Gameological Q&A

Dragon Quest VIII

Just For You

Has a game ever felt tailor-made to your tastes?

By The Gameological Society Staff • February 7, 2013

Welcome to Gameological Q&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. It’s extremely similar to The A.V. Club’s AVQ&A feature. You might even say it’s exactly the same. If you have a brilliant question that would make a fun Q&A, send it to brilliantquestions at gameological dot com.

The question for this installment is inspired by something Drew Toal brought up in our Q&A about games you were willing to abandon:

In our last Q&A, Drew mentioned the hypothetical concept of bespoke games—“where the game maker analyzes your preferences and tendencies and makes a custom-fit game accordingly.” Have you ever played a game that felt like it was made just for you?

John Teti
You Don't Know Jack

I got this feeling the first time I played You Don’t Know Jack in the mid-’90s. For a kid with good book smarts and a deep love of pop culture, the game’s subject matter was ideal. And I loved the smartass attitude. But Jack’s reverence for game shows—my first, undying pop-culture obsession—is what really gave it that “This was made just for me!” feeling. We’re talking about a teenage kid who knew the rules—and the optimal strategy, and the camera blocking—for every pricing game on The Price Is Right, and who kept a catalog of the format tweaks on Chuck Woolery’s defunct TV version of Scrabble. Getting a game show right was a pretty big deal for me. Jack, in almost all of its iterations, has gotten it so right. The rhythm is brisk, the sound effects score those cheap pleasure-center hits in the brain, and the question writing is sharp. It’s a shame almost none of those strengths made it to the TV version, but they have carried through to Jack’s more recent iterations as an Xbox 360 release and as the best game on Facebook.

Drew Toal
Axis & Allies

This is a tough one for me, firstly because I already kind of answered it, and secondly because it can very easily bleed into “favorite game” territory. So rather than go with the “OMG Commander Shepard and I have so much in common” refrain, I’ll reach back to a little board game called Axis & Allies. Way back, I loved a good game of Risk (and the occasional round of Stratego). The limits of Risk bugged me, though. Outside of sticking some armies in difficult-to-invade Australia and fighting a desperate, never-ending land war in Asia, the game, while fun, didn’t require a ton of strategy. (And, c’mon, no U-boats?) And then I happened on Axis & Allies, the World War II strategy game with a bunch of serious-looking war dudes on the box. No Hitler, though, as I recall. But it did have submarines, and furthermore, it spoke to all of my problems with Risk. Axis & Allies occupied valuable real estate on my mom’s dining room table, and my experience was informed by my simultaneous discovery of the award-winning (I assume) British documentary, The World At War, narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier. At last, a documentary custom-made for the adolescent war junkie.

Ryan Smith

As the unofficial member of a small indie-rock band in Central Illinois in the late ’90s, the son of a bass player for various rock-and-roll cover bands, and the brother of a heavy metal drummer who can tap a double bass pedal with the best of them—I spent an alarming amount of time around real musicians in my youth but was never really one myself. When asked the inevitable “What do you play?” question from other musician-types I’d hang out with, I’d blush and respond “Nintendo” with a weak laugh because the truth was that I never could commit to a specific instrument. That’s why I was excited to play Guitar Hero when it first came out in 2005, so that I could engage in a simulacrum of what it was like to be on stage playing music—without the dedication of learning to play an instrument or the commitment it takes to be in a band. But after the initial thrill wore off, I found myself pining for a multiplayer version that offered guitar, bass, drums, and vocals, so I could get even closer to the real thing. It felt like destiny, then, when Harmonix offered Rock Band a couple years later and gave me, in the words of The Cars’ Ric Ocasek, “Just What I Needed.” Years later, I still have my fake plastic instruments, microphones, and even a Rock Band-branded fog machine packed away in my closet—even if I no longer have Rock Band parties like I did every month of 2008—in the hope that a couple of my friends will eventually want to get the faux band back together.

Jason Reich
TOON

Being an awkward twerp in middle school, it was inevitable that I’d wind up in a group of Dungeons & Dragons players. Just one problem: I had a fondness for neither dungeons nor dragons. Then I discovered TOON: The Cartoon Roleplaying Game. No arcane charts or weighty monster manuals here. All you needed to play was some paper, a single six-sided die, and a lonely childhood spent in front of the television. In TOON, “chutzpah” was a character attribute, and the sage, all-knowing Dungeon Master was replaced by an “animator.” Characters didn’t die, they simply “fell down” before bouncing back in the next scene. Instead of rolling “saving throws” against poison or dark magic, players made intelligence checks to determine if their characters were dumb enough to not be affected by gravity after running off a cliff. TOON only hit the table a handful of times. The more hardcore among us found its lack of rules frustrating (the game’s prime directive was “Act Before You Think”), and my interest in role-playing games quickly waned around the time I realized that girls would occasionally talk to you if you made eye contact and spoke above a choked whisper. But I continued to pore over the TOON manuals for years. They were masterpieces of geeky inside jokes, genre parody, and inspired stupidity—hallmarks of what would later become my own comedic sensibility. TOON was fun, but more importantly, it flipped the bird at the impenetrable, overwrought world of D&D. What better lesson could there be for a creepy pre-teen nascent comedy writer?

Steve Heisler
XCOM: Enemy Unknown

I’m not sure I have a great answer. I’ve loved many games in the past, but when I was younger, that love bordered on obsession, and it’s hard to tell what’s specifically speaking directly to me when I desperately want any game to speak to me. Recently, I have found myself thinking about XCOM: Enemy Unknown quite a bit. I played this strategy game—in which aliens have been attacking the globe and it’s up to you to defend it—for plenty of hours, then I had to walk away because it’s quite difficult and I needed a break from all the carnage. But I still think about it. The game combines two things I enjoy: meticulous micromanaging and investment in its characters. I’m able to dictate how my money is spent updating my base, and during battles I can form-fit a crack team to take on whatever those aliens throw at me (mostly plasma bullets), and watch them with pride from afar. It places me in the ultimate seat of control, at a time in my life when there are a lot of personal things that are spiraling out of control. It’s nice to feel in charge for a change.

Cory Casciato
Dead Rising

I have an unhealthy obsession with zombies that stretches back years before the rest of the world figured out how awesome they were. Hell, I remember my mother-in-law turning me on to George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead like it was yesterday, and that happened almost 20 years ago. So when Capcom released Dead Rising back in 2004, just as the walking dead were beginning to explode in popularity, it felt like the game I’d been waiting for my entire life. There I was, trapped in a mall full of zombies, with a handful of desperate survivors dependent on me to save them, just like I’d been dreaming about for years! And I mean literally dreaming—I’ve had recurrent zombie dreams on and off since I saw that movie, and a majority of them feature a mall and me desperately trying to rescue people. So yeah, Dead Rising really hit a sweet spot for me. I was such a fan that not only did I overlook the completely broken save system and rage-inducing boss battles, but I was an apologist for them, claiming they added to the depth of the experience. For the record, they don’t—if anything, they nearly kill it—but that’s what getting a near-perfect rendering of the game you’ve been playing in your head for 20 years will do to you!

Adam Volk

The only time I can honestly say I’ve ever felt like this is when I was playing the arcade version of Capcom’s Dungeons & Dragons: Tower Of Doom. I was a 12-year-old pen-and-paper role-playing game fanatic, with Gary Gygax my Lord and Savior and the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition DM’s Guide my Holy Bible. My friends and I first found the Tower Of Doom machine in the back of an extremely sketchy basement arcade in the shopping mall by our school. At the time, the game not only featured kick-ass graphics, but it also seemed to encapsulate everything that I loved about Dungeons & Dragons: fighting monsters, collecting treasure, casting spells—sweet mother of Mystara, they even included a friggin’ Displacer Beast! It may have guzzled more than a few allowances’ worth of quarters from me, but as a Dungeons & Dragons junkie constantly chasing that natural D20 high, it felt like the Gods Of Nerddom had created a game just for me.

Anthony John Agnello
Dragon Quest VIII

Me and Dragon Quest VIII have what you could probably call an unhealthy codependent relationship. What can I say? Passion can destroy people but when the chemistry is right there’s just no stopping it. Up until Dragon Quest VIII’s release in 2005, I hadn’t played one of Yuji Horii’s games since Nintendo Power packed the first Dragon Quest into a subscription. I was curious about the game, though. It came with a Final Fantasy XII demo, and it was very pretty in screenshots. What I wasn’t prepared for when I started playing it was a game that encapsulated everything I want in video games and then some. I loved role-playing games, but none had ever hooked me like this. Koichi Sugiyama’s orchestral score, the bright Akira Toriyama art, the turn-based fighting with very specific characters that continued to grow, and the simple, funny story were all perfect examples of things I looked for in a game, but what really set it apart was the world. You could go everywhere. The forests were forests, the oceans were oceans. Unlike most games that plop you in a world and let you go anywhere—the Grand Theft Autos and Elder Scrolls that had failed to grip me in the past—it always felt like I was doing something with purpose in Dragon Quest VIII. If I wandered into the woods, there was something specific waiting for me, like a monster to recruit or an obscure treasure. It wasn’t just some procedurally generated video game moment.

Derrick Sanskrit
The World Ends With You

The one that really stands out to me is The World Ends With You. That game pointed directly at my face and said “Hey! You! This one’s for you!” And having been a former overly emotional self-absorbed city kid who maintained an uninterrupted disdain for the entire world from the safety of my headphones, I looked up and said “No way, man, your structure and rules are not for me. Go away.” But that game understood me in ways no other human being ever did. It understood my obsessive awareness of branding and market trends, my desire to subvert other people’s beliefs by convincing them of what was or was not popular, my fears that absolutely everyone was capable of being possessed by their own fears and turning against me, even the way I think about my meals three steps ahead of lunch time. That game pointed out every one of the things that made me an antisocial obsessive teen, in a manner that was simultaneously compelling and condemning. It filled me with a desire to travel back in time, show The World Ends With You to my younger self, and convince him he wasn’t alone. It also got me to start wearing pins again for the first time since college. (This answer was typed with large noise-canceling headphones OFF my ears. Progress.)

Samantha Nelson
Hidden Chronicles

When I was a little kid, my parents discovered I was freakishly good at the game Concentration. I became a parlor trick where they’d encourage guests to challenge me and watch them get trounced by a three-year-old. Once the novelty wore off, that skill didn’t really come up outside of a few mini-games. Then Zynga came out with Hidden Chronicles. Not all of this game was meant for me. It’s a Zynga game, so it involves a lot of harassing your friends to send you random stuff. And you’re supposed to decorate your “estate.” I don’t have patience for that, so while my neighbors’ lawns incorporated rows of complementary-colored flowers in gorgeous geometric patterns, mine looked like something that would get the neighborhood association knocking at my door. I consoled myself by challenging them to games of “FastFind,” where the goal is to find as many objects as you can in one minute. The game only uses a small number of scenes, and whatever weird part of my brain made me a Concentration prodigy also let me memorize the location of every object. I was only limited by how quickly I could move my mouse. I won every game, often by hundreds of thousands of points. There might be others like me out there, but since Hidden Chronicles doesn’t have a global leaderboard, I like to think the game was designed just to make me feel good about my otherwise useless talent.

Dan Whitehead

As a hopeless lifelong Marvel nerd, the 2006 spandex-clad dungeon crawler Marvel Ultimate Alliance often felt like Raven Software had plunged deep into my brain and plucked out all the things I’d ever wanted to see in a superhero game. Boss fights against heavy hitters like Fin Fang Foom, Galactus, and a super-charged Doctor Doom? Levels set as far afield as Atlantis, Murderworld, and the cosmic Shi’ar Empire? A fight against MODOK that takes the form of a trivia quiz? Yes, please. Ultron! Mysterio! Holy shit, they even put Dragon Man in there! I love my superheroes to be Silver Age in tone and goofy as hell, and Ultimate Alliance tapped right into that, celebrating the breadth of Marvel’s sprawling fictional universe and scouring every corner for the characters no other game would ever include. I loved it so much that after beating it on the original Xbox, I picked it up again for the Xbox 360—purely because that was the only way to play as Moon Knight. Ultimate Alliance feasted so greedily from the comic book buffet table that there was nothing left for the deeply disappointing sequel, which swapped all those wonderful locations for drab military bases and gray city streets, and ditched the pulpy threat of Doctor Doom wielding Asgardian power for the bloated squabbling of the “Civil War” storyline. I’m currently keeping everything crossed that the upcoming LEGO Marvel Superheroes will deliver the same hit of sweet Silver Age joy.

