And we’re back for another round of old games and good times. The first half of my year, covered in Part One, was loaded with some of gaming’s most iconic franchises, everything from Final Fantasy to The Legend of Zelda and Metroid.
Today, we’re kicking off with a series that struck a chord in the middle of the summer and didn’t let go for an entire month! Join me as a ignore the rosy-tint of my glasses and bask in the genuine glow of retro video games! No pink glow is clouding my judgement here. I loved every second spent with these games, and I’m looking forward to playing them all again in a few years.
Castlevania: Rondo of Blood
I fell into a bit of a Castlevania kick that lasted throughout the month of August, and Castlevania: Rondo of Blood is where I got started after firing up The Dracula X Chronicles on my Vita.
Rondo of Blood is an entry in the series most gamers my age never got to play when we were kids because it never came to North America. Despite that, I think this might now be my favorite in the entire Castlevania series. It has the best of both worlds, rocking the grueling action and platforming of the NES classics and a healthy portion of the non-linear progression found in the metroidvania games.
Plus, Maria Renard absolutely makes this game. She’s one of the most fun female protagonists you’ll ever control in a video game, and she makes her male counterpart Trevor Belmont seem like a newbie come the journey’s end.
Add one of gaming’s greatest soundtracks and those cheesy 90’s anime cutscenes, and this is a game that everyone should experience once in their lives.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
This timeless masterpiece is actually a secret unlockable in The Dracula X Chronicles, so that automatically makes it one of the best bundles on Earth. I played through it after clearing both Rondo of Blood and its surprisingly competent remake.
And in spite of all the advances and improvements the DS games made on its formula, Symphony of the Night still stands tall as the best. It stars the coolest hero and unfolds with the best pacing. Dawn of Souls and Portrait of Ruin might have an edge when it comes to the main characters’ abilities, but Alucard’s arsenal allows for far more experimentation and hidden goodies.
Plus, the atmosphere is just top notch. Symphony of the Night on a portable system renders its successors almost pointless despite coming out a full decade before them. That’s how forward thinking this game was in 1997, and it’s still the standard we judge all others by today.
Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse
Castlevania III still holds up too, offering excellent level design for Trevor Belmonts’ stiff moveset and a steep challenge that always keeps success just beyond your grasp. Modern gamers might dismiss it as one of those NES games that were never intended to be completed, or they’ll cheat their way through it using save states.
However, Castlevania III wasn’t nearly as difficult as I remember. Each stage took about an hour of practice and memorization before I was able to slap together a successful run, and each of those victories felt well deserved. Man, that rush of beating an NES level still feels good 30 years later, and it’s a shame not many games deliver it anymore either.
Here’s a perfect example of how an NES game can be both a lot of fun and not blisteringly frustrating. HAL Laboratory created this classic in 1993, a time when every game developer in Japan knew how to squeeze the most out of the rapidly aging NES hardware. It shows too because this is one of the NES’ most technically beautiful games.
And while the gameplay is never that hard, Kirby’s Adventure still delivers the goods through its “secret” system. Most levels hide doors in the cleverest of places, and it’s one of those games you’ll never feel satisfied with until that completion meters reads 100 percent.
One more point, this game has aged flawlessly, but it also set up a bad precedent. This was my first Kirby game way back when, and it might have set the bar a little too high for me. Every time I play a Kirby game nowadays, it gets subconsciously compared to this one and usually comes up short.
Much like Breath of Fire III, this is about as vanilla as a JRPG can get. This is why Wild ARMs can either be strong for those who played the genre back in the day or weak to newcomers. The JRPGs basics are a warm blanket for veterans, but don’t always provide the depth youngins are looking for.
For me, I loved my time with Wild ARMs this year, and playing it on a Vita really helped. Aside from the legendary music and interesting world, I realize that Wild ARMs unique claims lies in its three main characters. JRPGs usually force their entire cast to level up and advance through the same systems, but Rudy, Jack, and Cecelia all transform by their own means.
At about the ¾ mark, the game somewhat falls off the rails. It opens up its huge world without that much direction, leaving many head scratching moments. Thankfully, its superb dungeon design makes up for it, especially for the last few. You might have trouble getting places, but when you get their, you’re bound to have fun!
Its item duplication trick is also one of the best accidental cheats ever put into a video game. Nowadays, that would be patched out in a heartbeat. In Wild ARMs, it’s the stuff of legends.
Brave Fencer Musashi
Get a good look because this is what a game that holds up flawlessly well looks like. Brave Fencer Musashi is an stunning video game, loaded with thrilling action sequences, great characters connected with a genuine sense of community among its villagers, and epic boss fights similar to those found in the best NES games. It’s like walking around in an anime world, similar to what Valkyria Chronicles and the Tales games would provide over a decade later.
Musashi himself has more super-powers that most modern game gaming stars, and his tight little world never becomes too cumbersome for those who like to dig and explore around.
Brave Fencer Musashi is a short game though, and that’s what shocked me the most. I remember wasting hours on this game as a kid, but I cleared it at the ten hour mark here. That was a bit surprising.
And dare I say that this has the most underrated soundtrack of all time. Wild ARMs is often cited whenever anybody talks about the subject, and with good reason, but nobody ever brings up this game, which is unfortunate. The highpoints are the two tracks above: the game’s central village theme and a final stage rush theme that I think elevates to Mega Man 2 Wily 1-1’s standards.
Final Fantasy VIII
To call this game an old favorite would be an outright lie. I’ve hated Final Fantasy VIII for almost twenty years, and I was never once shy about that fact during my chats on the Internet over that time period.
Low and behold, after wrapping up the game which introduced its demo disc to me and slipping into a forgiving mood brought on by my bliss from playing Final Fantasy XV, I decided to give Final Fantasy VIII another chance on the Vita a full 17 years after I first and only time played it.
And I like it. I like it a lot, maybe even more than Final Fantasy VII these days. I’m probably still working on my playthrough as I publish this, but so far, I’m digging the story, I’m breaking the insane Junction and GF systems to pieces, and I even get a rush every time I play my immortal enemy, Triple Triad. Squall is still an insufferable turd, but wow… I never thought in a million years I would come around to Final Fantasy VIII.
Here it stands, proof that time can be good to video games after all. Maybe I’ll give Chrono Cross a chance next and hope for another miracle.
And with that, this spells out how I spent a majority of my 2016! If I was wearing rosey-colored glasses the entire time, well, I’ll be having surgery to permanently fuses the lenses to my eyes from here on out. Classic video games are a wonderful way to remember where our favorite past time comes. More importantly, if these games are still a blast ten, twenty, thirty years later, then the developers must have been doing something right!
Rather than sweep the past under the rug, why not study these older games to see how they can be applied to today? I know many games from the current and previous generations, even some of the best among them, won’t stand a chance at surviving in our hearts and minds as long as these have. These games have a lesson to teach, and to ignore them and dismiss them as fools gold for the sentimental among us is a travesty to over thirty five years of gaming history.
Let me know if you played any old favorites in the comments section below. Thanks everyone!