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Diablo for Playstation – The Art of Winning an Unfair Game

In Geography class I daydreamed about ring drops and book rooms. After slaying Diablo on normal difficulty I wanted to do it on nightmare mode. I thought of how cool it was sharing the comradery with my best friend as we relied on each others’ instincts to save us from perilous situations. We murdered The Butcher through a great combined effort, and narrowly survived hundreds of skeleton archers protecting King Leoric. I recalled the joy of visiting Griswold, who occasionally offered incredible stat-boosting gear. I remembered creepy sound effects, ambiance, and screams—the type of game you had to play at night with all the lights off. There was the anticipation when the Playstation slowly loaded a new level, especially when reaching the caves or hell for the first time. I didn’t know what to expect on Friday night when Matt and I readied to play for six or seven straight hours, but I knew we’d progress further.

Diablo for the Playstation is not perfect, but it’s one of the most intense gaming experiences I have had. Something calls me back every couple of years—partly its brilliant design and creepy setting, but also its unforgiving challenge. While the PC version was known as a pick-up-and-play online RPG, the Playstation edition had legendary difficulty. Diablo offered unmatchable replay value since the characters, items, dungeons, and enemies are different each time you play. The randomness makes for an exciting adventure. Even though Diablo was simple compared to its sequels, the strategies and methods for success were countless. Over a decade later I am still trying to figure it out.

It is virtually impossible to beat the game on a single run. The leaps in difficulty will torch a player somewhere between level six and ten. Thankfully, you can save your character and grind from the beginning all over again, picking up gear and spell books along the way. With perseverance and innumerable playthroughs you can make magic happen and actually slay Diablo…on normal mode. And if you’re good, on nightmare mode. On hell mode I don’t think a human being is capable of making that happen. But I hope to prove myself wrong.

    

From the beginning there are three characters to choose from: the stout sword-wielding warrior, the versatile long-ranged rogue, and the crafty spellcasting sorcerer. As one might expect the warrior is the brute almost incapable of effectively using magic, whereas the sorcerer casts spells with the best of them but often is killed in a few attacks. The rogue offers a little bit of everything and a lot of nothing, except for ranged attack. In most of our previous playthroughs I chose the warrior and Matt chose the sorcerer, which put more emphasis on him to make quick changes and smart decisions and for my main responsibility to get in the way, distract enemies, and slice statues in half. We grinded our way through gaining experience and levels, pumping attributes, and reworking our characters to maximize their potential.

Every time we played we seemed to get better, there was no beating Diablo himself, not on hell difficulty anyway, and scarcely ever on nightmare. Just imagining the characters’ death screams makes me shutter. Finally I have come to accept it is an unfair game, which I accept now as its greatest novelty. If you can conquer this unreasonable PS1 adventure you must be one brilliant son of a bitch. Here are my tips for standing a chance in Diablo for Playstation, along with my view on the game’s imperfections.

     

With a warrior a player can plow his way through most of normal difficulty but become sitting ducks on nightmare and hell. They can absorb more damage, but prove ineffective against succubi and mages. Without maximum resistances their lack of ranged attack means aimlessly chasing ranged enemies, praying they will run into a wall or teleport directly in front of you. In two player a warrior can evolve into an armored hack and slash decoy, maybe even with fire wall or stone curse, but in one-player they stand little chance.

As a rouge or sorcerer success begins with mana shield and stone curse. Mana shield allows a player to absorb damage through their mana points helping a sorcerer (or sometimes rogue) take more than a few hits to kill. Once a player progresses into dangerous territory enemies will swarm and murder them, even with a glorious or holy full plate armor (I have still never seen a godly prefix besides on maybe some of Wirt’s leather armor). Down in level twelve or thirteen projectile casting enemies come from every angle, so the only solution is stone cursing them leaving them immobile, then slash them in half. Some believe stone curse is cheap, but I would say without it the Playstation version is damn near impossible.

Stone curse aside, a frail sorcerer is forced to alternate spamming chain lightning and fireball for the entire game. We only found two chain lightning books in our last playthrough so it was better to employ the economical regular lightning spell than exasperate mana on chain lightning. The immense power and inexplicable splash damage from fireball is a spell caster’s most reliable form of attack, but then fire-resistant enemies appear. Some monsters resist multiple types of magics at higher difficulties, forcing a player to again to stone curse everything to death. What is great and terrible about Diablo is when you feel prepared and unstoppable something else comes along to fuck you.