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  • Cloks

    Sorry John, I’m going to have to steal your thunder because You Don’t Know Jack was tailor made for me. It’s a perfect combination of pop culture miscellany and hard knowledge questions combined with a healthy dollop of irreverence. It’s not just that I’m good at it – I routinely beat anyone I play against by tens of thousands of virtual dollars – but that it gets my sense of humor and relationship with the world through reference and layered jokes.

    • HobbesMkii

       YDKJ is definitely near the top of my list. But not quite.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      That game is really, really great, and was the source of one of my few genuine “WOW!” moments, when I was playing the first one with a friend, and it suddenly halted the game to take a “fiber-optic field trip” and call a “listener” at home who talked to the host a bit before asking us the next question. Not only was it a total surprise, but it was a completely different question format than any of the others, and, as far as I can tell, was the only “Fiber Optic Field Trip” on the disk, and was a rare enough occurrence that we never saw it again in all the games we played with each other or other friends – and none of our friends reported encountering it, either.

      Those games were just so well-designed, to make a format that should have been really samey into something that constantly felt fresh and fun. They were also oozing with character to the point that you felt like you were really interacting with a real host, despite your range of interactions actually being very limited. (I still remember being kicked out of a game for a player naming themselves “Fuck,” and when we tried to boot it again, the host decided it hadn’t been long enough and we still hadn’t learned our lesson, and booted us again. It was hilarious, and, again, totally unexpected).

      While I wouldn’t claim the whole game as “bespoke” to me (it’s getting pretty crowded), the “Gibberish Questions” TOTALLY were. The same phonetic slipperiness that serves me well in pun threads and makes me mix up phonetically similar names for some reason allowed me to buzz in instantly on those things and rake in the mad stacks.

      • George_Liquor

        Do you guys remember YDKJ: The Netshow? The weekly Internet version of the game? I’d play it every week with high school friends, and of course we’d take particular delight in screwing each other over. It had to stream over a crappy dial-up connection, so it had this low-fi, old-timey radio show quality to it that I thought was really charming.

    • http://pseudonymjones.com/ Pseudonym Jones

      Just here to add that, sorry all, YDKJ was in fact made for me.

      Also, to just mention that I still get a little sad playing question number 4 in the recent console version. Still. It has to have been more than a year at this point. I don’t think I’ve grieved this long for pets. (Luckily question number 6 is always there to cheer me up.)

    • Juan_Carlo

      I love trivia but didn’t get into YDKJ until I got the new one off amazon a couple weeks ago for like 3 dollars.  I instantly fell in love with it when the announcer made fun of me for having no life because I was played it alone at 2 am.

      It was both incredibly depressing and hilarious all at once.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        That stuff was so great, and so immersive – it recognizing the time of day, holidays, etc., and responding to certain patterns and trends in a given game (recognizing when someone was on a streak, or forcing someone to answer when they were way ahead, etc.) was such a successful use of the then-unimaginably-huge storage space of CD-ROMs..

  • Citric

    Chrono Cross. It might be considered blasphemous, but I don’t like Chrono Trigger. Maybe it came at the wrong time, I haven’t played it since high school, but I just kind of thought it was a bit silly, and the fact that you’re doing naughty, naughty things to the space-time continuum with little in the way of consequences sort of annoyed me.

    Then came Chrono Cross, and it was like the game agreed with me, and we sailed off together in a title all about cleaning up the mess the characters from CT made, and I loved it. I also loved the battle system setup, the super colorful graphics, the superb soundtrack, the fact that it could be a little bit different each time you played it, a battle setup where skipping enemy encounters wasn’t actively punished.

    Not everyone liked it and my foolish self from 13 years ago did get involved in many an ill-advised message board flame war, but then I realized it was made just for me so there.

    In spite of this, Square for some reason made my first copy wrong, and I got duplicate second discs. Then the store was out, and I got FFIX instead (no complaints, FFIX is excellent in all ways.) Didn’t get Chrono Cross until my birthday months later.

    • http://twitter.com/djbeema Reuben

      Ooh I just started playing Chrono Cross. I don’t like the battle system though so far. Chrono Trigger will forever be in my top 5 games of all time, and I don’t care if it’s probably mostly due to nostalgia, so I don’t expect Cross to ever unseat it. 

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

         I’ve picked up a random itch to try Chrono Cross this last year, having never played it.  I don’t know why I never did, something about it struck me as off-putting when I first saw it, though I’ll be damned if I remember what that might have been.
         But I always linger over it when I’m flipping through the PSN store and and feel like I might like it.   Can you supply a nuts-and-bolts on party and battle system, story and tone and how the game diverged from Trigger?
         Bone club-wielding heathen you doubtless are, hating Chrono Trigger and such, I feel like I can at least learn something from you before I colonize your island, convert you to Chrono Trigger and commence testing nuclear missiles where your village stood.

      • Sleverin

         Speaking as a person who played Cross first and then learned of Trigger afterwards and ultimately played it followed by totally loving it, I can tell you it’s a great game.  It has one major flaw in that there’s a pacing issue at one point in the game where you have to defeat a series of bosses that totally makes sense in the story but it’s still irritating.

        The battle system is a stamina turn based system that, when you attack enemies using your standard attacks, fills up a gauge of your spell list for each successful blow you land.  Your spell list (called an Elemental Grid) is easily customizable and the levels of spells maxes out at 8.  Each character has an element assigned to them according to one of seven colors.  They are each strong to one color and weak to another and there are color specific spells that can only be used by the corresponding character, including summon spells.  There are NO experience points, you gain levels through defeating bosses and the levels themselves are represented as stars, with each star you have you can use a summon spell for that many stars.  To recharge the star count you need to rest at an inn, however that’s almost never a concern, summoning spells are powerful and useful in dire battle situations, but are difficult to pull off and you’re almost never going to finder yourself in a situation where you use up all your summons between inn rests.

        The story can be a bit dense, especially with all the multiverse talk and dual world relationships in relation to the events of Chrono Trigger and even a reference to the Radical Dreamers game (though that’s more of a fun fan reference but it still makes a point).  It’s biggest flaw is that there are just too many characters and it messes up the character narrative between Serge, Leena and Kid (even though Serge is a silent protagonist) which is too bad, because when it gets a little focus it’s good stuff.  The CT fanboys will bitch about how there aren’t enough references to Chrono Trigger which is ridiculous, not only because that doesn’t make a game good or bad, but it’s absolutely not true.  I know it seems like I’m dancing around the fact here and I am, simply because I’m commenting on the story structure itself and trying to avoid spoilers.

        Hopefully that’s enough for you, if you have any other questions, ask away.  Been a CC fanboy for years and totally played through it a good 10 or more times and even gave it a good replay recently, going straight from Trigger to Cross in a mega playthrough, because if I’m playing one, I’m playing the other!

        • DrFlimFlam

          People always try to rag on the game for the huge cast of disparate characters, but I loved that each character had their own story that you could follow. I’ve heard people decry this as a lack of character development, but I think that many JRPGs coming out at the same time had less characters who had more lines but also little or no real growth. Many of these characters have to come to terms with something that changes them. Especially personal favorite Starky.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          Awesome.  Thanks for the thorough synopsis.

      • Sleverin

         Damn I forgot to mention the soundtrack.  Brilliant, powerful, moving and easily considered on of Square’s best, if not the best for PS1.  It truly is fantastic and cranks Chrono Cross’ meter of great game to fantastic, no contest.

        • DrFlimFlam

          It is still the best soundtrack ever, in part because of how it is directly tied into theg ame itself. It’s hard to explain without playing it, but the music is more a part of the game than any non-rhythm game I’ve ever played.

        • PaganPoet

          I am a huge fan of Chrono Cross, actually, in spite of its impenetrable story, but damn wasn’t the character art ugly? Or is it just me?
          You’re right about the soundtrack, though. Absolutely amazing.

        • http://twitter.com/djbeema Reuben

           @PaganPoet:disqus I agree that the character art is just… extremely unappealing.

      • http://twitter.com/droopymcjackass Andy Fernandez

        There is no default attack command, instead you have a choice of three attacks with which to spend 7 stamina (in order of accuracy: weak costs 1 stamina, medium=2 & strong=3). Each attack attempt decreases your stamina, but successful attacks also increase your Hit % across the board (it is not uncommon for strong attacks to have a 99% chance to hit [it tells you]).

        There is no MP, so successful attacks are also how to store levels of your Element Grid proportionate to the stamina spent (you can’t store over your maximum grid level which starts at 3). The element itself slots like materia from FFVII, but directly to your person. You can equip how many of whatever you want, though each element has its own grid level requirement (with stated [+ or -]x level bonuses/detriments) and color affinity. The actual elements range from consumable antidotes & potion-esque ‘tablets’ to physical attack skills, spells & summons (stat boosts & passive skills being relegated to accessories). Excepting the consumables, each element can only be used once per encounter. Each element uses 7 stamina, though negative stamina is allowed.

        There is also no XP, so levels (and their accompanying stat bonuses/extra & higher tier grid slots) come from defeating bosses. You can’t grind, per se, but fighting regular enemies will net you some random stat hop-ons (plus the occasional, substantial stat live-in).

        Whereas Xenogears (which this battle-system sorta closely resembles), caused me to feel like I’m “doing it wrong” (each & every encounter being a costly war of attrition using the same combos over & over again), Chrono Cross is pretty varied & fast-paced. The menu’s a clunker (being incredibly necessary, stutteringly slow & marred by unfriendly controls [in a way, Vagrant Story]), but there is obsessive nerd fun to be had mapping out & planning hypothetical battle strategies. Since any Element Grid levels stored at the end of battle can be used to heal all the characters, there isn’t really much penalty in trying a bunch of shit out. 

        There are 45 playable characters that come with their own mid-to-late game side missions that reward permanently slotted, character-based element techs. A few are fleshed-out/useful (sadly, there are only 9 dual-techs & 2 triple-techs) and oddball goofs, lame wasteoids & glorified pocket monsters fill out the rest (each with uniquely accented story quips!). Decisions you make effect who joins, so if you’re gonna corral all o’ them, then you’ll need a New Game+ (why the better to see all the multiple endings with, my dear).

        The story gets pretty epic (though Square-ly impenetrable after not playing for a week) while staying somewhat personal. Its more about the consequences of choices & destiny & daddies than the high-adventure of Chrono Trigger (in fact, the whole game feels bracing & melancholic). There’s lots of call-backs to the previous game (the pacing/story-beats are even similar), though they don’t really feel of a piece. Some old characters will show up (though one character is only “named after some great hero” & Guile is just an unfollowed-through-upon fuckup) & you will look at your actions in the previous game in a new light. Your character hub eventually becomes the inside of an impressionist paiting and the losers from Porre have turned into Iron Islanders. You may not like all that, but I did.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          Right on.  This is an awesome summary.

      • Citric

        Everyone else covered most stuff, but the story is different from Chrono Trigger in that you don’t travel through time, you hop between two dimensions – one where you’ve always been alive, one where you’re pretty dead. So you spend your time figuring out why you’re able to cross between the two, and how that relates to the events in CT. The world is also a (gorgeous) archipelago rather than the entire CT world.

        And isn’t it on sale on PSN this week? BUY!

        • DrFlimFlam

          The artwork is so beautiful.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          The Chrono family of games is, sadly, not on sale this week.  But I did pick up Final Fantasy IX, which I’m pleased to have again.  Such exceptional art direction.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          Though I have to add, Googling screenshots of Cross’s protagonist makes me wonder why the Japanese aesthetic for youthful, high-fantasy heroics is the American aesthetic for crazy and wandering an Aldi’s parking lot.

    • feisto

      What little I’ve played (through the end of the Marshes) makes me inclined to agree with you as far as concept and story go; as far as execution, though, the game really tests my patience with the battles, which are my least favorite kind (turn-based, but with battle animations that feel like they go on for way too long). Someday, they will make a Chrono Cross with Chrono Trigger’s sense of speed, and I will finally play it all the way through.

      • DrFlimFlam

        Chrono Cross came out when battle animations were all long and drawn-out. To be honest, it’s got nothing on Square’s flagship franchise, which actually made a mini-game out of summon animations in FFVIII.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          FFVIII’s summons did wonders for making me quit that game.
             Every repeated, drawn-out and unskippable summon provided sufficient time for the thought to assert itself in my head that I could be playing Baldur’s Gate 2.  

    • DrFlimFlam

      Chrono Cross was, for a long time, my favorite game. Period. End of story. Now Mass Effect, as a trilogy, compares favorably, but I still love Chrono Cross to death. On nostalgic days, it still wins. Like you’ve mentioned, the soundtrack and artistic graphics were beautiful, and the battle and encounter systems were obviously thought about not just put through the standard design process.

      As a much younger man, that ending put the strangest feeling in my chest.

