Category Archives: Classic Gaming

All things Retro, from back in the days of yesteryear.

Final Fantasy 7 REMAKE! … My Thoughts

final-fantasy-7-logoWell, well, well….. It is really happening. SQUARE is remaking Final Fantasy 7. After teasing fans for years and years and years, they have finally rewarded our patience with a remake of this classic RPG. Once again, we will return to the streets of Midgar, fight the evil Shina Corporation, witness the silliness of the Gold Saucer, fight the Ruby Weapon and cast Knights of the Round, all in glorious, redesigned HD graphics. What an amazing development to come out of  Sony’s E3 conference this year. So in the spirit of that excitement, let’s talk about it.

The Never Ending Fantasy…Just Keeps Going and Going….

My experience and connection with FF7 is drastically different then that of most of my friends. Unlike the majority of fans out there, I have only ever played this game once and not even to full completion. Now, before you have me tied to a Chocobo and run out of town, let me assure you that I have, in fact seen EVERYTHING in this game, multiple times over. I have witnessed and participated in 6-8 hour farming sessions. I have cried over the tragic death of Aerith more times than I want to admit. I have bred and raced Chocobos. I have been on the edge of my seat while fighting Ruby Weapon and completely exhausted after barely winning. I may not have always been holding the controller, but I was right there witnessing and being swept away by the sheer epic craziness of this game.

What does that all mean? Well, in the late 90s, Final Fantasy 7 was all the rage and everyone I knew was completely obsessed with that game. Rightly so, since it was a fantastic game. Of course, as soon as FF7 hit the shelves, everyone I knew became obsessed. Every friend I had, played FF7 almost exclusively for months and months on end. The desire to play this game was all consuming and it swept through my friends like wildfire.

Unfortunately, I was not in a financial position to buy my own physical copy of the game. That wouldn’t happen till much later. Instead, I was relegated to the sidelines, waiting until one of my friends would allow me to borrow their copy. As one can imagine, since all of my friends were playing this game, guess who was usually sitting on a couch, right next to them, during their gaming sessions? You guessed it…. ME. I witnessed each of my friend’s individual runs, almost in their entirety. By the time I got around to actually getting my own copy, I was simply burned out. I had seen everything, from beginning to end. There were just no surprises left in the game for me and I didn’t feel any great urgency to play it, yet again. However, that does NOT lessen my love for the game and it sure doesn’t make me any less excited for the remake. I just experienced it a little differently then most fans.

tc0ofwda5zek2mfaiivtRegarding Remakes

Since SQUARE’s announcement of the remake of Final Fantasy 7, the world is rejoicing at the news. The internet and discussion forums are all a buzz with speculations and opinions. Excitement is flowing freely. People love FF7, that is obviously clear. However, despite my excitement at this shocking and exciting turn of events, I can’t help but think, am I going to like this game when it hits shelves? The original game had such a HUGE impact on me and every single one of my friends, how can any game live up to that level of importance? I am very hopeful sure, but also fairly skeptical.

Not only is Final Fantasy 7 known as one of the best RPGs of all time, it STILL has a gigantic, very dedicated fan base. If SQUARE changes too much of the game, they run the risk of alienating the diehard fans. If they keep the game completely stock, they might be accused of just trying to cash in on the FF7 legacy. This is not an easy position for them to be in and we won’t know how it’ll play out, until it is in full swing.

So that begs the question, can a remake be as powerful or as influential as the original game once was? Or in this case, is SQUARE somehow damaging the legacy and power of FF7 by remaking a game that literally shaped a generation of gamers. Sure, most of us fans are pretty excited at the idea of seeing such iconic characters as Cloud, Tifa and Sephiroth in HD, but can this remake recapture the love of so many old school fans? Can it rekindle those same feelings of amazement and awe that we felt as we were greeted with our very first FMV? Chances are, no it can’t. No matter how much time and effort SQUARE puts into this project, it will never be exactly as it was. That would be impossible. When this game first came out, it was a different world. It was a moment in time that has long passed and as Thomas Wolfe once wrote, “You can’t go home again….”

ff7headerimg599px1512512Final Thoughts…

As the months go by and we hear more and more about this upcoming remake, all eyes will be on SQUARE-ENIX. They are tinkering with a classic and that is a very daring and scary move. Truth be told, this game is going to set a precedence for all other Final Fantasy remakes. If any of us ever want to see remakes of FF6, FF1 or even Tactics, we had best hope that FF7 does extraordinarily well. Unfortunately, I guarantee that before the final game is released, at some point fans will be outraged at the decisions that SQUARE has made. We will read things like “How dare SQUARE do this to this game!” and “I hate them! They have ruined my childhood!” Like Sephiroth’s Super Nova, the drama will seem to go on and on and on. Until we play the final build, people will speculate, trash talk and condemn, but sink or swim, I believe that SQUARE will give us our remake. However, only time will tell if THIS remake is the one that we’ve always wanted. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope that it is. I for one, will see you in Midgar.

~GB

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The King’s Field Retrospective: Part Two – King’s Field (North America)

King's Field - Front CoverKing’s Field (North America)

As I mentioned in the first part of this retrospective, our King’s Field was not the first game in the King’s Field series, a fact that many of us North American gamers did not learn, until late into the 90s. It was actually the 2nd installment, following closely to the Japanese only  game, with the same title. As you can imagine, I was pretty surprised when I found this out.

The fact that we never got the original King’s Field is unfortunate, since the Japanese game introduced a huge amount of lore, characters, items and game play elements that were to become staples throughout the entire series. Names like John Alfred Forester, the Dragon Gods, the Moonlight Sword, Dragon Crystals, Earth Herbs, Antidotes, Verdite, Moon Stone, Blood Stone, the Truth Glass… all of it originated here, in King’s Field (JP). Our first King’s Field, usually called King’s Field (North America) or King’s Field (NA) was actually the 2nd game in the series. 

Like all of the King’s Field games, King’s Field (NA) was developed by a relatively unknown and obscure, Japanese game development studio called From Software. You might recognize that name, because of the success of the recent Souls series: Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2. Much like their predecessors, these are fantastic games, renown for their difficulty, challenging game play and unforgiving brutality. These games are often known as the spiritual successors to the King’s Field legacy.

It Begins….

King’s Field (NA) was released here in the U.S. on February 15, 1996. That gives this game the honor of being one of the first role-playing games ever released, for the PlayStation, here in the west. I will admit that King’s Field (North America) was not my first taste of the King’s Field series. I was actually introduced through the U.S. King’s Field 2, (actually King’s Field 3 in Japan), but after just a few minutes behind its controls and a handful of deaths, I was hooked. I wanted to know all I could about the world of King’s Field, uncover all of it’s secrets and watch its story unfold. However, I did not want to start from King’s Field 2, I wanted to start from the very beginning of the series. I thought, ‘Hey, if there is a King’s Field 2, then there has to be a King’s Field 1.’  So, that weekend, I went down to the local gaming store, found a copy of King‘s Field (NA) and bought it. That was such an awesome day!

The Story Unfolds….

King’s Field (NA) can be classified as a first person, dark fantasy, hack and slash, roll playing game. Taking place on a mysterious island called Melanant, you assumed control of a knight named Alexander, who had just washed up on the island’s rocky shore line. You are the only survivor of a powerful expeditionary force, sent by King Forester, to find and retrieve the stolen, legendary, Moonlight Sword. Of course, having lost all of your supplies in a powerful storm, you have nothing, save for the clothes on your back and your trusty dagger.

King’s Field (NA) was a very difficult and unforgiving game.  The enemies were relentless, the environments allowed for very few mistakes, and the buttons stand as some of the most complicated controls I have ever mastered on a console. I racked up so many deaths within my first few hours of game play, it was staggering.

However, despite all of that, the game compelled me to push on, to fulfill Alexander’s duty and to retrieve the Moonlight Sword.  For me, it was the lure of the unknown, the challenge of exploring the winding and claustrophobic interiors of the island and discovering the bits and pieces of lore, spread throughout Melanant. The entire experience was epic.

As you progress through the game, you begin to uncover a myriad of terrible secrets. You learn about the dark history of the island, the fall of ancient kingdoms and the rise of a mysterious warrior calling himself Necron.

You eventually discover that Necron controls Melanant and has enveloped the island in a powerful darkness. We also find out that he serves the dragon demi-god, Guyra and has obtained powers that allow him to summon monsters and control the undead. Greed, despair, and death, seem to permeate the interior tunnels, passageways and halls of Melanant and its inhabitants are doomed to a miserable existence, toiling in the underground crystal caves, trapped, having to relying on the island’s healing water, to keep them alive.

