Thursday, January 25, 2024

The 1000 Games I've Beaten (#169 - 181)


#169 Dragon Warrior 4 (NES) – Winter 2001

Today's post is going to cover the entirety of 2001, a year where I finished 13 games. So that fits nicely inside of the year. DQ4 is one I was looking forward to for a while. I emulated the first three over the previous several years so of course I was going to continue the series. This was the first thing I played in 2001 and it was a fantastic time. 

Personally I might even put this and DQ3 as the best games on the NES (tied). While I prefer the classes of the third game now, for a long time DQ4 was where it was at. It's so smooth around the edges and the characters are very memorable. If you're not gonna do class choices, the least you can do is have good characters, and this game delivers. I also like the villain, Saro, who might well be the best villain the series has ever delivered. You can sort of feel his pain as he deals with shitty people and becomes disillusioned into villainhood.

The one downside to this game is that most of the party members are CPU-controlled and you only get to directly pilot the main hero. This can be a real issue at times when characters just totally stop doing their jobs.

Favorite Character: Taloon. The man died as he lived: Waist-deep in poon.

Favorite Chapter: Chapter 2. Even though Chapter 5 is the majority of the game, and where most of the action is, I really like the party you have for Chapter 2 and the whole premise of Alena kicking everyone's ass.

Party of Choice: Ragnar, Hero, Alena, Nara. This covers all my usual DQ party bases. I think Cristo is a better healer than Nara, but his AI is worse which cancels it out. Most DQ4 players probably remember Cristo spamming Beat on boss fights where it had no effect.

Posts HERE.

#170 Mega Man X5 (Playstation) – Spring 2001

This is a game that I'd rate much more highly than most people. I think the level design is about on par with Mega Man X4, and it's just as fun to control/play. Considering the level design nosedives in the next game and the controls get slow and clunky at the

same time, Mega Man X5 in a way is the last gasp of the X series being really enjoyable for me (X8 is okay but it looks and plays so different from the earlier games, while the first five are all very clearly "the X series").

So if this game is as good as Mega Man X4, why doesn't anyone ever rate it at that level? Usually it's more likely to be lumped down with the "bad tier" with X6 and X7, just above them anyway. The main reason for this is... Alia. Freaking Alia. She interrupts the action constantly with 

unskippable text boxes, and completely tanks this game. Factoring her in, it really is in the "bad half" of the X series. However, each text

box pop-up of hers only appears one time, and they cease entirely very early in the first fortress level. So back in the day I went through all eight stages, triggering all of Alia's pop-ups and then dying to the boss. It was a bit of a chore and a general PITA, but after a bit I had

a save file at the beginning of the eight stages with NO ALIA in any of the stages. Not a single pop-up anywhere! And from there I was amazed at how good the game actually was. Take it from me, it's up there with X4 if it could just get out of its own way.

There was also this weird timer mechanism with each stage you played counting down towards the launching of a space cannon or something, that if

successful basically just allowed you to skip a bunch of levels. I usually just let it fail regardless and played all the levels. You get an awesome X vs Zero fight if you do this, as well, plus it feels like the canon way to do things.

Speaking of X vs Zero, I've talked about this many times over, but it really bugs me that Dr. Wily didn't show up in this game. They had everything built up for him to make an appearance at the end as the master manipulator of events, only to have...nothing. Well, at least Sigma bellowed forth that "the old man" had made him a new battle body, before attacking you with an advanced version of Gamma from Mega Man 3. Wait a minute...Gamma...Sigma...huh.

Favorite Track: Mattrex Stage. Spring 2001 was kinda the last gasp of my first run at Everquest, so a few things on this list I associate with it. MMX5 is first and foremost, and I listened to a lot of tunes from this game while playing that game. This theme in particular got quite a bit of play while raiding Velious and Sleeper's Tomb, so I associate it with the biggest EQ events like the Sleeper awakening and so forth.

Favorite Stage: The completely frenetic final stage. That stage is totally balls-to-the-wall, with rad music and nonstop visual stimulii from the constant light show in the background.

Quick Ranking of the X Series From Worst To Best, If Playing X5 Normally: X7, X6, X8, X5, X3, X4, X2, X

Quick Ranking of the X Series From Worst To Best, If Playing X5 Without Alia: X7, X6, X8, X3, X4, X5, X2, X

Post HERE.