    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

      I loved Chrono Cross, too. Especially the first half. There’s just so much of the game, though, that you can easily miss without a strategy guide: prism gear, elemental armor, not to mention the titular element itself.

      • DrFlimFlam

        I used the original official guide and now have a new one for when I want to play through the game. It’s an understandable criticism for those who make it, but I think it’s worth it.

  • caspiancomic

    Oh snap! Axis and Allies! When I was at Uni we used to have weekly game nights. Poker at first, Catan reliably after that, Risk now and again, but we ended up playing a lot of Axis and Allies. There was this one friend of ours who was at the military college up the road, who is to this day simultaneously the nicest and the most boring human I have ever known. He was also some kind of strategic genius- we once played him three against one, us allies and he axis, and he slaughtered the lot of us. He was German as well- if he had been born about 80 years earlier 20th Century European history would have gone very differently.

    Before reading the article I considered selecting The World Ends With You for my answer, since I also spent my teenage years as a misanthropic inner city cultural pollutant, and I also adore games that make good and ample use of their hardware’s unique features. But I don’t care to repeat anything that’s been said before, and as it happens I have another answer up my sleeve.

    My answer would be anything from the Professor Layton series. It has strong writing and characterization, terrific world building (including a charmingly ambiguous time setting), an infatuation with all things English, hundreds of challenging puzzles, etc. What I find especially tickling about the series is its tone- it’s unashamedly optimistic, but not in a whitewashed Care Bears kind of way. There are real villains, real threats, real stakes, lives are routinely in peril, and yet the Professor is always prepared to meet every challenge with courage, conviction, and a stiff upper lip. That sort of “hard earned” optimistic outlook reminds me of institutions like Doctor Who or the works of Studio Ghibli, both of which have a similar “integrity and optimism even in the face of impossible odds” tone that’s more difficult to pull off than nihilistic dark n’ gritty or lobotomized children’s show calibre “unearned” optimism.

    Another part of the series perfectly suited to my tastes? The frankly insane reverse-Scooby-Doo storylines. Each and every game in the series has the Professor and his chums summoned to investigate some kind of supernatural humbug, only to dramatically uncover that what’s really going on is an order of magnitude more unlikely than what they were originally sent in to debunk. I’m a little upset that I need to take the plunge into 3DS ownership in order to continue my relationship with the series, but I wouldn’t miss another Layton title for the world.

    • valondar

       I’ve never played the boardgame, but I used to have the Axis and Allies videogame. It was one of my favourite WW2 strategy games in the mists of time known as the pre-Hearts of Iron era, and I’m still quite fond of it.

    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

      I love Layton’s insane plots. Robots? Hallucinogenic drugs?

  • HobbesMkii

    This is a tough one for me. I think it’s a toss-up between the three most beloved games of my childhood: Betrayal in Antara, Mechwarrior 2, or Lords of the Realm II.

    Betrayal was sort of an early sandbox (though mostly quite linear) RPG game (though dated even at the time of its release), and for me it was really quite a revelation to see the fantasy novels I’d been reading translated into something so interactive.  Lords of the Realm was instrumental in fostering my fondness for both Grand Strategy/Management games and the RTS games that were in the process of refining themselves into Command & Conquer and then StarCraft.

    And finally, of course, Mechwarrior 2, because who can honestly say they could have resist Mechwarrior 2?

    • George_Liquor

      Wow, synergy! Giant robotic synergy!

    • Kahoutek

      I can’t speak to Betrayal in Antara, but I loved its predecessor, Betrayal at Krondor.  I hadn’t read any of Raymond Feist’s novels before playing it, but immediately I could tell that the storytelling was several notches above what the then-RPG market was sporting.  Tack on a pretty great battle system, and it was a clear winner.  I went on to read Feist’s Magician series, and then went back and played it again a some years later, to fully appreciate how the game’s storyline fit in with the novels.  And I think I had to tweak the DOS game to run in Windows ’95/’98.

      Mech 2 was pretty awesome for its time, one of the first games I played multiplayer over the Internet.  I never did get a hang on all the twisting-while-running, even with a joystick and a Flightstick throttle accessory.  I actually think the original Mechwarrior was more mind-blowing for its time.  I remember showing it to a buddy of mine who was really into the Battletech universe, and his jaw just dropped.  He ended up staying at my house ’til 4am, which was a huge no-no in our high school days.

    • Effigy_Power

      No love for Mech Commander?

      • HobbesMkii

        I actually never played Mech Commander.

      • George_Liquor

        Never played it either, though I heard it was fun. The only other ‘Mech series I’ve played was MechAssault, which turned out to be a dumbed-down, arcadey version of MechWarrior.

  • rvb1023

    S.T.A.L.K.E.R. My love for this series knows no bounds and the day STALKER 2 was cancelled really sucked.

    The Metroid series is one of the most consistently flawless series I have played, most recent outing aside.

    Demon/Dark Souls, as I will admit I love Dark Fantasy probably more than any other genre and these games are the ultimate at that.

    I could probably think of others but these are the first that came to mind.

    • feisto

      Twins! (Haven’t played STALKER, but the fact that I love everything else you mentioned makes me think I’d also love it.)

      Another thing I loved about Demon/Dark Souls is how vivid all the equipment was. Heavy weapons lifted up slowly, but slammed down hard and fast; switch from heavy armor to light armor, and you immediately realize how light you are just from your movements; plated armor clinked and clanked. The Elder Scrolls series might get all the attention for their vast and detailed worlds, but as far as immersion is concerned, they don’t even come close to that of the Demon/Dark Souls series.

      • rvb1023

        I have always found myself an atmosphere/immersion type of guy so being able to feel the weight behind weapons was great. Similar to how combat works in Monster Hunter games, but those games are so mind-numbingly repetitive I just can’t get into them.

        The other great thing is how thick the lore is in those games. Nothing makes me want to explore more than just the chance to hear a tiny tidbit about the universe. Artorias of the Abyss just went on sale on the PSN a few days ago and I finally picked it up, so I’ll probably do another playthrough of Dark Souls.

    • djsubversive

      Get out of here, stalker.

      From that first moment in Shadow of Chernobyl when you wake up in Sid’s bunker, I was hooked. Walked outside, and all the guys in the village were chatting in Russian. I couldn’t understand them, but they didn’t really sound happy. Wolf handed me a Makarov and a windbreaker and said “go kill a bunch of bandits and rescue my friend.” On the way, I gave a guy a medkit, and sold all the food and vodka I had found to another guy for a single grenade. Then I was chased by a pack of dogs, ran into an anomaly, and exploded. 

      It was great. And everything up until Agroprom Underground was like an appetizer for *that thing* showing up and tearing apart the military patrol. Gunfire and roaring and what are those glowing th– OH SHIT!

      Yeah, Shadow of Chernobyl is one of my favorite games.

      You might be interested in Survarium, an in-development free-to-play FPS/MMO by a bunch of former GSC devs who formed a new company after S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 was cancelled. It’s a very similar world and style, and they’ve said that they’re trying to make it feel like a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game. The MMO and F2P parts made me cautious at first, but I’ve been watching the developer diaries (well, reading the subtitles of the developer diaries) and it sounds like they know what they’re doing, or at least they’re aware of potential issues and are coming up with solutions. I’m willing to trust the guys who made Shadow of Chernobyl.

      Stalker Online, though… STAY AWAY. First, look at that title. “Stalker,” not “S.T.A.L.K.E.R.” Secondly, the first thing in the license agreement is a statement that Stalker Online has nothing to do with any properties created by “JSC Game World,” specifically Shadow of Chernobyl, Clear Sky, and Call of Pripyat. Third, it’s a third-person shooter. It’s in open beta right now, but I couldn’t take more than 15 or 20 minutes of it before uninstalling it in disgust.

      • rvb1023

        I have been following Survivarium, despite not really liking free-to-play games all that much solely because the art design is in line with the rest of STALKER series. Will definitely be checking it out.

  • Zach_Annon

    After weeks of lurking on this site, this question has proven to be the motivation I needed to register.  Warlords Battlecry III has, to date, been the most perfect combination of RTS and RPG that I have ever played.  Looking back, it’s probably not an objectively amazing game (it was way too easy to make an overpowered hero that didn’t need to build a single unit, for example, and support-based heroes were pretty weak), but I loved that game more than any other game I’ve ever played.  Haven’t played it since I upgraded my computer to Windows 7, and I still regret that I didn’t save my old XP system just to boot up that game every now and again.  Oh well.  Fallen Enchantress kind of scratches that itch, even if it is turn-based.

    • George_Liquor

      Windows 7 has some pretty extensive compatibility tweaks for older Windows programs, including the ability to run a full-blown XP virtual machine within it. I’ve personally never tried XP Mode, but it might be what you need to get that game to work.

      http://www.microsoft.com/windows/virtual-pc/download.aspx

      • Zach_Annon

        Holy cow, I will have to test this tomorrow!  Having long-since given up trying to actually WBC again, I’m torn between being really excited to revisit a game that I played for years, and the possibility that it won’t hold up as well as I remember it because I was a terrible strategy gamer when I spent most of my time playing it. 

    • http://gameological.com/author/johnteti/ John Teti

      Welcome! Thanks for signing up.

      • Zach_Annon

        Thanks!  Now I can finally tell everyone what I’m playing this weekend, which I have been planning on doing for the past 3 months.  I am nothing if not slothful.

    • EmperorNortonI

       That game was pretty awesome.  I enjoyed the Warlords 4 as well, but Warlords 3 was miles better.

  • dmikester

    YDKJ for me too, big time.  While I wouldn’t say it’s what introduced me to snark (my dad, Monty Python, and to some extent the King’s Quest and Space Quest series were earlier), YDKJ was smart, hysterical and full of clever references, and the fact that it was all wrapped up in a videogame was amazing.

    It’s hard for me to pick one.  There’s Persona 3, which is in my top ten list (tied with Persona 4), but there’s also Final Fantasy XII and Anthony’s pick, Dragon Quest VIII.  I just love expansive worlds with lots of things to collect and deep stories, and I got completely, utterly engrossed in those three games for those reasons.  An earlier example of that for me would be Ocarina of Time, which was just the most fun, amazing world and smart gameplay design I’d ever seen up to that point.

    What’s interesting about this question is how I’m realizing that older games that I remember fondly wouldn’t really be that appealing to me now or fit my current gaming preferences.  For example, even though I love Super Mario 64, and played it non-stop as a kid, I don’t have as much of a love for platformers as I used to, so now it would be fun but not ideal.  Similarly, I used to be obsessed with FPS’s, and so I remember games like Duke Nukem 3D and Serious Sam with a lot of love and feeling like they were perfect at the time (of course I was a teenager).  I wonder what it’ll be like when I’m middle aged; maybe I’ll prefer Bejeweled 12: the BeJewelining more than these crazy epic RPGs and sagas like Mass Effect.

  • George_Liquor

    I gotta say Mechwarrior 2. While playing BattleTech as a kid, I was preoccupied with a mental image of how a giant bipedal war machine would behave on the battlefield. When I saw Mechwarrior 2 for the first time, I felt like they plucked that image out of my brain, burned it onto a CD-ROM, and added a whole lot more kickass! 

    The mechs lumber around the battlefield with booming footsteps and the hydraulic whines of heavy machinery in motion. The view from the mech’s minimalist cockpit constantly bobs while it’s in motion, recoils from weapons fire, and jerks violently if the mech suffers a fall or a hit. Most mechs’ torsos twist so they can bring their weapons to bear while strafing.  As they take damage, they lose heat sinks, jump jets, sensors, weapons, and ultimately entire limbs, making damage avoidance crucial in the longer and tougher missions. All the time, the mech’s onboard computer dispassionately reports the enemy’s defeat or one’s own imminent demise. It’s an amazingly detailed and immersive simulation, and it gets even better with a quality joystick like my old MS Sidewinder.

    It scratched my strategy itch, too. Nearly every mission in the game required a unique combination of mech chassis and equipment, so I would spend hours perfecting my mech, balancing weapons and ammo against speed, armor and heat sinks. Then I’d spend more time selecting the perfect mech squadron to fight with me. If the planet I was going to was cold enough, I’d load up on heat sinks and energy weapons so I wouldn’t have to worry about depleting my ammo. If it was a hot planet, I’d load up on armor & ammo so I could hack it in a close-range slugfest. I’d group my long-range weapons separate from my short-range, so I could pick off smaller mechs at a distance and bait the bigger ones out of formation. As a last-ditch hail-mary against a more powerful mech, I’d fire every weapon I had at once hoping I’d score a critical hit out before I overheated & shutdown. I’d even use my jump jets for a death-from-above attack on the enemy mech’s cockpit, hoping it would give out before my legs did. 

