Let's be honest: most of us place a lot of stock in game of the year awards. We all have our favourites, and in good years, like this one, it's tough to narrow it down to those few games. Which is why instead of just doing a single top X list, I'm changing the game - FOUR lists, each smaller than the last.
3 3rd place games.
2 2nd place games.
1 Game of the Year.
Sounds amazing, doesn't it? As a special bonus, at the end I'll throw in this at the end so you can tell me how ignorant I am:
6 best games I never played.
No point in wasting more space rambling, let's get into it!
Shadow Complex, Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, Demon's Souls, Assassin's Creed II, Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time
You know it's an amazing year when even the runners-up could be game of the year contenders. Talking up all the high points of each would take five blog posts, so I'm going to limit myself to a few points on each.
Shadow Complex (XBLA) + Metroid with a modern twist
+ great power-ups (foam gun!)
+ resurrected a genre
Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story (NDS) + made RPGs fun again
+ awesome, giant Bowser battles
+ hilarious dialogue
Demon's Souls (PS3) + taught everyone what it means to be a sobbing little girl
+ hard as teeth, and just as satisfying
+ eerie aesthetic
Assassin's Creed II (PS3/360) + proved that second time's the charm
+ brought back the collectible platformer
+ when the assassinations work, they work
Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time (PS3) + put to shame the claim that you can't teach and old dog new tricks
+ wide open environments
+ challenge planets
Now that we're looking at third place, I can afford to get a bit more detailed.
Torchlight was by far the hardest game for me to place in this scale. I'm still on Cloud 9; I've only been playing the game a few days and it's in my head every waking moment. I can't decide what I like best about it. Is it the steampunk/fantasy aesthetic? The shitty wizard who gives gifts with one hand and punches you in the eye with the other? The randomly generated maps you can purchase, filled to the brim with boss monsters? Items with fifteen enchants? The list goes on and on and on. Suffice to say, Torchlight is modern man's Diablo 2, with all of the addiction and none of the archaic interface. With a fantastic dev team watching it like a hawk and a community that's put together hundreds of mods already, Torchlight is not only a game for this year - it's the game you'll have installed on every computer you own, "just in case".
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor (NDS)
If there's one thing that always gets me, it's a game that forces you to make hard choices and pay for them. Devil Survivor does that in spades. At any point you have half a dozen options available to you, and in many cases, someone's life is riding on the choice. I've already written a blog on just how poignant the choice and consequence of Devil Survivor is. Mix in a fantastic battle system that blends tactical and traditional JRPGs, interesting art and music direction and a plot that will have you needing to find out what comes next, and you have one of the few DS games I would ever consider for Game of the Year.
Another game I've already written a blog about, I once said that Flower "will be my game of the year". Certainly, time, and a fall filled with games I did not expect, have changed that, but Flower still deserves a strong spot in my list of competitors. I don't believe any person who played through Flower could argue that it's anything but an emotional rollercoaster; a story communicated through visual and auditory cues that is empowering in a way that leaves goosebumps on your skin. Certainly an art game at heart, Flower is the perfect example of why games need to (sometimes) think outside the box, the house, and out into green fields and blue skies.
Batman: Arkham Asylum, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
These games were hard to pick, and I feel a bit bad picking them both; on some deeply fundamental level I feel like Arkham Asylum and Uncharted are successful for much the same reason, and it's almost like picking the same game twice.
Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3/360)
Admittedly as a Batman fan I may be less than objective when considering a Batman game as a potential Game of the Year contender, particularly one that is also a good game on every other level. But even ignoring it's comic book roots, Arkham Asylum provides a complete package quite unique in the medium. On the Arkham Asylum disk, a player will find a compelling single player, nearly-open world game, a bevy of behind the scenes videos and an increasingly-large quantity of challenge maps. The game can be played however the wishes to, whether that be as a linear experience or an open-world collectathon, complete with riddles and hidden items. Combat and Stealth are an example all modern games should look to. Despite being incredibly simple and intuitive to control, both "modes" of the game provide the player with enough options to create satisfying depth. Simplicity and complexity in the same package; this leads me to the next game...
