The Best Game Never Played
Chantelise – A Tale of Two Sisters (Action RPG/ PC)
Introducing the Genre
I found a great Action RPG on a Steam Summer Sale. I have to emphasize both parts of the genre, it’s not an action game, with RPG elements, it’s not a full RPG, it’s one of the great undiscovered gems that would have been at home with the likes of The Legend of Zelda, Beyond Good & Evil, or the Square and Enix renaissance of the 90s with Secret of Mana, Secret of Evermore, Illusion of Gaia, and their kind.
Introducing the Game
I accidentally discovered this game while I was investigating another. I saw another one of Extra Credits’ “Games You Might Not Have Tried” videos where they mention Recetteer: An Item Shop’s Tale, a game where you run the item shop for adventurers. This game was part of a package sale for games from the same publisher and developer. I decided investigate. If this other game was as clever and original and surprising as Recetteer, it’ll be worth it. What I ended up with was actually not as original or as clever. It was actually a throwback to the difficult Action RPGs of the past, the like I haven’t seen or heard of in a long time. It was a welcome challenge trying to beat Chantelise: A Tale of Two Sisters.
The gameplay is simple to learn but difficult to master. Aren’t the best games like that? The best way I can describe this is, “what if The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of time had come out much earlier, with the Super Nintendo’s limitations with an early 3D FX chip?” There is a town, roads to dungeons, dungeons, bosses, sword fighting, a little bit of magic, secret items to find, even a little bit of fishing just to finish the Zelda parallels.
Combat from the beginning of the game is not too different from combat at the end of the game. You don’t have to purchase your attacks in order to string together 20-hit combos. You have most of your abilities at the beginning of the game. As you progress, you may find items you can equip to give you one extra ability. You’re forced to choose between special abilities, only able to have a limited number of items equipped at any one time. You can swap out on the fly, sometimes. This forces you to have to come up with some kind of strategy for difficult encounters, and believe me, there will be many difficult encounters.
The first real boss almost made me quit the game entirely, but I gave it another chance. There is a sharp difficulty curve when you reach the first boss, at least there was for me. Don’t get discouraged, you just have to come up with a strategy. Hint: Use magic. You can’t just power attack your way through the game. Figuring out how to defeat each boss is a satisfying challenge. They’re not quite Shadow of the Colossus specific and tricky, but it reminded me of that first time playing The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. I really need to stop comparing it to Zelda.
Once you beat the game, or if, there’s plenty more to keep you occupied. This is the type of game that should come with achievements and trophies, just to prove you’ve done the amazing. There’s in-game counters for secret items, special items to buy, super boss battles to take on, a fishing journal to fill out, even a crafting system if that’s your thing.
There’s an “old” amount of monsters throughout the game. By that, I mean there are few in variety, but there are plenty of pallete swapped versions that show up as you progress. You’ll end up seeing the same flying eyeballs, slimes, and floating wizard sprites again and again. This is actually a positive. The enemy placement is used to devious effectiveness, using what little they have in effective ways. Good old Mario has a limited number of pallete swapped enemies, but that never makes the games any easier. It’s how they’re used and placed that make things tricky. The developers of Chantelise definitely took some notes and implemented that design strategy. They’re not too punishing, but more than you’d expect considering the recent crop of Action RPGs to come out.
I don’t want to say this. I don’t want this to come off sounding derogatory. However, if this is the sort of thing that would turn you off from a game, you probably don’t deserve to play it. The story is very girly. The heroine is a young girl trying to save her sister and break a spell after she’s been turned into a fairy(another Zelda-themed similarity).
The tone of the story is very light and the main characters are very bubbly, which matches the anime shojo art style. Still, be ready to get your pride handed to you by the difficulty of the game. If I had a daughter, this game would serve as an excellent gateway into gaming as a whole.
I briefly mentioned in the last section about how the game is anime-inspired. There are very pretty and handsome male characters with chibi and cute female characters. It matches the tone of the story. No one is over-sexualized, so it’s great for all ages.
Even earlier I mention it’s also 3d. Imagine a 3d environment, but all the characters that you see are 2d sprites. It has slightly more graphical demands than the original Doom. If you’re on a budget PC, you’ll be able to play it, and probably enjoy it more than some other more demanding games.
It’s a shame the soundtrack didn’t come with the game like some other Steam sales. I hope this is the last Zelda comparison I make because the game really does stand on it’s own. The music reminds me of something Koji Kondo, of Zelda fame, would do. Imagine if someone else had scored Zelda, you’d end up with a soundtrack like this.
Voices are all in Japanese, which doesn’t make any real difference. The accompanying text in speech balloons and text windows are all translated into English. Sound effects are very classic game-y, the kind you might have heard on an SNES. If you’re a fan of challenging, but not impossible Action RPGs, it’ll sound just right. The sound helps establish and remind players of the pedigree of the game.
I had no problem with the keyboard for controls. They’re sharp and responsive. Camera control is better than most. Deaths were more due to lack of a strategy than by any hangups caused by the interface. If you have a controller, you can use that, too.
Even though the game is about two sisters who are always together, there is no multiplayer. For most RPGs, action or otherwise, that’s usually for the best. RPGs have never been for the competitive players. It’s hard to tell your own story when there is another player involved. The only multiplayer I can imagine would be asymmetrical like Super Mario Galaxy’s star collecting with the Wii-mote. That might actually make it better for younger players.
Start to finish, the game is very straightforward. There are plenty of perks for traveling off the beaten path, like winning challenge and time attack rooms. Besides bonus items, they help to train and refine your fighting style. If you saw a reward for beating a boss in 2 minutes where it took you 10, it plants the idea in your head that there is a trick you haven’t figured out yet.
I’ve put in 22+ hours into the game and beat the final boss. I’m pretty sure I can double that before completing everything extra. If you’re the kind of player that likes challenges, real challenges, not artificially inflated difficulty, you’ll love this. There’s just as many “easy” challenges to bait you into seriously upping your game and wanting to complete others.
If you can get a group of people to buy the game, this is the type of game you can really talk about and exchange strategies. It’s the kind of game you’d talk about at recess and pass rumors about before people just looked up information on the internet. Sure, I could just do that to find all the hidden treasures, but I’d just be cheating myself and cutting my enjoyment of this wonderful game short.