    • EmperorNortonI

       It’s funny hearing you talk about using all the customization options.  I pretty quickly found MY mech, that just fit me like a glove.  It was a 60 ton Nova, with fewer lasers than stock and more heat sinks.  I ran fast, kept firing, and just destroyed the enemy.  It worked pretty damn well in Mechwarrior 3 as well.  Fuck yeah!

      • HobbesMkii

        The Warhawk was my goto. Load it up with heat sinks, put four PPCs in there. If you fired all four simultaneously you’d nearly overheat and shutdown, but if all four hit, light mechs immediately exploded, medium mechs lost limbs and heavy mechs suffered pretty serious damage.

        • George_Liquor

          Unfortunately, it would shut down if all four PPCs went off at once, leaving you wide open in case the PPCs missed their target–which they almost always did. Plus the arms fell off that thing at the drop of a hat, leaving you with nothing but a bunch of chumpy medium lasers. IIRC, my modified Warhawk traded the PPCs for ER large lasers & twin gauss rifles, which packed about the same punch but didn’t overheat it.

        • HobbesMkii

          @George_Liquor:disqus I seem to remember it being able to withstand the heat, but I might have used a 3 PPC setup. I also seem to remember being able to put at least one in the head or the torso. I rarely put weapons I deemed critical into the arms specifically because I lot them so often.

        • George_Liquor

           @HobbesMkii:disqus It probably depended on how hot the planet was, but I distinctly recall letting fly with all four PPCs, and then immediately having to abort the auto-shutdown. I would mount all my important weapons in the head/torso too, leaving chumpy stuff like machine guns & small lasers in the arms. Ultimately, my badass custom Warhawk was left to rust in the dropship once I got my hands on the Dire Wolf.

      • George_Liquor

        Fuck yeah, the Nova! That was my go-to mech for most of the game too. I loved that squatty little SOB.

    • Asinus

      MW2 came bundled with my Orchid Righteous3D (Voodoo Graphics) card. I had a copy before that, I think, but when I got the 3D accelerated version, I really started playing it a lot. 
      I had a Thrustmaster HOTAS set up (and still have it, but I lost all of the programs i wrote for it) and a set of rudder pedals and had them all configured for MW2. THAT was so much fun! I could turn the entire mech with the stick, control speed with the throttle, and used the pedals to turn the waist. That sort of immersion can’t be matched by graphics alone. 

      I still have the 3Dfx version of MW2 and my Righteous3D… hmm… 

  • IntotheNightSky

    Hmmm, when it’s all said and done, I think I’d have to say Kirby Air Ride.  Maybe it’s just because I played it at such a formative period in my life, but everything about that game appeals to my sensibilities, particularly City Trials.  You get to roam around a brightly lit pastel city, looking for power-ups, uncovering some hidden mysteries, and flying around in some pretty rad machines.  On the whole, it’s just one of the most charming games I’ve ever played.

    • DrFlimFlam

      Unfairly maligned game. Super cute, lots of fun, exactly what makes most Kirby games great.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        Kirby’s aesthetics are deceptive, in that they betray the solidness and sometime complexity of those games (Kirby’s Adventure is one of the best games, period, for the NES). But they’re also accurate in that those games are, through ingenious and subtle design-decisions, a much better fit for younger players than similar platformer series like Mario.

        • DrFlimFlam

          Kirby’s Epic Yarn blew me away with its cute, fun gameplay and wonderful soundtrack. It’s easy, but getting the high scores and all that was a bit more challenging. And it was great to play with my son.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          They are among the best games to play with a younger player – I discovered how much better Kirby games are for littluns than Mario games playing emulated SNES titles with my then-little cousin in the early 2000s. Kirby’s Dream Land 3 was a…dream to play, while something like Mario World typically ended with him jumping right into the first bottomless pit he encountered.

  • evanwaters

    Toon was my first RPG too! I didn’t even know what they were, but I saw an ad for it in a game catalog and wanted it, and at the game store it was just this slim booklet. From then it was a quick yet inevitable slide to D&D and DC Heroes and so on and so forth. It Came From the Late, Late, Late Show was also an ideal tabletop experience for me- you play characters in bad B sci-fi/horror movies, but you’re actually playing the actors, so you’re a different character in each scenario, but your fame increases and you can have your stunt double take damage, etc.

    Also, The Movies. It had a few issues but I got sucked into the metafictional aspect of it as well as making short machinimas. It’s a fun creative exercise.

    • josiahj

      I hadn’t thought about Toon in years. My older brother had purchased the book, and through is disinterest, it was passed on to me. I never played it (I ended up on Star Wars Roleplaying-also a D6) but I would read through the book and imagine playing it constantly.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia

      I’ve always been a pretty straight-forward D&D/Pathfinder gamer- with the occasional ill-advised foray into Rifts, but I do love the wild gamut of high-concept role playing games that emerged in the late 80′s.
         I think that sensibility may live on in board gaming, where, arguably, it’s actually a better fit.  But still, it’s a pleasant nostalgia to look back at a time when it was a total free-for-all for any small group of pals who had a narrative idea they wanted to affix a crit chart to. 

      • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

        I always enjoyed the character possibilities in Rifts. You could play as a friggin’ leprechaun! 

        • Spacemonkey Mafia

          Rifts has the largest inverse story to mechanics ratio of any system I’ve ever seen.
             Each neat idea it introduces is immediately balanced out by some painful rule implementation that makes actually running a campaign a terrible, muddied ordeal.
             But yeah, Leprechaun. 

      • evanwaters

        Fortunately there are still a lot of weird RPGs out there, it’s just that it’s a small market to begin with and a lot of them are eBook-only. 

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      If you like irreverent quasi-parody RPGs, then you might enjoy the card-based Munchkin series. It takes about an hour or so to pick up, but after that, it’s a lot of fun. I played the superhero-flavoured Super Munchkin, and I was surprised how often other characters’ superpowers caused my character to undergo a sex change.

  • jessec829

    Dragon Quest VIII was the first game I played on an advanced console. I was strictly I-still-have-my-original-NES-and-love-it gal, but my roommate had a PS2, and watching her play DQVIII forced me to do the same . . . and I was hooked.

    I’ve been playing Ni No Kuni lately, and my enjoyment of the game (already quite high) went up 30% when I unlocked the alchemy feature, just to hear that DQVIII alchemy pot bubbling noise again.

    • Citric

      The further I get into Ni no Kuni, the more I’m reminded of DQVIII, which is a good thing all around.

  • http://twitter.com/djbeema Reuben

    Hmm, this is a tough one. Even with the games I adore, it’s hard to find one that doesn’t tick off at least one of my personal peeves. 

    I’d probably have to go with Fallout 3 and/or New Vegas. I remember getting Fallout 3 from my friend at Bethesda and being stunned that such a game existed. It was like “you mean, I can do all this stuff? there are no constraints?” I love open worlds, I love exploration, I love RPG’s, but I also like shooting stuff, sneaking through areas and infiltration. It offered all of these things. The only thing I love that it didn’t offer was a compelling story with characters I give a shit about. But it satisfied almost all of my other desires, so I didn’t mind. 

    I think the first STALKER might also fit the bill. I just love the feeling of isolation and being able to wander through an environment and find things out for yourself. Plus it had elements of horror, mystery, and a pretty intriguing plot. 

    Dishonored came close, but no cigar. I’m a huge fan of stealth games, but I’m also kind of an OCD control freak, which for many games, can mean a lot of tedious reloading and replaying (MGS and the Hitman series come to mind) to get things perfect. But Dishonored had quick saves! Huzzah! Finally a stealth game that catered to my perfectionist play style. But I say came close because the overall experience felt kind of detached. It’s hard to put in to words, but something about Dishonored doesn’t feel visceral or weighty enough. Kind of hollow feeling. 

    • djsubversive

      high-five, fellow stalker. I mentioned it above in my rambling response to @rvb1023:disqus , but that first visit to Agroprom Underground was when I knew Shadow of Chernobyl was made for me.

      New Vegas is another great game. It was such a step up from Fallout 3 in terms of characters and world-building, that the gameplay improvements were just icing on the cake. I am, however, an admitted Obsidian fanboy (OVER HERE !!!), so that *might* be part of it.

      • http://www.facebook.com/keleigh3000 Keleigh Hardie

         Fallout 2 was that for me ten years ago, now it’s New Vegas. I’ve got almost 600 hours in the Mojave Wasteland, and I’ve never even finished the MQ.

      • rvb1023

        I remember when Fallout 3 was big and popular and STALKER: Clear Sky had come out the month previous, everyone was talking how great it was. I guess I didn’t get it, because I hated FO3 and even the weakest entry in the STALKER series ranked miles ahead for me.
        Haven’t yet had a chance to play New Vegas yet, but Obsidian is a far better developer than Bethesda will ever be (Writers too) so one day I’ll pick up the full edition off of Steam.

    • http://www.facebook.com/keleigh3000 Keleigh Hardie

       Get out of here, STALKER!

    • rvb1023

      I guess I am one of those weird people who never got into Fallout all that much but anyone who likes STALKER is immediately awarded with good taste.

  • http://twitter.com/#!/FuriousGiorge Craig

    World of Warcraft, but about 15 years too late.  If a game like that had existed when I was 13 years old, I don’t think I would have done anything else but go to school, and then come home to fight monsters with my friends.  The idea of an online RPG that you could play with other people was a far-in-the-distance pipe dream back when a couple of us trying to play “Eye of the Beholder 2″ together was as close as we got to cooperative play of an RPG that didn’t involve actual pen and paper.  But when it finally did come out, the moment had passed for me, and I’ve never had any real interest in it.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      I think this response gets to the heart of what distinguishes a “bespoke” game from a “favorite” one. A “bespoke” game is one that uncannily seems to reflect your idiosyncrasies and interests (or ones you once had), but doesn’t necessarily have to be one you actually consider a favorite, or have played very much.

    • The_Misanthrope

       In theory, I always thought I would love MMORPGs.   In the past, I’ve dabbled in the odd MUD or text-based MMORPGs like Urban Dead.  However, everytime I’ve ever tried to start up a legit big-time MMORPG like Everquest, WoW, or Champions, that empowering sense of creation that goes with making a character and embarking out into the wider world always deflates when the IRC interface lights up with a bunch of chatter.  I’m pulled out of it and reminded immediately of the multitudes of other players lazily sitting at their computers.  Maybe this marks me as an antisocial creep, but it just just ruins it for me.

  • LoveWaffle

    KotOR I & II.  I like Star Wars, the characters are incredible, the stories epic, and the world immersive.  It made all the expansions on the Star Wars lore that the prequels should have done, just about all other EU since has not done, and what the new films should do.  Even with the second one’s incredibly rushed ending, the KotOR games are the best Star Wars story told since the original trilogy.

    Let me just nerd out for a second:
    - Holy fuck that twist!  What makes it even more awesome is that it’s possible for you to see it coming!
    - Everything about Jolee Bindo
    - Everything about HK-47
    - Everything HK-47 says
    - Everything Kreia says
    - Darth Sion being the best designed SW character since Darth Maul
    - KotOR II being one of the few SW media to take place outside a major galactic conflict
    - Being the game that popularized the Dark/Light slider
    - Evil Wookiees

    BTW, does anyone know if Juhani is the first major homosexual character in a video game?

    • valondar

       I’m going to second this (and if you haven’t got the Sith Lords Restored Content Mod for KOTOR2, which adds back a lot of cut material, do.)
      http://www.moddb.com/mods/the-sith-lords-restored-content-mod-tslrcm (and I’ll throw in a trailer because why not: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOFzco3Xskc)

      I’ve played KOTOR2 more than I’ve played any other RPG. It has to be one of my most replayed non-strategy games generally. I’ve said for years that Kreia is the best written character I’ve seen in a videogame, and I honestly stand by that.

      I’m not sure if KOTOR really is the game that popularized Light Side/Dark Side paths, though. Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight gave players the option of going evil or good, although understandably it was a game with much less emphasis on choice than the KOTOR series.

      • LoveWaffle

        I know it’s not the first game to have it, but it seems like that game mechanic became a more frequent feature in games, RPGs and otherwise, after that.

        As for Kreia, how awesome is it that she’s one of the few oddball characters in the Star Wars franchise?  There’s very few other characters to compare her to.  It’s as if the only reason she exists is to take the incredibly simplistic morality of the Star Wars universe and throw a wrench in it.

        And when Star Wars: The Clone Wars (the CGI one, not the incredibly awesome Genndy Tartakovsky one) contradicted one of her predictions, I threw a sandwich at my TV.

