one. But you can freely choose missions and at some point, you can just do your own thing. Even when you have only played through half of the game, it's fun to just do what is fun to do. Going to the beach, riding a bike, shooting innocent people just for fun, being a cop, using a helicopter, robbing stores, throwing grenades at the police station, conquering the army facility with a minigun, and so on. You can enter cheats for invincibility, and it is possible to change the design of your character skin. I once made a terminator skin and had lots of fun destroying the city.

Tales of Symphonia (Nintendo Gamecube)

 Tales of Symphonia is the only Gamecube game that left a lasting impression on me. It's the type of role playing game where you are a hero with some companions walking around a mystical area and fighting enemies in group battles.
The specialty of the game is that it features many possible turns and twists in the story. Depending on how the relationships between the characters are and the choices you make, a different outcome can occur and you get different cutscenes in between.

The characters all have their own history, and they are not the usual stuff you are used to. One character is a convicted murderer with a guilt complex, and he needs to learn to cope with his dark past. Other characters have to cope with racism and other burdens. There are some plot twists, the voice acting is good, and there are more things to discover than what you can achieve in just one playthrough.
It's also possible to play with more than one player. And it took me years to figure out there are entire levels hidden in the game if only you take the right actions at the right time. Without the help of the internet, I wouldn't even know there are different ways to end the game that differ so much from each other.

Pokemon - Red and Blue Edition (Game Boy Colour)

 I can still remember how I went to a store with my brother to buy game boys. It was 1999. We bought them only to play these Pokemon games. I already mentioned Pokemon in my last post. The red and blue edition were the best Pokemon games if you consider the impact they made in their respective time period. All the Pokemon games after these two were only additions, but not as revolutionary as the first two games. The best thing about these games is how much joy they brought. There is a sense of non-linearity to playing Pokemon, because although you are required to go from one city to the next, at least it is up to you which Pokemon you want to catch and train.

Energie-Manager (Amiga)

 One of the first manager games I played, Energie Manager allows you to manage your own restaurant chain in Germany. It was developed under the licence of the German ministry of economics and is supposed to have an educational effect on the player, because success in this game is strongly connected to sustainability and environmental aspects. The music is calm and enjoyable, and the gameplay is also very calm. You are allowed to take your time. First, you decide on a name for your restaurant chain, and you decide on the type of food your are serving: Fast food, Asian, German, French and so on. This has no effect on anything though.

When you start, you decide on the city that you want to start your business in. Some of the biggest German cities are available, like Berlin, Hamburg and Munich.
When you arrive in the city, you see the skyline of each city and decide your next steps. You must buy a piece of land, ask an architect to construct a building for you (including parking space and energy-saving materials, if you like), fill your restaurant with furniture and find waiters, cooks, delivery drivers and janitors at the job office. You can also buy a car or bike for your delivery service, and you can go to the bank to buy shares from your opponents or to buy your own shares. On top of that, you can go to an advertising company and promote your restaurant. 

Once your restaurant is fully furnished and has sufficient employees, you can go to the train station and visit the next city to build a restaurant, although you can build different restaurants within the same city.

Whenever you do something, time passes, and you can only act within the time period of 3 months, then the turn is over and it's your opponents' turns. You can play against human players or the computer.

 After each turn, you get information from the bookkeeping department, where they tell you about visitors and finances. Once in a while, you will be informed via fax about your activities regarding environmental aspects. It is not possible to tell which washing machine or fridge is best for mother nature, but they all have text that you can read, so when you read "rain water recycling" in the toilet describtion, you can guess that it's better than a high class toilet that wastes water. Or you can tell that a small kitchen with only minimal working space is better than a giant kitchen that needs half the rain forest to be assembled.

The game has its flaws. The major flaw is that it's too simplistic at times. The bank sector is almost useless, because in order to win, you must take all the time you have to build a restaurant and quickly go to another city to build another restaurant towards the next quarter of the year. There is also a lack of logic. Restaurant customers, in reality, would not care that much about eco-friendly restaurants and will prefer better-looking furniture than eco-friendly stuff. But it's nice enough.

