Saturday, December 23, 2023

The 1000 Games I've Beaten (#21 - 36)


#21 Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (Game Boy) - Summer 1995

Now this is a real classic. I mentioned how when I rented Link to the Past, I wished it was this game, and then later vice-versa when I got this. Putting all that aside, this game was all over Nintendo Power for a while. Screenshots and maps and everything. So I knew the game very well before I ever even played it.

The situation here is that my mom requested it at Media Play, and they had to get it in stock which took a couple weeks. When they finally got it in stock, she told me we had to go there to get something unrelated, but I figured it was probably this, and sure enough, it was! I attempted to play it basically in the dark (had meager nightlight light) when I was supposed to be sleeping, and that didn't work. I also had Space Megaforce rented at the time, and...well, that didn't get played anymore that week.

I love the story in this game. Probably my favorite Zelda game on story. It's pretty basic: Link gets shipwrecked on a mysterious island, finds a sword on the beach, finds romance, and finds himself.

Everything about this game is incredibly charming. There is one big downside: Having to equip the bracelet manually to lift stones and pots, since there are so few buttons. That gets annoying and drags the game down quite a bit. Other than that, there's really nothing wrong with this and I would say it's the top contender for best Game Boy game of all time.

Toughest Part: There isn't one, but I know what the anti-toughest part is. The final boss can be beaten in one hit from the Boomerang. WTF?

Fondest Memory: That bit with Link and Marin talking on the beach. Probably the most romantic the Zelda games ever got. That particular scene stuck with me as something I'd like to do someday myself.

Read the post series HERE.

#22 Star Fox (Super NES) – Summer 1995

This game was pretty hot for a while. I got to it a few years late, but it was impressive for its time. What I remember most about it is how they had some sort of crossover with Kellogg's Corn Flakes, so you'd open a box of those and find this page with maps from the game and strategies. I had a few other things to get to first, but this was "on the list". It was the first thing I rented after Link's Awakening ran its course.

Pretty tough game here, especially the last couple of bosses. I never did beat the game on intermediate or hard routes, just the easy one. Got pretty far with intermediate though. The giant face that explodes to reveal the Andross cube is super memorable.

#23 Illusion of Gaia (Super NES) – Summer 1995
Got this game for half price on a sale, which might have been the first game I ever got on a massive discount. My mom saw it in Nintendo Power and really liked the look of it. Going to real-world locations like Angkor Wat (and fabled, possibly real locations like the sunken Pacific continent of Mu) was pretty awesome. And it's just a wholesome game, with nice characters and a lot of Feelings.

Finishing the game wasn't difficult at all, and it's probably one of the easier action-RPGs from that era. Once you get Freedan and Shadow, it moves quick.

#24 Kirby's Dream Land 2 (Game Boy) – Summer 1995

The sequel to my first game. Of course, I had to get this pretty much as soon as it was available. Note how most of the games before this point were things I played way after they first came out. Around this time I remember being frustrated that absolutely no rental stores ever rented out Game Boy games. Why was that?

Regardless, it made it much more difficult to fit in all the GB games I was interested in, given that buying games was usually sporadic. At least the prices were lower for Game Boy titles.

As for the game, I remember getting to the end of it in one afternoon session. Yep, straight through to Dedede. Which was kind of disappointing, even though the game is much longer than the first. I wanted more! And I got more, because the ending clearly wasn't the real ending. Noticed I'd gotten a Rainbow Drop in one of the worlds and figured something would happen if I got all seven of them. So I did that. Some of them were a real PITA to get.

Once I got them all and returned to the (way too atmospheric for a Game Boy game) Dark Castle, it was time to fight the real final boss. And that took me a bit to win. Great memories all around.

Fun Fact: This was also the first game I played on Super Game Boy, which is how I did the majority of the game. I might have even gotten them together.

Toughest Part: The fight with Dark Matter at the end. That took me SO MANY tries. Compared to the rest of the game (and the previous game in the series), it was like Dark Matter was from a different game entirely.

Read the post HERE.

#25 Stargate (Super NES) – Summer 1995

Was into the movie, so playing this was a no-brainer. Nintendo Power made it look pretty awesome, with the pseudo-Egyptian setting. Was it awesome? Well, not really, but it definitely had a few notches over the average movie licensed game. Particularly liked the fights with Anubis and the Horus Guards. Being able to play as Kurt Russell was a rare treat, as well. It's kind of surprising in retrospect that they got the likenesses of both Kurt Russell AND James Spader for the game.

Coolest Parts: The later levels where you go into Ra's Pyramid and other technologically advanced areas to fight his minions.