        • valondar

          I think the MMO contradicted Kreia’s interpretation of Revan’s actions, and yet I trust her more.

          One of the best things about Kreia is how unreliable she is. She misleads, she misdirects, she’s evasive, self-serving – so many RPGs give you companions whose conversations amount to biographical infodumps. That Brianna is her daughter is something you can only piece together from tangential information rather than ever being told outright.

          KOTOR2′s writing just astonished me, and I liked that even incomplete it’s surprisingly flexible in what choices it lets you make.

          For example, your party is determined in part by your Light Side/Dark Side standing, where if you’re neutral or Light Sided you’ll get Mira but if Dark Sided you’ll get Hanharr. I once played a game where I was neutral until I got Mira, then went full Dark Side, then gained influence with Mira and unlocked her ability to be a force user and basically made her one of my Sith, complete with the bad skin and black lipstick that goes with the territory. Now that’s choice.

        • djsubversive

          @google-ad11b5fc6e812fcfddafc59b953591fe:disqus I love the inter-party conflicts so much. Atton hates the droids (I absolutely love the way he says “They break. In the head.” and his argument with T3), Brianna can’t stand Atton, nobody trusts Visas, Mira doesn’t like the other women, and Kreia thinks everybody but the Exile is useless. 

          And how awesome is T3? For a droid who only communicates in beeps and boops, he’s got so much personality! 

        • valondar

           @djsubversive:disqus Oh god yes. KOTOR2 is riddled with interpersonal conflict. Hell it even has GOTO hating Bao-Dur’s drone.

          And I like T3, although except when you’re required to use him I don’t think I’ve ever used him. He languishes a bit like Bao-Dur, who I guess needs more attention on my next playthrough (shamefully never made him either a Jedi or a Sith).

        • LoveWaffle

          Is Brianna supposed to be her daughter?  I know the hints are in the game, but I didn’t think there was anything of a consensus on Kreia and Arren Kae being the same person.

          I never encountered it myself since I played through the game the “canon” way; that is I played as a female Exile, so I had Mical in my party instead of her.

        • djsubversive

          More KoTOR 2 gushing: that first encounter with Atris on Telos. I loved that. There was so much “backstory” available for your character, about why you went off to fight in the Mandalorian Wars, and your previous relationship with Atris.

          Atton has a couple of those types of conversations, too, and it’s one of the many little things I love about KoTOR 2. One of them is when you discuss Revan for the first time, on Peragus. The choices you make in that conversation determine a bunch of little things later on, depending on whether Revan was Light or Dark Side, male or female. The other one I’m thinking of is when he asks you about your old lightsaber. I knew it was going to come into play later, but when it did, after being ignored for nearly the entire game, I had the same reaction as one of the choices – “Hey, that’s MY lightsaber!” I’m not talking about the recording of you being exiled. I’m talking about the OTHER time it shows up. I was not expecting that (although I probably should have been).

          “HK, do you know what love is?”
          “Answer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hab3R_TRazg

          HK-47 being a murder-philosopher is great. Even the droids get character development! And the cut droid factory (TSLRCM added it back in) gives HK even more time in the spotlight.

          Speaking of TSLRCM, one of the things I didn’t care for that they restored was all the little combat encounters everywhere. It’s especially bad on Nar Shaddaa, when you have to return to your ship after getting out of the Jek’jek’tarr (or whatever it’s called). Every 30 meters, I can see a group of 3 enemies, just waiting for me to get close. It’s just a slog. The d20 combat system is not the reason we’re still talking about this game.

      • djsubversive

        KoTOR 2: Obsidian Strikes Back. :)
        I’m assuming you’ve seen awesome and extensive let’s play, but if you haven’t (and for anyone else who hasn’t), here it is: http://lparchive.org/Knights-of-the-Old-Republic-II/

        It’s good stuff. He goes through a bunch of the cut content (this was before Team Gizka’s failed attempt and TSLRCM’s successful one), and brings up the “Brianna is Kreia’s daughter” thing, too (which is what made me assume you’ve seen the LP).

        Also, I totally agree with you on Kreia, the best Star Wars character ever.

        • valondar

           It’s one of my favourite LPs, so… yeah, I have. Really anyone who wants to read a pretty thorough breakdown of that game it’s worth a look, but I’d recommend avoiding it if you haven’t played KOTOR2 yet.

      • DrFlimFlam

        I’ve finally been playing KOTOR II with the fan patch that adds a ton of cut content back into the game.

      • rvb1023

        KOTOR II might be the single most under appreciated sequel ever. To me it topped the original in every way (And the original was fantastic). I’m pretty sure it has the best writing of any SW related media ever.

        And Kreia defines awesome in every sense of the word. I find myself replaying that game a ton just to listen the her conversations again. Speaking of which I should probably try the new Restored Content Mod.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      You know, I played KotoR, and it was pretty cool, though the rigid Bioware binary morality system was both grating and laughable, and it felt weird that each planet had about one city and 2 acres of land to traverse. Despite those shortcomings, it was a really immersive and interesting game, and one of the only instances of Star Wars being done right in the 00s.

      Despite being pumped for more, I had shied away from KotoR2, because at the time everything I read about it focused on how broken and incomplete an experience it was. However, lately, I’ve only been encountering hyperbolic praise for it – and the patch that restores most of the lost content sounds like it rectifies most of the incompleteness issues. I might just have to find the time to give it a spin…

      • valondar

         In fairness, @paraclete_pizza:disqus , part of the reason you probably hear a lot of praise for KOTOR2 is people like me are one of the few kinds of people to still regularly bring it up in conversation. People who disliked KOTOR2 have largely moved on.

        But if you do try it, hope you enjoy it half as much as I did.

      • LoveWaffle

        Granted, both of those shortcomings were novelty when the game came out.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          Yeah, I was never good at equating ‘novel’ with ‘good.’
          Which is probably the same reason I had a hard time getting into those hideous N64 games beck when they first came out – those “cutting edge 3D graphics,” despite their novelty, all looked so gross compared to late-period SNES graphics, that I found those games seriously off-putting.

  • valondar

    While I mentioned a couple of other titles when it came up last time, I think in retrospect I’m going to just say Interplay’s Star Trek: Starfleet Command. First, obviously, it’s because I’m an enormous Star Trek nerd and any Star Trek game that is at least trying to capture the gist of the show is something that looks like it was designed for me but there’s more to it than that.

    Sure I could say it was one of my many favourite games from the late 1990s, but it was a number of things all of which I wanted at once:

    It was a strategic space combat game. As opposed to the dogfights of the X-Wing/TIE Fighter series (or Wing Commander) you commanded a mid-level starship with hexagonal shields through a functionally 2D battlefield.

    On the one hand there was – what seemed to me at the time – a nicely liberated sandbox element of it. You could be any one of six factions, from familiar Star Trek mainstays like Romulans and Klingons to board game exclusives like the cat-like Lyrans or the tentacled Hydrans; and all of them had a cool different variety of starships which played differently and rewarded different strategies I tended to go for the Hydrans, as they had really the best spacefighter support and there was something very satisfying about unleashing a few wings of my spacefighters on approaching capital ships.

    You could go to any zone your faction controlled, or even enemy zones when your faction was at war, and which zones you were in determined what sort of encounters you faced. Doing well in such missions – escorts, starbase protection, starbase attack, encountering weird alien phenomena, there was actually a lot of variety – progressed your character’s career.

    But while it had that sandbox element, it was simple and straightforward and not TOO involved – the complexity of EVE Online or the X series completely bewilders me. It felt challenging but comprehensible, and on top of that the game offered optional story missions which followed an arc specific to your race.

    Basically it was one of my favourite Star Trek games (up there with Activision’s Birth of the Federation) and it gave me the freedom to chart my own ship’s path in the universe in a manner that was easy to learn, yet challenging, and addictive.

    My bug for such games has never entirely gone away, which is why I really should play more FTL.

    • Kahoutek

      Have you tried the Star Trek Online game (now free-to-play)?  I too wanted the “slow, elegant” space battles, so I tried it for a night, but I didn’t quite find it there.

      • valondar

         I’ve tried a bit of it. I thought it was alright and the combat is similar to Starfleet Command – at least, what I remember of it as I haven’t played that game in around a decade.

        Star Trek Online is a game I keep meaning to get back to, mostly out of curiosity regarding the Foundry system, but it also has a lot of MMO functions and economy and so on (and a pretty merciless cash shop) which means it’s a fair bit removed from Starfleet Command’s addictive simplicity… the customisation options are excellent, though, and some of the most extensive I’ve seen in a MMO (even excluding the ruthlessly cash shopped material).

  • Mistah Chrysoprase

    Fallout was mine, and it was perfect.
    Twelve year-old kid, too clever for my own damn good, still both terrified yet intrigued by the horror of nuclear war and the awesome freedom of a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and thanks to my parents, with a bone-deep affection for the the sleek forms and future-is-now cool of Jet Age modern design.
    I’d have fallen in love at any point in my life, but coming out when it did hit every conceivable sweet spot.

    • http://www.facebook.com/keleigh3000 Keleigh Hardie

       I grew up in the Sixties, amidst all those tailfins and mushroom clouds, I’d always enjoyed PA fiction, and love the desert Southwest. So yeah, it still worked it’s magic on me even though I was in my forties when it came out. I still play Fs 1&2 on occasion, though my real love has become NV.

  • Gameological Society Commenter

    Jason Reich is a weenie and you can get the ‘girls talk to you’ item from the toon merchant in the bridge tunnel that leads to TOONtownburg. Come on bro, man up.

    • PaganPoet

      Nah, it doesn’t work this go around, mate. The whole appeal of that comment was that he was this random, first-time GS commenter appearing out of the blue to call a GS columnist a weenie and “bro.”

      Although your avatar is still well awesome.

      • Gameological Society Commenter

        Woah there Hitler.

    • http://gameological.com/author/jasonreich/ Jason Reich

      Oh, please, please, please tell me I’m responsible for inspiring Gameological’s first gimmick commenter. This is a gift beyond riches.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        Unfortunately, no. He or she has been around for a while. johnny boy.

        • http://gameological.com/author/jasonreich/ Jason Reich

          Aw, nuts. I figured that couldn’t be the first. Must’ve missed him previously.

        • HobbesMkii

           @Stummies:disqus Prior to this it’s been long screeds explaining how we take things too seriously and have no lives.

        • http://gameological.com/author/jasonreich/ Jason Reich

          @HobbesMkii So what’s the joke?

  • The Guilty Party

    Most things that Bioware makes, really. I rarely finish games; I play them for a while and then get distracted or bored and say ‘Hm, this isn’t fun anymore’ and I move on, no hard feelings.

    Except I’ve finished every Bioware game since Baldur’s Gate multiple times. Even the ones people whine about (i.e., all of them). They streamline away bits that annoy me, give me lots of interesting characters, give me stories where I want to find out what happens, worlds that I’m interested to learn the lore about, and are willing to sell me more game once I’m done with it the first time. (Yeah, I like being able to buy more of things I like).

    Based on the rest of the internet, they apparently exist solely to satisfy my whims. I’d like to thank them, and suggest they include characters with Welsh accents in more of their games. All of their games, in fact.

    • valondar

      I’ve never not enjoyed playing a BioWare game. Hell, despite the enormous outpouring of venom for it, Star Wars: The Old Republic was my favourite MMO experience of 2012, admittedly because it was basically the best coop RPG around. Get two players with two different classes, do each other stories and it was the greatest damn adventure.

      I often see RPGs today grouped into BioWare and Bethesda styles, and I’ll always pick the former over the latter. One of my main worries for Dragon Age III honestly is they’ll take their stated intent to ape Skyrim a little too literally, but otherwise looking forward to it.

      • The Guilty Party

        SWTOR was the first MMO I ever reached max level for, for the simple reason that they gave me story to keep me interested after the desire to do the same thing to make some numbers bigger wore off.

        Also the imperial agent was awesome. That helped too.

    • DrFlimFlam

      BioWare and Bethesda have made up a majority of my adult gameplay. As a teenager it was all Squaresoft, and as an adult it’s mostly BioWare/Bethesda. Intelligent Systems has always been around, too.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

      I haven’t yet played a Bioware game I didn’t like (though for now, that only includes the Mass Effect series and Jade Empire). Somehow, they’ve perfected the secret formula of action vs. exploration, freedom vs. guidance, and complexity vs. elegance that appeals directly to me. And only to me. Because those games were made for me.

    • AmaltheaElanor

      Aside from KOTOR and Jade Empire, there pretty much isn’t a BioWare game I haven’t played, and the only one I didn’t completely love was Dragon Age II (which I like okay, just not that much in comparison to its predecessor).

