Browny’s Top 5 Video Games (+Honorable Mentions)

If there’s one thing I do more than anything else, it would be play video games.

A hobby passed to me from my father, nothing has ever captured my attention as much as this eternal time sink. Growing up, I would read a lot, dabble in writing, but all of it came back to games. I would read because a game inspired me to read about stuff relating to it. I would write because a game would inspire me to try and retell it in a novel (with varying levels of success). Basically, it was all about those stupid games.

Friends? TV? School even? All second fiddle to games. Be they Super Nintendo, PS2 or DS and 3DS, upon my return from school or later on jobs, it would be games. I am a nerd.

I have played over 500 games in my lifetime. Not all of them to completion, but always enough to know if the game is to my liking. Some day I’ll write articles on bad games. But today, it’s for happier things.

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5. Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth

I’ve often found it difficult to explain to people unaware of Persona just what the games are like or about. Especially people who don’t play games. That frustration is compounded when I try to describe Persona Q, a game that is essentially a different series in disguise that would offer nothing to non-fans of Persona 3 and Persona 4. And even then fans of both might find Persona Q difficult to sit through.

Persona Q is actually an Etrian Odyssey title. It plays like one, it acts like one, and dressing it up in cute Persona visuals does little to detract from the radically different game that it is from Persona 3 and Persona 4. This isn’t a bad thing in my case, since Etrian Odyssey is one of my two favorite series in existence (you can tell because anywhere I go I describe myself as a “DQ & SQ Fanatic”, where SQ refers to the Japanese name of Etrian Odyssey, Sekaiju no Meikyuu).

Persona Q follows the cast of both Persona 3 and Persona 4, ripped from their own games to partake in a new adventure featuring a pair of new characters in a strange warped version of Yasogami High. The whole game maintains this sense of mystery yet whimsy, as the cast doesn’t seem all that fazed by what put them in the situation in the first place. Which works to the narrative’s benefit, as the entire thing feels like almost like a fan project that got substantial funding. This isn’t a bad thing, either; the plot might take its sweet time to build steam, but once it gets going, it hits all the high notes Persona is known for.

It might be hard for players to crawl through the labyrinths separating fun story bits, but the reward of yet another fully voiced cutscene always makes the hassle worthwhile. The game allows you tackle the story from either perspective (that of Persona 3‘s cast or Persona 4‘s), giving you subtly different plots as you go along. Persona 4‘s side is more light-hearted, while Persona 3‘s takes advantage of the additional game time to flesh out its own cast a lot more than they ever were in their original game.

Persona Q is very much a fan love letter. The choice of Etrian Odyssey as the base game is odd and may detract from the experience for some, but it’s different enough to give even diehard fans a new experience that isn’t just another dungeon crawler. Persona Q earns its spot on my Top 5 because I consider it to be not only the best Persona game, but also the best Etrian Odyssey game. Quite an achievement for what amounts to a fun little side-project. But I guess that’s why these fun diversions exist in the first place.

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HONORABLE MENTION. Metroid Prime

If you expected this to be my Number 4, I’m sorry to disappoint you. Though easily Metroid Prime could have topped my list if I simply let the other games step aside.

Metroid Prime exemplifies quality game design. It’s atmospheric, intuitive, just the right length, and to this day hasn’t been topped. I routinely replay it to bask in its perfection, and easily recommend it to anyone, gamer or not.

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4. Xenoblade Chronicles

Back in 2012, a little game called Xenoblade Chronicles was released for the aging Wii hardware.

I’d had a terrible experience with both its predecessors, and was honestly not looking forward to this game. At the time, it was one of three RPGs in localization limbo, and of the three was the one I had the least interest in. But it was also the first one released, and feeling a need to show my support for a movement to have them brought to the West, I bought the game at launch.

I was blown away.

