Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life (GCN)
This game is honestly f*cking weird. It doesn't have background music walking around town, so it feels a bit eerie. The character models hit an uncanny valley to me at the time I played it because the GameCube's stunning graphics (I say that both ironically and unironically because, you know, context of the era) made games more capable of ~realism~. Realism was not the move for Harvest Moon. I just have really strong memories of being simultaneously fascinated and creeped out by this... experience, somehow following up on one of the more vibrant and cute games on the 64.
I know this just sounds like me dunking on it, but its strange choices made it extremely memorable and I played a lot of it. Better to be memorable than forgettable. And the songs it did have were all really nice and atmospheric.
Harvest Moon 64
This game doesn't have weirdness factor going for it like the GameCube installment, but rather is just a fun and wholesome game. The art style is very cute, the music is upbeat and homey, you have a dog and a horse, what more is there to say?? I never played any other installments in the series other than 64 and Wonderful Life, but I had so much fun coming back to this one endlessly that I'm perfectly fine with that.
Karen was the go-to wife btw.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
The aesthetics pretty much carry Skyward Sword for me. My love for this game is despite its motion controls - I'm thankful for the upcoming Switch release promising to fix that, but will I pay full price for an old game? remains to be seen - because if a game nails the aesthetics I'll forgive other sins.
I adore Fi's design and her figure skating routines are lovely. The world looks like a watercolor painting. You fly around on a bigass bird. Groose is there. It also has slam-dunk my favorite soundtrack in the Zelda series by a margin that is not close; I've included the sky island theme because it's absolutely lovely, but then the Lanayru Mining Facility BGM seamlessly transitioning between past and present is just *chef's kiss*. I find Skyloft to be a pleasant hub world, and the Lumpy Pumpkin a comfy hangout spot. The Ancient Cistern remains one of the coolest dungeon concepts I've ever seen in a game. Overall, it's a nice game.
Shame its sword controls are ass.
The game looks like an ink painting. It has a dedicated bark button. Flowers pop up behind you when you run. You play as a dog who is a goddess. A doggess.
I didn't actually beat Okami, but I didn't need to beat Okami for me to fall in love with it. I felt like I got everything I came for from playing as much of it as I did.
Sonic Adventure 2: Battle
There are other Sonic games that I like better, but this was the one that got me and my sister hooked. Beating this game was a collaborative effort.
(The collaboration was my sister doing 99% of the work and me doing one of the Final Story stages that she was stuck on.)
We have since been on a mission to fully 100% the game with all A-ranks, and we still haven't actually finished that. Mostly because I have the game and memory card so there's not much she can contribute at the moment, but I swear, someday, it'll happen.
SA2B has cool music and silly cutscenes and the moon gets blown up and you can 1v1 each other as chaos in mechs. Video games should have just stopped here, as this truly was the peak.
(I agonized over a representative BGM choice for this entry so hard, but listen, Rouge's level themes do not have any right to go this hard.)
Nee-ya hoo hrmmmm hmm m hmmmm hummmmmmm.
Nee-ya hoo hmmmm hmm hm hmmmmm hr hmm- hm.
Luigi's Mansion was the game that confirmed that, yes, the taller, greener brother does in fact have quite lovely bass vocals, even if he speaks in falsetto most of the time. The man has range in every sense of the term. What a lad.
I said earlier that I value aesthetics and memorability disproportionately highly, and as this game is pretty much nothing but spooky and interesting in that order, I respect it. I love that the soundtrack is just a Theme and Variations on one song (Sunshine as well; maybe that was just The Thing in the GameCube era) but the arrangements make it feel at times more unsettling than others depending on context. Luigi has different humming variations for high vs. low health, I mean, come on!
It also has a dedicated "call for Mario" button, which isn't quite as good as a dedicated barking button, but is still good.
I surprised myself by putting this game on my favorites list because I honestly don't like it very much. That said, it has Naoto, and one of my favorite game soundtracks ever composed. I don't care for very much else it has to offer, but oh my GOD the soundtrack is PHENOMENAL. I'll gladly play a mediocre game if it means I can listen to Signs of Love in-context while I do so, moreso if I get to meet gnc detective icon Naoto Shirogane in the process. (I really like the high school detective anime trope.) Plus a couple dungeon designs are really cool, Heaven and the final one in particular.