      I first got my hands on Mass Effect 2 (I hadn’t play 1 yet) when they gave it away as a free download to everyone who bought DA2 – and it was like everything I had wanted from DA2: cinematics, a grand, over-arching narrative, characters I could invest in…  Even going into it, all I knew was the protagonist was named Shepherd and the ship was called the Normandy, and when Shepherd died and the Normandy blew up…I was hooked.  It’s such an awesome way to start a game.

      Ultimately I liked ME3 more than ME2, but it made for an awesome intro to the series.

      • Halloween_Jack

        The beginning of ME2 is pretty awesome, even though it follows the beginning of the Star Trek reboot movie pretty closely (although I’m sure that Bioware was working on it well before the movie came out). But, yeah, it’s something else when you realize that 1) your player character didn’t survive that fall from orbit, and 2) that the grey, wet, indistinct landscape that you see after the de-orbiting scene is your player character’s body in extreme close-up.

  • Marozeph

    I’d probably go with Thief – The Dark Project.
    I never played any stealth game before (i had no PS1 and missed out on MGS) and didn’t know what to expect, but when i tried out the demo, something just clicked – sneaking up on enemies was more fun than taking them head-on, the atmosphere was thick and the steampunk-ish design pleasant.
    I quickly got the full game and pretty much every aspect of it made me say “Yes, this is how i want my games to be”. As a result, i’m still a big fan of stealth-games and prefer to stab opponents in the back instead of shooting them in the face. (Which is why i’m endlessly annoyed about Thief 4, or T4ief, or whatever being stuck in developement hell. But that’s a story for another time…)

    • DrFlimFlam

      Have you played Dishonored?

      I like sneaky games, but I’m pretty terrible at them. I end up playing Bethesda games in a Thief-like manner because stealth is eventually overpowered.

      • Marozeph

        Sure did. I finished it without killing anyone on my first run and then tried to play it in “murder everything” mode, but being able to fight felt like i was cheating. I’ll probably try it that way sometime in the future (or maybe the first Story-DLC will actually be worth playing).

        2012 was a pretty good year for sneaking anyway – Hotline Miami and Mark of the Ninja were also very enjoyable. And Assassins Creed 3 also has some fans (haven’t played it yet, will do so once it gets cheaper).

        • DrFlimFlam

          Dishonored is SO DIFFICULT for me, but I intend to start the game over after I’m done with Skyrim and try harder. The world is just so well-done that I’d hate to continue on the way I have, trying to stealth and then eventually murderating out of frustration.

        • http://twitter.com/djbeema Reuben

          Same here, my first run was all stealth and no kills. Tried to do a 2nd murder run but it just didn’t feel right and I lost interest. It felt too easy that I could just stab my way out of any mistake.

          @drflimflam quicksave is your friend :)

    • http://twitter.com/djbeema Reuben

      I played Thief Gold a long time after it came out, so going back to those graphics and controls took some getting used to. Even so, I liked it quite a bit. I never finished it, though, because the difficulty on the last few levels just ramped up so severely it made me rage quit. The monsters were too difficult to sneak around, and facing them in open fighting meant near instant death.

      As for the yet-to-be-released Thief — you know it’s being developed by the same people who made Deus EX: HR, right? That being the case, I would say it’s in good hands.

  • grizzly4300

    Escape Velocity, Master of Orion II, Civ. II and the original Exile: Escape from the Pit. They took up a large amount of my time in middle school.

    If I had to pick one, it’d be either Escape Velocity or Exile… I can’t decide.

  • feisto

    Great. The question got me thinking, and the ultimate I answer I came up with was “Sudoku, and all its variations.” Especially Killer Sudoku, which hits that sweet spot where math meets puzzle-solving. Those…those are games, right?

    • stakkalee

      Sudoku is absolutely a game!  Sudoku is a puzzle game stripped of all the knobs and whistles – there is a maze, with at least one path through it, and you use logic to find that path.  I wouldn’t call Sudoku my “bespoke” game, but it’s a great way to kill an hour.

    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

      I used to subscribe to nikoli.com ($15 per month) for all its awesome puzzles. I especially love Akari and Hitori.

  • Nudeviking

    Star Ocean 2.  I’m not really sure why, but everything about that game was what I was looking for in a game.

  • Destroy Him My Robots

    I’m gonna go with Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders. Classic adventure gameplay? Check. Also: Traveling around the world to archaelogical sites, ancient astronauts, transferring your consciousness into animals using power crystals, shouting “Geronimo!” when you’re parachuting out of a plane over the Bermuda triangle, Groucho glasses, Elvis, Mars pyramids… it’s the complete package. Gameplay wise, sure, the mazes are awful, but the Mindbender (the chamber that dumbs you down) is the smartest thing anyone’s ever done with SCUMM (you gradually lose your verbs).

    My honorable mention goes to Superbrothers: Swords & Sworcery EP. Artists drawing inspiration from Jung is pretty cliched, but damn if it isn’t also reliably fun and interesting. Scythian is pretty much my perfect video game ethnicity: Grounded in reality, but mysterious because it’s so poorly understood and who knows what history forgot, so it’s fair and easy to embellish. Evocative pixel art and a proggy but modern sondtrack serve to underline the primitivity of the world. If I was some schmuck wandering the steppes with no access to information, but with a single mountain always on the horizon, then I’d be all “This must be where the gods reside!” too, and this game makes me feel like I’m part of that world where nothing can be understood, but everything can be interpreted. I’ve mentioned this before, but SS&SEP is retro in a way that doesn’t remind of old games, it reminds me of the things my mind made up to fill the blanks when I saw screenshots or cover art. So that’s pretty personal and tailor-made, I think. The game has issues and I can’t love it as much as I’d like, but what it gets right it gets incredibly right.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      Those are both great picks that are totally in my wheelhouse, if not completely “bespoke” to me. Some of us, including me, discussed our picks in a thread last week, and mine included (provisionally) Double Fine Adventure for its combination of LEC adventure game sensibility with a painterly/cut-out Yuri-Norstein-esque animation style that is totally my jam. Also, Amanita games, which similarly combine the consequence-free exploration and puzzling of LEC classic adventures with richly textured aesthetics evocative of Eastern European animation.

    • DrFlimFlam

      I don’t get Swords and Sworcery EP. I like the aesthetics, love the soundtrack, but I don’t GET it.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        I like all of the elements of it, but, yeah, as a whole it feels a little ‘thin,’ and style-over-substance. It’s a cool stylistic exercise, but I don’t know if it actually has a solid thematic or mechanical core.

    • stakkalee

      Zak McKracken was my answer, too!  There are other games that I’ve played more, but Zak McKracken fostered my love of the bizarre and conspiratorial.  I’ve never been able to read a Weekly World News without thinking of that game.  I was so sad when that fine publication was canceled…

  • HomageToCatatonia

    For me it’s probably New Vegas. I loved Fallout 3, but NV’s blend of classic Western, fifties Sci-Fi B-movie, Rat-Pack Vegas and post-apocalyptic setting was just perfect. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/keleigh3000 Keleigh Hardie

       I started out on 1 & 2, so NV was like a return to paradise for me. The Rat-Pack and Hollywood cowboy stuff was just icing on the cake.

  • CNightwing

    For me, it was Baldur’s Gate.. for Apple Macintosh! It came out a good year after the version for Windows, but it was in time for Christmas, and more importantly, my birthday. Not many games were ported to Mac back then, in the pre-OS X era, and being a 2nd edition Dungeons and Dragons nerd, it honestly felt like a DM had correctly granted my wish. It was the first computer game I ever convinced my parents to buy for me – it came in a large box with the skull logo on the front, so that was quite an achievement. I still have it, complete with the map of the sword coast and chart of keyboard shortcuts.

    It was almost a disaster though – the first time I installed it, it didn’t work. I called the technical hotline in a panic, and they asked me to try reinstalling, and thankfully that worked, otherwise I would have been emotionally crushed I’m sure. And even though my friends had all finished the game, I played through it slowly and lovingly, exploring every inch of every map screen and achieving all possible quests. I intend to replay the recent re-release as soon as I have a week’s holiday to burn!

  • zebbart

    The first Dr Who CCG was exactly for me. I’d been trying to get into Magic and Spellfire for a while and enjoyed them, but I didn’t have enough money to assemble a decent deck. I was visiting my rich older cousin who had every D&D book and tons of cards when I found the Dr. Who game at their fancy suburban mall. I didn’t know anyone besides me dad who’d seen more than a fleeting image of the Doctor, while for me it was this secret late night portal into different worlds (I’m talking about Britain and 70′s sci-fi). So I bought three starter decks which I then used to make my Magic friends back home play with me as much I could. The game has such odd mechanics and as far as we could tell no over powered cards and a very small card set. That meant the games were more about figuring out how to use the hand you were dealt in creative ways than about putting together a killer deck. That was perfect for my sensibilities, and the pitch perfect weirdness of the play and the collection of images both familiar and mysterious sealed the deal. I loved that game and miss it.

  • Kahoutek

    I’d have to say the original X-Com, or as I knew it, UFO: Enemy Defense.  I used to fashion little neighborhood blocks out of paper for my Matchbox cars, so X-Com really nailed my fascination with having a sandbox,  miniature world.  The turn-based movement, the tense music, the brief “flashes” of aliens moving, I loved everything about that game.  I used to love the white-phosphorus ammo on nighttime missions, because I would just set everything on fire around me and those damn aliens couldn’t sneak up on me in the dark.

    A similar game which I loved but didn’t get quite as obsessed with, that also pushed that “miniatures” sweet-spot for me, was Syndicate.  That was the first game for me where I felt like there was a living, moving city around me with the cars on the roads and pedestrians walking about.

  • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

    I always loved games with a story. They were in short supply on the NES. “Deja Vu” sticks out for that reason. “Final Fantasy IV” took it to another level, though, with its unrelenting plot twists. “Pandora Directive” was the first game I played that offered real choices to the player. You could play Tex as a selfish asshole, and there were consequences to that. 

    “Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando” combined two of my favourite things, platforming and grinding, in a way that was very unique and exciting at the time. 

    And I will have to join the chorus of people praising “Dragon Quest VIII”. I can’t think of a game that made such a beautiful world worth exploring.  

    • Cheese

       I’ve always been a story guy too. I’m pretty sure as a kid I even had a backstory for the paddle in Breakout. In my defense, the cover of the Game Boy version of that game showed the paddle was a vehicle, presumably being driven by someone, and that raised a lot of questions.

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

        And of course, MARIO is piloting that thing. Busy guy.

      • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

        That game always weirded me out. When it starts, it’s like Mario is jumping off the paddle to perish.

  • djsubversive

    Other people mentioned S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl, probably my favorite game ever. But recently, thanks to Effigy_Power, I started playing Gothic 3, and wow. It’s not quite “tailor made” for me, but it’s damn close. Difficult combat, real-time map-watching (for some reason, that’s a common thing in a lot of my favorite games), a huge open world, no hand-holding, and a shitload of side quests.

    Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is another game that’s just about perfect for me. I loved sneaking around in the shadows, avoiding people as much as possible (even if it meant hiding in the dark for five minutes watching them to figure out their patrol routes), and knocking them out and hiding them somewhere when I couldn’t avoid them. The gadgets were fun, the controls/gameplay were excellent, loadouts were a neat idea (except that I always chose the “Stealth” option, so the other two might as well not even have been there), and there was a lot of variety in the mission locations. Plus, the co-op missions were excellent, and they were tied in to the single-player game pretty smoothly (the part I’m thinking of is that during a mission in the SP game, Sam receives new intel that the co-op agents have to get during one of their missions).

    • http://www.facebook.com/gareth.hughes.1253 Gareth Hughes

      I was a big fan of Thief and Thief 2 so Splinter Cell was the next logical progression. The series hit its peak with Chaos Theory and I bought a 2nd copy last year having sold my original in frustration after it crashed and took my save file with it on the missile launch level. 

      I played it through killing 3 people (ones you’re essentially made to kill) and I loved that was even an option.

  • The_Misanthrope

    This is going to feel like cheating or a way of avoiding choosing a specific game, but I’ve been playing games for a looooong time, so choosing one out of many is tough.  The answer I’m going with is (drum roll):  the whole concept of a pen-and-paper RPG.  Now, I’ve gone through both intense and fallow periods of playing them, but I can never forget my initial reaction upon opening up and poring over the Basic D&D boxset for the first time as a precocious child:  I thought to myself, “Why aren’t all games like this?  Why limit gameplay when you could always be playing something that immersed you in a story?”  Mind you, I have no rooting interest in the fantasy genre, but the mere notion that a game could give you more than just a binary winning-or-losing proposition was such a radical concept to my young mind.