Some levels are just fun to replay, thankfully this game lets your replay any one of them at will, even the bosses. You can’t XP grind because there are no levels. So replaying levels helps further refine your skills as a player.
If I were to start again, now that I’ve mastered the combat/magic system, I wonder how quickly I can beat the game and cut down that 22 hour time.
I’m SO glad I bought this game. It’s been one of the most satisfying buys, in a long time.
The penultimate boss was harder than the final boss. Classic!
At one point, you fight your shadow, another Zelda-ism. You know, if you were to re-skin everything, this could very well be renamed, “The Adventure of Zelda.”
You can buy riddles to find hidden treasure. They’re not obvious, but just enough to spark a treasure hunting bug.
If you’ve played Recetteer, you will find something familiar about the town’s item shop and the item shopkeeper.
Mastering the magic system, as a player, did wonders to my ability to progress through the game.
I can’t wait to see what else the duo of developer EasyGameStation and publisher Carpe Fulgur LLC come up with. They scored two major hits with this and Recetteer. Maybe I should check out their other collaboration, The Summoner.
Boiling it Down
If you like Zelda, classic difficulty, on a budget computer, for a budget price, this is for you.
This subject came up a while back when I was watching the Game Trailers’s retrospective special on the Resident Evil series. When the series covered Resident Evil: Nemesis, a collaborator and I began to brainstorm about the word, good examples, and what it is that makes a good one. Out of all the examples we came up with, we noticed a running trend.
The idea of a nemesis, the good ones, at least, fall into themes, or categories. There’s the multiple encounters, which are used to build a relationship with the player character. Other good nemeses can sometimes duplicate the same powers as your character. Some nemeses are obscenely more powerful than you, or possibly cheat, or who are otherwise unfair or cheap, arrogant, or invincible. The nemesis can be involved in some kind of traumatic act, making it personal. That act could be a betrayal or selling out a former ally. This usually puts them in the position to be the toadies or sidekicks of the main villain.
Sometimes a nemesis can be the main villain, but it appears, from the list we came up with, a majority of them are not. One perfect counter-example to this would be GlaDOS from Portal. She/It serves as both nemesis and the main antagonist. So, it’s possible, just not frequent.
I’m not sure how to continue the article, weather to approach it by theme or by specific instances.
First off, I’ll analyze an oldie, one of the first ones that came up when we were brainstorming, from Super Mario Bros. Goombas, Buzzy Beetles, even Spineys were easy enough to get past. The likes of Lakitu, I just ran away from until he left me alone. Even Bowser was a pushover so long as I could run past or underneath him. Though nothing made me freeze in my tracks and make me feel apprehensive faster than when I saw the Hammer Bros. Super Mario Bros 3 really toned them down, along with every game after that. They were never as intimidating or as frustrating than in their first appearance. If I didn’t have a fire flower, or a star, I’d certainly die, or at least have to take a hit. The timing and patience required to wait for them to jump and run beneath the hammers was more than my young mind could handle at the time.
The Hammer Bros, the original Bros, probably caused the strongest emotional response from me out of any other creature in the game. That’s a good sign. It’s frustrating and traumatic, but it’s a sign they were effective. Hammer Bros violate the traditional rules of a Mario monster. Jumping, or attempting to jump on them almost never works. Sure, the Spiney and Piranha Plant are the same way, but they’re just not as powerful as the Hammer Bros. The Hammer Bros have a power that Mario, at the time, didn’t have. They’re recurring in the later stages of the game. I don’t recall when they first appear, I usually take the warp zones from 1-2 to 4-1 and 4-2 to 8-1, bypassing most of their appearances. They can jump through blocks, something else Mario can’t do.
In Mario’s second American adventure, I’m talking about Super Mario Bros. 2, the mod of Doki Doki Panic, we see Birdo. Birdo is the boss of just about every level that isn’t a world boss. Sometimes you’ll even find him/her outside of the end room. Beating Birdo requires a specific sequence of evasion and attacks, taking eggs and throwing them back at Birdo. Sometimes Birdo shoots the occasional fireball, sometimes it’s all fireballs. Like Boom-Boom from Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario 3D Land, they are each recurring mini-bosses. They’re never really truly defeated, since you know you’ll be seeing them again sometime. I didn’t develop any hatred towards them, but their frequent occurrence set them up to become a solid rival. No matter how many of them that I beat, they did still get the better of me when I grew overconfident. They don’t make the top of the list, but they at least deserve mention.
In Mario’s second Game Boy adventure, Nintendo plays the “evil twin” card by creating Wario. Later, Luigi’s evil twin, Waluigi, is introduced. Wario never really achieved great nemesis status, at least according to the pattern that I’ve seen. He’s a dark reflection, but he’s never really evil, traumatic, cheap, betraying anyone, or seen as anyone’s sidekick. His personality is developed in later games and his existence is tied less and less to Mario, becoming independent, appearing in games without Mario like Wario’s Woods and Wario Ware. Waluigi is even less developed.
In the Metroid universe, there are multiple, effective nemeses. In the Metroid Prime trilogy, Dark Samus is a creature that commits the offense of mimicking the player’s character. This is a unique offense, copying, stealing someone’s identity. The duplicate is a dark reflection of the player character, doing things that the player could probably never dream of doing, yet they’re watching their specific power set be used for evil. That’s a particular form of trauma. There’s really no parallel for this trauma outside of fiction and literature, it’s a horror, thankfully, we’ve never had to face. Not unless you really do have an evil twin.
In Metroid: Fusion, the SA-X is a biological copy that stole Samus’s power suit while she was in the emergency room. It has all of her powers and at every encounter, you are forced to run rather than fight. SA-X is a reoccurring, overpowered, doppleganger, with all your old powers, and a thief to boot.
Lastly, probably the one most people immediately thought of, didn’t get their real Nemesis title until the third game. Mother Brain is the final boss, but it’s Ridley that made Samus’s hunt so personal. It’s not until a decade after the original Metroid that we learn Samus’s colony was destroyed by Ridley, and he personally murdered her parents. Ridley continues to haunt Samus by kidnapping the baby Metroid hatchling that had imprinted itself to her. Even though Ridley is eventually killed, his form is resurrected multiple times by the X parasite in Fusion, in mechanical form in Prime, and a mindless feral clone in Other M. Mother Brain has appeared multiple times, but I’ll bet Samus never felt as much satisfaction than when she kills Ridley.