Playing King’s Field can be a very solitary and lonely experience. There are only a few small villages, homes, and communities dotted around Melanant and most of these locations are empty and deserted. Of course, you do find a few NPCs along your travels, but most of them have been driven half mad by the islands dark energy and trusting them can sometimes be a dangerous proposition. It is a good idea though, to talk to everyone you meet and to gather as much information as possible. Otherwise, you will have no idea what you are supposed to do. (Don’t worry, they do tend to let a few trustworthy tidbits slip out, from time to time.

Like most RPGs, you can find a few shops and merchants, littered around some of the villages, but they all seem to have an insatiable lust for riches and charge WAY to much gold, for even the simplest of items. It is my experience that most of the good weapons and armor available in the shops, can be found for free throughout your travels, so leave them in the shops.

Melanant is a dangerous place and it punishes you at almost every turn. The island is littered with secret tunnels, mining complexes, ancient shrines and the ruins of once mighty kingdoms. Unfortunately, most places are now teeming with vengeful monsters, the undead and restless spirits, so you must tread lightly.

Eventually, you face off against Necron, who you learn has become a pawn of Guyra, the Black Dragon. Once Necron falls to your blade, Guyra awaits, guarding the fabled Moonlight Sword, the very sword you were tasked with retrieving. Only after defeating him, can you reclaim the sword and rid the island of all darkness and evil.

Final Thoughts…

King’s Field (NA) stands as one of my most treasured games and I spent well over 150 hours playing the game (that was a lot of hours back then). Exploring the island’s vast network of tunnels and ruins was extremely addictive and the game was amazing for it’s time. Being in a fully explorable, 3D world, surrounded by the unknown was something that I had yet to experience in a console game. Everything about King’s Field (NA), held me spellbound, even after countless deaths and game overs. The environments, the music, the characters, the enemies… it was all pretty awesome.

Even though I loved King’s Field (NA), I have to admit, this game was not without it issues. Graphically, the game was filled with strange visual anomalies. Surface textures had the annoying habit of distorting and tearing, draw distance for faraway objects seemed to fluctuate wildly and the graphics were not really the prettiest to look at. The game also suffered from inconsistent frame rates and massive slowdown, all of which could get you killed… very easily.

Never-the-less, I adored King’s Field (NA) and I still consider it a classic. It is amongst my favorite RPGs of all time. Aside from Final Fantasy Tactics, this game stands out as my 2nd most played game of the 90s. I have such found memories tied up with this game and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good old-school RPG, as long as you can get passed the outdated graphics. If you haven’t played it, you really should. If nothing else, at least watch a Let’s Play over on YouTube! It is quite a game.

Up next, we will spend some time taking a look at the awesome sequel, King’s Field II. So stay tuned.

~GB

GentleBen’s Favorite Games of All Time (PlayStation)

PlayStation (PSX)

Let me start off by saying, I love the PlayStation! For me, Sony’s entire line of PlayStation gaming consoles have been superb. I have been an ardent PS fan since 1995 and have purchased every iteration of the console, all the way up to the present day PS3. I even pre-ordered the PS4, displaying an unprecedented level of faith in the Sony brand. (Please don’t let me down Sony!) That probably makes me a Sony Fan Boy, but I am OK with that. Heck, I’ve been called much worse.

I first caught a glimpse of the PlayStation in 1995, at my friend Wellang’s house. I can remember thinking “Man what a game changer!” Not only did it use a CD instead of a cartridge, you could save your game on detachable memory cards, the controllers were loaded with buttons and you could even play your music CDs through the  gaming console! It was an amazing little system and I have been a big fan ever since.

Back in the day, it seemed like PlayStation had all the games that I wanted to play. For the PSX, they had games like Final Fantasy 7, King’s Field, Xenogears, Lunar, Colony Wars, Wild Arms, Mega Man X4, Tomb Raider, Resident Evil 2 and Gran Turismo. When the PS2 came out, it was a similar story. Games like King’s Field: The Ancient City, Devil May Cry, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, Resident Evil 4, Gran Turismo 3 & 4 and God of War were so much fun. Even the PS3 has its fair share of great games: Call of Duty World at War, Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, Red Dead Redemption, Skyrim, Bioshock, Boarderlands and Grand Turismo 5.

PlayStation consoles were everywhere in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Lots of gamers ended up owning all three systems, including me. There was a huge amount of Sony brand loyalty. It just goes to show you, the PlayStation has treated us pretty well.

Now many PS fans will admit, Sony lost a substantial chunk of the gamer population with their less than favorable launch for the PS3. However, I think the PS4 will re-claim a lot of their former glory. I’m very excited and can hardly wait to see what PlayStation 4 brings us. That being said, I wanted to take another stroll down memory lane and look back at my top 5 favorite games on the PlayStation 1 (PSX). Hope you enjoy.

#5: Command and Conquer

Now before you start, I know that Command and Conquer (also known as C&C) was NOT originally a PlayStation 1 game. I know, I know……. it was a PC game that was just ported to the PSX. And yes, I know that it was less than a perfect port. Sure it had clumsy controls, lacked the ability to save in the middle of missions, was missing a few musical tracks, had lower resolution graphics and did not have any form of multiplayer… I understand all of that. BUT never-the-less, C&C was one of the main reason’s why I first purchased a PlayStation 1. Let me explain…

Back in the early 90s, I had been watching my friend Arkalius, play through C&C on his PC and I had absolutely loved the entire concept of the game. Being able to control vast armies of troops, vehicles, tanks and aircraft, all while designing a base, building up an army and crushing my enemies, seemed like good times to me! We would sit there in front of his computer for hours, Arkalius playing and me watching. I would vicariously play out the missions, plan attacks, offer suggestions and share in the experience as much as I could. Most of which fell on deaf ears.

Unfortunately, my friend was not the most sharing of individuals and I seldom got a chance to put my well-planned strategies to the test. So, when I heard that C&C was due out on the PlayStation, I thought “AT LAST! Now I can play my OWN copy of the game!” My only other option was to buy a PC, but that was WAY more of an expense then simply picking up a PSX plus the game.

I spent hours upon hours playing C&C, going over each and every level, building epic bases, designing different layouts for defense and planning detailed and sometimes overly complex battle plans. Sometimes I’d win, other times I’d loose, but it was always a blast.

My favorite level in C&C was one of the last stages on the GDI disc and I played it over and over, to the point of exhaustion. It was soooo much fun! I still remember the password for that level too: GTJ2PV460. Usually, I would setup a series of fortified walls, Advanced Guard Towers and Machine Gun Towers that would chop the enemy to pieces. I would also capture the main tiberium field and keep NOD’s harvesters blocked. No tiberium = no money. I also loved using coordinated attacks to push through the enemy’s forward base, distract their obelisk towers and use an APC filled with engineers to capture their 2nd construction yard. It was in the far southwest of the map, right across a small river so it was easy to defend and nicely out of the way. That would open up the ability to build NOD weapons and add their tanks, troops and gun turrets to the mix.

Today, even thought I have the classic C&C for my PC, I still love to play the old PSX version. There are so many awesome memories wrapped up with that game and such a huge amount of nostalgia, I can’t help but love it. Plus, it sure made a huge impact on me, opening up the flood gates on a ton of other RTS games.

#4: Tomb Raider

When it comes to puzzle solving, adventure games, it doesn’t get much better than Tomb Raider. This game blew my mind when I first saw it. The graphics, the music, the freedom of movement, it was all spectacular.

Not only could you walk, run and jump, but Lara could perform a host of other varied and complex interactions within her environment. Lara could side-step, dodge, perform a handstand, climb across ledges, hang off cliffs, roll, dive, and even swim. It was the most realistic movement any of us had yet to see, in a video game.

You searched for clues, solved puzzles, discovered treasure and uncovered lost civilizations. You faced off with wild beasts, poachers, and even a few fellow treasure hunters. You spent a good deal of time escaping death from a multitude of disastrous traps and environmental elements. It was a fight for Lara’s very survival and you felt extremely connected to it all.

Of course,  Lara was far from defenseless. She could really handle herself in combat, usually carrying her two trusty pistols, but also using shotguns, magnums and even dual wielding Uzis. It was all great fun and really stands out in my mind as one of the most well known games of the 90s.

One element that I remember most in Tomb Raider was the puzzle solving.  My friend Wellang and I would always work together on the trickiest puzzles, coming up with ideas, trying things out and making suggestions. We both felt connected to the whole experience. It was as if our very survival depended entirely on our wits. Sometimes we succeeded, sometimes we failed, but each time it was a blast.