#171 Conker's Bad Fur Day (Nintendo 64) – Spring 2001

This game was way ahead of its time, and skewered all kinds of pop culture. Was also hilarious to see a Nintendo game be this foul. Was super memorable. Unfortunately I tried to replay it 15 years or so later on the XBox 360 and it didn't go too well, found the lava jet sled level to be almost impossible for some reason.

Fondest Memory: Probably the part where you feed prune juice to cows and they get explosive diarrhea. Honorable Mention goes to the part where Conker goes to a club and runs around peeing on everybody.

Toughest Part: The lava jet sled level. I don't remember it being an issue on the N64 but I was probably just more dedicated back then to beating the game. It was a total impasse on later replays.

Best Boss: The Xenomorph Queen that you fight with a power loader and then swing around by its tail to hurl it into space, like Bowser in Mario 64., not Great Mighty Poo. Teh fook. Make your own list.

Best Level: The Vault, which is an homage to The Matrix with your heroes leaping around in slow-mo firing weapons in a marble hallway.

#172 Final Fantasy II (Famicom) – Summer 2001

At this point translation patches were around for all three of the FF games that were Japan-only, so I got started. I'd tried to play this several times over the previous couple years and couldn't get too far with all of the text being unreadable. So it was pretty cool to finally know what was going on.

I remember the weather getting extremely hot during the month or so that I was playing this and FFIII, which made their tougher dungeons even more miserable as I didn't have AC.

Toughest Part: The final dungeon Pandaemonium, with four big bosses in different wings of the dungeon en route to the final battle with the Emperor. There's also a fifth big boss, Iron Giant, that can appear as a random encounter WarMech style. I don't think you actually have to fight any of the four area bosses, though. They're all in treasure chests and guard powerful items, but I don't think it matters if you just run past them and straight to the Emperor. Which should make the final dungeon significantly easier. Even if the Emperor is powered-up if the four bosses aren't down (which I wouldn't be surprised if he was), the Blood Sword makes quick work of him regardless. Course, someone like me who wants to beat all of the bosses is gonna have to do it the hard way, no skipping for me.

Protip: The Blood Sword isn't just super-OP against the final boss, it also dishes out massive damage against Astaroth. He's the toughest of the four area bosses before the final boss, and nearly as strong as the Emperor, so his Blood Sword weakness is a big deal.

#173 Final Fantasy III (Famicom) – Summer 2001

This one is a significant improvement on the previous game. The thing I liked most about it was how the four Onion Knights were such a blank slate at the beginning of the game. Feels like as much of a "start from scratch" as possible in this series. This is a really fun one to play through, even on the extremely unforgiving NES version.

One major issue with this game is how often the class choices are funneled in a way the game dictates. FFV is much better about this and generally gets out of your way to let you play whichever classes tickle your pickle. FFIII on the other hand frequently makes you switch classes over to specific things to get past the latest dungeon or challenge, and while this is a cool idea, it's disruptive to my micromanaged party setups. Early on you have to go all-casters for a dungeon where everyone's shrunk, then later you need all-dragoons for a boss, and worst of all, there are dungeons that require all Dark Knights to kill anything and I think the first one is before DK weapons are even on sale in shops.

The endgame is also kind of a forced class choice, with Ninja and Sage pretty much being the only endgame classes worth a damn in this version. That said, the Devout has some slight advantages over the Sage in the healing department (its heals restore more HP than Sage, while it has far fewer spells). So while Ninja/Ninja/Sage/Sage is the best endgame party in general, switching a Sage out for a Devout is a good way to keep healing covered with one character and free the other Sage up for attacking.

Favorite Class: Dark Knight, probably. It was the first Dark Knight in the series and had the cool dark-blades (katanas, IIRC).

Party of Choice: Changes throughout the game, but for endgame it's Ninja/Ninja/Sage/Devout usually.

Toughest Part: The final dungeons. There are two of them back-to-back, then it repeats the previous game's idea of having four area bosses before the final boss. The difference is that this time you HAVE to beat all four of them or the final boss is unkillable, plus these area bosses are considerably nastier than the four in the previous game. Oh yeah, and you can't leave in the NES version, so you have to go in there, clear two dungeons, and beat all of these very strong foes in one sitting. Then you have one of the toughest final bosses in the series on top of all of that. Well, it isn't really that tough of a fight in the grand scheme of things, and spams the same move every round. Thing is, that one move is an HP check that can decimate your party. At that point it just becomes "your HP must be this high to win".

