Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is not just exciting because it's a great-looking game. It's not just exciting for bringing single-player Final Fantasy into the new generation, and it's also not just exciting for being an HD port of a PSP game we thought we'd never see in the states.
All are legitimate reasons for it being one of the most highly anticipated releases of early 2015, but it also has equipped one advantage not a lot of other games in its launch window have: a chance to go hands on with a brand new game! Final Fantasy Type-0 HD is bringing back the fading concept of the pack-in demo in ways that only Square Enix can do by granting you a brief few hours with Final Fantasy XV.
In this day and age, we take demos for granted now that they are freely available at just a push of a button, but back before the love affair between game consoles and the Internet, demos were harder to come by. You had to subscribe to a magazine with a pack-in CD or straight up buy another less popular game to get a glimpse of the product you really wanted. Publishers, especially Square, were smart in distributing these demos though because more often than not, the smaller, less popular game turned out to be an unexpected gem that otherwise would have gone under-appreciated.
Half the audiences of these games would have simply let them pass on by if they weren't given the opportunity to ride the coattails of a guaranteed hit. With that in mind, here are four wonderful games that were discovered mostly thanks to a popular pack-in demo. No, this isn't like buying Halo: The Master Chief Collection to play in the Halo 5 beta, buying a big game to play in a big game early. These are all genuine hidden gems that became cult-hits thanks to the demo packed inside.
In some cases, they even turned out to be better games! Naturally, you'll hear my opinion on this.
The Final Fantasy VIII Demo Included Brave Fencer Musashi
Squaresoft was a bit of a two faced demon in the post-Final Fantasy VII world, focusing on the big blockbusters and risky weird gems alike. With a seemingly infinite supply of cash, developers were given free reign to create whatever they wanted, as long as it was aping off something that was already popular. Resident Evil spawned Parasite Eve, Mario Kart 64 gave birth to Chocobo Racing, Einhander was the brilliant love child of every SHUMP ever created, and Final Fantasy Tactics was yoinked right out from under rival Enix's nose when Square nabbed developer Quest, its leading man Yasumi Matsuno, and the ideas behind Tactics Ogre.
It's not that hard to see where Brave Fencer Musashi got its inspiration from. In 1998, the world was patiently awaiting Ocarina of Time to completely change our lives, and not to be outdone, Squaresoft and Sony beat Nintendo's seminal hit out of the gate by at least a month with this goofy adventure. What's the best way to get gamers to buy an unknown gem that would otherwise be smashed to pieces? Toss in a demo of the second most anticipated game at the time, Final Fantasy VIII!
Unlike most though, I rented Brave Fencer Musashi straight from the shelves and fell in love with it before I even knew it came with a Final Fantasy VIII demo. I found that out when I purchased it and beat it all over again. The demo was graphically impressive with leading lady Rinoa taking part in a scenario she had no business being in, and I remember the Leviathan summon spell set high expectations for the rest of the franchises' traditional elemental beasts.
Which is better: I know I have my biases from the PlayStation/Nintendo 64 days, but I let them shade my judgement. Brave Fencer Musashi is no Ocarina of Time, but that doesn't mean I can't like it more. I do actually. It's a wonderful little game with incredible boss fights, a good sense of humor, fun music,and a far more ingenious day and night system than its Nintendo rival. Remember when Oblivion was hyped for having villages where people went about daily schedules? Brave Fencer Musashi did it a whole eight years earlier, on a much smaller scale of course.
As for Final Fantasy VIII, its strengths are also its undoings. Long, beautiful summon animations can really cause this game to drag, and it has an experimental side that splits the Final Fantasy fanbase right in half. Many will swear by it, but sadly, it is not a game I've been able to fall in love with despite mutliple tries over the years.
I'll take the charmingly solid Brave Fencer Musashi any day of the week.
The Metal Gear Solid 2 Demo Included Zone of the Enders
The PlayStation 2 had a bit of a rough first year scoring any solid hits, but it became the dominant console and the clear-cut choice for gaming by its first holiday season. Devil May Cry, Grand Theft Auto III and Final Fantasy X put it on a whole new level above the competition, but the one game everyone really wanted to play was Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. We all saw the trailers, but it was a pack in demo with Hideo Kojima's love song to the mecha anime genre, Zone of the Enders, which sold everyone.
The barren year was broken up by this high octane action game. What else was there to compete against besides The Bouncer and the first Dark Cloud? Most wanted to play the demo, and many sank far more hours into that tanker level than they should have. However, these fans also got a pretty sweet game along with it. Zone of the Enders stars a whiny boy named Leo who finds himself locked in the cockpit of a powerful mecha robot, and before he knows it, he sets off on a ludicrous mission to save his Martian space station.
Anybody want to bet that Hideo Kojima liked The Phantom Menace or not?
Myself? I discovered Zone of the Enders before I knew it had a demo, but I only played bits and pieces as my neighbor owned the copy. I never got around to the Metal Gear Solid 2 demo, and broke my teeth on the game after I rented it later that year. I didn't beat Zone of the Enders until the HD version came out.