I want to play the game that the vanilla opening looked like it was going to be. Unfortunately, that game doesn't exist. But Persona 4 was worth me playing it a total of 3 times, despite all of my complaining; so I have to give it the credit it's due.
Persona 3 Portable
I split Persona 3: FES and Persona 3 Portable on this list because I have very different opinions of them and I think of them as almost completely different video games. They are both important to me, though, so I feel the need to properly mention both.
I love that Portable gave us a playable female character!! I identified as female at the time the game came out and that was so cool to me. Persona 2: Eternal Punishment also gave us a female MC but I haven't played that, and then Atlus apparently decided that it fulfilled its quota and doesn't need to do that ever again. Cool.
Anyway, P3P was great because the new female route also came with almost a totally new soundtrack, and the new songs are fantastic. Time is one of my favorites in the series. I also really loved a lot of the new social links, like Saori, who I don't remember much about other than that she was definitely gay. Good for her! Good for her.
Direct battle commands were not a big deal to me for reasons I'll get more into when my FES entry comes along (you're gonna be waiting a while though, as I really love that game), nor was having my party as social links. I missed being able to use any weapon I wanted. But I really liked the re-designed UI around not having an avatar who moves around, and portability in a game like this was a huge deal at the time, because I had previously associated "portable" with "small game". 60+ hour JRPGs with 3D models fitting on handheld consoles was unbelievable - remember, this predates the Vita and 3DS. A lot's changed in a decade. Stuff had to be chopped to make this work.
Cutscenes were an unfortunate loss, but overall, Portable was very important to me throughout high school and I still think of it fondly. Good memories having my PSP out during lunch as a vessel to listen to "Wiping All Out" on repeat.
New Danganronpa V3
Listen to this song to get in the mood, put on your tinfoil hat, and hear me out on why I love this game so much while also thinking it has some of the worst mystery endgame writing in history.
You know how I said "better memorable than forgettable" earlier? This is that. NDRV3 is definitely not forgettable.
New Danganronpa V3 was the only time I've played a game (not just any game, but one with a fantastic soundtrack and sick visuals, so I'm already hooked) that made me honestly feel like I was out-big-braining the game. Sure, in good mystery games, one generally enjoys the feeling of being bamboozled. But as this game's particular non-ending ~twist~ very explicitly explained just about f*ckall, it encouraged me - not my playable character, but me the player - to figure out what I think all those unfinished plot points really should have added up to in a better-written climax. To look at all of the assets and the trial progression they imply and figure out what the hell was going on in the writing room that it all got apparently tossed out the window.
The thing about NDRV3 is that, from the ending the game actually gave us, all stupid conspiracy theories are pretty much equally plausible. I've read some batsh*t stuff and I honestly cannot discredit any of it, because no one can. It's quite possibly what the writers had been going for at one point.
Why play a game that encourages you to make up conspiracy theories and then outsmarts you, when you can instead play one that encourages you to make up conspiracy theories and then argue about them on Reddit for the next 5 years as no one can actually prove anything?
Well, the desire to play a better game, for one. That said, NDRV3 got me interested in writing mystery because the mystery in the game itself is so disheveled and its awkward seams are so obvious. If a game has writing so uniquely unfinished that it inspires a player to think about the process behind writing mystery and to actually try their own hand at it for the first time, that game, somehow, did something right.
More importantly, it has an incredible soundtrack, the usual dose of murders, and the vibes are just excellent. None of that sunny island SDR2 garbage. Nah, we are back in spooky isolationsville, but this time with robots. The UI and colors are so good, "Despair Searching" slaps, the game is incredible speaking purely in terms of atmosphere. It also has a lot of interesting gameplay, both in trial (see: Lying) and outside of it (DANGANRONPA BUT THIS TIME, WITH PLATFORMING!!). Possibly intended to make it more fun if a player wants to re-play to try and figure out what the hell the plot is supposed to be, but who even cares, as it makes the first time around pretty cool.
The final major point in NDRV3's favor is that I absolutely love the protagonist, for reasons that are probably obvious to anyone who knows me even a small amount.
I don't even own Hyrule Warriors, but the point of Hyrule Warriors is to beat up mobs as random Zelda characters, and I was able to do that at a friend's house just fine. I have no interest in HW2 because it tries to have a story. The entire appeal of HW1 was playing as Princess Agitha and/or Darunia, and the designs for each character rule extremely hard. Thank you Hyrule Warriors for being the crossover I did not know that I needed but definitely, sorely did.