Final Fantasy XIV in Four Months: A Retrospective

On July 16th, 2021 I capitulated to friends, random internet strangers, and the will of Yoshi-P and downloaded the free trial of Final Fantasy XIV Online, which goes up to level 60 and includes the award-winning blah blah blah you know that spiel and joke since I already did my Realm Reborn Roundup.

This summer was rough for me for a myriad of personal reasons. I was going through a lot and while all those personal details are a discussion for another time, what is important is that Final Fantasy XIV was an outlet that probably saved my sanity and kept me grounded. Shortly after my Realm Reborn roundup I subscribed to an MMO for the first time in my life because of how much time I was spending in the world and how much I was enjoying myself exploring Eorzea.

On November 18, 2021, almost exactly four months from when I started playing (and the day before the original Early Access for Endwalker was supposed to start) I rolled credits on the final main story quest of the Shadowbringers expansion – thus “completing” the main story of Final Fantasy XIV that’s currently out. It was a weird sensation – my sole drive in the realm of gaming for the past four months had slowly morphed into completing the story in time for Endwalker’s release. And I was ultimately left with that empty feeling of “now what?”

So clearly the next step is I’m gonna write about it.

Continue reading “Final Fantasy XIV in Four Months: A Retrospective”

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #22

Final Fantasy Tactics

Release Date: January 28, 1998

Platform Played On: PS1

2018 Placement: #13 (-9)


What It Is:

The game that put tactical/strategy RPGs on the map for a lot of people, Final Fantasy Tactics was Squaresoft’s foray into a different style of RPG with their tent-pole series name. It brought in some typical Final Fantasy ideas like job classes and summons and the like but instead you found yourself in a grid-based combat scenario where positioning was just as important as attacking.

The main character is Ramza and the backdrop is a political nightmare in Ivalice. The story is deep and involves a lot of warring parties, along with the eventual typical god that wants to destroy everything showing up by the end. Ramza fights against his own family and his best friend in an intriguing drama that has so many layers it’s hard to follow if you’re expecting a light and breezy JRPG. The later War of the Lions remake helped with the translation to make it a little easier, though. Also, Cloud shows up if you do all the complicated stuff to unlock him. So yay!

Why It’s Important To Me:

This game was the one that got me into strategy RPGs as a genre. Final Fantasy Tactics was so good I ate up whatever I could on the Playstation after playing through it for the first time. Even though I was young and a lot of the story and themes passed over my head when I initially played, boy was it cool to climb up on top of a roof and fling a stone at an unsuspecting enemy. And boy did you do a lot of that before you got to the cool classes.

Everything about this game ended up being classic, from the tactical battle layer to the job system to the sprite work to the musical themes. The story is absolutely one for the ages as the dual tragedies of Ramza and Delita and how they intertwine over the course of the game is just fantastic. This game sat in my top 10 for a long, long time and paved the way for many other of my favorites within the genre. Even today, FFT is what I use as a baseline when deciding whether a new SRPG is worth it. The customizable jobs and cool characters will always live on in my heart as what every game in this genre should aspire to be.

My Strongest Memory:

Well, I’ll first take the obvious one: the Wiegraf/Elmdor back-to-back fight. Yes, it’s the one everyone remembers and for good reason. It’s balls hard. First you duel Wiegraf by yourself as Ramza, then you fight his Lucavi transformation, and then you end up on the roof after finding Elmdor and his two minions. The fight themselves are tough, to the point that it’s possible for Elmdor to make you lose the fight before you even have a chance to move your characters if you haven’t leveled up or are just plain unlucky. It’s a hell of a sequence but also so satisfying every time you make that hurdle in subsequent playthroughs.

But my other strongest memory is the character of Mustadio. For whatever reason, he just oozed coolness to me as a kid. He brings a gun to a knife fight and he’s just so damn awesome about it. His introduction where he jumps on the wall to get away from his pursuers is burned into my brain even though it’s fairly simple in both nature and dialogue. He’s always been my favorite, and now two decades on as I’m playing FFXIV I picked up the Machinist class for my character in Mustadio’s honor. He’ll always be one of my faves.

