I keep a list of the games I finish & play every year in anticipation of putting together "best of the year" articles that I rarely ever write. In looking over these lists, though, I discovered another problem: I spend a lot of time on middling throwaway titles on Steam that are convenient diversions instead of the big stuff, the potentially great titles and the stuff that seems to speak to me that I've been meaning to get to but actually never do.

So: around the start of the year, I assembled a big Master List of the games I've been wanting to play, to target my focus. It's been...marginally successful, as you'll see. I'd wanted to finish - or at least attempt - all these games within a two-year period. I'm not exactly on schedule. (Games with an X, I've finished; games with an N, I've tried but abandoned.) I am, however, making more progress than I would otherwise.


One of the aggravating things about posting reviews on GameFAQs - besides how they've taken aggressively to hiding user reviews - is the constant changes in their scoring system. A good while back, they put one-word labels after the numerical scores ("5 - Average") that didn't always match the feel of the ratings. Later, they switched from a 10-point scale to a five-point scale. Now, they're back to a 10-point scale, but the scores are color-coded green, yellow, and red. The upper end of the red scores is 3, with which I agree, but the upper threshold of yellow is...7. 70%, the traditional threshold of passing in the U.S. school system, is not considered a good score anymore, according to GameFAQs. (All right, maybe that's more an argument in favor of the change.)

The obvious answer is to continue ignoring the constantly-shifting scoring criteria and just use the 10-point scale as it reads to me - but what is that?

  • A 10, to me, does not mean "perfect" - though a 10 cannot have many, if any, major flaws. Rather, a 10 does something so well, so wonderfully and irreplaceably, that it represents an achievement in the medium. Silent Hill 2 is a 10 for tackling difficult subject matter with extraordinary success and its environmental storytelling that very effectively leverages the unique characteristics of the gaming medium. Phantasy Star II is a 10 to me for its marriage of environmental storytelling and presentation - though that case is harder to make nowadays, as its style of gameplay would get in the way for a lot of people.

  • 9s are really polished in nearly every facet. The presentation is a cut above just ("just") good or great games. 9s, again, should not have many, if any, major flaws. 9s, perhaps, aren't all-time classics but are standouts in their generation. 9s don't come along that often. Baten Kaitos is a 9 to me.

  • 7 and 8 are good and great. A 7 is a solidly good game, a title to which I could give a blanket recommendation. The classification of a 7 as middling is puzzling to me. 70% is passing. 8s are a cut above 7s in terms of quality and are really great titles - they just don't have the extra across-the-board infusion of go-the-extra-mile polish of 9s, as few games will. 8s are generally as good as it gets for your "everyday" games, for lack of a better term. 9s and 10s are for something really special.

  • 6s are the weirdest category. 6s aren't quite bad, but they're lacking something. They have positives - sometimes very strong positives! - and might be worth your trouble given specific circumstances, but I can't give them a general recommendation. I personally like The 7th Saga's atmospheric depiction of a lonely journey, support for a diverse selection of protagonist classes, impressive battle sprite work, and music, but it's too grind-heavy for a general audience. That said, I've gotten a lot out of it and wouldn't have wanted to miss it. Golden Axe III is a 6 despite bringing lots of new ideas to the table, showing some real heart after a truly lousy second installment, and, to get right down to it, being fun, because there are some corners that needed more ironing - better graphical detail in spots, though it's miles above II - and because two of the characters have a move that is more or less unblockable and can, with a little skill, get you through the entire game. The visual novel Otogirisou is looking like a 6 because, despite some impressive branching, the stories are all kinda goofy - though you can get a kick out of it if you set expectations accordingly.

  • 5 is ehhhh?. Good and bad are up in the air, present in equal measure. A 5 is mediocre and probably not worth your time.

  • 4 is where the scale decisively settles/weighs in on the negative side. 4s aren't bad - not definitively bad, anyhow - but there's more bad than good, or the bad is more salient than the good traits. I gave NightCry a 4, but I'm consistently rethinking that, as that death by vending machine is a gift most other games don't give.

  • 3 is bad. A 3 is, flatly, a bad game. 4s are still too much of a mix to dismiss as flatly bad, whereas 3 are defined by bad. Neverending Nightmares has a strong, if highly copypasted, art style, but the game is wholly defined by its creator's love of extravagant, in-your-face images of suicidal mutilation, which is completely at odds with its ostensible anti-depression message. Whereas I can equivocate with NightCry over stuff like "ah, that vending machine scene!", there's no such conflict with Neverending Nightmares. There's very much a gut reaction of "fuck this game."

  • 2s and 1s are experiences that are not worth your time and are irredeemable pieces of media. The difference a 2 has something worthwhile in it even if the game around it is certainly not worthwhile. Clock Tower II: The Struggle Within, which had some really interesting ideas despite abysmal execution, is a 2. A 1 has nothing.

While my efforts here might have momentarily paused, the words of wisdom NEVER stop! FROM THE INTERREGNUM:

Golden Axe III

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2

(Don't be fooled by those awesome skeletons.)

Note: SPOILERS for the PS4 FF7 remake.

My post queue is a bit behind, so forgive me for reaching back a few controversies, but as you're probably aware, questions as to whether or not Tetsuya Nomura could be trusted with a PS4 remake of FF7 post-Kingdom Hearts were answered...as one might expect. Folks seemed pretty happy with the visuals and characterization...until we hit the revelation that this version of FF7 has two Sephiroths, one of whom came back from the future in an alternate timeline where the events of FF7 and all its sequels and ancillary properties have already happened in an attempt to make everything go his way this time. Also, there are time ghosts who attempt to interfere with events whenever they veer off the original plot, Nomura's stunning and subtle metaphor for the fans who can't appreciate his vision. (Nomura makes the time ghosts major enemies; sitting through a main plotline dedicated to this self-indulgent concept must be incredibly patience-trying.) These are incredibly stupid ideas straight out of the fanfics I read as a teenager on AOL about Kain becoming a Paladragoon and teaming up with Cecil and Crono to fight the Profound Darkness. They have all the hallmarks of bad Kingdom Hearts writing: needless time travel, complexity for its own sake, hollow platitudes about "defying fate" - because, certainly, if FF7 is about anything, it's railing against death.

My feelings aside, a lot of people really loved Final Fantasy VII, and a lot of people really wanted a remake to happen. Square marketed something that played to that and delivered a very different story - a very different game, in fact; an alt-universe sequel instead of a remake. Everyone knew that some things were going to be changed - that was part of the appeal of the project, right? That stuff that couldn't be realized in the mid-'90s would be fully fleshed out with today's technology. Instead, a writer infamous for taking a very accessible concept (Disney x RPGs!) and making it notoriously both fatuous and completely impenetrable has used that license to remake FF7 in that headache-inducing image - to make it a game, essentially, for him and him alone. You'd think he'd have a modicum of respect for the work that put him on the map. I understand there's a lot of good stuff in the remake! It could have been present without...the other garbage.

In response to this, someone posted a poll of potential plot changes that got passed around on Reddit asking, in effect: how much more can they screw this up? So let's take each item (minus a few of the baser ideas and suspect spelling) and discuss, in fact, how much more they can screw this up.