Friday Favorites #6: Favorite Levels and Locations

Settings in video games are very important in terms of atmosphere, design, and storytelling. Here are some of my favorites.

1. Gold Saucer, Final Fantasy VII

Basically, a minigame town. The minigames include Mog House, which is like a brief virtual pet game, basketball, and arm wrestling. Though your first visit is probably the most impressive due to the minigames being their most fresh, subsequent visits will allow you to fight in a battle arena and race your own chocobos. The music is fun and peppy, too. 

It will be worth seeing how Gold Saucer will be presented in the FFVII remake… sometime in the next three years. :I

2. The Sunleth Waterscape, Final Fantasy XIII

The Sunleth Waterscape is a fun and beautiful place to explore with great music.

3. Fortune City, Dead Rising 2 and Dead Rising 2: Off the Record

The sun may have set on Capcom’s open-world zombie-slaying series, but I’ll always have fond memories of the first few games (I’ve yet to play 3 and 4). Fortune City, an honage/parody of Las Vegas, allows DR2 to expand on the foundation of the first game. There are several secrets, weapons, slot machines, survivors, and psychopaths to find. The Off the Record rerelease adds a new area to Fortune City: Uranus Zone, a theme park.

4. Silent Hill

Silent Hill arguably had its strongest appeal with the first four games made by Team Silent. They created a town that was dark but atmospheric and compelling. It was also fun to explore parts of a city that you would never get to in real life. If Silent Hill is ever rebooted, whoever is in charge needs to portray the town as a character unto itself, and put real craft into designing it.

5. Raccoon City, various Resident Evil/Biohazard titles

Like Silent Hill, Raccoon City was once a nice, quiet little town with some dark secrets. Silent Hill still lingers somewhere out there, but Raccoon City met its apocalyptic end when the US government decided to nuke the town to contain the bio hazard outbreak plaguing it. 

Though RE/BH is more physical than metaphysical, exploring Raccoon City in such games as RE2, 3, and Outbreak has a similar appeal to Silent Hill in that we’re exploring places we’re not supposed to. Tee-hee! 

6. Dracula’s Castle, Castlevania/Vampire Killer

Dracula must have one hell of an interior design team, because every time a hero invades it, it has changed considerably. One consistent installation is the Clock Tower, featured in most CV games.

My first CV game was Symphony of the Night, so I’m partial to it. It’s one of my top five favorite games, and has my favorite vision of Dracula’s castle due to the atmosphere, enemies, and gorgeous music. Highlights include a creepy cavern; an underground water vein; a colosseum; a library; and the Royal Chapel. I ❤ the irony of Dracula having a chapel in his castle.

The stained glass in the background moves as you walk through the room. The effect blew me away when I first played through the game.

7. Melody Town, Kirby’s Epic Yarn

It has not come up much yet, but I loooove Kirby and his games. Melody Land is a very fun level in a very fun game. Imagine a stage in a platformer where every platform is a musical instrument that makes a sound when you interact with it. That’s Melody Land.

8. New York, Parasite Eve

The Chrysler Building

PE offered a recreated version of New York  with some landmarks to explore, which was pretty cool for a PS1 game.9. Rapture, BioShock

I really loved BioShock. Rapture was a gorgeous place to visit. The extremely well-done fire, ice, and water effects helped.

Perhaps one day, I will do a different version of this article for fighting game stages. 

What are your favorite locations in games?


Friday Favorites #4: Best Bling in Video Games

1. Resident Evil 4

Gemstones have been used throughout the series in puzzles, but RE4 introduced treasures for Leon to find. These could be sold to the mysterious Merchant for more money that could be used for items, new weapons, and upgrades. Resident Evil 5 also had treasures to find and sell between chapters (no Merchant this time), but let’s face it – RE4 is much better liked. RE4 had the novelty of treasures o find and sell.

2. Uncharted Series

Similarly to RE4, there are dozens of treasures to find across the Uncharted series, and they are gorgeous. I can’t even imagine what they look like in Uncharted 4: A Thief ‘s End. There are even randomly generated treasures in some multiplayer modes. Completing certain sets can unlock perks.

3. Final Fantasy Series

Crystals have always had special meaning across the series. They are symbolic of new powers, especially in the first, third, and fifth games in the series, where new jobs or job upgrades are unlocked upon finding the elemental crystals. 

Does materia in Final Fantasy VII count as bling? I’d like to think so. 

These pieces of concentrated Lifestream energy allow your party members to use magic, summon monsters, and increase their stats. Materia level up alongside the party, and can sometimes reproduce copies of itself at max level. This is some versatile bling, and it’ll look prettier than ever in the episodic remake. 

Final Fantasy IX was hyped as “the return of the crystal”, signifying its throwback to more traditional fantasy tropes. 