Where Xenogears and Xenosaga failed to capture me even after dozens of hours of play, Xenoblade Chronicles had me invested within the first hour. The combat was fast and fresh, the characters charming thanks in large part to a dub track from the UK, and the impetus for setting off on this journey delivered with just the right amount of drama to hook me, line and sinker. Even as the adventure went on for more than 60 hours, I never once felt bored by the experience.

Xenoblade Chronicles was the breath of life RPGs on consoles needed at the time. While so many were beginning to stagnate as they focused on better and better visual fidelity, Xenoblade Chronicles sacrificed high end graphics to give us a sprawling open world filled with secrets to uncover and monsters to overcome. The cast grew at a steady clip, each one bringing with them more charming interactions and actual worth to the gameplay. So easy is it for RPGs to have characters that you just don’t want to use because they suck. Xenoblade Chronicles doesn’t have that; every character is useful in almost every scenario and with virtually any party combination. Your biggest concern will be why you aren’t allowed to use all seven of them at once.

The characters themselves don’t break new ground for the medium. They stick to tried and true tropes for the most part, but its how they play off each other that keeps the game from devolving into pandering nonsense. Fan-service is completely absent here; the characters win you over with their personality, not because we have the all-too-typical scene from Japanese media (hot springs or sleep overs, that kind of thing).

And really that feels like Xenoblade‘s greatest strength. It takes itself seriously, and keeps that seriousness in mind from start to finish. However, it never dips into brooding territory, and is never too serious to indulge in humor now and again. But at the end of the day there’s a quest to finish, so even after you spend a dozen hours combing through yet another massive world map for every secret you can find, you can always count on the game pushing forward.

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HONORABLE MENTION. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

Zelda games and I don’t usually get along. For the most part they’re fun diversions, and I can easily enjoy the experience from start to finish. But never do they stick so much that I’d deign to call them a favorite game of all time.

Link’s Awakening is another such example. If it weren’t for the multitude of other outstanding games, it might eke its way into my Number 5 spot. Part of this is when I played the game the first time, as a young school kid who was hungrily reading tons of books where ever he could. Link’s Awakening told a fun little tale of a boy trapped on an island, and eventually of how he could escape. And how in so doing, he’d have to sacrifice the very existence of a girl he liked.

This isn’t exactly canon, mind you. Link and Marin might be my first ever ship, and that’s why Link’s Awakening resonates so strongly with me. I imagined myself as Link, and a girl I was crushing on at the time to be my Marin. And I wished so desperately that the game mirrored real life. Well, without the sacrificial bit. Point is it opened my young mind to young love, and it will forevermore hold a special place in my heart because of it.

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3. Chrono Cross

Have you ever played a game that, despite so many flaws, just felt like a masterpiece to you? Somehow close to perfection despite your rational brain telling you the game couldn’t possibly hope to be perfect?

Chrono Cross is that game for me. A game that since I first played it, has remained steadfast in my Top 5 games where so many others have come and gone.

Chrono Cross is the story of Serge, a young man who finds himself sucked into an alternate reality where everything is slightly off. And everything is slightly off because in this reality, the core difference is that he himself died ten years prior. What follows is a journey to solve the riddle of his demise in this world and how he can get back to his peaceful life in his Home World.

RPGs offering freedom of choice in how to tackle the story are few and far between. This is because unlike the organic storytelling present in a pen and paper experience, video games need a set beginning and a set end on account of technical and budget restraints. But Chrono Cross dared to offer players a taste of that freedom, with multiple branching story paths as you went along. While these paths always ended back on the predetermined path, it can be argued that it was all justified because the core antagonist of the tale is Fate itself. Chrono Cross asks the question: Can you truly defy Fate?

Hearing it from me might have you thinking this is a true pinnacle of gaming and storytelling. But it isn’t. As I said before, the game has a multitude of flaws, right down to the very story it’s telling. In fact, most of what I’ve said can only really be gleaned after multiple playthroughs, or at the very least reading a digest on the plot and themes of the narrative. Chrono Cross can easily be described as obtuse, but never really unintuitive as a video game.

