Kyle’s #3 – Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine
K: Now, an 8 year old me didn’t know of the vast universe of Puyo Puyo, but it did know Sonic’s spin-off on the Sega Genesis. It’s your basic Match 4, Combo-Happy Puyo game, but it supplied years of fun that still holds its ground to this day. There are probably better Puyo games out there, but fuck it: this was my childhood game.
D: It’s a favorite game list, of course you’re gonna have the nostalgic picks. Frankly I would have been surprised if you didn’t mention Mean Bean on here. Puyo has always been Tetris’ weird distant relative to me but I’ve come to appreciate it, and this brought it over with an appealing skin.
Demetri’s #2 – LISA: The Painful
D: A lot of games have taken inspiration from Earthbound, especially in the indie RPG scene. Most try to emulate it one way or another. LISA is head and shoulders above the rest of the post-Earthbound school (yes it’s better than Undertale) because it took a different approach – not emulation, but iteration. Dingaling learned all the lessons Earthbound had to teach and used that knowledge to create an RPG that’s expertly written, perfectly paced, emotionally resonant, and gutbustingly funny.
K: Man, I remember you told me about this and it looked like a scuffed RPG Maker title. I was really confused at the recommendation…and then I played it. Humor coated and colored a sludge black, with a surprisingly deep combat system that can be unforgiving for both parties, and a world so mysteriously hazed that you honestly will have no idea what’s around the next corner. What an absolute ride. And it is 110% better than Undertale.
D: A lot of games get credit for having decisions that matter but none of them have as much impact as LISA’s. I won’t spoil them here, but the game is absolutely relentless in its assault on the player and there’s almost never a “right” answer to any problem. People you care about will get hurt one way or another, and pretty often it’ll be your fault.
K: It boils down to one clear response to the question: “What are you comfortable with losing?” It despairingly earns the title “The Painful RPG” for a damn good reason.
Kyle’s #2 – Chrono Cross
K: I can feel the heat behind me knowing Chrono Trigger fans are… probably triggered at this selection. But Gad Damn, this game is a masterpiece. I’m a sucker for turn-based combat, and the percentile-based structure between your Light/Mid/Heavy attacks add a range of risk/reward to go with its tiered based magic system. Combine a beautifully made world jammed packed with life, 40+ party members to find, and one of the best soundtracks ever made, and you’ve got one of the most quality, albeit slept on, RPGs in history.
D: Just gonna have to take your word for it because I’ve only ever played Trigger. I know literally nothing about this one aside from the fact that if you whisper its name into a mirror 3 times an angry CT fan will climb out of your walls and tell you how bad it is for an hour. You obviously love this game so help me understand – why do you think it has that reputation?
K: Because I get that Chrono Trigger is a masterpiece, and most people’s #1 RPG is that title. So for someone to say not only is something better than it, but it being the weird PS1 cousin of all titles: people get heated. And that’s fine! But Chrono Cross is another beautiful spoke in the Squaresoft wheel that deserves just as much praise. If you can take anything from Chrono Cross, listen to Radical Dreamers from the OST and you’ll understand what Chrono Cross embodies: a somber, soft, but emotionally powerful journey, guided by the subdued chords of experiences from the past, while propelled by the brillant, rich sounds of a distant future, which may be more on the nose than you think.
Demetri’s #1 – Skies of Arcadia
D: Skies was always going to be my number 1. Everyone has their favorite big nostalgic RPG and this is mine. I’m still in awe of this thing’s scope. The way it reveals the sheer size of its map, then lets you explore every inch of it on your airship and rewards you for doing so is mindblowing. Finding all the crew members and building a legendary pirate base is the most fun I’ve ever had with side content in any RPG. There are so many ideas here that I’ve never even seen attempted in any game since; the ship combat system ALONE could be an entire game’s core in and of itself. Sure it doesn’t have the party variety that other RPGs of its era boast, but in a way that’s a positive because its characters feel developed and grounded in the world. Everyone has personalities, specialties, uniqueness. More so than any RPG I’ve ever played, Skies of Arcadia feels alive.
K: You’re going to make me find a way to get this in my hands aren’t you? I love the idea of big, bombastic scope in RPGs: larger than life feels like a mainstay in this genre. But I never was a big fan of vehicle combat, how does the Ship Combat System pull its weight?
D: For one it isn’t actually vehicular combat – all the flying happens automatically in battle. Instead you program which character does what action in what order while trying to preempt what the other ship is doing. Every action costs a certain number of points and there’s a hard limit so you need to spend carefully to get the most out of your turns. It’s hard to explain in words but ridiculously satisfying in practice, and this isn’t even the main battle system! Skies rules, especially the Gamecube rerelease that added even more content.
Kyle’s #1 – Final Fantasy X
K: Fake laugh til your heart’s content, Tidus. This is above and beyond my favorite game. With the best implemented battle system: Conditional. Turn-Based. Battle. Baby. A masterfully told story, unforgettable characters, hundreds of hours of gameplay, the Sphere Grid, and Gad. Damn. Blitzball, Brother. I want to say I’ve played almost 1000 hours of this title, and I will drop everything and start again. Maybe I’ll run a Lulu/Wakka/Kimahri build this time. Or maybe Tidus/Yuna/Rikku? And maybe push the character down a different path on the Sphere Grid and make them a completely different statistical character than what is defaulted? The choice is yours: welcome to Spira.
D: It isn’t my intent to undercut you, but I’ve always bounced off the mainline FF games post-VI. A lot of them felt bloated, unfocused, and badly written to the point where it was distracting. By the time FFX came out I stopped paying attention and it sounds like that was a mistake. Is the HD remake a good one? If so I might have to give it a chance.
K: To be fair I don’t know if it’ll share a seat with you like it does with me, but I’ll gladly get it for you on sale so you can play it and let me know what you think. The script is admittedly cheesy: you can go on plenty of YouTube videos and see that. But the overarching theme and setting does more than enough to drive its force when it needs to. FFX may not be the best Final Fantasy out there, but the love and care put into not only the world of Spira, but into the characters and how involved they are within it, push the game forward so well. The beautifully simplistic yet fine-tuned combat will have you honestly thinking your moves out which is more than can be said with the more recent titles. And above all, I can’t stress how easy it is to blow an entire day playing this game, and how much you’ll be okay with it.