Monday, December 25, 2023

The 1000 Games I've Beaten (#37 - 56)


#37 Final Fantasy IV (Super NES) – Spring 1996

The funny thing about this game is that I didn't get it because I loved Final Fantasy VI. Nope, I got it because of Mario RPG. Thanks to EGM and a few other publications, I was under the impression that Culex was a boss from FF4, maybe even the villain of the game. Heck, Mario RPG itself gave me that impression with him being all "perhaps in another game we were enemies". What's with all the Culex subterfuge? Turns out he wasn't from anything and was a Mario RPG creation. Vanda isn't a thing in any game. What a rip.

Oh yeah, Final Fantasy IV. Or as we knew it at the time, Final Fantasy II. This game was special to me right from the get-go. I couldn't find it in any stores, or to rent, or anything. So I had to search all over the place, make phone calls, check places, etc, looking for what ended up seeming like some sort of lost artifact. Once I finally found it in a store and saw the very FFVI-like box, I was thrown for a total loop. It ended up being one of my favorite RPGs of the era, even if the original US version was very rough around the edges.

No Culex, though. Wtf. I kept waiting for him to show up as the new secret Big Bad who turned out to be the higher power, and nope. When Zemus showed up it was a real wtf moment because I thought it was finally Culex Time.

Early Preview: The first time I played this (it was used) I loaded up someone else's save files to see what the game looked like. First I saw Lunar Subterrane, and given the party levels and time on the clock I figured it was late-game. As a result I never really expected Kain to stay gone during any of his flirtations with the dark side. I also loaded another save that was right outside the Dwarf Castle in the Underworld. Looking at the red environments, I thought this meant the game had its own World of Ruin. Wasn't until I actually got to that point that I found out otherwise.

Toughest Part: The Four Fiends battle. Four tough bosses in a row at the end of the Giant of Babil. This can actually end a run if you arrive there super-underleveled and don't have enough Tents or Cabins to level grind. In later versions of the game they actually added a merchant to that spot in the game to prevent this from happening. This fight ended my first rental of the game, though I'm not sure if it's because the fight was unwinnable (AKA I was locked and would have had to start over) or just particularly difficult so I stopped there. Went and bought the game soon after and this time I made sure I was prepared for that fight.

#38 Killer Instinct (Super NES) – Spring 1996

This is another game that was huge for a while. It was a technological marvel with its ACM graphics, and Nintendo Power was shilling it REALLY hard. When I finally rented was okay. I mean, perfectly decent. I remember it being a big deal to the other kids, so people wanted to come over and play it. It was another game that got me in trouble for talking about it at school, like Maximum Carnage, due to the name. Yipee!

I played through this as Glacius and really liked his puddle uppercut and various T1000-esque moves. I remember Eyedol being pretty easy to beat for a fighting game boss of that era. He was kind of a cool concept at least, a freaking ettin/cyclops combination.

#39 Skyblazer (Super NES) – Spring 1996

Fantastic game here and very underrated. The far eastern (India, Tibet, Thailand) visual themes and music were pretty unique for this era and the game played quite well too. I bet there are a lot of people out there who wish this would get some sort of re-release or remaster for modern systems; it has a cult following, for sure. Using punch and kick and various spells while running through some very unique levels was a fun time from start to finish. I can't say enough good things about this.

It's a pretty short game now, but playing it back in the day, it felt like a big epic journey. The music especially added a ton to this. It was one of those games that was a lot of fun to just watch. The various spells you get are really inspired, like the comet dash and being able to turn into a phoenix and wreak havoc.

Standout Levels: Sand Rivers of Shirol, Petrolith Castle

Toughest Part: Defeating Raglan at the end. Fiery Phoenix did a real number on him, at least.

Read the post HERE.

#40 Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64) – Summer 1996

I actually rented an N64 just to be able to play this for a week. I got to play it in the store first and someone had gotten to Bowser in the Dark World, so that was the first level I saw. Also the first time I ever really saw a fully 3D game in motion. It was pretty incredible, to say the least. Nintendo Power called it a "solid gold game" and I agree. They probably pushed this game harder than they ever pushed anything, and I'll forgive that because it deserved the push.

I remember being super excited for months to finally step into this world. This got 90's kids going like nothing else in the gaming universe. Unless they disliked Nintendo, I guess. Actually playing the game was only a slight step down from the expectations, and really, nothing could have matched the expectations because they were so high. The levels are well-designed, the star objectives are creative, and it's compelling moment to moment because you're constantly getting the affirmation of finding new stars.