Ecco - The Tides Of Time (Sega Mega Drive)

Beautiful game. I also remember how I bought this and brought it home. Ecco is the kind of game that you can use if you want to escape from this world. It puts you into a different kind of world with a dream-like scenery. The music is awesome. I wish landscapes like the ones you see in the game really existed. Maybe Hawaii comes closest to it. Or maybe Iceland, at times.

About the story: You are a dolphin with special abilities, and some alien force is trying to conquer the whole world. You must solve riddles and go from level to level. You can also transform into other animals sometimes, for example sharks and seagulls.

There is a cheat you can use so that you can access all the levels. I like to use this cheat just so I can hear all the music in the game and visit all the beautiful sceneries. For a game made in the mid 90s, this looks really sweet. It's also a mostly calm game.

Sonic 3 + Sonic & Knuckles (Sega Mega Drive)

Back in the 90s, you were either a Mario fan or a Sonic fan. I was a Sonic fan.

When Sonic and Knuckles came out, it was revolutionary because the cartridge allowed other games to be put on top of it. This allowed the player to use Knuckles, the new character, in the older games Sonic 2 and Sonic 3. Knuckles had the ability to glide after jumping and to break rock barriers with his fists. Thus, he could access areas in the game that previously were unreachable. I even wondered as a child: What is behind this rock barrier that I can't break? What am I doing wrong? Only later I noticed that Sega had planned to release Sonic and Knuckles, and then it was clear that this was all designed to put a new character in an already released game.

The graphics are nice, the music too, and it's a great jump and run game.

 I value it a lot because it's the game I played with my brother when I was a child. If you decided to play with both Sonic and Tails at the same time, one player could be Sonic and one Tails. Tails was a fox with many tails, so he could fly (yeah, just go with it). It was useful to have another human player to hover you to different areas.

Both games combined were great fun, because when the levels of one game ended, you could just keep playing the new levels as if it was all one game.

As far as I know, there has never been a successful attempt at using this cartridge technology.

Sonic Adventure (Sega Dreamcast)

The Dreamcast was a video game console produced by Sega that came out by the turn of the millennium. Sonic Adventure was the first game I played on it. And it was fantastic. The graphics were much better than the Nintendo 64 graphics, since it was a new console generation.
There is so much great music in this game. My favourite part of the game is the Casinopolis stage with lots of cool casino gaming.
A special part of the game is the Chao garden. The chao is a kind of pet that you can raise in the game. You can even put the chao into the memory card of the dreamcast and play a game with it in a game boy like fashion.
The chao races go a step further. You let the chao run against other chaos, and if you fed your chao well, it will win. The chao learns from animals caught in the levels that Sonic and his friends go through.

Many characters can be played. You can also collect Sonic symbols that are hidden everywhere in the game to unlock stuff.

Shenmue (Sega Dreamcast)

This is the story of Ryo Hazuki, a young man who lives in Japan in the year 1986. He lives in a beautiful suburban area, with a dojo near his house. One day, his father is killed by a mysterious Chinese man. Ryo is very upset about this and swears he will avenge his father's death. But first, he needs to find out what happened and why is father was killed.

He goes to the nearby city and asks around. The area that Ryo walks through was inspired by an existing city in Japan that looks extremely similar to the game design.
As you take your own time exploring the game, time passes, and the weather changes. According to the game creators, the weather implemented into the game is exactly the same weather that Japan had in 1986, day by day. When you spend a lot of time playing this game, you will even see snow falling, and Christmas decorations coming to town.

When it was created, the game was the most expensive game ever. Millions of dollars went into the production of the game, and it shows that this game is special. The music is just amazing and it makes you want to go to Japan immediately.

This game, like Vice City, allows you to do your own thing. Of course you are supposed to complete the game, but you have a lot of time to explore the area. You can go to the arcade and play old Sega games from the past. You can go to a parking lot and improve your martial arts skills. Or you go to shops and buy some nice food to feed a cat whose mother was killed the same day your father died (by the car the people used who killed your father).

Some people say the game is a little slow-paced. But I don't consider it to be a problem. When you want a game that captures the spirit of Japan, it's better that it takes a little time and moves calmly.

Holy Magic Century / Quest 64 (Nintendo 64)

There was no Zelda game yet when the Nintendo 64 came out. So the first game of that kind was Holy Magic Century, also known as Quest 64 in the USA.

