Foundation: Episode I - The Top 25 Square Games
By Kevin Leung, June 23rd, 2002
I finished reading Garth Ennis' Preacher for the second time today. And it was damn good, just like the first time.
Jesse Custer is a Texas reverend armed with nothing but the Word of God. He's followed by his ex-girlfriend, Tulip O'Hare (who packs more heat than a John Woo flick), and a hard-drinking Irish vampire named Cassidy. On their way to confront God, there's plenty of gangsters, demons, bar fights, sick & twisted humour, piles of bullet-riddled corpses, more bar fights, a lot of swearing, and a bit of romance.
I'll always remember the episode where Jesse is at the darkest point of his life and, with nowhere else to go, seeks refuge in the sleepy town of Salvation. It was there that he became acquainted with his past and began to rebuild himself. Salvation gave Jesse a sense of history; he walked out with renewed strength and purpose to his mission. Preacher is a subtle reminder that sometimes you have to know where you've been in order to know where you're going.
This was all in my head as I was writing 'Foundation,' the list of Square games. There are two elementary reasons why you would compile a 'Best of' list: 1) you want to know what's considered the best and 2) you want a retrospect of the past.
Let's focus on the latter here. Like it or not, Squaresoft is now in a period of recuperation. With the financial hemorrhaging of ventures like the Final Fantasy movie, they decided to stop becoming the next entertainment giant and put the focus back on what it is they do best: games. More follow-up sequels, more emphasis on Final Fantasy they said. Produce only the best. From the vault, they're pulling out Parasite Eve and digging up Secret of Mana. Like Jesse Custer, they are tracing their history, referencing their past to help the future. So strangely enough, this is a very appropriate time to present our Top 25 list, a record of their achievements through the eyes of the fans. More than just hit-sellers, these games would bring them out of the minor leagues and lay down the groundwork for a successful path to RPG dominance. Time to retread.
Let's go back to the year 2000, to the Summer of Adventure. By all logic, the kid friendly Threads of Fate should have dissipated along with other forgotten games of yesteryear. It wasn't as hip or cool as Legend of Mana and certainly not feverishly anticipated like Chrono Cross. "Is this another Brave Fencer Musashi?" Retailers couldn't even give all the soundtrack promos away. But this little sibling managed to beat some impressive odds and remains one of the most whimsical Square games in recent memory.
Unlikely heroes Rue and Mint first stumble upon one another in the town of Carona. Both are in search of the mysterious Dewprism, an artifact that can change their lives. While not the most epic tale, Threads of Fate is enjoyable and that should be enough.
Plays like: If Link's cousins came over for a weekend romp in Hyrule.
It's all about the one-hit kill, baby. Ask anyone who's played Bushido Blade and they'll tell you it's one of the most realistic fighting games. You can't just hack and slash recklessly with your weapon. Your duel has to be conservative and calculated - one wrong move and you're sushi.
Today, the game would seem dated: it lacks the polish of Virtua Fighter 4 and the showmanship of Soul Calibur. But at the time of its release, Bushido Blade was more innovative than a handful of Street Fighter clones and that's not something to be slighted. Akira Kurosawa would be proud.
Plays like: The best samurai simulator, ever.
SaGa Frontier 2 is the latest descendent of the noble SaGa lineage, Square's second longest running series. Not many games can claim to chart the course of 100 years. Young Gustave XIII, heir to his father's throne, must prove himself after being exposed as the dynasty's weak link and subsequently banished from the Finney kingdom. The secondary quest tells the story of Wil Knights, a plucky lad who is a Digger by trade. The paths of Gustave and Wil will cross many times and is one of the features of the Multi-Scenario system which allows you to toggle between both adventures. It is most intriguing to witness three generations of Gustave men and their roles within the timeline. If Square continues this level of depth and complexity, Unlimited SaGa should prove interesting.
Plays like: A sincere apology for SaGa Frontier.
"SaGa Frontier 2 is quite underrated and that's too bad. It features beautiful watercolor backgrounds along with huge battles and a simple yet unforgettable story. It's games like this that make the SaGa series one of true royalty."
It's been three years since the events of the original Parasite Eve occurred. Our protagonist, Aya Brea, is now a member of the top secret FBI division known as M.I.S.T. "I am probably their most valued asset," she remarks, "considering that it was I who stopped the last Mitochondria revolution nearly single-handed…This war has changed my entire life, ever since I discovered what I really am." Parasite Eve 2 begins when Aya is called to investigate a possible sighting of another NMC, a rogue mutant monster that survived the first incident. "What could happen that I haven't handled before?" More than anyone could possibly imagine. Don't mess with your mitochondria.
Plays like: Resident Evil crossed with The X-Files. Now that's scary.
What happens when you take military strategy, a story rife with political conspiracy, and giant robots that eat armoured tanks for breakfast? You get the brilliantly crafted Front Mission 3. If you enjoy real characters, you'll feel right there with Kazuki and Ryogo as they unravel the mystery behind the explosion at Yokosuka JDF Base. For the field commander within, you'll have access to a whole arsenal of missiles, machine guns, and state-of-the-art firepower like nobody's business. If you want to pick up this tactical masterpiece, you better hustle, soldier. The North American publishing of this title was discontinued and copies are disappearing fast.
Plays like: Tom Clancy's version of Gundam.
"Most RPGs that make attempts at moral ambiguity blow it rather horribly, but Front Mission 3 succeeds so shockingly well to the point where one truly believes that what your characters accomplish might not mean much in the long run."
Squaresoft Hidden Gems:
Near the end of the Super Famicom's lifespan, strategy RPGs were still all the rage: Atlus made waves with the Ogre Battle Saga while Nintendo's Fire Emblem series dominated the market. Square's answer to all this was Bahamut Lagoon, one of the best games that no one's ever played. Players start by breeding an army of dragons and harnessing their devastating power. As the mythical beasts battle for control of the skies, you must also assemble your troops on the ground and use cunning tactics to outsmart the enemy. Add in some of the most gorgeous 2D graphics since Final Fantasy VI and you have a winner.
To Be Continued...
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