Why It’s #22:

If I was making an influential game list or even games that influenced my own taste, FFT would be a top 10 and probably even top 5. Even if it’s dropped to just outside the top 20, it still hangs out at the top of my lists and will always do so because of how much I adore the game and how easily I can fall back into “maybe I should play the entirety of FFT again” fugue states. If only it was rereleased on a current generation platform and made even easier to play. Hmmmm.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #23

Dark Souls

Release Date: October 4, 2011

Platform Played On: XBox 360

2018 Placement: #17 (-6)


What It Is:

It’s the Dark Souls of video games.

Why It’s Important To Me:

It took me several tries for Dark Souls to click. I played Demon’s Souls and thought it was fun, but fine. It didn’t blow me away. Then when I played Dark Souls for the first time I petered out around Anor Londo and set it aside in favor of Arkham City, which released around the same time. And then at some point I decided to return to it and the Ornstein & Smough boss fight just made everything fall together like Benoit Blanc solving the mysterious donut hole inside the donut. Suddenly…I got it.

I beat Dark Souls, I replayed Dark Souls, I made a character that I simply used as a summoning buddy to help people with Ornstein & Smough over and over again. Like many people, I fell in love with the Souls style of gameplay and it became one of my favorite genres. I’m not a huge high fantasy person but I love the apocalyptic dark fantasy world of Lordran. All the miserable characters (and one lovely onion knight) are just fantastic.

And I still insist that part of the reason I like Dark Souls so much is how similar its encounter philosophy is to Mega Man. Dark Souls is not more difficult than any other game – it’s all about pattern recognition and remembering enemy placement. Bosses have movesets that you just have to learn to avoid and get your hits in. (And when you beat bosses you get their souls/weapons, just like Mega Man!) Once you know where everything is and weakness the game becomes a dance of executing proper responses. Yes, quicker reflexes do help and yes you will die figuring out where the enemies are, but it’s difficulty has been overhyped and the fact that difficulty always is associated with these games is a disservice. Okay, off my Souls soapbox now.

My Strongest Memory:

The first time I beat Ornstein & Smough was exhilarating, obviously. But nothing compares to the pure emotion you feel when Sif starts limping towards the end of that fight. I feel so bad every time I have to face the Great Grey Wolf, especially if I’ve done the DLC section already and met Sif as a little pup. It’s such a great fight that stirs sympathy without any dialogue whatsoever.

Also fuck the Anor Londo archers. That section still plagues my nightmares.

Why It’s #23:

Like it or not, Dark Souls changed the face of gaming – both actual games and the discourse surrounding difficulty and accessibility. It’s a landmark accomplishment that is both wondrous and flawed. And I think that makes it one of the best games in the Soulslike genre because its design isn’t perfect. Instead, these flaws give the game character and a reason to come back to it to see what kind of nonsense you can get up to with a new build. It’s fantastic, it’s sometimes frustrating, and it’s definitely deserving of a spot near the top.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #24

Super Smash Bros Ultimate

Release Date: December 7, 2018

Platform Played On: Switch

2018 Placement: #11 (-13)/Unranked


What It Is:

The ultimate compilation of Nintendo/fighting game/video game characters, Super Smash Bros has always been a series that fans have enjoyed to both speculate on and play. Every new release has adding growing tensions in what constitutes a believable new fighter, as later entries started scraping the bottom of the barrel for iconic Nintendo main-stays. Ultimate is the latest (and greatest) entry in the fighting game franchise, sporting a whopping 81 fighters from many different series as I write this and promising to finish its roster whenever the 82nd, final fighter is revealed.

Super Smash Bros is a fighting game and a party game all wrapped up into one that can be taken as seriously or as fun as one wants. If you want to play with all items on, go for it. If you want to play 1v1 no items, Fox only Final Destination, also go for it! The options in the game are so customizable that you can turn off and on individual items, choose CPU skill level, and train your Amiibo fighters. You have three different versions of every stage along with tons and tons of music so you can play whatever tracks you like to your heart’s content. “Everyone is here” is no lie in Super Smash Bros Ultimate’s case – it’s such a comprehensive roster that there’s definitely something for everyone.