#174 Final Fantasy V (Super Famicom) – Summer 2001

Unfortunately I don't remember as much about the classes and my choices of classes for this one. Or the game in general. It's probably the deepest and most challenging of the first 9 or so FFs in terms of the gameplay, and a really fantastic game. It transpires in 3 acts over 3 different worlds, which I found interesting. The third world is a fusion of the other two, so you'll find the same areas returning but sometimes in different forms. It's a bit like FFVI and its two worlds, just...longer.

This is probably the longest of the first six FF games. The characters and story are very Mid though and that might be why it doesn't get discussed much. The only real memorable character is, ironically, Mid. And I guess Gilgamesh, who has great music but is some sort of bumbling idiot.

Just thought of something I really liked about this game. It was cool to see the predecessor to FFVI, as well as the bridge between that and FFIV. The meat in the sandwich of two of my favorite games. A lot of enemies from FFVI, and even Esper summons, turn up in this game. Either in proto forms, or straight-up the same sprites. Got to see the origins of quite a few things I recognized from FFVI while playing this and it was a pretty cool feeling.

Back in the day I remember seeing a magazine that had a preview of this game. I don't remember what magazine it was, maybe EGM, maybe something else. Was at the store. It said the game was on the way to the U.S. as "FF3" and was a direct sequel to the previous game. A descendant of Cecil was the main character and had to stop Zeromus all over again. So basically they had the idea for After Years before Square did. None of this was true though and I can't find any record that this magazine existed. I saw this before I ever played any of the FF series, but between this and the Culex stuff, it's no wonder I thought the FF games were connected back in the 90's.

Can I just take a moment here to point out how awesome it was to have three translated "lost Final Fantasy games" to play back-to-back in Summer '01? They were all pretty much a mystery to me and I didn't even know what to expect, but I loved all of them. I'd say overall I liked FFV the most, then III, then II. Thanks, Squaresoft hard-working ROM translation crews. You guys brought a ton of joy to a young me, and I imagine a ton of other people, back then.

Toughest Part: The Exdeath fight about 75% of the way through the game was a huge challenge the first time I played the game. It was back and forth and I had to be on the ball with rebuffing everyone. Probably the best fight I ever had in an FF game up to this point.

#175 Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Battle 22 (Playstation) – Summer 2001

Pretty terrible game here but I was into it back in the day. Considering it's a PS1 game from late in that system's life cycle, it doesn't look particularly impressive and doesn't do anything new for the series outside of being in pseudo-3D. I'd even say Final Bout is probably a better game than this for the 3D DBZ games of this era, and Hyper Dimension pretty much annihilates both of them.

The only real claim to fame this game has is that SSJ3 Gokou was playable. You didn't really see SSJ3 Gokou in any of the games back then. It also had Gogeta (erroneously called Vegeto) which was kind of cool (and also something you didn't really see in DBZ games yet). Zarbon, Ginyu, and Recoome were all playable, just like Retsuden for Genesis. Interesting how those 3 are the only Freeza Force members to make it into these games. Dodoria and the other 3 members of the Ginyu squad were basically screwed.

Maybe they didn't have games written into their contracts or something. Or maybe the devs thought those characters weren't as popular. Which is probably true, but how would they figure that out? Or maybe this game reused assets from Retsuden. I don't know...and I'm not gonna spend any time figuring it out.

Post HERE.

#176 Extreme-G (Nintendo 64) – Fall 2001

Super fast racing game with rad techno soundtrack. Around this time Eminem said nobody listens to techno. Well I did. So f*** him, and the Backstreet Boys too. This game was a ton of fun and unlike most racing games I was actually pretty good at it.

I never played any of the sequels, surprisingly. I remember mostly playing this because I liked the soundtrack. It's a pretty solid game with bikes and a good alternative to the other racing games of the era. Not sure why it didn't get more attention.

Favorite Tune: The first stage theme in this game coincides with me reaching level 50 with my Necromancer finally in EQ. Well after the fact and well after level 50 was the max. Later I actually played Extreme-G itself. Heard the soundtrack well before I played the game though. I remember listening to music from the game while I finished off that stupid level grind, mainly this tune. It worked pretty well for flying in an out of Lake of Ill Omen farming Bloodgill Goblins until I passed 50. Then I pretended I was done with the game even though the max was 60. Well, I'd have a rematch with the game a few years later.

