Tuesday, March 12, 2024

The 1000 Games I've Beaten (#256 - 267)


#256 Mega Man Zero (Game Boy Advance) – Winter 2007

An interesting and respectable spinoff series begins here. Having Zero be the main character of a series was a no-brainer, and controlling him is nearly as fun as it is in the X series. I say nearly because the game's a little slower than the PS1 X games, and I'm not crazy about Zero's redesign. Yeah, I know there's a story reason for it, and also the story reason kinda sucks. If they'd just gone with the existing Zero design and moveset for this, the series would have been better off for it, so there was no good reason to change it up. The guy you play as is barely even recognizable as Zero.

Speaking of the story, they deserve a ton of props for having this game actually take a nuanced approach to events and have you question whether your side is actually justified or morally correct. Few games have the balls to do that. I don't expect any kind of high social commentary from (99 percent of) games, but the X series has always flirted with it a bit via X's heavy-handed approach to persecuting his enemies. This game actually has you questioning whether the good guys go over the top in this series (they do).

It isn't all good though. This game is HARD. And it was designed specifically to BE the most challenging game in the series up to this point, so it was fully intentional. The game absolutely crushed me, but with all of my Mega Man experience (and Dash mapped to the right shoulder button for easy combination with jumps) I was able to get through it.

Favorite Tune: The final battle theme is pretty serious, but it's damn good. And fitting for the fight with the evil version of X.

Fondest Memory: I associate this with 24 season 6, which was starting up about this point. It ended up being a pretty weak season, but coming off of season 5 and at the height of the show's popularity, it felt like anything could happen.

Fun Fact: The bad guy in this is called "Copy X" for some reason, but originally he was supposed to just be X himself. There's really no reason to change it to some rando doppleganger, and doesn't make much story sense, and he's fine after the fight anyway. They probably only did it so hypothetical kids wouldn't get upset. Alrighty then.

Post HERE.

#257 Mega Man Zero 2 (Game Boy Advance) - Winter 2007

This is my least-favorite of the four. They're all good, they all use the same engine, so none are any particular step down. However I found Zero 3 to be the most polished, Zero 4 had the most story developments, and Zero 1 was fresh and new. So Zero 2 occupies this kind of mid ground where it doesn't really do anything new and isn't all that polished yet.

Also the villain for this game is a one-off and he's kinda lame. He's so obviously a bad guy right from the get-go, even though they pretend he's good for like half the game. His name is Elpizo, which is Spanish for... The Pizo. He has very little significance to the overarching story, so if this game had been dropped from the series entirely and it was just a trilogy, I think it'd be totally fine. That said, it was fun and there's nothing bad about it (outside of the difficulty still being real high, though playing on emulator mitigates some of that).

Favorite Tune: The intro stage theme of this game is probably my favorite track in the whole Zero series. This track is what I think of when I think of the Zero games. Probably the one thing about this game that really stands out to me.

Post HERE.

#258 Mega Man Zero 3 (Game Boy Advance) - Winter 2007

Most people agree on this being the best of the four, and it's certainly the most polished. I like Z3 and Z4 a lot more than the first two, but Z4 is shorter and does feel a bit more like it was rushed to wrap things up. Z3 on the other hand is brimming with polish and effort. They even brought the difficulty down a bit compared to the first two. It's still a challenge and fun, but not nearly as frustrating.

You've got a rad new super-boss here in the form of Omega (who is supposed to be an evolved form of the original body of Zero, cause you're playing as a copy of Zero or something (dun dun DUN), but also looks nothing like Zero...why did they even bother making everything so convoluted) and the evil higher power mastermind behind events over the series finally makes himself known here. Wow this was a terribly-constructed paragraph.

Post HERE.

#259 Mega Man Zero 4 (Game Boy Advance) - Winter 2007

The last one, probably the easiest, and one I really enjoyed...though I wish the story had made a little more sense and/or taken some risks. They made this one more colorful, the bosses are all great fights, and the whole thing feels like an event. Great game here.

