Looking Back on: the 2007/2008 Diehard Gamefan Staff Commentaries

(Well, ’tis the season, so let’s look back on Staff Commentaries of yesteryear, partly because I’m thinking about it at this moment, and partly because, with how… not bad but uninspired gaming was this year, certainly… it helps to look back at prior years and say “Well maybe it wasn’t that bad…”)

1. Persona 3 (PS2)
2. Mass Effect (XB360)
3. Fire Pro Wrestling Returns (PS2)
4. Trauma Center Second Opinion (Wii)
5. Monster Hunter Freedom 2
6. Front Mission DS (DS)
7. Rock Band (XB360)
8. Earth Defense Force 2017 (XB360)
9. Spider-Man Friend or Foe (Multi)
10. The Darkness (XB360)

(Yeah, that’s… definitely a 2007 list alright.)

God, there are so many games I wanted to include on this list that I couldn’t even put on here; Virtua Fighter 5 with online for the 360 (Which I didn’t touch more or less as soon as the year ended.), the GBA re-release of Final Fantasy VI (one of the best RPG’s ever, I don’t care what anyone says) (I would say, at this point, that FFVI is the best traditional JRPG on Earth, and will likely never be surpassed. Come at me.), Raving Rabbids 2 (Nope.), Resident Evil Umbrella Chronicles (I played that one for a hell of a long time afterward, actually.), Warriors of the Lost Empire (one of the best PSP games this year) (Well, to a point; hindsight says it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be.), Hokuto No Ken (Fist of the North Star, a JP only 2D fighting game for PS2) (I am… mostly certain I included that to establish my “indie” credentials, not because the game was in any way good, because it was unbalanced as fuck.), Etrian Odyssey (HAHAHAHA no.), and even more… the list goes on and on. But we’re limited to ten, and of everything I played this year, the ten I picked were the best I played.

Persona 3 was a prime example of old-school dungeon crawling goodness mixed with old-school sensibilities and heavy plot emphasis, and it WORKED. (Well, sort of. At the time I had not yet sickened of the “characters do what they want” mechanics, or seen the FUCKING TERRIBLE ending, so I feel I’m allowed a little slack here. In retrospect I’m please that Persona 3 paved the way for Persona 4, but otherwise, fuck it right in the pussy.) Mass Effect was an action RPG with a strong story and fun gameplay that was a strong resurgence for Bioware… just in time for them to be bought out by EA, but nevermind. (Yeah, Mass Effect didn’t hold up as well as I’d have liked, but I still prefer the franchise to Dragon Age, shitty ending and all.) Fire Pro Returns was an American localization of one of the greatest wrestling franchises in Japan, and a long time dream for yours truly. (I still play Fire Pro Returns TODAY, as a matter of fact. With the possible exception of WWF No Mercy, you will likely never see a better wrestling game, especially now that Aki is dead and Fire Pro is apparently being used for fucking 360 Avatars.) Trauma Center Second Opinion was the great gameplay from the first game, only with 2-player co-op making it even better. (Second Opinion still holds up reasonably well. New Blood, as regular stream viewers know, kind of is unbalanced as fuck.) Monster Hunter Freedom 2 was great times with friends slaying giant monsters in snowy fields. (Unite was the game where I finally got down and conquered every last monster in the game, and stands as the pinnacle of the series for all logistical intents and purposes. It is almost certainly not going to be unseated by Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, and frankly, until Capcom gets their metaphorical heads out of their asses and releases one of these for a console that isn’t owned by Nintendo, it’s likely not going to do the numbers it could do.) Front Mission DS was the first time I actually found myself enjoying a series that, until recently, I wanted to love but always hated. (You would think robot building mixed with strategy games would be something I’d be passionately into, but nope, Front Mission DS remains the only version of the series I actually like.) Rock Band was the ultimate four-player party game and a really amazing multiplayer experience in general. (I played the hell out of the entire franchise until Rock Band 3, since the unlockables basically sucked out loud and it just… wasn’t fun anymore. The fact that the plastic instrument subgenre of gaming has more or less died kind of tells me I wasn’t the only one.) Earth Defense Force 2017, despite being not very good on a technical level, was and remains an absolutely insane blast to play. (Everything that came after it, on the other hand…) Spider-Man Friend or Foe is a fun, simple 3D beat-em-up that is, surprisingly, GOOD considering how many Spider-Man games aren’t. (It’s certainly better than anything Beenox has developed. Come at me.) And the Darkness was a truly innovative FPS with a strong narrative, well-written characters and enjoyable gameplay. (I still love that game, even if I could never commit to sitting down with the sequel.)