Least-Cool Part: You have to collect a bunch of hidden things to get a good ending. I think there were a bunch of letters spelling "STARGATE" that you needed in order to save everyone at the end, and also 5 or 6 pieces of a nuke that needed to be found in order to assemble it and wipe out Ra. Or maybe those were all one and the same, can't remember. In any case, since the game doesn't give you any kind of hint as to where any of these things are (even just identifying the section of the game would help), I never got anywhere close to collecting all of them in the 3 or 4 times I played through this. Think I got like... 2 of them.

So every time I beat the game I'd get a bad ending with Ra escaping and everyone else being stuck on Abydos. Kind of lame given how obscure the collectibles are. I'm not one for trivializing things or giving people unearned gimmie best endings, but they should have just given everyone the good ending and been done with it because I don't think the collectible-hunting adds anything to this game.

#26 Space Megaforce (Super NES) – Summer 1995

This is a game I rented a few times throughout 1995 because it was so much fun to play. I think it might be my favorite space shooter to this very day. It was a struggle to beat, particularly because the difficulty levels made no sense (go in either direction from Normal and the difficulty seems to go up). I got to Stage 10 a few times, thanks to the unlimited continues. When I finally broke through that barrier, I felled the last two stages in pretty much one pass.

I said this might be my favorite space shooter to this day and I wasn't kidding. When I'm between projects and want to just fire up a random game and play aimlessly, there's like a 25% chance I reach for this game.

Toughest Part: Stage 10. For some reason this stage had my number and I just couldn't get past it for a while. Problem is likely that it's just too damn long. That stage goes on and on for ages!

Fondest Memory: The beginning of Stage 1 with the music kicking in. What a great track. Then you've got the Nazca Lines and everything in the distance. Really starts the game with a bang.

Read the post HERE.

#27 Super Mario Land (Game Boy) – Summer 1995

The Game Boy Player's Guide debuts with a bang. So many things I wanted to play from that book, even now. This was a scaled (way) down Mario title, but it did what it needed to do. I actually preferred this over its sequel for a long time, even though the sequel is much prettier to look at. Having a few shooter stages sprinkled in was also a nice twist. I don't remember this game giving me too much grief, but it did take a few runs to get it down.

I mainly remember playing this one with a friend of mine and passing the Game Boy back and forth, since it was a tough game and he'd finished it before. I think we got to the end of World 3 (of 4) before running into issues with the boulder-throwing Moai dude.

Toughest Part: The final battle with Tatanka (Buffalo). The shooter stages are tougher than the regular stages, and the last level is a particularly fast and furious one.

Read the post HERE.

#28 Donkey Kong Country 2 (Super NES) – Fall 1995

DKC was one of the best platformers of all time, and they managed to actually top it with this sequel. The soundtrack is insanely good and Dixie Kong is a great addition with her SMB2 Princess like hovering. Oh yeah, and the visuals were top of their class in 1995, and made the new early-3D games on the 32 bit systems look jagged and awful by comparison. It's also a very challenging game and I remember the last couple worlds having a few very rocky levels. This was one of the games my mom watched me play which was also pretty rad. Nothing but good things to say about this one.

I replayed this not too long ago and it still holds up. Had just as much of a blast with it as I ever did in the past. My mom was visiting and somehow this game came up, so I played through it with her watching just like I did in 1995. It took way less time this time around though. A couple hours. But it was still great. It's one of 3 games that my mom watched me play a substantial amount of in the past decade (the other two are Bloodborne and Elden Ring). The rare times that can happen now, it's pretty cool.

Favorite World: World 2, the lava one. So many gorgeous fire levels there, plus fire-themed levels tend to have amazing music in this game.

Toughest Part: Can't remember exactly which stage, but it was one of those thorny stages where you're flying around as the parrot. Likely the last one in the Special World. Animal Antics? Whichever stage it was, it was TOUGH. As far as the regular game goes, Toxic Tower was the only level that I remember giving me a substantial amount of grief. Anything that autoscrolls upwards is the bane of my existence, and that's probably true for most people.

Fondest Memory: Much like the first game, pausing and listening to the music in different places was worth the price of admission alone.

Read the post H... huh? I never did this one? THAT is surprising.

#29 Chrono Trigger (Super NES) – Fall 1995

My mom watched a LOT of this one as well, which is the first thing that comes to mind when I think about it. Debatably the best RPG of its generation, and replaced Super Metroid as my favorite game. Which would stand for a very, very long time, eventually being supplanted by Metroid Prime, then Bioshock, then Elden Ring.