Early Preview: When I first played the game and saw Bowser in the Dark World, I realized there was more to the game than what Nintendo Power showed me.

Toughest Part: Tie between Tick-Tock Clock and Rainbow Ride. Both of those levels are tough, and being over a huge death-pit in both levels makes them a lot more nerve-wracking. You really appreciate having, you know, a GROUND in your levels after that. Both are technically optional levels (as are almost all the levels, really) but you want to play all of them anyway with this game.

Fondest Memory: Getting ahold of this game at all. It really was a massive deal at the time, a solid gold experience.

#41 R-Type III (Super NES) – Summer 1996

Super hard game here. Super super hard. Hardest thing so far. At least it has unlimited continues, and always starts you from the latest checkpoint. The checkpoints are sprinkled around pretty liberally too. Like every 3 screens is a checkpoint. That said, it was STILL super hard. I remember stages 2, 3, and 4 in particular (out of 6) being absolutely brutal to even progress in.

Toughest Part: Pretty much the whole thing after level 1 is over...

Fondest Memory: Getting the game beaten!

#42 Wolfenstein 3D (Super NES) – Summer 1996

Main memory of this was fighting Hitler (well, "The Staatmeister", as Nintendo removed his mustache) and then telling people at school that I fought a gatling gun wielding Hitler in a game. And then getting in trouble for that, like I got in trouble for almost every damn thing I said. It's a pretty fantastic game for the era and maybe the first real 3D shooter. Doom would later upstage it in pretty much every regard, but yeah. In the 90's I preferred this game (only later did I realize Doom's actual superiority) and I still have a soft spot for all things Wolfenstein.

Toughest Part: I found the Black Knight to be the deadliest foe in this game. Took a bunch of tries and it got to the point where I was running and hiding and being stalked by the guy. He's basically a giant Terminator. Pretty cool fight.

#43 Pocky and Rocky 2 (Super NES) – Summer 1996

Cutesy game here that Nintendo Power made look awesome. Has a bunch of creatures from Japanese mythology. Problem is, it's ludicrously hard. Especially for such a cute game that seems designed for small tots. This game will absolutely whoop you. Even after you get good at it, it'll still whoop you. Not sure how I got through it on a rental. This and R-Type 3 are hands-down the two hardest games on this list so far.

Toughest Part: One of the late-game levels where you're riding a dragon and have to fight a lightning elemental boss (with a flying tiger miniboss, seen here). There isn't much room to move around in that level and the enemies fly in fast and furious. It's way above the rest of the game in difficulty to say the least, and I couldn't get past this level for days. I think it's the 2nd or 3rd to last level though.

#44 Super Bomberman 2 (Super NES) – Summer 1996

I love Bomberman and that started with this game. Was a very fun rental. Not much else to say. Nintendo Power sold me this one too. Come to think of it they pretty much sold me almost everything so far. I ended up eventually playing all five (!!) of the "Super Bomberman" games on the SNES. IIRC the last 3 are Japan only. So I definitely like this series, what can I say.

Toughest Part: Not blowing myself up. I was usually more of a threat to myself than the enemies were.

#45 ActRaiser (Super NES) – Summer 1996

Great action/sim hybrid here, with lots of jumping and slashing. The controls are pretty stiff during the action portions of the game, but I loved the music and the boss designs so I got used to it. The sim sections might actually be the best part; unlike the remake they don't completely overstay their welcome. I actually started to care about all the tiny humans I had to supervise. How many games let you play God and guide a civilization to success?

Fondest Memory: The Northwall music. What a tremendous bit of Snow Music.

No post on this game, but check out my Snow Music post HERE.

#46 Aladdin (Super NES) – Summer 1996

I liked the movie, rented the game, and lo and behold it's actually one of the good movie licensed games! I prefer the Genesis version because Aladdin actually has a sword there (EXTREEEME. SEGA!) but I gotta give this version props too. Was a fun rental.

Fondest Memory: The magic carpet ride stage. What a nice stage. Before the endgame, it gives you that one level with no enemies where you can just fly through the city collecting lives and enjoying the music.

Read the post HERE.

#47 Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (Super NES) – Summer 1996

Here's a game that punched way above its weight. Not a particularly great fighting game or a particularly great retelling of the life and times of Bruce Lee, but it is what it is and I liked it a lot as a kid.