While its predecessor might always be more fondly remembered as a titan of the RPG genre, for me, Chrono Cross will be that titan. The game that dared me to question just how much of my very existence is predetermined, and how much of it is my own doing.

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HONORABLE MENTION. Okami

The debate about whether video games are art, or can ever be art, is one I don’t give two shits about.

But I look at a game like Okami and cannot help but be left speechless as video game developers use the medium to make a canvas come to life before my very eyes.

Okami is a Zelda-like game through and through. Only replacing an elf boy with a wolf and drawing heavily from Japanese myths, folklore and fables. But the entire thing looks like a moving piece of art that words cannot describe with any real impact. It has to be seen to be believed. The game was jaw-dropping back on PS2, but its transition to PS3 with HD visuals took the whole thing to the next level.

If you’ve never played Okami, do so. If you can’t, watch HD footage of someone playing it. You’re in for a real treat.

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2. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King

Next to Mario, Dragon Quest has been the one series to remain steadfast at my side throughout my life. From the first ever game which my dad owned a copy of and I played nonstop as a toddler. I didn’t even truly grasp what I was doing in that game, but I wanted to play it. I wanted to hunt Slimes.

And hunt Slimes I did. And keep hunting Slimes, playing Dragon Quest on and off most of my life. It was also the only Dragon Quest game I owned until my teenage years, when Dragon Quest VIII came along for PS2.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you that it was love at first sight. That I knew this would be a game changer for me. No, Dragon Quest VIII and I got off to a rocky start. In fact, I hated the game at first. And it took half a decade for me to get over that hatred and give Dragon Quest VIII the fair chance it deserved. The chance I neglected it during a period in my life when Final Fantasy could do no wrong in my eyes.

But Final Fantasy fell from grace, and Dragon Quest was there to remind me that no matter how many years pass, they will stay just as good.

Dragon Quest VIII for me is RPG distilled to its purest, most enjoyable form. It’s simple to pick up, challenging enough to entice, and forgiving enough that you don’t let the game kicking your butt get to you. In fact, this applies to virtually all Dragon Quest games. But it was VIII that I fell in love with the most. It wasn’t the one I played the most (that honor goes to IX), but no matter the day I can go back to the adventures of the Trodain guardsman out to rid his king of a foul curse.

For King and Country!

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HONORABLE MENTION. Illusion of Gaia

Illusion of Gaia was my gateway drug to the world of RPGs.

I may have played Dragon Quest first, but it was Illusion of Gaia that convinced my young self to learn to read so that I could follow the story of Will and his friends as he explored a warped world where real life locations acted as video game dungeons. It wasn’t a great game by any means, but it taught me about (mostly) real world locations that I immediately asked my teachers about in school. It kindled in me a love for history and myth that remains to this day. In a way, it may even have birthed my love of writing as well.

This was my first ever favorite game of all time. It has since dropped from my Top 5. But it will forevermore be an important game to my very existence.

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1. Final Fantasy IX

Final Fantasy IX is not really a GOOD game.

It’s slow-paced. Its combat is overly simple and mindless. The plot isn’t really gripping. And overall, the adventure feels just too short to have been a follow-up to then big-hitters VII and VIII.

And yet, for all these flaws, it does the most important things right.

The characters are rich and complex, dealing with internal struggles amidst an otherwise bland narrative. The world around them is fantastical and varied, from locations to monster designs. Each character gets just enough time in the spotlight to make them memorable. And while the game felt short, the characters’ journeys felt full.

Final Fantasy IX is this odd little contradiction into itself for me. It’s easy for me to forgive all its faults and love it unequivocally. And yet it’s just as easy for me to dismiss it for the very same faults and never think about it again. Or as is usually the case, just trash it online for the sake of discussion.