Why It’s Important To Me:

Super Smash Bros Melee was the game of choice for my college group. While others grew up on Halo or Counterstrike, we were maining Yoshi and Ganondorf. And so the Smash Bros series has always kept an eternal spot both in my heart and also my top 100 games of all time. I’ll never be able to rid myself of the nostalgia of the 4-person brawls that occurred in my freshman dorm room as my roommate had the Gamecube and we all gathered in what we dubbed the “Lounge of Luxury” to snack and play Smash into the wee hours of the morning.

While I haven’t played Ultimate nearly as much as Melee, I also can’t justify to myself having more than one Smash Bros game on this list. Especially because the roster is so huge and all-encompassing in Ultimate that I don’t have the urge to play any of the previous games. It has every character that’s ever appeared, almost all the good stages, and enough of a single-player experience to keep me satisfied. Sorry, I’m not a Melee purist.

Ultimate is basically the culmination of two decades worth of Smash love. It carries all the weight of all my enjoyment of the original, Melee, Brawl, and the 3DS & Wii U versions. You can consider this an entry for the whole series OR just for Ultimate. Either way, it’s the one I’ll always be playing when I say I feel like playing Smash and I love it.

My Strongest Memory:

For Smash in general? Probably back in the Melee days when I started fucking people up with characters they thought were jokes. Both Yoshi and Jigglypuff got bad raps until I started practicing with them and then my friends learned to fear both of them. The absolute horror my friends get in their eyes when I pick Jigglypuff, even to this day, still brings me delight.

For Smash Ultimate specifically? It has to be the reveal trailer that Joker from Persona 5 was going to be the first DLC fighter. Yeah, it’s not an actual in-game moment. But I think the hype that trailer introduced is the best expression of the Smash Bros fandom and encapsulates the hype that new fighters bring to the table. The pure reaction of joy from everyone when that trailer dropped was just cathartic. It really blew the doors open on what characters were “deserving” of a spot and made speculation a free-for-all.

Why It’s #24:

I think if we were still in my college days, Smash would sit comfortable in the top 10, maybe even top 5. But two decades later and my friend group are all adults with lives outside 3 AM Smash tournaments. Playing it online doesn’t have the same feeling as sitting around on the floor, looking up at a CRT and laughing as we gang up on the one guy who always cheesed as Marth. Every time I get to gather my friends together and play Smash I cherish it, but most of the time it’s a big nostalgia burrito. When I do get to bite into it, I’m happy. Does this metaphor make any sense? Who cares. Minecraft Steve’s in Smash Bros, nothing has to make sense.


Top 100 Games of All-Time: #25

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

Release Date: October 4, 1995

Platform Played On: SNES

2018 Placement: #22 (-3)


What It Is:

A sequel to Super Mario World that nobody, absolutely nobody, expected. Instead of yet another platformer where Mario and Luigi are the stars and you jump around collecting Fire Flower and Star power-ups, you get to play as Yoshis escorting a Baby Mario to safety. You turn into trains and helicopters, you shoot eggs at bad guys, and your health is measured in the seconds Baby Mario is knocked off your back every time you get hit. Also, it’s art design is a very unique, child-like hand drawn style that makes it visually distinct from all the previous Mario games (and most of the ones since, too).

The general gameplay is the same – go through individual levels in bigger worlds, and each world has a mini-boss and final boss. Yoshi plays the same way they did in Super Mario World, but their swallowing enemies whole schtick converts them into eggs for throwing at other enemies! Some levels have cool gimmicks, some levels have annoying gimmicks, but the game as a whole is a surprising masterpiece that, once you get used to the different art style, is an amazing spin on the Mario platformer formula.

Why It’s Important To Me:

I think this was the first game that taught me to not judge a book by its cover or a game by its graphics. I remember, as a ten year old snob, getting absolutely annoyed at the child-like drawing style of this game. I loved Super Mario World and the sprite work of Nintendo and Super Nintendo games, what was this weird kiddie crayon shit? I was flabbergasted at the choice and nearly wrote the entire game off simply because of the art direction.