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PS3)
There are a lot of reasons people love Uncharted. Most often cited are the gorgeous visuals, the Indiana Jones plot, the incredibly voice and motion capture cast or the over-the-top setpieces. A less mentioned quality, one that has been very much improved between the first and the second, is the amount of depth the player is offered relative to the complexity of the controls. In the first game, a player might spend their entire playthrough sitting behind cover and spraying bullets - not so in Uncharted 2.
Now, there is reward for using though when entering an arena. No longer limited to mainly corridors and small outdoor areas, Uncharted 2 rewards a player who moves into a position where they can have the most advantage. Weapons are scattered everywhere, ensuring the best tool for the job is always at hand. A new spread of stealth attacks allow a player to eliminate targets beforehand. In one battle, you might eliminate three enemies by stealth, move forward behind a riot shield firing magnum rounds, bunker down with a rocket launcher before switching to an assault rifle, then finally push forward and eliminate stragglers with a shotgun. It's the same principle of freeflow combat as Arkham Asylum, and like the other game, it provides a sneak peak into a future of intuitive, dynamic gameplay.
GAME OF THE YEAR
Dragon Age: Origins
Dragon Age is, quite honestly, a game with many flaws. The visuals are all over the place by modern standards. Some of the voice acting and characterization can be grating. Hell, I found a game breaking glitch that made me end my playthrough forty hours in. Despite all this, Dragon Age is indisputably my game of the year.
I mentioned in my Devil Survivor blurb that I respect a game that makes you make difficult choices. There have been other games like this: Mass Effect, The Witcher, etc. Dragon Age takes this to a new level. There is no good or evil, but there is the impression you leave on your companions, a humanization of good and evil that is much more reflective of reality than a meter ever was. Choices you make early on can rear their heads anywhere - when you leave behind a mess, do not believe that it will not follow you. Ultimately, as a Gray Warden, Dragon Age tasks you with saving the world, and there may be times where you decide in order to do that you must force people to do things that make your stomach twist. But you will do it, because Dragon Age has done such an amazing job of sinking you into its lore that you truly believe that what you did was the only right decision.
Of course, with choice comes consequence, and Dragon Age weaves an illusion of consequence quite unlike anything done before. While, ultimately, most choices will eventually lead down the same path as another player, Dragon Age makes you always feel like it was your choice that brought you to where you stand. At the end of it all, your decisions form the threads of a grand story that you will find yourself invested in.
Gameplay meets story stride for stride. The combat in Dragon Age takes all of the best bits from it's spiritual ancestor, Baldur's Gate, and it's more direct influence, World of Warcraft. The delicate balance of tank, DPS and healer is here, but it's less cut and dry and leaves much more room for moving outside those boundaries. The variety of spells and attacks echo that of a Dungeons and Dragons-based game while being very clearly designed for a video game from the beginning. Micromanaging each party member is the key to success, and each battle is interesting. In my playthrough on Normal, I found the battles roughly evenly balanced between easy, challenging and difficult, a balance which was as compelling as the combat itself.
It may be difficult to understand why Dragon Age is a clear Game of the Year winner from just reading this. After all, other games have had good stories, gameplay, and even graphics to boot. To really understand Dragon Age, it must be played, preferably for long stretches of time and in an absorbing environment. Normally, it's difficult to pick the best game of the year, but in the case of Dragon Age, it took no time at all.
Best Games I Didn't Play, and Other Caveats
Well, obviously there are a few things missing here. There are some high profile games I didn't touch with a ten foot pole, and I'm writing this December 1st - there are still games to come out. However, as it stands, I have played every game I plan to this year and more. So here is a short list of the "best games I never played" of 2009, so you can tell me obviously Borderlands was GOTY and I am an ignorant fool.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers
The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena
Halo 3: ODST
Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
When we were approaching the fall season, I thought it would be pretty empty. I had planned on only Uncharted 2 and Ratchet 2; Dragon Age wasn't even on my radar. I had already figured Batman was going to be game of the year and thought that I'd have trouble entertaining myself until the Q1 2010 rush. Turns out I was wrong. Of the 11 games on my list, 7 came out in Q4.
The other thing I'm surprised about is how few games came from Japan. Only 3 games are Eastern. I have in the past been more a fan of Japanese games than American, but as this gen goes on it's increasingly clear that the East hasn't been able to keep up with the West when it comes to game design and execution.