Where to even start with this? I saw a lot of myself in the cast, being in their age range, and Ayla helped me go through puberty. I legitimately loved every single one of those characters, if such a thing is possible. They leap off the screen with personality and presence, and you want them to succeed.

So many positive memories of this game and so many gorgeous visuals. I could write a whole essay about it. I don't even remember the first time I beat the game, because I finished it a bunch of times in a row to get different endings.

This was definitely the first game that I ever just played through multiple times back to back. Usually when I beat a game, it's done unless I'm going for 100%. To just start a game over and run through it again, multiple times no less, it has to be real good.

Perhaps unfortunately, this game gobbled up my last month of Summer and took up a lot of time that I probably should have been using to hang out with friends. It's the first game that utterly dominated my free time. Like, I couldn't put it down. Not bad considering I thought RPGs weren't my thing at all before this.

Toughest Parts: There are several. Magus, Giga Gaia, Golem Twins. The elemental armor helps a ton with all of the above, but I didn't have them on my first run through the game. Golem Twins in particular were absolutely blistering, with their physical attacks doing nearly as much damage as my party members had HP. That was the hardest fight in the game the first time through and easily the hardest fight I'd had in ANY RPG up to that point.

Fondest Memory: Sitting at the cape in 12000 BC after the Great Flood and listening to the music with my mom.

#30 Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island (Super NES) – Fall 1995

This was my "back to school" game because all I remember about playing it was having friends over after school to catch up with them over some Yoshi's Island. The cool thing about this game (besides the art style) was how fast it moved. Yoshi would ping-pong around the screen as fast as you could control him, which made it a great game to spectate on. 

Did I mention the art style? This game looks so appealing that it puts the (at the time) new 32-bit systems and their early 3D to shame. And of course it still looks good today because 2D art done right doesn't age the way blocky 3D does.

A friend and I took down Bowser after a couple weeks, and we were wowed by the jammin' guitar final battle theme. And the final battle in general, what a memorable fight. Bowser grows to the size of a building and volleys fireballs directly into the screen. It was also a fun game to 100%. Who doesn't like collecting red coins and flowers? I don't think I ever quite pulled off a completionist run of the game though. Some of the later levels are too brutal.

Fondest Memory: Playing the last world with a friend and trying to take down Bowser. When we finally did, much celebration was had.

Read the post HERE.

#31 Secret of Evermore (Super NES) – Fall 1995

The next big RPG that Nintendo Power got me obsessed with, after Chrono Trigger. While this game falls well short of that one, it's still a magical adventure your first time through. I particularly like the whole Antiqua part of the game, with Nobilia and the various historic dungeons. I spent way too much time trading goods in the Nobilia market.

This took me a while to actually beat, a couple months as I recall, because I ran into issues in Gothica (everything was murdering me) and ended up starting the game over because I was getting nowhere. As it turned out, I'd been the victim of a rollover stat glitch, where I saved the game with a defense boost spell on and it permanently rolled my defense over to like... 3. That's right, the game actually saves stat changes, but not that a buff is on you, meaning this is very exploitable. Buff, save the game, reset, keep the stat boost, repeat. ...just don't let it roll over 255.

Eventually I got back to where I was the first time through, with copious overleveling and alchemy-leveling to help out...only to find that now everything was doing almost no damage to me in the same areas. So I overprepared a bit. Gothica is kind of buggy by default, and it's normal to barely take any damage by the time you get there due to the enemy stats being subpar. By the time I got to Omnitopia I was pretty stoked to finally see the place. Though it felt very unfinished, it still had a mystical mood to it like so much of the rest of the game.

Fun Fact: I like Secret of Mana significantly more than this game, yet I've played through this game probably twice as many times. It's shorter, so that helps.

Toughest Part: The beginning. Having to level grind to beat Thraxx (and then a little later, Salabog) is the most effort that the game ever requires IMO. I've heard that the Rat King later on is the real toughest fight in the game, but I never ran into much trouble with him compared to the beginning of the game.

Fondest Memory: Reading all about it (studying, really) in Nintendo Power. Also, getting to play it at a rental store kiosk (the game was out for actual rental but they had it on display). The save file was at the beginning of Omnitopia, so the first thing I saw and heard of the game was that place and its memorable music.

Read the post series HERE.

#32 Final Fantasy VI (Super NES) – Winter 1995

Where to start with this one? I tried playing it on a rental around when it came out, and couldn't make heads or tails of it because I'd never played an RPG before. Not being able to physically move your characters to attack felt so weird. I think I actually brought it back before long and just kinda gave up on it as not being something I was into. Nintendo Power's coverage of it really did make it look amazing, but I chalked it up to something I'd be better off just reading about.

