#10: Final Fantasy II
Sometimes in this world, you can catch a glimpse of something just as it's about to hit it big. Watching Tom Hanks' acting performance in "Big", for instance, or Michael Jordan's college days. Much in the same manner, the second American installment of Final Fantasy exposed us to a series that was on the brink of taking the country by storm. As I write this, I'm currently in another FF2 campaign myself.
Everything was starting to come together for this series, from the more involving plotline with characters that each had their own motivations, to a soundtrack composed by Squaresoft mainstay Nobuo Uematsu, whose name would not soon be forgotten in the minds of gamers. Many new conventions were introduced in the second installment, from chocobos to front and back rows to the "real-time" combat format. It's also the quickest of the Final Fantasy games - It usually takes me under 20 hours to complete a campaign.
Although the game shows its age in the way of graphics, the other elements show no signs of fading. It's a small wonder that this game is so hard to find, even this long after its original release.
#9: DDR MAX2: Dance Dance Revolution 7th Mix
Two years ago, I was resigned to the fact that arcades, for all intents and purposes, had outlived their usefulness. When the arcade in the local mall closed up shop, I doubted that I'd ever plunk down another quarter.
Of course, that was before I discovered DDR. Simple in its objective, deceptively bizzare in its display, and yet overwhelmingly addictive in its playability, the series proved that at least for now, arcades are not quite out of style yet. Nothing beats the feeling of passing a song that had given you trouble before, or getting through a tough one without missing a step, or even watching someone uncork an awe-inspiring freestyle routine.
So why did I choose MAX2 to be the series' spokesgame in the countdown and not DDR Extreme, the latest release? Well, for one thing, I haven't played Extreme enough to make a formal opinion on it. And despite more songs and more gameplay features, I have a feeling that the series is starting to get bogged down with itself. MAX2 has many of the same songs and less of the fat, plus it still pays respect to its previous installments - the "characters" that seemed so extraneous long ago help give the game an added personality you don't find anymore.
So the next time you're in an arcade, make sure you give DDR a shot. It's probably one of the reasons arcades are still around.
You kinda figured this game would be here, didn't you?
I've said it before and I'll say it again: werewolves get absolutely no love when it comes to video games. Believe me, I've played most of them, and aside from the obvious thrill of "Hey, I'm controlling a werewolf", the game fails to impress me. Even WolfChild, a game I absolutely adore, was given the shaft: its best version (there are three) was released on the Sega CD system, a console which has since gone the way of the Phillips CD-I and Atari Jaguar.
Aside from the obvious loyalty to lycanthropic protagonists, though, the game itself is incredibly solid. It breaks all the stereotypes of a soldier shooter: Levels aren't just left-to-right affairs, bosses aren't gigantic machines that take several magazines of ammunition to destroy, the music isn't just guitar riffs and ride cymbals, and most importantly, taking things slowly is more advisable than barging your way through each level. The opening cinema? Well, that definitely doesn't hurt.
In every "Greatest ever" list, you've got to allow for a little bit of personal bias. WolfChild, while probably not much of a classic to the rest of you, is easily one of my favorites.
#7: Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse
Hard to believe that when I first wrote a rough draft of my Top 25 list, I'd actually left the entire Castlevania series out. It was only when I was deciding on which games would round out the lower spaces that I'd realized my error, and what an error it was.
Before the Castlevania series, video game designers never really thought of making games out of established entities, except for maybe movies. It was a savvy move by the folks at Konami to snatch one of the most prominent villains in our culture: Dracula. They didn't just stop there, either; they made sure to surround this battle with loads of gothic imagery and atmosphere, with all the enemies, scenery, levels, and music suiting the ominous, yet jaded task of breaking into a vampire's mansion.
The original game laid the groundwork for this series, and while the first sequel has its own significance, it was really the third installment where everything came together. Taking place 100 years prior to the first chapter, Castlevania III took us on a journey to the infamous castle, attracting help from one of three spirit partners. You could choose your path, and with it your skill level. Each road took you to the same place, though: a tête-à-tête with the king of the undead.
The series still continues to this day, with its latest release coming out on the Game Boy Advance. But nothing beats Castlevania III when I'm in the mood for some good old-fashioned vampire slaying.
#6: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
The third installment of many video game series tends to be a turning point, especially in cases where the second game was a bit of a departure from the series. Super Mario Bros. 2 was quite a bit different from the original game, but SMB3 was just like the first game and then some. As mentioned above, Castlevania II was an attempt at a nonlinear game, but CV3 went back to the basics and flourished as a result. When Zelda came on to the Super NES as a follow-up to The Adventure of Link, the series returned to the formula that made it such a classic.
Not only does the game reincorporate all the elements of the original game - accumulating rupees to buy equipment, solving small puzzles to get through dungeons, and explore two different overworlds crawling with enemies - but it expanded on each one. The storyline was given more weight than in previous installments, with small passages of how Ganon came into power. The game was just as challenging as any other Zelda offering, with 20 different dungeons to explore.
Like I said before, the original Zelda game did not make the cut. The forebear should be proud, however, of spawning such a successful series.
#5: Final Fantasy
In the year 1990, Square was on the verge of collapse. None of its previous releases had been hot sellers, and this game was the company's proverbial last gasp. Hell, it even told you so in the title - Final Fantasy - that if this game didn't take off, it would be Square's final contribution to the NES.
Thank God NES players came to their senses.
No longer did you just control one lone person on an unguided quest to slay one evil overlord; now you had four people at your command, each offering different strengths and weaknesses, in a story that perhaps lacked tension, but certainly made up for it in atmosphere. Dungeons were large and complex, enemies did more than just inflict physical damage, and you actually have sub-bosses to deal with. There are a few small complaints - several enemies can incapacitate a party member with one hit, and it takes a while to heal party members or buy in bulk - but they don't damage the playability of the game as much as you may think.
While Dragon Warrior set the tone for console RPGs, Final Fantasy took the paradigm and became arguably the most successful RPG series of all time. The first game is just one example of how Squaresoft has the art of RPGs down cold. It's a good thing they're still around.
#4: Super Mario All-Stars
It would be unfair of me to devote four spaces on the countdown to the four games that comprise this anthology. Instead, I decided to pool them all into one title, and give the entire series a spot in the top 5. It's a fair trade, if you ask me.
Let's face it: if it weren't for the Super Mario Bros. series, we wouldn't be having this discussion. The original side-scroller singlehandedly rescued the video game industry from oblivion in 1985, and its sequels only made Mario more recognizable. In fact, the merging of the three SMB games released stateside, coupled with its previously unreleased Japanese sequel, gave the cartridge a huge advantage.
You had your choice: the original game and its simplicity, or SMB3's multitude of bells and whistles. If you wanted a romp, SMB2 was for you, but if you liked to have your skills tested to the maximum, Lost Levels was ready and waiting. And each and every game benefitted from its new console, with more vibrant colors, more fluid animation, and more melodic music.
The Super Mario Bros. family of games will go down as one of the most successful and influential video game series of all time. And with Super Mario All-Stars, you have all of the gems in one neat little package.