    

When we were younger Matt and I used to fill our character’s belts and maybe ten more inventory spots with potions, taking trip after trip to town to buy more. Matt mitigated this pain during our last playthrough deciding we may as well fill our entire inventories to save time, knowing at least six spots would quickly become available to pick up item drops.

Unfortunately, depending on the character class, certain attributes given to a character max out after a certain number of points. Notably, the sorcerer cannot naturally bring his strength past 45 (which is a bummer since decent armor requires a minimum of 90 strength to wear). To get these extra forty-five points, essential to the sorcerer are items with “+ to all attributes” suffixes like “of the heavens” (+11-15) or if you’re lucky “of the zodiac.” (+16-20) Matt’s sorcerer successfully had +60-something to all attributes from four or five of these types of items. It looks strange when a sorcerer is carrying around what appears to be a splintered piece of wood, but it’s actually a +14 to all attributes club of the heavens! These suffixes allow players a fairer chance considering Matt’s +60 to all attributes is an aggregate +240 which would equate to 48 character levels. Though still, the game manages to be difficult.

To be able to stock up on weapons, armor, and accessories to give yourself the best chance, you need to pick up and sell as much valuable junk as you can. This can be tedious, but it helps to have two players for the extra inventory space, and the opportunity for additional quality random items Griswold sells in town. Money stacks max out at 5,000 gold pieces so to make inventory space a giant money horde should be kept in town. A good trick is to save, quit, and reload, so Griswold can offer six new items (or twelve if you’re playing two player). When you find something worth buying it could cost up to a half of an inventory of gold, but it’s worth it if you want to survive.

     

One of the great criticisms of the Playstation version of Diablo was that it took an entire memory card to save a game and characters. One game and two characters takes up twelve memory card slots, when the typical memory card has fifteen. When Matt and I were in high school I had one memory card for Diablo and one memory card for everything else. It never bothered me since Diablo was such an addictive game, but apparently it attributed to crushing the game’s reputation.

That and the load time. But, to be fair, it was a Playstation game. As a Nintendo kid, though, I didn’t know what load time was. Matt and I feel the game transitioned okay to the Playstation but that a significant problem is that you can only toggle through two spells, which doesn’t help a sorcerer effectively employ the five or six he would commonly cast.

I would describe Diablo for Playstation as a genius game which is rough around the edges. Maybe its greatest flaw are the enormous leaps in difficulty when suddenly a player gets murdered by acid beasts in level six after blowing through levels one through five. A character is apparently expected to go from no magic resistance to 50% or higher immediately.

Similarly, level nine houses storm lords casting lightning from beyond the screen quickly draining health unless you have near maximum lightning resistance. With bad luck and a couple of wrong corners you could be swarmed by two bosses at once with their expansive entourages filling the screen pushing each other over to kill you, still swatting at the air even after your lifeless corpse has hit the ground.

      

How come when you die all of your items drop individually? In Diablo II they rectified this with a corpse only the player could pick up, but in the first game a player has to nervously rummage around the bloody floors to find that one amulet that landed on the other side of the wall since there wasn’t enough ground space for it to drop nearby. Too much time is spent resurrecting your teammate, scrambling to put yourself back together, then buying a million potions again. Often, while rummaging for your belongings, something else will come along and kill you leaving an even more frustrating mess.

One time we were marching right along down to Diablo’s lair when we suddenly got stuck in a doorway and could not move our characters. This glitch forced us to restart the game, and angered Matt and I to the point where we walked away from the game for almost three years. When you think you have figured out Diablo it pulls shit like that.

Still, I look forward to the next go-around. I’m throwing caution into the wind and encouraging Matt to try a double rouge run, where one of us would specialize in lightning magic and the other in fire magic. I cannot predict what will be the death of us this time, and on what level or difficulty that will be, but I am almost assured we will reach a point where the game becomes impossible. Maybe this time we will unearth the fabled King’s Bastard Sword of Carnage, or maybe a Obsidian Tower Shield of the Zodiac. You never know.