I also remember the deaths in Tomb Raider being pretty gruesome for its time: plummeting to my death, burning alive, drowning, being electrocuted, becoming impaled on spikes, getting killed by human enemies, and even being eaten alive by wild creatures. To this day, I can still remember the last boss picking me up like a rag doll and slamming me into the ground, over and over again until I was dead. What a horrifying moment.

Despite the graphics not aging very well, this game is still a lot of fun to play. I recommend that anyone who has not played it, to give it a try. Even to this day, I would still this one pick and relive a few wonderfully brutal, Tomb Raider moments.

#3: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (SoTN)

When Castlevania fans talk about their favorite Castlevania games, a large majority of them will rank Symphony of the Night as one of the best in the franchise. They would be correct in doing so. Everything about the game just clicked together so well, that many fans and gaming publications still rank it as one of the best games on the PlayStation 1. I still own the original Symphony of the Night and it is definitely one of my favorite Castlevania games of all time.

SOtN was actually a direct sequel to a Japanese only title called Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, for the PC-Engine.  To us North American fans, who had no prior knowledge of this fact, Symphony of the Night seemed like an entirely new type of Castlevania adventure, with maybe a slight connection to Dracula X on the SNES.

SOtN was quite a departure from the older NES and SNES Castlevania games. Sure, it was still a very action oriented, side-scrolling game, but many of the similarities stopped there. First off, it no longer starred a Blemont, you now played as Alucard, the half-human-half-vampire son of the infamous Count Dracula.  Because of his lineage, Alucard was extremely powerful and very skilled. He could equip a ton of different main weapons, sub-weapons, armors, capes and accessories. He could use a wide variety of items, cast magic, use familiars and even transform into a wolf, a bat or a cloud of mist. Compared to the members of the Belmont Clan, Alucard was vastly out of their league. You felt unstoppable.

Also, SOtN was not your typical level based linear game, either. It was geared more towards an open world environment, with elements of exploration and discovery. It still took place in Dracula’s castle, but instead of your standard 8 or 9 levels, the game gave you the entire castle to explore.  This allowed the player to move from area to area seamlessly and to explore each and every dark recess of the Castle.

Each area was connected by a short, creepy, transitional hallway, completely devoid of any background music, that served both as a loading screen and safe haven from the Gothic horrors that surrounded you. A bit of respite in a brutally savage game.

SOtN was a great game, but it was so much more than that. Not only did it utilize the classic, action oriented, side scrolling style of game play, but it introduced a number of RPG elements and game mechanics that I had never seen before in a Castlevania game. It kept it’s dark Gothic atmosphere and included a ton of visual enhancements, control improvements and a killer soundtrack that was nothing short of epic. It also spawned an entire line of hand-held  SOtN style games and has even been included in the PSP release of Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles. It has spawned a legacy all of its own and I count it as one of the all time greats.

#2: The King’s Field Series

Any one who knows me, knows that I am a big fan of FROM Software.  In fact, I have been a fan for some time now. More recent gamers might know FROM Software from their recent work on the Soul’s games: Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, but they have been around since November 1986 and have developed their fair share of awesome games. I could bot choose between the two games, released here in the U.S., so I’ve grouped them together.

In the mid 1990’s and early 2000’s, they released an obscure, first person, action RPG series called King’s Field and it quickly became one of my favorite RPG series of all time. Why did I like it so much? Well, for me it was a combination of the game’s atmosphere, level design, music, story line, characters, and fully immersive, 360 degree environments. It was revolutionary for its time, and it had everything that I enjoyed in video games: swords, sorcery, knights, monsters and an engaging fantasy mythos. The entire series was awesome!

It was my friend Wellang, who first introduced me to King’s Field by renting King’s Field 2 and giving me the opportunity to spend a few hours behind the controls. Right from the start, King’s Field 2 was NOT an easy game. It didn’t have very a intuitive control scheme, your attack speed was painfully slow, enemy attacks were brutally devastating, the environments were unpredictable and you were given very little instruction or direction. The first time playing King’s Field 2, I was promptly killed only 2 mins into the game. In fact, it took me about an hour of playtime before I had even a BASIC grasp on the controls. Even then, in the heat of battle I would often hit the wrong button. It was a rough introduction, but oh so much fun. It was so much fun in fact, I went out a few weeks later and picked up the first game in the series, simply called King’s Field.

Unlike most other mid 90’s RPG’s both, King’s Field 1 & 2 took place entirely in a 3 dimensional, fully-explorable world. It was also in real-time and you controlled every aspect of your character’s actions. You could look up, down, left and right, you could circle strafe, you could aim in all directions, you could attack with swords, magic or ranged attacks…. I fell in love with both games. King’s Field also gave me a reason to buy a PlayStation 2, since King’s Field: The Ancient City was only available on PS2.

FROM Software created such an interesting world, with a great story line, mysterious characters and an engaging battle system. I couldn’t help but be wrapped up in their epic journey. Wondering and fighting through an unfamiliar landscape, surrounded by powerful enemies, all while discovering a rich collection of lore, really made me feel like I was an intricate part of that world’s fate.  It was an awesome experience and a great adventure. If you haven’t played either of them by now, I recommend you go out and give them a try. If nothing else, at least watch one of the rare Long Plays over on YouTube. I guarantee, it is well worth it.

#1: Final Fantasy Tactics

What?! Final Fantasy Tactics? Where is Final Fantasy 7?!!! Now, calm down, let me explain.

For any die-hard Final Fantasy fan, the 90s were probably some of the best years for that franchise. Final Fantasy 3/6, Final Fantasy 7 and even Final Fantasy 8 were all solid games with great music, wonderful characters and awesome story lines. I know for a fact that many of us spent hours upon hours of our time, exploring their respective worlds, leveling up and falling in love with each game.  Everyone I knew  was hooked the moment they put those games in their systems.

In the 90s, one of the most popular games to take over my small group of gaming friends was Final Fantasy 7 and everyone I knew was completely obsessed with that game. Why not, right? It was a fantastic game. Not only is it known as one of the best RPGs of all time, it STILL has a gigantic, very dedicated fan base. This is very impressive considering it has been some 16 years since it’s release date.

Now, even though Final Fantasy 7 WAS a great game, it never held my full attention. By the time I got a hold of the game, I had already witnessed all of the most pivotal moments. I had seen Aeris’ death multiple times, I had witnessed the destruction of the Emerald Weapon and Ruby Weapon, even spent hours farming and racing chocobos. My friends had all beaten the game countless times and I had seen that ending more times then I had ever wanted to. There was just no surprises left in the game for me and I didn’t feel any great urge to play it further. Since my friend Wellang had first purchased it, FF7 had been passed around my entire group of friends and I had been with each of them, through most of their individual runs. I was simply burned out.

Besides, I wanted a game that was new, fresh and all mine. A game that hadn’t been played by all of my friends. A game that required skillful planning and surgical execution. Something similar to Command and Conquer. For me, Final Fantasy Tactics was that game.

FFT was not your typical Final Fantasy game. It was a turn-based, tactical RPG with a strong emphasis on character creation and proper utilization of very specific, strategic elements. Concepts such as elevation, line of sight, terrain and weather all played key rolls in your victories and in your defeats.

FFT utilized a system of fully customizable characters, specializing in various jobs and class skills. It was like nothing that I, nor any of my friends had ever seen before. Each and every character could become any one of twenty distinct character classes. This allowed players to customize their party with a host of character classes such as: Summoner, Wizard, Priest, Monk, Lancer, Thief, Samurai, Ninja, Mime, Bard, Dancer, Squire, Chemist, Orator, Archer, Calculator, Knight, Geomancer, Time Mage and a Mediator.

Also, each character was given a zodiac sign and each sign had a certain level of affinity with other zodiac symbols. It was a complicated relationship that could moderately alter certain battle actions like the amount of damage you inflicted on certain opposing signs, the amount of HP you could restore with healing spells, casting battle magic, hitting with a critical strike and a host of other in-game elements. In reality, I rarely took into account my character’s zodiac signs in my battle strategies, but I was aware of their existence and they did come in handy from time to time.

Instead of a fully open world, like the one found in FF7, FFT used a static map of towns, cities, forts and battle points all connected by predefined travel paths. Journeying from one of these points to another point, equaled one day of travel. After a while, weeks, months even years of in-game time would just slip by.

Random battles, story battles and even cut scenes would all occur on certain, pre-set locations. After you had activated a random encounter, set your 5 person team and set your battle formation, you would be placed on a 3D, isometric, rotatable playing field. Then, based on your character’s speed rating, and the speed rating of your enemies, you would all go in turn until you were either defeated or victorious.

The storyline in FFT was a thing of beauty, but far too massive to retell here.  The basic idea is that you control a young noble named Ramza as he grows and matures in a world filled with political intrigue, internal power struggles, murder, love, hate and disillusionment and a host of various trials and tribulations. The game made quite an impression on me and I loved every moment of it.