2007 was a great year for gaming, all told, and here’s hoping 2008 is even better.

(Wow that was short. Let’s see if I can find 2008 to compensate.)


(Here we go.)

1. The World Ends With You (NDS)
2. Persona 4 (PS2)
3. Yakuza 2 (PS2)
4. Condemned 2: Bloodshot (360)
5. Spider-Man: Web of Shadows (360)
6. Fallout 3 (360)
7. Operation Darkness (360)
8. Endless Ocean (Wii)
9. Gears of War 2 (360)
10. Baroque (PS2)

(In retrospect, I’d probably swap the first and second place winners; I’ve become a full-on convert to Persona 4 as a franchise and eagerly await the stupid-ass dancing game, while The World Ends With You more or less ended with that game.)

Here I thought LAST YEAR was a great year for gaming. Yeesh. There are so many games I played this year that I really wanted to cram in here in some form or fashion: Soul Calibur 4, The King of Fighters ’98 Ultimate Match, Armored Core: For Answer, Fable 2, Mario Kart Wii, Left 4 Dead, (Most of that list I can safely say can stay in 2008, save one: KOF98UM is STILL fucking rad as hell.) and the list goes on and on and on. In the end, these were the ten games, above and beyond all others, that I had the most fun playing or enjoyed the most. They might not be the ten BEST games that came out this year, and they might not be the games I’d have nominated for whatever categories they would have fit into, but hey, I liked these the best, and it’s my list, so I’ll write about whatever I want. (Oh good, I’ve started developing a personality, fucking finally.)

The World Ends With You was, honestly, the most surprising game to come out this year; not only because it was incredibly different from anything that came out this year, but also because it was absolutely fantastic. (To be frank, it was incredibly different from anything that has come out ever, and the fact that Square Enix hasn’t revisited this despite it making back its money and then some while feeling five million units sold is a bad sales number for Tomb Raider says so much about their company in specific and the state of gaming in general, none of it good.) The combat system was unlike anything we’ve seen in any RPG before or since, the visuals and audio were outstanding, (I still listen to the soundtrack even now, for what that’s worth.) and the characters were surprisingly likable and interesting, especially since many of us here don’t have a terribly high opinion of Square-Enix as it relates to their ability to tell a compelling story, myself included. (Yeah, in their side projects they tend to tell interesting stories, either directly or through in-house teams, but hand the plot to someone inside the Square Enix big-francise system, and look out; best case it’s a Dragonball ripoff, worst-case it’s Final Fantasy VII or Final Fantasy X. Fuck you, those plots were shit.) The game delivered on all possible levels: it was fun, enjoyable, well-written and presented, and offered plenty of replay value to boot. Unless you hate JRPG’s with an undying passion (Which is entirely possible), you’ll more than likely fall in love with the game just because it does everything that it does exceptionally well. (Well, Yahtzee didn’t like it, but he doesn’t like a lot of things. Though I find that, as we both age, and we’re apparently roughly the same age which is weird, I find that he’s mellowing to games I’ve always liked, and I’m starting to agree with the things he hates. I don’t know what that means, except possibly that developers need to stop releasing so much mediocre and disappointing shit, unless they want to deal with an army of snarky assholes as their primary customer base. Though I’ll never understand his love for Bioshock. Fuck that thing.)

Persona 4 is the sort of game that, for whatever reason, resonates with me far more than its predecessor did, and I can’t adequately explain why in any other way than by saying “it’s a better game”. (Now watch as I do just that.) The story is more interesting, the ending is less depressing, the characters are generally as or more interesting than their counterparts, the “mystery solving” concept is neat, and the game feels like a throwback to Persona 2: Eternal Punishment in so many enjoyable ways while still managing to do its own thing that I can’t help but love it. (Exactly so. P4 is only dwarfed in its storytelling capabilities by P2 IS/EP, insofar as games in its franchise go, and the fact that we were a couple years removed from having an even better version thrust into our waiting paws is astonishing to me.) The mechanics have been dramatically improved (you don’t get sick anymore, you can control your allies, advanced ally Personas are earned by maxing out their S. Link instead of at set points in the storyline, and so on), and the game is shorter but no less involving. (Of all of the mechanical changes, aside from letting me have full control, the “advancing the Personas of your team by making nice with them” mechanic was the single best choice in the entire modern Persona franchise. Only allowing your allies to advance their Personas after you helped them come to terms with their emotional concerns was a big deal, and gave the game a real agency its predecessor lacked. I mean, why in the fuck do *I* care if Tanaka fucking likes me, in an age of no Trophies, when I don’t care about the Persona boost from his arcana? Fuck that. It’s more realistic, and makes more sense in the confines of the Persona 3 story, sure; the characters in that game were mostly insular people who didn’t really trust, or in some cases even like each other, so it makes sense that they’d have to learn and grow from their fuck-ups. It’s also a much less driving experience that offers less agency or connection to your “friends” in comparison however. You can say I’m wrong, and that’s fine, but last I checked, Akihiko Sanada was part of a “most annoying character” poll over at GameFAQs, not Kanji Tatsumi.) This left me feeling like I didn’t WANT it to end as I progressed, instead of getting one hundred hours into the game and tiring of the experience, as was the case with the prior game. (Four hundred hours and counting, bitches!) True, the game still has its faults, but that’s like saying that you’re not allowed to enjoy strawberry shortcake because it’ll make you fat. Just because something isn’t perfect doesn’t mean you can’t love it all the same, and if eating a second piece is worse, well, I’ll just loosen my belt for my second playthrough, thank you very much. (Though if Persona 5 does the “new navigator comes along to replace the original one, who then joins the combat party,” or “alien entity tries to understand/become human” subplots again I’mma choke a bitch.)

Yakuza was pretty much one of my favorite games the year it came out, and where goeth the father, so goeth the son, as Yakuza 2 was one of my favorite games this year, too. (Where the fuck did that come from?) The crime drama elements are a big part of that, as the story is basically mob drama done by the Japanese, and I’m a sucker for a good mob drama. The music is incredibly infectious and entertaining, and is great to listen to while beating the mess out of punks (or anytime, really). (Still listen to this soundtrack too. Wow, 2008 was a good year for video game music if nothing else, holy shit.) The game looks as great as ever, the characters are still well designed, and the fighting action still looks painful as hell. Beat-em-ups have always amused me, frankly, so it’s not a surprise that I enjoy playing the game a whole lot as well. Pummeling the hell out of every one and thing I meet that looks at me funny never really gets old. (I’m kind of worn on it after thr fourth one, mostly because it was a constant thing, but hopefully Yakuza 5 will rekindle the old flame.) It’s a shame the game didn’t receive the dub treatment of its predecessor, but then, no one BOUGHT the original game, so it’s hardly a surprise that the sequel was essentially released at a reduced price with no dub to appease those of us who liked the first game. (Six years later, I have no memory of what the dub cast sounded like.) I’m sure no one bought this one either, presumably because they were too busy buying Sonic Unleashed or whatever. (Well they keep making Sonic games but we basically had to beg for Yakuza 5, so I guess the moral of the story is kids like terrible things.)

Speaking of poorly selling games Sega published, Condemned 2 is another sequel to a game that inspired me with much love which also inspired me with much love, though for entirely different reasons. The original Condemned was a game where you’d hit a bum in the face with a locker door and watch him spit teeth, which was about as awesome as an FPS about brick-and-bat bumfights could possibly be. (I stole that line from Joel and I’m not ashamed of that fact.) However the game lacked a certain something that the sequel was more than capable of grabbing onto. The combat in the sequel was as violent and intense as ever, but Condemned 2 was really about giving the player more of everything else. From the psychological torment of the protagonist to the forensic analysis to the interesting set-piece battles (Including fighting a rabid bear, which was and will forever be a whole lot of awesome) and beyond, Condemned 2 was flat-out one of the most awesome experiences I’ve had all year. (Yahtzee didn’t like this one either, sadly, though he didn’t like it because of the “evil cult” subplot at the end, which I can completely understand, except for the part where screaming dudes made their heads explode. I’ll take nothing but evil cult subplots if I can turn a game into Scanners with some FUS RO DAH action, thank you.) The plot was a little silly at times, and the entire Magicman stage felt tacked-on, but frankly, I didn’t have so much fun with an FPS all year, and I don’t think anything save for F.E.A.R. 2 and maybe a Condemned 3 will be as exciting an experience to the horror fan in me for a good long while. (Nope; F.E.A.R. 2 was mediocre, as was its sequel, and we never saw a Condemned 3, as Monolith was bought out by Warner Bros shortly after, and most recently developed that Mordor game that’s winning awards everywhere despite the fact that no one especially though much of it, which says a lot about how this year was for gaming.)

Spider-Man: Web of Shadows is really only on the list, I openly admit, because I like Spider-Man. Not that it’s a bad game; it’s easily in my list of the five best games based around the character (With Spider-Man versus The Kingpin, Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man: Friend or Foe, and Sega’s arcade beat-em-up taking the other four spots), (That list, as we discussed prior, still holds up today, though Friend or Foe has simply been replaced by the Sega CD version of Spider-Man. The placement varies, save for the fact that one of the 16-bit games generally takes the top spot, the beat-em-up takes the bottom, and the other three swap as needed.) and it’s a fantastic game in most respects. Yes, there are visual glitches, and yes, the game hangs occasionally. The storyline is occasionally illogical and it’s impossible to have a happy ending with the Black Cat. (THAT STILL PISSES ME OFF TODAY.) I know, I know. It doesn’t matter. Spider-Man feels like Spider-Man, both because of the always-awesome web-swinging action and because the combat is, frankly, flat-out spectacular. (Perhaps Amazing! Maybe even… Web of! Wait, shit.) Some people have complained about how the combat is about mashing a button forever, and I suppose I can’t argue about that. I mean, yeah, I can make Spider-Man whup up on an enemy like Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star and I can skateboard around on a symbiote’s face, but I can understand how pushing a button forever is boring. I mean, look at Bioshock! You call THAT fun? It’s just pressing the trigger for eight hours! There’s no fun in that! I, like, TOTALLY get it you guys! No More Heroes is OBVIOUSLY so much better, because I, like, wiggle my arm once in a while, am I right? Whatever. (This is in reference to the game scoring like shit, with the general public consensus being that the combat was repetitive. Four Beenox games later, I say, YOU SHOULD HAVE LISTENED TO ME ASSHOLES, IT CAN ALWAYS BE WORSE.)

Fallout 3 was pretty obviously not going to pay off its own expectations and hype, simply because everyone was expecting it to resurrect Jesus and cure cancer, so I’m fairly confident in saying that it was by no means what I was HOPING for, but it was absolutely everything I expected it to be. (I’ve kind of worn on Fallout 3 in specific, and Bethesda first person RPG’s in general, at this point.) Obviously, what I was hoping for was, well, Fallout: a game that would entirely uphold the original memories I had of that game, so many years ago, only better. This, obviously, did not happen, but I wasn’t really expecting it to. Instead, I’m happy with what I got: a game that’s incredibly long, incredibly in-depth, quite violent, and at least pays a significant amount of respect to the memory of its predecessors. There’s really no possible way to recapture the magic of the first two games, and to pretend such a thing IS possible is kind of silly at this point, and while Fallout 3 has its fair share of technical flaws (Getting stuck in the environment, for instance) and boneheaded ideas (Why, exactly, can’t I find a working vehicle when I could in Fallout 2?), it’s really not a bad game at all. If this is the closest we’ll ever get to the old Fallout we love, well, I think I can live with that. (New Vegas, on the other hand, can fuck right off.)

Operation Darkness is most likely a game I’m alone in loving (Well, J. Rose loves it too, but that’s still not much), but I don’t suppose I’m terribly surprised about that. (The game is werewolves, Frankenstein’s monster, Jack the Ripper, a female Van Helsing and Herbert West versus Dracula, Carmilla, dragons and Frankenstein. ANY sane person would at least love something about that.) The game looks poor, has some awkward play mechanics, and is unapologetically rough in the later stages of the game. I completely understand that other people wouldn’t love the game, and hey, whatever works for you. Me? I love the concept like it was one of my own children, because the whole thing screams “grindhouse flick.” I find the gameplay mechanics to be fairly easy to learn and understand, and I really don’t care about the camera problems because, seeing as how this is a turn-based game, it’s not like time is of the essence or anything. To me, fighting skeletal soldiers, giant dragons, Dracula, and a magic-using Adolph Hitler is really interesting enough to make a mechanically bad game enjoyable, and frankly, Operation Darkness is, at worst, a mechanically mediocre game, so I’m more than comfortable saying I enjoyed it more than a whole lot of other games this year. (Hardcore Gaming actually came right out and made the exact same point about the game in their write up, and while I don’t agree with all of it – good strategy games have permanent character death my ass – they do it as well as I ever could. That said, the writer makes the point that none of the reviewers mentioned the Valhalla Reports, which I totally did in my review, but then, I’m not… surprised they didn’t read it, sadly. It’s also sad, if you look at that second link, to realize that the dev team behind it had planned to release a trilogy of games, but everyone fucking hated the game, even Japanese reviewers, and it never went anywhere. The developer, Success, did a lot better with Rondo of Swords and the Touch Detective series, though these days they mostly make the same sort of discount games that D3 makes with the Simple Series. And now I’m super sad.)

Endless Ocean, aside from being incredibly enjoyable, is also incredibly hard to explain in a positive way to people who aren’t at all interested in it, though it’s fairly easy to sell to people if they’re willing to give it a shot. I could, at this point, bring up an anecdote about my burly bouncer friend loving the game because he can play it with his son, (Ah, yes, Mike, my mountain-sized friend who used to bounce at titty bars. These days he works as a mechanic, but he’s no less a source of amusing “games you wouldn’t think someone like him would like,” anecdotes, including this and Dokapon Kingdom. Though he blamed me for his kid discovering Katamari Damacy, which I had no hand in.) but I think instead I’ll talk about my Christmas spent with the family. My fifteen year-old cousin had, apparently, heard about the game from someone or another, and upon finding out I had brought it to the family get-together, asked me the question everyone inevitably asks about the game, “What do you do?” I replied that you swim and pet fish, because, well, that’s most of the game. He was less than thrilled with this concept, but wanted to see the game in action. So I booted it up and began fooling around, petting fish and such, as one would expect. The game somehow attracted the attention of every member of the family, presumably because of the song, “Prayer”, if the initial discussion about whether the song was Celtic in origin is any indication. (I still love that song to this day, and that’s four games with awesome soundtracks from 2008.) They then proceeded to admire the visuals of the undersea locales and the genuinely relaxing nature of the whole experience. In the end, that’s really what Endless Ocean is: relaxing. You don’t fight any monsters, kill any enemies, hunt for items and weapons, or figure out involved puzzles. Rather, most of your experience is spent just swimming around petting fish. Sometimes, after a long day of doing whatever stressful thing it is that you do at work, petting a fish while listing to pretty music is exactly what the doctor ordered. (The sequel is more or less the same, but with a little more structure, and both are a far cry from Everblue, the original Arika series this comes from, which had you upgrading boats and finding treasure while surviving sharks. Seriously. They make some weird games, man.)