But no matter what side I take, I cannot deny that Final Fantasy IX happened to me in very important part of my life. That it taught me that no matter the person, everyone has stuff they’re constantly struggling with beneath the surface. It also taught me a valuable lesson in writing multiple characters, something that had always been a challenge for me.

It’s possible that some day, Final Fantasy IX will be topped as my favorite game of all time. Maybe even by Dragon Quest VIII. But for now, as it has been for more than a decade, it remains my favorite game of all time.

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Browny’s Top 5 Video Games (+Honorable Mentions)

Disney Animated Canon Ranking, Top 5

I like Disney. I grew up with the company, and watched every one of their feature films. From canon to direct-to-video, I have seen it all. But the most important ones are the Animated Canon, 55 films that began with Snow White and ends with Zootopia (until Moana releases as film 56).

These are my Top 5 films from Disney Canon.

5. Pocahontas (Canon #33)

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In sixteen hundred seven, we sail the open sea~!

For glory, God, and gold, and the Virginia Company~!

So back in the mid-90s the Disney Renaissance was in full swing. Disney could seemingly do no wrong, and the sixth film was Pocahontas, Disney’s take on the establishment of the Jamestown colony in America. And apparently people didn’t take too kindly to this film. For reasons… I will not touch upon. I am not a historian, I am not interested in how the Disney company changed history to tell their story. I am here to be entertained, and entertained was I.

Pocahontas is one of the more mellow pictures Disney has released. Sure, there are stakes, and people die, and even a rather tense musical number leading up to what you think might be a great battle between the natives and the settlers. But it ultimately ends in a stand off, and everything is resolved at the end by one person’s “heroic” sacrifice. If you can even call it that?

But why do I love this film? Colors of the Wind. Mine, Mine, Mine. Savages. The soundtrack to this movie is why I love it as much as I do. When I think Disney music, these are the songs that come to mind. I have the fondest of memories for these songs, and Colors of the Wind is my favorite track in all Disneydom. Followed perhaps by Zip-a-dee-do-dah but that’s a discussion for another time.

Is Pocahontas a perfect film? No way. But I can look past the (many) faults each time. That’s what it means to love something. Or something. Point is I love Pocahontas. And it sits nice and comfortably at #5.

4. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (#34)

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Morning in Paris, the city awakes to the bells of Notre Dame~

So despite the weaker outing before it, Disney did not slow down. This time they were tackling a literary classic by Victor Hugo, and what we got was one of the darker Disney films ever produced. Even if they took liberties with the source material (everyone does) and softened the tone a bit (or a lot depending on your point of view).

The music is a major part of why I like this film, but unlike Pocahontas before it, it’s not the primary reason. The music is all great, of course: Out There, Hellfire, Heaven’s Light, The Bells of Notre Dame; all of it’s fantastic. But what I love most about this film is undoubtedly the villain.

On the surface, Frollo is the villain of the film. But in the story he’s actually a judge, and his goal (while morally wrong by our standards) was actually par for the course in the time depicted in the film. His corruption is human flaw, which anyone can have. I’m not trying to defend what he did in the movie, of course. But it’s not like he did it with actual ill intent. Sort of?

Okay I’m digging myself a grave here. This movie is awesome. It’s visually stunning, it defies Disney conventions, and the music just elevates it to an experience I don’t think any other Disney film achieves. #4 for me.

3. The Fox and the Hound (#24)

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“Forever is a long, long time. And time has a way of changing things.”

So when people think of the Disney Dark Age, they think of the worst things they put out during those 20-some-odd years. But people forget that it was during this time period they released one of their best films ever. The Fox and the Hound is a look at what happens when society dictates what your life will be like, regardless of the damage it does to people you knew in your childhood. With dogs and a fox.

