Far Away Times

I recently moved out of my hometown to attend law school. It was a pretty big upheaval in my normally boring life, packing up and relocating three hundred miles away.  I don’t like change.  Eager to embrace something familiar, I started up a play through of a comforting old game on my 3DS to unwind. The choice of game was an obvious one: Chrono Trigger. It is not only one of my all-time favorite games, but it is the perfect sort of breezy fun I was looking for. Plus, I know the game inside and out, having made a point of beating it every year for over a decade.  Why, then, do I find myself wanting to burst into tears each time I flip open my 3DS and hear that sublime music?

all pics taken from vgmuseum.com

I first played Chrono Trigger back around 1997 or so. It wasn’t a new game at that point, though at that time I had little context for what was new or old.  I was still looking for Final Fantasy 2 when I saw my friend playing Final Fantasy 3. Before I bought the system, all of my knowledge of SNES games came from what I saw at that friend’s house. As I was still uncovering the mysteries of the original Final Fantasy, he showed me the path those games had taken in the next generation. We dabbled in Final Fantasy 3 and Earthbound and Breath of Fire in his tiny gaming room. Unfortunately, most of those games take too long to beat in a few sittings, but I still learned how much I wanted to experience them.

Once I finally bought an SNES, I still had to get the games.  I can remember my younger brother and me pooling our money on the family’s rare trips to the city, begging our parents to take us to the game store that just happened to be next to our usual shoe store.  They had the games on my list, those mentioned about, but at a dear price. For a used, unboxed copy of Chrono Trigger, my brother and I paid almost $70.  And we were glad to do it, based only on playing the opening.

My brother and I did a lot together.  He is barely a year younger than me and though I would never have called him such, he was probably my best friend growing up.  We were close in age and shared a lot of interests, with SNES rpgs definitely among them.  To make room for younger siblings in our always too small house, our bedroom was moved to basement.  The concrete floored, concrete walled, spider filled basement.  We each had a bed, we had a beaten down old couch and we had a TV.  Together we spent a lot of blistering summer days hiding in that basement getting as much 16-bit goodness as we could.  Together we plumbed the depths that Chrono Trigger had to offer.

We didn’t just take turns playing; we wanted to know everything about that game.  And there is a lot to explore there.  We would bike to the library to use their dial-up internet, limited to one hour a day, to find and print FAQs and Guides. Pages of those guides are still at my parents’ house, crumpled and well read.  That summer we spent a couple weeks in Indiana visiting relatives.  We brought the SNES and Chrono Trigger.  That is not to say that is the only game we devoted our time to.  We also had Mega Man X and Final Fantasy 3 and Super Mario World. But as good as all of those games are, they weren’t THE game.

Chrono Trigger is a perfect game. There aren’t many games I would make that claim about. Even games I love, like Super Mario Galaxy and Mega Man 3, have identifiable flaws.  Super Mario Galaxy has some awkward motion control stages and occasionally its weird physics force some weirdness with the camera, though that is less frequent than awe-inspiring joy.  Mega Man 3 has noticeable s l o w d o w n and the Doc Robot stages are better in theory than execution.  However, I can think of nothing about Chrono Trigger that could be improved.  I honestly believe that. The music is excellent, no SNES game looks better, it moves at a snappy pace and is perfectly balanced.  It does everything right.  I have loved it since I first played it.

All those memories of enjoying this game over the years simply bring sharply to mind how long ago those days actually are.

My brother and I are still close; though not geographically close now that I have moved.  Before the move we saw each other at least once a week.  And we were always there if wanted to do more.  The days where the two of us would bunker down on a ratty couch for three or four hours of time traveling adventures are long past.  They have been for some time and it is just dawning on me now that those times will never come again. And that is okay.  He’s married and has two kids.  Not too long ago he asked me to get some game from PSN for him to play with his older son on our old PSP.  Among the games he wanted was Chrono Trigger.  Quibbles about the quality of the PS1 port aside, I thought it was the best thing.  My brother and I may never sit side by side on a couch, playing a game together into the small hours of the night, but we might find time to do that with our children and then they will have those experiences too.

My 10 Favorite Games #10

 

Chrono Cross

Chrono Cross

Chrono Cross (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I wrote about Chrono Cross about a year ago, playing it for the first time in a few years. I haven’t changed my thoughts much since then. The one thing I will note is that while the storyline starts out poetic and dreamlike, it eventually starts falling apart at the seams. Square’s team could keep that tone going for a while, but not for the entire length of this 30 or so hour game. That doesn’t really matter to me; the aesthetic of the world and the easy flowing energy of the battle system make the game just easy for me to play.