FFT was a wonderful game that combined my love of strategy games with the vibrant and powerful world of Final Fantasy. I became a master at this game, learning how to make the best use of terrain, status effects, character speed, elevation, magic, summons,  and a host of other powerful job skills. It was the first Final Fantasy game that I ever beat entirely by myself and it was my very first game where I broke over 250 hours of game play! (Even though the counter on the save slots stopped at 99hrs’ 99mins’ 99secs’, the in-game counter told a different story.) I rank Final Fantasy Tactics as one of the best Final Fantasy RPGs out there. It is also my favorite PSX game of all time. Final Fantasy 7 is good, but for me, Final Fantasy Tactics is superior. It just doesn’t get much better then this one.

Final Thoughts:

During the late 90s, I had the privilege of hanging out with some of the best gamers that I have ever known. They were dedicated, proficient and amazingly talented. From PCs to consoles, I used to aspire to game more like they did, but I never quite made it.

One of their favorite gaming consoles was the awesome PlayStation 1 and we all put a huge number of hours behind that little grey box. It had such a great lineup of games, it was difficult to come up with just 5 of my favorite titles. Those days were some of the best days of my early gaming life and it is so much fun to remember the “Good ‘Ol Days”. This is just a short list of games, but for me, these are some of the most significant titles I have ever played. I am hoping that the PS4 will continue to provide such wonderful content, but only time will tell.

Thanks for reading,

We’ll see ya soon…

GentleBen’s Favorite Games of All Time (SNES)

Super Nintendo

When the Super Nintendo came out in 1991, Nintendo fans were ecstatic. Everyone I knew went out as soon as they could and picked one up. Of course, monetarily speaking a SNES was WAY out of reach for me, but boy did I want one.

Towards the end of the Summer of ’93, I was finally able to buy the very basic SNES set. I had saved every cent I could: birthday money, Christmas money, allowance money…every dime I could get my hands on. It might have just been the bare-bones control set, with one controller and no games, but I finally had a Super Nintendo to call my very own! I remember I was SO excited to join in all the fun (even if I WAS a bit late to the party).

Picking out just 5 of my top favorite SNES games is not an easy task. I have played so many awesome titles that narrowing them down seems a bit like blasphemy. Never the less, I’ll give it a shot. So here are my personal, top 5 SNES games.

#5: Super Mario World

I don’t know about you guys, but Saturdays in the early 90s were always spent over at a friend’s house, playing outside, swimming, riding bikes, hanging out, being lazy and of course… gaming. We would take turns playing action games, co-op games, side-scroller games, arcade games, shooting games… you name it, we played it. It was a GREAT time to be a kid.

I had one friend in particular (we’ll call him SAZ), that always had the newest games, latest accessories and coolest toys.  He would usually, invite me over Saturday afternoons and we would hangout, rent a few games and together eat a large pepperoni pizza and polish off a 2 liter bottle of Pepsi. In all honestly, most of our attention focused around gaming and it was a pretty awesome way to spend a weekend.

One Saturday, in 1992, he introduced me to his brand-new Super Nintendo. That was a real eye-opener. The only game he had was Super Mario World, but that game alone blew my mind. The sounds, the graphics, the game play…it was all a feast for the senses.  Once Mario World entered into the picture, Saturdays became all about exploring that wonderful game, beating stages and discovering secrets. It was a blast! We never got tired of it, even after we had beaten Bowser, completed all of the Star Road and the Special Stages and even started over a few times. There was something awesome about Mario World that really held our attention.

As far as Mario games are concerned, this is one of the all-time greats. It took everything that I liked about Super Mario 3 and made it bigger and better. It was the type of game that fostered a feeling of lighthearted fun and kick-ass adventure, without being overly childish or simplistic. It added new characters like Yoshi, Wigglers, Monty Moles, Swoopers, and Magikoopas. It added a save feature, different types of attacks and a few new power-ups. It added locations like the Star World, the Special Stages and even the infamous Ghost Houses. For many old school Mario fans, it was the quintessential, 2D Mario game.

For a lot of SNES owners, Super Mario World was their FIRST SNES game (it often came with the console), but for me, it was one of the LAST games I ever collected for my system. It wasn’t until 1995, that I finally got my hands on a copy. It became one of my most cherished titles and I loved every moment playing it. Most of the Mario titles released AFTER Super Mario World never really held my attention in quite the same way. It wasn’t until the Wii U’s New Super Mario Bros. game that I felt anything close to that old Mario love. But for me, Super Mario World was THE best Mario game and it really helped to shape all of my future gaming experiences. Long live Super Mario!

#4: Pilotwings

I have loved airplanes since I was a kid. There’s something about them that just speaks to me. When I was growing up, I was a bit obsessed with flight. I built airplane models, l studied books about all different types of aircraft and tried to play as many flight games as I could. So as you can imagine, the game Pilotwings for the SNES, was right up my alley.

The game’s premise was simple, pick a stage, gain points by passing tests and advance to the next level. Each stage was organized with certain events like flying and landing a bi-plane, skydiving through rings, piloting a jet pack and even hang gliding. You were awarded points depending on how you performed. If you did well, you advanced to the next stage. If you crashed or ran out of time you’d have to redo that stage. It was a lot of fun and extremely addictive.

This was another one of those titles that I always played at my friend SAZ’s house. We would spend hours trying to beat every event and earn all of the licenses. I especially loved the jet pack events and I got quite good at them.

As the years passed, SAZ and I eventually turned our attention to other things, besides gaming (namely girls and music), and we lost a lot of dedicated gaming time. Pilotwings was one of those unintentional casualties. For some strange reason, I’ve never sought out a copy to call my own, even though I loved that game dearly. It would have been nice to own a copy when the SNES was still relevant, but I might still have to go out and pick one up. It would be a lot of fun to relive some of the old Pilotwings greatness.

Looking back, for an early simulator game, Pilotwings was sheer magic. It’s presentation, control, music and visuals were all stunning. It was a treat to play and loads of fun. Any fan of classic gaming or retro games should really give this one a try. Plus it’s always nice to see some of the old Mode 7 graphics.

#3: Final Fantasy 3(6)

Back in the early 90s, I was a big fan of any game considered a side-scroller. They felt like the perfect combination of adventure, action, simplicity and control. Games like Castlevaina, Super Mario Brothers and Mega Man made up the majority of my regular gaming fare. Honestly, they were all I knew. I really hadn’t had ANY prolonged experiences with any other types of games. It wasn’t until Final Fantasy 3 (Final Fantasy 6 in Japan) that my eyes were finally opened to a whole new world of gaming possibilities. It really was my gateway RPG and I’ve been hooked ever since.

I first played FF3 back in 1994. A very good friend of mine offered to let me borrow it, complete with strategy guide, copious notes and a detailed two hour explanation of the game mechanics and story.  He painted such an amazing mental picture of the game that I felt compelled to try it out. Of course, there was a bit of a learning curve involved with that game, since it was nothing like a side-scroller. It didn’t have an attack button, a jump button, set levels or a real time battle system. You wondered the landscape, explored and had random encounters with unseen foes. You could cast magic, summon creatures, use special skills, gain experience and level up. It was all very strange and very foreign to me. I didn’t fully understood how I was supposed to play the game, but after awhile I got the hang of it.

The music, the graphics, the story, the characters…everything about FF3 was amazing. It opened the floodgates for a ton of other RPG titles. Games like Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana,  Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy Tactics, Disgaea, Crono Cross, King’s Field… the list can go on and on. After FF3, I was definitely a fan of the RPG.

Sadly, I was never able to finish the game with my own set of characters. When I did finally make it to the last fortress, I realized that my guys were NOT ready for the onslaught that awaited me in Kefka’s Tower. It was going to take a few more hours just to level up to the appropriate strength and I became really discouraged. Plus, I had kept the game for WAY too long and my friend was getting a little perturbed about that.

Luckily, after I returned the game, he took time and showed me the ending, playing it with HIS saved game and characters. I didn’t like having to do that, but what a great story for a video game. Years later, I ended up buying the Final Fantasy Anthology for PlayStation 1 and I gave it another shot, but by that time other games were taking up my attention and I couldn’t regain the same momentum that I once had had. Nevertheless, Final Fantasy 3 was one of my favorite RPGs on the SNES and it opened my eyes to a world of new games. Truly, it is one of the all time greats.

#2: Actraiser

When I look back across video games from the early 90s, two games usually stand out in my mind as the epitome of classic console gaming. They are so intertwined with my childhood, that I can’t envision my adolescence without them. One of those games is Actraiser.

