It’s my birthday and I can do recommendations without a theme if I want to… okay, enough of that. The real truth is that there are some games and anime that I love but aren’t easy to fit into a category that works for these posts. This is always the challenge with these recommendations: finding a category that suits both anime and games well enough that I can make it compelling… and as a result of that challenge, some titles find themselves not being recommended as often as I’d like!
So, rather than trying to shoehorn them in, I’m going to just pull a Jeopardy and throw them all into one set of recommendations which will only be connected by the fact that I love them all. Enjoy!
Super Bomberman was the first game I ever played that let more than 2 people play at the same time. 4-way splitscreen was pioneered using a device called the ‘Multi-Tap’ that let 4 controllers connect to the Super Nintendo at once. And naturally, more players meant it was more fun for when you had lots of people around. If I had to be honest, I think this is the most fun local multiplayer game I’ve ever played… and that says a lot since I grew up in the era of local multiplayer.
But there was just something so satisfying about blowing your older brother to smithereens. Or your Dad. Or your best friend. Or your brother’s idiot friend who was constantly around. And it is in that simplicity that this game finds its bearings… blowing things up is fun. When you add powerups like bigger explosions and more explosions into the mix, it borders on overstimulation. Who cares if the graphics are 20 years old? Explosions.
The Irregular at Magic High School
I’ve always been a fan of technological approaches to magic. That sort of science-fantasy hybrid is always fascinating to me. And Irregular’s take on it was utterly gorgeous, which just made it better. The magic circles and sequences you see in that show are some of the prettiest I’ve seen in anime.
And Irregular gave you plenty of opportunity to enjoy it with an insanely powerful set of protagonists and a ton of battle opportunities… but despite all of the action, it never felt like the primary focus. And that is for the better: with a protagonist as powerful as this show has, if the action were the focus would’ve felt meaningless. By focusing it a bit more on the characters and the world and letting the action simply serve to develop them and offer eye-candy, it delivers an exciting yet intriguing spectacle.
For our next recommendation we move to one of the first games I ever streamed: Parasite Eve. Parasite Eve is an incredible game offering a unique hybrid of shooter and rpg with a fantastic horror-themed story. As the story begins, rookie police officer Aya Brea attends an opera at Carnegie Hall when suddenly, everyone else in the building begins to spontaneously combust. Aya then begins an investigation that will explore her past… and humanity’s future.
I’ve always wanted another game to explore the same type of gameplay as Parasite Eve, but sadly neither of its sequels have attempted to replicate it. By taking a variant on the famous ATB system and applying it to a single character shooter they created such a fun and strategic experience that is really unlike anything else I’ve seen. I always love games that let you pick your own style and run with it and between the various weapon types, the spell system, and the special attributes on your equipment, Parasite Eve does a great job of this.
What ties it all together though is one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard. Much like Nier, Parasite Eve had an incredible sound that is kind of unlike anything else of its time but that fit the game so well. Each region’s music, the game’s soundtrack, the boss music… it was all so perfectly fitting.
Gosick is a weird anime. It felt a little bit like an anime version of Sherlock Holmes with a bit more of a mystical theme and an adorable budding romance in the wings. This show takes place in the 1920s in a small European country. Kazuya transfers into a small, superstitious private school mid-year and becomes an outcast due to a local legend hinting that he will bring tragedy. As a result of this, he ends up meeting Victorique, an adorable, brilliant, and eccentric young student. At first, he is a bit put off by her arrogance and the touch of cruelty she can show, but the two of them come to be extremely close over the course of their time together, as he assists her in solving mysteries for her detective brother Grevil.
The story builds on a ‘mystery of the day’ theme, slowly building an overarching story involving Victorique’s search for her mother. The mysteries are interesting but rarely predictable, yet their solutions are always feasible given the information you’re presented. Through a variety of mysteries, you get to come to know Kazuya and Victorique very well… and as a result, you get to appreciate the way their characters change subtly over time. Kazuya’s growth, in particular, is impressive since it never feels obvious.
Metal Gear Solid
The Metal Gear series has been around forever… essentially creating the ‘stealth action’ genre that seems to pop in and out of popularity every couple years. While the series’ origins lie far older… its rise to prominence can be attributed to the amazing quality of the first Metal Gear Solid game.
There are many things to be praised about MGS: story, graphics, audio/voicework, etc. However, for the moment, I just wanted to highlight some of the cool gameplay mechanics the game features. Of course, the game’s core mechanics were solid and well-implemented. But what was so cool were the ways this game reached out to create unique experiences.
The sniper battle shines as one of my most memorable scenes, along with one of the game’s most famous boss fights: Psycho Mantis. Mantis breaks the fourth wall, commenting on the other games you play and then ‘reads your mind’, forcing you to swap your controller to port 2 in order to avoid his psychic power.
Blast of Tempest
Blast of Tempest, at first glance, appears to be pretty standard modern fantasy fare. It takes place in an alternate Earth, but one where hidden societies of mages essentially guide the path of humanity drawing power from a pair of mystical trees called the Tree of Genesis and the Tree of Exodus. Pretty standard fare, except for the way the magic plays out. The first form of magic is not all that special, allowing an offering to be exchanged for power. But, magic also often takes place in the form of seemingly preternatural luck or coincidence.
The Tree of Genesis sets events in place to ensure that those in its favour have what they need to succeed. For example, there is suspicion at one point that a character was murdered years earlier as a way to set the stage so that that character’s boyfriend would no longer be in a relationship so that a different character’s romantic inclinations could be realized. This leads into crazy logical debates where people try to influence others into certain courses of action based off of assumptions of what the source of their power actually wants. This logic is treated almost as a form of magic in itself. It sounds kind of silly, but it is really quite entertaining when you watch it, especially since many of the logical leaps they try to make are hilarious and clever.
This week’s random recommendation is Tomb Raider. As those of us who love the PS4 sit here eagerly awaiting the reboot’s sequel this fall, we can reminisce about how well-written and well-acted the new Lara Croft is. When Crystal Dynamics decided to re-invent the Tomb Raider wheel, there were some doubts as to how successful such a reboot could hope to be, given how iconic and memorable the originals were… but they certainly exceeded everyone’s expectations.
What was so impressive was how they managed to make Lara feel strong, yet still human. So often these style of games feature ‘action hero’ characters who are just there to cause havoc and come out of it with the treasure and perfectly coiffed hair (like Nathan Drake). And while there’s nothing wrong with that type, it’s nice to have a character once in a while that feels vulnerable and human, yet still strong.
When asked what my favourite anime ever is, my go to has always been Macross Plus. While I’ve never really put the type of thought into it to really say for sure it is my absolute favourite of all time, it is certainly one of the best I’ve ever seen and an anime that had a huge impact on my tastes from a young age. You see, back when I was a kid… finding anime was extremely difficult. We didn’t have all of the fancy stuff people have nowadays. So my only exposure to anime came from two places: YTV’s short anime blocks and Teletoon’s Friday Night Anime movies. And that was where I stumbled upon the glory that is the Macross Plus miniseries.
In Macross Plus, we follow a story that is, at its core, about the perils of autonomous artificial intelligence. It’s about a pair of childhood friends-turned-rivals who have both become test pilots who are fighting for budget as to which organization will get military funding. In the middle of it all is their childhood love interest who has become the ‘manager’ of a digital idol known as Sharon. Now, this is only the beginning, and things rapidly escalate from there creating a hilarious, exciting, and flashy show that is so good and so cleanly animated that it is hard to believe it came out in the 80s. They even did a good job of predicting what an idol might sound like… the music is surprisingly reminiscent of an late-nineties American pop idol, just with an anime flair.