My ‘Final Games’

One of my favourite podcasts, Final Games, is to video games what BBC’s Desert Island Discs is to music. Each episode a different guest details their 8 video game choices they would take with them to a hypothetical deserted location for the rest of their days.

So, in Final Games tradition, I will include my choices with a sample of music from each, and my reasons for each choice. Enjoy.

Tetris (Gameboy, 1990):-

There are many iterations of Tetris, but for me all pale in comparison in quality, simplicity, and sheer importance to video games than the Gameboy version. The tile-matching puzzle titan was the original mobile gaming phenomenon that brought gaming to the masses. It helped launch video games into the mainstream and many of its derivatives appeal to those who even don’t consider themselves a gamer.

Back in 1989/90 when physical console multiplayer connections were a must, I often challenged a friend who lived around the corner, visiting each other’s homes to spend hours on linked battle mode.

Tetris is the perfect pickup and play game, whether it’s a bus journey, your lunch break at work, or simply the need to engage your brain for any amount of time.

Super Mario Bros 3 (NES, 1991):-

The Christmas of 1991 I received my very own Nintendo Entertainment System, along with the latest Super Mario game – Super Mario Bros 3.

Mario games were easily the benchmark for all platformers today, 2D/3D, and back then, this was the benchmark. The overworld map, suits (frog, hammer and Tanooki) and the super leaf were all introduced here, and have been mainstays ever since.

At 10-years-old I wasn’t great at video games but I herald beating Super Mario bros 3 as my earliest gaming triumph.

 

The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past (SNES, 1992):-

Link to the Past was the first video game I’d ever bought 2nd hand back in 1993/4. LttP is a game I make a time-honoured tradition of playing through each year. Like Super Mario World, it was another masterpiece released around the launch of the Super Nintendo, and simply timeless.

From the dramatic opening, essentially a tutorial which serves as a perfect insight into the themes of discovery and survival the game brings, Link to the Past is simply one of the best adventure games ever to be coded, and a journey I implore everyone to take at least once in their lifetime.

 

Chrono Trigger (SNES 1995, 2008)

The supergroup collaboration of Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, Dragon Quest creator Yuji Hori, Dragonball and Z creator Akira Toriyama plus script writer Masoto Kato simply created a masterpiece in role-playing and storytelling. Despite its standard JRPG appearance Chrono Trigger is bolstered by its time travel mechanic, resulting is a story that transcends thousands of years and consists of love, tragedy, and friendship, with 13 different endings on offer.

Neither the SNES or the PS1 versions were released in Europe, and it wasn’t until around 2001 that I managed to grab a decent boxed copy – but it set me back £92. Once it finally got it’s 2008 DS release, my dream was realised. 13 years of hype and it did not disappoint.

 

Pro Evolution Soccer 6 (PS2, 2006):-

If I’m going to live out my days alone in a deserted location, then I’m going to need my football fill.

Since its release in 2006 I have spent hour upon ungodly hour challenging the incredible Master League mode; easily the greatest single player football mode in any football game ever made.

The beauty of the PES series is that as you raised the bar, so did the game in its challenge and learning curve.

A joy to play, difficult to put down, PES 6 is the football game I would take to my grave.

 

Bayonetta 2 (Wii U, 2014):-

Bayonetta 2 is simply a masterpiece. Yusuke Hashimoto’s sequel to Hideki Kamiya’s incredible Bayonetta achieved what few sequels do: not only replicate what made the original a success, but also improve every element.

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The combat is simply a masterclass, the art direction stunning, the pacing tighter, truly improving what was already a perfect original. Despite the main campaign taking around 10 hours, there is so much more to perfect resulting in a title that could possibly be played forever, with secrets to find, scores/grades to beat, combos to create and perfect; Bayonetta 2 is simply incredible.

 

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64, 1998):-

OoT is simply the most incredible video game ever devised. Enjoy Oblivion/Skyrim? Dark Souls/Bloodborne? The Witcher? OoT is the blueprint for all of those and many more.

It was released 2 weeks before Christmas in 1998 and in truth I did little else in the advent lead up than sample its delightful open world, fall in love with the combat mechanics, savour the magnificent soundtrack, and surrender myself to the contentment that the game delivers.

Following its 3DS remake and release in 2011 I once again stepped into Link’s shoes and it is as much a joy to play now as it was almost 20 years ago, and I’m sure I could say the same in another 20 years.

 

Final Fantasy VII (PS1, 1997):-

Cloud’s journey to stop world-controlling corporation Shinra from draining the world’s life essence for fuel resource has everything: friends, enemies, love, tragedy, death, and one of the greatest antagonist’s in video game history, Sephiroth.

Tscus_94163_07042008_191550_0015he beauty of Final Fantasy VII is its pacing, the turn-based combat, the incredible backdrops, levelling system, and so much more. The sprites may now look a little outdated, but the rendered backdrops really capture the mood and condition of the slums people must live in, and the open world is truly a feast for the eyes.