I was also surprised I didn't end up picking any PSP games, as I'm a Sony-addled fanboy who can barely identify my Xbox since it spent the last six months under a blanket.That being said, three of my games were Sony exclusives, so I guess I still am kind of a blind follower.
Finally, it's been an amazing year for games. Possibly better than 2007, the best year ever. I hope everyone had as much fun as I did.
A large proportion of Destructoid readers and writers are predominantly console oriented. This isn't a problem, but it has caused some pretty harsh things to be said about the PC community's outrage regarding the dedicated server issue. I'm not trying to be condescending towards console gamers when I say that many of you may not understand what the benefits are of the dedicated server model. Many of these have been posted already in comments; I just want to consolidate some points here to make it clear to everyone.
Advantages to dedicated servers:
While Activision is right in saying that we can still "party up" to play with clans or friends, this is not equivalent to a dedicated server model. With a dedicated server, friends can have a "hang-out" - an always-on gameplay destination where like-minded friends play together, no inviting required.
In a server where the people have gotten to know eachother, voice chat is used for team-building and co-operation.
This point is pretty obvious - lag is worse with peer-to-peer connections, and the host has a definitive advantage.
One common thing with the "voting" matchmaking model is that certain maps and gameplay types take the foreground. This is, democratically speaking, a great model, but with servers admins can ensure that a proper rotation is in effect and, every once in a while, the lone person who's interested in ctf_2fort gets to play what he wants.
It's also much easier to find a server with the maps and gameplay types you want when you can scroll through a list.
Mods are a huge part of the PC gaming community. Mods create dozens of great game modes that otherwise would not have existed. Maps are also a big part of this - TF2 is a great example of a game where community made maps are not only available, but excellent, eventually being integrated into the "official" rotation.
Dedicated servers obviously have some disadvantages as well. They don't allow for "balance" matchmaking, admins have a lot of power, and sometimes its hard to know where to start. But for many PC gamers the advantages listed above are a huge part of why they choose the platform, and taking that away is a serious change that is not as trivial as a 10$ Activision tax or a yearly release schedule. Please keep in mind that the people who are up in arms over the MW2 debacle are not just crazed nerds, they have legitimate complaints.
For this month's monthly musing, I decided to compare Halo, Gears of War, Killzone 2 and the Legend of Zelda and come to an ultimate conclusion about the nature of things. These games are so strictly defined by their...
Okay, that should be enough text to fool the blog summary. Here is my real post.
Top things that aren't Sacred
This game is totally not Sacred! It's like, the older dead brother of Sacred. Because Sacred has shinier newer graphics and also a patch for armor to make naked the ladies heh.
this game isn't Sacred because it's more based on real life Greece in the old days. EVEN THOUGH REAL LIFE GREECE DIDN'T HAVE TITANS. I bet you didn't know that.
As you can see by the 2, Sacred 2 is more than sacred. It is in fact a sequel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sequel) which means it's not as good even though it's shinier and has more consumer interest.
Torchlight isn't Sacred because you can't do this spinning thing in Sacred so far as I know, my friend told me you can't which I why I played Warcraft III instead.
So there you have it, the top things that aren't sacred. Please support my blog at www.paypal.com Thanks!
Back in the PS1/early PS2 eras, I was an unabashed Sony fan. I was a product of the "can-only-afford-one" mentality of superiority; a raging fanboy with little care for the logistics. Later on, I bought my DS before my PSP and my 360 long before my PS3, ending that. But as time goes on, I find myself spending larger and larger percentages of my gaming time on Sony platforms. So if this simple, best-of list comes across a little gushy, it's because I feel like I'm holding the future in my hands when I play my PSP.
The PSP is in the middle of a renaissance. For quite possibly the first fall ever, there are more PSP games worth getting than DS ones. There are three recent releases that I've been playing the hell out of; the only reason I put one down is to play one of the others. Here they are.
Monster Hunter Freedom Unite - 29.99
Monster Hunter is a series that goes woefully unappreciated in North America. The premise is jaw-drop-ening-ly cool: you hunt giant monsters, slay them with a combination of skill and tactics, then skin their bodies and make them into armour. Just playing a demo or the first few hours of the game don't do it justice; Monster Hunter is for the long haul. It will take every shred of your ability to beat the first wyvern you fight, and when you make that Khezu Shock Sword you've been hankering for, you'll feel like you deserve it.