I first came across Actraiser in 1992, about a year after it’s North American release.  It was a unique title that blended elements of a side-scroller, action/adventure game AND a top-down, simulation, city building game. I have never seen anything like it since. Even its sequel didn’t follow the same format and many fans were outraged by this. Actraiser changed my entire preconception of what a video game could be. It was awesome.

Back in ’92, my friend and I rented this game on a mere whim. Neither of us had any idea what it was like or if it was any good. However, from the very beginning, we were amazed at just how much fun and empowering this game really was. Everything about it seemed epic. It combined awesome music, beautiful graphics and a novel and challenging approach to game play. What more could you want?

First off, you play as a character called The Master, an obvious reference to God. Your followers pray to you and give you offerings in exchange for protection and guidance. They build where you tell them to build, they grow what you tell them to grow and explore where you tell them to explore. You have complete control over their entire world.

However, with great power comes great responsibility, and the Master must fight to protect his followers. You take on a corporeal body and risk it all, wielding sword and magic and fighting your way through evil monsters, demons and powerful mythical beasts. You visit lush forests, desolate deserts, jungle ruins, icy tundras and even a fiery volcano. The entire world’s survival depends on you. Now, doesn’t that sound awesome!?

Actraiser’s musical score was one of the best of it’s generation and you will often see it listed right next to other stellar game soundtracks like Final Fantasy 3/6, Secret of Mana and even Chrono Trigger. Trekking through each level and listening to that soundtrack was a real treat. Along the way, you fought evil knights, ogres, goblins, beasts, snakes, minotaurs, cloaked wizards and even dragons. You created thriving environments and brought peace to each land you visited. By the very end of the game, you felt like you had been on an epic journey and I loved it.

Sure, the sim element was very simplistic, but it WAS the early 90s and I think that the game did a wonderful job of letting the player feel like they had direct control over their city’s development.  You helped to shape the land by using your godly powers to clear forests, destroy rocks, water fields, dry up marshes and even melt snow. Then you would direct your followers where to build and they would do the rest. As simple as it was, that mode really became one of my favorite parts of that game.

Actraiser was fantastic. It had everything an adolescent boy would want in a video game: magic, swords, knights, armor, monsters, action, adventure, great music and beautiful graphics. It also had a very user-friendly control scheme, making the game a pleasure to learn.  So why is this not my #1 pick? Well, the only thing keeping it out of the top place is that (until recently) I never owned a copy of the game. In fact none of my friends or family did. While growing up, I only played this game two or three times. Despite all of that, I still developed a deep emotional attachment to Actraiser. To love a game so much, after only a few moments behind the controller really shows just how engrossing and well done this game really was. I did finally purchase a used copy of Actraiser back in 2012 and I have now spent many hours playing through it. I can honestly say that this game still holds up as an awesome experience. It immediately takes me back to those carefree days of my childhood. Everything from the music to the controls feels great. If you haven’t played it, go give it a try. You won’t be sorry.

#1: Super Castlevania IV

Like I said before, when I look back across video games from the early 90s, two games usually stand out in my mind as the epitome of classic console gaming. One of those games I’ve already mentioned, Actraiser the other is Super Castlevania IV. I’m not even sure how to begin with this one. This game means so much to me, that it is difficult to fully explain my attachment to it. It really holds a special place in my heart and on my gaming shelf.

Not only was it was the VERY first 16-bit game that I ever owned, it was also the main reason why I wanted a SNES. I spent more hours playing and replaying this game, then any other Castlevania game to date. Everything about SC4 was awesome: the music, the level design, the bosses, the control, the graphics… it was all spectacular. I became so good at Castlevania 4, that I could beat the entire game without taking a single hit of damage or dying at all. I absolutely loved it.

I have so many wonderful memories wrapped up with SC4: beating all the bosses for the first time, spending hours exploring each level, looking for secret areas, making homemade code-books for each level and each new game+ level, even recording some of the music to listen to while I rode my bike. Embarrassingly enough, I EVEN suggested playing Super Castlevania 4 to my High School girlfriend, on one of our “dates” (facepalm). I was a tad bit obsessed.

I first played Super Castlevania 4 back in early 1992, actually the same day that I first played Actraiser. My friend and I ended up renting both of these games and we quickly realized that we had found something special. It wasn’t like Castlevania was unheard of, we had grown up on the series. I even owned a copy of the original game for the NES, but the 16-bit title was very new to us. Once we played it, we were both hooked. I developed a sort of intangible attachment to the game, even though I only played it once and none of my friends owned a copy. I knew that I had to own Super Castlevania IV and I made a conscious decision to save all the money I could and one day buy both a SNES and the game. That day came in 1993 and I can still remember my friend and I riding our bikes down to the local game store and being so excited to pick up a copy. That was one of the greatest feelings of my early gaming life.

The game itself was actually a remake of the original NES Castlevania, but vastly improved. The game’s control was spot on, really giving you a feeling of complete control over Simon Belmont. You still had your whip and 5 basic sub-weapons, but now Simon was able to attack in all 8 directions, control his jump in mid-air, crouch while walking, swing from his whip and even jump up onto stairs.

In terms of weapons, your whip was more powerful, had a longer reach and could even be used as a shield. Some players felt that this took away from the need to use sub-weapons, but I found that I utilized them far more in SC4 than in any of the original games.

The music was a big reason why I loved this game so much. Every track was awesome and really pulled you into the different levels. I STILL listen to the soundtrack and I love it!

The look of the game was amazing for it’s time, but as the SNES evolved and the system’s graphics kept improving, SC4 started to look a bit dated. However, at it’s release the graphics were awesome. The dark and muted color palette fit perfectly with the ominous feel of the game, the backgrounds were rich with hidden details and animations and the level designs were truly some of the best of the early side-scroller Castlevania games. My only complaint was that Simon’s outfit seemed rather skimpy for fighting demons’ vampires and monsters. I much prefered the look of Richter from Dracula X / Rondo of Blood. Otherwise SC4 was a perfect game for me.

Even though I’m not as good as I used to be, Super Castlevania IV is still a joy to play. It is so intertwined with my childhood that I can’t picture the early 90’s with out it. Just hearing the introduction music and playing the first few levels takes me back to those carefree days of 16-bit awesomeness. Today, many Castlevania fans list Castlevania: Symphony of the Night as the best of the side-scrolling Castlevania games. While it’s true that Symphony of the Night was a great game, it went for a different approach to game play, world design and character interaction. It changed many of the more traditional Castlevania elements that I grew up on. For me, Super Castlevania IV will always be the best, traditional, nostalgic Castlevania out there and I cherish every memory that I have from playing this game. If you haven’t tried this one, I highly recommend that you do. I doubt you will be disappointed. If you are interested check out my YouTube channel for some classic gaming fun and some additional thoughts on Castlevania 4 and the other early 16-bit entries.

Final Thoughts:

Of all the systems I’ve ever owned, the SNES is my all-time favorite console. I have so many happy memories associated with that system, how could I NOT like it? I experienced some of the best hours of my early gaming life on my SNES and I owe it a debt of gratitude. The Super Nintendo was a huge part of my childhood and even though this list was very difficult, I hope you have enjoyed this look back at my top 5 favorite SNES titles. I know there are a ton of games that aren’t on this list and I am sorry about that. Rest assured, this was not easy. I would like to mention that all 5 of these games were so close to one another in the running, it was almost impossible to rank them. One or these days, I think that I might have to do an expanded list and include some of my other favorites like Zelda: A Link to the Past, Alien 3, Star Fox, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Castlevania: Dracula X, Mega Man X, Mario All-Stars, etc. ect…  It would have to be quite a list.

Next up, I think I’ll work on my top 5 favorite games on the PlayStation One. I’m not sure if that will be any easier, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Thanks,

We’ll see ya then.

Ben’s Favorite Game Tracks: Sega Genesis

After taking a look back at my top 5 favorite games on the Genesis, I thought it might be fun to take a listen to some of their old music. Now, the Genesis was never known for its stellar sound processing, but there were some awesome composers and programers, who could make excellent use of its mediocre sound chip. It might not have had quite the same depth of sound as the SNES did, but the Genesis had some rocking tunes. What follows is a look back at my favorite themes and BGMs form my Genesis game collection. I hope you enjoy this bit of nostalgia! Also, head over to my YouTube channel to listen to the list. I’m sure you’ll like what you hear.

#10: Saint Sword: Level One BGM

This may not be one of the most well known games on the Genesis, but I had a lot of fun watching my friend play this one. For me, the first level music has always stood out in my mind as a great example of a track that gets you pumped. It’s driving beat has that ability to make you nod your head and tap your foot, plus it fits well with the sword slashing premise of the game. It’s a great track.