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There are definitely games with clearer focus than Chrono Cross. The battle system may flow, but its ins and outs aren’t exactly intuitive. The story starts out kind of vague, then degenerates in incomprehensibility. Compare it to its predecessor Chrono Trigger, which has a seemingly simple battle system that even when the depth of the dual and triple techs is unveiled it is still limited by each characters small spell pool and its plot has a pretty simple through line. Chrono Cross is an utter mess. Still, it is a mess with some fine ingredients. While it doesn’t present itself clearly, I enjoy teasing out what everything means even if ultimately it means nothing.

Largely that turns out to be the case with Chrono Cross’s story. Vague foreshadowing resolves into vague, meaningless conclusions. Fortunately, the story in each little set piece largely works. The larger plot is where all the incomprehensibility reigns. Kid gets Serge to help her break in to Viper Manor to steal the Frozen Flame. What the Frozen Flame is isn’t clear at that time, but the breaking in and attempted theft has a pretty clear story. Then you must save Kid by finding a Hydra Humor, so you go to the Hydra Marsh. Again, it is a clear little episode. The connecting tissue for most of these episodes is weak to nonexistent, but the episodes themselves are fine. In the end, though, it doesn’t add up to a truly worthwhile story.

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The plot grand rambling ambitions are not aided by the bloated cast. The cast is one of the things I love about the game, but even I can’t deny that having about 30 unnecessary characters you can get to join your party hampers the game’s ability to tell a story. When you could at any point put a baby dragon and a skeletal clown in you party instead of Kid or Leena or Glenn, then yeah, your story isn’t going to be the same. But there is also no denying how much fun it can be to build a party around said dragon or clown, or maybe a luchador priest or a mushroom man. It is not conducive to storytelling, but it is conducive to wacky fun.

The biggest reasons Chrono Cross is on my Top 10 games list are the music and art. Look at the examples of prerendered backgrounds in this post. Amazing, right? And the music needs no defense. Honestly, no matter what the story was, no matter who the characters were, I would enjoy playing in these tropical locales with the amazing music playing. It is simply perfect.

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The aesthetics combined with the goofy characters and fun battle system, it makes for a game that is simply a joy to play. That is, of course, dependent on one’s ability to tolerate the slowness inherent in PS1 RPGs. They must load. But since I grew up on that, it doesn’t greatly bother me. Chrono Cross is a game that have glaring, numerous flaws. It would never appear if this list were about the games I felt were the best made. But Chrono Cross is better than the sum of its parts. It is like a fragmented dream, it doesn’t quite make sense, but you find yourself endlessly trying to piece it together anyway.

Memories of Chrono Cross

There are few more divisive games than Chrono Cross. While it garnered almost universally terrific review at release, the public at large seems to be split. The reason for this is quite simple: Chrono Cross is an absolute terrible sequel to Chrono Trigger. That is not to say that it is a bad game. Far from it. Chrono Cross gets almost everything right, it only falters when it tries to connect to Chrono Trigger. Nearly every time a part of Cross echoes Trigger is stumbles.

Honestly, I absolutely love Chrono Cross. Both because it is a great game and because of my memories of the time when I played it for the first time. I came to the PS1/N64 generation of consoles pretty late, not getting a 64 until Christmas ‘99 and then a Playstation near my birthday (October) the next year. Chrono Cross was one of the numerous RPGs is bought the next year, flush with money from mowing lawns and too old to ride my bike but still too young drive. Plus, that summer I has home alone. Part of my family went on an RV trip to the west, to see the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, but anyone who has spent a week in an RV with 8 or so people know why I declined to join them. My two brothers closest in age spent a month or so with an uncle 500 miles away, but I didn’t go with them either. So at home, with my Dad who was working all day, after I finished whatever mowing I had to do that day I had the house, and TV, to myself. The games I played that summer! Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy Tactics, Legend of the Dragoon, Lunar 2 and Chrono Cross. Amazing games (save for LoD) and while I still would rate most of them among my favorites in the system, but Chrono Cross is the game I most associate with that summer, if only for the summery tropical aesthetic.

