Wednesday, February 7, 2024

The 1000 Games I've Beaten (#195 - 213)

#195 The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Master Quest (Gamecube) – Winter 2003

Today we're covering all of 2003, where I beat 18 games.  This was an awesome remix of Ocarina of Time for the Gamecube that people got for free when they ordered Wind Waker. It also included OoT in its original form. Pretty incredible bonus here. I never pre-ordered Wind Waker, so I'm not sure how I got this. It must have also been sold individually.

Most of the overworld of the game and the story were the same as the original, but all of the dungeons were totally shuffled and redesigned. Most of them were longer and more difficult than they were originally... with one humorous outlier. The Water Temple, the original game's hardest dungeon by far, was severely nerfed in this version and is now like 3 rooms long and beatable in about five minutes. Considering how tough the rest of the dungeons are, this was a pretty clever switcheroo. Definitely a worthy "second quest" for this game.

Least-Tough Part: The Water Temple and it being five minutes long. Hilarious.

#196 Live a Live (Super Famicom) – Spring 2003

Very cool game here that later got one of the best HD remakes I've seen. The Super Famicom version here was a fan translation and wasn't exactly high on my list of things to check out, but for whatever reason I made room for it. It's kinda funny to me that I never played things like Bahamut LagoonTreasure Hunter G, Rudra no Hihou, Fire Emblem: Genealogy of Holy War, Tales of Phantasia, and Star Ocean, and it took me a decade and a half after it was translated to get to Seiken Densetsu 3. Yet I made time for Live a Live. Of all things.

This was kinda like a SaGa series offshoot that for some reason didn't get the SaGa name, and did things a bit differently. I liked how each scenario had a very different style and setup. The chapters taking place in wildly different eras of human history was also pretty cool. I particularly liked the far-future chapter with the robot on the spaceship. Considering I was playing this around the same time I was eagerly awaiting Xenosaga, that chapter was interesting.

The battle system is also unique, taking place on a grid. It's pretty basic, not much more to it than "use your strongest attacks and heal".

Toughest Part: Sundown's final boss fight, the gatling-wielding bandit. For some reason I struggled with that fight and getting one-shotted by his gatling attack. You're supposed to be able to move out of its firing line, but when I tried that it didn't work for whatever reason. Still somehow managed to win.

(Lots and lots of) Posts HERE.

#197 TMNT 3: The Manhattan Project (NES) – Spring 2003

Another fun TMNT arcade-style game. I think this was my favorite of the NES trilogy but it's hard to remember for sure. This one has Super Shredder as the final boss. Was this the first one with Super Shredder? Not sure. It's a damn good game regardless and has pretty much all the TMNT characters I like. Yeah, I skipped over TMNT 1 but I'd circle back to it eventually.

Post HERE.

#198 Monstania (Super Famicom) – Spring 2003

An oddball game that I don't think got released outside of Japan. This must have been the season of me playing oddball fan-translated games. Only thing I remember about this is the female lead talking about how stimulated she felt.

Basically it's a Tactics style game, but it's also very short and very simple. So a miniature Tactics game. An introduction to the genre kind of thing. Not sure how this got played and so many Japan-only gems didn't.

#199 Magic Knight Rayearth (Super Famicom) – Spring 2003

Another oddball game that got a fan translation. Had 3 protagonists and they were all magical girls. Pretty fun game, I remember liking this one a lot. According to general reviews online it was pretty bad, but back then I had a knack for making the most of middling things and having fun with them regardless.

#200 Super Mario Sunshine (Gamecube) – Summer 2003

Kind of cool that this (huge) game got #200 for me. I think this was around when I had actually started keeping score, because I vaguely remember deciding to do something big for this number. This game did its best to make people feel happy in a relatively dark time. I appreciate it for that. As far as 3D Marioes go, I think it's my least-favorite of the bunch. Not a lot of diversity of environments (they're basically all island levels, none of the usual Mario variety) and the gameplay never really grabbed me either.

I remember listening to a lot of Led Zeppelin while playing this and trying to feel better. This was a rough timeframe, so I needed something to pep me up and this game worked to an extent. Unfortunately all of this also brought the game itself down a bit. In any case, Mario Sunshine is what it is and I'm glad it existed.

Note: It may be the least-good 3D Mario, but it probably has the best name out of all of 'em.