Nintendo really seems to love pulling the evil twin card. In the Legend of Zelda series, Dark Link has made multiple appearances, first in Zelda II, then again in Ocarina of Time, and in Four Swords Adventure. Dark Link features the same powers as Link, but not many of the other common traits in nemeses. He might also present the traumatic trait, like the Hammer Bros, since he served as the final boss in Zelda II, he probably prompted many Game Over screens, breeding an unhealthy level of hatred for him.
Besides the Dark Link copy, my own personal nemeses from the rest of the series include Darknuts and Iron Knuckles. They’re pretty much the same thing, I’ve never seen them in the same game. They’re identified by a sword and shield. They’re the most intimidating in their first and second appearances. Link’s standard means of attacking, run up and hit it with your sword, is suddenly rendered useless. Your power is taken away from you and are forced to adapt or perish. In a room full of blue darknuts in the first Zelda game, there’s about a 50/50 chance. I don’t like fighting them, I don’t even like getting near them. I prefer to set bombs down and let them blow themselves up. Still, that doesn’t always work. To me, they’re the Zelda version of The Hammer Bros. They’ve killed me enough times to create an irrational fear. Also like the Hammer Bros, their power has been diluted over time.
Zelda II’s palace guardians, the Iron Knuckles, hit hard and have high defense. I always increased my attack first, just so I wouldn’t have to deal with them as long. They appear to possess a preternatural ability to predict where your strikes will land and block them in advance. They’ve done me in more than any other enemy in the game.
Aside from those two, there is one other personal nemesis for me in the Zelda series. When I first saw it in Ocarina of Time, I didn’t need Navi to tell me what it was or what it’s weakness was. I knew. After causing me so much grief in the original game, I knew it no matter what form it took, Like-Likes. No other creature could cause me to leave the dungeon, cost me 90 rupees, and have to start all over again after it just ate my shield. It’s unpredictable. Sometimes when you stab it, it recoils and is sent flying. Other times it keeps on rolling along, as blobs do, and sucks you in, devouring your primary means of defense. No other enemy can do that, setting them apart from the rest.
Star Fox, the mercenary pilots of the Lylat system, were given a nemesis in Star Fox 64 in the form of Star Wolf. They appear twice in Star Fox 64, and several games afterward, including Star Fox Command. Their ships are just as agile and have just as much firepower as Fox’s Arwings. The crew are arrogant, which is probably necessary for a career as a mercenary pilot. It’s not like Star Fox is exactly humble either. I actually like them in Star Fox Command, they seem to have buried any animosity and can respect each other as colleagues. That shows some real character growth, yet, they will always be rivals.
Sonic the Hedgehog’s collection of games is no stranger to mimics. Knuckles, first introduced in Sonic 3, has a similar power set to Sonic, being able to speed dash and spin jump, plus flying. Though, further on, he’s not portrayed as fast. Sonic’s other rivals include Metal and Mecha Sonic, these metal abominations were built to copy Sonic’s skillset, but always end up in the scrap heap. They show the hero what he could be, if he wasn’t “good.”
In Sonic Adventure 2, the character of Shadow is first introduced. He’s a hedgehog, like Sonic, able to harness the power of the Chaos Emeralds. He continually harasses Sonic, making multiple appearances, displays the same powers, and shows supreme arrogance by believing himself to be perfect. Arrogance is another common nemesis trait. Knuckles also develops a rivalry with Rouge the Bat, a treasure hunter (thief), that is out to steal Knuckles’s Master Emerald. Rouge, like Knuckles, displays the similar gliding and digging powers that Knuckles showcases.
In the original Prince of Persia, long before The Two Thrones, there is a puzzle segment where you run into a mirror. In order to pass it, you have to run full speed and leap through it. The mirror shatters and a shadowy duplicate comes out the other side. As the game progresses, this duplicate takes on a life of its own and will be seen from time to time, snagging health potions from you long before you’d be able to get them yourself. Not only is this creature a dark reflection, encountered numerous times, he steals from you that which you need to finish the game. Eventually you get to put him in his place.
Mega Man has battled many robot masters in his long career, but the ones that stick with him are the ones that become great nemeses. Sniper Joe has been a thorn in Mega Man’s side in just about every game. Joe is an even bigger nemesis to Protoman, who sees them all as abominations, that dark reflection concept I mentioned again. Little guys like the Mets, those hard hat wearing bad guys, as frustrating and reoccurring as they are, just don’t fall into the same categories as overpowered, betrayal, sidekick, arrogant, or having the same powers as you.
Bass, who appeared in Mega Man 7, 8, Mega Man & Bass, and the arcade games, was built by Dr. Wily with many of the same features as Mega Man, including that weapon copy ability. Bass can also jump higher, run faster, and his weapon can fire faster, and in more directions. In Mega Man 7, Bass stole the upgrades Dr. Light was building for Mega Man and Rush. Bass displays a great amount of arrogance, believing himself to be the only robot that Dr Wily needs, and going so far as to destroy Dr Wily’s 8 robot masters to prove he can defeat Mega Man.
Many years in Mega Man’s future, there is a great cataclysm and Mega Man’s replacement, X is activated. X follows in his ancestor’s footsteps, fighting for humanity. In his first battle, he is nearly destroyed by the rogue Maverick robot, Vile. Vile was chased off at the last moment by Zero. When X and Zero confronted Vile again, Zero was destroyed and X destroyed Vile. Vile has been rebuilt again and again, with more and newer enhancements, believing himself to be better than that “weakling” X. Vile fills the slots of being reoccurring, stronger, arrogant, caused trauma by killing Zero, betrayed humanity when he turned Maverick, and is the frequent sidekick or lackey to the greater villain, Sigma.
In the old NES version Punch-Out, my own personal nemesis was Soda Popinski. No matter what, I could never get past him. He caused enough anger and frustration that I began to hate him. He was much stronger, I faced him and lost many times, and he took cheap shots at me. Everyone else probably has a different nemesis in that game, whoever they couldn’t get past, like Bald Bull or Sandman.
