Raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens

Raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens

This weekend is Aro-mas, that magical day wherin we celebrate the amazingness that is the day of my birth.

Every year, I participate in my own personal tradition: enjoying my favorite things. I read the two books that have been my favorite since I was a tiny weester (Diane Duane’s So You Want to Be a Wizard and Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising), watch my favorite movies (The Princess Bride, Dark City, and Coming to America), and play my favorite games.

There are only three games on this list — which is good because I am pretty much running out of birthday week time here — and it’s A Big Deal when I get to add a new one; there is a complicated series of totally and completely subjective rules known only to my deep lizardbrain subconscious that must be fulfilled before a game is inducted into Aro’s Personal Hall of Fame.

Because I like to share things during Aro-mas week, please enjoy the following rundown of My Favorite Games, presented in descending release order.

Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time (Ubisoft, 2003)

Seriously great. Seriously, seriously great.

The spiritual precursor to the massively popular Assassin’s Creed franchise (which I also love) and itself a franchise-engenderer that spawned a deliciously terrible and hugely profitable popcorn flick as well as its own game trilogy, the Sands of Time is for me a perfect interactive storytelling experience.

The gameplay was revolutionary; while the parkour-inspired freerunning has moved on to many other games, the time-rewinding mechanic (you fell? rewind and do it again) is still unique. The smoothness of this freerunning platformer is a joy to play, even though the Prince occasionally jumps at the wrong places and combat is a two-button affair that’s really just splitting up time better spent solving physics jumpypuzzles. I love it so much.

But it’s the framing device — the playthrough is a story that the Prince is telling Farah — that makes this game special to me. It’s one of my favorite tropes in the world, and time paradoxes hit all me in all of my happy thinkyplaces. I could spend hours talking about what actually happened, what’s real in what continuity, and what Farah knew when. Seriously I can talk about it FOR HOURS.

I once played straight through overnight without stopping, so as to share the story with a platform-deficient friend. I think it took about nine hours. That is some dedication right there, I tell you what.

Also, the soundtrack is spectacular.

Final Fantasy X (Square, 2001)

Also seriously, seriously great.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I was not really a Final Fantasy kind of person. I grew up with a Sega Genesis, not a Super Nintendo, so I had all the sweet platformers and not the rad JRPGs; I only experienced those at a Nintendo-loving friend’s house in bits and pieces. So I knew OF them, and was familiar with the stories and the concepts, but not until the PlayStation and FF7 did I actually play them on my own, and I went back to play the earlier ones as they became available for the console I actually HAD.

To this day I can take or leave most Final Fantasy. Enh, yeah, I see what they’ve done for the JRPG genre etc etc fnarg blee blee blorp, but it was like potato chips and ice cream for me: empty calories and spending a lot of time with them made me hate myself.

Enter FFX.

It’s the same basic gameplay as your run-of-the-mill JRPG with your turn-based combat and your healer/thief/black mage/etc party system, but. Dude. Living your life without FFX’s story is doing yourself a grave and irreparable disservice. I am legit having a hard time accurately describing the sheer volume of Feels this game provokes in me; I have done actual scholarly research on the archetypes and storytelling conventions in this narrative because the capital-F Feels are so overwhelming.

There are seriously important statements made here: about the nature of faith, the afterlife, and matyrdom; how, when, where, and why to judge a person’s intrinsic worth; dealing with grief and loss; the relationship between parents and children; balancing the needs of the many and the few. When Yuna performs the ritual of last rites for the dead in front of Tidus, he says in horrified awe that it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen — and yet: “People die, and Yuna dances.” POW! BOOM! RIGHT IN THE FEELS!

Also, the soundtrack is spectacular.

The Dig (LucasArts, 1995)

I’mma let you finish, but the Dig is the greatest game of all time. OF ALL TIME.

I am a product of my time, and point-and-click adventures are indelibly ingrained in my memory as Primary Gaming Experiences. LucasArts and Sierra were the champions of the genre, and there are so so so many great titles to choose from that mean different things to different people (the honorable mentions for Aro’s Personal Hall of Fame are all also point-and-clicks, for example).

The Dig is a sci-fi story about another world, and what happens there. The environments are beautiful even when you’re used to photo-realistic graphics (as long as you aren’t put off by the cartoony style; though frankly if you are you have no heart and there is no hope for you), the logic puzzles are fun and challenging (except the turtle, that goddamn turtle), and the writing is top notch.

There are two things that make this game special: the first is that it was originally a script for an episode of Amazing Stories, which was my favorite show when I was a kid, and specced out by Steven Spielberg. This was in the mid-80s, too, before he started hating himself and the world around him and did a ton of fun things (like the aforementioned Amazing Stories), so the story’s pedigree is actually pretty spectacular. However, being as how it was too expensive to film, tahdah! Adventure game.

The other particularly awesome bit is Robert Patrick’s voice acting. His deadpan, black-humored Boston Low is another fictional person I love because his life is genuinely hard and the writers were smart enough to let him sometimes show that off; for example, if you leave him idle on the screen too long he starts bitching about how much it sucks to be stuck in the middle of nowhere with no food and he should have brought a sandwich AND HE WOULD REALLY LIKE A COLD BEER, OKAY.

Look, y’all. Not made of stone.

Also, the soundtrack is spectacular.


Or, actually, three themes. Enjoy: