Category Archives: Video Games You Should Have Played By Now

Video Games You Should Have Played By Now: Final Fantasy Tactics Advance

Hello, and welcome to our latest edition of Video Games You Should Have Played By Now. Today’s installment is a very special one for me, because we’ll be covering a game that is precious to me, a personal favorite from my childhood that comes from that place where nostalgia meets genuine quality. That’s because we’re looking at Final Fantasy Tactics Advance for the GBA.

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Video Games You Should Have Played By Now: Bioshock

Hiya folks, and welcome to another installment of Video Games You Should Have Played By Now, where we take a look at some of the best video games ever created and try to discuss some of the things that make them so good. For today’s outing, we’re going to be looking at one of the most thought-provoking, intelligently written, and downright bone-chilling games ever created: Bioshock.

Before we get started in earnest, though, you should know that this article is going to contain some extremely heavy spoilers. A thorough discussion of Bioshock simply cannot be adequately done without mentioning one of the most brilliantly conceived plot twists ever seen in gaming (or in any medium, really). Having this moment spoiled for you would rob you of what is widely considered the defining moment of the game, and you should avoid such spoilers at all costs. You have been warned.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s jump into the game itself. Placing you into the role of the unassuming Jack, Bioshock brings the player into the ruined underwater city of Rapture, a place built to be a Randian scientific utopia, now turned to squalor. As you quickly discover upon arrival, Rapture has been turned to ruin by a civil war between founder Andrew Ryan (and no, his name is not a coincidence) and industrialist Frank Fontaine, who discovered a substance dubbed Adam which allows the user to manipulate their own genes. By the time you arrive, all that is left is a mob of Rapture’s crazed citizens as they murder each other in the street for the remaining Adam, with your only stated goal being to be to escape with your life.

With this as our setting, the team at Irrational Studios (2K Boston at the time) craft one of the most compelling and cerebral experiences ever created in the gaming industry. From the moment you wake up stranded in the ocean, to your super-powered showdown with the deranged Fontaine, Bioshock is a game that will keep you on the edge of your seat. But while the game gives the player solid gunplay, an intriguing set of powers, and robust character advancement, none of these things are what make Bioshock unforgettable; rather, it is the strength of the setting, and the way that it actively brings the player into the experience that Bioshock one of the best video games ever made.

From the moment you step out of the bathysphere (or rather before you even emerge, in fact), the game wastes no time in establishing a very evocative setting. To start with, the world of Rapture is steeped in shadows menace, with enemies constantly lurking in the darkness, raving and chattering in the periphery. But even more than the madmen and the gloom, the game is given a haunting, creepy atmosphere by the mystery and ruination of the world around you.

The city of Rapture is one of the most fully articulated environments in gaming. It is not only packed with detail and beautiful Art Deco design, but it also comes come with a past all its own. Andrew Ryan’s attempt at utopia has its own detailed history, ideologies, conflicts, intrigue, and leading individuals, but you are not there to see any of its defining events take place. By the time you arrive, Rapture’s glory days are already long behind it, with nothing but a shell of the former city left behind. As such, the player is made to take a novel approach to discovering Rapture’s complex backstory: sifting through its rubble. Throughout the course of the game, the player discovers a number of tape recordings left behind by the city’s denizens which slowly piece together Rapture’s horrific past. Through this process, you uncover the nature of the enemies you face, the philosophies and aspirations of those who built Rapture, and the conflict that tore the city apart.

And there is nothing you can do about any of it. In one of the many examples of the developers upending the typical gaming experience, the player has no power to save the city because there’s nothing left to save. All these people whose recordings you’ve been listening to, with the exception of Dr. Tenenbaum, are either killed by the player or are already dead, and have been for a very long time. Coming across some of their corpses, in fact, make for some of the most surreal moments in a very surreal game. The knowledge of Rapture and its mysteries always seem locked away in the past where we cannot reach them, and even with what we can piece together, we will never know what Rapture used to be, and it is all the more tantalizing because of it.

If you’re not trying to save the day, though, what exactly are you doing in Bioshock? The simplest thing in the world: surviving. Jack (and through him, the player) is no messiah, but rather a weapon (more on that later). From the player’s perspective, though, you’re just trying to get out alive. By making our motivation so simple, the game instead focuses most of the player’s attention upon their own actions and what few choices they are allowed to make. Which leads us fairly neatly into the other aspect which makes Bioshock so special, the way it incorporates the player into the game world and makes them question their actions and assumptions.

As you walk around the city, you will quickly discover that the there are more than raving Splicer thugs running around as you come across what are perhaps the two most memorable residents of Rapture: the Little Sisters and the Big Daddies. In terms of both gameplay and Rapture’s power dynamic, the Little Sisters and Big Daddies are something of an anomaly, as they are effectively noncombatants who wonder around the gameworld gathering Adam from the dead. For the player, though, the Sisters represent your means for advancement, for if you can best their hulking protectors, you can take the Adam from their bodies. It is at this point, though, that the player has to make a very profound decision: are you willing to murder a child? 

You could spare them, but that would mean giving up a larger share of Adam, the only thing in the game that can make you stronger. The thing is, though, that Bioshock will make you feel it if you decide to go through with it. Where lesser games might reduce such a process to text on a screen or otherwise disassociate the player from their actions, Bioshock forces you to watch as the child struggles in you arms before she dies.  And you can’t even get this far without first fighting a Big Daddy, a creature which will do nothing to harm you unless you first attack the child it is protecting. As intimidating as the Big Daddy is, at the end of the day, it bears you no malice and seeks no quarrel; any confrontation is at your behest, and so once again, you bear the responsibility.

And this is just one example of the way Bioshock brings you into its world and makes you feel the gravity of your actions. Dealing with the Little Sisters manipulates the player’s emotions (and diminishes any detachment they might feel) better than most any game out there. And yet it is the way the game manipulates your mind that is best remembered. Most of you probably already know where I’m going with this, but the scene that best defines Bioshock can be found when you finally confront Andrew Ryan in his office, where you learn that everything you thought about yourself and what you were doing was a lie.

Just on its own, this already a smart, well-executed plot twist, one that fundamentally alters our perception of the entire game, one that is up there with the likes of System Shock 2 or The Usual Suspects. But upon closer examination, we begin to appreciate that the true genius of this scene runs much deeper than that. Because it wasn’t just the character Jack who had been acting as a puppet at the end of Fontaine’s strings.

You were as well.

Ever since the game began, you haven’t been watching Jack following directions; you were following them yourself. You picked up the radio,  you found the wrench, and you murdered Ryan. You did as you were told. Of course you did. How many times have you already done it before, following the directions of your kindly guide as you move through the game world? I know that I’ve done it dozens of times at least. At the end of the day, then, am I really all that different from Jack?

Now, you could of course argue that it’s not like the game world gave you much of a choice; there’d be no point in playing Bioshock in the first place if you’re just going to sit on your hands in the bathysphere the whole time. So, no, you didn’t have any say in the matter. But then, neither did Jack. This, I think, encapsulates the brilliance of Bioshock: it doesn’t just show you a hapless soul being manipulated, it gives you the experience of being manipulated yourself in a way that can only be accomplished in video game, where you are ostensibly in control of the action. Over the course of one narrative, you experience both the sting of coercion at the hands of Atlas and the weight of dire decisions as you deal with the Little Sisters. And because the game doesn’t give you any distance between yourself and your avatar, you feel both of these extremes in a very profound way.

With such craft and care that went into such elements, it is little surprise that so many people consider Bioshock to be one of the greatest video games ever created. As outstanding as Bioshock is, though, it does naturally have some shortcomings. The one that stands out the most to me is the lack of consequence for dying; you’ll wake up in the nearest Vitachamber with a little bit less cash, but will otherwise be just fine. In essence, this means that can effectively throw yourself at any obstacle until you wear it down.

But any complaints I have about this game are mere nitpicks, and amount to nothing when stacked up against the games astronomical successes. The city of Rapture is so fully fleshed out that you could spend hours just pouring over its nuanced backstory. And perhaps more than any game I’ve ever played, Bioshock makes you think about what you are doing and who you are fighting. Playing Bioshock is an experience, one that should be had by most any gamer. If you haven’t played it (and for some reason ignored my spoiler warnings), go out and get it today. You won’t be disappointed.

So there we have it! What did you think? Please leave a comment below, and thanks for reading!

Video Games You Should Have Played By Now: Majora’s Mask

Hiya folks! Taylor here, and I’m glad to be bringing you something new today. Those of you who have been to Outright Geekery before might have noticed our Comics You Should Have Already Read By Now articles; well, there’s quite a few video games that deserve recognition too, so we needed a new segment. Enter: Video Games You Should Have Played By Now! Basically, what we’re trying to do here is shine a spotlight on some of the best video games ever made, and try to break down what makes them the best of the industry.

And what better game to showcase in our inaugural outing than an entry in the venerated Legend of Zelda franchise? So that’s just what we’ll do! But while looking at Zelda may be an obvious choice, we’re going to be focusing today on an entry you might not expect to see first. That’s because we’re going to feature the other N64 Zelda masterpiece: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.

Majora’s Mask has Link questing in Termina, a strange realm that seems like a shadowy reflection of Hyrule. Soon after he arrives, he meets the Skull Kid, a strange imp that steals his ocarina and warps his body into that of a Deku Scrub. This is just the beginning of Link’s problems, though, as he learns that the Skull Kid, empowered by the enigmatic Majora’s Mask, has been wreaking havoc in a number of different ways, not the least of which is pulling a moon with a distorted grimace down upon the land, dooming it in a mere three days. Armed with a number of magical masks in addition to his usual tools, Link is tasked with awakening Termina’s guardian spirits and recovering Majora’s Mask to save the land.

Now, it’s not exactly a secret that the Zelda franchise has a wealth of quality games to choose from, drawing upon nearly thirty years of outstanding entries, more than one of which is on many a shortlist for greatest games ever. So why, of all the Zelda games I could have chosen, did I single out Majora’s Mask to be the first in the series to write about? And for the first ever installment no less. I mean, it’s not like I think Majora’s Mask is the best game ever made, or even the best Zelda game. I’ve played Zelda games that have better gameplay mechanics. I’ve played Zelda games that have better bosses, and with better overall dungeons and puzzles. I’ve certainly played Zelda games that are longer (that is, with more than a mere 4 dungeons).

But I have never played a Zelda game that has haunted me like Majora’s Mask has.

I’ve thought long and hard about the effect this game has on those who play it, and I can’t think of a better term than haunting. Not in the sense that it torments you or makes you wake up in a cold sweat; no, it’s haunting because of the way it seeps into your mind and through your thoughts, the way it sticks with you long after you put away the controller. This is a game that refuses to let you go, and will make you love it all the more because of it.

The reason for this is hard to quantify exactly, but I think perhaps the greatest contributors are the environment and atmosphere, which in turn are the result of the setting and those that populate it. Majora’s Mask is a game that relishes in being bizarre and off-putting. As you interact with the world, it never really wants to let you find your center as you deal with a range of characters, some strange and some downright creepy (the Happy Mask Salesman is a particular standout). No matter where you go, though, there is one element that pervades your experience like no other: dread.

Not fear. Not menace. Just a small dread that is elusive yet inescapable.

As you travel throughout the land of Termina, you are constantly exposed to the gloom and despair of the land’s denizens. You are, after all, moving through a doomed world coping with problems even beyond the imminent crash of a falling moon. Your journey takes you to a mountain village locked in an eternal winter mourning a fallen champion, to a forlorn land where all that remains is the pain and regret of those long dead, and a wide range of hardships in between.

But while I think that these epic-level catastrophes are very compelling, I believe that there is even more power to be found in the smaller, more personal problems of the everyday people. Perhaps more than any other Zelda title, Majora’s Mask showcases a level of craft and care in populating the world with intriguing characters, and watching them cope with a seemingly inevitable disaster draws you to them in a variety of ways.

The real beauty of it all, though, is the way in which these nuanced characters and setting are complimented and reinforced by the aesthetics and music the game employs. Majora’s Mask never seems to find the color and cheerfulness that were on such proud display in games like Wind Waker; even in the sunlight, Termina is set in muted colors and dulled lighting. The music, too, has a creeping vibe to it in the dungeons, and even the main overworld theme becomes more frantic and panicked as your time slips away. Even ambient noises are not your friend; everywhere you go in Clock Town, for instance, you cannot escape the constant noise of ticking clocks, an additional reminder of your looming deadline. Not that you could forget, what with the ever-present timer at the bottom of the display, and the foreboding bulletins that blanket the screen (e.g. Dawn of The Final Day: 24 Hours Remain). Even the ground itself shakes beneath you on the Final Day, when your doom is nigh. All of this and more ensures that every facet of the game creates a dire mood, and is a breathtaking example of smart design choices working in concert to create a cohesive experience.