Fast forward a year or so and after Chrono Trigger I "got" RPGs and wanted another one. Decided it was worth it to give this game another shot. So one snowy winter day I went and rented it again, and this time I did pretty well. Or at least, I knew what the heck I was doing this time. However, I still ended up having a really weird journey with the game. I got as far as the Kefka battle in Narshe before I basically got soft-locked, because try as I might I couldn't win that fight. I think my characters were under-leveled and under-geared, and I didn't know about Runic being useful against him.

At that point I switched gears and started playing other people's save files on the cart, which were all in World of Ruin. I ended up seeing a LOT of World of Ruin from this point on. Yes, before I ever played much of World of Balance. I got to Kefka and beat the game before ever playing through World of Balance.

I said I had a weird journey with the game. Regardless, I pretty much had to buy the game, since I had so much left to see in it and so many things I'd missed even in the latter half. So I managed to get the game for Christmas, and then it was time to really get into it and get down to the nitty-gritty. Also got the Nintendo Power Player's Guide (which is nice to look at, but hilariously full of inaccuracies).

I remember how snowy it was when I picked the game up after a night-time Christmas event at a park. This is always gonna be a "Winter game" to me for that reason. I actually associate most of the Final Fantasies with particular times of year:

FF1/2/3 - Summer, since I played through all three in one Summer at one point.
FF4 - Spring, but still cold
FF6 - Dead of Winter
FF7 - Late Fall / early Winter, as I had to wait until that point in 1997 to really get into it
FF8 - Summer-into-Fall, beginning of the school year. This dropped on September 8th and I'd started school like a week beforehand.
FF9 - Beginning of Winter when things are getting crisp.
FFX and X-2 - Spring and things heating up. Pretty much every time I've played both games has been in Spring.

Back to this one. Once I bought the game, I started over and climbed my way back to the Kefka fight in Narshe, this time leveling everyone more, making sure to go shopping in places like Nikeah for the latest gear, and so on. Also got the Templar rage for Gau which let him decimate Kefka with Fire 2. After that I rolled through the World of Balance, liked it waaaay more than the second half, and beat the game again...this time with my own party start to finish, which felt like a real accomplishment.

Toughest Part: Atma Weapon halfway through the game stands out as being one thing I particularly struggled with even on my successful full playthrough. I remember running away from too many fights and being underleveled, and that fight was a bit of a brick wall. Had to leave the Floating Continent entirely and go level up / make sure everyone had the best available gear and so forth in order to have a chance.

Fondest Memory: Listening to the Narshe music while going out into the actual snow to get the mail. That music really is perfect for a cold, snow-covered town landscape.

#33 Mega Man X3 (Super NES) – Winter 1996

Found this to be a significant step down from the previous two games. At least I only rented this one. One big annoyance was that I couldn't find any good way to fill up Sub-Tanks (while the previous games heap energy on you and have specific fill-up spots that make it quick) and it seemed like every item I tried to get was locked behind another item, which was locked behind another, in this Rubik's Cube of collection. Once you get to know the game it's a decent entry in the series, but it didn't acquit itself very well at first.

I do like that it has a few cool secret items, like Zero's Saber, new ride armors, and the Gold Chip (which I always try to go for). There are several different fortress bosses you can get depending on how you get to them, which gives it a bit of variety on replays.

My main memory of this game, however... is just flat-out getting depressed while playing Blizzard Buffalo's stage. I kept running into the aforementioned impasses where every item I tried to get was inaccessible because I didn't have something else, and I was just trying to break into the item collection chain at all. The previous two games were a lot better at just letting you collect things without getting too fancy with it. So I remember playing this stage and just putting the controller down and wondering why I was bothering.

Toughest Part: Bit and Byte warping into levels and completely wrecking me. Unlike the previous game, this mechanic was very unwelcome here. Because A) Those two are tougher opponents than the X-Hunters were, B) The fights are unavoidable if they're in a stage, unlike the X-Hunters which had their own side-rooms, C) You can't see what stages they beam into. So they could be anywhere. And they seemed to be everywhere that I was. Byte was particularly bad, with his gravity-shift that makes it impossible to wall-climb. Course now I know you can air-dash to escape that (if you have it) but back then I didn't. I hate those guys and they were a big part of how not-fun this game was the first time.

Read the post HERE.

