The first great fight in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga is against the corrupted form of the matriarch Queen Bean. The brothers Mario have several offensive targets to select, her crowned head and her two gigantic, body-builder-caliber arms that pound the ground and send shockwaves that injure any plumber that doesn’t properly jump over it. Pouncing on her noggin’ awards you nothing more than damage thanks to those pointy golden spikes, so you quickly decide to avoid that strategy, choosing instead to deflate her arms to knock the thing off and reveal her soft skull underneath. In this dazed state, she takes full damage and hacks up beans that hatch into additional enemies if the timing of your jump is off by more than a few frames of animation and you crack one open.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Final Fantasy VII had a major impact on me. It marked my introduction to JRPG’s and broke me of my N64 stockholm syndrome and its slow trickle of games to embrace the Playstation, the platform I look back on as the defining point of my gaming life. I spent so much time breeding chocobo’s and grinding that goddamn crashed Gelnika ship that I continued to play for months after I’d killed Sephiroth and avenged Aeris’ famous death. I hadn’t experienced anything like it. Then I came to despise it and what it became in the years after its release. I thought back on the tangled weave of Cloud’s angst and Sephiroths madness and the nonsense turns its plot takes. But when you can no longer remember why you dislike something, perhaps it’s time to return and look with fresh eyes.
∞ Play Time
Out of all of Chrono Trigger’s significant contributions, New Game+ most epitomizes its soul. Not only does it recognize the player’s hard work, allowing them to return to the beginning of its story with all their experience and rewards, it’s consistent with its time-travelling premise. Of course, NG+ would be pointless if the games core wasn’t worth returning to, but it’s a wondrous adventure, stocked with a great cast of characters full of personality. Fitting a premise that can have small moments have big ramifications, it starts with a fateful encounter.
The early-to-mid 90’s set the stage for one of the most beautiful production company and development studio relationships to exist in video games with the pairing of Japanese companies Quintet and Enix. While their first game, ActRaiser, a mesh between classic platforming and Sim City style urban planning, was an insanely fresh, original idea that would lead to their eventual ‘Quintology’ it wasn’t until the release of their next title that the duo would really show their true genius.
For all their merits, traditional JRPG’s haven’t exactly positioned themselves as videogames most cohesive narrative experience. One reason is foundational to the genre: the separation of world exploration and menu-based combat breaks player immersion from the story and characters. The other reason is true for the majority of games period: they all know how to implement a story but few understand how to exist as one. While still very much a traditional JRPG, Mother 3’s story takes root at its core, finding ways to incorporate all its elements into a whole that is surprising and emotional.
Final Fantasy 7 so thoroughly revolutionized JRPG’s that its legacy was long and wide reaching. From it’s move to polygonal graphics that allowed its characters a deeper range of expression to its dense and layered environments that didn’t rely on sticking the perspective in the ceiling of the world to look down on its inhabitants to its mind-blowing CG cutscenes, it tolds its story of good and evil with a memorable cast of characters with cinematic (though not always consistent) flair. So it’s fitting that as a pivotal entry in the Compilation of Final Fantasy 7’s timeline, Crisis Core is the snake’s jaws wrapped around the back of its own head, further realizing the cinematic ambitions of that important milestone.
Post-launch dlc has to be handled very carefully to succeed. Not only does every piece need to identify the strengths and weaknesses of its core game, but needs to be created in relation to the pieces that have already been released. In the two story additions to Mass Effect 3, we were given missions that were designed for very specific purposes- they expanded the universe fiction. Problem is, even though they do so in different ways, they’re both filling in gaps to a story that is already closed. The third piece is Bioware’s opportunity to get away from Mass Effect 3’s controversial ending and flex its creative muscle on something different. ‘Omega’ reminds us why Bioware are among the best storytellers in the industry.
Mass Effect 2’s post-launch content was among the best examples of the practice this generation. Not only did each flesh out the Mass Effect universe, they allowed custom built levels and their own cohesive story that could accentuate Shepard’s story while still existing outside of its confines. Leviathan is the first such piece of content for Mass Effect 3 but that games controversial ending hangs heavily over this even before you embark on its mission.
Since Mass Effect was first announced, skepticism about Bioware’s claims that choices made in its space opera would carry over its trilogy have given way to mounting pressure to make them a reality. Mass Effect proper introduced a dense universe of characters and races with real history and threw them into peril against an ancient race of synthetic life forms called Reapers who threatened to eradicate all life. But it also introduced us to Commander Shepard, the hero that took up arms to protect the galaxy. Mass Effect 2 was an incredible story of bravery set against impossible odds as Shepard once again fought against forces no one believed in.
The aspects of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning that place it in everyone’s mind as an Elder Scrolls knock-off disguised in a bright, cartoonish atmosphere are probably the least important of all. Yes, you are in a rich fantasy world fighting typical fairy-tale type monsters. Yes, you can choose to play as a decent, upstanding individual or to roam the world looting what is not rightfully yours. In 2012, these are common facets in most great open-world games. It is the fully realized manner in which Big Huge Games offers these features here that make for a truly satisfying experience.