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January 18, 2006

Game Picks for 2005

Originally I wrote this for another site and invited the rest of the staff to give their picks, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen, so I'll give mine here.) Every site in the world gives lists of game awards every year, so I thought I'd list my own this year. (I'm making up my own categories: this is just for fun anyway. No PC games: I don't have the hardware to play anything newer than 2003, so all my gaming lately has been on consoles. I didn't even play many of those: with school eating up all my time and work (at my former job) sapping my will to live I didn't do a whole lot of gaming, but I did play some memorable games. Without further ado:

Biggest Disappointment: Jade Empire(Xbox).

Yep, I bought the hype on this one. Jade Empire looked like it would be a winner. I preordered a game for the first time in my life, paid full price (well, using trade-in credit) and took a day off work to play. Jade Empire was a great game for the first few chapters...then I stopped playing for a few days and never came back. It isn't a bad game--I don't buy bad games--but there's just nothing that really stands out. The graphics are great, the music and sound and voice acting are impressive, and the action-based gameplay is fun. So are the nods to the traditions and conventions of kung-fu movies and culture. But the gameplay itself is the standard Bioware quest-to-defeat-evil-while-making-obvious-good-or-evil-choices, and the Bioware standard is getting stale. I tried playing again a few months ago--I really wanted to get to the John Cleese cameo--but couldn't make myself care.

Game I Bought In 2005 And Really Hope I Like: (tie) Romancing
(PS2) and Wild Arms Alter Code: F (PS2).

Just about every reviewer pans the SaGa games because they're not Final Fantasy, yet they still manage to gather a small but devoted following. Well, I like nonlinearity and games that try new things, and I like to get new RPGs for $20 (or less). I hope this one is good.

As for Wild Arms, it's a remake of the first Wild Arms game for the Playstation. Wild Arms was the first Playstation RPG I liked and finished, after being sorely disappointed by Final Fantasy VII and several others: the combination of Wild West with science fiction and one of the best soundtracks in a video game made it a winner. I hope that the remake lives up to the original.

Biggest Surprise: Lego Star Wars.

I'm not much of a Star Wars fan--Return of the Jedi was the last Star Wars movie I watched--but when I saw this I had to give it a rental. A few days later I went to the store and bought it. It's Lego. It's Star Wars. It's Lego guys with light sabers and blasters, and it's a lot of fun. My boys love it too, and I had to go buy an extra Xbox controller so they could play it together. Great game.

Game of the Year: Dragon Quest VIII (PS2)

Dragon Quest VIII is the best console game I've ever played, period, and possibly the best game I've ever played on console or PC. And I've played a lot of games. I preordered it, bought it at full price (well, using a bunch of trade-in credit) and was not disappointed. This one lived up to all the hype.

The U.S. console RPG world has been ruled by Final Fantasy, but in Japan the king is Dragon Quest. While the Final Fantasy series has changed a lot over the years, the Dragon Quest games have stayed close to their roots. Dragon Quest 8 doesn't stray. It doesn't attempt to impress you by doing radically different things or presenting an amazingly deep story. Instead, DQ8 impresses by doing the things Dragon Quest has always done, and doing them better than any other game. The story is the usual "explore the world, fight monsters and defeat the bad guy", but the game doesn't bind you so tightly to the story that you have no other action than to try to trigger another cutscene (Final Fantasy X, I'm talking about you). While it isn't as free as Morrowind, DQ8 does give you plenty of freedom to wander the world and see the sights.

And those sights are worth seeing, too. The graphics are the best I've seen on the Playstation 2: bright, colorful, and interesting. The world is wide open to explore: if you can see it, you can probably go there. My only complaint is that the world is sometimes boring: a few more secret locations and extra dungeons (like Morrowind) would make exploration more fun. The music consists of a lot of traditional Dragon Quest themes, but performed by the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra and an absolute pleasure to hear. The voice acting is right at the top too: each character has its own personality and the actors successfully carry those personalities. They all speak with British accents; it's the first game I've ever played where characters use Cockney rhyming slang. The game has the usual Dragon Quest charm with a lighthearted, fun world, although the overall story has some pretty serious moments too. Battles are quick and fun, and who can't love a game with monsters who use attacks which make your characters dance uncontrollably (with hilarious animation)? The rewards (gold and character leveling) make exploration and random battles worthwhile.

Dragon Quest VIII is a game where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Everything works together to keep you playing and smiling. It's the most fun I've had in 2 years of owning a PS2.

Permalink | Posted by Joe at January 18, 2006 01:15 PM


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