But I didn’t and I’m so glad that I didn’t let myself fall down the art snobbery rabbit hole. The bosses in this game are some of my favorites across all games. Something I’ve never told anyone, but in my head I designed a sci-fi action movie script that has absolutely nothing to do with Yoshi’s Island, but the action sequences themselves are all based off of bosses from Yoshi’s Island. This game has inspired me to no end in terms of creativity due to how creative all the levels and enemy encounters are.

My Strongest Memory:

The final boss. Oh my god, it is absolutely my favorite Mario-related final boss and probably one of my top 5 favorite final bosses of all-time. It starts out with Baby Bowser (NOT Bowser Jr.) throwing a temper tantrum and kicking Kamek to the curb, then getting jealous of Baby Mario riding Yoshi and trying to jump on Yoshi’s back to take his place. (When he’s successful, he has the best shit-eating grin you’ve ever seen.) It’s a great first stage of a boss, especially because how you fight back against him is a context clue given by what happens when Baby Bowser misses his attacks. It’s so good.

But then. BUT THEN. When the first stage is over, Kamek comes back in and pulls a Rita Repulsa (which is what Kamek does for all the bosses in the game) and makes Baby Bowser grow. And the second stage of the fight is against fucking Kaiju Baby Bowser with the most epic Mario final boss theme in existence. Seeing giant-ass Baby Bowser slowly rise out of the background to the intro is a fucking moment, let me tell you. Goddamn I think that could have been the hypest video game moment a ten year old could ask for and it still gives me chills. If you don’t believe me: just watch this. God, it’s SO GOOD.

Why It’s #25:

Look, Mario is a staple in most gamers’ lives. Even if you were a Sega kid growing up, you knew who Mario was and probably played some game that Mario was in. There’s a reason these games became platformer classics. And I don’t care what anybody else says, Super Mario World 2 is the pinnacle of the 2D Mario platformers. It has substance AND style that makes it stand out from all the rest. Thanks Yoshi, you rock.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #26


Release Date: September 17, 2020

Platform Played On: Switch

2018 Placement: Unranked


What It Is:

Supergiant’s foray into the roguelike genre, Hades is an action brawler where you play as Zagreus and try to escape your father, the lord of Hell. Supergiant’s art style is very distinctive and it makes Hades into a beautiful game where you fight against all sorts of mythical monsters and demons as you try to escape to the overworld. You have a choice between six different legendary weapons and you’re gifted boons by the gods on Olympus that change your play style significantly, so every run you make towards the top will go a bit differently.

What Hades adds to the roguelike genre is meaningful story. The repetition of live, die, go again in roguelikes is not often accompanied by much plot or explanation as to why you’re just doing it over and over again. Zagreus “dying” and respawning in the central location of Hades is weaved into the actual narrative. Each time you return to the base of operations, you can have new conversations with the characters hanging about. But they’re not always there, giving the world of Hades a living, breathing feeling like they aren’t just NPCs waiting around to spout out the next bit of dialogue for you. And every time you die you get just a bit stronger and gain a bit more knowledge of how to progress further, which adds more characters to the roster of interesting people to talk to.

Why It’s Important To Me:

I love roguelikes, but I don’t complete non-deck building roguelikes a lot. I’ve beaten Dead Cells once, Binding of Isaac two or three times, I’ve gotten to the final level of Enter the Gungeon, and others like Rogue Legacy I didn’t even get that far. But Hades was a game that just grabbed me and didn’t let go. I think I’ve said it before during this countdown, but I’m a huge mythology nerd and Greek mythology is one of my favorites. So hearing dialogue from Poseidon and Aphrodite, seeing Zagreus interact with Orpheus and Eurydice, getting to pet Cerberus as much as I wanted; all of it was just a straight shot of happy chemicals into my brain.

The setting was what hooked me, and the gameplay was the line and sinker. Every time I finished a run in Hades, my immediate thought was (and still is) “just one more time.” Grabbing a different weapon and hoping for a new, cooler boon combination was always a dangling carrot to get me to start another run immediately. Every time I unlocked a cool new play style and began to rip through my foes was pure serotonin. I’ve beaten this game 26 times (out of a total of 87 escape attempts) on my Switch, and I’ve already put in 10+ attempts on the PS5 now as I work my way up to being strong enough to smack daddy Hades around again. It’s so compelling and scratches an itch all other action-based roguelikes almost scratched, but not quite.

My Strongest Memory:

The first time beating Hades, of course. There’s a moment in the battle when the TRUE final boss theme kicks in (and all players who have gotten this far know what I’m talking about) and by GOD that was such a cool, musical moment. It literally sent chills down my spine and adrenaline coursing through my veins. I don’t think I’ve had anywhere close to a “okay, HERE WE GO THIS IS IT LET’S DO THIS” moment in any video game since.

Then there’s the time you get the “final” ending and the song that plays during the credits sequence and how beautiful it is.

Of course there’s also the first time I got to the Hydra and Zagreus called her “Lernie” and the name changed on her health bar, which made me die laughing.

There’s the absolute bro-ness of Asterius and the absolute dipshittery of Theseus.

Every moment in this game is so well-crafted that I could talk about them all, honestly.

Why It’s #26:

The third game in the trilogy of “not sure if recency bias” in the lower 20s, I can once again assure you that it was not recency bias in the slightest. Picking up the game last week for my PS5 and jumping back in again (from the beginning with a fresh start) was like coming home. Yeah, I’m experiencing the same story beats a second time, but the beauty of the roguelike genre is that every run still feels good even if you’re seeing the story for a second time. There’s no boring 3-hour tutorial I have to wade through. It’s just back to boons and kicking ass and being a little horny for all the characters. What, you’d think I’d make it through an entire entry on Hades and not mention how hot all the gods are? Psh. Who do you think I am?

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #27

Mega Man X

Release Date: January 1994

Platform Played On: SNES

2018 Placement: #73 (+46)


What It Is:

The SNES update to the Mega Man series – while the NES adventures followed Rock and Roll and Dr. Light, Mega Man X takes place in an even more future-y future. Dr. Light has passed away and his research into an even better robot named X is uncovered by a Dr. Cain. X ends up leading the Maverick Hunters, who hunt Mavericks led by the evil robot Sigma (who later becomes like a demigod virus or something, MMX lore gets weird.)

In terms of gameplay it’s pretty much the same as the standard Mega Man – 8 bosses you have to take out one by one, and you get their weapons and use them to defeat other bosses. New enhancements and upgrades are available to make movement easier though – wall jumping and a dash are the most important in making X control and feel stronger than your basic Mega Man. It’s one of those console generational upgrades that really sticks out as distinct and making a better experience for the player.

Why It’s Important To Me:

Look, as a mega stan of Mega Man, Mega Man X is up there in the pantheon of games that are just -good.- While the video is a decade old, Arin Hanson/Egoraptor’s video essay on Mega Man X is still one of my favorite videos explaining why Mega Man X is designed so well from a gameplay standpoint (especially the intro stage).

But as for why it’s specifically important to me, well, I was thinking about it. And when I tried to do a top 100 in 2018 I had X2 as my favorite of the X games and up here in the 20s, while Mega Man X was lower. And this time around that just didn’t feel right. I love both games, but Mega Man X is just such a powerhouse in terms of both my memories and what I think about when I think of X. Storm Eagle’s stage theme. Beating Chill Penguin first and freezing Flame Mammoth’s stage over. Spark Mandrill’s stage theme. The absolute badassness of Zero as a deuteragonist and Vile as a sub-villain. I don’t remember if this was the very first Super Nintendo game I ever played, but I’m pretty sure it was the first one that really stuck with me, due to my love for Mega Man and just how impactful this was in advancing the franchise.

My Strongest Memory:

Beating the final Sigma was one of the greatest hurdles of my childhood. I could always make it to the last boss, but that final one-two-three punch of Sigma’s dog, Sigma, and then Sigma Beast Robot Evil Thing was almost always too much for me. It took me a long time to actually beat it, but when I did – god, that felt like a true accomplishment. In fact, getting to the end of any Mega Man game and beating the final, final boss has always been a triumph for me.