If there is one place where no one can argue that Chrono Cross doesn’t shine, it is the presentation. The music is one of humanity’s greatest achievements (warning, the last statement may contain a small amount of hyperbole.) The graphics, while primitive by today’s standards, hold up better than nearly any other 3D PS1 game. The character designs are great, and the colorful, tropical world is still all too unique. Chrono Cross undeniably looks and sounds incredibly good.

Chrono Cross did carry a few things over from Trigger in a good way. Like the lack of random battles, though it didn’t do as well as Trigger. In Trigger many encounters were built into the map, in Cross there are enemy sprites that when engaged zaps the players to usual battle screen. In another way, though, Cross takes the no random battles further by eliminating experience points. In stead of gaining levels by fighting battles, in Cross players get star levels by beating bosses. Other than for some supplementary stat increases after the five or so battles following a level, there is no reason to ever fight a non-boss battle. The forced level let developers hone the difficulty much more tightly. All players are going to have roughly the same stats, so they know exactly how tough the boss can be. Chrono Cross is one of the tougher RPGs I’ve played, a fact easy to forget after a decade of New Game +. The somewhat higher difficulty is tempered by Cross letting players run from any battle. Even boss battles. This means that there is no good reason to see the game over screen. If your element layout or strategy isn’t working, just run away and reset everything. The system all work together, designed to work in concert rather than just things thrown against the wall. It emphasizes strategy over simply making numbers bigger.

None of that would matter if the actual battle system didn’t work just as, which it fortunately does. Each character has 7 stamina per turn, which can be used to attack or to use an element. Weak, medium and strong attacks take 1, 2 and 3 stamina points respectively, but they each open up the characters grid the corresponding amount if they connect. Casting a spell, or an element as they are called in this game, takes a full 7 stamina, but it can be done as long as the character has at least one stamina point, allowing them to accumulate a deficit of up to 6. Effective strategizing means using using enough attacks to open up the grid, but not letting the whole team fall into a deficit, which allows the enemies a free turn. Despite being a rather novel set up, the battle system is surprisingly intuitive. It never feels overly complicated or different for the sake of being different, despite changing plenty of things from Chrono Trigger . There is no MP and it is completely turn based. Instead of learning abilities, with the exception of 3 unique techs for each character, there are only elements and the grid. Each character has a grid on which the player can but spell elements, each of which can be cast once per battle. Since the player can’t just spam their best attack over and over, they must rely on smart allocation of elements. The battle system is good enough to make you want to fight battles even though there is absolutely nothing gained from doing so.

The story, while not as good as the gameplay or graphics, has its moments. Early on it is terrific. It aims for poetic and actually hits it. There are constant references and allusions to dreams and memories and conflating the two, setting up the nostalgic “what is things were different” yearning that is the tone for the game. The dreamlike state, starting with the actually dream sequence at the beginning, never really goes away. The two realities work because one in not wholly better than the other. Serge is only alive in one world, but in his home world nearly all of the Viper Manor characters have been killed. It actually makes it hard to decide which one is the preferable “real” world. When the dragons show up things kind of go to crap, but there are still plenty of great moments. The dreamy-ness of the plot helps excuse some of its shortcomings, but not all of them. The first six or seven hours or so really work well, but after that it kind of sketchy.

One part routinely pointed out as a weakness is the numerous, thinly developed party. I will not argue that the majority of the party is well-developed, but I will argue that the large party is an asset rather than a fault. The characters that matter, Kid, Lynx and Harle, are all well rounded. Most of the rest have only small windows of importance, and some have absolutely none. However, many have their own stories going on outside of Serge’s. The whole world seems connected, with many of the characters having pre-existing relationships, but it also as though Serge’s search into the mystery surrounding him is not the only thing going on for many of the characters. There is the whole Viper Manor group, which numbers about a dozen character and while most of their story can be uncovered over the course of the game, plenty of the dots are not necessarily connected for the player. The individual characters aren’t particularly well-developed, but they all feel like pieces of a well-developed world.

As I mentioned earlier, the game usually falters when it refers back to Chrono Trigger. While they both take place in the same world, the only mentions of places familiar from Trigger are uniformly insulting and terrible. All the happy endings have been quickly erased, and the sleepy town of Porre is now a warlike empire. Squaresoft did seem to know which dangling plot thread from Trigger players wanted so deal with, that of the missing Schala, but they dealt with it in an entirely unsatisfying manner. The questions of what happened to her aren’t really answered, and Magus doesn’t even make an appearance. Also, Schala is Kid kind of and it doesn’t make sense. The story really goes off the rails the more it tries to be a sequel to Chrono Trigger. The worst part of the battle system, the sparse and useless double techs, is a tacked on hold over from Trigger. It almost seems like Chrono Cross goes out of its way to not be a satisfying follow up to Chrono Trigger.