Not only that, Capcom has made a real effort with this entry to bring it to a North American audience. The localized version features better beginner training, and since North Americans are woefully antisocial when it comes to portables, provides Felyne companions to help you solo.
Even as a re-release of a year-old title, Freedom Unite looks beautiful on a PSP screen and reminds you what the platform promised in 2005: console quality experiences everywhere you go.
I know Demon's Souls gets a lot of hype around here for it's unique, hard-as-nails skill-based progression. As far as I'm concerned, that's an experience that's been available in Monster Hunter for years... IN YOUR HANDS.
Soul Calibur: Broken Destiny - 39.99
The game actually looks this good.
I know Soul Calibur is one of the less popular fighting franchises these days. Street Fighter is forever; BlazBlue is beautiful; KoF is... excessive? But to me, Soul Calibur is first and foremost. For the first time, you can play Soul Calibur on your handheld. Not a port of the PS1 version of Soul Calibur Alpha 2 Climax, or some such nonsense - no, this is a bona fide entry in the series, taking everything great about IV to the next level.
First, Broken Destiny has the best AI in the series. Quick Match opponents actually have strategies, combos and tells. Second, it has a new mode, The Guantlet, which is the most effective character training tool I've ever seen. It fixed 8-way run from IV and makes it genuinely useful. It looks gorgeous on a PSP screen.
Finally, the new characters are amazing. Running out of standard weapons has forced the SC devs to be clever with their weapons; first there was Tira with the hoop, then Hilde with sword and spear. Now we get Dampierre with hidden blades and an element of chance to his fighting style. Kratos' Blades of Chaos fit perfectly into the Soul Calibur roster. Both characters have genuinely interesting new stances and combat styles that change up gameplay significantly.
This is the definitive Soul Calibur experience and it's only on PSP. Do yourself a favour and pick it up.
Motorstorm: Arctic Edge - 39.99
It's hard to believe Motorstorm could make the transition to the PSP. Now that it has, it's hard to believe the entry could be a good one. Contrary to all disbelief, Arctic Edge is more than just adequate - it's excellent. Much like Broken Destiny, it's not just a port either; it's a progression of the series with new mechanics and elements that will no doubt make their way to the next console version.
Using it's frigid setting for inspiration, the environmental effects of Arctic Edge are the major game-changer. You'll find yourself sliding across an ice field, falling through a collapsing ice bridge and narrowly escaping avalanches. In general, Arctic Edge is more slippery and chaotic than Pacific Rift; crashing is an omnipresent risk when you're barely in control, sliding across the ice with a tanker soaring over your head.
The courses are obviously the most important part of the Motorstorm experience. Arctic Edge delivers in spades. Some of the tracks have already become series-favourites of mine. Particularly, The Chasm and Vertigo are as good as the best of Pacific Rift.
Honestly, it's an amazing time to be a PSP owner. These three are just the games I've been playing now - I have eight more loaded on my Memory Stick and more tempting me from the store. Honorable mentions worth playing now include Persona, Disgaea and the Peace Walker demo (yeah, the demo is that good). In 2004 Sony announced the PSP and promised I'd be playing the best of my console games wherever I went. It took five years but it's finally happened. It's an exciting to be a gamer - anywhere you go.
As we all know, video games are a medium of absolutes. Subjectivity has no place in a world where Metacritic is the highest authority, nor in one where our every opinion is dictated to us by crowd-appointed journalist-gods. Indeed, in the modern day it seems criminal to hold fastidiously to one's beliefs. A human being's entertainment, much like his very soul, requires an absolute and unwavering measuring stick against which to be valued. I hope to provide that very same measuring stick for a series that once was loved by all (and since has - by popular demand - been re-categorized as a plague of corporate shilling), Final Fantasy. Without further ado: Final Fantasy, ranked.