In the first generation of arcade machines, many young gamers’ first nemesis was probably Blinky, the red ghost from Pac-Man. Once you’ve eaten a certain percentage of dots on a level, or reach a certain level, Blinky speeds up. His AI instructions are at every intersection, to always take the shortest path to reach Pac-Man. So he’s always on your tail, too, relentlessly pursuing you. If you’re not cut off at the pass by Pinky(his AI instructions are to make a turn that will aim for two spaces in front of Pac-Man), you Blinky will come up behind you, and you’ll know you’re doomed, for a long enough time to let the feeling sink in. Blinky is faster than you, which is unfair, invincible most of the time, he’s in every level, and is most likely to be the one that ends your game. Eff you, Blinky… Eff you.
Squaresoft RPGs are good at creating memorable nemeses. Final Fantasy seems to like throwing in Gilgamesh in some form or another. He’s never a push over. There’s almost always some form of Bahamut, the king of dragons. With the exception of Final Fantasy XIII, Bahamut is usually the toughest boss in the game, and you’re not meant to beat him. Beating Bahamut is a challenge and a badge of honor. Like Birdo and Boom-Boom, I look forward to seeing them and facing them in each game.
Final Fantasy IV had Golbez as the “main” villain for 99% of the game, but the biggest nemesis was probably Cain Highwind the Dragoon. He started out as the player’s best friend, but quickly betrayed him and kidnapped the player’s significant other. He appears from time to time to deliver messages, and you don’t have the chance to take him down. This personal attack is enough to breed a healthy level of contempt for your former ally.
Final Fantasy VI had several nemeses. Siegfried was a swordsman that appeared from time to time, stealing treasures from your party. He’s never really beatable when you finally find him in the Colosseum. He knows he’s strong, and flaunts it. His arrogance is not without reason. If they don’t have the power to back up their claims, then their character is not likely to appear on this list.
There is a strange purple octopus called Ultros that just likes to throw wrenches into the plans of the player characters. He’s threatening and menacing, but never really part of the overall plot. He comes off as kind of inept, yet very challenging.
Final Fantasy VI’s main end boss is a coin toss as to weather or not to include him. He beings the first half of the game as just a toadie of the Emperor, before killing him. Kefka appears many times, usually to do something horrible like mass murder or poisoning a castle’s drinking water. By the end of the game, everyone has a personal reason to see him dead. He’s arrogant, ridiculously powerful, caused many characters a personal trauma, betrayed his emperor, and shows up many times. Yet in the end he serves as the final boss, which usually Nemeses are dealt with before the end. Perhaps he’s just a different kind of nemesis.
Fighting games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat have created some of the strongest rivalries and nemeses on the list. Sub-Zero’s original murder of Scorpion, and Scorpion’s quest for revenge is one of the most memorable. Sonya’s hunt for Kano is a close second after Kano murdered her former partner. Kitana vs Mileena is the extreme form of sibling rivalry. None of these characters act as the final boss of the game, but they mark a significant personal trauma for these characters.
Street Fighter, as the games progressed, created similar, but less intense rivalries. Just about everyone had a reason to hate and hunt M. Bison. Ryu and Sagat had a personal rivalry that just cooled over time as Sagat learned to let it go. Akuma has something against Ryu, it’s like Ryu seems to piss the most people off.
My personal favorite fighting game, One Must Fall, created a company where the employees were participants in a giant robot fighting tournament. So, everybody knew each other, but not necessarily liked each other. Then there were the other tournaments outside the story mode. This was a fighting game that allowed rematches. If you humiliated one character sufficiently enough by beating them by a wide margin, on a certain difficulty, and performing scrap/destruction(fatality) moves on them, someone related to them would challenge you to a much more difficult rematch. Even winning the tournament, a prior champion can challenge you. They’re usually faster, there’s a chance they will pick the same robot as you, so they could mimic your same powers, they’re arrogant, believing you “stole” something from them, and they’ll likely hassle you again. Killian, Iron Claw, Raven, and Ice are the ones I remember strongest from OMF: 2097. In the sequel, OMF: Battlegrounds, the “rematch” theme returns, often pitting you in the very unfair one vs many grudge matches. I’d love to see Scorpion from Mortal Kombat suddenly interrupt one of Sub-Zero’s fights and make it a 2 on 1, or get a chance to play as Liu Kang and fight Quan Chi and Shang Tsung simultaneously.
In the game Mirror’s Edge, there is a world with a secret network of street running couriers. Most of the missions involve evading non-trained runners, but there is one level where you had to chase and face a particularly arrogant NPC, Jackknife, possessing all the skills and capabilities that you possessed. Jackknife was popular enough to receive an unofficial Half-Life 2 mod spin-off showing his own adventure, like the running nemeses before him Shadow or Knuckles.
Now, the list has gone on long enough, I still have many more nemeses to explore. I thought I knew where this article was going. I analyzed the long list that my friend and I had made and we saw the qualities that good, memorable nemeses have. The enemy being incredibly stronger than you, nigh invulnerable, cheap, unfair, multiple encounters, arrogant, being a traitor, being a sidekick tot he villain, or copying your powers exactly.
What I didn’t see until I began typing this article was that the majority of the best nemeses we came up with came from the early generations of gaming, when the Japanese dominated gaming, in an era before many games were being sold on graphics alone. This isn’t to say that American companies can’t write good villains or nemeses. It’s just greatly weighed in the Japanese’s favor. Maybe it’s because they’ve had more time to work on it, we may never know. When we tried to isolate our efforts to American made AAA games, we just came up short. I invite someone to prove me wrong. The best we could come up with was Blizzard and Valve nemeses. What’s another good American company that’s created a memorable nemesis?
I’d like to know the thoughts of the readership. If I hadn’t covered your favorite nemesis, what stands out in your mind? Or if I neglected a feature, speak up. My viewpoint can’t be the only one. What are the qualities of a good nemesis? What makes a bad nemesis? What makes a bad nemesis rarely came up in the initial list, because they’re easily forgettable.
The rest of the list included Abobo from Double Dragon, Donkey Kong, Carmen Sandiego, Manneroth from Warcraft III, Riku, Axel, and Pete from Kingdom Hearts, Lynx from Chrono Cross, Jackel from Illusion of Gaia, Psycrow from Earthworm Jim, Wesker from Resident Evil, G Man and Dr Kliner from Half-Life, Ocelot in his many forms from Metal Gear Solid, Players 2, 3, 4 and yourself from Magicka, Multi-shot Lightning Enchanted bosses in Diablo II, Ozzie, Flea, Slash, Magus, Dalton, Azala, and Yakra from Chrono Trigger, Arcturus Mengsk, General Duke, and Infested Kerrigan from Starcraft, Shamir Shamazel from King’s Quest VI, and Pokey from Earthbound. Honorable Mentions go to Metroids, level 3 of Battletoads, Terminators(if there ever were a good game with them), and Scar from Battlestar Galactica(if they ever were to let us fight him!).