Captain N: The Game Master—Characters

“Kevin…I thought I told you to clean up your room!”

A hero is born. Kevin Keene is an unsuspecting teenager from Northridge, California. He has a golden retriever named Duke and he is decent at Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. When poorly animated blue waves of electricity emerge from his television Kevin and Duke are transported to Video Land where dozens of ridiculous adventures await them.

Thus we have Captain N: The Game Master, a 1989-1991 cartoon series capitalizing on the video game rage of the late 1980s. In the forest of terrible 80s cartoons, Captain N was just another tree, but for reasons laudatory and critical, it will remain the one I remember most fondly. No other show had such a cavalcade of video game characters, and that’s what made it so special. And with countless NES games, there was endless source material to keep the show running.

The infamous Power Glove, an NES accessory, appears in the opening sequence creating the ultimate warp zone sucking in our at first unwilling hero, transforming him from live action Kevin to cartoon Captain N and his dog from golden retriever to animated beagle. With his popped collar, tight powder blue jeans, and surfer boy accent Kevin is unmistakably a California extreme sports dude. Hard to believe he is also a game master. Realistically, Video Land would have instead summoned a frail, wordless, pasty boy with glasses. I guess I wished the game master would have been more like me, but maybe viewers would rather identify with cool Kevin Keene.

Equipped with his super power pad (an NES controller where his belt buckle would be) and his zapper, (remember Duck Hunt?) Kevin immediately ascends to his role as the protector of both the kingdom and the beautiful Princess Lana, most often from the forces of Metroid’s Mother Brain. Like any good cartoon, our protagonists must thwart their nemeses’ various and often formulaic schemes. Kevin brings the N Team to victory by pressing the D-pad on his belt buckle at just the right time to dodge an enemy or projectile. Sometimes he holds the B-button to speed up, or presses the pause button (though he actually presses select) to freeze everything around him so he can manipulate situations. You figure with such an unstoppable move he would use it more often.

              

Princess Lana manages to barely cross the line past cookie cutter video game princess. Though she speaks as if she were helpless often she takes action like Princess Leia from Star Wars. Unfortunately, she is never seen in any kind of political role, giving us the impression she sits on her throne all day. No explicit relationship with Kevin is explored, but she does kiss him in one episode. Though Lana shows herself to be at times vain and fearful, she manages to be the most mature and sensible of the group.

Kevin and Lana are not alone in Video Land. They are joined by an unforgivable cast of allies. Formerly, Castlevania’s Simon Belmont led the team. In the series Belmont is shown to be an egomaniacal narcissist and much of the show’s humor generates from his constant misfortunes. With the advent of Captain N, Simon drops to second in command further complicating his psychological problems. Simon’s self obsession plays like a broken record and gets tired fast. Though, largely in part to Simon, the show’s writers establish conflict in every scene, aside from the information dump narration.

Going back to when I was six-years-old, if I could have any video game ally it would be Mega Man. Think about it. He is a robot, so if he dies he can just be fixed. He has an arm cannon, a conscience, and is quite resourceful for a limited character. The whole Mega Man storyline provides good material as the rivalry of Dr. Light and Dr. Wily parallels that of Professor X and Magneto from X-Men. But Captain N got Mega Man so wrong it gave me a sick feeling in my stomach twenty years ago, and now.

What’s the first thing anyone knows about Mega Man? He is blue. He’s the blue bomber. His creator Kenji Inafune states he was specifically chosen to be blue because it would look best on the limited color palette of the NES. So what color do the creators of Captain N: The Game Master decide to make Mega Man? Green. He is green. And he’s about a foot tall. To my understanding, the creator’s TV color was off so Mega Man appeared green when he played. So it’s an inside joke. One that burrows away at the integrity of a great character. Supplement his greenness and limited stature with a throaty, not-really-but-sort-of-robotic voice and you drift even farther away from the Mega Man we knew and loved. Once his arm cannon is replaced by superhuman strength (aside from a few episodes) he really isn’t even Mega Man anymore.

