In the history of turn-based combat, there is nothing duller or more nonsensical than watching so-called heroes passively absorb consumable spells from clueless enemies. And the story reads like it was written by a talentless high schooler. An embarrassing sequel that unfortunately has inspired a number of juvenile, awkwardly complex JRPGs.
Chrono Trigger is extraordinary in many ways. The Millennium Fair ranks as the greatest initial location of any RPG, serving as an organic tutorial, a location where your actions will be judged later on in court (a groundbreaking idea), and a damn fun place to visit in general. The soundtrack by Mitsuda and Uematsu — a masterpiece by itself — stirs every emotion in the book with a grandness that transcends the efforts of so many fully orchestrated tracks we hear today. The turn-based combat is tight and fast-paced, with a combo system that hasn't been topped. And the plot is full of colorful characters and brilliant twists, including the death of the protagonist and the shocking conversion of a devilish villain.
At the same time, people overrate Chrono Trigger when they call it the greatest SNES RPG or, worse, the best RPG ever. Too many little flaws for either claim to be true: the overworld graphics are tiny and dull; certain sound effects, like that hoarse creature roar, are comically overused; some techniques are useless and visually embarrassing (see Ayla's Dino Tail); the endings are as underwhelming as they are plentiful; and that bike mini game is insultingly atrocious with its contrived place switching. Final Fantasy VI, Illusion of Gaia, Super Mario RPG, Earthbound, and Secret of Evermore are more consistent than Trigger, yet Trigger gets most of the glory. We need to rewrite the RPG history book when it comes to this injustice, despite Trigger's obvious greatness.
If you put me in a room of trash talkers who want to play this particular Smash Bros., I'll gladly pick Samus and snipe people like a cheap bastard and have a great time. (And by "play," I mean a multiplayer brawl, not a stripped-down one-on-one fight. I'm sorry tourney nerds, but Smash is an uninteresting one-on-one fighter. You suck the fun and uniqueness out of Smash Bros. when you sanitize it in the name of some conservative notion of competition.)
But from a critical standpoint, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has been spit-polished to the point where it registers as very made-by-committee and antiseptic. Its distinguishing characteristic is a ridiculous amount of content (a word that shouldn't be confused with creativity). The number of characters is obscene when one recalls the main appeal of Smash Bros.: pitting the most iconic and popular Nintendo characters against each other. Now everyone shows up for the sake of random fan demands and Nintendo's almighty bottom line. All the stars from the non-Nintendo games, as well as the Nintendo-branded characters who don't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as your Marios and Kirbys, betray the notion that we're watching larger-than-life Nintendo figures fight it out. I don't care about Ryu from Street Fighter trading blows with Cloud from Final Fantasy. Does Ryu really need to be in another game? I can raise the same question for others. Ultimate may not be an open world game, but it champions a similar type of quantity-over-quality philosophy. Meanwhile, as fine-tuned as the controls are in Ultimate, I still vastly prefer the faster flow and more dangerous vibes of Super Smash. Bros Melee (which introduced the most fascinating stages in the series: Hyrule Kingdom and Brinstar Depths). Ultimate feels quite safe despite the lofty implications of its title.
Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors has an appreciable amount of video game genius. Whereas many fighting games of the current century push out contrived story modes, Darkstalkers uses energetic and detailed visuals for more organic and impactful storytelling. See how Sasquatch's animations and stage reinvent the Bigfoot legend as a communal, lovable creature, or how Victor's level, with its day/night cycle and remnants of violence, serves as a frighteningly appropriate homage to Mary Shelley's classic novel. The graphics are so evocative and rich in meaning that they're liable to distract one from battle. Indeed, part of the key to mastering Darkstalkers is growing accustomed to its creative weirdness. No mere Street Fighter II esque cash grab, the game is mechanically ahead of its time with its air blocks and EX specials, setting the table for Capcom's future Street Fighter titles and the flashy (and troublingly overrated) Marvel series. Darkstalkers even produces unique suspense with its super bar that depletes with time, forcing players to make smart decisions faster. In today's world where philosophically bankrupt fanboys cheer on a neverending pandering cycle of crossover guest stars in fighters, they just don't make them like Darkstalkers anymore.
While I can't help but admire Terry Cavanagh's commitment to his concept, Super Hexagon is more compelling to watch than to play. The visuals have a unique hypnotic beauty, and you can even close your eyes and get lost in Chipzel's urgent, ever-evolving soundtrack. But as an arcade-style challenge, Super Hexagon doesn't keep me coming back for more. Its simplicity is its greatest strength and weakness. The paradox follows: Super Hexagon would be less remarkable if it were more complex, yet I find myself wanting more of a reason to stay engaged as a player outside of getting used to the game's patterns to arrive at a sense of accomplishment. Being a mere spectator allows me to focus on Cavanagh's artistic conviction as well as relish the interplay between Chipzel's music, the pulsing shapes, and the constant string of narrowly avoided collisions; playing Super Hexagon leads me to question its long-term experiential appeal.
One can't overstate the historical impact of Super Mario 64. Its analog-stick controls and adjustable camera set the stage for 21st century gaming. Its 3D platforming has as many imitators as a mid-1960s Beatles album. And there's still nothing like the surreal invitation to stretch the features of Mario's big face before the game even starts.
But I still hesitate to call Mario 64 great. Once you acknowledge the major leap in presentation and get over the thrill of moving in three-dimensional space, you're left with a Mario that overemphasizes the collection of items in levels that you must play to death. Before Mario 64, Mario games had a momentum to them. Mario 64 feels more like a scavenger hunt without stakes. There's little urgency or pressure. By the halfway point, I'm already disinterested.
And whatever happened to the creative thinking behind Mario's abilities? The conservatism started with Super Mario World, which merely updated how the hero can fly and gave him a gimmicky dinosaur buddy. In Mario 64, the most notable addition is the expanded repertoire of jumps, but let's not forget this more acrobatic style already showed up in the greatest remake of all time, Donkey Kong 1994. The effects of the special caps in Mario 64 don't spark my imagination: another flying ability and two passive abilities, one of which corrects the stupid regressive rule that Mario can't breathe underwater. It's almost as if 1990s Nintendo threw up its hands after conceiving the wide array of game-changing powers in Super Mario Bros. 3 and Yoshi's Island.
I also despise Mario 64's patronizing, one-dimensional tone. This is a case where the massive influence of Mario 64 has short-circuited the gaming world's memory of what pop games could achieve emotionally. No matter the stage, Mario hoots like he just won the lottery as he jumps about. This creative decision smacks of the condescension Nintendo trotted out with the smiling clouds in the remakes within Super Mario All-Stars. It's clear Nintendo stopped trusting the emotional reactions of its audience with the release of Mario 64. Now people expect to hear the cute yelps and get showered with praise for finding a star under a rock. Would our tails no longer wag without these features?
Is Tokyo as predictable and artificial as its depiction in Yakuza 0? The city only seems alive when you happen upon one of many absurd but inconsequential quests. These wacky sidebars also stand out because of their contrast with the standard soap opera crime narrative of the main story. Perhaps Yakuza 0's endless contrivances could be forgiven if the martial arts action weren't so awkwardly telegraphed and designed. The game tries to convince you the combat is cool with its monotonous use of multi-angle cutscene finishers, but anyone with basic knowledge of the beat-'em-up genre and fighting games has seen all of this crap before in more fluid packages. The desaturated still-frame shot that one activates with a victory speaks to the desperate dullness at hand in Yakuza 0. Critics should be jailed for giving this game a pass on its flagrant lack of creativity back in 2017.