The Best Game Never Played
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (Action RPG/ N64)
Introducing the Genre
The genre of Action RPGs or Action Adventure appear to be one of my favorites, based solely on the number of times I’ve reviewed Action RPGs. Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, Sudeki, Beyond Good & Evil, and Mass Effect. Then there’s the more popular ones like Secret of Mana, and The Legend of Zelda series
Introducing the Game
I’ve known about this game since it was released, but since I didn’t have an N64 at the time, I had to let it slip by. It wasn’t until many years later when I was catching up on a few classics I’d missed, that I finally had the opportunity to play it, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.
The traditional Zelda formula is thrown a loop or two in this game. The traditional mindset will only cause frustration. The formula I’m talking about is the, goto dungeon, get item, use item to defeat boss, formula. The dungeon/item formula is still present, but there are more different elements that play just as important a role. In fact, this game is so different, it could have probably been part of a stand-alone franchise. A little work replacing graphics and names, it could be totally converted.
One of those gameplay elements that makes Majora’s Mask so unique is the concept of masks. Besides the normal equipment menu, Link has access to a collection of masks that each have different attributes. For example, the goron mask turns Link into a powerful goron, able to roll himself into a ball and roll at high speeds off of ramps. The bunny hood gives Link enhanced default speed. Other masks let you talk to animals or gossip stones. Finding out what mask ability to use and when can be tricky and requires a little unorthodox thinking. You always have to consider not just your own ability, by the abilities of your other forms.
The game takes place away from Hyrule, in the town of Termina. In three days, the moon is going to crash into the town and obliterate it, unless you can stop it. Link is given a magical song that will rewind time over and over to the start of the three days. Certain things only happen on certain days. Keeping track of what happens when is a real challenge.
Besides that looming lunar cataclysm, the people of Termina have other, more personal problems. Solving these people’s problems is tied to advancement through the game. Usually there is a reward for helping people is a new mask, a new item, or a heart piece. Finding out what their problem is, when they need help, and what you can do to help is a real challenge. It’s difficult to even know if you have the ability to help, or how to get the ability. There is a handy in-game guide that keeps track of everyone’s schedule once you meet them, but even with that, the game is hard and I needed a guide.
These additional gameplay elements are just as much a part of the game as the typical Zelda formula. This sets Majora’s Mask apart from the rest of the Zelda catalog, almost as much as Zelda II was set apart from the original Zelda. The amount of care given to the NPCs wasn’t seen again until The Minish Cap.
The Legend of Zelda meets Groundhog Day. Just within the first few minutes of the game, Link runs into problem after problem. First, while riding through the forest on his horse, Epona, Link is ambushed by the skull kid he met in his previous adventure. After the pursuit, the Skull Kid steals his horse Epona and curses him to become a deku shrub. Before he can get all his belongings back, the Skull Kid is posessed by a magic mask that threatens to crash the moon into the nearby town of Termina in three days. Thankfully, Link’s magic ocarina has the power to turn back time three days over and over again while Link searches for a solution to save himself, Skull Kid, Termina, and especially its inhabitants. Meeting and greeting the inhabitants of Termina every day, following them all throughout their daily routines really lends heart to the game. It’s rare that you’ll meet so many NPCs and actually care about them.
The graphics are a slight upgrade from Ocarina of Time, but the art style remains the same. The polycount is indicative of the era. After a few minutes of playing, you can probably identify the year it was made just based on the average polycount, and name a few other games that were made around the same time.
Fantastic! As soon as I stepped out from Termina, the original Zelda fanfare began playing. That’s what I’d been waiting the entire of Ocarina of Time for. Strangely, it was absent from Ocarina, entirely. The rest of the individual melodies aren’t as memorable, though that could simply be because I haven’t played it as much as I have the others. Though the quality of the music is just as high as in Ocarina.
“Hey! Listen!” It never really bothered me. I never joined the bandwagon of all the Navi-hate from Ocarina of Time. Link has another faerie friend that serves the exact same purpose. She only speaks when you Z-target something, if there is a puzzle nearby, or if you haven’t done anything constructive in some time. Perhaps knowing when and why it would happen stopped it from being annoying. The majority of the rest of the sounds seem to be recycled from Ocarina, which is appropriate.
The control scheme is much the same Ocarina of Time. The innovative Z-targeting system that made Ocarina of Time possible, returns. I had no problem adjusting from one game to the other, and neither should anyone else.
The Legend of Zelda didn’t get any actual multiplayer until the Four Swords adventure for GBA. Majora’s Mask came out long before then. Even after Four Swords, the inclusion of any kind of multiplayer would be alien. Sure, Link has a faerie friend following along, but they’ve never been controllable by a second party. Perhaps that can be addressed in future installments, like the second player in Super Mario Galaxy 2 collected star bits.
Majora’s Mask is a long game. Rooting out all the secrets of the town of Termina can take it’s toll on the player. It’s an experience to remember, but not one I’d want to repeat frequently. I’ve practically memorized the two NES Zelda experiences, Link to the Past, as well as Ocarina of Time, but Majora’s Mask remains elusive. There’s too much content to really memorize it all. That adds to it’s level of depth, and perhaps detracts from its replayability. Though, at the time of this writing, I’m getting a craving to fire it up all over again.
This is a long game. I feel exhausted just thinking about it.
Right off the bat, beginning the game in the form of a cursed deku shrub is a little silly and not very encouraging or endearing. I didn’t really want to finish the game, but I struggled to hold out until I turned back into a human. After that, it started to become more fun.
I enjoyed rolling around in the goron form, maybe too much. Though I might have enjoyed swimming around as a zora even more. It’s hard to tell. The awesome power and speed of a goron versus the beauty of the aquatic environments is a coin toss.
I’m always a sucker for any story that involves time travel. So getting to warp back and back and back to the past is fun.
Boiling it Down
One of the harder Zelda games that fans who have memorized the first few ought to try.
