Friday, September 23, 2016

My Top 115 Favorite Video Games (40-36)

Click here for the introduction!

40. The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages (Game Boy Color)

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons and The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages are both great games when played on their own, but if want to get the most of them and see this grand adventure to its proper conclusion, than the two must be linked together. It is this combined adventure that occupies this spot on the list and it is easily the most overlooked and underappreciated Zelda game in the whole series (even Zelda II is at least well-known by the fans). This sprawling adventure has Link venturing outside Hyrule to new lands to control the seasons, travel through time, explore lost ruins and haunted crypts, help undead pirates escape the underworld, ride a flying bear, explore the depths of the ocean, and conquer a team of dastardly villains out to do the world harm. The season-controlling mechanic is one of my favorites in the series and both games, though particularly Ages, feature some of the trickiest puzzles and dungeons the Zelda series has ever seen. If you love top-down Zelda or old-school adventure and have avoided these treasures, you are doing yourself a huge disservice.

39. Silent Hill 3 (PS2)

Silent Hill 3 is basically the first Silent Hill on steroids, returning to a similar aesthetic except even more encrusted with fleshy, rusted horror that practically seeps out of your TV screen. Team Silent really outdid themselves with the environments, the scares, and the signature Otherworld in this one; the place truly comes to life here and almost every single room in the game is designed to fuck with you. From the more overt pulsating, bleeding walls to the more subtle barely glimpsed horrors beyond foggy windows, Silent Hill 3 is a master of horror and atmosphere. I am always astounded by the art direction in this game and just how remarkably well it has aged. The character animation, particularly facial animation, and voice acting have also aged well and lend a lot of emotion to the game’s memorable cast of characters, including protagonist Heather, who is one of the most likable and empathetic characters I’ve ever encountered in a game. The narrative also finds a nice balance between the more esoteric bizarreness of the first game’s plot and the grounded emotional center of the second’s. Both the original Silent Hill and Silent Hill 2 definitely get their dues, and rightfully so, but Silent Hill 3 seems to have largely been ignored in the mainstream over the years, which is a true shame because in a way it is the quintessential Silent Hill experience and at the very least an absolutely brilliant one that stands toe to toe with its two predecessors. Just stay far away from the Silent Hill HD Collection, “remasters” of this game and Silent Hill 2 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 that Konami vomited out a few years back; they are terrible, broken trash.

38. Silent Hill (PS1)

If the original Resident Evil defined survival horror, than the original Silent Hill showed the true potential of the genre, and the kind of unparalleled horror experience that only video games can deliver. Even though I am intimately familiar with the series that it spawned, Silent Hill still creeps me the fuck out to this day. It’s difficult to make such a call, but my heart still considers the original the scariest in the series. I was exposed to this game as a child, watching my older brother and his friends play it, and where I expected another Resident Evil, I got something far more sinister, far, far creepier, and something that bore its way into my subconscious and permanently took up residence there. A seed had been planted, and a genre I had mostly shied away from my entire childhood had finally revealed itself to be something right up my alley.

There was no spooky mansion in Silent Hill, there was an empty elementary school, there were no zombies, there were pale, maggot-headed children that slinked out of the darkness. The atmosphere in Silent Hill, created through a masterful mix of gritty art direction that still holds up well for a PS1 game, haunting sound design and music by Akira Yamaoka, and one increasingly bizarre and twisted scenario after the next is nearly indescribable at its core, but it is perhaps best summed up by the word “dread”. It’s an experience that constantly feels out of the player’s control as they are toyed with and manipulated throughout the course of the game. More recently, I’ve heard people look back on and criticize this game’s stilted and often hilariously awkward voice acting and at times immensely cryptic dialogue, but I still admire the game’s narrative ambition and love its core concept; at the very least, there are a handful of scenes that I still find to be absolutely brilliant and unforgettable to this day. Silent Hill isn’t just monsters and guns; there’s real emotion here, there’s something poetic about the whole thing. I was fascinated with this game as a kid and it left a huge impact on me, and even though I wouldn’t play through it entirely myself and get hugely into the series until I was in college, I credit this game and the Silent Hill series at large as one of the prime reasons for my love of psychological horror today.

When I first rented Animal Crossing back in 2002, I didn’t quite know what to make of it. But after only playing it for a few days, I knew this was something that was for me. I’ve always been a great appreciator of “downtime” in games. Time to just hang around a village in an RPG, or enjoy a beautiful piece of scenery or a special moment. Animal Crossing is sort of like “RPG Village Downtime: The Game” but it’s also so much more than that. Quite frankly, I had never played anything like it back then (well actually, there was one other game sort of like it that I had played previously, but I’ll get to that later…) and it absorbed me with its simplistic visual presentation, lively cast of characters that felt like real people despite being anthropomorphic cartoon animals, soothing music and atmosphere, and surprising amount of depth and variety of things to do. There was a reason to play every day, and every day I did…for months. I have so many fond memories tied to this game. I remember a cool autumn day, my Mom baking cookies, me playing Animal Crossing. I remember how my friends moved into my town and would exchange letters, and how I would set up scavenger hunts for them. I remember how satisfying it felt to arrange my little virtual home, how I was so proud of my video game corner and boxing ring in my basement. I remember how exciting winter felt, all the little ways the game changed on a daily basis and all the little surprises, like igloos, snowmen, and finding a particularly exciting piece of furniture. I recall how crestfallen I was when beloved villagers left my town. My dear town of Foresta, how I cherish the time I spent living there. To date, the GameCube original (original in the U.S. anyway) is the only Animal Crossing game I’ve played, and while I’m not against playing another one someday, I feel like I had my fill with this one.

Similar to the GameCube, the Dreamcast was home to many creative, original games that were just…different, and in some ways changed my expectations of what a game could be. Jet Grind Radio (or Jet Set Radio, its original title that it’s called by everywhere but the initial U.S. release) was an artistic revelation. I had never seen a cel-shaded video game before, and although this wasn’t technically the first one released, it was one of them. The cel-shaded art isn’t just a pretty aesthetic though, but rather an artistic choice that informs the whole experience. Jet Set Radio transcends being a game and is actually more of a “style”. This funky fresh experience involves rollerblading around urban Japanese environments and painting graffiti at select locations while evading the fuzz, battling other rival gangs, and listening to blazin’ hot tunes…I’m really bad at trying to sound cool, aren’t I? Regardless, as a young teen in love with video games and just getting into anime and learning about how all of this stuff that I loved came from Japan, I was completely enthralled with the Shibuya-infused vibe and setting of this game. There aren’t a ton of them, but each location in Jet Set Radio is huge and detailed, with more areas of each one becoming unlocked as the game goes on, and I had a blast simply exploring every corner of them. I’m pretty sure this game is the reason I appreciate graffiti art so much today and when I was in middle school, I frequently doodled in a graffiti style and drew characters based on the ones in the game. Of course, the game itself also featured on option to create one’s own graffiti tags, a welcome feature in this mesmerizing work of audio-visual interactive art.


Five more fantastic favorites next time in #35-31!

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