Rank and File pt. 1

Kole and I are both pretty skeptical of the importance of ranking things. "Good enough" are two of the most powerful words in the English language. The Xbox 360 Ghostbusters game: was it good? No but it was good enough so I sat through it. Guardians of the Galaxy? Honestly, I thought it was merely good enough even though that means I don't have a soul, apparently. Things don't need to be the best. Things are so different and life is so subjective that ranking anything in terms of quality is a fool's errand.

Further, rank type listicles have a earned reputation for being clickbait trash. Why? Well, they tend to have grabby headlines (there are so many things people don't want me to know!) and they're short enough to more or less preclude meaningful commentary.

So top tens, or lists of any kind, are a lose lose proposition. That's why the network doesn't really traffic in GOTY style nonsense. There's an episode of Comrade that's a bit of a retrospective but for the most part, we don't do that. However, sometimes it's 2:43 AM the week before finals and you've already missed one backerblog and you don't want to miss another and you're truly bereft of meaningful ideas so you give in.

THUS! Here is a fast and loose list of my top eleven games we've done for Watch Out For Fireballs! along with a little blurb.

11: Super Mario World. Though we did this for a live episode, I still think this is as good as it gets when it comes to platforming and it's a near perfect game. I don't think Mario games have handled secrets this well before or since, where the rewards for exploration are increasingly novel play experiences and daring level design.

10: Final Fantasy 6 I talked about it in the episode but the World of Ruin reveal was one of the formative experiences of my gaming history, a real fuck you to my expectations and an emotional gut punch to boot. Final Fantasy games do melodrama well often but this is one of the best, where the metaphor of the opera that overlays the entire story adds to campy acting rather than takes away from it.

9: A Link to the Past A lot of what I said about FF6 could apply here, vis a vis the dark world mechanic but ALttP adds a fun, frenetic energy that Zelda games have never had. The older games are limited by the technology and the 3D entries are slow paced. The 2nd game, the one I'm most interested in revisiting, actually, plays more akin to Castlevania. This is Zelda at its most immediately fun in a tactile sense.

8: Mega Man X I wish we had done this game a little later in the life of the show so I could bring a little more to the episode. MMX is a masterclass in level design as tutorial, a point that's been covered elsewhere better than I could, but it's something I respect immensely.

7: Maniac Mansion The fact that we were able to talk to Ron, a man I derely love, is just icing on the rotten pot roast. I wrote on my blog extensively about why this game is important to me so I won't repeat it here.

6: Silent Hill 2 It's telling that this is the only game on my list that I had no prior experience with, which colors my experience with it. SH2 has a very ambitious narrative and its intersection with the mechanics is laudible (I have specific strong memories of the near endless descent near the end). The only reason it doesn't rank much higher for me is that the mechanics are no great shakes the rest of the time.

5: Shadow of the Colossus Speaking of using mechanics to tie into narrative, SotC does this fantastically. The more I think critically about games, the more I harp on this. I think using play to compliment a holistic message is one of the highest things a game can a achieve and what really separates the medium from movies or books.

4: Fallout Formerly probably my favorite game and it's still high up there. Fallout is one of those games where my initial impressions were so overwhelmingly positive that the negatives flatten out quite a bit. FO1 not only birthed my favorite game franchise, but it was the first game I played where I could talk my way out of problems, which was huge. Several games I played a little later did that better, however...

3: Deus Ex I think this game is a masterpiece, full stop. I've always been in awe of the detail in this world but watching all of Bobbin Threadbare's lecture series on it on youtube made me appreciate it more. Bobbin is sort of a nutbar and he goes a little crazy near the end but he really highlights how thematically sound and complete Deus Ex is. The game has a strong, relatable dilema and places it in a context where you truly do feel free to solve problems the way you want. Player freedom is so important.

2: Final Fantasy Tactics I like the story in FFT but that's not the draw, not really. FFT is endlessly customizable in a way that scratches an itch deep inside my soul. The way you build a party balance from so many different classes, it actually matches Deus Ex for problem solving flexibility in an odd way. Sure, you can't talk your way out of problems (Mediators suck) but you have an immense amount of freedom in the diverse skillset you can bring to any conflict.

1: Planescape Torment Torment contains many of the things I like in games above. It's a wildly ambitious narrative, you're given a lot of leeway in how you solve problems, the way the game eases you into the world is masterful and the detail and character of that world is unmatched. Despite its lackluster combat the thing that makes Torment maybe my favorite game is the way it binds narrative and mechanics to subvert video game tropes. By rewarding things that would get you no where in other games, Torment constantly reinforces the message that you're playing by a different set of rules than you're accustomed to. In a way, it's like The Watchmen, a great work but better if you're a fan of the medium.

So, that's it for now. I might do another one of these with shitty games next time if I can't think of anything more substantial. I hope you liked it!

Love, Gary