Removed from the idea that it is supposed to be a sequel, Chrono Cross is one of the absolute best RPGs on the Playstation. It can be hard to separate the two games though, and Cross can only suffer from the comparison. The two games in the Chrono series are both excellent, but they really don’t seem to get along with each other.

Radiant Historia

Radiant Historia is one of the best original RPGs on the DS.  The system has been a haven for fans of 16 and 32-bit role playing games, but a surprising amount of the systems library is remakes and ports.  Not that that is a bad thing, it is the only way people are likely going to be able to play things like Dragon Quest 5, but the original games have mostly paled in comparison to the classics.  Radiant Historia, though, stands among the best in the genre, managing to feel simultaneously classic and original.

In a lot of small, hard to define ways, Radiant Historia feels like an SNES game.  Which coming from me is the highest of compliments.  Give or take some rough sprites and 3D backgrounds, it looks like an SNES game.  Maybe the feel is in the fact that the game really doesn’t take advantage of the DS’s special features, making it not unlike many of the ports and remakes.  More than anything, though, it is that there is a comfortable familiarity to the game.  It plays exactly like one would expect an RPG to play.  It is accessible and intuitive.

The accessible nature is amazing when you consider that a lot of what Radiant Historia does is pretty novel, at least as far as RPGs go.  It combines the time travel of Chrono Trigger with the alternate realities of Chrono Cross, but in a way that is more in depth than either of those games.  In Chrono Trigger time travel was mostly an excuse for different environments, Radiant Historia uses it for the opposite reason.  It allows the game to reuse the same areas over and over, but in turn they really take advantage of moving through time.  The battle system is not exactly standard either.  It combines Final Fantasy X’s emphasis on turn order with the grid set up of a tactics game.  The end result offers a variety of effective and interesting strategies.  The player can set trap on squares and knock enemies on to them, or manipulate the turn order to build a giant combo or even do both at once.

The end result is a highly satisfying game, the kind expected from the twilight of a systems life, when all the tricks are known and developers have familiarity with the tools.  Perhaps the most satisfying part of the game is actually the story.  Radiant Historia’s story, at least for much of its length, is much more like a piece of Western fantasy than the typical JRPG.  Sure, eventually the anime-influenced JRPG stuff seeps in, with the forgotten pasts, secret siblings and plots of world destruction, but for the first two thirds of the game there is more emphasis on political maneuvering and small scale conflicts.  Much like the rest of the game, it is a refreshing change of pace.

The game isn’t perfect.  For too long it sticks players with party members with the least interesting abilities.  They are fine individually, but Raynie and Marco do not have much synergy. The game also takes a little too long to get going and it starts to fall apart near the end.  Small flaws in an otherwise terrific game.

Though it more likely to be forgotten than celebrated in the years to come, Radiant Historia deserves a place in the pantheon of great DS games.  It is not only probably the best original RPG on the system, it is easily among the best DS games.  I’m not sure if it is still widely available, but players owe it to themselves to give this gem a try.

The 20 Best SNES Games

For the last of this week’s celebration of SNES’s 20th year of existence, I have resorted to best and laziest of ideas: a best games list. Since this is the 20th anniversary, I am picking my 20 favorite Super Nintendo games. As this is a list spun entirely from my own mind, I’m sure you disagree with some parts of it. To preemptively reply to any such complaints I say “neener neener neener.” Also “maybe you should go make your own list, with blackjack and hookers.”

Let us begin.

20) Actraiser

In what will be a theme for these early entries, I haven’t played Actraiser quite enough, so it might either deserve to be higher or not on the list at all. Based on its reputation and limited time playing it, I say it is the systems 20th best game.

19) Donkey Kong Country

Though DKC is one of the most successful games of the generation, I have barely played it. I liked it, but I have since played its reputedly better sequel and found it perfectly frustrating. I’ll give DKC the benefit of the doubt of being the better game and therefore being worthy of this list.