Toughest Part: The two dominatrixes with poles. That game overed me so much as a kid. Uh...wait, when did this ever happen to Bruce Lee? Maybe it's best we don't know.

Fondest Memory: Studying Kung-Fu at the time and just being really into all things Bruce Lee. Never really spent much time on his movies but I read his writings and liked his philosophy.

Read the post HERE. Though it's for the superior Jaguar version, it's pretty much the same deal as the SNES version.

#48 Super Mario Kart (Super NES) – Fall 1996

IMO the first Mario Kart game was also the best one for a long time. This game was simple and super compelling at the same time. It really makes you want to try every single character and figure out their nuances. While Mario Kart 64 is probably objectively better, I didn't get to play it for a long time. So for me, Super Mario Kart was tops right up until Mario Kart 8 dropped. I also like that this game keeps it simple: 8 characters, in basically four pairs, and each pair has its own strengths and weaknesses. Princess/Yoshi have the fastest acceleration. Bowser/DK have the fastest top speed. Koopa/Toad have the most tight controls. Mario/Luigi are the most averaged-out.

Sad Memory: My cat started getting pretty sick while I was playing this, and while I hoped for the best, it didn't look too good. This game kinda distracted me from all that and reminded me that the world has the potential to be a happy place.

Read the posts HERE.

#49 Secret of Mana (Super NES) – Winter 1996

One of my favorite games and one I've played (and outright studied) pretty extensively. For a long time I've wanted to see what an actually-completed version of this game would have looked like, since more than half the game was scrapped on the drawing board. Those ideas mostly became Chrono Trigger. So this could have been a lot more than it was, but for some reason I see it at its full potential rather than what is.

Also, Seiken Densetsu 3 took the ideas that DID make it into SoM and refined them, like the eight elemental palaces. Unfortunately we never got that game stateside until the Trials of Mana port and remake in like 2019/2020 respectively. Before that we got an SoM remake on PS4 and Switch, wasn't so well-recieved. Kind of a low-effort remake of a game that didn't really need one to begin with unless they were gonna flesh out the story or make it 2D-HD or something. Point is, it was kind of tough being a Mana fan for a long time.

As for my experiences with the game back in the 90's, this was one of my first rentals and I didn't get very far with it. Didn't understand leveling or items (this was pre Chrono Trigger) and pretty much got clobbered by both the Witch's Woods and Underground Palace. Later, in 1996, I rented it again and did significantly better, actually finishing the game. Got it for $10 a few years later at a flea market and played it again. Probably revisited this like 7 times over the last couple decades.

Toughest Part: It's kind of silly in retrospect, but I had the most trouble with the Fire Gigas early in the game. Didn't realize you could Freeze spam, didn't have Faerie Walnuts, hadn't leveled spells up. That was on an early rental where I didn't really know what I was doing yet. Later when I actually finished the game, the toughest fight was Aegagropilon for some reason.

Oddball Memory: While fighting Dark Lich for the first time, I got a call from a girl I went to elementary school with (we were in 7th grade now and out of touch). She was calling to conduct some kind of survey or something, so I answered her questions and got rid of her quick so I could get back to the fight I was in the middle of. Ten years or so later I met her as an adult and found out she was calling because she had a crush on me and was hoping to get together. 7th grade me had no game, ironically.

Read the (several) post serieses HERE.

#50 Breath of Fire (Super NES) – Winter 1996

Yet another game that I rented early in my SNES tenure and got nowhere with. Specifically I got to the part where you have to acquire a Gold Bar for someone and they cost 65000 G. I didn't know how the hell I was going to get that much money and didn't feel like grinding for hours, so I gave up. Turns out there's a quest that gets you a free Gold Bar. Too bad you can't sell it.

This game has 3 different overworld themes, all great, just like SoM. That stood out to me a lot at the time and made the story feel that much bigger, like an epic told in 3 acts. I never played Breath of Fire II and to this day it's #1 on the list of SNES games I haven't gotten to. Which is saying a lot because there are a bunch I haven't gotten to. Shows how much of an impression this game made.

Toughest Part: Kind of an unusual one in that it isn't a boss fight. The toughest part was when it asks you to raise 65000 G to continue the story. I didn't know about the Gold Bar in the nearby dungeon that you can sell for exactly that amount, so I basically wandered around trying to find another way to progress while grinding out money.

Sad Memory: Had to put down my cat (due to cancer) while midway through this game. He'd been with me pretty much the entire way to this point as we were born in the same month. So a lot of stuff from this game just instantly makes me sad, from various sad themes to even the save statues.