Favorite Nozzle: The rocket nozzle that lets you zip along the surface of water. Oh, and water in this game looked INCREDIBLE for 2002.

Toughest Part: Finding all the Blue Coins when going for 100% shines in this game. It doesn't keep track of how many you've found in each level, only how many of the grand total you have. So if you're at like, 220 of the 240 blue coins, good luck finding the last 20 because they could be ANYWHERE in the game. This meant doing all of the mini-games and side-challenges, then doing them all again because you had no idea which ones you'd missed. In short, keeping a list of blue coins from the beginning and checking them off as you find them is the only good way to do this.

#201 TMNT 4: Turtles in Time (Super NES) – Summer 2003

Swung around and finished off the TMNT beat 'em up series. This game is (hyuck) timeless. I love that the final boss is Shredder, and also Super Shredder, who really should be the ultimate bad guy in any truly great TMNT game. Yeah, I'm really on this "Super Shredder final boss" kick. This one plays the best of the TMNT beat 'em ups of this era and was precisely what a "super" fourth game in a series should be.

Favorite Stage: Probably Neon Night Riders: AD 2020.

Favorite Villain That Isn't Shredder: Probably Slash, the evil turtle. He's got spikes like Bowser, and wields a freaking wave-bladed sword.

Post HERE.

#202 Plok (Super NES) – Summer 2003

Cool, memorable platformer here, with a main character who fires pieces of himself at foes (and loses them when damaged). It's an oddball game but manages to be super charming. Only problem is that the difficulty is completely bonkers and I don't know why they cranked the dial so far into la-la land for this one. I had to use a lot of save states to get to the end.

Most Memorable Boss: Probably Rocky-Fella.

Toughest Part: The whole thing. This game is BLISTERING. The first two thirds or so are extremely challenging, but doable with some practice. Then the last third goes into full insane-mode and cranks the difficulty through the roof. Considering the game is ostensibly for kids and was never marketed as any kind of super-challenge I'm not sure why they felt the need to crank everything through the roof so much.

Post HERE.

#203 Guilty Gear XX (Playstation 2) – Summer 2003

Cool fighting game with some memorable characters like Sol Badguy. I think this might have had some Cowboy Bebop aesthetic going on (but I didn't know it yet) with the character designs. Fighting games are kinda the "gimme" games of this list considering most of them are like a half hour long, but it is what it is. This was a fun rental and I enjoyed the soundtrack a lot.

Good Example of the Soundtrack: Feel a Fear. The music in this rocked more than video game music was supposed to rock at the time.

#204 Tobal No 1 (Playstation) – Summer 2003

3D fighter from 1997 or so that I finally got around to on a rental. Not sure why I decided to get to it now, or why I didn't get to it sooner. The soundtrack of this game is incredible with banger tracks from pretty much all of Squaresoft's best composers. There's also a quest mode where you traverse a 3D dungeon and beat people up, but I didn't get very far in that.

This game did things that nobody else was doing at the time and really showcased Squaresoft's range. It's most notable for letting you free run around the battlefield to a limited extent, something you couldn't do in other 3D fighters in 1996. It walked so Ehrgeiz could run.

Favorite Tune: "Vision on Ice" which might be one of the most mystical battle themes I've ever heard. Plays when fighting on the ice planet. Yeah, this game has fights on other planets.

#205 Xenosaga (Playstation 2) – Summer 2003

Probably my most fondly remembered game of 2003, maybe because I never played it again to mess up said memories. That said, something similar to Chrono Cross happened here where I was incredibly hyped for the game beforehand, only to be let down by what it ended up being by the end. While I expected Cross to be a real sequel to Chrono Trigger, I expected this to be a prequel to Xenogears. I.e. Episode One of that game's canon, which it certainly appeared to be, and which a few magazines incorrectly characterized it as. Maybe they were just guessing since it seemed so obvious that it'd be Episode One of that story. It's in space, on a ship, has a young Fei named Abel, and so on.

I mean this has pretty much everything it needs to be a prequel, but at the end of the day it isn't, and might not even be in the same universe as Xenogears. All of the connections amounted to little more than vague references because Squaresoft owned Xenogears and Monolith (who made this game) did not.

At the time it dropped, I didn't know any of this, so I was glued to this game for days, eagerly awaiting Deus and Eldridge and all the other Xeno-isms. I DID sleep this time though.