18) Super Street Fighter 2

I don’t know which version of Street Fighter 2 for the SNES is the best, I’ll leave that to the Street Fighter scientists. I do know that any discussion of 16-bit gaming must include talk of Street Fighter 2. Super Street Fighter 2 is the game I played as a kid, so that is the version I chose.

17) The Lost Vikings

This is a great little puzzle platformer from those who would be Blizzard. It is on par with the quality of their later games. I never beat this game, but I had a lot of fun.

16) Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

Another game I have not played near enough. The graphics alone make it worthy of this slot, though.

15) Super Mario RPG

I hate jumping in this game. Other than that, it is great. The mix of Mario and Square works better than Disney and Square.

14) F-Zero

The original futuristic racer is no longer the best (F-Zero 64 is better) but this is part one of the proof of mode 7 in action.

13) U.N. Squadron

There are tons of shooters on the SNES, but I say U.N. Squadron is the best. Keep your R-Types, Axelayes and Gradiuses, I’ll take U.N. Squadron. Actually, I’ll take those others, too. But U.N. Squadron first.

12) Secret of Mana

I may not be this games biggest fan, but it looks nice and sounds terrific. I get annoyed with the gameplay at times, but even I won’t say it’s anything but great.

11) Super Mario Kart

The other proof for mode 7. This is the original ingenious use of the Mario franchise, and it is still one of the best. Really, do you need me to tell you that Mario Kart is fuck awesome?

10) Super Castlevania 4

I bow before this games mastery of a gameplay style that I don’t really like that much. Super Castlevania 4 does just about everything right. Despite its intentionally stiff controls, it is loads of fun.

9) Final Fantasy 2

The immortal adventures of Cecil, Rosa and Kain. Like some other games in this series, FF2 is one of the most influential games in the genre. The story may revel in the melodramatic, but it is still riveting.

8) Kirby Super Star

The best Kirby game? I think so. This not quite mini-game collection was a near perfect platformer.

7) Mega Man X

The Mega Man series needed a shot in the arm after 6 quick NES installments, and Mega Man X was it. Too bad its energy did not quite carry on to its sequels.

6) Earthbound

Quirky, weird and under appreciated, except but its consistently rabid fans, Earthbound is a tragically unique game. I wish there were more like it.

5) Super Mario World

Mario, still the best after all these years. Every single mainline entry in this series has been wonderful. Super Mario World may be the most wonderful.

4) Super Metroid

This is a constant atop best ever lists. Many believe it to be the perfect game. I don’t necessarily disagree, but I like the games above it slightly more.

3) Final Fantasy 3

The cast is arguably too large, the style change at the halfway point may be too great, but all of this game’s parts fit together perfectly. All the best Final Fantasies are multiples of 3.

2) The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

This is not my favorite Zelda game. But even my least favorite Zelda game is still among my favorite games. Not that is my least favorite either. More than even the original, A Link to the Past established what a Zelda game should be.

1) Chrono Trigger

My personal favorite game ever. I love every part of Chrono Trigger. There is nothing this game does that isn’t great. The closest thing I have to a complaint about it is that for a long time I had an irrational hatred for Lucca. No reason, just screw that bitch. She ain’t so smart.

The RPG Machine

Anyone who reads this blog should know that I am a pretty big fan of RPGs. A large part of my love of the SNES is due to it being probably the best RPG console to ever exist. The SNES library is glutted with great–and not so great–RPGs. More so than anything else, the SNES is great for RPGs.

That is not to say that subsequent consoles haven’t also had great RPGs. With the exception of the N64 they all have and I guess even the N64 had Paper Mario and Ogre Battle if you squint to make it count. The SNES, though, has an overabundance of all-time great games from the genre.

By my reckoning, there are 4 categories of SNES RPGs. The first are the “disputed” ones. These are the games that aren’t widely considered classics, but so have supporters, often vocal ones. This group covers most of the SNES’s RPGs. Games like the Breath of Fire or Lufia series. These are the games that you know one person who swears they are amazing, but most everyone else could take them or leave them. Some have tried to tell me that Breath of Fire II is a classic on par with the systems greats, but this is just not true. BoF II is too grindy and the translation it too mangled for the game to be anything but mediocre. My personal hobbyhorse in this category is Secret of Evermore. Despite longstanding hatred for not being Secret of Mana 2, I’d say that Secret of Evermore is a damn fine game. In fact, I like it more than Secret of Mana. I realize, though, that I can’t change the established narrative that they are the classic Secret of Mana and Secret of Evermore is its bad, or at the very least misguided, semi follow-up. That is how the disputed group works. History has already judged these games and found them wanting, but there will always be those that claim Final Fantasy Mystic Quest is the “secret best” SNES Final Fantasy game. It makes all the games I’ve mentioned, and many more, worth a look, though you most likely find many of them to be not to your taste. However, there is the chance that you might find one of them to be a hidden classic.