              

If that wasn’t enough, the team is also joined by Kid Icarus, a whiny brat even smaller than Mega Man. Like the NES game, Kid Icarus flies and shoot magic arrows, but often he’s more trouble than he’s worth. Instead of emphasizing his abilities, his weakness is typically exploited to make Kevin look stronger by comparison. Maybe the show’s most annoying element are the characters’ catch phrases. By far, “mega” is the top adjective choice for the green bomber, and similarly Kid Icarus suffixes “—icus” to the end of most every phrase. This goes to the point where Mega Man exclaims “Mega hi!” in the opening and Kid Icarus calls Kevin and Lana “Kevinicus” and “Your Heinicus” respectively. These cringeworthy staples make me embarrassed to share an episode with anyone, or enjoy the program when anyone is within earshot.

              

Duke, as I mentioned, is a dog, so there’s not much to say. Think of him as the successor to Scooby-Doo and the predecessor to Rush from the “super fighting robot” Mega Man show. Duke often works as a Watson to Captain N so he doesn’t seem like he’s insane for talking to himself. Most importantly to the show, Duke is a plot-device when he chases robotic cats into dangerous warp zones setting the scene for the day’s adventure. Also, he wears a cool bandana.

In the show’s second season, Game Boy joins the cast. He is introduced as a sophisticated computer who floats around and assists the team. In reality, Game Boy was a shameless plug, since Nintendo’s first portable system of the same name was released the year before. Despite Mega Man’s inauthentic appearance, Game Boy perfectly resembled the system, aside from his animated face and stretchiness. Even when I was seven-years-old I knew Game Boy was a needless addition, even though at the time I didn’t realize the true reason for his existence. I cannot take the King of Video Land seriously when he entrusts Lana with Game Boy and tells her “He has been like a son to me.”

Although the Metroid game took place on Zebes, according to the show, Mother Brain and her minions live on a floating fortress called “Metroid.” The pivotal jellyfish parasites never appear on the show. Mother Brain sounds as ugly as she looks: a screeching voice and evil genius laugh to go with her wires, visible eye sockets, mangled teeth, bristly chin, bubbly forehead, and stretched holes where her nose might be. She orders around two principle lackeys: Punch-Out’s King Hippo and Kid Icarus’ Eggplant Wizard. More appalling than Mother Brain is King Hippo’s dark, droopy nipples which draw your attention more than they should. As expected King Hippo is a dumb lug, while Eggplant Wizard is more inventive but lacks common sense. The two of them fail repeatedly. If Mother Brain got rid of them she would easily conquer video land by herself. Unlike Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the show doesn’t improve when we transition to the bad guys. Metroid, in this case, is no technodrome.

          

There’s a certain feeling I have when I approach my shelf and pick up my DVD of Captain N: The Game Master. I am filled with excitement and anticipation for a show with many of the favorite characters. At the same time, I feel ashamed to own it and want to hide it in my closet. Sometimes I feel like this time I pop in the disc it will be the show I always wanted it to be.

There is so much to cover with this series. In two future entries I will tackle individual episodes, humiliating moments and show goofs, while giving credit to the program’s music and sound effects, as well as crossovers to The Legend of Zelda series, and others. Until then, in the awkwardly adolescent voice of Kid Icarus:

“Princess, the palace is under siege!”

Sequence Breaking

You get the feeling you are the only person who knows about a secret or a glitch, when in reality it is so widespread there are fewer people who don’t know about it.

In The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past there exists a shortcut through the woods where a player can navigate to level four before stepping foot in Swamp Palace or Skull Woods. With only the hammer from the dark world’s first dungeon, a player can find a portal in the lost woods, then nab the titan’s mitt from Thieves’ Town. With these wonderful golden gloves the tempered sword is made accessible, making level two and three a piece of cake. Whipping the cheese balls coming off of Argghus with an upgraded sword is fun knowing, technically, you are not supposed to have it.

Super Metroid embraced sequence breaking. The development team programmed advanced moves into the game to encourage players to do just that. Bomb jumping (like in the original) and wall jumping can propel a player to heights conventional gameplay does not allow without certain upgrades. So why get the high jump boots then track all the way back for the spazer when the spazer is just a couple of wall jumps away? Another technique, known as the mach ball, allows players to accelerate in ball form allowing for early super missiles and ice beam, as well as a skip of the spore spawn boss. Bomb jumping can be aggravating unless you truly have it mastered. A player could spend an hour hopelessly blasting away getting nowhere without perfect timing. And the reward is not as great as the one for one-hundred consecutive super jumps in Super Mario RPG. Before I perish, I will earn the super suit.