    But if I absolutely must pick one and only one pencil-and-paper RPG, I’d likely go with West End’s PARANOIA 2nd Ed.  Just when I was starting to weary of many RPG conventions and the general gamer culture that surrounds it, it came along and just ripped the whole thing to shreds.  All those sacred cows–the value of PC life, the dynamic of working together as a group to trump whatever dungeon of the week came along, the impartial nature of the GM/DM–were slaughtered with such cathartic glee.

  • http://theladyfingers.blogspot.com/ Ladyfingers

    Operation Flashpoint indulged my giddy pleasure with military hardware. So many things to drive and shoot.

  • DrFlimFlam

    Like many folks, Mass Effect games immediately jump to mind for the adult me, but if we’re to go with firsts, as in the FIRST game to really feel like someone made it for me, I’d have to go back to Phantasy Star IV (sorry, RBI Baseball – you had my beloved Angels, but they weren’t terribly fun to play as). I’d dabbled in Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy at this point in my life, but never a game with so much story, with a romance, with a sick plot twist that predated the killing of Aeris(or Aerith for purists) by some years. You traveled to new planets and recruited new characters, combined powers for super abilities, and eventually beat up that stupid Sandworm. This was the first game that told me a real story, one I was invested in, and I’ve played it time and time again, never going to long without some version of the game available to me. And that soundtrack…

    • PaganPoet

      Gotta echo you here. I’ve had a hard time getting into other open-ended “western” RPG series…Fallout, Dragon Age, Elder Scrolls, etc. I find that, for me at least, too many choices is a bad thing. I get overwhelmed by the scope of it and can’t seem to stay interested.

      The streamlined mission style gameplay of Mass Effect, plus the sci-fi setting, plus the shooter battles, it all just works for me. I actually just finished ME3 for the first time this week, and I immediately popped ME1 back in for another go around.

      • DrFlimFlam

        The ending of ME3 (I went… Blue, I guess?) hit me like a ton of bricks. I was glad to go on family vacation after that, because I would’ve moped around the house for that same week if given the opportunity.

        • PaganPoet

          Yeah, I was gonna discuss it in detail in this week’s WAYPTW thread, but the last bit of that game in general killed me. Especially the “goodbye” with your love interest at the beacon to the Citadel.

          I know the writing in the game isn’t exactly one of the Bronte sisters, but still, Shepard was ~me~ and I had spent over 100 hours with these characters at that point.

  • EmperorNortonI

    There have been all kinds of games that I’ve absolutely loved, but time and again, the ones that grab me hardest are the “explore the galaxy and do random quests” games.  My first exposure to this genre was a doozy – Star Saga.  This was a monster of a game for the Apple II, with somewhere close to 20 printed manuals and a paper map.  The fiction was really quite good.  You met aliens, built up your ship, acquired gear, did stuff, and uncovered ancient secrets.  It was totally and compellingly awesome.  A bit later, I found Hyperspeed, by MicroProse, which crossed the genre with a 3D space simulator.  You had to acquire the resources to build a colony in a new sector, find a suitable planet, and make treaties with the local aliens.  If necessary, you had to destroy the dangerous ones, and pick sides in pre-existing struggles.  Totally awesome.  Then I found Starflight 2.  That game was older, and thoroughly puzzling.  What are you trying to do, and how can you do it?  However, the galaxy was huge, and every new race you found felt like you’d found a hidden treasure.  You also communicated with the aliens via a text parser, which was awesome.  But the best came last – StarControl 2.  That game . . . what can I say. I played it through blind, without a working starmap, but I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a game more.  Then, later, I mastered the SuperMelee side-game, and became the champion of my local group of friends thanks to my nearly invincible Spathi and Mrnmrhmn prowess.

    To this day, I’d love nothing more than to roam the stars in a spacefaring tramp freighter.

    • http://twitter.com/Evad_Dalrymp Unexpected Dave

      I played Star Control 3 before Star Control 2, so I was able to really enjoy the former. I even liked the fact that the game REQUIRES you to explore random star systems in order to move forward. (ICOM gives you hints for some homeworlds, but not all.)

  • Raging Bear

    Naughty Bear, in every way except the actual gameplay. Maybe not a great answer, then.

    • Jackbert322

      Did you try Naughty Bear: Panic in Paradise? It’s a $15 PSN sequel to the original Naughty Bear. Critically panned like the first, but I tried the demo and thought the gameplay was actually pretty good. Of course, it keeps the same great premise. I’d definitely recommend taking the time to try the demo.

  • Mercenary_Security_number_4

    So much of the GS staff finds their gaming identity in casual/party games?  Nothing wrong with that I guess (after all, I think I’ve mentioned my more than passing obsession with dominating puzzle game leaderboards) but it does make me wonder if that explains why many of GS’s best articles have been about gaming culture/experience/soundtrack/art rather than gameplay itself.  I really don’t mean that as a dig, just an observation.  I like coming here and reading the insights on how games relate to the broader world, but more and more I realize I don’t think I agree with the staff about what actually makes a good game.

    • The_Misanthrope

       Outside YDKJ, Rock Band, and Hidden Chronicles (you could make a case for TOON, I suppose), I wouldn’t think of many of them as casual or party game.  Though I would love to be at a party when an impromptu game of Axis & Allies starts up.

      • Mercenary_Security_number_4

        ok, edited to reflect more accurate numbers.   And like I said, I don’t mean it as a pejorative, just a difference between themselves and other sites geared to other aspects of gaming.

    • Juan_Carlo

      I was a bit surprised to see a Zynga/Facebook/hidden object game on here.  Apparently my mom writes for Gameological Society now.

  • TreeRol

    Out of the Park Baseball. I’ve been playing different versions of it on and off for 12 years now. I got tired of baseball games that relied on my timing and controller prowess, because if I’m controlling a real player the game should rely on his skill, not mine. As a text sim, OOTP doesn’t worry about that; it makes me think about assembling the right team of players, who will then actually play the game. I never knew that a management sim is what I wanted all along (although, to be fair, Baseball Stars probably started me on that path). OOTP hit that sweet spot for me.

    • DrFlimFlam

      I only just got into this with iOOTP12 this past year. I’ve been able to put together one championship team in a fictional 16 team league over about 20 years. Had some great runs, some monster teams, but you realize how much of baseball really does come down to luck in a small series.

    • HobbesMkii

      I’ve been a pretty big Baseball Mogul, although I enjoyed taking control of the team (it’s my dream to either pitch a perfect game in that sim or have a pitcher go undefeated for the season). It’s slow going, though, so I mostly just let the computer handle the games while I get down to the important business of comparing a player’s sabermetrics and decided whether or not to drop him.

      Also how much I should charge for hot dogs. 

      I will say that, contrary to the experience @drflimflam:disqus has had, I’ve noticed that the team’s market really does make a huge difference. 

  • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

    Freakin’ Spelunky man.  A procedurally generated platformer with controls so tight they make mario’s pants fall down?  You must have read my mind Derek Yu.

  • HobbesMkii

    This Q&A was made for FANBOY OVER HERE !!!

    • Effigy_Power

      Thanks Obama.

      • HobbesMkii

        More like Thanks Teti.

        • Effigy_Power

          Give it a minute. Someone is going to find the clues to the “Obama and Teti are the same person” conspiracy and put it on Reddit or something.

  • http://twitter.com/pocoGRANDES poco GRANDES

    Anthony? you are a-o-fucking-kay in my book. Dragon Quest VIII (for me) pretty much blows away any other JRPG i’ve ever played (the only one that comes close is FFVI). there’s something so… just plain NICE about DQ. it’s gorgeous, it’s fun, it’s simple, it has depth to the systems… i can just lose myself in that world for ages. A+ choice my man. A+

    a game that was made for me? lately i feel like it’s Crusader Kings II. i’ve only been playing it for about 2 weeks, so it’s hard to tell how it will stand the test of time. but, i’ve never played a game quite like it, and its focus on telling little stories while you, the player, create a big narrative… it’s wonderful. i honestly want to make a game like this.

    • DrFlimFlam

      I played FFXII and DQVIII at roughly the same time and put about 45 hours into both. One of those games infuriated me so much I sold it at that point. The other did not. The one I still intend to finish someday is Dragon Quest VIII.

      • PaganPoet

        I’m just gonna pop in here, since the topic is PS2 era JRPGs, and shamelessly recommend that both of you play Persona 3 and Persona 4. Some of my favorite games ever. That is all.

        • DrFlimFlam

          No worries. I do have P3FES and will be ordering PS4 as soon as I get my tax return.

          Also The Last Story. I intend to binge hardcore on JRPG’s very soon.

        • http://twitter.com/pocoGRANDES poco GRANDES

          oh no need to feel ashamed; i’ve got P3 Portable (about 70 hours in, still haven’t finished) and recently picked up P4 Golden (played about the first 10 or 15 hours)… such amazing games. 

  • PaganPoet

    I guess I would have to go with Bioshock.

    I’m not a fan of the FPS genre in general. I find them disorienting and boring. So it’s somewhat strange that Bioshock is one of my favorite games of all time. It’s just got so much that appeals to me. A hard to escape and claustrophobic dystopia? Check. A criticism of objectivism and libertarianism? Check. Art deco? Check. Hell, they even went ahead and threw the Andrews Sisters in the soundtrack so I can sing along to “Bei Mir Bust Du Schon.”

    And from what I gather, the actual FPS mechanics of the game are not up to par to other games in the genre. So it’s like they said “Let’s make an FPS game for people who hate FPS games!” And it worked, at least on me.

    • DrFlimFlam

      Well, the shooting is not on par with a typical FPS, but it certainly exceeded first-person action/adventure contemporaries from that time like Fallout 3 and Oblivion.

      But yeah, it’s a fantastic game, and that sequence of events near the end stayed with me even further than the twist.

      A beautiful and unsettling game.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      My general distaste for FPS games was one of my main barriers to getting into Bioshock. I got about two levels/missions (and several hours) into it, realized I was bored out of my mind because the game was asking me to explore this fairly interesting space using the most boring-to-me gameplay possible (“Here’s a bizarre fully-realized abandoned undersea kindgom! You’re a floating gun – go, uh, shoot stuff in it!”).

  • Aurora Boreanaz

    The first game that felt tailor made for me was the original System Shock.  A cyberpunk shooter/RPG hybrid with an amazing story, an arch-nemesis who was legitimately horrifying and infuriating, and a great techno soundtrack.

    My favorite moment in that game: Receiving a message from a group of survivors stuck in a room several levels away from me, and rushing through a bunch of dangerous areas to reach her, only to find out that SHODAN got there first and slaughtered everyone, and then gloated at my failure.

    System Shock 2 was almost as good, even with SHODAN “missing” for half of the game.  SS2 was also the first game I played in 3D using shutter glasses.  There was nothing quite like hearing a zombified crew member groaning as he ran up behind me, then spinning around to see him swinging a pipe at my face while yelling “YeeaaarrrrggghhKILL MEEEEE!”

    Second to that, any game that allows me to sneak around and knock people out is one of my favorites.  The Thief series, Deus Ex 1/2/HR, Dishonored…all great to me.

  • Pastyjournalist

    I would have to say the Mass Effect series. Plenty of RP-geekery, combined with stuff I’m a sucker for – mainly engaging characters (even if some of the plots have been pretty recycled). 

    • DrFlimFlam

      If I said what series is best for me NOW, it’s definitely Mass Effect. I could play those games forever.

  • duwease

    Recently?  Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts.  I had sooooooooooo much fun building and tweaking various different machines to do different weird things in that game.  I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t more popular, then I realized the game was probably more for engineering-based folks like myself.

    Old school?  The Incredible Machine.  I had that idea in my brain already as a dream game (and probably a million other people did too)… and one day, there it was.  And it was glorious.  Although Sid & Al’s Incredible Toons was probably better, since it had the lessons of the original TIM to learn from.

  • Chronomage

    You Don’t Know Jack had that impact on a lot of us in the mid-90s because it was a such a breath of fresh air.  I can’t think of a game before that featuring professional-grade comedy writing and voice talent.  It was hilarious, very smart, and just plain fun.

    Also, I don’t resemble anyone in the World Ends With You, but what a phenomenal game.   That’s one of those games — which would also include Shadow of Colossus, Ico, Journey, Bioshock, Dark Souls — that just struck a chord with me for some reason that’s hard to pin down.  It just does a great job of being itself.  That sounds kind of vacant but I don’t know how else to put it. 