The next group are the “great, but” games. This is a much smaller group than the one before it. These are the games that would be truly great, save for one flaw (or several small flaws). Like Secret of Mana and the fact that you can almost see the seams where large parts of the game were removed and the surrounding part sewn together. Or Super Mario RPG and its goddamn infuriating isometric platforming sections. Or Final Fantasy 2 and the fact that it is not Final Fantasy 3. My experience with FF2 really is a tragedy. After spending years wanting to play that game, I didn’t end up getting the chance to until after I had played FF3 and Chrono Trigger and next to them, it felt primitive and shallow. All of these games are definitely worth playing, though.

The third group is the “unimpeachable classics.” I say there are only three games in this group: Chrono Trigger, Earthbound and Final Fantasy III. Not only are these the three best RPGs on the SNES, I would say they are the three best RPGs, period. There are plenty of games on a similar level, but none that are genuinely better. Chrono Trigger is elegant. It is graphically stunning with a straightforward story and a deceptively complex battle system. Earthbound is truly unique (other than its Japan only sequel) with its modern setting and often absurd sense of humor. Final Fantasy 3 is simply bursting at the seams with game. The party has more than 12 members but never feels bloated, each with unique skills, as if they split each of the jobs from the previous game into its own character. There is a 20-hour game that climaxes before opening before another 20-hour game. All three of the games have terrific music. Everyone should play these three games, as often as possible. I make a point of playing 2 of the 3 every year.

The last group is the “not available” group. There are the numerous, numerous games that never made the trek across the ocean. It is lead by Final Fantasy 5, Dragon Warriors 5 & 6 and Seiken Densetsu 3 (Secret of Mana 2). Many of these games have since made it to America, but they will never be truly part of the SNES experience here. Many of them are great games; some have inflated reputations due to their inaccessibility. No matter the quality, the sheer number of games that we didn’t get–RPGs for the sake of this post, but there are many other games as well–is a tragedy.

Overall, there are so many great or nearly great RPGs for the SNES. I am not one to say that the genre has not evolved since the SNES days, but the games on this system were such a large part of shaping my tastes in video games that I cannot but consider it the best RPG console.

My SNES Experience

As I wrote the other day, though my love of the NES is unaffected, the SNES is my favorite video game system. The NES is certainly a console with some special personal relevance; its release date was within days of my own release date. I have lived my entire like in the Nintendo age of video games. (which of course began with the release of the NES, reviving the video game industry in the USA after the crash of ‘84.) Unfortunately, this means that the heyday of the NES was pretty well over before I was aware. The SNES’s release in August of 1991 occurred at a time when I was 6 years old and beginning to really get into video games.

My experience with the SNES did not actually start in 1991. I don’t think I scrounged up the cash to buy one (my parents refused to buy us another video game system) until sometime in 1996. But I was certainly aware of it before then. I had long had a subscription to Nintendo Power, (I think my Dad got it around the time of the Dragon Warrior give-away) so I had seen what the new system had to offer. I absolutely poured over the issue that covered Final Fantasy 2. My only experience with RPGs at the point had been the limited Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy 2 was a quantum leap above that. When I saw the original Final Fantasy on a clearance list at Wal-Mart, I jumped all over it. I loved Final Fantasy, but it clearly was not on the same level that I dreamed Final Fantasy 2 was on.

All because of this

I remember the first time I actually saw an SNES. It was my cousin’s; he showed it off by ruining his Dad’s A Link to the Past game. Okay, he didn’t really ruin it; he just smacked a chicken around until the flock of them attacked then paused the game, leaving it like a trap for his father to find.

The first time I played one for any amount of time was at my friend’s house in the summer of probably 1995. The reason I didn’t own one was due t a lost battle over a Christmas present with my brother. I wanted the SNES; (did he see those screenshots of FF2?!) he wanted a Sega Genesis. To play Mortal Kombat or sports games or some such nonsense. My friend had an SNES, but he didn’t have the coveted Final Fantasy 2. No, he had Final Fantasy 3! My 10-year-old mind was blown. Paying back years of his coming to my house to play Nintendo, I returned the favor all summer. (My friend also had an older brother somewhat meaner than mine, so it wasn’t all peaches and gravy.) Using Final Fantasy 3’s underrated two-player option, we played through that game together. Then we played Earthbound, then Chrono Trigger and other classics. That summer I became determined to own my own Super Nintendo.