Super Mario RPG is so polished that game designers accounted for a possible early sequence break. Later in the game, from Land’s End a secret exit leads back to Kero Sewers for the cricket jam which can be traded to Frogfucious for ten frog coins. Back in Kero Sewers Mario finds himself on what was previously thought to be an inaccessible high ledge. but crafty players found a way around it. Draw a boo near the wall, then jump on top of it to enter a fight sequence. Run away from the fight and the boo will flicker for just a moment essentially acting as a platform. Quickly hop on the boo and up to the high ledge to barely reach the Land’s End pipe. But don’t get your hopes up. When you enter the pipe and seemingly pass 70% of the game, the nervous Shy Away will approach you saying “This is a dead end, so it’s best to turn back now.” He’s right that you do reach an area you cannot pass, but it’s also good advice to turn back since you will get your ass handed to you by these later enemies. Kudos to Square’s game testers for spotting this possibility before the game reached the production line.

I had a sickening satisfaction when I began a new game of the original Legend of Zelda and decided to defeat level seven first. Unprepared, I made a fool of myself. After quickly gathering bombs, two heart containers, and the white sword I braved level five. Although I died a handful of times in the swarms of dark nuts trying to get the recorder, I was eventually successful thanks to the shooting sword. When I brought the recorder back to the “pond where fairies don’t live” I had an inkling I was missing something. I plowed through a few rooms coming to an impassible stream. At that point, I realized I needed the ladder. Thankfully level three and four were nearby so I returned with the ladder in mere minutes. On my way back I realized I needed the food to pass the hungry goriya. Thankfully, I had enough rupees so I picked up a cheap piece of meat from the blue ring shop and returned to level seven with everything I could possibly need.

It seemed like a lot of work for a sequence break, but when I held level seven’s triforce having never set foot in level one or two it felt like it was all worth it. Also, I had a new appreciation for the boomerang and realized how much I took it for granted over the last twenty-two years

Remember the first time you beat all five star worlds in Super Mario World it somehow led you to the front door of Bowser’s castle? I was disappointed when I discovered this shortcut because what was the point of completing the rest of the game? Then again, that carries on Mario tradition since in the NES classic a player could find his or herself in level 8-1 in about five minutes. Or in Mario 3 a player could get there in about the same amount of time. AVGN rightly points out that the kid from The Wizard would have no idea where to find two whistles in Super Mario Bros. 3 the first time through. I guess that Jimmy kid was a savant, but it’s still tough to believe.

 

“Ones who does not have triforce can’t go in.” Okay. Despite the terrible “all your base are belong to us” translation, the message is understood. I am forced to do Legend of Zelda’s level nine last. As much as I would like to maneuver my way to the red ring and silver arrows before beating aquamentus in level one, I understand. But explain to me this: how did the old man find himself in the dungeon? You know, the guy living a quiet life deep in a cave of monsters whose only human interaction is ordering Link to “Go to the next room.” He doesn’t have the triforce. And who is that guy think he is telling us we can’t enter without the triforce? Shouldn’t he encourage link to save Hyrule whenever he felt it was feasible? What do you really need before going in? Essentials include four bombs (found or purchased for just twenty rupees), one key (found or purchased for eighty rupees) and the bow (discovered in the first dungeon). Let me in, old man. I am trying to rescue Zelda from that filthy pig warlock, save Hyrule, and set an all time record in the process. Has anyone found a way to glitch through the triforce douche in level nine?

It wasn’t much of a sequence break, but in The Secret of Mana, you can return to Potos Village despite being permanently banished for taking that ghost’s advice when he told you to pull the sword out of the river. It takes careful maneuvering, but you can get one of your party members behind the guy who spends his life keeping you out of the town. At this point tap select and control that character who has passed through the blocking guy. Once back in Potos you cannot accomplish anything, except an inexpensive rest for three gold pieces. The hometown discount is a surprise considering the permanent banishment.