The lack of music in most of the game's areas was an interesting choice, and while I'd frown on that most of the time, I think it was a good call here. The bleak emptiness of space came through a bit better when all you heard was machinery noise as you traversed the various ships the game transpired in.

A couple of the dungeons were incredibly annoying, like the Cathedral Ship (too long) and Song of Nephilim (too confusing). That latter one is right before the final area, Proto Merkava, which is actually pretty awesome. Too bad I get the feeling not much of the playerbase got to see it.

...yes, they called the final area "Proto Merkava". Like Merkava in Xenogears, the seat of Deus. They did everything humanly possible to make this look like the prequel it wasn't. See also "Proto Dora" above.

Toughest Part: Aforementioned Song of Nephilim was a legitimately stressful dungeon that just went on and on and on. One of those places that wears you down over time. I remember it feeling like it took 5 hours to get through, the night before my work week started. By the time I reached Proto Merkava it was bedtime and I had to wait a few days to have time to play it again.

Fondest Memory: Playing this with the air conditioner blasting because it was so damn hot outside in summer 2003. Having an air conditioner at all was kind of new to me, and I certainly didn't have one in 2001 when I was struggling through Final Fantasy 2 and 3 in uncomfortable humidity. The AC added to the overall mood of Xenosaga: Sterile, air-controlled spaceship environments.

Favorite Tune: The music that played on the menu screen with the bestiary. This tune still gives me fuzzy feelings, even when few things from that era do.

This game didn't have much music, but what it had tended to be amazing. This tune was one of the first things I heard out of the game and it represented all my hopes and dreams of what story the game (and its sequels) was going to tell. Those hopes and dreams sort of dwindled and petered out as the game progressed and I kinda realized it wasn't Episode One of Xenogears after all. Would I have played it if I knew that from the start? I don't know. Possibly not. So I'm glad I was tricked, because I got to play a pretty decent game.

Note: The sales for this series went off a cliff after this installment, so I'm guessing a lot of other people were also expecting a Xenogears prequel and jumped ship when they realized this series wasn't that. I still remember all the Xenosaga fanboys on GameFAQs basically pointing and laughing at Xenogears fans for reading so much into what was effectively a bunch of fanservice. Those people were annoying and probably turned off even more players, so good job. Indeed, it wouldn't be until years after its release that I played Xenosaga II. It might have even been after the third game. I'll need to see.

#206 Dynasty Warriors 4 (Playstation 2) – Summer 2003

Got this alongside Xenosaga and it was kinda like getting the PS2 with two games all over again. I put this off until after the RPG was done, like I did a year before, but I was pretty stoked to play a sequel to Dynasty Warriors 3. Unfortunately I found this game to be worse overall. Less impactful gameplay and animations, music wasn't as hard-hitting, whole thing just felt kind of mellowed out. So this was my last DW game for a while.

Favorite Character: Sun Shang Xiang. One of her outfits had short shorts. I went with the all-white color scheme for the outfit and spent probably dozens of hours watching her sprint around in her white short-shorts, slashing at enemy armies with her two chakrams. Played as her for basically the entire game and maxed out her stats. We men are simple.

Favorite Tune: Gain Ground. This plays when Dong Zhuo is fleeing through Chang An, his own castle.

#207 Zone of the Enders (Playstation 2) – Summer 2003

Super atmospheric and futuristic game here that was a good thing to play shortly after Xenosaga. It's a bit on the simple/basic side and doesn't take the concept outside of its comfort zone like the sequel does, but it has the most stylish combat this side of Devil May Cry. And it's a mech game with flight and lasers, so that's rad. I feel like this game might have gotten quite a bit of inspiration from Battleclash and Metal Combat back on the SNES, which is interesting if true.

This was a game that legitimately felt like a "next generation" game, as in no version of it could have possibly existed before this point, and the technical prowess on display was well beyond anything I'd played on PS2 previously. Aside from Metroid Prime this was the first thing to really blow me away in this console generation.

The one downside to it is that the enemy variety is pretty bad, and for most of the game you're fighting the same couple of enemy drones over and over again (with different names and stats). Which is a bit lame once you notice it. The sequel would do a lot more with the concept and have a lot more variety, but that's later.

Favorite Tune: The first overworld roaming theme. Futuristic and stuff.