That quest turned out to not be very difficult. Another friend had gotten a second SNES at Christmas and instead of returning it, agreed to sell it to me for a cool $50. From then on most of my money earned mowing lawns and from meager payments for doing household chores, went to buying new SNES games. I have always been nearly a generation behind on gaming, and with the usually cheaply acquired games, I found the latter days of the SNES were a Golden Age. Of course, not all games were cheap. I dropped more than a hundred dollars in one go on Final Fantasy 3 and Chrono Trigger, but they were easily worth it. There was also Super Mario World, Secret of Mana, Sunset Riders, Legend of the Mystical Ninja and many, many others.

The SNES was something of a Holy Grail console for me. For the longest time I searched for one, but could not get it. When I finally did own one, it turned out to be even better than I had imagined. You can make great arguments for so many consoles being the best ever: the sheer number of games for the PS2, the fact that most of the great SNES games are also available for the Wii or the combination of innovative brilliance and classics styles on the DS, but for me the best is and always will be the Super Nintendo.

Video Games as Anti-Depressants

I’m feeling nostalgic. And also kind of depressed. Mostly about video games. For some reason, I can’t seem to bring myself to actually turn any of my systems on right now. I don’t want to play any of my currently in progress games, I want to play something old and comforting. However, I also cannot bring myself to go to the bother of scrounging up any of my old favorites. Usually the Wii’s virtual console is the perfect solution to this problem, bringing many of my favorite classic games to my fingertips, but even it is currently unavailable to me.

I am not unfamiliar with this kind of funk; it have spells like this several times a year. And I know just the games I need to snap me out of it. Some are old, some are fairly recent, but all of them turn the controller into a livewire that zaps my brain and jolts me out of my fugue.

Foremost on this fairly exclusive list is the Mega Man series, mostly the NES games, but some others also do the trick. Mega Man 2 and 3 are the absolute pinnacle of NES action games, and all the games in the series are designed to provide the maximum amount of fun as soon as the game is turned on. One of the best ways they achieve this is the level options. There are sure to be parts of even great games that the player doesn’t like and Mega Man at least allows the player put those off as long as possible. Another is the music, which alone is enough to perk me up significantly.

River City Ransom is a game so full of charm that is goes without saying that it is on this list. But I’ve made my case for it already.

Also on my list of picker-uppers is a select number of JRPGs. For anyone who grew up on a steady diet of SNES, the trio of Final Fantasy 3(6), Chrono Trigger and Earthbound should be familiar. Anyone of those is sure to plant a smile on my face that sticks for at least a week. FF3 is the one side of the tipping point of that series, foreshadowing the changes that were coming while still fitting seamlessly with what came before. Chrono Trigger is the genre’s purest expression and has the perfect snappy pacing to cheer one up. Earthbound is a slower burn, but it’s unequalled charm is immediately apparent. The only non-SNES RPG that works for me is Suikoden 2, another case of a game with fast pacing and one of the best looking 2D games around.

There are some newer games that also fit the bill. While not especially new, the Metal Slug series, played on the flawed but sufficient Wii collection, is the perfect game for a quick jolt. With infinite continues there is no stress, but it still provides a player with gumption a chance to challenge themselves. Every time I try to cut down on the number of continues I use, though I am not always successful.

And lastly there is the Phoenix Wright series for the DS. Playing that series again is like watching re-runs of your favorite TV show. There is absolutely nothing new or different, but the characters you love are always there.

The most important thing about these pick-me-up games is that they provide me with a quick, if not necessarily easy, sense of accomplishment. I can beat Mega Man 2 or a Phoenix Wright case in a short amount of time, giving me the sense that I’ve accomplished something. Which the lack of is usually what has me down to begin with. The RPGs are slightly different. Playing them is like listening to my Grandfather talk about fighting in World War II. The accomplishment was a long time ago, but by going over the tale again the sense of worth his brought again to the forefront.

The games listed aren’t the only ones that fit in this category. But they are my most used ones. Do you readers sometimes need to use a video game as a pick-me-up? What games are your feeling down cures?