Perhaps the best illustration of this blending of characters, music, and aesthetic can be found in Clock Town during the final hours before annihilation. As soon as the clock strikes midnight on the Final Day, the Carnival of Time begins even as the moon blots out the sky. The fireworks that ring out signal a shift in the world around you, as you move through the empty streets. The music, which had been repeating the same tune with less and less harmony, changes entirely into something new and melancholy. It somehow manages to be both gloomy and serene, a creeping, forlorn melody that conveys sorrow, but with acceptance and without malice. The moon seems to hang mere feet above the clock tower, its distorted grimace maddening. And the few people that remain behind are stuck in states of denial, panic, or depression. We have Mutoh, standing defiantly in the town’s main square, stuck in denial even as death stares down at him from above. We have the Swordmaster, whose brave facade finally cracks as he is reduced to sobbing alone in the back of his dojo. We have the Postman, who is torn between his sense of duty and his desire to flee, crippled by indecision. And we have Madame Aroma, who simply sits in a bar, mourning for her lost son, waiting for it all to end. All together, this sequence is executed masterfully, with every element making you feel the town’s desperation and despair.

Cheerful stuff, huh? But that’s the world of Majora’s Mask. Termina is truly a world without hope.

So you’ll just have the bring the hope yourself.

What keeps Majora’s Mask from being just a soul-crushing exercise in Nihilism is your ability, as Link, to set right this world gone wrong. You may not be able to fix every problem, but you can do genuine good. You can save the life of an innocent prisoner falsely convicted. You can bring spring to a frozen land and give peace to the ghost who watched over it. You can break the depression of a young mother by returning her stolen children to her. You can lift a curse of the vengeful dead to reunite a father and daughter. And yes, you can save this doomed world.

It is true that saving the world is pretty much what you always do in a Zelda game. But rarely has it felt this satisfying or this personal. Because this world was so bleak, the warmth you bring is all the more profound; the light shines brightly precisely because of how deep the shadows are. And once again, the setting and characters were so well-crafted that you feel their relief just as surely as you felt their sorrow.

I can think of no better illustration of this than the game’s most lengthy sidequest, where you solve the dilemma  Anju and Kafei. A pair of lovers set to be wed the day after the apocalypse, Anju and Kafei are beset by tragedy when Kafei is transformed into a child by the Skull Kid. Worse yet, his wedding mask is stolen by a thief, who sees a mere boy as an easy target. When you first start out, though, you know nothing of this; all you can see are a mysterious kid running around in a Keaton mask and a sullen innkeeper, with no reason at all to connect the two. As you play the game, you slowly uncover more and more of the mystery, just before you hit another dead end. Finally, towards the end of the game, you are able to help Kafei find and recover his mask, and return to Clock Town to find Anju waiting for him. It is here, after a long series of arduous tasks, that the player receives their very simple reward: with the world dying around them, the two exchange their vows with Link serving as their witness.

For me, this was the most powerful moment from the whole game, and I’m not alone in that assessment. Why does it strike such a strong chord with so many people? I can tell you that it’s not because of the material incentives; the Couple’s Mask that you receive is almost entirely useless, good for exactly one Piece of Heart. But you aren’t really bothered by that, because the moment itself is better than any bauble could ever be. All your work, all your hardship over a repeating time-cycle, pays off when you see this couple reunited. Letting them find their happiness in a world on the brink of ruin makes for one of the most genuinely heartwarming scenes I’ve ever seen in a video game. They don’t have much, but they have each other, and that’s enough for them at the end of all things.

That, to me, is what makes Majora’s Mask so special: finding beauty within that strange, dark world.

Now, I’ve just spent a while gushing on Majora’s Mask, and you might be asking yourself “Didn’t this guy say that Majora’s Mask wasn’t his favorite Zelda game?”. Yes, I did, and as strange as it might seem at this point, I stand by that. As stated earlier, there are only four dungeons, only one of which, the Stone Tower Temple, is particularly good; the Great Bay Temple, on the other hand, is awful, while the other two aren’t that memorable at all. There are also issues with the controls, which have not aged well. And to top it all off, if you play the game to completion and earn the Fierce Deity Mask, the final boss is laughably easy.

That being said, this is still an outstanding video game, one that any Zelda fan (and indeed any gamer) should experience. While it may have its faults and may not be the best Zelda game, I would argue that it is the most artistically made. And one that might very well BE the best if it were given updated controls and some dungeon-tweaking (UPDATE: And now there IS in fact a remake!). Playing this game is a cerebral experience, one that is an amazing example what developers can accomplish by coordinating all aspects of setting, narrative, visuals, music, and characters to create an artistic experience. The result is a game of splendid bleakness that works its way into your head and rewards your scrutiny. There is a reason this game has developed a fanatical following, and it is little surprise that the intricately crafted dark setting has led to compelling theories and even ghost stories.

Majora’s Mask takes root in your thoughts and refuses to leave. Once you play it, it will haunt you forever.

And you’ll love it for it.