Originally written on 3/28/2011
The adventure genre was one of my favorites while I was growing up. Maybe because it always stimulated my imagination more than anything else. And the gameplay style would always let you play with a cup of hot coco in hand.
Rather than go through and analyze what each game brought to the genre, milestones, revolutionary changes. I choose to analyze by era. The other way would take forever. If someone else wishes to analyze a series, they’re more than welcome.
The adventure genre had risen, fallen, mutated, and revived over the course of time
King’s Quest 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, Space Quest 1, 2, 3, 4, Leisure Suit Larry 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
Star Trek The Next Generation: A Final Unity
Sam & Max Freelance Police, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango, Day of the Tenticle, Phantasmagoria
In the beginning, Lucas Arts and Sierra dominated the adventure game market. They set the standard for a long time. The standard was good, and I enjoyed every adventure game I played. It followed the Megaman school of thought for game design. We got more and more of the same, more and more of the same awesomeness. It remained this way from the early 1980s well into the 1990s.
Beyond Good & Evil
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
King’s Quest VIII
Even though I enjoyed every adventure game I ever played(except Myst, I still have no idea what that was about), I never looked for something more. But perhaps someone else did. Over time the Adventure genre began to incorporate Action elements, a little bit of swordplay here and there, a little running around and jumping. The priority of puzzle solving and item collecting decreased in favor of more action.
Now, I admit, sometimes, in the grand scheme of thinking up wild solutions to complex problems with an unusual assortment of miscellaneous items, I’d wished I could have the freedom to attempt some of the more off the wall solutions. That frustration sometimes manifested in attempting violent solutions. And I believe that desire for more freedom is what created the Action/Adventure genre, as well as the Action/RPG genre. Slowly but surely, the Adventure genre started to die out, or at least go into hibernation.
Under A Killing Moon
During the long winter while Adventure games slept, the occasional groundhog of a game peeked its head out. The Tex Murphy adventures and Sherlock Holmes series kept the genre alive. But just barely. For people who enjoyed the genre, these were definitely dark times.
This was a strange time for adventure games. Technology was changing, paradigms were shifting all over the place. Games were dabbling with 3D, and some genres didn’t know quite how to adapt to it yet. Some other games tried “interactive movies” with full motion videos and hired professional actors, or sprites represented by photographic models. But that idea seemed to die out and is rarely seen anymore.
Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
King’s Quest IX: The Silver Lining
L. A. Noir
Like an endangered species, the Adventure genre seems to be coming back. The number of adventure titles released in today’s market is definitely more than it was around the late ’90s and early ’00. They’ve grown in graphical detail. The sprites were replaced with 3d models, some keep the traditional painted background images, others develop a fully 3d background and that’s just a design choice, others combine the two. They’ve also grown and tried a few new formats. The Longest Journey is a traditional Adventure game, while the sequel controlled like a 3rd person action game. It had to develop a whole new style of interface. Heavy Rain is dramatically different from anything that came before it. The future title L. A. Noir looks to continue the innovation in the Adventure genre revival.
It is my belief that the saturation of the Adventure genre when it was at its peak is what caused it’s own recession, like a swing of the pendulum. The stagnation of the genre led people to want more, and the Action/Adventure genre came up to fill in the void. Eventually the pendulum swung all the way back to see a revival of the Adventure genre, bigger and better than ever before.
Originally written on 3/3/2011
After going through my thoughts of some of my favorite games, I’ve come to realize, that I like being scared. For some reason, I don’t own a bunch of horror games, but games with light horror elements are plentiful. So, what makes a good horror game? What is the root of horror?
X-COM / UFO Aftermath
The whole of X-COM is scary. There’s so much that you have absolutely no control over. You’re almost always underpowered. The aliens have better eyesight than you, better weapons than you, better resistances than you. They can mentally attack your soldiers, make them panic, flee, or even turn on you. The little gray aliens you start off fighting only get bigger, meaner, and tougher.
Every tactical boots-on-the-ground battle takes into account both fog of war and line of sight, so you’re walking into the unknown. There’s an unknown number of aliens out there. You’ll never know if you’re going to corner one in a barn or walk into an ambush with 5 and catch all their crossfire. The mental attacks are mostly random rolls of the dice whether you resist them or not. You can increase your resistance, but only a little amount. I’ve never found it worth it.
There are fast zombie-like creatures that kill your units and spawn a copy of itself from the unit’s corpse. One of these could end up wiping out an entire squad. Each death can significantly reduce your offensive power. And the turn based nature of the game means you have a long time to acknowledge your impending doom.
UFO Aftermath is somewhat of an update/remake, from the same team that brought you X-COM. Just think of how each Gundam series is different but similar to each other. UFO has a “real time” combat engine that pauses every time an enemy is spotted or some other important information is available(unit wounded, alien killed, etc). So you have time to realize how screwed you are. It’s like knowing, “mate in 2” while playing chess. It has much of the same horror flavor as X-COM, each unit death is significant, mind controls, line of sight. Though this time the difficulty starts off a little more “fair” but then quickly escalates. There’s also the ever present all consuming “biomass” that is slowly covering the globe that threatens you and for the longest time there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s the same horror posed by the Midas Touch or the Gray Goo Scenario.
Half-Life 1 & 2
After about half an hour, the chaos begins. This game throws the first enemy at you before you’re even armed. Half-Life 2 has a whole horror themed area called Ravenholm. Ammunition is scarce, so you’re forced to improvise. Suddenly shooting in a first person shooter isn’t the solution. Instead of slow shambling zombies, they change up the dynamic by adding fast moving zombies. The speed takes away your luxury of time to think.
Diablo I is much scarier than Diablo II and III. Your main character moves at the same speed as anything else. Every dungeon is randomized, as well as monster selection and placement. There are some particularly nasty monsters that can ruin your game regardless of what level or class you are, acid spitters. The game tends to group them up, they all fire at once, over a large area. If you get hit by 1 bolt, you’ll be stunlocked and that will be the end of you. If you stop to fight them, you’re just as likely to be stunlocked. I’m very glad they were left out of the sequel.