  

Sequence breaking is pretty much lost on modern games. Final Fantasy XIII’s linearity cages me in as a gamer. Without the ability to attempt something new a game loses its replay value. I keep going back to Mega Man games because boss orders give so many possibilities. And I keep coming back to these other classics because each playthrough can be a little different due to more choices built into the game and sequence breaks that maybe you weren’t supposed to find. It’s all right. You can chuckle to yourself every time you acquire the titan’s mitt. And when you slay Argghus with the tempered sword you are just reaffirming to yourself you’re a clever bastard.

Final Fantasy VII Defines the Series

 

“Which is the best Final Fantasy game?” This continues to be one of the most fascinating debates in gaming. I will take the easy way out and say that’s a matter of preference. I will not get into which is my favorite, but instead explore the series’ most defining installment.

Dating back to the series’ inception in 1987, each work is a masterful collaboration. Genre leading graphics, music, story, and gameplay come together to create experiences so expansive the word “game” barely does them justice. Select devoted youtubers have discovered every nook and cranny the titles offer and aren’t embarrassed by the ticker next to their name. Some gamers play their way to the highest allotted time, which eventually freezes (99:59:59 here).

In seventh grade dinosauric Ms. Johnson posted our love poems on the wall. What possessed her to order twelve-year-olds to compose love ballads and reveal them I’m not sure. But Tim Contraros, who was my friend but not, composed his work in tribute to Final Fantasy VII; the series’ most transcendent epic. Tim even illustrated on the top of his paper:

I must have been missing out on something. At a time where my friends and I pasted ourselves to Mario Kart 64 and Goldeneye 007 I was unaware that games could immerse you the way Final Fantasy could. I had no idea people waited in front of stores for days and some even broke windows to grab Final Fantasy VII on its release date.

Earlier in the nineties, Squaresoft hit it big with their series’ sixth incarnation, which was the third released in the US and the only one for the Super Nintendo. Final Fantasy III (but really VI) became an instant classic and upon its fiftyish hour completion fans grinded their teeth waiting to see how the series would venture to the third dimension in the next console generation.

Development on a CD expansion to the Super Nintendo—an effort to better Sega after the success of the Sega CD—gave Squaresoft a platform where they could incorporate video cut scenes into the next Final Fantasy. Nintendo partnered with Sony on their CD expansion while Square worked tirelessly on FFVII. The tables turned on Sony and the Final Fantasy franchise when Nintendo executives decided to abandon the CD expansion and focus instead on its third generation console, the cartridge-based Nintendo 64. Square felt betrayed by Nintendo, leading to a major fallout between the two companies.

As usual, Nintendo marched forward with Mario, Link, and Donkey Kong but Square found their alternative platform when Sony boldly released an independent version of the Super Nintendo CD expansion model they titled the Playstation. Square developed Final Fantasy VII over three years before its release in January 1997. Since, it has sold over ten million copies making it the franchise’s best seller.

Naturally, the game found its way to me. At first I didn’t understand the beefy jewel case. I learned the case was double thick because it housed three game discs. The game was so monumental it skipped the concept of two-disc games and went straight to three. Many hours into their quest, following a climactic cut scene a player would see artwork accompanying the message “Please insert disc 2.” You’re damn right I will. And you don’t have to say please.

Before Final Fantasy VII I played Super Mario RPG, another one of my favorites. But I hadn’t realized the system for acquiring and equipping items, and customizing characters was infantile in Super Mario RPG compared to the big boys. Fighting Culex was the game’s greatest challenge, but little did I know that “secret” boss and the terrific battle theme was born in Final Fantasy IV.

So I played. VII, IX, X, XII, XIII, and finally III.  I replayed VII at least twice, and IX and X at least thee times. I never played VIII after being told it was overrated. From what I had read, the characters and storyline were not appealing. I understand it wasn’t terrible, but I’m afraid of disappointment.

IX is the purest title. We’ll get to that later. X has the most engaging, whirlwind story. We’ll get to that later. But VII wins in gameplay. And VII wins in being the biggest leap into a higher level of hardcore gaming.

What draws people to RPGs is a player’s creative control over their world and its characters. FFX’s sphere grid was a unique system of developing (mostly secondary) attributes to our heroes and heroines, and FFIX fixed them in their traditional classes. FFVII, however pioneered a mostly customizable setup.