Crystals figure heavily into the world and plot of The Lightning Trilogy. People marked by fal’Cie gods, the l’Cie, can fall into long comas encased in crystal, and the party gains new skills and stat points from the Crystarium.

Final Fantasy Tactics is the Zodiac Brave Story, which features magical Zodiac Stones that can turn people into superpowered monsters. 

Not the most glamorous example. 

The heroes of DISSIDIA are required by Cosmos to gain crystals to prove their heroic worth.

In the Theatrhythm games, fragments of crystals must be gained in order to unlock new characters. 

4. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Sometimes, monsters will drop gemstones of varying degrees of preciousness and value. These gems can be sold to the Librarian, who functions as a merchant (despite his loyalty to Dracula, he also loves that dank money) to get valuable items like Jacob’s Cloak or the Duplicator.

One of the subweapons is a crystal that can ricochet off of surfaces to hit enemies. It’s kind of rare.

Most fun of all is the Jewel Sword. It’s probably a decently strong weapon when you find it; it leaves a cool-looking trail when you swing the blade; and it considerably increases the chances of slain enemies dropping gems. You can make much more money with this method than you would otherwise. 

5. Various Harvest Moon Games

I don’t know if all of the HM games feature a mine where you can get crystals and gems, but I remember that Harvest Moon: Magical Melody does. Certain characters and potential love interests have expensive tastes…

6. Assorted Puzzle Games

Puzzle games and bling go hand in hand. There are probably too many examples to count, but some of the most popular include Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo (there wasn’t a first one), Bejeweled, and Genies & Gems.

What games feature some of your favorite uses of bling? What game should be the next subject of my blog? I need suggestions! 

Friday Favorites #3: Hollywood Performances in Video Games

Mads Mikkelsen in Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding

As I grow a little impatient with interpreting the enigmatic trailers for Death Stranding featuring Norman Reedus and Mads Mikkelsen, I got inspiration for another Friday Favorites list. What games have featured Hollywood actors to great effect? 

This list is by no means “complete”. I also excluded actors who are more well-known for their voice acting, at least at the time of this writing. I have great love for several VAs that I will express in future LPs, however. 

Nathan Fillion as Gunnery Sergeant Edward Buck – Halo 3: ODST and Halo 5: Guardians

Canadian actor Nathan Fillion voiced a character in Halo 3 before lending his likeness and his voice to the character of Buck. Fillion has charisma and wit, which makes Buck more memorable than most Halo characters. 

He asked the developers to make him look more handsome in Halo 5. Ok…

I’m still mad that Fillion wanted to play Nathan Drake in the long-suffering Uncharted flick. He campaigned his fans on Twitter to try to convince the film makers to cast him as Drake, but no dice. Since then, the film adaptation burned through such potential choices as Mark Wahlberg and Chris Pratt. 

Speaking of Halo…

Tricia Helfer as EDI – Mass Effect 2 and 3

Canadian actress Tricia Helfer started off her career as a model, but she’s much more than just a pretty face as she has proved in many TV shows and movies. She provided her voice and likeness to the character of Veronica Dare in Halo 3: ODST but I prefer EDI. 

EDI is an artificial intelligence installed into the Normandy SR-2 provided by pro-human organization Cereberus after they brought Captain Shepard back from the dead. In ME EDI takes over the artificial body of a Cereberus synthetic infiltration unit, giving her a physical form for the first time in her existence. From then on, EDI becomes a partner on Shepard’s missions. EDI also begins a relationship with Joker, the pilot of the Normandy. 

EDI allowed BioWare to explore themes of how physical experiences and relationships with organic beings would shape and affect an artificial life form, making for an unexpectedly poignant character. 

Robert Carlyle as Gabriel Belmont and Patrick Stewart as Zobek – Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

Scottish actor Robert Carlyle and British actor Patrick Stewart both have strong performances in this game. However, Zobek arguably overshadows (no pun intended) Gabriel a bit; Gabriel is something of a stoic cipher, but Zobek offers observations on Gabriel’s adventure and in narration between levels. Stewart performed Zobek with considerable aplomb and even compassion…

Keith David as Chaos – DISSIDIA

African-American actor Keith David has a long and storied career, and a very recognizable voice. He has some notable credits in video games as well, such as in Fallout and Mass Effect. I picked Chaos because David’s voice and performance lends a dignity and coolness to the main antagonist of DISSIDIA, the god of chaos itself. 

Jack Black as Eddie Riggs – Brutal Legend

OK, so Brűtal had iffy RTS gameplay and got screwed over pretty hard by publisher EA… but it still had lots of heavy metal charm. Black was in his element in this humorous game where he played a roadie transported to a heavy metal fantasy world, who discovers that his dad originally came from said world.

What are your favorite performances in video games?