Finally! An Update On My Pile Of Shame
It's been over two years now since I laid bare some of my gaming sins. Namely, those high-caliber games I – for whatever the reason – never got around to, but by all accounts should have. These unfortunate gaming omissions are even more egregious considering I work at a place like Game Informer, where gaming and breathing tend to go hand-in-hand.
But I bucked that trend (something I tend to do often), publicly aired my transgressions, and got a good deal of grief as a result – most of which I expected. Be that as it may, I thought it was about time I brought you all up to speed as to how things have been progressing – or not. Don't worry, I have completed some games in my venerable pile, but not as many as I – or maybe even some of you – would deem acceptable. And before you even ask, yes, Super Mario 64 is not one of the fortunate few either. Life can be a cruel, cruel mistress.
So I should start off by admitting that this entry isn't "completely" taken care of. While I managed to play through the venerable Half-Life 2 and its two subsequent episodic crowbar crushing escapades, I wholly neglected Half-Life itself. Call it a sheer act of brazen stupidity or diabolical genius, but I just wasn't up for going back so far in time to get acquainted with Mr. Gordon Freeman. I instead read up on the happenings of the first game and used The Orange Box (which contains HL2, Episode 1, and Episode 2, among other Valve games) as my jumping off point. Not ideal, I know, but it is what it is.
With that being said, when all was said done and the credits rolled at the end of Episode 2, all I could think of was I had a new favorite game of all-time contender on my hands. Yeah, I liked it that much. Now maybe my view of HL2 and its two subsequent episodes were colored in some way by the omission of the first Half-Life. But the fact that I came away with such an amazingly high opinion of these games proves how well they stand on their own. And heck, I'd even venture to guess that had I played the first Half-Life, I very well might have enjoyed the sequels that much more. Man, typing that thought just now blows my mind.
But in all honesty, it's no big surprise that I ended up liking HL2 and its two sequels as much as I did, right? The games were released to almost universal acclaim and set the bar for what a genre-defining FPS title should be. The story was engrossing and dramatic without being too over-the-top. The gameplay was tight and varied, constantly challenging you every step of the way while keeping you fully engaged. Heck, even the graphics – which are by no means a spring chicken at this point in time – still hold up remarkably well (as does the killer soundtrack, by the way). And did I mention the sheer variety found in these games? Everything from wielding the vaunted gravity gun to commandeering a rebuilt Dodge Charger to frantically fending off waves Striders hell bent on your extinction; these are just a few of the countless moments that left an indelible mark on me. And then, of course, there's Alyx Vance. I wish she was my girlfriend…er, wait a minute. I'm married. Nevermind.
So yeah, who knew that a crowbar and some headcrabs could make for such a wild night on the town? The only regret I have as a result of playing these games is that I'm now part of the countless number of people who are waiting for something, anything regarding Half-Life 3. Gah. Ignorance truly is bliss.
Uh oh. Another game I technically played in "the wrong order." Yep, that's my thing.
My initial excuse for not hitting up Chrono Trigger when it came out is both simultaneously understandable and downright stupid. Just know that a Genesis and PlayStation played a key part in keeping me from all of the best the SNES had to offer – for better or worse. Add to the fact that I delved into Chrono Cross – a game that I was mostly sour on – before I ever even laid eyes on Chrono Trigger and you've got a pretty solid case as to why I was so late to the party.
Well, a year ago I finally set out to right such an inexcusable error in judgment and picked up Chrono Trigger for my DS Lite. And I must say it's been one of the best gaming investments I've made in a long while.
Now mind you, I'm no JRPG fanatic – or even an RPG fanatic – but I've played my fair share of role-playing games to know what I like and Chrono Trigger happily falls into that camp. Legend of the Dragoon on the other hand… Anyways, suffice to say, I had a blast playing through Trigger. The seven main characters were as likable as they come – a rare feat in gaming these days – and the active time battle system is still rock-solid some 17 years later. Gotta love those double and triple techs! Add to the fact that Square got all whacko on us and eliminated random enemy encounters crap and you've got a JRPG worth its weight in gold and then some. Seriously, when are endless random enemy encounters any good, ever? Combine all of that with a good ol', albeit somewhat confusing, story about (tell me if you've heard this before) time travel and saving the planet from total annihilation. To be fair, this was back in '95 when such fantastically outlandish plot lines hadn't become RPG commonplace quite yet. Add in 12 different endings depending on how you play and you've got a game that could last you a millennium. (That's for all you CT fans out there. You're welcome.)