#177 Sailormoon: Another Story (Super Famicom) – Fall 2001

Based on Season 3 of the show (Sailormoon S, or the Dr. Tomoe Saga, if this had DBZ naming conventions), this is a pretty cool RPG that I had a blast playing. One of the many fan-translated Japan-only games one had to emulate back then, but it was worth the trouble. This one goes through the battle against Mistress 9 and you get to spam everyone's special moves just like they do in the show.

Most of what I remember about playing this is spamming all of the signature attacks of the characters. They're all here and they're all recreated in SNES spell form. The animations aren't anywhere near as long as the show, luckily. I got enough of that from FFVIII and the GF summons. First time I played that game, not only did I level up and do everything wrong, I also over-relied on GF summons so the battles took forever to win.

Fondest Memory: Not sure if there was a specific thing. I just have general fond memories of this whole game. It was a pleasant game to play, even not being that much of a fan of the show. The season this game is based on is the only season I've seen, and it's a good season but I was never a superfan. This is just a good game though, and fun to play. I wish any of the DBZ RPGs had been this polished at the time.

Favorite Sailor: Sailor Mars of course. Best hair, second-nicest body, would probably be spectacular in bed.

#178 Earthbound Zero (Famicom) – Fall 2001

This game was so far along that it had a full translated ROM data floating around, ready for an American release that it never got. No idea why this happened the way it did. RPGs in general didn't get a fair shake at the time, and maybe Nintendo thought this game was too hard for Americans. It is a pretty tough game, but I think it's hogwash to have it completed and just not put it out there for people to buy.

Now known as Earthbound Beginnings in the modern era due to the Wii U port, but back in the day we called it Earthbound Zero. It's a prequel, but it's also mostly disconnected from Earthbound aside from sharing a bunch of themes and having the same villain. That's right, Giygas got his start here. This is a game that also punches way above its own weight, with themes that it couldn't flesh out the way the creator wanted to, at least not on the NES. It has a massive world to explore that would take a while just to walk across.

This game had a similar thing happen to FFV where I constantly recognized things from its sequel, which I had already played. Numerous sprites, enemies, and so on are proto versions of things from Earthbound and it's really cool to see after the fact. I'd actually probably recommend people play this game after the sequel to capture that feeling of seeing all these proto things. Especially the music. A lot of Earthbound's music can also be found in this game, only in NES proto form.

Tried a few times to get into this one over the previous couple years, since I love Earthbound so much. Unfortunately, this one just seemed like a waaaaay inferior version of the game, and I couldn't even get past the first boss without a copious amount of grinding. Finally gave it a real try in Fall '01, equipped with guides and motivation this time. Well, what I remember most about it... THE GRINDING. So much grinding. It's a good thing I brought motivation because it was GRIND GRIND GRIND. Every time you reach a new area, grind. Every time you challenge a new boss, grind.

Shigesato Itoi implored players of this game to play it slowly and pay attention, not rush. And with all the grinding you have no choice! But either way, there's a ton of heart here, and I'd love to play it for a second time. I'd say it's nearly inevitable that I'm going to revisit this and give it more of a chance to impress. Because my existing playthrough was just me vs. the game, trying to "get it done" rather than rolling with it and seeing what it had to offer.

Weirdest Memory: Reaching the first boss...and finding all my attacks did 1 damage because I wasn't sufficiently leveled. That was kind of harrowing, and sent me back to painstakingly grind. 1 damage, geez.

#179 Dragon Quest V (Super Famicom) – Fall 2001

This is a real S-tier game, and possibly my favorite game in the series. I'd put it up against anything from the Final Fantasy series as well and it'd probably emerge favorably. While it doesn't have the character variety of DQIV or the classes of DQIII, it has great pacing and story and the game flows very well. There's a reason I'm willing to play it multiple times over to write about it. I couldn't get into the DS remake, unfortunately, but eventually had better luck with the HD phone version.

I was always more of an FF guy until the last few years when I shifted towards being a DQ guy. I like that the DQ games are more gameplay and exploration focused, while the FFs usually tend to be more story and cutscene focused. Which is fine if those things are really good (FFVI) but the rest of the time just give me as much gameplay as possible.

