As you may have noticed since my 150th game review special, I ended up awarding passing grades far less often than middling or failing ones. It was to the point where I had gone at least two different months of this year without awarding a single one, causing me to promise to review at least one good game the following month. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why things turned out that way, though reviewing long-running series that took a few installments to finally get good probably had something to do with it (the Bubsy series was responsible for three failing grades by itself). Either way, we’ve finally reached the games I can straight-up recommend, so if you haven’t played them, seek them out.
Because the associated grades are smack dab in the middle of my grading scale, yellow scores are probably the most diverse when it comes my stance on recommending them. While a 4/10 would be an unlikely recommendation at best, a 6/10 is effectively an honorable mention. Remember that, unlike what you may have experienced in school, 5/10 is average on my scale. Anyway, here are the games that, for all intents and purposes, neither passed nor failed.
Now I’ve done it. Less than a year after my piece on Super Mario 64, I managed to reach the 200-review mark in the form of my take on Persona 4 – exactly as I predicted. I am glad to have made it this far and I am truly appreciative of your support. As usual, now that I’ve reached this milestone, I now intend to talk about the games I’ve reviewed since then. Unlike last time, I didn’t revise any reviews, so there will only be fifty entries in this special. Like last time, this special will be divided into four parts. This part, which you’re reading right now, will detail all of the games that received failing grades. Part Two will showcase the ones that received middling grades. Part Three will have me talk about the games I recommend.
The finale will have me showcase the games I highly recommend. This time, I actually awarded a few 10/10s, so this will be the first time since my 100 review special that I’ll discuss every single tier on my grading scale. Once I’ve done that, I will reveal the master list so you can see where these games end up on them. Similar to my film review special, I have kept track of the scores I’ve awarded each game for a given decade. That way, you can see how frequently games from a given period pass, fail, or do neither. With the introduction out of the way, let’s dive right in.
By 1987, a game developer named Square was on the verge of bankruptcy. Knowing that their next project could potentially sink the company, they decided to take inspiration from Yuji Horii’s landmark Dragon Quest and create a turn-based role-playing game. In a bit of gallows humor, they named this game Final Fantasy. The name turned out to be highly ironic when it proved to be a resounding domestic success. This encouraged the company to try to have the game localized. To their surprise, the game sold even more copies in the West than it did in its native homeland. Because contemporary role-playing experiences were primarily found on personal computer platforms, Final Fantasy ended up being a gateway into the genre for those limited to home consoles. With at least two major RPG series proving to be successful, many other developers joined in, causing the genre to enter a golden age.
However, even with the success of Final Fantasy, console-based RPGs were still a niche market in North America by the early-1990s. It was ambiguous as to exactly why many of these games failed to find a large audience. North America already had a thriving role-playing scene by the time Dragon Quest was released there, making Mr. Horii’s effort, which greatly simplified the genre, seem redundant. It could also be chalked up to a difference in expectations regarding the medium. At the time, Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog were some of the most popular video game characters. Both originated from series that placed a greater emphasis on gameplay over story. Because of this, slow-paced, story-focused experiences didn’t fit what Western consumers expected out of console games. Square’s executives, on the other hand, came down to a different conclusion. They cited their games’ high difficulty as a reason why Westerners shied away from them. Among other things, this caused the difficulty of Final Fantasy IV to be lowered.
Nonetheless, the success of the original Final Fantasy proved that there did exist a fanbase for these kinds of games in the West. In an attempt to broaden their international market, Square greenlit a project specifically designed for Western gamers. The game was released under the name Final Fantasy Mystic Quest in Western regions – first in North America in 1992 and Europe in a year later. It would see a domestic release in September of 1993 with the slightly altered title Final Fantasy USA: Mystic Quest. Square would later reveal that the game sold 800,000 units, though roughly half of them were domestic sales. With neither side of the Pacific being especially enthusiastic about the game, it would appear to have been a resounding failure. Would it have been capable of selling newcomers on the genre?
Geez, writing that review of Persona 4 wasn’t easy. I liked how it turned out, though. Plus, I’m glad that my longest review thus far is of one of the very few games I would award a 10/10. This past month saw me reach both 100 film reviews and 200 game reviews. I never thought I’d make it this far, but here we are.
Atlus’s long-running Shin Megami Tensei metaseries had always been popular in its native Japan. However, the first games were released on Nintendo’s Famicom and Super Famicom consoles. The developer’s North American branch had a strict policy that prohibited any religious symbolism. Because of the series’ frequent use of Christian symbolism, these games had no chance of making it past Nintendo of America’s censors. Fortunately, the series was able to travel overseas when Atlus, like many third-party companies, jumped ship to the PlayStation line of consoles. Even so, the series was still largely invisible in the West. This changed in 2004 when Atlus released a localized version of the main series’ third installment, Nocturne. Though not as successful as many popular, contemporary JPRG series such as Final Fantasy, Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne found an audience, becoming a cult hit for the PlayStation 2 era.
The PlayStation era marked the beginning of a Shin Megami Tensei spinoff series named Persona. It was one of the first games in the metaseries to be localized, though it quickly fell into obscurity. Consequently, when its first sequel, Persona 2, was split into two separate releases, the second failed to debut overseas. However, with the momentum gained from the positive critical reception of Nocturne, Atlus wound up localizing Persona 3. Because most Western fans had never heard of the two games preceding it, Persona 3 ended up being a gateway entry for anyone seeking to delve into the metaseries along with Nocturne. Indeed, many Western critics praised Persona 3 for providing a unique take on the gameplay Nocturne pioneered.
With the series finding its way into Western markets and Persona 3 proving to be a domestic hit, a sequel was inevitable. Katsura Hashino, who had directed many installments in the metaseries, including Nocturne and Persona 3, found himself in charge of leading a new team. Many of the people who worked on Persona 3 returned for this project. A significant portion of the new personnel consisted of fans of Persona 3. With this new installment, Atlus sought to improve both the gameplay and the story so as to not retread old ground. Development began shortly after the release of Persona 3 in 2006, though ideas had been thrown around earlier according to Mr. Hashino. Development of this game, simply entitled Persona 4, took place over the course of two years. It saw its initial release on July 10, 2008 in Japan for the PlayStation 2 before debuting in North America the following December. The game saw the the light of day in Australia and Europe in March of 2009. Despite being released two years after the launch of the PlayStation 3, Persona 4 was even greater hit with the metaseries’ new fans than its predecessor. It is considered one of the greatest games of all time and an exemplary swansong effort for the then-aging PlayStation 2. Was Persona 4 able to give the greatest-selling home console at the time a worthy sendoff?
A curious incident occurs in the Mojave Desert when a policeman pulls over a 1964 Chevrolet Malibu. The driver is one J. Frank Parnell. When the policeman decides to examine the trunk, he is immediately vaporized by an unknown force, leaving only his shoes behind. Meanwhile, a punk rocker named Otto Maddox is fired from his supermarket job. Without a dollar to his name, he wanders the streets until an older man named Bud drives up to him. He offers Otto $25 to drive a car out of the neighborhood.
As anyone who has been following me for a significant length of time knows, I tend to be pretty stingy with 9/10s. This is because I feel many critics hand them out to every other film they like. As long as they’re consistent, that’s fine, but with my scoring system, I wanted to make creators well and truly earn every single point. You want a seven-point passing grade or better? You gotta work for it. Because of this, you won’t see me award this grade often, so when it happens, you can safely bet that I’m discussing a masterpiece.
And here are the rest of the 8/10s. Definitely see these films if you haven’t already.
Now that I’ve gotten the lowlights out of the way, let’s move onto the films that, if you haven’t watched, you absolutely should.