Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Ichimonji's Top 5 Games of 2008

2008 was an excellent year for videogames in my opinion. I find that it even surpasses 2007, which is a hard thing to do with such amazing titles as: Mass Effect, Super Mario Galaxy, Bioshock, and Persona 3. In this little feature I’m going to narrow down my top five favourite games of 2008 in order of ranking, with a couple notable mentions. It was pretty hard to single out my choices and much harder to actually rank them. Keep in mind though that I’m only one person and I didn’t get to play all of the cool games this year. I haven’t played Fallout 3, Left 4 Dead, or Banjo-Kazooie as of yet. I have played Gears of War 2, but unfortunately not enough of it to even be considered for my list. So yeah, a few games which I’m sure are all pretty good will be overlooked for this list. Anyway, let’s jump right into it with number five.

5. LittleBigPlanet (PS3)

When this game was first announced over a year ago I was a little confused, but intrigued and excited nonetheless. When I finally got my hands on it, it turned out to be such a fun and unforgettable experience. I had my doubts about how this game would play, but I was thoroughly satisfied. It’s just such a cute and unique platformer. There is a story mode where you can guide your fully customizable Sackboy through over fifty beautiful, yet crazy, levels; although, as we all know, the appeal for this game relies on its online services.

LittleBigPlanet isn’t like any other platformer because of the simple fact that you can create your own levels and share them with the world. It should also be noted that everything in the story mode is content that you yourself have the ability to create. So you have the potential to create a game better than the actual creators (and some people have). Some of the story levels are actually pretty awesome too, so that’s saying a lot. Not only that but you can also either go through the story mode or play user created levels with up to four people online. It’s not a hassle to find people either. It’s quick and easy. It all combines to give you a massive universe filled with cute and creative levels. The experience is endless, really. People are creating levels like wildfire. If you stop playing LittleBigPlanet for a few weeks and go back into it, it’s like you’re playing a brand new game. It’s amazing what people can come up with.

There is only one problem with LittleBigPlanet. Moderation. So everything was fine at first (well, not unless you count the server issues they had at the beginning). People were creating original levels, as well as levels based on the universes of Super Mario, Sonic, Metal Gear, Mirrors Edge, God of War, and etc. It was all fun and games. Then Sony came along and started deleting levels without warning. Apparently, you can’t make levels based off of other copyrights, yet it seems to be A-OK when its done in Far Cry 2. But not only that, if your original levels have any spec of mature content, that will be taken away as well. So, just like that LittleBigPlanet became less fun and less creative. The game is still enjoyable and interesting, but it would be even more so if Sony weren’t such Nazis.

4. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII (PSP)

Uh-oh! One of those Final Fantasy VII spin-offs are on this list?! Why, yes. Simply put, Crisis Core is best one of them all, and thus it puts Dirge of Cerberus and Advent Children to shame. Square-Enix have done a number of things wrong, especially with spin-offs, but with Crisis Core they did everything right. Crisis Core is a prequel of Final Fantasy VII and it centers around the life of Zack Fair. It ties up any of the loose ends you might have been wondering about with the relationship between Zack, Cloud, Sephiroth, and Aerith, as well as providing more insight on the Turks and the world of Final Fantasy VII.

With very little actual good and original games for the PSP, Crisis Core is certainly a welcome addition. The game stays completely true to the events of Final Fantasy VII and doesn’t create anything too farfetched or ridiculous. It’s not half-assed like the other entries for the FFVII Compilation as well. Crisis Core provides you with a true ‘Final Fantasy’ experience outside of the numbered Final Fantasies, which is very rare. It’s a decently long adventure, filled with sidequests, an immersive storyline, a fun battle system, and a strange way of leveling up/equipping. All the things you want in a Final Fantasy. The battle system is free-roaming, and while the voice at the beginning of each sequence can get annoying, at least its not nearly as annoying as the intro to past Final Fantasies’ random battles.

A couple problems with Crisis Core does prevent it from being in my top three. First, the grand scheme of the game could have been a little bigger. More open. You do have sidequests and that, but it does feel a tad linear. Most of the areas that you visit, you can only visit the once. It does make sense though why you can only visit them once. You’ll know what I mean when you play the game. The other reason is that I’m sure that someone who hasn’t played Final Fantasy VII before will definitely not enjoy this game as much as the rest of us, and that’s kind of unfair. But other than that Crisis Core is amazing, and the story will make you cry.

