Saturday, September 17, 2016

My Top 115 Favorite Video Games (60-56)

Click here for the introduction!

60. Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)

In Xenoblade Chronicles, the world is god. Literally, as the game’s entire massive world is set on the bodies of two titanic humanoid gods, one biological and one mechanical. It’s an incredibly ambitious and imaginative concept, but somehow Monolith Soft pulls it off brilliantly on the Wii. Surely this must be some kind of sorcery. Undoubtedly my favorite aspect of Xenoblade is exploring its marvelous world, full of unforgettable locations and sights, and figuring out how everything connects in this fascinating, mind-bending world concept. Being on the Wii, Xenoblade is very dated from a technical standpoint, but it still manages to stun thanks to its colorful and creative art direction, which in addition to a phenomenal and varied musical score gives each region a strong sense of identity. The soundtrack is gigantic and was composed by a team of six artists who produced something truly unparalleled here; it’s easily one of my favorite OSTs in games and I still listen to it on a fairly regular basis today. I really cannot overstate how immensely enjoyable it is to simply run around the sprawling world in this game while listening to songs like this and this. Beyond pretty sights, the world is made up of characters and quests, and the game’s writing, voice acting, and tone meld a mostly grounded and engaging narrative with a surreally goofy sense of humor and charm that has spawned the kind of quotes and memes one might think are only reserved for the likes of Star Fox 64. Even with some flaws here and there, Xenoblade Chronicles completely engulfed and amazed me; it’s just such a lovely, special experience and is surely one of the greatest JRPGs ever created.

59. Chrono Cross (PS1)

Chrono Cross is a game that is interwoven with summer for me perhaps more than any other. I played it in the summer of course, but its island setting, nature-rich locales, painterly visuals, and tranquil yet incredibly beautiful soundtrack (another of my personal favorites) all embody the season for me. Chrono Cross is a somber experience; it’s full of melancholy and contemplation, and it takes its time in everything it does. It makes sense then that many fans of its predecessor, the much more generally upbeat, quick-paced, and swashbuckling Chrono Trigger, are turned off by it, and that Cross has gone largely overlooked despite being very highly praised by critics when it was released. There are other reasons of course, such as the game simply being different and focusing on new characters, new mechanics, new themes, and largely being a Majora’s Mask kind of sequel, if you catch my drift. Personally I feel that Chrono Cross is a daring, fascinating accompaniment to the original classic, and an experience that utterly captivated me with its unique atmosphere and complex, flawed, and beautiful narrative. Play Chrono Trigger first, but definitely give Chrono Cross a shot afterward. If nothing else, at least watch the opening cinematic, which is the best of its kind in all of video games.

58. Journey (PS3)

The first word that comes to mind when thinking about Journey is “beautiful”. Journey is staggeringly beautiful. It’s hard to put Journey into any other words really. Many describe it as an “art game” or an “experience” more than a “game”, but I think such descriptors are cheap. Journey knows exactly what it is and what it wants to do; it is just as long as it needs to be and every inch of it is full of meaning. It is gorgeous aesthetically and aurally, but it is also beautiful in how it not only draws anonymous people together online and requires them to find ways to communicate without speech, but also in its power of accessibility. I truly believe that if there’s one game you want to just hand to your neighbor whose last gaming session was a round of Pac-Man in the 80s or never, this is it. Its controls are marvelously simple, its themes are universal, and anyone is capable of appreciating its wonders.

57. Sonic Adventure 2 (Dreamcast)

Another game inexorably tied with summertime for me, I had just gotten out of school when Sonic Adventure 2 released in June of 2001. I recall excitedly reading the back of the box and pouring over the instruction manual before starting the game, reading all about Dr. Eggman and new characters Shadow the Hedgehog and Rouge the Bat. I specifically remember thinking something along the lines of “This is gonna be good”. I put the game in my humming, whirring Dreamcast and proceeded to Escape From the City and eventually to Live and Learn. Even after finishing the game, I just replayed the levels over and over again (even the treasure hunting ones) and messed around in the Chao Garden that whole summer. The ability to play as both the heroes and the villains from two sides of the same story felt really unique to me at the time and playing as Dr. Eggman/Robotnik after squaring off against him my entire childhood blew my mind. I think this aspect, as well the purely unbridled atmosphere of energy and enthusiasm this game has is what makes it so great, despite a laundry list of obvious flaws. Yeah, SA2 is very, very easy to point and laugh at, but really that’s all part of its charm. Sonic Adventure 2 was the perfect game for thirteen-year-old me: an awkward and adventurous anthem to my early teenhood.

56. Sonic Adventure (Dreamcast)

When I listen to “Azure Blue World”, the song that plays on Emerald Coast, the first level of Sonic Adventure, something magical happens. I’m transported back to 1999 when I had just received a Dreamcast for Christmas with a copy of Sonic’s first true 3D adventure. The first time I experienced Emerald Coast, controlling Sonic in a beautiful, crisp 3D world with a wonderful sense of speed, I was blown away. This game truly felt state of the art to me back then, and if Emerald Coast made my jaw drop, Speed Highway knocked me out of my chair. I remember wanting to show the latter to friends because I had never seen such an exhilarating level of speed in a video game before. Sonic Adventure was the birth of “Modern Sonic”, and while many aspects of it may not have aged gracefully and the series may have lost its footing not long afterwards, this game really felt like a huge leap forward in 1999. Beyond its technical qualities though, SA1 feels like a natural evolution from Sonic 3 and Knuckles in many ways, with its many playable characters and its narrative that seemed to expand on the classic lore involving the chaos emeralds. There’s a special atmosphere to Sonic Adventure that no 3D Sonic that followed really quite mimicked (that I’ve played anyway). I suppose this is in no small part due to the game’s varied soundtrack, which I’ve grown to appreciate more and more over the years and that is exceptional even by the Sonic series’ very high musical standards.


Whoa, we're halfway there! What games will show up next time in #55-51?

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