Disappointing: The bad guy and string-pulling Higher Power for the whole Zero quadrilogy, "Dr. Weil".... isn't Dr. Wily. Even though it would make 100% sense for him to be Dr. Wily and the series has the nerve to build him up like he is. He knows all about Zero, he's Zero's final antagonist, and he's "centuries old"... and then they opted to make him some random old guy. Like "Copy X", the thing that hurts the story in this series the most was just the way they kept chickening out when they had the opportunity to do something truly monumental.

Whatever. I'm over it.

Post HERE.

#260 7th Saga (Super NES) – Spring 2007

Game I'm a big fan of even though it's kind of rudimentary, very grindy, and even kind of unfair. I rented this circa 1994 or so (pre-RPGs) and didn't make much progress in it. Didn't understand that I had to grind levels to progress and was just trying to progress the game normally, so I kept running into brick walls. I met my end with the dastardly Red Pison, which is very early in the game.

Come 2007 I finally got around to emulating this game and giving it a real run. It took a while and I had to make heavy use of emulator speedup functions, but I got it done...and really liked it. I especially like the character choices and how completely different the game can be depending on who you pick.

Much later in time I played the Elnard Patch version of the game, which evens out your level-up stats and makes the game significantly easier as a result. While that version might be better for a first-time player to avoid getting stuck on OP apprentice fights, I myself found it actually a lot less fun than the normal version. It's too easy, the grinding doesn't feel as needed or fulfilling, and the balance is a bit weird. My character, Wilme, basically steamrolled everything and hardly ever even took more than 1 damage from enemy attacks... until he got hit with a magic spell and took like double damage from it, gouging his health.

Toughest Part: Fighting other apprentices in the normal version of the game, where they'll always be two levels higher than you. Depending on who you're playing as, these fights can be maulings.

Party I Chose In 1994 When I Lost: Kamil (average hero guy) and Lux (vibrating robot)

Party I Chose In 2007 When I Won: Esuna (black mage) and Olvan (the dorf), with some early help from Valsu (the priest)

Party I Chose In 2023 For Elnard Version: Wilme (monk) and Lejes (battlemage)

Posts HERE.

#261 Final Fantasy: Dawn of Souls Edition (Game Boy Advance) – Spring 2007

Terrific remake of the original NES game that smooths things out a lot, makes all of the classes and spells useful (or at least work), and adds four new dungeons to the game. The four dungeons unlock after each of the four Fiend battles, and you can do them as they unlock or leave them for the end. They're significantly tougher than the point where you get them in the main game and thus it's better to wait.

The water and wind dungeons in particular are basically postgame since they're at least the same level as the final dungeon. The coolest part is that each dungeon is themed around, and has bosses from, a different FF game. They go from FF3 to FF6 and everything in-between. It was cool to see all of that stuff and cool to play a more in-depth FF1 that could actually test your party choices a bit more. Things like Shinryu, Omega, Death Gaze, and (surprisingly) Phantom Train all posed what were essentially postgame challenges.

Toughest Part: There really isn't any if you have characters that can cast Temper, since it's stackable. Drop a Haste on a fighter and several Tempers and you can win any fight. When it comes down to it though, Shinryu and Omega are probably the toughest fights, as is tradition.

#262 Final Fantasy II: Dawn of Souls Edition (Game Boy Advance) – Spring 2007

This is another big improvement, and I'd say it's the best version of FF2 except that the PSP versions of I and II came around later. Those are basically HD ports of these two, with even more optional stuff added. I'd take the Pixel Remasters for four out of six, but I'm going PSP for these two.

As opposed to the first one sprinkling four new areas throughout the game, the new optional content added to FF2 was all stacked up in the postgame, and debatably better than the main game. You play as the playable characters that died during the story, as they traverse Hell to fight the Emperor one more time down there. They even have the same stats they had when they died in the main game, so if you're like me and powerleveled Minwu and Josef a bit, you'll be in good shape to crush this.

Toughest Part: Emperor (final boss) or Astaroth (second-to-last boss) if you don't use the Blood Sword against them. That weapon does megadamage on both. Fight them normally and they're surprisingly nasty, almost up there with FF3's notorious final boss.