Gears of War 2 is on this list pretty much because Horde mode is absolutely awesome, if my adventures with J. Rose, Shawn PC, and Matt Yaeger were any indication. (Still is in Gears 3, though nowadays everyone’s doing it so I can be a bit more discerning about what game I play it in.) I’m more than willing to note that Horde mode by itself is pretty much reason enough to own the game if you like playing games online and have friends who do as well. The story is fine, the visuals are pretty, the game plays fine, and yeah, all of these are good reasons to own the game. Honestly though, the major selling point for me is and will most likely always be the fact that I can play it with my friends and it’s fun. Since Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom has since been broken by patches, (Seriously, WHAT IS WITH developers patching things that aren’t broken in video games anymore? I can understand patching actual broken things, or unbalancing aspects in competitive games, but there is no need to balance patch games that are ONLY cooperative, especially if it’s going to drive away players. Oh, what’s that Konami? You don’t care that I don’t like that you patched Harmony of Dissonance because you have my money now? Well jokes on you, I haven’t bought a game of yours since, because I am petty as hell and I have fucking Gamefly.) Left 4 Dead loses its luster when you realize multiplayer is about all you can do with it, (Yeah and I’ll still never understand why people want a third one.) and Too Human was pretty terrible, (HAHAHA I still remember playing that with Matt and it fucking up constantly.) Gears 2 pretty much wins my “awesome multiplayer” award, especially since I don’t have to compete with Rainbow Road to deal with it.

The tenth spot was a tough spot for me to fill, but in the end, I really felt I had to go with Baroque. It wasn’t a great game, so to say, and it did a few things that kind of annoyed me to be certain, but I certainly did enjoy what time I spent playing it, and I was considering going back and playing it again to unlock a few things I missed the first time around. (I broke it out on the Livestream recently, and to say that the viewers were… incredibly confused would probably be a generous understatement.) Rather, Baroque makes the list because of the atmosphere and ambience of the product. In other words, it’s here because of its “artistic merit”, meaning I essentially nominated a game because it is “games as art” material. (Yes, I can be an artsy hipster sometimes too, fuck you.) I feel kind of dirty about that, but in fairness, it DOES contain one of my five favorite soundtracks, and since the other four games were already in the list, I felt bad about splitting them up, so there you go. (Yup, and that’s five. I dare say there is not another game release list with such an awesome soundtrack spread from 2009 onward, so I decree 2008 the best year in game soundtracks, if nothing else. It’s my list and I’ll do what I want.)

 

2 thoughts on “Looking Back on: the 2007/2008 Diehard Gamefan Staff Commentaries

  1. Good to see I’m not the only person who thinks Persona 2 and Persona 4 are the strongest entries in the series. Usually there’s a strange dichotomy between P1/P2 fans vs. P3/P4 fans, but I think P2 is a significant improvement over P1 and P4 is a significant improvement over P3. I actually think they’re roughly even in the storytelling department: they’re not flawless and I have some gripes with their narratives, but they’re definitely much better written than most video games out there. I’d say P4 is a slightly better game overall because the social sim aspects do a good job of immersing you in Inaba whereas P2 doesn’t have much that sets it apart gameplay-wise.

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    • I find that most people will generally agree that P2 is worlds better than P1; it’s either getting people to say this thing while admitting they like one of the modern Persona’s that’s rough. That said, I feel like P1 was Atlus’ experimental release, where they tested the waters, and P2 was their more robust, fleshed out game, while in P3/P4, it’s a matter of opinion; I mean I dated a lady who basically told me point blank that she loved P3 more because its story was more miserable, and thus more realistic, sooooo to each their own I guess.

      I think mechanically I like P4 significantly better but plot-wise it’s a toss-up; I like the “Philemon vs Nyartholotep” dynamic of P2 just as much as the “Scooby Gang solves mysteries” of P4, but P4 does a lot more with its characters, while P2 is more interested in its weird gimmick of rumors becoming true, honestly. I think Golden edges out P2 though, just because it adds in so much more of everything that it’s hard not to say it’s the best. Unless you hate Marie, then maybe not.

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