Todd the fox is raised by an elderly woman living in the countryside who becomes friend with a hound pup owned by the elderly woman’s next door neighbor. They develop a friendship that would melt anyone’s heart, only for them to be separated when Copper the hound is taken on a series of hunting trips to teach him how to be the best hunting dog he could be. Upon returning, both he and Todd realize the friendship they had as children is no longer viable in the eyes of the world around them, and are essentially forced to be enemies.

Every time I see this movie I get emotional to the point of tears. I’m not ashamed to admit it. It kills me to see how Todd and Copper fight to the point of nearly killing one another, making me wonder if that could happen to any of us. If I had to pick the saddest part, it would be just before the film ends. There’s a moment where Todd is at the mercy of the hunter who owns Copper, and it’s at that critical moment that Copper stands up for his old friend. He stands between the hunter and the injured Todd, intent on protecting his old friend despite everything that has happened.

That scene gets me. Every single time. It deserves its spot at #3.

2. Beauty and the Beast (#30)

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Tale as old as time.

So a few years back I did something similar to this series of blog posts where I shared thoughts on all the Disney films. And when it came time to talk about Beauty and the Beast, I couldn’t really say anything about it. Not positively, not negatively. It’s the one Disney film I think is as close to flawless as the company has ever come.

So I’ll say what I always do: the music is great (of course), the visuals are great (as usual), and it’s a classic (like many). However, for as great as I think the film is, I have a soft spot for another Disney film. Beauty and the Beast is #2. And a well earned #2.

1. The Little Mermaid (#28)

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Click here and let the music play as you read.

I can’t say with any real certainty why I routinely pick The Little Mermaid as my favorite Disney film. I’ve found faults with it in the past. I love the soundtrack, but I also love the music from other films in Disney canon.

But I can never turn down a chance to see this. I love this film more than you can possibly imagine. And it might always be my favorite Disney movie of all time. Call it nostalgia. I don’t rightly care. Excuse me, I’ve got a Disney film to pop in and watch right about now.

Disney Animated Canon Ranking, Top 5

Browny’s Top 5 Anime

Ahh, anime. It’s definitely… a thing.

See, I find myself in a precarious position when it comes to anime. I can easily tell you my five favorite games or TV shows or movies (and I will at some point), but when it comes to anime I’m always left hanging. Like a computer when it crashes, my mind goes blank when posed the question, “What are your five favorite anime?”

The thing is, I generally dislike anime. I haven’t seen much, but what I have seen has been so lackluster compared to the other media I consume it’s hard for me to express a rabid adoration for these shows. I like pretty visuals, and its generally visuals that draw me in to whatever anime I watch. But I can’t thrive on visuals or a premise alone; the entire anime has to deliver on some level, lest it be forgotten. And I have forgotten many anime I’ve seen in the past, which made finding five to list extremely difficult.

And even now as I write this, the five I chose might not even be a truthful five. I might end up remembering an anime tomorrow, or next week or next year and render this whole list moot. But for now, at this point in time, these are my top five. That I could remember. Shall we?

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Lucky Star

What exactly is Lucky Star? Some would call it a slice of life comedy. Others a memetic mutation in anime form. Something that could only have happened at that point in time.

To me, Lucky Star is a time capsule. A window into the world of anime and otaku subculture circa 2006-2007. A time before the prevalence of social media, when the Internet was still a bit more mysterious in its workings. When cellphones still had numerical input pads and weren’t the focal point of a person’s world.

But that’s not really saying much about the anime, is it?

Lucky Star– if I had to try and describe it to you– is about four high school girls and what they do on a semi-daily basis. And just like any group of four friends, they have funny moments, silly moments, heartfelt moments, and just enjoy life as it comes. Because that’s what this series is; it’s life as someone saw it in 2006. Whether it holds up today is up for debate; but like a photo album, it’s sure to invoke some kind of nostalgia. Especially if you were around the Internet in those years.

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Tenchi Universe

Harem anime have been a thing for a long time, I would imagine. It’s male wish fulfillment with the pretense of a plot, and either fap material or the faintest hope that the anime will show something tittilating enough to get you to fap.