Materia, which could be socketed to any equipped weapon or armor granted bonuses in statistics while declining others. In addition, Materia granted characters magic spells and unique abilities differentiating them from their allies. A player is free to develop nine distinctive characters.

Strategically combining materia can give you a melee, long-range, and magic attacker. You can also develop a thief, a healer, and support magic character. Some characters can specialize in abilities like Mime or Manipulate where they can learn from and convert enemies. Some can become summoners and sacrifice major attack and defense losses but gain the ability to call upon legendary beasts dealing catastrophic damage. Choice is what makes an RPG fun. In the original Super Mario Bros. there exists two ways to defeat Bowser. Run underneath him at the proper time and chop down the bridge (why he leaves an axe there I have no idea), or blast him with fireballs. There are countless ways to strategize victory in Final Fantasy VII.

Arguably, the seventh game had the best characters. Instead of FFX’s whiny Tidus who felt like his father never loved him, you have Cloud Strife, an elite ex-Soldier with a murky history and amnesia. Instead of annoying white Jamaican Wakka in FFX, you have the arm cannon-toting foul mouthed Barrett. Instead of a personality-free Yuna, you have Tifa Lockhart beating down enemies with her fists. She is an emotionally strong female character, though she is more famous for her giant breasts. The hyper-intelligent demon dog Red XIII remains one of the series’ greatest characters. So does chain-smoking pilot Cid Highwind, the enigmatic Cait Sith, bubbly Yuffie, and vengeful Vincent Valentine. And, of course, poor dead Aeris.

What separated Final Fantasy VII from its predecessors and many of its successors is its proliferation of secrets and minigames. In addition to the regular questing and battling, Cloud would budget war strategies with an army general, snowboard, swing baseball bats at enemies while riding a motorcycle, and competitively race and breed giant chickens called chocobos.

Also striking was Final Fantasy’s use of cinematic cut scenes. At FFVII’s most pivotal moments players would break from their pixilated journey and view an advanced cinematic of a crucial event. Scenes like Aeris’ death at the hands of the vicious Sephiroth are treasured memories in the world of nerds.

 

My friend Dan won’t play FFVII or FFIX because of their unimpressive graphics compared to XIII. Let’s be real. XIII is so cinematic and linear it’s not really an RPG. It’s more like an interactive movie, where 20% of the time you are afforded the opportunity to fight tedious enemies. FFX was a graphic marvel for its time, and its story is gripping, but as mentioned the characters are mostly hollow. Give me the classic Playstation Final Fantasies any day.

There’s a good reason why people keep coming back to these games. No matter which is your favorite, VII is incontrovertibly the most defining game in the series. No wonder why players have been demanding its PS3 HD remake for years. I would break a window to get my hands on that.

Mega Man 2 and Replay Value

If you aren’t a gamer, you probably have never heard the term “replay value.” When someone invests fifty dollars on a new cartridge or disc he or she is typically satisfied with the game’s life-consuming presence, even if only for a few days. When you’re playing you forget all your troubles. After completion sometimes the game returns to its dust cover or case and may be neglected for years. But some games are special enough to stay with you and going a few months without playing causes separation anxiety.

On my sixth birthday I uncovered Mega Man 2 from its birthday wrapping paper and I had no idea what I had in my hands. Five months earlier my father purchased our family a Nintendo Entertainment System, not long after my brother and I became totally enamored with it at my grandparents’ house. I had dabbled with Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and some other titles but to that point I had never heard of the blue bomber.

So I played.

And gosh was it ever difficult… To my delight instead of getting to a part I could not pass no matter how much exhausting effort (like level 3 in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) I had a choice of eight levels.

Eight robot masters, eight unique levels, eight special weapons.

And there was Mega Man, a harmless looking character completely armored blue without explanation. Was he human? Was he a robot? I could never really figure it out, but I assumed since everything else in the game seemed to be robotic, that Mega Man was much the same.

There was a comforting side scrolling familiarity. Mega Man could jump with the A-button, like Mario. And like how a properly armed Mario shot fireballs with the B-button Mega Man fire up to three consecutive beige pellets. Though on the package he carried a gun not unlike the Nintendo’s zapper, in the game the cannon was affixed to his arm. Where one of his forearms should have been there was the shape of a thick barrel, the character’s most recognizable feature.