3. Grand Theft Auto IV (X360, PS3)

I’m sure you’re tired of hearing this, but GTAIV really is an awesome game. It’s truly one of 2008’s magnificent successes. It’s a sandbox game, which means the world is your oyster. You control, Nico Bellic, a Serbian man who wants to live the life in America. So right off the bat you get to explore New Yo- Liberty City and do what you want. At first the number of missions available is limited, but eventually you can take on a handful at a time and have the game progress in any way that you wish. GTAIV takes a more real approach to the series. The driving controls and all of the motions are a lot more realistic and the events displayed aren’t as unbelievable, a la San Andreas.

I love exploration. I love guns. I love cars. This game has all of them and does them all to perfection. The missions are entirely interesting and takes care not to get repetitive. The action sequences and choices you make are so enjoyable, you always be coming back for more. The gameplay is just so fluid, it’s amazing, and you’ll end up wanting to see what trouble Nico will get himself into next. There is so much to so. For instance, if you don’t want to do missions or explore the city and dick around, you can always go on dates and play pool or whatever you want. The choices really are endless and Liberty City slowly becomes part of your life.

That’s not all though, you can also play GTAIV online. There are a variety of modes to choose from ranging from head-to-head to co-op. I don’t remember the last time I had this much fun playing a game online. It’s quite amazing. Rockstar knows their shit. Grand Theft Auto IV is a must have title, and one of the sole games in which people will truly remember 2008.

NOTE- The next two games on this list are both extremely astounding and I wholeheartedly wanted to rank both of them for my top Game of the Year, but since I can only choose one of them, I had to give away a part of my soul in order to rank one as second place. Here are the final two games…

2. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (PS3)

MGS4 leaves me speechless. I have beaten the game twice now and during my second playthrough I was just as captivated, if not more, than the last. Every time I completed the game I felt emotional because not only has one of my favourite franchises come to a close, but the experience was just so fucking remarkable and I immediately missed playing it. I try not to curse while I’m writing articles such as these, but I can’t contain myself when I’m talking about MGS4. Words just aren’t justice enough for such a masterpiece.

Kojima Productions basically refined the entire series with this game. A more applicable combat system, expansive areas, stealth, the overall design… Everything. There are so many guns and other various weapons in this game as well, it’s ridiculous. It’s practically gun porn. They introduce a new system in which you collect “points” by picking up guns on the battlefield and cashing them in to acquire better weapons. You’ll be very surprised by the incredible selection though. With a fully rotational camera and redefined combat, the series is a lot more appealable. Let’s not kid ourselves; the overhead camera into first person was kind of dated. Instead, you can switch between over-the-shoulder to first-person at anytime. Old Snake has a variety of different moves. He can play dead, shoot in-between his legs, knock people over in an oil barrel, perform CQC, and camouflage into anything. Among lots of other things.

The storyline and cutscenes are nothing short of astonishing. Not only are they suspenseful and action-packed, but you’ll have to be on your toes because a lot of cutscenes require button-pushing, albeit optional. There are also optional hidden goodies to find in the cutscenes, as well as a ton of hidden stuff almost everywhere else in the game, along with seamless transition from cutscene to gameplay. The graphics are orgasmic, the best graphics I’ve seen on consoles thus far. They do a good job of briefly re-capping the events of previous titles, but it’ll be extremely overwhelming to follow along with the story if you haven’t played a Metal Gear before. However unlike Crisis Core, even if you have no experience with the series, it’s pretty easy to pick up and the gameplay is fun enough to not even worry about the storyline (but the story crazy good, so I’d recommend paying attention).

I could seriously drone on and on about this game, but I’ll stop here. MGS4 is perfection. It wraps up everything nicely. Fans of the series will be especially happy by some of the events and even Metal Gear haters can start playing this game and enjoy it just for the gameplay. If you have a PS3 and do not own Metal Gear Solid 4, then something must be wrong with you. This game is the sole reason to own a Playstation 3 as of now.