#34 Xardion (Super NES) – Winter 1996

This is the first game on this list that is debatably "mid". It isn't bad mind you, it just isn't particularly notable or great. Nintendo Power sold this one pretty well, so when I saw it for like $5 in a KB Toys I scooped it up. It also benefitted a lot from being in my very first issue of Nintendo Power (Volume 36). Note: I have a few "first issue"s. The first issue I ever read, at all, was Volume 24 with Power Blade on the cover. The first issue I ever bought was Volume 36 with Darkwing Duck on the cover. And the first issue I ever got on a subscription was Volume 53, with Yoda on the cover. I missed the Mario All-Stars coverage by ONE issue. Darn.

It's a pretty standard jump n' shoot game where you play as mechs. It really wanted to be a Turrican game, basically. You can also level up to get more HP, so grinding enemies more than necessary actually helps you a lot with progressing. You have several characters to play as, but one of them is much better than the others and thus the only one worth grinding levels for.

I will say that the environments are VERY pretty in this game and they did a great job creating worlds that actually looked alien.

Believe it or not, the game actually froze up at a certain point. Yeah, a console game on cartridge froze up at the same spot over and over. Usually you'd see that with scratched disc-based games. I don't know what the deal was with this one. I'd get to the 2nd to last boss and it would freeze as soon as I won the fight. After a couple of tries, I had to return it and get another copy and replay the whole game just to see the last area.

On the back of the box, you can actually see the fight where the game froze up. It's the top-right screenshot. Also worth noting that this game has very nice box-art.

Toughest Part: The beginning. This is another one of those games where the first boss is really hard unless you level-grind a lot right off the bat.

#35 R-Type (Game Boy) – Winter 1996

Another Game Boy Player's Guide game that I was super-into before ever playing it. When I finally got it, it was a tad bit underwhelming due to the hardware (and having played Super R-Type first kinda took a lot of the wind out of this game's sails). Still, found it in a bargain bin and it was a fine way to spend an afternoon. Which is about how long it took to beat the game.

This is one of the many, many video games to feature Xenomorphs and somehow not get sued. Regardless, the first boss is a super memorable fight and what I immediately think of when I think of this game. Even though this only lasted me an afternoon, it was fine given the price. 1996 really heralded in an era of Game Boy and Super NES games turning up in bargain bins and thus being more accessible than ever. NES was also really easy to get games for, but I found that system to be passe and it wasn't until later where it started appealing to me.

Toughest Part: Baldo Gardens. Enough said. Anyone who has played an R-Type game knows what I'm talking about.

#36 Super Mario RPG (Super NES) – Spring 1996

If Chrono Trigger got me into RPGs, Mario RPG made me a huge RPG fanatic. What a happy, fun, fantastic game. It's also one of those games that makes you wonder "what lies beyond" in the sense that it always felt like there was something over the horizon. Some hidden area, or item, or minigame. I mean this game has SO MUCH stuff to find, considering the short runtime, that it's clear they went above and beyond with it.

As far as beating the game goes, it doesn't take long. I remember being glued to the game for a few days, making my way through it. When I finally got to the end, it was much shorter than I anticipated. For example I was expecting it to go to level 99, and it went to level 30. After the Nintendo Power coverage ended, I expected there to be a ton more of the game (as per usual with their coverage ending fairly early in RPGs), but nope. There really just wasn't a whole lot left. I'll forgive the game though, because even though it's short and the world is small, they made every area count. So many memorable places and sights in this game.

The very first time I played the game, something similar happened to Evermore. I loaded someone else's save file in a place called "Factory". I didn't remember anything like that from the Nintendo Power coverage I'd studied, so it must have been later in the game. Loaded it up, and... this was one of the first screens I saw. What was this strange post-apocalyptic landscape? I got into a couple of battles, and as a result I thought the main battle theme of the game was the Smithy Gang battle music. Funny how many memories I have of seeing the endgame of different games way before I ever actually got ahold of them for an actual playthrough.

This game is what led me directly to Final Fantasy IV, as after this game concluded I was on the hunt for that Culex guy. More on that in the next episode (what a cliffhanger).

Toughest Part: Axem Rangers. First time I rented this, they ended my run. Didn't have the Lazy Shell and levels were probably subpar, but yeah, they ran me over in a way nothing else in the game did before or after (even the optional superboss).

Fondest Memory: It's an odd fondest memory, but listening to the music in the Factory (Weapon World if you've only played the remake). That track is incongruous with the rest of the game to an extent and has a real mood to it. Sounds like something that'd play in the far future of Chrono Trigger when the End of Time is fast approaching.

Read the post series HERE. First thing I ever wrote on the site and highly rough around the edges, but a bit of a time capsule nonetheless.

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