Like when the Angry Video Game Nerd bravely attempted Silver Surfer, I attempted every robot master in Mega Man 2 and died in every level. And this was on easy mode. However, the learning curve was gradual and every time I made it a few steps further. I got a rush of excitement every time I climbed a ladder or traversed a level’s section to see a new kind of enemy or power up. And occasionally I even reached a fabled shutter door, the clicking boundary signaling I had finally reached the level’s end. Yet the test was only half over. Most of the time when I reached bosses I had few units of energy remaining, rarely one extra life, and with few exceptions zero reserve energy tanks. So Metal Man, Wood Man, Bubble Man, and even Flash Man killed me again and again. And I still could not dash my way through Quick Man’s level’s deadly energy beams, or the disappearing blocks of Heat Man’s stage. One poorly timed platform and our hero found himself the lava ocean below.

When Mega Man is defeated he explodes into these tiny circular blasts of energy. They fly off the screen seemingly never to come back together again. But then like a miracle, Mega Man respawns at the level’s beginning or midpoint with a full vertical bar of life appearing completely unscratched. Unless of course it was your last life, where then you would suffer the game over jingle which pervaded nearly all games of the era, then be cursed back to the robot master select screen.

   

Then one day I killed Flash Man. I don’t know how I pulled it off. I assume I kamikazed my way through the shutter door pumping him full of lead while absorbing quite a few hits myself. And I promise you when Flash Man blew up and I shit my pants I had not more than three or four pixels of life remaining. Then I heard the heart-warming victory theme, was awarded Flash Man’s time stopping weapon, aptly named Time Stopper, and then Dr. Light showed up—this guy who looked like Santa Claus—and he gave me the mysterious item 3.

Not long after, I defeated Metal Man and Bubble Man. I remember proudly copying down the password, and enjoying typing it in when I resumed the game, starting with three of the eight bosses’ portraits replaced by empty, black spaces. Bubble Man, somehow, died in four hits with my newly acquired Metal Blade, so I figured all of these bosses had weaknesses.

   

But in 1991, I could not jump up to my laptop and ask google “How do I beat Air Man?” A gamer was left with nothing but his or her own wits and determination.

Bubble Man’s weapon proved to be useless. Mega Man plopped these big bubbles out of his cannon which merely crawled along the floor before deflecting off the next enemy. However, Metal Blade was a beacon of freedom. I now could shoot terrorizing blades in eight directions, and with few exceptions they torched most of the foes I encountered.

I defeated Wood Man, then Air Man, and I was left for weeks (or maybe months) with my three nemeses, Quick Man, Heat Man, and Crash Man.

Time Stopper, I discovered, could temporarily halt the deadly energy beams at Quick Man’s stage. But it wouldn’t last through the whole section. I had to maneuver through the first part myself, then activate it at the right time to pass through safely. And after what was probably hundreds of attempts I did it. I dropped down into a section where I was able to travel to the right again, knowing the shutter door couldn’t be far. And, like how it always goes, I reached Quick Man and he kicked my ass. Game over.

The also mysterious item 2, acquired from Air Man, gave Mega Man the ability to bypass the whole disappearing block section in Heat Man’s level. I soared past it all, moving more quickly than the blocks could generate. Then I found myself at Heat Man where after some trial and error I found that Bubble Man’s pointless weapon could dispose of him in only two well-aimed hits. Air Man’s Air Shooter murdified Crash Man in just a couple of shots, too.

And I was left with Quick Man, whom I battled again and again, and until finally, to my complete disbelief he, too, burst into energy spheres. Mega Man stood nonchalantly blinking, not understanding the enormity of his accomplishment, and collected his final weapon. Now what? Was the game over?

Hardly.

That summer I defeated every level in Dr. Wily’s castle while vacationing with my family in Ogunquit, Maine. Instead of enjoying the pool, the beach, and the candy shop in Perkin’s Cove, I was still transfixed by Capcom’s masterpiece. After I beat it as Dr. Wily begged in front of my feet for forgiveness, I just wanted to play again.

I wanted to defeat the robot masters in a different order. I wanted to collect as many lives and E-tanks as I could. I wanted to complete the game faster than before. So I played. And twenty years later I’m still playing.