And though I had slain a thousand foes less one,
The thousandth knife found my liver;
The thousandth enemy said to me,
'Now you shall die,
Now none shall know.'
And the fool, looking down, believed this,
Not seeing, above his shoulders, the naked stars,
Each one remembering.
--John M. Ford, The Final Reflection

The Asylum Director

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"The only thing I was fit for was to be a writer, and this rested solely on my suspicion that I would never be fit for real work, and that writing didn't require any." - Russel Baker

Monday, September 11, 2006

Until I Get It Right...A Top Ten List!

So, what’s been happening since the last update?

Gaming-wise: well, now that I’m done finishing Valkyrie Profile and getting the good ending on Hard, as per personal tradition, I have to beat it with cheats. Now, I’m not a completely cheap bastard. I only plan to use a couple of codes, like the max experience in Experience Orb trick, as well as giving Valkyrie an Angel Slayer or something. Essentially, getting the best weapons I can and a few odd skills, nothing more. Beyond that, I did a bit of digging and found Thousand Arms and Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete, which will tide me over once I’m done getting my VP fix. For now though, I’m playing through the game again (current line-up is Valkyrie, Arngrim, Jelanda and Belenus; haven’t gotten that far yet) and the extra dungeon, the Seraphic Gate for kicks. Not sure who to send up but it is tempting to throw Belenus up first, even though I normally send Llewelyn up pretty quickly. Jelanda I don’t have much choice except to keep unless I want to be caught mage-less. I replace her as soon as I can though, typically with Nanami (Dragonbane!). Playing it again reminds me of just how much I loved this game and how much I still love it. And Mystina’s right. Lezard is a little freak. But he’s powerful as Hell, magic-wise. The save I have that’s currently in the Seraphic Gate consists of the power players of the game: Lenneth Valkyrie (archer), Brahms, Lezard Valeth and Freya. For my next run, once I’ve managed to get them, it’ll be Lenneth (front line), Mystina (mage) and… I’m not too sure about who the other ones are going to be. I’ll think about the possibilities after a few runs on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2.

Fiction-wise: even though I’m distracted, I still get bits and pieces of writing done here and there. Now, it isn’t exactly regularly being added to but it works well enough for me. However, I’m still trying to establish a stable background before I go into the plot. I feel as if the introduction is key to this whole thing and I can’t afford to go into how the plot actually starts before I feel I’m good and ready. However, I don’t even have the plot in hand yet. I’m still crafting things in my head and certain details and events are rock-solid already but most is still rather evanescent. However, I think I won’t have too much trouble with this little project. I have a good feeling about it even though I’ve barely touched it, to be honest. I’ll probably get to it once I’m done with Valkyrie Profile and am just starting either TA or L2:EBC.

On a completely unrelated topic, I think I should list down my current Top 10 favorite video games. It has been a while since I last noted them down. I don’t really recall what exactly was in the list the las go-around but I’m pretty sure at least some of it changed in the intervening time. So, without further delay and from last to first, my current Top 10 favorite video games…

10. Final Fantasy VIII: they say you can never forget your first and that’s true for me. FFVIII was the first RPG I ever played and the first game I ever invested more than 12 hours on since another game higher up on this list. Sure, the plot was a little bare and the combat/magic system wasn’t exactly fair and there was little to no character development but the first game that hooks you to a genre tends to stay with you. It may have been the 2nd game in the slow decline of the FF series (the 1st being FFVII) but you have to admit, it weaves a good love story.

9. Guilty Gear XX: fighting game goodness! Combine technical, twitch-button savvy and fast-paced, hit-count-happy combo strings and the quirkiest cast of characters in the history of the genre and you’ve got GGXX. I can’t even begin to tell you just how much fun it is to learn the nuances and oddities of every character and watch their personalities fleshed out in the story mode. Top it all off with a decent fighting game storyline and a real winner’s on your hands. This is living proof that 2D fighting games (and 2D gaming in general) is far from dead and far from being dull and boring.

8. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night: a lot of people hail this as the greatest game ever made and while I don’t agree with that, I do believe this is one of the finest of all time and the best of the series. I spent months on this game trying to complete everything and up to now, I’m still missing bits and pieces here and there. I spent a week trying to get the damn Crissaegrim! The gameplay was intoxicating and it was the first PS1 game I had and, for a while, the only one I had that was in English. While Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow and Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance were fun, at times, they felt more like SotN clones that didn’t quite get to the level the original did. Definitely a game to come back to frequently for kicks.

7. Metroid: Zero Mission: Samus Aran’s first mission revisited. Perhaps the combination of exploration, platforming elements and trigger-finger action got to me. Maybe it was the fact that this is the remake of the first game in the series. I don’t know. I mean, Metroid Prime is wicked cool and all but there’s something about a 2D Samus Aran that fits my idea of the game like a glove. The intense gameplay and sense of satisfaction you get when you beat the game gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. Sure, it ruined my thumbs but it was well worth the pain. Having played the original Metroid, I believe this to be more than a worthy remake.

6. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater: the godfather of modern skateboarding game. This game is one that is very close to me. I’ve been a skating fan for many years now and while I can’t physically actually enjoy the sport, at least this game lets me imagine I am. Coupled with a great soundtrack and some of the most insane trick combinations you’ve ever seen in a game like this and you’ve got one of the best ways to relieve stress and forget your worries that money can buy. There’s nothing like pulling off that first 900 successfully after several crash and burn attempts. Heaven is a half-pipe!

5. Planescape: Torment: hands-down, the greatest PC-style RPG ever made. This game had all the elements of the perfect RPG experience: an excellent cast of characters, flexibility in creating your character, an intriguing world to play in, a wide array of challenges and one of the finest plots ever written for a game. The game has a philosophical bent to it with the whole ‘What can change the nature of a man?’ question and the nature of the game and the script leaves the answer in your hands, as it should be since such a question, I think, has no definite answer. This blows other RPGs, other games, right out of the water and if this wasn’t a list of my current favorites, I’d list it at the top.

4. Kana: Imouto: if this game didn’t make you cry at least once when you played it, I suggest you go see a shrink. I know it made me cry. This isn’t just a game. This is an experience. Being part of the visual novel genre, very few people outside of Japan have ever even heard of this, which is a shame. This is a classic story and there’s good replay value due to the number of endings you can get and, by far, the true ending is the most memorable and the most emotional. No other game but this made me cry and I actually still play it and consciously go for what I know to be the saddest ending because I can’t help it. I’m such a sucker for a good sob story.

3. Metal Gear Solid: the pinnacle of the series, Hideo Kojima’s work at his best. This is the best of the series, in my opinion. A good story, well-written characters, challenging boss battles and strangely satisfying stealth-based gameplay make this a classic. Sure, Sam Fisher of the Splinter Cell games may have more tricks up his sleeve than Solid Snake but in the end, Snake’s a bigger bad ass than Fisher. It was well worth is to rack up the save count to see Mei Ling and Snake’s conversations with Otacon can induce the occasional chuckle. Who can forget Gray Fox’s infamous ‘Hurt me more!’ line? Or the FoxHound members, each with their own personalities and view on things? In the end, MGS delivers a stealth-action experience nothing out there can top. Who knew cardboard boxes could be so much fun?

2. Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn (plus the expansion, Throne of Bhaal): in reality, this really should be a distant second to Planescape: Torment but one thing sets BG apart from PS:T and that is mods. There are a lot of mods for BG out there and most are good. Some add new characters, like the whiny and annoying Kelsey (I respect the work put into this mod; I don’t respect the character that came of it) or the young, beautiful Saerileth. There are others that modify existing content, like the Imoen Romance Mod or the Unfinished Business mod. Regardless of what they do, the mods help give new life to the old game and I think it’ll give BG more longevity than PS:T since the mods always add some new nuance to explore or some new character to get to know. Honestly, PS:T is the infinitely superior game if we’re talking about a game standing alone but with the mods taken into consideration, BGII takes the cake. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t get old though. For the time being, I’m actually enjoying BGII more but that’s probably because I haven’t touched on PS:T for a while.

1. Valkyrie Profile: an old, underappreciated friend. I’ve always been interested in Norse mythology and when I first heard of the game, I knew I had to grab it. I knew I was in for an RPG but I wasn’t expecting some of the things that I got in this game. Some of the recruitment scenes made me laugh (Badrach). Some of them made me sympathize (Yumei). Some of them I understood the emotions of all too well (Janus). Some of them got on my nerves (Jelanda). Some of them made me feel all warm and fuzzy for some reason (Mystina). The Einherjar had more character development in their recruitment scenes than the entire FFVIII crew and I found even annoying little Jelanda more appealing than the entire cast of FFVII combined. The unique combat system demanded more strategy than the conventional RPG. I hope to get my hands on Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria in the future, just to see if it matches up to the original. There isn’t anything more satisfying in a game for me right now than hearing Freya say ‘Can you withstand this?’ right before blasting the enemy into dust or hearing Mystina speak the incantation for Absolute Zero over and over again. I can live without Grey’s or Lorenta’s lines though. Something about their voices don’t mix well with me. This game, without a doubt, is my current favorite.

Well, that’s my current Top 10 favorite games. That’s guaranteed to change in time, though I think Planescape: Torment, Final Fantasy VIII, Valkyrie Profile and Metal Gear Solid are going to be staples of this list over time. I think I’ll cook up my current Top 10 favorite fictional characters or books next…

Ha! That’ll be a good laugh!

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