#208 Destiny of an Emperor 2 (NES) – Summer 2003

Japan-only sequel to the first game, which I enjoyed quite a bit, so I expected great things from this one too. It's an improvement on the first and a lot of fun to play. What I mainly remember about this game is that it's just a better version of the first DoaE, with much-improved visuals due to being years later in the NES's lifespan.

Can't remember if it had any other really significant differences over the first besides look and layout. Tells the same Three Kingdoms era story. Maybe it's got more of it, especially the early parts...can't remember now. Either way it was a great game.

#209 R-Type II (Game Boy) – Summer 2003

Still on the "sequels to things I like" train, I emulated the sequel to a game I'd bought back in the mid-90's. It's solid and plays well, you can't go wrong with this series. This was much more playable on a PC screen than the first one was on actual Game Boy hardware, and I had a lot of fun with it.

Best Aspect: The boss designs are very impressive for the Game Boy. I mean, damn.

#210 Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis (Game Boy Advance) – Fall 2003

This is the first Game Boy Advance game I ever beat, as far as I know. Never had the system and largely missed that era entirely, but by Fall 2003 GBA emulation was prevalent and easy to do (if legally questionable due to it being a current-gen system). So I had an opportunity to check out a number of things. This is a prequel to one of my favorite PS1 games, so of course I had to play it. It's a damn good game and not even that limited by the hardware.

I had a choice of either playing this or Final Fantasy Tactics Advance because I wanted a new tactics game, and chose this one. Though I was tempted to go with the other, considering I was working at Target by this point and they had an FFTA player's guide on display that I'd read during my breaks. Given what a disappointment FFTA would eventually be when I did get to it, I made the right choice.

Toughest Part: Trying to find Deneb and make her like me more than any other guy. Not sure if she was even in this one.

#211 WWE Smackdown 4: Shut Your Mouth (Playstation 2) – Fall 2003

The sequels continue, with me checking out the follow-up to Smackdown 3 which I played to death the year before. This one adds Brock (a real one, better than my CAW), Hogan, the NWO, Booker T, RVD, and I think it had Shawn Michaels. No Scott Steiner or Goldberg yet. Still far more up-to-date than the one I had. I only rented this, though, and played it for a weekend.

This game also let you do some zany matchups and had pretty much every match type you could think of. A huge improvement over the previous game. I was attached to said previous game though so I kept that as my main wrestling game and only played this over the one weekend. I played through the story mode (as Hogan and Brock, IIRC), had a blast, and that was about it. I didn't play the fifth and final Smackdown game until literally two decades later, which is crazy to think about. That I didn't play it, and also that two decades have gone by.

#212 Terranigma (Super Famicom) – Fall 2003

Yet another sequel, this time to Illusion of Gaia. Though only in the sense of being part of the same "Soul Blazer Trilogy" of games. Don't expect to see any of the IoG cast popping up here. There's no actual connection between the games AFAIK. This game is most notable for being the one with the "inverted world" where you're somehow on the inside of a globe rather than the outside.

This is another classic action RPG that didn't get released in the States. Surprised that it STILL hasn't had any sort of remaster or port even now. A lot of people swear by this being one of the best games on the Super Famicom, and I don't see it. It's a good game, no doubt, but I wouldn't say it's one of my favorites.

Emulation came in clutch yet again for playing this, and I'm really glad so many fan translators worked so hard to get all of these games out to us masses. I just wish this game had Freedan and Shadow, because playing as the main dude Ark got kind of old after a while. At least he's got an actual weapon as opposed to Will and his flute in IoG.

#213 Tekken 3 (Playstation) – Winter 2003

And one more sequel. I liked Tekken 2 a lot as a teenager so of course as an adult I was gonna check out the next one. Whoa, I guess I'm an adult as of this point in time. Not sure when that crossover happened. Some time in 2002 I guess. Let's Play was still in business and still well-stocked on PS1 games. You could buy some really good ones for like $8. I remember replaying Breath of Fire 3 somewhere in this timeframe too, thanks to them.

In any case I got this and gave it a whirl. It was a huge upgrade over Tekken 2 and probably one of the high points of the series to this day. While the earlier Tekkens got by on being cutting edge 3D fighters (with melee sparks, can't forget those), this was the first one that really felt to me like a really legit fighter that could hang with the 2D fighters I grew up with in terms of gameplay.

Favorite Character: Hwoarang. Dude was like all kicks, but he threw the most stylish kicks.

Next up: 2004

The 1000 Games I've Beaten

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