100th Review Special, Part 4: March of the Mediocrity

The primary difference between a 3/10 and a 4/10 on my scale is that I couldn’t personally endorse playing any game from the former tier. With the latter tier, my stance when it comes to the question of recommending a game is less straightforward. Essentially, a 4/10 means that I would be more likely to dissuade people from playing the game in question, yet it does just enough right so as to not make the experience irredeemably bad. In practice, quite a lot of the entries on this tier are games that had historical significance, yet are decidedly inaccessible from a modern standpoint. Either way, now that we’re out of the red-score tiers, you can rest easy knowing that from here on out, I’ll be talking about games that are, for the most part, worth looking into.

72. Dragon Quest

Originally reviewed on: October 25, 2016

Dragon Quest was ground zero for JRPGs. As this form of RPG allowed the genre to reach a wider audience, it’s consequently one of the most important titles in the medium’s history. Unfortunately, there’s not really much reason to revisit it all these years later. Being the first of its kind, it understandably comes across as the basic elements with which one could make a game than a completed product these days, and it really didn’t take long for the genre to evolve from its humble beginnings. To put this statement in perspective, Final Fantasy IV was released a mere five years later. Though there is undeniably some value for archivists to revisit this game, it’s sufficient for everyone else to simply acknowledge its place in history.

71. Dragon Quest II: Luminaries of the Legendary Line

Originally reviewed on: February 13, 2017

Dragon Quest II exists in an intermediary stage in the series’ long history having been issued between the genre-making original and the genre-codifying third installment. To wit, it’s an improvement over the debut installment in that you’re given more than one character to control, and giving you a much larger world to explore is certainly a step in the right direction. However, if anything, it has even bigger issues when it comes to balance. Dragon Quest could at least be rendered easy to complete if you grinded enough levels. Even if you grind for a long time in Dragon Quest II, you still have to rely on luck to win the final battle. Its greater level of ambition places it ahead of its direct predecessor, but it too is a tough sell.

70. Metroid II: Return of Samus

Originally reviewed on: August 14, 2016

Metroid II is a more frustrating game to play than Metroid: Other M, but it doesn’t have an abhorrent narrative weighing down the experience and unlike its distant successor, it was a good effort for its time and scene. Indeed, with most companies choosing to make Game Boy games lesser versions of what you could find on consoles or in the arcade (Square being a notable exception), Metroid II is commendable, as it goes in a new direction with the series, focusing even more on atmosphere when such an approach to game design was practically unheard of. However, the irony of Metroid II is that it’s more linear, yet somehow also easier to get lost in. It couldn’t have been helped given the hardware, but the monochrome visuals make it very difficult to find your way around, which is a problem in a genre that relies so heavily on exploration.

69. Metroid

Originally reviewed on: July 19, 2016

The main reason I can say the original Metroid is a better effort than its first sequel is because the colored corridors can at least be memorized through sheer repetition. Even so, though it’s considered a classic by anyone who grew up with an NES, recommending it to a new generation is a tricky proposition. Though the game makes use of various colors so you can distinguish various areas of the game, and it’s about as ambient as an NES game can get, the experience amounts to you exploring boring hallways until you find enough upgrades, which can be hidden in areas most people wouldn’t think to look. The pieces were there, and it was important for Nintendo to experiment, but they would need a little more experience under their belt before they could make something great out of this franchise.

68. X

Originally reviewed on: September 24, 2017

“A mine has been detected nearby! Be careful!”

Though most Western fans wouldn’t know it, X is a big reason as to why we have such thriving handheld gaming scene today. Nintendo attempted to make a 3D game for a handheld device that was, in many ways, inferior to the NES in terms of hardware and visuals. We have to give them credit for ambition, but it’s clear when playing it that it that they may have overreached a little. Nonetheless, it’s an important part of gaming history, and much like Metroid II, helped teach developers that handheld games were more than just a passing fad.

67. Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar

Originally reviewed on: May 1, 2015

Ultima IV is a game with a concept that would be considered avant-garde and forward-looking if it were released at this very moment. It is an RPG with no antagonist, asking the hard-hitting question of whether or not good really needs evil in order to remain good. While many RPGs from the early 21st century would include a karma meter; Ultima IV features eight based on each of the setting’s central virtues. Only by maximizing each of them can you achieve enlightenment and become the titular Avatar. Sure, you could steal from people like you could in contemporary RPGs, but that’s not what a hero does, and your goal will elude you if you choose to be so petty. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to cheat the system, making rendering the brilliant concept less a journey to become a better person and more of one exploiting the game’s code to achieve victory.

66. Final Fantasy III

Originally reviewed on: October 2, 2017

It was smart of Square to ditch the “learn by doing” mechanic of Final Fantasy II and return to the more familiar leveling system. It was even better of them to invent the job system, as it’s easily one of the best JRPG mechanics of its day. It didn’t quite work out in the end, as Final Fantasy III suffers from a horribly steep difficulty spike nearing the end that makes the one from Earthbound Beginnings seem tame by comparison. Even discounting that, the job system itself is poorly implemented, as many jobs are worthless or become worthless after you pass the one situation in which you need to use them. What’s worse is that the remakes don’t address any of this game’s most glaring issues (such as the lack of save points), which means you will have to deal with them regardless of the platform you choose. It’s honestly one of the only times I can think of where one could argue that the original game is actually better than its remakes.

65. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Originally reviewed on: February 20, 2016

Modern Warfare 2 made the exact same mistake Spec Ops: The Line would make a few years later in that it features a sequence that throws all of the blame on the player without considering how meaningless such an assertion is when you only give them one way to proceed. Considering its massive success, eclipsing the sales figures of its direct predecessor, we could have this game to blame for pockets of the AAA industry relying on shock value or audience blaming over actual substance in the 2010s. It fares better than Spec Ops: The Line because it’s a far better game with quick loading screens on the version I played, but its disjointed storytelling doesn’t do it any favors in the long run.

64. Lufia & the Fortress of Doom

Originally reviewed on: October 22, 2017

Lufia & the Fortress of Doom is nearly impossible to recommend not only based on the fact that its sequel is the superior title by far, but also because Lufia II is actually a prequel, meaning that playing this game first will spoil how it ends. Even if that weren’t true, it’s still a very dated JRPG that embodies all of the genre’s most criticized aspects – from featuring a random encounters that can trigger as soon as you enter a new area to making the four heroes run across the world several times, fulfilling inane fetch quests. It does have a few flashes of brilliance in how the ending parallels the beginning while also serving as a stark antithesis, but they don’t stop the game from feeling like a homework assignment.

63. Mother 3

Originally reviewed on: Unknown

Revised on: January 31, 2017

I can imagine this will probably end up being the most controversial placement on this entire list, but I assure you that I did not assign this game a 4/10 just because I could. In fact, I will say upfront that this is by far the most well-made game in this tier.

Otherwise, if you asked me whether or not Mother 3 is worth playing when I finished it back in 2011, I would’ve said that even if I personally didn’t care for it, it’s still worth checking out. These days, I’m far less enthusiastic about recommending it. Mother 3 may have a strong following in the West, but in its native Japan, it wasn’t nearly as well-received. This was evidenced by many “Greatest games of all time” lists including its two predecessors whereas this one remained conspicuously absent. Though nostalgia seems to play as big of a role regarding the assessment of certain games in the East as it does in the West, I find myself siding with the Japanese fans on this matter. It has the Metroid: Other M factor against it in that part of the reason why I found it so disappointing, especially in hindsight, is that it was made by someone who really should have known better.

On the other hand, I feel like its two predecessors, Mother 3 was ahead of its time, but in this particular case, it’s not a good thing. In the late 2000s/early 2010s, whether it was the borderline technophobic Black Mirror or the outright misanthropic District 9, satire in general became less subtle and, consequently, more tedious to sit through. What all of these works have in common is that they preach on and on about how flawed humanity is, yet they often fail to answer the question of what everyone should do to redeem themselves. This lends a nihilistic tone that becomes detrimental to society as a whole when enough people buy into it. The rare instance they decide to provide a solution, nine times out of ten, it’s going to be one that couldn’t possibly work. This is where Mother 3 falls short; it’s so quick to denounce science, yet for all its preachiness, it never sees fit to give us a realistic solution; going back to the ways of old would be a bad long-term strategy for everyone. For whatever reason, a fair number of trilogies end with a weak third installment. I’m not entirely sure if there’s an exact right way to end a trilogy, but if this game is any indication, getting on your soapbox falls neatly in the “wrong way” category.

62. Laura Bow: The Colonel’s Bequest

Originally reviewed on: February 1, 2015

When I was deciding on where to rank The Colonel’s Bequest, I originally thought that Mother 3 was hands down the superior title. I then reconsidered after taking other factors in account. By the time Mother 3 came out in 2006, the tropes and storytelling techniques Mr. Itoi resorted to were beneath him by the standards he himself established. The Colonel’s Bequest has plenty of problems itself with a largely unsympathetic cast that makes it impossible to care when they start turning up dead, yet it was a very solid effort for 1989, perfectly capturing the spirit of its setting while making for an experience that’s surprisingly tense for such an old title. It’s still difficult to recommend because it doesn’t properly incentivize the player to engage with the material; you could go the entire game not knowing anything is amiss until the very end and achieve the best ending by accident. In a murder mystery game, such a design choice is the kiss of death.

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8 thoughts on “100th Review Special, Part 4: March of the Mediocrity

  1. I replayed Metroid this year, for the first time in a long while. I really enjoyed it, I’ve been struggling to get in to Metroid II though. And Final Fantasy III is just a game I can’t get entrenched in for whatever reason.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think Metroid is a game I played way too late. I had to beat Metroid Fusion to unlock it in Metroid Prime, so trying to experience the original after all that made for an overall unenjoyable experience. I’ll admit that I felt a sense of accomplishment when I finally got around to clearing it, though.

      Final Fantasy III is a pretty difficult game to get into these days, so if you’re unable to finish it, I wouldn’t blame you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yeah, I have no idea why none of the remakes fixed Final Fantasy III’s glaring problems. I can understand preserving the experience, as flawed as it is, but the save point issue in particular was hugely problematic yet it wouldn’t have really changed anything to correct it.

    In any case, I’m kind of surprised that Mother 3 scored lower than the original Mother. I might be misremembering your respective impressions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not to mention that when they remade the first two games, they gave players the ability to save anywhere. I can sort of understand why they wouldn’t for Final Fantasy III because there are a few areas in which you can’t easily backtrack (and the final dungeon is a point of no return), but that still raises the question of why they couldn’t include save points. They would be there for newcomers and old-school enthusiasts could elect not to use them. As it stands, they ensured their game is going to be really difficult for newer generations to appreciate.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I had forgotten your dislike for Mother 3. You made some fair points in that review, as I remember. Still, as you said, it is an unexpected placement and take on a game that is generally well-regarded in the West. Personally, as you know, I love it

    Liked by 1 person

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