Saturday, January 6, 2024

The 1000 Games I've Beaten (#127 - 133)

#127 The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64) – Fall 1999

At this point I finally got an N64 (that's right, I got a Genesis, NES, and N64 all within a couple months of each other, 1999 was a smorgasbord of deals). What did I get with it? Ocarina of Time and Goldeneye 007. Played the first one first and I remember being incredibly stoked for the first 3D Zelda. The cartridge of Goldeneye meanwhile sat on a shelf for a while, with Pierce Brosnan staring at me creepily.

Note: I didn't have a box for any of these, they were loose cartridges. Matter of fact I never had a box for any N64 game I ever owned. Not sure why that was. I got all of these things in 1999-2001 and I suppose by then the used game stores were just chucking their boxes. Who cared at that point right? Well, it lowered the value of things quite a bit a decade or two later.

This is a very special game and to this day I would say it's probably the top Zelda game out of the entire series. I had a few opportunities to play this at people's houses in early 1999, but didn't see much beyond the first few areas. So when I had it for real I tore into it for days and got to the end in about a week. What an epic final battle with Ganon.

Remember those Zelda novelizations? The ones I wrote in the mid 90's based on earlier Zelda games. Well, it was a five book series (not sure how much I ever entirely finished, but at the very least I had a framework in place for each book and an outline of events, along with at least a couple chapters for each one).

The first book was Link as a boy, based on the original NES game, fighting a pre-Ganon human Ganondorf. Second was based on LTTP, third was based on Link's Awakening. 4th had Link returning to Hyrule as a near-adult and finding that the kingdom had fallen to ruin and been overrun by Ganon's forces. Then the 5th had him leading the now-remotivated people of Hyrule against Ganon.

So the 4th and 5th were original stories not based on any game. So imagine how cool it was for me when Ocarina came along a few years later and had... a very similar premise with Ganon taking over and adult Link essentially waking up in a different world. Almost as crazy as how my mid-90's "Metroid 4" notebook had the final boss and ultimate Metroid be a giant spider boss... then Metroid Prime did that exact thing later. Nintendo got into my notebooks. Or maybe I just willed/manifested things into existence.

Favorite Dungeon: Forest Temple. What an incredibly atmospheric place.

Favorite Track: Forest Temple theme. Though a very close second goes to the original Fire Temple theme before it was edited to omit the religious chanting.

Fondest Memory: Being in the Forest Temple, with the rain pouring outside in real life, and an odd sense of foreboding.

Things I Associate This With: Wrestling, which was a constant topic of discussion with kids in this timeframe. ECW on TNN AND WWF Smackdown both debuted the week I got this. WCW, which I like, seemed like their goose was pretty cooked right about then. I also associate this with school starting imminently and worries about that.

Another Thing I Associate This With: Everquest, which I played for the first time around this point. I didn't get really into it until the following April or so (due to lack of computer time, and computer time going to other things when I had it). EQ ended up being probably my most-played game of all time, but more on that later. Circa 1999 that game had similar graphics to Ocarina of Time (they'd evolve as time went on, being a persistent PC game), and a similar mood in a lot of ways too. The Forest Temple in particular felt a LOT like some of EQ's areas, like Castle Mistmoore.

Toughest Part: The Water Temple. A notorious dungeon that probably ended a few playthroughs. Long, confusing, and complicated. I don't think it's as bad as we remember it being, but it was certainly the game's rough part.

#128 Final Fantasy VIII (Playstation) – Fall 1999

I got this game roughly 3 days into the school year. Left class early that day, missed my final class of the day. Don't be like me or do anything I do. Went and picked this up (unsure if I rented or bought) and raced home. Before that I played the demo quite a bit (the one that came with Brave Fencer Musashi). I specifically remember playing BFM again in the days before this game dropped. Specifically very early in the morning before the first day of school. School was pretty terrifying, given how bad it had been in 1997. Luckily this semester went way better than previous ones, but I didn't know that yet. No assaults this time.