Read the post HERE.

#51 EVO - The Search for Eden (Super NES) – Winter 1997

Interesting but weird Enix game that not many people know about. "Interesting but weird" is a lot of Enix games. This game has you using EXP to evolve various body parts and eventually evolve into entirely new species. Every type of animal plays somewhat differently and it's actually a pretty fascinating game to mess around with. There are a few downsides, like extremely stiff play control and becoming a really weak starter form at the beginning of most new worlds (time periods).

Apparently this game is a sequel to an even more obscure Famicom game that I haven't had a chance to ever check out, but that's pretty cool.

I had a lot of fun renting this game over the Christmas holiday, and I remember learning that I love egg nog during that same week and a half or so (rentals were ten days at my local store around this time). Egg nog and EVO, was a good time.

Toughest Part: The shark boss at the end of the first world. That thing is probably the nastiest foe in the game, and putting it so early probably meant a lot of players got shut out of the game before it really got going. Which is unfortunate to say the least. Protip: You regain all your health when you evolve a part, so farm some EXP and save a few evolutions for that fight to give yourself full-heals at will. It isn't bad when you know what you're doing.

Fondest Memory: Playing this a lot on New Year's Eve and January 1st 1997 while being back and forth to Nintendo Power chat rooms on AOL where we were having a big Moogle War.

Read the post HERE.

#52 Paladin's Quest (Super NES) – Spring 1997

Very unique Enix RPG with a lot of bright pastel colors and some really creative design. Takes place on an alien world that doesn't look anything like any other game I can think of. The abilities, combat, spell system, item system, and...pretty much everything are just different and the game deserves a lot of credit for the sheer scope of the creativity involved. It's also challenging and you better be okay with doing lots of level-grinding to keep up with Zaygos' minions.

I would go so far as to say this is my favorite Enix game on the Super NES, at least out of what we actually got here in the 90's. Things like Dragon Quest V surpass it if we're looking at Japan releases. Regardless, I think this is a very underrated game that everyone should check out at some point. It's almost like the Super NES's answer to the Phantasy Star series.

Toughest Part: The final fight with Zaygos. One of the toughest final battles in any 90's RPG... until you either level way up, or realize you can use reflective barrier spells to bounce his powerful attacks back and completely wreck him.

Read the post series HERE.

#53 Earthbound (Super NES) – Summer 1997

Nintendo Power sold me this game...but not very well. It was pretty far down the list for me. I was on a big rental kick over this Summer and got Earthbound, Mortal Kombat 2, Maximum Carnage, and Doom all practically back-to-back / concurrently / repeatedly in some cases. All things I'd been wanting to check out for a while, but not enough to check them out sooner.

My first experiences with Earthbound weren't great. I was sick (more on that in a bit) and the game just didn't click with me. I didn't "get it". It was weird, and felt like kind of an archaic RPG design-wise with the slow movement and simple battles. On the first rental I only got to Onett. Yes, the place you start in. First boss actually took me out and I found the game too Mid to bother leveling up much. I decided to give it a chance after reading more of the official guide (which came with the game) and being pretty impressed with that. Second rental I did a lot better and actually finished the game.

I was blown away.

This game has so much to it that runs under the surface. It makes you feel and I'm not even sure how it does it. It's probably one of the greatest video games of all time...for people who get it. If you don't get it, or don't give it a chance to work its magic, it's just a relatively average RPG. Shigesato Itoi had a lot to say, though, for anyone willing to listen.

Later I bought the game from the very store I rented it from (as they started offloading their SNES stock in 1999 or so) with the big box and guide book, for $30. That's right, $30. Which was hilariously a lot for me at the time, so I must have really wanted it. And it's good that I did, because 20 years later I sold the game for like $800. With no SNES to play it on (and better ways to play it now regardless) there wasn't much point in keeping it at that value. I did make sure to color-photocopy the entire guidebook first, though, so I'll always have that in a binder if I want to refer to it. That $800 helped buy me a PS5 and a whole lot of other stuff. So thanks, Earthbound.

Favorite Part: This is really hard to choose. I liked the desert section of the game a lot. Scaraba, etc. But I think I have to give the duke to Moonside. What an incredibly creative place. I still don't quite understand what Moonside represented.