#9: Blades of Vengeance: Ravaged City & Title Theme

Like the previous entry, this track also does a GREAT job of getting you pumped for a fight. Growing up, I would listen to this theme and imagine charging across a field of battle, battling monsters and evil creatures, with swords and magic. Blades of Vengeance was basically that exact scenario and I couldn’t get enough of it. In my opinion, it is one of the best adventuring themes out there.

#8: Chakan The Forever Man: Elkenrod’s Domain

The Genesis sound chip didn’t do Sega’s games any favors. Most of the time, the music and sound effects sounded horrible, or sub par at best. They were course, harsh and sometimes lacked musical depth of sound. At times the sound effects and music were indistinguishable from one another, turning the audio into a garbled mess. However, in some cases those shortcomings created something utterly terrifying. Luckily for Chakan the Forever Man, that notorious sound processor added a certain level of awesomeness to that game. The music sounded dark, gloomy and downright evil. On this one particular stage, the synthesized, very metallic sounding rifts combined with the eery tribal drums created a very special concoction. This track captured the gloom, haze, darkness and perpetual doom of Elkenrod’s domain, making it one of my favorite levels in the entire game. That music took Chakan to a whole different place. If it weren’t for the soundtrack, I might have disregarded the game entirely.

#7: Streets of Rage: Level 1 BGM

When I hear this track I can’t help but move with the music. Its just so much fun!  The track is a beautiful combination of a driving back-beat with an upbeat dance vibe. It was the perfect combination of a 80’s buddy cop flick and an awesome bar fight in a rambunctious 90’s disco. So very awesome! It fit the game beautifully.

#6: Shinobi III: Round 2 – Secret Entry

Boy Shinobi III had some killer music! Hand’s down, this level was one of my favorites. Galloping across an open field, ninja kicking your enemies, jumping wooden fences and tossing ninja-stars like a pro. So cool! This track had an underlying, driving energy that complemented the stage in a great way. It combined tension, drama, excitement, harmony and triumph all in one loop of music. I often wonder, who else used to charge forward on the horse, when the music reached its most exciting moment. I can’t be the only one.

#5: Vectorman: Ocean Stage – Riptide

I don’t have much to say about this one. It’s just a great track, with a good beat. The song seems smooth and flowing, like waves on the ocean. It fits perfectly with its level. It should also be  very nostalgic for anyone who grew up in the late 80s and early 90s, having that typical dance club beat with those electronic synthesizer sounds and melodies. I can’t help but think of groups like SNAP,  Black Box, C&C Music Factory and other prominent groups of that time. I think it’s the perfect type of BGM track, not to over powering, but still able to pump you up for the game.

#4: Sonic the Hedgehog 2: Chemical Plant Zone

Sonic is another series that was well known for having awesome music. Almost every track in that series got your foot tapping. In my opinion the music for Sonic 2 was some of the best in the entire series. It also had more attitude and in-your-face presence than the previous game, possibly trying to capitalize on that 90s “Take It To The EXTREME” mentality. Regardless, the Chemical Plant Zone was one of the fastest and coolest levels in that game and I think that the music matched it perfectly.

#3: Sonic the Hedgehog: Starlight Zone

Of all the Sonic games I’ve played, my absolute favorite theme and track is the Starlight Zone, from Sonic 1. Its not overly forceful, it doesn’t get all  “IN YOUR FACE”, its calming, peaceful and unassuming. It just lets you groove while making your way across the towers and loops of the level. Listen very carefully and you can hear a real sweet bass line that is guaranteed to get your head bopping every time. It’s a wonderful track and a great level.

#2: Castlevaina Bloodlines: Atlantis Shrine

If I had just one series that I could call my absolute favorite, it would have to be the Castlevaina series. From the NES, to today’s next gen consoles, the whole collection is legendary! Back in 1994 when Bloodlines first came out, I will admit I was kind of a Castlevaina snob. Even though I had a Genesis and was excited to play this title, I was a firm believer that the only good Castlevaina games were on Nintendo. I had played Super Castlevaina IV on SNES and absolutely fell in love with that game. Every other Castlevaina game paled in comparison. It wasn’t until I actually played Bloodlines that I realized Sega had a great entry into the series. The music in the Atlantis Shrine stage sealed the deal. It encompassed everything that made that series great: a feeling of adventure, of slaying monsters, fighting evil and making your way through a ruined and crumbling world.  I would list it as one of the all-time great BGMs of the series.

#1: Shinobi III: Round 4 – Destruction

To end this list, we return to Shinobi III and the 4th stage track called Whirlwind. This BGM combined the freedom of jetting across the open ocean with a feeling of anticipation and a sense of eminent danger. The first time I played this level, I was so nervous. I had no idea what lay ahead. The visuals were mesmerizing and the music was so epic, I was instantly enthralled. Fighting ninjas and robots while surfing on a jet powered surfboard…what is NOT awesome about that? It was the perfect song for such an intense and captivating level. For me, it was pure, virtual adrenaline. It well deserves that #1 spot on my list and will forever be my favorite tune on the Genesis.

GentleBen94

GentleBen’s Favorite Games of All Time (Genesis)

Sega Genesis

“Genesis does what Nintendont!”

Anyone else BESIDES me remember that slogan? Maybe this will refresh your memory…

Ahhh the power of advertising. As a kid, watching Saturday morning cartoons, we were bombarded by commercials like this, telling us what we needed to buy, drink, eat, play and watch. Since gaming was becoming a BIG part of my free time, I fell for that Genesis slogan hook, line and sinker.   It convinced me that Genesis was THE console… If I could get one, I’d be set for the rest of my gaming life. I had to own a Genesis.

I began asking my parents for a Sega Genesis almost every day. Bargaining, pleading, rationalizing, anything I could think of. “Can I get a Genesis? Pleeeaaasssseeee!? I‘ll mow the lawn every week! I’ll take out the trash AND clean my room.I must have driven them insane. But, they finally came through and Christmas 1991 saw the arrival of my new, sleek, black, 16-bit monster…the Sega Genesis. So, I thought it would be fun to look back at my top 5, all time favorite games on the Genesis. So here we go:

#5: Blades of Vengeance

Back in the day, renting a particular game was always hit-or-miss. These places usually had one, maybe two copies of all their games and if you didn’t get there fast enough, you missed out. Then what would you do? You didn’t want to leave empty handed, so you would try and find something else. Blades of Vengeance was one of those lucky picks for me.

I had gone to the local video store to rent Sonic 3, but they were all out. So, I started just scanning the shelves, figuring something would catch my eye. At the beginning of the first row of games, I saw a box cover with a scantly clad women brandishing a curved sword, flanked by a musclebound barbarian and a Gandalf-like wizard. I was intrigued, so I rented it for the weekend. I was NOT disappointed. 

Blades of Vengeance was a fantasy, side scrolling, action-adventure game that pitted you against some pretty nasty levels and difficult enemies. You were able to choose from 3 different classes, a Huntress, a Barbarian and a Wizard. Each had their own strengths, weaknesses and playing style. You could either play co-op with a friend or tackle it by yourself, but no matter what…you were in for a fun ride. Along the journey you picked up potions, items and silver, which you could use to upgrade your character, buy suits of armor or increase your extra lives. I had such a blast with that game that I rented it 4 consecutive weeks in a row and about 2 months later, I went out and picked up  a copy. I still pop this one in from time to time. Its a little lacking in story, but its a lot of fun to play. I highly recommend it to any Genesis fan.

#4: Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master

I had been a big fan of Shinobi since1992, when I witnessed a friend of mine playing The Revenge of Shinobi on his Genesis. I absolutely loved what I saw. Flipping in the air, tossing shurikens, using magic, all to a killer soundtrack… it was very much my type of game.  At the time I had a trial subscription to a magazine that previewed Genesis games and equipment. While flipping through one of them, I came across pictures of Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master. It looked as equally awesome as its predecessor The Revenge of Shinobi. I decided on the next trip to the video store, I’d rent it and see if it was any good. That’s were this story takes an embarrassing turn.

It was a Saturday afternoon in mid Spring and I was in the Genesis section of my local video store. I had found a copy of Shinobi III, but I was taking my sweet time looking at all the games. While perusing the shelves, I happened to notice a fellow classmate of mine standing a few rows away. It was a girl by the name of Marin and I had a HUGE crush on her. Unfortunately, I never had anything to talk to her about so I usually avoided her. I couldn’t help but wonder, why was she lingering in the video game section? She had never appeared to be the gaming type so I was confused.