And then, of course, finding out about the secret Hadoken upgrade and getting to use that in game was just a cherry on top.

Why It’s #27:

As I said, I really sat down and thought about which X game I truly loved more – X2 has a rad soundtrack, interesting side villains, and the amazing X vs. Zero showdown. But X is the one that started it all. It has just as much of a baller soundtrack, introduces Zero in the first place, and paved the way for an iconic upgrade to Mega Man’s play style. It’s a near perfect game and deserves its spot near the top of the list.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #28

Disco Elysium

Release Date: October 15, 2019

Platform Played On: PC

2018 Placement: Unranked


What It Is:

Imagine a role-playing game where your main party members were the emotions inside your head. Instead of a full party of adventuring heroes, you’ve got a full party in your brain. And boy is it a rager. In Disco Elysium, you’re a detective who partied so hard he gave himself complete amnesia in the middle of solving a case. The decisions you make in this RPG influence what this cop becomes – you can be a hobo cop or a communist or a complete asshole, it’s all up to how you respond to conversations.

The game plays out a lot like a tabletop RPG where there is constant background dice rolls based on the stats/emotions you’ve invested in. If you pass a check, you’ll hear a voice or get some sort of success. If you fail a check, 80% of the time the game won’t even tell you there was a check to pass. There’s also barely any combat in the game, and combat scenarios don’t play out as actual action mechanics – they go by the same rolls as everything else. It’s very much a reading and thinking game that has amazing story and lore that grips you from the beginning.

Why It’s Important To Me:

I wrote an entire review on why I enjoyed Disco Elysium so much, and I still think it’s one of my best pieces of game writing so you should probably just read that instead of me trying to repeat myself. It’s very good, I love it very much.

My Strongest Memory:

I talk about my favorite memory in my review – a very non-descript side case where you talk a spouse through their partner’s accidental death. It was poignant and emotional in all the right ways.

But the other highlight for me was towards the conclusion of the main case. There is a climax at the end of one of the days where you end up in a standoff between several people that are all armed. And it’s a climax in the true sense of the word – everything you’ve accomplished since the beginning of the game weighs in on how the interaction goes. It can go well or it can go poorly. And because it’s a culmination of decisions and actions (or inaction) you’ve taken throughout the game, it’s not a “save scum and restart” kind of moment if things go sideways. Yes you might be able to redo and get a lucky roll, but some of the rolls will fail no matter what if your stats/emotions haven’t been lifted high enough. It adds tension and meaning to a climactic confrontation that is a lot of times missing in other video games and plays out so well.

Why It’s #28:

Another game that I worried had recency bias, and yet I still think about it nearly two years later. I’m excited to play it again and feel confident I will actually complete it a second time (something that doesn’t happen as often with more recent games due to them getting longer and longer) because it’s just that good and unique. If you’re a fan of RPGs in any way and like reading novels, Disco Elysium is a game for you.

FFXIV: A Realm Reborn Roundup

So I’ve been playing FFXIV for about two weeks now. Yes, I’m one of those people who is playing the free trial, let’s just get that out of the way. I’m not an MMORPG kind of person. I’ve never been. Previous to this, the only MMO games I’ve played have been Guild Wars (that I played through the entirety of with an almost-girlfriend) and The Old Republic (that I played about 2 hours of and then never touched again).

I’ve now clocked at least 50 hours into FFXIV over two weeks. Maybe 60 or 70? I don’t really know and I’m glad there’s no way to tell how much time I’ve spent on it so far (and don’t tell me if there is). Hands-down it’s the MMORPG I’ve spent the most time playing. So after finishing the main storyline of A Realm Reborn – FFXIV’s 2.0 base game rework after it’s initial shitty launch – I decided I’d formally put together my thoughts on the game.

FFXIV sucks.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s also amazing. But it also sucks. But no, it’s great. Actually, it’s kinda terrible. No, really, it’s awesome. But it stinks. But you should play. But never play it.

Okay, so I guess I’m conflicted.

Continue reading “FFXIV: A Realm Reborn Roundup”