Final Fantasy VII is the only game in the series I’ve gone back to, having finished it twice, and still desire to go back to on a regular basis. When the time comes, it is a journey I would gladly take once again.

 

 

 

 

 

Nintendo/Squaresoft Gems of a Generation

Before Square Enix there was Square Company. From its inception Square released 145 titles before its merger with Enix in 2003. Many of these games were released under a given ‘Squaresoft’ brand name, such as the ever-popular Final Fantasy VII for PS One, which was one of the west’s first taste of Squaresoft magic, which paved the way for world-wide RPG dominance. However this series, and other famous Square properties such as the Front Mission and the SaGa series all in fact began on Nintendo platforms, albeit mostly Japan-only releases.

Following Nintendo’s failed SNES-CD venture with Sony and then Phillips, and subsequent continuation with cartridge games with the N64, all these properties moved onto the Sony PlayStation. And, despite Final Fantasy VII being the most famous RPG of all time, and subsequent remakes for today’s platform, it’s often the SNES titles Squaresoft produced that remain firmly in our hearts.

The SNES has the best anthology of RPG’s, and in my opinion are still the most accessible to this day. The afore-mentioned series’ may well be the most recognised due to their ongoing adventures, but 2 in my mind stick out as the 16-bit generation’s best: Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana.

Potential spoilers, be warned.

Chrono Trigger

The superlatives for Chrono Trigger are never ending, echoed by many, with good reason. The brainchild of A-List creators Hironobu Sakaguchi (Final Fantasy), Yuji Hori (Dragon Quest, from fierce rivals-come eventual partners Enix) and Akira Toriyama (DragonBall creator, and Dragon Quest artist), it’s incredible to think this game could even happen. It did, and it is a magnificent package. The SNES proved to be the platform that showcased both graphical power and fully conveyed stories and characters by their creators, and Chrono Trigger has both in spades.

You play Crono, a young boy whose chance meeting with a young woman named Marle at the local fair, leads to a series of time travel adventures. He makes friends while ripping back and forth through time, uncovering the plans of an evil force laid dormant for centuries.

Presented in typical top-down RPG view, Chrono Trigger at first seems like no more than a typical Final Fantasy affair, but it’s active time battles keep the action flowing perfectly, and none of the battles feel forced into, which Final Fantasy games can certainly be guilty of.

The heroes assembled throughout lead you through like any great fantasy novel; you connect with them and want them to win, not just because it’s the aim of the game. One such hero is Frog, who is (surprise), a frog. But, you just know from the first meeting there is something more going on, and you have to know. This is typical of all the hero contingent, and it’s what separate’s Chrono Trigger from the pack. Chrono Trigger’s further uniqueness from other RPG’s of this nature stems from its time trial plot device; there are no less than 13 different endings possible in this game, and a typical run through is around 20-30 hours, unlike similar RPG’s that can clock in double that easily. It’s not very often that JRPG’s warrant a replay, but Chrono Trigger does exactly that. It has been re-mastered and re-released numerous times, but never strayed away from its 2D blueprint. If it isn’t broke, why fix it?

Secret of Mana

Another Squaresoft classic, and is actually a sequel (Final Fantasy Mystic Quest for Game Boy being the original), Secret of Mana is a grand adventure. There is more of a Link to the Past feel to it, but with key JRPG elements being the backbone. The combat system is the best example of this; like Zelda, you are free to move, attacking enemies when you wish, however to land the heavier blows you must allow your weapon gauge to recharge 100% first.secret-of-mana_3

You control any one of 3 three characters; Randi, the main protagonist and holder of the Mana Sword), Primm, a princess on the run from an arranged marriage) and Popoi, a ‘Sprite’ who has no memories of his past, so joins the quest to seek them. The quest is almost Zelda-like; the Mana Sword must be re-energized by acquiring the power of the 8 Mana Seeds. Compared to Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana is indeed much more clichéd and simpler in its story. But its unique mixture of real-time battles, epic bosses, excellent use of the Mode 7 graphic technique, and seamless flow to the adventure make it near flawless. Additional to this is the intuitive and superb Ring Command menu system; options such as equip, using items, etc. appear in a circle around your controlled character, leaving you to simply access the desired options without the arduous, multi-layered menu system JRPG’s often have.

Both Chrono Trigger and Secret of Mana have been released for touch screen mobile platform in recent years, and even with the initial bedding in process of touch-screen joysticks, little of the magic is lost, 20 years on from their inception. Although of the same genre, they are different adventures in so many ways, and easily 2 of the best RPG’s of all time. They are also 2 of the most treasured items to own for retro-collectors, easily fetching over £100 each if boxed. If you haven’t experienced either, I suggest you do. Prepare to be dazzled.