Fatal Frame 2
This game was great at what it did. I played it for a bit on a roommate’s XBOX. It’s a game that begins in a very haunted house. In order to fight the ghosts, you have to take their picture with a cursed camera. While you’re walking around, it’s third person. A ghost might appear, very near you. Then you swap into first person mode and have to take it’s picture. The time eaten up in that transition, acquiring your target, and shooting it’s picture is much more than it should be. You can’t just flash in it’s general direction. While you’re in first person, you can’t move. So in order to attack, you have to make yourself significantly vulnerable, powerless. That’s a very interesting idea and I’d like to see how that philosophy can be used in other games, even though I did not like this game. It was too scary for me. I’ll admit that.
Just because a game has zombies in it, doesn’t make it a horror game. Dead Rising never scared me. It never really had the essential elements of taking control away, or throwing you in a powerless situation. The player was always able to find something or just punch their way through zombies. It’s a great action game, just not scary. And I’m the guy who used to suffer from a zombie phobia. I wish I’d had this game back then, it could have helped cure me.
Left 4 Dead
Just because a game has zombies, doesn’t make it a horror game. But this one is! When one of your players is down, you’re robbed of the power of movement and your primary weapon. You’re also put on a ticking clock before you go down for good if you don’t bandage yourself up or take some pain killers. Besides going down, you can be grabbed by a super zombie, some long tongue can come out and grab you, taking you away. Or, you can be blinded by zombie vomit, knowing you’re about be swarmed and there’s nothing you can really do about it. It gives you plenty of knowledge of your impending doom. You can only hope your AI companions come to your aid.
Final Fantasy: Tonberry!
WTF are these things!? Why do they show up in about every Final Fantasy? Why are they so hard to kill!? Why can they do 9999 damage every single hit with what looks like a butter knife? They don’t even attack until after a few minutes, they just slowly walk closer and closer to you, and there’s nothing you can do to stop them. Nothing in any Final Fantasy game can humble and frighten a player faster than meeting a Tonberry.
My Uncle and the rest of the team I get to play with usually end each round with raises voices. We’re either shouting victoriously, or screaming in panic. Mastering this game is going to take a lot of game over screens. When you get to an area you’ve never been to before, you don’t know what’s coming for you, how much more there’s going to be, or how long your ammo is going to last. The uncertainty is actually a bit comforting since you don’t know how doomed you are. It’s once you start running low that the terror starts to set in, you start to think you’re not getting out of this. You know that door is not going to hold. The computer hacker needs more time. The turret can only cover so wide an angle. And you forgot about the window on the other end of the room! This game doesn’t have any sudden deaths, bottomless pits, or instant kill spike traps. When you’re dead, you know it long before it happens. It drags it out. But you can still resist and fight to the last bullet because you don’t know when the swarm is going to end. It’s a real good example of an alien survival horror holdout game. And, the game never lets up, it can spawn more and more constant infinite monsters since it’s powered by Left 4 Dead’s AI Director.
Dracula In London
Yes, this is an ASCII game, so how can it scare anyone? It’s filled with random events that could quickly end your game. Not instantly, but slowly enough that the knowledge of impending doom will set in. At any time while you’re investigating some trace of the Count’s activities, Renfield can burst in and attack you. Somehow you have to get past him to get out the door. If you’re not armed, you can’t fight him. You have to use Dr Seward or Van Helsing to calm him down, and that’s not always 100% successful. Renfield can just as easily strike back rather than be calmed. Uncertainty and powerlessness.
Also, at any time investigating the Count’s activities, you may stumble upon the Count himself! He may have a wolf companion with him. And if you don’t have wolfsbane, it’s going to be much harder to handle. The wolf can easily kill the entire cast of characters. The Count can summon rats to fill up the room, dozens of them. They can block the doorway, or just block your way, forcing you to attack and kill one adjacent to you rather than attack the Count. Hope that someone brought the Rat Terrier to make killing theme easier.
Randomly during investigations, large spiders can appear. They’re worse than rats but not as bad as the wolf. If you carry turpentine, they’ll go down easier. But there’s a lot of “hope you’re armed, carrying x, y, z equipment” in this game. The uncertainty and powerlessness against the random events makes this a very dramatic and tense game for someone with a powerful imagination.
Another great and scary game. From the moment you start, you’re on an unofficial ticking clock with food and water to consider. And food doesn’t just spawn from random drops of monsters. The game is exactly the same from beginning to end. Your resources are constantly limited and there will be times that you could be on the brink of starvation before you find a cache or kill some creature that doubles as food. Sleep will heal you, but you put yourself in the position of possibly being attacked by a wandering monster if you don’t find a safe spot to do it. You make yourself vulnerable. And you also burn up food and water with that time spent recovering. There’s also the darkness to contend with. There are no Grues to eat you, but it’s helpful being able to see. When your light spell wears off or your torch goes out, you’re up a creek.
Doom 3 is scary at times, but not as many as it tries to be. There are times when the game robs you of sight and turns out the light. It robs you of the certainty that you’re safe by spawning enemies behind you. But it’s at its best during the scripted events. I remember one great scene that had one of the classic pink bull demons appear. I was in an office and then it just walked by suddenly. It saw me, tried clawing and banging at the door. I readied my shotgun, and then, it just stopped. It looked at me through the glass pane and I immediately though of the end of Jurassic Park, “They’re gonna come through the glass!” And sure enough, it did. I ducked and leaped through the broken glass to get out and fight it in a more open area. There are a few scripted moments like that in Doom 3, and that’s when it’s at its best scary moments. Those two headed monsters only meant I had twice as much chance of a headshot.
F. E. A. R.
Fear never scared me. I was having some problems with my computer at the time, some of the hardware was failing, and it was only barely up to the minimum specs. It kept crashing randomly. I had to replay the opening sequences so many times that I didn’t get scared, I just got angry. Maybe it got scary later. I hope someone reading this can offer up some scary moments and why they’re scary.
Hellgate didn’t have so many monsters that could cripple you and take away your abilities or offensive abilities. But there were some creatures that phased in and out of existence, floating around. Shooting wildly simply didn’t work. It added a level of tension and dread since you were never sure if you were actually safe.
Since the game randomizes it’s enemies in some levels, there are some times where you will die over and over because you simply don’t have the ability to overcome what had been thrown at you. That moment of realization that comes after fighting your hardest is a very effective horror generator.
There are a few segments that are played in complete darkness. It doesn’t remove one of the character’s powers, but the player’s, your power of sight. You have to wear a special helmet with a light on it, and even then it’s only a small illuminated area.
Even with all the zombies and demons and monsters, it’s more of an action game than a horror game.