Final Fantasy II is the commonly accepted black sheep of the series. It attempts to tell a comprehensive story on a platform not ready to accept it. This leaves it with a tale too grown-up to feel retro and too clumsily executed to be grown-up. Square ambitiously tried to change things and as we all know, it did not work out. Ultimately the game is downright forgettable and there's not that much that can be said about it.
#10: Final Fantasy IV
Why it's the better II (get it!? HAHAHA):
It's not hard to be better than Final Fantasy II. IV manages to do it. The first Final Fantasy to provide a real story, IV features characters who develop in a way that you could (almost) sympathize with them. The dungeons are also more interesting than those in II, with some genuinely intriguing boss battles tossed in for good measure. In many ways, Final Fantasy IV is the baseline against which all Future Fantasies would be (and are) measured. It sets the tone of the series and every change (for better or for worse) will be noticed.
#9: Final Fantasy VII
Why it's better than IV:
While IV is a good game in it's own right (and it's low position on this ranking should go to suggest how good the Final Fantasy series is) it definitely has some flaws. It was Square's first real attempt at telling a proper story, and without rose-tinted nostalgia glasses it's hard not to notice the weaknesses throughout. VII's story is much more interestingly told if not necessarily more mature. The characters have motivations and seem to meet up more through coincidence than fate. While it may be melodramatic, the identity-crisis theme of the game relates to the teenage audience for whom the game has had long-lasting impact.
The battle system is also worth noting. Though not better than IV's, it is one of the few entries on 3D platforms to capture the same fast paced combat. The Materia system of character is advance is also one of the best in the series.
With so many plusses, it might seem odd that I rank VII so low on the list. There's a reason for that...
#8: Final Fantasy I
Why it's better than VII:
VII had a passable story and great mechanics. However, when out of cutscenes and battle screens, the game was tedious. Filled with useless fetch quests, mini-games and uninspiring locales, slugging through the day-to-day of VII is more of a chore than a joy.
The original Final Fantasy has none of this. It still has a passable story, it still has great combat. It also has a fast-paced and interesting overworld to match. Despite being rendered in eight-bit graphics, the locations of the original Final Fantasy stick in the mind, as do the dungeons. This comes in no small part from the game's obvious spiritual inspiration, Dragon Quest. The same sense of exploration pervades Final Fantasy, coming through as much through dungeons and landscapes as through dialog. It is pure adventure, and better for being so.
#7: Final Fantasy VIII
Why it's better than I:
Final Fantasy I is, above all other things, a typical JRPG. While this is nothing to hold against it - it did help define the genre - it does make it feel slightly rote when held up against modern competition. The first failed attempt to differentiate the series came in II. The second, while still a failure, found a little more resonance with the fanbase: Final Fantasy VIII.
Once again doing away with levels, VIII allowed players to use magic to customize their characters. In many ways it was an extension of the Materia system in VII. For those who took the time to understand it it became an interesting type of character advancement that tied a character's combat role and skills together like never before. It still allowed for the player to define character roles, but avoided the side-effect present in VII and XII of jacks-of-all-trades. Additionally, the Draw system provided the single most mechanically interesting battle in the history of the series: the final fight against Ultimecia where every mechanic of the game affects the outcome.
Of course, VIII is no slouch in other departments either. While the story is little more than passable, the world is one of the more interesting Final Fantasy environments. The Gardens set a theme of war and it comes through in decidedly militant theme music which is some of the best of the series (fans should really check out the piano collection, by far the best album with the words 'Final Fantasy' on it). Summons are hidden in every corner and only the most rigorous of explorers will find everything there is.
#6: Final Fantasy III (DS version)
Why it's better than VIII:
Okay, maybe I gave the story of VIII too much credit in the last paragraph. It was pretty terrible, and ruined the game for a lot of people. To be quite honest, III's story isn't any more complicated or developed. But much like Final Fantasy I used simplicity to provide a better experience, III also does away with the trappings of story or characters. Instead, it provides an extremely interesting alternative for character development: the job system.
Instead of taking characters on predefined story-driven paths, the role of the party members is up to the player in III. The first game to feature the job system, III defined the main classes that still pervade the series today. Developing the roles of your characters leads to a type of attachment not found in other entries to the series. Of course, a fully developed and interesting world backdrops this personal story and once again a Dragon Quest-like tale takes the player on a journey that's less about melancholy and melodrama and more about adventure. It's easy to lose yourself in this game to that "one more job level" mentality.
#5: Final Fantasy V
Why it's better than III:
Ultimately, it's harder to find reasons why V is not better than III. The world is just as interesting, except this time it has characters who can speak and provide exposition (<3 Gilgamesh). The combat system is just as interesting, except this time the more dynamic ATB from IV is present. Most importantly, the job system is just as interesting, except this time there are more jobs and they're harder to find. In many ways, Final Fantasy V takes all the themes of III and decides on a do-over. It works out fantastically.
#4: Final Fantasy XII
Why it's better than V:
I've argued a lot for the merits of simplicity over complication in this list, Final Fantasy V being a prime example. Final Fantasy XII isn't an exception to the rule. Instead, it expands the idea to encompass a game with a truly mature story to tell, and a mature way of doing it.
In Final Fantasy XII, at least for one game, the theme of melodramatic tales with heavy exposition set by Final Fantasy IV was broken. Instead, the player is present with characters who's personal issues - if any - are merely reflections of the world at large. There's the princess who is uncomfortable with the responsibility of freeing her Kingdom. There's a loyal guard. An orphan boy who wants adventure. A sky pirate. It's rare for these characters to have scenes where they line by line describe their feelings to a glass-eyed player. These inflections are left to facial expression and the player's understanding of the characters. It's hard to describe how well the story of XII is told and how believable it is within the context of Ivalice. As Shakespeare wrote, "There is nothing either good or evil, but thinking makes it so." (a line which Versus XIII has taken to heart, apparently) and XII is really a tale about people fighting for what they think is right.
Outside of it's stellar story and characters, XII has other claims to fame. It was the third attempt to revolutionize the series and the most successful. Taking combat into real time and out of the battle screen, it removed the monotony of "trash" battles, leaving bosses to be the same thrilling encounters they always have been. It is also one of the largest, longest Final Fantasies to date, with an attention to detail unmatched in the industry.
#3: Final Fantasy X:
Why it's better than XII:
As with most "first-ofs" Final Fantasy XII had some severe weaknesses. The pacing was all over the place, much of the game could be run on autopilot through the AI system and some of the world characterization was lost when all the dungeons were hallway-based affairs with random treasure. XII is a masterpiece of story in Final Fantasy. X, on the other hand, is a masterpiece of gameplay.
Easily the best combat system in the series, battles in Final Fantasy X are fast-paced affairs that can be approached from a thousand different angles. While the game teaches you to use your characters' specific roles to combat specific enemies (a mechanic which is interesting and fun enough on it's own merits) those same combat roles also provide huge opportunities for freedom within combat. On one playthrough, the player might use Auron as a Zombify/heal machine. On another, they might have Rikku as their main damage dealer, tossing out three amazingly high damage dealing items for every one turn that the enemy takes.
The character development system, the Sphere Grid, is also a series best. Perfectly straddling the line between characters with personality-defined roles and player based advancement, the Sphere Grid lets the player decide how to evolve their character into virtually any combination of the predefined roles with a flexibility no kind of "job system" has ever matched - all while still making sure that the character's background is firmly rooted in their history. An item crafting system allows the player to eventually "break" the system, eventually dealing 30000 damage in one hit and casting spells for 1 MP.
Finally, the world of Final Fantasy X is among the best. The mix of the steampunk/techno world of Zanarkand with the colourful fantasy of Spira ensures that every locale is interesting. The side quests are genuinely intriguing to follow and reward the player with concrete, useful character advancements. While the story isn't a highlight, some of the characters (particular Aurun, Rikku and Wakka) bleed personality right out of the screen. The music is right up there with VIII for the best-composed soundtrack in a Final Fantasy game.
#2: Final Fantasy VI
Why it's better than X:
I just told you that mechanically, Final Fantasy X is the best game in the series. However, story and character are both equally important to a Final Fantasy. While VI may fall just shy of the lofty mechanical heights of Final Fantasy X, in every other way it surpasses it's distant younger cousin.