Which is better: Saying that Zone of the Enders is a better game than Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty would be dead wrong. The five hours it takes to complete the entire game is actually shorter than the amount of time most gamers spent playing Metal Gear's demo! At worst, it was Hideo Kojima's experiment to do something new besides Metal Gear Solid with the PlayStation 2's cutting edge technology. At best, it's a pretty fast game with a lot of cool weapons, stressful missions, decent anime storytelling, and loads of potential to be something better.
Metal Gear Solid 2 though suffers from one too many controversies to be called a genuine classic though, and most fans consider it the main series' low-point. The tanker level found in the demo proved to be the most interesting part of the game, and many are still reeling over he fact that they were lied to about the game's protagonist. I've read some wonderful breakdowns and justifications for the character of Raiden, but that doesn't account for the uninteresting Big Shell setting, overly written story, and codec conversations which could last up to 30 minutes!
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is still a pretty good game, and it is definitely better than Zone of the Enders. Better than its sequel, The Second Runner, though? Ehh, that's a bit more tricky.
The Final Fantasy XII Demo Included Dragon Quest VIII
Hey, it's Square again! Yes, nobody knows how to sell video game demos like Japan's number one JRPG developer. Only by this time, the company had merged with its rival Enix, and this bundle brought together the genre's longest rivals in a single box. A Final Fantasy XII demo winding up in a Dragon Quest VIII game could only ever be rivaled by Sonic making his debut on a Nintendo platform. That's how major this was!
Of course, most Americans were not aware of this fierce rivalry when Dragon Quest VIII first launched in America. Enix had done a pretty good job of keeping its series under the radar of American gamers, and to most of us, this was just another RPG bundled with a look at the next Final Fantasy game. We didn't expect such a wonderful and expansive adventure, far superior than anything the Dragon Quest series had produced in the states to that point. Square Enix's new English localization style also ensured that we would never forget this marvelous world and its colorful inhabitants.
The company finally put a lot of effort into making sure that Dragon Quest became a huge hit because it obviously knew it had something special on its hands with this eighth entry. The Final Fantasy XII demo was exactly what it needed, and its success paved the way for an entire generation of DS hits to be released in English for the first time. Now, if only Square Enix would continue that tradition on the Nintendo 3DS, we'd have a lot more happy Dragon Quest fans these days.
Which is better: It's hard for me to say really. I played Final Fantasy XII without the aid of Dragon Quest VIII, and I haven't had the ability to go back and really explore it. Every used PlayStation 2 I pick up these days sputters out and dies within a few months, and my copy of Dragon Quest VIII just sits on the shelf awkwardly waiting for me to give it the time it deserves. I've hardly given it enough attention to make a decent judgement. My assumptions are on reputation alone.
As for Final Fantasy XII, I haven't beaten it either, but mostly because I just loved getting lost in its world, breaking sequence, going places I shouldn't be, and hunting down the powerful monster bosses. It's far too complex a game to just simply play from beginning to end for the story, and it begs for your to break it wide open and exploit the hell out of it. Remember, I am a fan of both of its directors, Final Fantasy Tactics director Yasumi Matsuno and his replacement SaGa creator Akitoshi Kawazu, and seeing their incompatible "perfectionist" and "kitchen sink" styles clash with one another is an absolute joy.
That being said, I can't call this one. If you like a wonderful old-fashioned RPG, Dragon Quest VIII is your game. If you want something that defies classification, then Final Fantasy XII is a game that won't steer you wrong.
The Halo 3 Beta Included Crackdown
At last, unlike the rest of these sleeper hits, we come to a game that I actually discovered because I wanted the demo! Yes, I bought Crackdown because I was at the beginning of my three-year stint with Western AAA gaming, and I really wanted to play the Halo 3 beta with my friends. I wasn't expecting to get a marvelous game out of it as well, and boy was I surprised when I found myself putting far more time into it than Halo 3.
Crackdown is the perfect kind of free-roaming game. It allowed you progress and to explore at your own pace, going against the trends of other games of its type and not pushing you from scripted mission to scripted mission. It was true freedom, dropping you in a gorgeous gaming world with a few simple mechanics and letting you find your own way to succeed. "Here you go, go get 'em tiger!" I think only Just Cause 2 was really able to surpass Realtime Worlds' mini-masterpiece in this regard.
Acrobatically jumping through the air from rooftop to rooftop never got old, and I tracked down every single one of those green agility orbs in the game… twice!
It wasn't even pushing for the "gritty brown realism" everyone else was pushing for at the time, delivering a very attractive comic book art style. Crackdown was more Grand Theft Auto III than the heavily restrictive Grand Theft Auto IV was, and it remains one of the Xbox 360's best exclusives.
Which is better: I don't think it's any surprise which I'm going to choose. Crackdown is the only game of its kind I played to 100% completion twice, and it is the only game of its kind where I can see myself doing it again! If only it wasn't stuck on the Xbox 360. Hey Microsoft, we have enough HD remasters of games we played last year. Let's give Crackdown another chance!
As for Halo 3, I played through the campaign once on legendary over an afternoon with 3 friends, I messed around with The Forge for an evening, and I played a few online matches before putting it away forever. Good game, but I think the advertising was more memorable.
Crackdown wins in a landslide.