I got up enough courage to carefully stroll over to her aisle. My heart was pounding out of my chest. I noticed that she was holding a game in her hands and looking through some of the titles on the shelves. This was a very good sign. Maybe she liked games too?! If so, I might have finally found something to talk to her about. At that point, she noticed me and I had no choice but to make my move.

I started off with the usual pleasantries, asked how her weekend was going, if she had done anything fun. She was friendly and responded accordingly. After a bit of a pause and not wanting to loose my nerve, I started talking about games. I don’t remember my exact words, but I know it was full on gamer. I was talking high scores, best boss fights, favorite tactics and strategies, Sonic 1, Saint Sword, Mario 3… anything I could think of that might impress a fellow gamer. I was in rare form and feeling pretty good.

At that moment, a young boy came walking up to us. Marin said “Oh, this is my little brother. We’re here renting some games for the weekend.” She then handed him the game she had been holding. I froze, realizing she wasn’t a gamer. She was actually just holding the game for her brother and I felt so stupid. I had just completely and thoroughly labeled myself the biggest nerd in our entire class. Any chance of looking cool and getting to know Marin was gone. Gathering up my shattered dignity, we said our goodbyes, I rented my game and I got the hell out of there as fast I could. Let’s just say that the rest of the year was not very fun.

To this day, every time I think of Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master I can’t help but remember that moment. Don’t get me wrong, the game was awesome. It had great music, nail biting action, sweet level designs, crazy magic spells, you even got to ninja kick with a horse!! But, no matter how cool that game might have been, it was a bitter-sweet moment. I learned never again to try impressing a girl with my gaming prowess. Shinobi III may get great marks in my list, but my skills with the ladies fail horribly.

#3: X-Men 2: Clone Wars

Back in the 90s, I was a big fan of the X-Men. I used to watch the cartoon, read the comics, buy the action figures, even collect the Marvel Trading Cards. You can imagine, when I found out that there were X-Men video games on the Genesis, I had to check them out. My favorite entry in that series was  X-Men 2: Clone Wars.  From top to bottom, this game was amazing. The levels, the music, the animations they were all spectacular for their time. Not only could you play as my favorite two characters Gambit and Wolverine, but you could also be Psylocke, Nightcrawler, Beast, Cyclops and even Magneto. You could also play the game co-op with a friend, to double your mutant killing power. It was side-scrolling, X-Men action at its very best. It wasn’t an easy game and there were several  levels that really tested my patience, but it was a lot of fun. Looking back, I do seem to remember that this game had one very strange quirk. Instead of the usual title screen, start menu and character select screens, the game just started the moment you turned on the power. It gave you a random character to control and had you play an entire level before you ever got to a title screen.  I’m not sure why they did that, but it stands out in my memory as something every unique. It was a great game for sure.

#2: Sonic The Hedgehog

If you are an old school gamer, when you think of Nintendo, you think Mario. When you think of Sega Genesis, you think Sonic the Hedgehog. That blue haired, speed demon with an attitude rocketed into my gaming world with a huge BOOM. Sonic The Hedgehog was the very first game that I ever played on the Genesis and the first Genesis cartridge that I ever owned. Everything about that game was brilliantly simple, yet powerfully addictive. Fighting Dr. Robotnik and freeing my friendly woodland creatures from his robotic grips was so much fun. With zones like the Green Hill Zone, the Marble Zone and the Starlight Zone, this game had a great set of levels. Collecting rings, finding the Chaos Emeralds in the bonus stages, blazing through a level with insane speed… it was all awesome. PLUS the music was fantastic! To this day it remains one of my most beloved soundtracks of all time. I spent hours playing this game. On many occasions my mom or dad would find me in my bedroom, bathed in the glow of my 13 inch, Portland brand  television, just playing the hell out of Sonic 1 and rocking out to the music. It was such an amazing game, it almost made my number 1 spot. If you haven’t played it, go give it a run. You will love it.

#1: Chakan the Forever Man

My favorite Genesis title of all time is NOT a very well known game. It wasn’t a popular game or even a very well liked game. It was notoriously ruthless and unrelentingly difficult. It was the total opposite of every game I had yet played. While most games of the time were lighthearted and designed to be fun, Chakan was morbid and dark. I doubt that the word “fun” ever entered into the creators mind. It was based on a comic book created and illustrated by Robert A. Kraus. It followed the exploits of a master swordsman named Chakan, who boasted that he could defeat anyone in a sword fight, even Death himself. Death comes to Chakan and challenges to a fight. IF Chakan wins he would be granted eternal life. But, if he failed, he would lose his soul. In a twisted turn of events, Chakan wins and is given eternal life, but is cursed to never sleep again and to wither away in excruciating pain. The only way Death will allow him to finally die, is if all supernatural evil is purged from the world and it’s up to Chakan to make it happen. Enter the game Chakan the Forever Man.

The game is made up of two planes, four stages per plane, with three levels per stage. You begin in the Terrestrial Plane and once cleared, you move to the Elemental Plane and the difficulty ramps up. You reach each of the stages through a central hub and portal system that Chakan has to navigate. Along your travels, you are given four main weapons: a set of swords, a grappling hook, a battle axe, a hammer and a scythe. You also collect and refill potions that contain water, earth, air and fire. By combining and using these elements, Chakan gains certain benefits. Among other things, he can boost his jump, give his weapons elemental attacks, refill his life and even kill everything on the screen. Of course, once you use any of your powers, you loose those elemental components and since you can only hold four potions of each element, it makes using his powers very dangerous.

Despite the game’s difficulty, I have fond memories of playing Chakan the Forever Man. It was just such a tightly knitted game, that every element fit together seamlessly. Even though the Genesis was never known for its stellar sound processing, the music in Chakan enhanced the game’s dark and gritty style perfectly. The artwork and animations made Chakan look absolutely evil and his tortured yells of pain sent shivers down my spine. Even the introductory text crawl was epic and dark. The game scared the heck out of me and I couldn’t get enough of it. Unfortunately, I never was able to beat the game on anything but Practice mode. In this mode you had unlimited elemental potions so you could relay more on your powers.The farthest I could reach in normal mode was the Elemental Plane and for this game, that was no small accomplishment. It may have been the hardest game I have EVER played, but it was also one of the most memorable.

Now-a-days, dark and gritty games are prevalent, but back in the early 90s, we just didn’t see that many. Chakan seemed like the complete antithesis of every mainstream game out there. Now, I know there were other dark and disturbing games around, Splatterhouse comes to mind, but nothing held my interest as much as Chakan the Forever Man. The game combined swords, sorcery, gothic elements, mythology, primordial evils, betrayal, pride and a sense of hopelessness and futility that no title could match. It was such a different game that I couldn’t help but be drawn in. This was actually my second game I ever owned for the Genesis, but the first game to ever make me feel like a true, hardcore gamer.

Final Thoughts:

Looking back, I loved my Genesis, but sadly I never owned very many games for it. My NES and later my SNES ended up taking center stage most of the time. Even so, Genesis was the 2nd console I ever owned and the first 16-bit entry in my collection. It might not have been the ultimate gaming system, but it was a great console. I hope you have enjoyed my top 5 favorite Genesis games, up next the Super Nintendo.

We’ll see ya then.

GentleBen94

GentleBen’s Favorite Games of All Time (NES)

I have played a lot of games over the years. From the NES to the PlayStation 3 it would be next to impossible to count all the games that have graced my many different consoles. So per a suggestion from Drago, I thought it might be fun to list my all-time favorite games, by each system I’ve owned. To make this list more manageable, I decided to break it down by system and only list my top 5 favorite titles. So lets take a look at my first 5 titles for the NES.

NES

#5: Mega Man This was actually my very first game I EVER played for the NES and it blew my mind. It was one of the most influential games of my young life. The simplicity of it, the fact that you were fighting evil robots, the level designs, the music… it was just awesome. Not long after that, my friends and I all became Mega Man junkies, even going so far as to pretend we were the Mega Man characters at recess. We must have looked like idiots, running around, shooting and jumping like the Blue Bomber himself.  I have so many fond memories of playing Mega Man with my friend, trying desperately to beat the 6 robot masters. Mega Man also gave birth to one of the most classic and beloved video game series in retro gaming history, so we are starting off with a strong entry here.

#4: The Legend of Zelda When I first tried this game, I was really confused. Up until that point every game I had ever played had been a side scrolling action game. You made your way through a level, reached a boss, beat him and moved to the next level. Games like Mega Man, Super Mario Bros., Contra, they all followed that same pattern. The Legend of Zelda was nothing like that. It was a top down view, it had an over world, explorable dungeons, you collected items, gathered clues and found secrets. It was befuddling to my fragile gaming mind. I will admit, it wasn’t until years later that I actually became a fan of the game. When I first played it, I didn’t like it. Hold up….before you start raging, once I had matured a bit, I gave it another try and realized that it was a game changer. It was an epic adventure and I became a big fan.   