This game has a very "early Super NES" visual look to it, and I like that look a lot. It's nice and simple, kind of mellow. Was a fine continuation to a series that hadn't let me down once so far.

Favorite Woman: Flora. She's cuter than Bianca, even though Bianca is more fun. ...actually Bianca. Man, I can't decide. Luckily the decision in the game pretty much only affects the hair color of your kids during the endgame. I've picked both in the past: Flora in 2001, Bianca during the replay recently.

Party of Choice: Hero, son of the hero, daughter of the hero. Though I of course want the wife included too if possible, it usually results in a suboptimal party for the endgame. The remake adds a fourth character slot which is a very nice change.

Posts HERE.

#180 Tecmo Secret of the Stars (Super NES) – Fall 2001

Terrible, awful game here that Nintendo Power made look pretty good. It's as generic of an RPG as you can possibly imagine gameplaywise, with bizarre dialogue and a nonsensical plot. The worst part is how you run two different parties for the whole game, one of them ends up doing like 90% of the work, then at the end it makes you use both. So you inevitably have one super-useless party in the endgame, and level grinding them up takes forever.

All of that said...I had fun with this. I had a lot of fun with it. The villains were basically a homeless man's Sinistrals, consisting of such luminaries as the pantless goblin BOOTH. Oh, this is a good time to mention that all of the character names and all of the text in general for the entire game... are in all caps. Yep, all caps everywhere. Nothing but caps. It makes the game even funnier, as if the nonsensical premise and ridiculous dialogue didn't do enough.

The translation is also pretty terrible, but even that I found ways to have fun with. For example, "Kraken" was mistranslated as the dastardly "Clarkken" of Daily Planet fame. All in all I have fond memories of this absolutely awful game.

Team of Choice: The Aquitallion kidz. By the end they were pretty formidable. On the other hand the lame Kustera adults were a bunch of low-level useless losers.

#181 Dragon Quest VI (Super Famicom) – Winter 2001

This game LOOKS significantly cooler than DQV, with a more bad-ass hero and considerably better, late-SNES visuals. Unfortunately it's a step down from that game in most regards. Classes are brought back which is cool, but it results in a lot of ability bloat. And the two worlds system just gets really confusing really fast (also something that existed, with the same results, in Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance). As a result I found this game a bit of a chore a lot of the time, and it required frequent looks at a walkthrough to figure out what in the hell I had to do next.

This was the first DQ game that was any kind of letdown, and took me a while to get through. Even DQII I got a lot of fun times out of. None of this is to say that DQVI is "bad" or anything. It most certainly isn't. It's just overinflated, too drawn-out, with too much Mid content. They were going for length with this one rather than a tight cohesive story. You can really see all of that with the class system and the ton of redundant abilities you get saddled with if you get everything. Unfortunately the classes don't offer any permanent bonuses for maxing them, so it's pointless aside from seeing all of the gold stars on your class screen (and reaching the optional superboss, which requires all classes maxed).

I certainly didn't bother maxing all the classes back then like I did with the more recent replay (still in progress). I got through it as quick as I could so as to just kinda move on. I got Dragon Quest VII on PS1 for Christmas in 2001 (my only Christmas game, IIRC) and that was my only new game for 3-4 months after this. So it was very much the plan to move right onto that game and finish the series. 

However, DQVI took a while and when I finally got to DQVII I found it to be even more drawn-out and padded. Didn't get super far in that game before I just kinda put the series down for a while. I'd make a couple more attempts at DQVII over the years (in 2004 and 2007) and eventually got to the end, but that's a story for a later post. The first of my 3 big runs at DQVII was right here at the end of 2001 / beginning of 2002 and it was what it was. At the end of the day I'd say 2001 was The Year of Dragon Quest for me.

Favorite Class: Paladin has some pretty sweet attacks.

Party of Choice: Hero, Hassan, Muriel, Barbara

Posts HERE.

And there you have it, 2001. I started and ended the year with two different Dragon Quest games. Was also my last fun year as a non-working teenager without much to worry about. Yep, life was all downhill from here!

Honorable Mention: Dragon Quest VII

I got this game for Christmas 2001 and took a good swing at it. I think I only got about five hours into it before it totally fell off, though. All the DQs this year was leading up to this, and it just...wasn't good compared to the earlier games. I'd try it again later in time.

Next Post: All of 2002.

The 1000 Games I've Beaten

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