#263 Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Playstation 2) – Spring 2007

Don't remember much about this, just that it was a Blockbuster rental and it culminated with the Battle of Helm's Deep. It's an action game where you play as Aragorn/Legolas/Gimli (my favorite LOTR trio) and beat things up to gain exp and learn new combat techniques.

#264 Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Playstation 2) – Spring 2007

Don't remember much of this either, besides that it was more of the same and covered the remainder of the story. Oddly enough, Fellowship just sorta got left out when they were making these games, likely because it's less conducive to the amount of battles and fighting needed for making an action-RPG of this nature.

#265 Baten Kaitos (Gamecube) – Spring 2007

Interesting game here that reminded me a lot of Chrono Cross, just without the incredible soundtrack. It's got a mystical vibe to it and some nice visuals, as you travel to all kinds of interesting worlds. Later it got a prequel and I tried to get into that, but it seemed a bit dull in comparison. Can't remember many details about this one besides that I liked it and it made an impression.

Favorite World: Mintaka. I just liked the name. I think it was green and mystical.

#266 Shatterhand (NES) – Summer 2007

Very solid NES action game in the vein of things like Power Blade. This was another one that looked awesome in old-school Nintendo Power issues. I liked the stage select and the large variety of robo drones you could get to assist you. Some were way better than others, like the boomerang-disc drone. One of those great NES platformers that people fondly remember.

Toughest Part: Stage 7, AKA the last level. After a tutorial-ish intro level, the next five levels are all available via stage select. Kind of cool to have it be five instead of four (or a multiple of four) like most games. They're all similar levels of difficulty as a result of being all available at once, while the final level brings things up about ten notches. You have to fight all the bosses again and do some treacherous platforming between them. Lose all your lives and it's back to the start of Stage 7. HAVE FUN. Well, the rest of the game was pretty rad.

Post HERE.

#267 Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra (Playstation 2) – Summer 2007

The last, and best, of the XS trilogy. Also the one that most closely lined up with the backstory of Xenogears' Episode One, finally giving (what was left of) that audience what they'd been wanting. Also a bunch of very nice Gears in this game, including several that were lifted straight from Xenogears (usually presented as a Proto version of the design).

Everything from the previous games comes home to roost here, with you fighting noted immortal space magnate Wilhelm and his near-invincible Testament goons. Oh yeah, and Deus. You fight Deus. The only downside to this game for a Xeno fan, and I mean literally the only downside, was that the boss fights ran kind of long. This only got worse as the game went on, and in the final couple chapters you have like 5-10 extremely lengthy and grindy boss fights where you aren't in much danger of losing but can't speed things up either. It's a little of a recipe for boredom. There's also a postgame fight with the Demon of Elru himself, Id, who weighs in at a whopping 999,999 HP (the strongest boss in the story has 800,000). Even that fight drags, as cool as it is. Did I mention you fight Deus?

As I said, there are also some very nice gears in this one that could probably measure up to anything in Xenogears in terms of design. Some of the Xenogears references have a reason to be what they are, like tying directly into the same themes, while others are just fanservice references. Id being a spinoff personality of Abel and not just a throwaway was appreciated. They did a very good job with this game and it deserved more sales than it had.

Favorite Tune: Fatal Fight. Pretty much the decisive battle theme of the game, only plays a couple times. It's incredibly climactic and could be a final battle theme in a lot of RPGs. Unfortunately this incredible theme actually gets a little old after a while with the endgame fights that drag on. Which is, again, the only real strike against this game.

There's also an incredible, slower, forboding cutscene version of it. Yuki Kajiura's album cover is also really something, showing Central Park in winter with the San Remo towers in the background. Now technically, these are Xenosaga 2 themes...but considering they didn't really play much until XS3, I think of them more as XS3 themes.

I didn't actually beat XS2 until well after this one. It was just too much of a chore because of the battle system. That being said, this trilogy really did have a lot of heart, and it hits certain nostalgic nerves for me that I'm not sure any other series does. It's hard to describe, but certain parts of this series make me zoom out and examine my own life a bit.

The 1000 Games I've Beaten

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