Tenchi Universe, an anime from 1995, is technically an adventure fantasy harem. It features a guy surrounded by six girls of various ages, sizes and demeanors all vying for his affections to some degree. There are also swords, sorcery, space travel, extensive use of karaoke machines, cat-rabbit hybrids that turn into space ships with breathable atmospheres and a plot about stealing the crown to an interstellar kingdom.

But really, it all boils down to the harem aspect, and that’s where Tenchi Universe feels like it can get away with everything it throws into the show. Because the harem aspect is front and center, but isn’t afraid to share the spotlight with the adventure, or the fantasy, or the space opera that it adopts in its second half. But it never takes itself too serious, evidenced by completely random side plots that would almost count as filler despite the show lasting a mere 26 episodes.

Why is this one a favorite? Because of that jack-of-all-trades brand of silliness. Because the characters, while essentially nothing more than tropes or at worst anime stereotypes, never cease to be entertaining. Because they don’t exist solely to fill a check box on some showrunner’s notepad, and work well off each other.

But most importantly, because they aren’t defined by a single character trait. Oh and there are more males in the show that actually serve a purpose, something most harem anime cannot deal with lest they detract from the male lead.

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Waiting in the Summer

If there’s one thing that stands out in my mind, it’s that this anime almost feels timeless.

Aside from one or two instances, it never dates itself by showing technology that would allow you the view to say with any certainty, “This anime took place in THIS year.”

And that’s a very important thing to me. Because no matter when I return to Waiting in the Summer, it will always feel the same.

Lasting only 12 episodes, the series follows a group of friends who dedicate a summer to making a student film. It’s about as generic as it sounds, and quite frankly it is. But there’s a level of sincerity to its execution, that this group of friends making a film could be any group of friends doing any activity during that blissful time in our lives when worries are fewer than they are as an adult. I watch the series and get melancholic because those days are far behind me, and I never appreciated them when I had them.

There is one thing that makes this slice of life stand out for me, and that’s the general absurdity in tone it takes by the end of the run. In a way it almost feels like it harms the overall product, but I like to think it works for the narrative. Because didn’t we all imagine the possibility of something fantastical or extraordinary happening to us?

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Log Horizon

When you put person in a strange situation, you observe their reaction. People take this reaction and weave a narrative from it. But when this is done, it’s very easy to say, “Well I would have done things differently.”

Log Horizon is similar to this, only it looks at a populace rather than a single individual. But a populace is hard to characterize, and therefore difficult for the audience to relate to. So Log Horizon tells this sweeping story of a people trapped in a situation by examining key figures from among them.

It’s a story about humans being human. It’s a story of one person trying to do the best he can to help his fellow man. But it’s also a fantasy, a romance, an adventure, a mystery, a comedy, and a minor discourse on economics.

But most of all, it’s good.

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Haruhi Suzumiya

This anime is my favorite for one reason only: Kyon.

Not the titular character and all her outlandish eccentricities. Not the bookish, nearly-omnipotent alien. Not the adorable, klutz of a time traveler. Not the charming, laid-back esper.

This anime lives and dies by its leading man. The everyman. The deadpan snarker. The only character in this series who seems grounded in a reality we actually exist in. And because he graces us with his internal thoughts throughout the course of the narrative.

Because Haruhi Suzumiya isn’t really about the antics brought on when you mix supernatural and science fiction elements together. It’s about how you react to those antics. And Kyon reacts in a way most of us would: like a real person.

No anime on my list is perfect. Each one has issues that could potentially break a person’s enjoyment. This is no exception. It doesn’t end with a bang. It doesn’t feel like anything is really resolved. And there’s a million questions left unanswered.

But sometimes that’s okay. Because we had Kyon there to guide us through the melancholy, the sigh, the boredom, the rampage, the wavering, and the disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya.

Browny’s Top 5 Anime