Before you judge this game, you should know that the only graphics one could refer to back then was the graphics of the previous console generation, meaning NES and Mega Drive. So this game was the first game I played that had real 3D technology scenery. I was amazed how the houses looked. They looked much more real as compared to 2D houses.

Even though the graphics look aged today and can't compare to Zelda in the opinion of many people, I like the bright colours and vivid images. Sometimes I have dreams at night with colours like these.

The game was developed in a rushed way. It was supposed to be released very quickly, and that's the reason why some parts of the game feel "empty". You notice this when looking at dozens of empty rooms within the houses you visit, or by the fact that there is absolutely no character development. There was supposed to be more than one hero, but instead, you only play one person. His name is Ayron in Europe or Brian in the USA. He is a young magician from a monastery. His father was on a mission but didn't return, so you are supposed to find your missing father. You can collect elemental spirits (water, earth, fire, wind) to learn magic spells. You don't move up in levels, but you gain experience individually depending on what you do. If you use your staff to beat enemies, you gain health points more quickly. If you get hit, your defence improves, if you evade attacks, your agility improves.

Magic spells improve by collecting spirits. Some spirits can be found in the wild, others come with winning battles. The best thing to do is to boost your water spirits up to seven. Then you get the healing spell, after which you don't need to eat bread as often.

For this game, a good Japanese composer of classical music was hired. The music throughout the game is majestic, medieval and mysterious.

I think this game shows better than any other game in the list that game that not many people loved to death can have a strong personal meaning to someone. If you ignore the music, it will be very mediocre nowadays and most people will laugh at it and play Zelda instead.

Flashback (Amiga)

Wow! A game must be really good if I can still remember buying it in 1993! I played a demo version of it, then asked my dad if we can buy it once it comes out. I remember well picking it up in the store. I was only 10 years old.

And Flashback really is great.

You start the game with a  cutscene. A person is running away, barely avoiding being hit by laser beams coming out of laser guns. He jumps on a futuristic motorbike that can hover, and leaves the hangar of some unknown place. But the guys with the laser guns go after him with a big space ship and still try to shoot him. They eventually hit his bike and he falls into the jungle.

You don't know what happened, and neither does the main character. He has no memory of who he is, it looks like the guys at the hangar erased his memory.

When you wake up, you find a strange cube. It turns out to be a holo cube, a device that contains a holographic message. You suddenly see yourself speaking to you. The hologram tells you that your name is Conrad Hart, and that you created this message knowing that you were in danger and that your memory might be erased. You are supposed to find your good friend Ian who lives in a city called Modern Washington.

So you escape from the jungle and find your way to the city from the underground ventilation shafts.

You find Ian who tells you that he has your memory stored in his lab. You are able to get your memory back. As it turns out, you were working as a scientist / agent and developed a device that measures the molecular density of living beings. You found out that some "individuals" have an unusually high molecular density but appear to be human on the outside.You must have found out something rather scary - it seems they are aliens in disguise.

 Ian tells you to go and find one of his friends, who might help you along the way. As it turns out, you are far away from earth on another planet, and planet earth is in danger. You find Ian's friend who helps you get a fake ID (see the symbolism?). You then get a work permit, accomplish some missions and try to get a flight back to earth. But that is harder than you think, because it costs a fortune. So you must take part in a tv show called "death tower" where you must survive until the end to win a trip to earth.

Later on in the game, you reach earth, but people are still after you. You must destroy the planet where the aliens are plotting their bad plans. A man dies in front of your eyes who leaves dynamite for you to use. You find his journal in which he writes that he was forced to work for the aliens for thousands of days. He planned to blow up the "master brain", an organic life form that controls the alien planet. In the end, you are able to blow up the planet and escape just in time. But you are lost in space and have nowhere to go, so you lay down in a freezing chamber, drifting into an unknown future.

This game has some music that is really good, and the graphics are great. But the game also has a good atmosphere. There is a sense of melancholy in the game. It's all about "the quest for identity". What we learn from this game is that you can't get back your identity just by restoring your memory. There is more to it, and when the game ends, you still have the feeling that Conrad hasn't gotten back his sense of who he is. It's a restless journey that ends in uncertainty. Don't we all have this kind of feeling sometimes?