Part I Found Oddly Soothing: The traffic jam heading into Fourside. That part was so weird because it actually made you more amped to get to the place. Like "all of these people are trying to get in, the place must be pretty awesome". To the point that you then turn around and walk through the barren brush to get around the traffic. With odd radio noises playing the entire time. I don't know why I like this part so much, but I could say that about a lot of this game.

Cool Idea: The farmer's market type bazaar in the town square, where you can buy all kinds of stuff, from weird trinkets to common item shop fare.

Most Profound Part: The Sea of Eden, walking around in what is ostensibly Ness' frontal cortex, confronting his fears, talking to people from his history that meant something to him even if he doesn't remember them very often now.

Favorite Dungeon: Probably the Cave of the Pink Cloud. I have fond memories of that place and its Far-Eastern music, listening to that while I played the game and talked to my mom about how cool it'd be to travel to places like Dalaam and see them in real life. We never got around to doing that though.

Most Memorable Part: Arriving at Stonehenge and walking around in the snow, then encountering the Loch Ness Monster.

Least-Favorite Thing: This is one of those games that doesn't let you leave once you arrive in the final area. Games really need to NOT do that. It's a terrible choice. Forces you to start the whole game over if you want to explore more. Sometimes that isn't the worst thing. Here, though, it was pretty unwelcome.

Most Touching Moment: Probably the Lumine Hall ending where the moss on the wall starts glowing to spell out words and talk to you. Many years later, a guy hacked the game to make that glowing wall propose to his girlfriend, who was watching him play the game.

Bad Memory: Got super ill the first day I had this game and was puking everywhere, which I permanently associate with the Onett music because that was as far as I got. It's amazing the game recovered from that.

Toughest Part: Probably the final area with the Ghost of Starman and the Final Starman spamming Starstorm on your party. The final boss was a tough customer as well.

#54 Mortal Kombat 2 (Super NES) – Summer 1997

Rented this and Earthbound together in what had to be the weirdest combination ever. Had a "friend" over who I'd been close with about five years earlier. Now he was older and way more of a jerk, so it was short-lived after he relentlessly mocked me for getting sick and puking. Regardless, this game was great and a big improvement on the first. It's kind of amazing that it took me THIS long to get to it considering how much I wanted to play it. I played the first game right around when this one dropped and it's surprising I didn't go right to this one.

Toughest Part: Kintaro.

Read the post HERE.

#55 Doom (Super NES) – Summer 1997

Hell of a game here, with a blood red cart. This was the end of  my couple weeks of not feeling well. Rented this and Maximum Carnage together. Didn't get far in that game, but I managed to get all the way through this one. Being back to back with MK2 made for a very M-rated couple weeks of gaming. This was notable because it was probably the most METAL game I had played up to that point. I mostly remember the early levels and how eerie and foreboding they are, like something terrible is about to happen.

That's not to say the later levels aren't also great, though. This version only has 3 of the 4 "episodes" of the game (it ends with Inferno and omits Thy Flesh Consumed) but each of those 3 episodes are very distinct. Arriving in Hell itself was a real moment. I didn't get to play the 4th episode until about 20 years later when the game got an HD re-release on modern systems. It's my least-favorite episode for sure, so I don't think the SNES version lost anything by only having the others.

Scariest Part: Probably being stalked by the Cyberdemon in the Tower of Babel. That thing is kind of like Wolfenstein 3D's Black Knight turned up to 11. Seeing it coming around a corner gives you a rush to say the least.

Toughest Part: Probably the final fight with the Spiderdemon in Dis. While the Cyberdemon fires much more powerful rockets, the Spiderdemon's weaker gatling shots are considerably harder to dodge. Also his arena is an open area with few places to duck and cover. So this part was definitely tough. I also remember a level shaped like a hand that gave me a ton of grief, but had great music.

#56 Tetris Attack (Super NES) – Summer 1997

Last game of the Summer before the school year started and I had no time for games for a couple months. It's... a puzzle game, but By God it sure is a fun one. Not too much else to say about this one. Was yet another great choice for a rental. Having your opponents be foes from the Mario series makes the game instantly compelling to play through.

Toughest Part: Probably the giant piranha plant boss. I think that's the 2nd to last boss in the game, but for whatever reason it was the part that got me for a while as a kid.

Fondest Memory: The music for Raphael the Raven. Super chill and moody theme with a bit of foreboding. Pretty much permanently associate it with the arrival of Nappa and Vegeta in DBZ because that was the next episode that'd be airing during the weekend where I played this game.

Next up: Final Fantasy VII.

The 1000 Games I've Beaten

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