The only reason that MGS4 didn’t get my Game of the Year award is because it’s only about twenty hours long, which is actually long enough for me, but the game below is just as amazing and I’ve already clocked close to sixty hour in it. That’s three full playthroughs of MGS4 and I’ve still not completed the game. So there’s a lot more bang for your buck in the game that I’m about to announce for my Game of the Year award…

Game of the Year - Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 (PS2)

You can probably imagine how much I enjoy this game after reading what I just said about Metal Gear Solid 4 and still having this game rank higher. Well, it was a hard choice to make, but it’s true. Persona 4 is my all time favourite game of 2008. When I started the game, for the first couple hours it basically played itself, and I was like “Wow. What the hell is happening here. This is lame. There seems to be much less to do as well, compared to Persona 3.” Now I must bite my tongue, because not only has this game become my favourite game of 2008, but it’s become one of my favouirte games of all time.

Let me begin by stating that I simply adored Persona 3, and yet Persona 4 seems to have surpassed it in every possible aspect. Looking back at this list, if there’s one thing that I’ve noticed it’s that 2008 is the year for videogames redefining themselves into much better renditions. Persona 4 is no exception. There are so many choices and so much to do in this game, it’s incredible and addictive. I haven’t been a fan of stupidly long games recently, but I’ve almost totaled sixty hours and I still don’t want this title to end. I just want it to keep on going and going. I would pay any amount of money to be able to live three in-game years of Persona 4.

This title combines sim gameplay with traditional J-RPG gameplay. During the “sim” part of it, you’re able to establish social links with various people of Inaba, including your own party members (which will have benefits to the JRPG aspect of the game if you increase your relationship), which means you can have whatever girlfriend you want or best buddy; all the while making choices to guide the relationships. You also have the choice to increase five human attributes in order to strengthen your ability to make risqué choices or do better on exams in school, or whatnot. You can make money by working a part-time job or do various errands for people in town. The ways of going about any of these tasks are endless, ranging from reading a book in your room to eating a bottomless bowl of ramen in a restaurant. Everything you do in the ‘sim’ aspect of the game is all connected to make both parts more manageable for you. For the JRPG aspect, battles are turn-based, and all of your abilities come from Personas. You can combine and equip various Personas on the protagonist in order to acquire different stats and abilities. It’s a lot like a smaller form of Pokemon, really. Also, battles are quick and dungeons aren’t tedious despite being semi-randomized. It’s really well done.

Persona 4 is about a student who moves from the city to a small town, makes some interesting friends, finds a hidden power, and ends up having to solve a bizarre string of murder cases by jumping into a television. Each dungeon is based upon the victim’s “inner self” and you’re basically going through his or her’s true thoughts. While Persona is more known for interesting character development and interaction, the story is actually really engaging itself. You’ll get caught up in its mystery and you’ll be aching to see ‘whodunit’. The most interesting part of this is that it’s not like other RPGs. Instead of being magical, it’s modern. And all of the dialogue and actions are reminiscent of what a group of typical teenagers would actually say and do. I really enjoy it, and I think that with both the character development and overall storyline together, it creates one of the best RPG stories I’ve ever encountered.

I’m extremely captivated by this game, and it’s certainly an experience that I’ll never forget. Persona 4 definitely deserves the top spot on my list. Hopefully Persona 5 will be on the current-gen consoles though.

Reading over this list, I’m quite surprised by how many games on here are exclusive to Playstation platforms. It’s funny because I purchased a lot more Xbox 360 or Wii/DS games this year, and yet the Playstation games are the ones that made this list. Anyway, here are a couple games that didn’t make the list for various reasons, but are great enough that I would like give them a mention…

Honourable Mentions

Okami (Wii)

Okami is a Wii port of a 2006 Gamecube release. This is the reason that it didn’t make the list, as it wouldn’t really be fair. However, it’s extremely fun and the Wii controls suit it perfectly. It’s beautiful, it’s engaging and it’s on par with the Zelda series. What more could you want?

Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney (DS)

The obvious reason why this game didn’t make my list is because it’s more of a visual graphic novel rather than a true videogame. However, the storyline is amazing as hell, and the detective work is pretty interesting. Once you start it, you won’t be able to keep your eyes off it.

~ Ichimonji | LJ

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