Will I play the game to achieve all the different endings? Probably not. I did really enjoy my time with Crono and company, but it's just too much time for me to commit. And while the game is certainly magnificent, it wasn't the earth-shattering experience it was for so many of those who played it upon its release. For me, Chrono Trigger's bloom is off the rose. Yeah, I know, my loss. And while I can't go back and change the past (don't worry, I'll be here all week ladies and gentlemen), I can at least now claim I've played one of gaming's greatest achievements.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Man, talk about an oxymoron.
It pained me greatly to include this game as a part of my pile of shame. But if there ever was a game to make a gamer – let alone a self-proclaimed Zelda fanboy – feel said shame, A Link to the Past would have to be at or near the top of the list. It most certainly was for me. And as a result, it was the very first game I set out to banish from the pile o' shame forever.
First, however, let me set one thing straight. Nothing, and I mean nothing, was going to supplant The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as my absolute favorite game of all-time. It came along at precisely the right moment to absolutely transfix me. That game has been and always will be the benchmark. All other subsequent games can battle it out for the coveted silver medal. Cool?
Now that we got that out of the way and I've dodged a pitchfork or two, let me follow up by saying A Link to the Past is, without question, one of the best Zelda games ever made. I'd even say it's definitely one of the best games ever made, period. Yeah, I know, isn't that like saying water is wet? I realize I'm spouting praise for a game that is, and has been for years, universally acclaimed. So it's not like I'm telling you all something you probably already know. I just wanted to get it out there after my OoT proclamation. Again, afraid of those pitchforks.
In truth – and I wrote about this in a blog I posted a while ago – ALttP could have easily been not only my favorite Zelda game, but my favorite game of all-time. By and large, it's pretty much OoT set in a 2D world. But as Chrono Trigger can attest, experience matters. Call it the butterfly effect if you will. And when it came time to finally experience ALttP, I had already seen the light. Many of the things that made ALttP so groundbreaking were not only present in OoT, but they were cranked up a notch or two, or ten. The 3D capabilities of OoT, without question, enabled that game to achieve a higher level of impact with me than any number of subsequent playthroughs of ALttP ever could have. ALttP just lacked the "wow" factor that OoT seemingly had in spades.
It might sound like I'm taking a crap on ALttP. But trust me, I'm not. I enjoyed it thoroughly. One of the things I enjoyed so much about it – and this is something that has been effectively lost in subsequent Zelda titles – is the true sense of wonder and exploration. The game encourages you to set out on your own and uncover things however you'd like. There's none of this hand-holding garbage that has become so prevalent in not only newer Zelda releases (I'm looking at you Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword), but in games in general. To go back and play a title like ALttP – a game that forces you to truly think for yourself (I know, crazy, right?) without an overly obvious or annoying support system hounding you every step of the way – is not only refreshing, but, at times, downright daunting in this day and age. And in that sense, ALttP was liberating for it felt like a true, genuine adventure and not some orchestrated series of events geared to "ooh" and "aww" me as I'm lead around on a leash.
One other observation: The game is hard. Zelda games nowadays rarely present much of a challenge, if any. I might have died a total of two or three times during my entire Skyward Sword playthrough. Yeah, cake walk. Yet during a particular boss battle against Moldorm in ALttP, I must have died literally twenty times. That, or I kept getting bumped off a ledge. That pile of crap, googly-eyed, psycho worm drove me to insanity and proved to be one heck of a challenge. And while no other part of the game lived up to that level of insanity, ALttP kept me honest and on my toes throughout. You gotta respect that, I sure do.
So while nothing will most likely ever touch OoT's greatness in my mind, ALttP does an absolutely fantastic job capturing the pure, unadulterated, non-watered-down Zelda formula that so many of us have grown to know and love. Here's hoping Nintendo will wise up one of these days and return to what made Zelda so special in the first place. And no, it's not dowsing.
And there you have it. I realize three games in a little over two years is nothing to brag about, but you gotta start somewhere, right? I'm sure if I focused solely on this pile that I could breeze through it in no time. Unfortunately, life and all of the amazing new games that are constantly landing on store shelves make that a priority that's hard to stick to. Heck, I've already gotten myself into trouble with regards to Arkham City and Skyrim. Both of those games are sitting on my shelf at home, still wrapped in plastic, waiting for their moment to shine. And with Mass Effect 3 coming out in less than a month, it's unlikely I'll get to either of those games until spring at best. Yep, the hole just keeps on getting deeper and deeper.
But when you stop and think about it, that's a pretty good problem to have. Don't you think?