In VI, there is a story and characters worth caring about. With the highest character count in the series it's difficult to believe that each could be interesting, but they are. In fact, many of the characters in VI have set the standard for their archetypes in future Final Fantasy titles. Each character (except for the bonus ones) has their own detailed introduction that the player gets to see before they all come together in the "end" for the all-important combat for the fate of the world. Their characterizations also come through in the battle system. Each character has a unique special set of moves as well as a unique way of finding them. The pure effort that went into making each character a unique combatant is astounding, and the fact that one must travel the world to track down the ultimate moves for each of their characters lends an astounding credibility to the setting. It's impossible to journey that far across a planet and not fall in love with it, and equally impossible to not (spoiler) feel devastated when the party fails to save it.
It's very difficult to describe Final Fantasy VI's story without spoiling the moments that make it so enjoyable. So much of the love for the characters comes through the little moments that crop up unexpectedly through a playthrough. I could spend another paragraph describing the detail in the world, or I could just say it's better than Final Fantasy XII. I could spend a paragraph describing how well the story is paced, or just say it's the best in the series. I could spend a paragraph telling you that after you play this game, one of the characters *will* be your favourite in the series, and that that character will be different than your friend's choice. The game has so much to offer.
#1: Final Fantasy IX
Why it's the best:
It doesn't have the best combat. Final Fantasy IX is slow and ponderous compared to other series entries, and doesn't require the same tactical breadth.
It doesn't have the best mechanics: character's advance by learning abilities from equipment. It's simple, it's elegant, but it doesn't give you flexibility of the Sphere Grid by any means.
It doesn't have the story: it's rote and predictable, but the way it is told leaves you constantly waiting for more.
What it does have, and in such magnitude to overwhelm any lacking in the previous qualities, is the best world ever presented in a Final Fantasy game.
From the initial foray into the Ice Caves to the final confrontations in Memoria, every single location in Final Fantasy IX sticks into your mind forever. Every city has a unique feel and presence. NPCs that appear only briefly are memorable. Dungeons have as much identity as the cities (in some situations, they are the same). Even if a player were never to stray from the linear path towards the game's conclusion, the sense of identity for the world would match any other Final Fantasy game.
Of course, stray from the linear path and there is much more to discover. There are chocobo grottos with hidden treasure that allow you to propel your characters beyond their current rank. Enemies and bosses have genuinely unique and improved items to steal long before they would appear otherwise. A set of friendly enemies begins a trading quest that spans the world. The hidden city Dagguererro hints at the countless hidden items in the world and is home to the nameless treasure hunter. Stellazio coins are spread across the world, each inscribed with a bit of lore than leaves a player curious for more. The world-wide mystery of Mognet. Secret magics like Doomsday that make your party all-powerful. Optional bosses lurk in libraries and in the sky.
And while Final Fantasy IX doesn't boast the best cast of characters, it does communicate them on a level that is rarely matched in the series. The main characters are all endearing and lovable. In fact, some of the NPCs (Blank, Beatrix especially) are just as intrinsic to the experience.
It's difficult to encapsulate in words what makes Final Fantasy IX the best Final Fantasy. It has the strengths of the old and the new, and while it does have one weakness (slow combat) it makes up for it in every way. What I can say about this game is that it is the best representation of the series on the whole of any of the titles; IX, more than any other, is Final Fantasy.
My relationship with the PSP Go has been a tumultuous one. Since it's announcement, I have gone through several phases:
1. That thing is ugly as sin
2. That thing looks sex
3. I love digital downloads
4. I'm worried about how Sony will handle digital downloads
5. I need a new PSP, Go Go Go
6. I'm worried about how Sony will handle digital download, maybe I won't get one
7. I trust international corporations to be fair, I'll get one
Tonight was the straw that broke the camel's back. Was it the fact that Sony has no UMD-to-DD transfer program? No. Was it the fact that I'm worried about owning my digital games in ten years? No. Was it the fact that the PSP Go looks like a bitch to hold? ...Well, kind of.
But ultimately, the reason I decided to skip the Go? This right here. Regardless of how "ready" I am for DD, how I support it 100% on Steam and PSN and XBLA, when it comes to fucking Metal Gear, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, etc, I want my game on a disk.
Now I hope my new PSP will display Disgaea and Persona alright.
P.S. The Peace Walker demo looks gorgeous and has controls to match. I am so EXCITE.