As for FFVIII, main thing I remember is how the characters in the game were also in a school, and their school posed a unique challenge to them much the way school did for me at the time. Maybe it's easy for some people, I don't know, but from my point of view it may as well have been a Seed Academy. Basically all of my memories of this game are inexorably tied to high school. They were wrapped around each other and the game helped me get through that first week of wondering how it was gonna be this time around.

For a long time I considered this one of the worst FF games, but now I've got positive feelings about it. It's certainly...different, but if you appreciate it for what it is, it's an interesting experience of a game. Also worth noting that this was the game that prompted me to fix my TV issues. Once I started this up and the intro movie was a loud mess of smashy noises, I knew I had to figure something out. Changing the cables was the solution. It being a TV from like, the 70's probably didn't help much either. What was a pleasant surprise was that not only was the sound fixed, the visuals were also brighter and sharper. Glad I fixed this when I did because the remaining 90% of the game was much nicer than it would have been, and the plethora of great PS1 games in 2000 would have also suffered. I can't imagine playing Chrono Cross with that borked RF switch audio.

Fondest Memory: Listening to the Balamb Garden theme and chilling while getting ready for school.

Toughest Part: I remember Disc 4 (the endgame) being a bit of a nightmare. Didn't know that your level-ups strengthen the enemies in the game, so I leveled up a lot. I don't think the fights were unwinnable or anything but they certainly weren't very fair. I think I started the game over and played through a second time with better understanding of junctions. Also had Encounter-None on for about the second half of the game which made it a much more enjoyable experience.

#129 Contra 3 (Super NES) – Fall 1999

Back to emulation, here's my first Contra game. It was covered in Nintendo Power Volume 36, my first issue, so I had to play it at some point. Super game here, though also quite rough. It didn't hand me any victories, that's for sure. Don't remember much else and I think I got through this fairly quickly. Never replayed it either outside of a quick jaunt for a post, even though it's worthy of many runs.

Favorite Boss: The gigantic Terminator that rips through the walls to get to you.

Toughest Part: The boss rush at the end, culminating with Red Falcon (the notorious floating red brain). Boss rushes are often tough in a normal game; in a Contra series game they're double-tough.

Post HERE.

#130 Dragon Warrior 2 (NES) – Fall 1999

Following up on the first game, I decided to go ahead and play through all four (at that point) games in the series. I remember trying all of them out and liking the different approaches they took, and the day/night cycle which was pretty novel for an NES game (not sure if that started with this one or the next one).

This one is known for being "the hard one" and it certainly is. Probably the toughest game in the series, or at least the first six. A lot of that difficulty comes from the last several areas and their massive spike in difficulty after what was up until then a fairly mid across-the-board difficulty. It's a rough around the edges game and not as enjoyable as the rest of its series, but I still managed to get a lot out of it myself.

Fondest Memory: Level-grinding in the snow fields on the plateau of Rhone. I do this every time I replay the game, regardless of version. I even avoid grinding as much as I can before this just so I can do all of it at the snow fields. The EXP there is much higher than anywhere else so it makes sense. First time I did this, I remember having to go do the laundry. So I was back and forth to the laundry room, grinding more fights in the snow field. In 1999 an activity like this felt pretty good.

Toughest Part: Cave to Rhone. While the snowy plateau is a great place to grind, with high-EXP foes and infinite inn-rests, getting there is a real ordeal. Yeah, they make you work for the reward of that zone. This requires traversing a multi-level cave full of trapdoors, strong enemies, and lava. Getting through the place requires bringing maps (games used to make you bring your own), having a strategy, and being strong enough to pass the test. Oh yeah, and lots of trial and error.

Makes it even worse that I usually avoided level grinding before this (in anticipation of doing it at the plateau where foes give a ton of EXP so it doesn't take an age to level). So much like the Axe Knight / Erdrick Armor in the first game, I'd arrive underpowered in an effort to get better-equipped to actually grind for real. Also have to make sure not to miss the Thunder Sword.