#3: Castlevania This was a hard game and one that I have yet to beat in all of these years. There is something about this game, some sort of mental block that thwarts every attempt that I have ever made trying to beat it. Even with that hanging over me, I absolutely love this game. The music is solid, the bosses are terrifying, the levels are deadly, the weapons are awesome, everything about Castlevania gives me goosebumps. Now, the game was not without its annoyances. The controls were stiff, your character moved sluggishly, you were knocked back every time you were hit and your jump was hard to control. If you got hit on a set of stairs, you were as good as dead. Even as frustrating as this game was, I have great memories of throwing everything I had at it. I miss that rush that came with fighting a boss and only having one bar of life left. I remember swinging my whip like a madman trying to hit him before he hit me. Sometimes I was successful, other times I was not. Either way, it was a blast and Castlevania takes the number 3 spot with ease.

#2: Super Mario Bros. 3  Mario has been around for years! He has appeared in well over 200 hundred game titles and has become the face of Nintendo. But back in the late 80s, he was far less well known. For me, I had played Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 2, but I wasn’t nearly as impressed with the series. It was over shadowed by more action packed games such as Mega Man, Contra or Castlevania. However, in 1990 all of that would change with the release of Super Mario Bros. 3. To this day, it’s the only Mario game that I have ever bought when it was brand new. Mario 3 was a total game changer. It forever altered the Mario series and many of its contributions can still be seen today in the new Mario titles. It had an overhead map, different and unique power ups, mini games, 7 distinct Koopas besides Bowser, airships, mini castles, tanks, boats and new worlds…. it was so cool. I remember playing that game for hours at a time and I got pretty good at it. Thinking back to the summer of 1990, all I remember is swimming, eating loads of cinnamon graham crackers and playing Mario 3 at my friends house. To this day, I can’t eat a cinnamon graham cracker with out wanting to play that game. Ahhh those were the days.

#1: Mega Man 2 This number one spot was a difficult choice. It was neck and neck between Mario 3 and Mega Man 2. As a kid, I loved both games. I had played them to the point of exhaustion, but which one was my favorite? To decided, I had to look back at all of my memories of these two games and figure out which one had the most personal impact. The winner was Mega Man 2 and let me tell you why. For a long time, every Friday night I would go with my folks down to the local video store to rent some movies or games for the weekend. Every time, I would look at their selection of NES titles, but would always decide to rent Mega Man 2. It became my favorite game on the NES AND my most highly sought after title. The game was fantastic. It had taken everything that I loved about Mega Man 1 and made it better: better music, better levels, better weapons, better bosses. It was also the first Mega Man game I actually finished, all by myself. For years, I would ask for a copy for my birthdays. I even saved every penny I came across so that one day I could buy the game. I would go to Toys R Us and stare at the paper display for Mega Man 2. I went to local video stores, electronics stores and every gaming place that I could think of, but I never managed to get my hands on it. Birthdays came and went, but I never got Mega Man 2. That game was to remain out of reach for the rest of my childhood. Within a few months, the Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis came along and I had my attention on other systems and other titles, but Mega Man 2 always remained in the back of my mind. It wasn’t until my mid 20s, that a very good friend of mine actually came across an original Mega Man 2 cartridge and surprised me with it, on my birthday. When I held that game in my hand, it was like a dream come true. After trying so hard as a kid, I finally had a copy of Mega Man 2 to call my own. I popped that sucker in my old NES and discovered that it had lost NONE of its awesomeness. Playing it again brought me back to when I was a kid and it reminded me of a much simpler time. That is why it’s the #1 pick for my favorite game on the NES. For me, no game brings back those same feelings like Mega Man 2.

Final Thoughts:

There are so many great games for Nintendo that I could have gone on and on with additional titles. Contra, Metriod, Zelda 2, Mario 2, Mega Man 3, Final Fantasy 1, the list is almost endless. But, remember this was my PERSONAL list of top 5 favorite games. I picked these for a reason. These titles are more than just games, they are the essence of my childhood. Each game represents something slightly different. They mean Saturdays at friends houses, rainy days at home, weekends, holidays, sleepovers and so much more. Even to this day, when I am gaming, there is a part of me that is always trying to recapture those old days. They all hold memories, feelings, laughs, and adventures and are intertwined with me growing up. I’m sure it’s not the best list, but it works for me.

I hope you enjoyed this look at my top 5 NES titles. We have a lot of systems left to cover so stay tuned. Next time, we’ll take a look at my top 5 favorite games on the Sega Genesis.

GentleBen94

The King’s Field Retrospective: King’s Field Part One (A Brief Introduction)

King's Field

In my humble opinion, the 1990s were a GREAT decade for gaming. We witnessed the birth and the death of some of the most legendary gaming systems: Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn, Atari Jaguar and even the vaulted PlayStation 1. It was the heyday of many of our “classic” video games. The 90s gave us Super Mario Bros. 3 (1990 in the U.S.), Super Mario World, Act Raiser, Super Castlevaina 4, Super Metroid, Mega Man X, Final Fantasy 3/6, Star Fox, Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy Tactics, Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, Golden Eye 64, Doom, Doom II, Command and Conquer, Unreal Tournament, Half Life…the list can go on and on.  In those 10 years, we saw massive changes come to the industry. Games made huge strides in the area of graphics and game design, levels became more intricate and environments began to be fully rendered, 3 dimensional landscapes. It’s safe to say that the 90s blew our collective gaming minds.

However, there is one particular series of games, born out of this gaming renaissance that are often forgotten and overlooked by mainstream gamers. Personally, I always include at least one of them in any list of my all-time favorite games; an obscure, 1st person, action RPG series called King’s Field.

Combining gloomy and foreboding elements of dark fantasy with knights, swords, sorcery, dragons, gods and even demons, King’s Field was an engrossing, multifaceted world with a rich and captivating storyline. It was truly a unique experience and one that forever changed how I played video games.

Created by FROM Software, the King’s Field series was groundbreaking amongst RPGs of the time. Utilizing a first person view and a fully 3 Dimensional environment, the first installment of the series helped to launch the original Japanese PlayStation system, in 1994. King’s Field showcased the system’s rather impressive capabilities and was one of the original launch titles for the new console, but only in Japan. Unfortunately, we in the U.S. would never see the first King’s Field as an official disc based release. This game, which is unofficially referred to as King’s Field Japan, can only be found through fan translated ROMs running on PlayStation emulators. Of course, these are notoriously difficult to get working, but they are the only way to play the original title in English.

In Japan, FROM Software created a total of six King’s Field games, however here in the U.S. we only received the 2nd, 3rd and 4th installments. Since King’s Field Japan gathered a dedicated fan base throughout Japan, it spawned two direct sequels for the original PlayStation, one title on the PlayStation 2 and eventually two titles on the PlayStation Portable. The King’s Field series also helped to create other games such as Eternal Ring, Shadow Tower and even today’s Souls series (Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2). I’d consider that a pretty impressive set of credentials wouldn’t you?

Most of the King’s Field games shared common ground with one another. They all used a good deal of the same weaponry, armor, items and magic spells, while pulling from and building upon the same pool of characters and lore. Weapons like the Moonlight Sword or items like Earth Herbs or Antidotes are perfect examples, popping up throughout all of the King’s Field games. Some of these elements even managed to make their way into the current Souls games, giving us King’s Field fans, a much needed sense of nostalgia. Also, the brutal and unforgiving nature of the original King’s Fields have continued right down to the present day, becoming a major selling point for both Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. (We’ll explore these two games later on, as I have very strong feelings for both.)

In the King’s Field series, players were left up to their own devices. There was NO hand holding here. If the player was going to survive, THEY had to uncover all the items, weapons, secrets and lore. Since the game’s NPCs gave little help, this was always a challenge. At the start of each game the player was stranded in a strange landscape, with little to no equipment. Which way you went and how you developed your playing style was up to you. That was a freedom of game play that, back then I had yet to experience.

When I first played the American King’s Field, I fell in love with it and I became an instant fan. It was the perfect combination of 3D visuals, creepy and engrossing sound, brutal difficulty, catchy music, underlying fear and a profound sense of anticipation for the huge journey that lay ahead. It set the benchmark for every other action RPG that I played and in my head… few live up to the comparison. Over the next few posts, I plan on diving in and exploring each individual game, as I remember them. I am only going to refer to the American releases to try and limit confusion, but I do plan on eventually doing a separate post to give information on the Japan only titles. Up next, we will take a look back at the American King’s Field, as seen through my eyes and my controller. I hope to see you there.

GentleBen94