Metroid: Fusion – Samus vs. SA-X
Well the game starts off with Samus being stripped of all her powers. Several times through, Samus encounters the fully powered SA-X copy of herself and is forced to run. It forces the fight or flight response towards flight. Other times she’s forced to play cat & mouse where she’s always the mouse. The other boss fights throughout the game aren’t like that.
The Legend of Zelda
Okay, not a very obvious choice, but I’m watching Legend of Neil in the background while I type this. It’s more of a dungeon crawler action/RPG, but it has some great scary moments. Like Likes, one of the silliest named creatures in the series, are one of my most hated. Sometimes a sword strike will push them back, sometimes not. If it doesn’t then the creature will probably engulf you and eat your shield, making you significantly less powerful than you were before. Thankfully, they were easier to kill in every later game.
Bubbles, the giant floating skulls can take away your primary offensive ability temporarily or permanently. Again, thankfully, they didn’t do this in later games.
Darknut, suddenly, your primary weapon doesn’t work anymore, and there’s usually a room full of them. They’re big, blue, and nigh invulnerable, but nowhere near as lovable as The Tick. You’d better have a potion and plenty of bombs or it’s going to be a rough fight. In Zelda II they get even worse. Thankfully, they only get easier from there.
And, of course, those times when your retreat is cut off by a door slamming shut behind you do nothing to comfort the player.
All of these creatures share the common theme of crippling and taking away the main character’s strength.
After briefly scanning the list of games that I believe have some good horror elements, I think I’ve found what makes a game scary. Not the absolute hide-behind-the-couch terror, but instant severe tension and near panic. It’s not cheap scare tactics of something big and ugly jumping out at you. After so long, I just get desensitized to that and shoot instantly.
No game can keep the horror up 100% of the time. So, it has to be paced out. What makes a game moment scary is to have a powerful character, suddenly made powerless, a lack of control, take something they depend on away, the knowledge that there’s nothing you can do to stop an event, and knowing that you do not know what is ahead.
What are some of your favorite scary moments in gaming? What makes them so scary? Is there something else that scares folk besides that lack of control I mentioned?
Originally written on 1/22/2011
The Best Game Never Played
Introducing the Genre
Dungeon crawler, maybe Action/RPG. This game could belong to a new genre of “retro” design. I have noticed a small sub-genre of games within the past few years; Mega Man 9 & 10, Dark Void Zero, Bionic Commando Rearmed all have retro roots to them from a franchise. A few of the Retro genre games seem to have come out of nowhere like Castle Crashers, Super Meat Boy, and VVVVVVVV. Any of these would look right at home on an older console several generations ago.
Introducing the Game
I’ve always been a retro gamer at heart and believed old games had to get by on good, solid gameplay rather than disguising a lack of gameplay with prettier graphics. I was so excited to see this in development. I loved looking at every screenshot, comparing it to the old. I just wasn’t sure which system I should get it for, the Wii or the DS, or both. I’m also a bit surprised that it took Nintendo so long to get around to making it. Like Super Mario All Stars, one of Nintendo’s other mascots found a “classic” revival in The Legend of Zelda HD remake.
The basics are back, with a few clever additions from later games, like Link’s Awakening’s ability to reassign the A & B buttons, some choice items from later games, even multiplayer. It was a classic formula that hasn’t had to change very much.
The story hasn’t changed since it’s recreating the original. As far as I can tell, this one takes place near the “end” of the Zelda timeline. So the appearance of several “relic” items from other games that came after(Roc’s Feather) creates a small paradox. Maybe that time traveling Ocarina has something to do with it?
A natural evolution, if you can imagine it. What would a new top down “classic” Zelda game look like if it were made today with 3d graphics rather than sprites? Mario underwent a similar evolution with Super Mario All Stars. I’ve been wondering when a similar Zelda title would be released and how it would look. It’s like wearing an old jacket that fits just right, comfortable, and familiar. The team of people behind this were obviously big fans of the original. It’s a tribute to one of their favorite games, and a tribute to the fans that support them.
Awesome! They could have used the original tunes, and they do in the original NES unlockable version. They could have used the remastered tunes from Smash Brothers, but they didn’t. Instead, the composer, Koji Kondo, wrote entirely new pieces, variations on the originals. I think the dungeon music is my favorite! The addition of the choir voices make it SO much better! It kind of reminds me of the new Doctor Who “eerie” choir you hear during the slow dramatic moments, mostly heard in season 1 with Christopher Eccleson..
I’m so very glad they did not include the high pitched yelling of Young Link every time you swing your sword like in Smash Brothers. The old version of the game has the original sounds from it for those nostalgic folk like me. The new HD version has some remastered sounds that at first didn’t sound quite “right” but after a dungeon or two, I grew used to them.
After all the hype surrounding the “new” and “additional” features included in the game, I was not sure how the Wii version could accommodate all the buttons. Metroid: Other M was able to recreate a Metroid experience with only 2 buttons, some designers must have shared ideas since it managed to work out perfectly. I love the new features of directing the Four Sword links by pointing the Wiimote at a target. The DS version has you poke the moblin or monster, and they have X, Y, L, & R to work with for the new items.
It’s back. Ever since The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords and the introduction of “The Four Sword” into the Zelda mythology, it created a multiplayer version of the game. Having four Links running around actually doesn’t unbalance things as much as one would think. There’s only enough money, hearts, and faeries to go around. You need to listen to your party leader(green) since the screens follow him. This was a cool addition!
Since the lackluster release of Super Mario All Stars for the Wii, Nintendo got it right with this one. The game is included, in old and new HD “fantastica.” A new word I’ve come up with. The ridiculously difficult 2nd quest is included. It also unlocks a 3rd quest for you that includes items, “relics” pooled from other Zelda games. It might take a longer time than you remember to see everything that was packed into this game.
Zelda has a strong place in the hearts of retro gamers and non-retro gamers alike. The franchise is still running strong. I might accidentally admit my age by acknowledging there are some gamers today who never owned a gold cartridge, who’ve never played the original. Sure the original is available on the Wii Virtual Console, but anyone who has bought it has already bought it. And it’s an excuse to sell the game again at an inflated price. Shallow money-minded reasons aside, it’s a great value for the package of material they added to it.
Boiling it Down
One of the best remakes in a long time, a classic that never gets old.