#131 Dragon Warrior 3 (NES) – Fall 1999

Probably my personal favorite game in the series, though I've played it to death at this point with all kinds of party configurations. Didn't I even do a playthrough with the Hero and 3 Goof-Offs at one point on here? Pretty sure I did.

I like the class system a lot and even though it's pretty basic compared to most class systems, there's still a certain excitement every time you change classes and mix up your party composition, leveling new classes up from 1. It's a different kind of excitement from, say, the Bahamut class-up in FF1

Worth noting is that it's actually beneficial to grind up multiple classes in this game, since you keep half your gained stats when you start over at level 1. There are diminishing returns as you go on, but you benefit a lot from starting over at level 1 once or twice over the course of the game. You also retain abilities. Compare this to some later games in the series where you don't keep stats or abilities and there isn't much impetus to max out a bunch of classes aside from unlocking purposes.

Outside of the classes, the game itself is a well-constructed journey, complete with a fake-out final boss, a REAL higher menace, and a journey back to the world of the first game (which is a bit more detailed than when DW2 did basically the same thing by having Alefgard be visitable).

Favorite Dungeon: The pyramid dungeon. Specifically getting the Golden Claw for fighters, then trying to escape with it under constant enemy attacks. That whole thing was interesting back in the day.

Best Detail You Might Not Notice: The world map of the game is based on Earth, and the locations emulate their real-world counterparts. For example the island with Asian architecture and the fight with Orochi is, you guessed it, based on Japan. The pyramid is in Egypt. And so on.

Toughest Part: The final battle with Zoma is a real, legit final boss. A real boss' boss. A final battle that would be worthy of any game in the genre. It doesn't go easy on you and it shouldn't. If you prepared well, it pays off at this point.


#132 Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete (Playstation) – Fall 1999

Very cool SNES-style RPG that told a good story with a "simple is better" gameplay style. This is a pretty easygoing game and I don't remember having any major issues with getting through it. Eternal Blue on the other hand had a fight or two that crushed me. That one is WAY later though.

I think a few friends and I all played this at about the same time, if I remember right. We were all pretty excited about it. Little did we know we were starting what might have been the best year ever for RPGs that we collectively played. More on that in upcoming posts.

Fondest Memory: The "bromide" pictures of the female cast helped me get through puberty. Especially the Jessica ones. the hell long was I going through puberty anyway? Ayla was in 1995!

Toughest Part: I vaguely do remember one part where a cave dungeon ended with a fight against... two cat bosses of some sort? I think I had trouble with that fight and hadn't been leveling up properly.

#133 Ninja Gaiden III (NES) – Winter 1999

With the school semester successfully concluded without incident, it was time to get in some holiday gaming. First thing I reached for was the conclusion to this awesome trilogy. This is probably the hardest of the three due to having limited continues, which was a terrible idea. If it had unlimited continues like the others it would probably be the easiest of the bunch, and outside of the very difficult final part (world 7) I didn't find too much of this to be blistering. Playing it on emulator helped a lot.

As with the other games, this one was carried somewhat by the story, which had you always wanting to see what would happen next. This one took a hard turn off into weirdville (as if the first two didn't already), with a government agent getting access to some otherworldly power and trying to revive an ancient destruction-machine from a parallel universe. I should really replay this, because it's only been the one time.

Things I like: The box art for this one is particularly awesome. I like how the previous game's box has Ryu about to draw, then this one has him mid-swing. Speaking of swinging, the Super Sword powerup in this game is probably my favorite new addition, and makes Ryu's typically smallish sword into a big slash.

Fondest Memory: Yet again, reading about it in Nintendo Power. They made this game look incredible, and they didn't really give away anything about the last several worlds outside of artwork / drawn maps of the levels that only gave you an inkling of what happened in them. And that artwork was mystifying to say the least. I wasn't sure what I was looking at with some of it, which only added to the game's mystique.

Toughest Part: The titular Ancient Ship of Doom. Someone decided that floors and walls were overrated and should be replaced with tons of spikes!

Next Time: 1999-into-2000 winter break, and Spring semester, with a bunch of random interesting things on deck as I finished up with high school.

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