  • Fluka

    Christ, I have to answer Mass Effect once again, like everyone else, don’t I?  It appeals to space-opera-and-character-development part of me that got completely and totally hooked on Star Trek Deep Space 9 when I was 10 (and BSG a decade later).  I also reaaaallly appreciated the fact that it let me pause combat to survey the battlefield, plan, and issue orders, rather than just relying on the FPS trigger instincts which I don’t have.  Plus, the character customization lets me do all this as a totally badass lady.

    Dishonored *felt* like it was going to be tailored to my interests. Fantasy Victoriana, making it pretty much the China Mieville game I’ve always wanted?  Stealth out the wazoo?  The option to not kill a single person?  Yes please!  In reality, I loved it, but the generic characters and story kept me a bit more distant from it than I’d hoped.

    If someone were to combine BioWare RPG elements and characters with Dishonored style setting and gameplay, I’m not sure I would ever leave my computer. *Should probably get into Thief at some point.*

    • PaganPoet

      Fluka liked Mass Effect before it was cool.

      • Fluka

        Ugh, comments about Mass Effect are totally played out.

  • Jackbert322

    Game that is designed for me? The Arkham games. Put me in a focus group and pitch me a Batman game with voices from Kevin Conroy and Mark Hammil, combo based hand-to-hand combat, stealth from gargoyles, tons of gadgets, puzzle solving, and cameos from classic villains…you’ve got my dream game. Oh, and make the second one open-world! In reality, I don’t like them. Can’t stand the combat, the puzzles stink, and the stories are rather boring. Other then the stealth and the top-notch voice acting, I get no enjoyment out of them. Yes, it’s “designed” for me. On paper, it’s everything I want. But the actual game leaves much to be desired.

    Game that is almost designed for me? The Infamous games. Took away Batman and replaced him with a bald white dude. Love ‘em. Instead of puzzles that are solved by holding down a button, they’ve got insanely fun platforming, the best way I’ve gotten around a city in a video game. Instead of hand-to-hand combat with gadgets, I get third-person shooter combat with awesome electricity powers. And they’re both open-world, plus a morality system that distinguishes your powers enough for two playthroughs to be very viable! No, it’s not perfectly “designed” for me. But they are great games; my favorite series so far.

    • Effigy_Power

      Whoa there Riddler.

    • double_hawk

       Came here to say The Arkham games as well except I fucking love the combat!  Puzzles could use a little improvement but other than that I love those games

  • Effigy_Power

    While there were other games before that came close (Morrowind, SC4, Sam and Max Hit the Road), I am going to go with the most recent one.
    No, not Skyrim, for all its virtues, but Crusader Kings 2.

    It’s actually a fairly untypical game for me, especially since you spend hours upon hours on the same map-screen with huge swathes of time just rushing by, but to see the “known world” of the Dark Ages evolve and change before my very eyes is an experience that no other game has been able to satisfy for me. I never played Crusader Kings’ predecessor, so I can’t compare, but when it comes to historical accuracy mixed with the wild speculation of “What if?”, this one takes the cake.
    Add to that the fact that it’s the first time in years that a game lets me flex the muscles of my Master’s Degree in History with specialization of post-Roman Society and Pagan Social Constructs (I know, so sexy), it has to be right up there.

    The announced Pagan DLC will likely make me faint.
    Thanks for introducing me to the game, @HobbesMkii:disqus.

    PS: If I may attempt to inspire a further Q&A: Games you would have never played without someone introducing you to it. Without Hobbes, I would never have picked this up, so that’s pretty good. Sub mentioned I showed Gothic 3 to him… so it seems a lot of people can be thankful to have gaming buddies.

    • Jackbert322

      Seconded on your future Q&A idea. Without @PaganPoet:disqus , I’d never have been able to hang out with alcoholics and criminals at the mall at night.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      Your mentioning Sam & Max makes me think about whether pivotal or formative games from early in our gaming lives can be considered “made for you.” Like, buying LucasArts archives on a whim at CompUSA was a total watershed moment for me as a gamer – Sam & Max, DotT, and FoA spoke to me in ways games hadn’t ever done so before, and I absolutely loved every aspect of the art, writing, and design of those games.

      But I feel kind of like those games, while they in some sense feel like they were “made for” me, weren’t really, as before playing them I wasn’t aware that that sort of game would suit me so well. Rather, my positive experiences with those games shaped my tastes so that later, when a funny, narrative-focused, exploratory game with a clear voice speaks to me, I can feel that that is made for me because of the tastes those LucasArts games gave me.

      I guess it’s kind of a chicken-and-egg problem, as those defining games wouldn’t have appealed so much to me if there wasn’t some sort of affinity preceding their discovery, though.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

        Well put.  However, I think it’s rare that EVERY aspect is new to a person, so there’s a mix of discovery and validation.

        The Last Blade/Bakumatsu Romance series, for example, got me back into 2-d fighting games after Virtua Fighter brought me back into them, period, and they single-handedly changed my opinion of S.N.K. games.  (I later got into their non-fighting classics.)  However, I already loved the tragic, torn-between-the-traditional-and-novel story focus, the Bakumatsu setting and the bonus inclusion of politics, religion, and society, the environmental music and best fighting game backgrounds ever, and the character style/weapon balance.

        I’m sure that your existing sense of humor included those games in their parameters, but Sam And Max Hit The Road pushed the boundaries of what they were.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

    One day, back in the mid-1990s, my best buddy Chris Sawyer (whom I’ve never met) thought, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if Merve could build his own theme park, complete with his own custom-designed rollercoasters? Wouldn’t it be cool if he could throw a whole bunch of other rides in there, like bumper cars and log flumes? I mean, who doesn’t love a good log flume? And what if I gave him the tools to create desert oases and life-sized chess boards so that his park could look really awesome? I mean, Merve is just a kid, but he’ll love this stuff. He’ll probably become obsessed with the game and talk about it all day long with his chums at school. Man, Merve would be sooo happy if he could do all of that! So, I’m going to design that video game for him, just as soon as I’m done eating this delicious turkey-and-avocado sandwich.’ And thus, RollerCoaster Tycoon was born.

    • Effigy_Power

      It’s definitely a great game and RCT3 is pretty great.
      I should spend more money on Steam.

  • SonjaMinotaur

    X-Men Legends. I am a total sucker for comic book based video games, good and bad. Also I have the same first name as the playable character you get for the story side missions, so when Iceman’s flirting with her poolside… it pretty much cemented it as the Best!Game!Ever! and as the game I have to say was made for me. 
    The next runners up would be BioShock and Arkham Asylum (I could listen to Mark Hamill’s Joker rant forever!)

    • evanwaters

      Just wandering around the X Mansion is lots of fun, I agree. 

  • JuliusKassendorf

    You Don’t Know Jack was so tailor made for me it was ridiculous.  Pop culture meets random intelligence with snark?  It was a better version of Jeopardy!

    But, really, there were 2 ’90s games that felt tailor made for me. The first was The 7th Guest.  A cross between campy b-movie gothic horror and random puzzles.  It played both sides of my developing brain where I was devouring every Stephen King book I could get my little hands on, and also playing those airport books of random puzzle games.

    The second was 9, better known as 9: The Last Resort.  A much maligned game that came out just when Aerosmith showed signs of starting to completely suck.  But, beyond that, it was a significantly weird puzzler that featured the art design of a then-relatively unknown Mark Ryden.  3/4 of the fun of the game was just looking at.  But, the obnoxiousness of James Belushi (when he was starting to go on his downfall) plus people not getting Mark Ryden’s style made it kind of a forgotten game.  I loved it to death, and most people still haven’t heard of it, nor do I think it ever got a cult following.  So, it really was made for me.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

      That was the game that just had the enigmatic mysterious monkey on the box, right? I never picked it up, but I distinctly remember its creepy presence on the shelf.

  • Chip Dipson

    I’m glad no one has mentioned Beyond Good and Evil because I claimed it long ago in the age of wired controllers. In fact, it’s time to check again to see if a sequel is happening. Hold on a sec…aaaaand it’s still maybe.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1624293856 Craig Larson

    L. A. Noire is a game that came to mind immediately. I dearly love the novels of James Ellroy and this is a game that puts that whole milieu right on the screen. I love the whole “questioning the witness” and looking for hints he or she might be lying, as well as driving around and looking for clues, writing them down in your little notebook, and the over-arching mystery that runs through the game (there seems to be a serial killer at work in the background). Also a big fan of Rock Star.

    • http://www.facebook.com/gareth.hughes.1253 Gareth Hughes

      Every part of the gameplay in that game had massive flaws but there was something about it that kept me playing it to completion. 

      Having said that, there was something satisfying about thinking like a detective and it paying off in game. Suspected stab victim? Let’s check the bin in the alleyway nearby and…. bloody knife. No computer game deliberate obtuse solution, just good old fashioned detective work.

  • onantiad

    For me, it absolutely has to be Earthbound. As a kid in an incredibly small town in central New York, I remember being just in awe of that enormous box when I would see it in stores, convinced that only some phenomenal, epoch-making masterpiece would warrant such extravagant packaging, but I didn’t have a Super Nintendo at the time, so I could only wonder what it could actually be (the fact that, from behind the display case, all you could see was some terrifying robot definitely added to the mystery.) Eventually, my uncle gave me his old SNES, and although it had long gone out of stores, our local rental place had a copy, so I badgered my family into renting it for me.
    Since it was a small local store, they had actually kept the player’s guide that came with it, so you got that too when you rented it, although by the time I got it, it was about 40% tape, with missing pages and some hand-written notes in the margins, and none of the scratch and sniff cards were there (trophies, no doubt, of the earlier renters.) I remember riding back to my house while leafing through the guide and a kind of overwhelming dread that, given my pretty strict limits on time spent on video games, I would not finish it within my five day window. When I got home, I played up to the first sanctuary in one go, forgot to save, and did the whole thing again the next day.
    I hadn’t had much experience with RPGs at the time, so I didn’t really enjoy “playing” the game (its still a pretty shitty battle system), but something about the way the world was laid out, this massive, sprawling suburbia, gripped me in a way that really no other game (or, if I am going to be honest, no other piece of media) had before or since. Although it was undiagnosed at the time, I had (have) unipolar depression, and even as a kid I would have bouts of just absolute all encompassing darkness. I was in the middle of one of those “black-hole-but-with-teeth” spells when I got the game, and it didn’t just give me something to distract me, it actively changed me. I know it may seem hyperbolic to say a SNES game was a defining, transformative experience in my life (I guess the fact that I played it when I was 8 may excuse some of that), but seeing the world laid out as an essentially good place, and this weird idea of mobility (I had pretty much only left upstate New York to visit grandparents in Quebec) made me think that maybe I could escape this kind of localized darkness.
    I didn’t beat it as a kid, but that feeling of a familiar world that wouldn’t close in on me as soon as I left my house but instead open up and welcome me helped me through a lot of the vague adolescent terror. Eventually, a high school girlfriend bout the game for me on ebay, and I played through it about five times one week in summer, and rather than feeling like I had misplaced my love in childhood, I loved it more. The whole H.P. Lovecraft as told through Charles Schultz aesthetic appealed to older me, and I was surprised by the humor of it (in my head, it had been a pretty straight story, which I guess was kind of missing the point), and the end, where everyone, including me, work to defeat evil just by wishing the heroes the best, made me feel so bizarrely valuable and real and engaged that even when I play it now (yearly, around my birthday) I get choked up.
    I ended up as an exchange student to Japan in high school, and I actually met Shigesato Itoi at an event at a department store. I almost broke down. I couldn’t think of anything substantial or adequate to say to him to convey how much this game that, in retrospect, seems like a minor-key lark to him, had impacted my life. I just told him that it was my single favorite piece of art, and that if I hadn’t played it, I would have been worse off.
    Even now, as a grad student, I have a page of the player’s guide that fell off when I rented it(a bit on the lost underworld with a creepy clay model of ego orb on it, if you’re curious) kept in my desk at all times. While the subject matter and style of the game are pretty much custom made for me, its the impact it had on my life that makes it so perfect: it was like some benevolent force out there was telling young me that the world wasn’t as bad as all that, and that things would be okay at exactly the time I most needed to hear that.

  • tedthefed

    Oh, I thought of another one: Rule of Rose.  It’s like my entire experience growing up as a socially anxious child, just with bad controls.

  • exant

    RtCW is also a close second for me. As a kid I was obsessed to the point of starvation with Wolfenstein 3D, and I only had the 9-level demo. When RtCW came out I was older and a little better at controlling my obessions, but I still played the shit out of RtCW and I still have the first few levels mapped in my brain.

  • http://www.facebook.com/JamesMauriceAlexander James Alexander

    I actually liked Invisible War more than Human Revolution. Fans really overreacting to minor nonsense (like universal ammo …. so.)

    IW certainly had a better ending than HR.