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Mega Man 2, NES

The 1988 sequel to Mega Man, Mega Man 2 is more of the same rock-hard platforming and shooting action on the Nintendo Entertainment System (aka the Famicom).

Your six major protagonists this time are: Bubble Man, Air Man, Quick Man, Heat Man, Wood Man, Metal Man, Flash Man, and Crash Man. And – as usual – each has their own themed level which you can choose from in the opening menu.

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Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, Megadrive/Genesis

Developed by Sega and released for the Megadrive/Genesis in 1990, Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse is a masterpiece platform game that has stood the test of time extremely well.

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Secret of Mana, Super Nintendo

Although many people seem dismiss Secret of Mana (known in its native Japan as Seiken Densetsu 2) – at least when compared to its superior sequel – it still does have quite a lot going for it.

Graphically this 1993 SNES release is colourful and well-drawn. The live-action, party-based combat is excellent. Secret of Mana also caters for up to three players simultaneously (not initially planned, but implemented when the developers realised it was a no-brainer). It’s also got decent boss battles, a good amount of variety, and some pleasant tunes. Plus: the rotating, ‘ring’ menu system is superb – something that carried over into the sequel.

Where the game falls down is in pretty much every other department. I can’t really criticise the story because it’s just as contrived as every other RPG on the planet… What I can criticise, though, is the menu system (the cross-hatched, rather than transparent, backgrounds make the text very hard to read). Also the rather generic nature of the whole thing… Which can’t have been a symptom of this game’s turbulent development because Seiken Densetsu 3 (the sequel to this) was soooo damn good. Which leads me to believe that the Secret of Mana dev team were not as good as the one that worked on the sequel…

The sequel! The sequel!” – that’s all Secret of Mana ever hears about…

And quite rightly, because Secret of Mana pales into insignificance when compared next to Seiken Densetsu 3

Secret of Mana was still one of the highest-selling games on the Super Nintendo though – completely selling out in its week of release in Japan, and doing good numbers in North America and Europe later too.

There’s also been a 3D remake of Secret of Mana, but I’ve yet to play it.

More: Secret of Mana on Wikipedia
Steam: Secret of Mana remake on Steam

Dragon Quest VIII, PlayStation 2 [Part 2]

Okay, so I couldn’t just leave it at that with regard to Dragon Quest VIII, so here’s another set of screenshots showing later in the game. In particular: the Dragovian Trials – an unlockable quest in which you take on a series of ever more powerful dragons, for unique rewards at the end of the game.

Fighting through the seven (count ’em) dragons is a real challenge, and the very last battle makes you fight all seven again, one after the other, without any escape (or healing) in-between. Winning the battles is helped by attaining a rare power, called ‘Dragon Soul’, which becomes available to the Hero at level 65. Yes, that’s 65… Thankfully, reaching level 65 is not that difficult if you’re good at harvesting Metal King Slimes. The only problem is: Metal King Slimes run away 50% of the time in combat. So getting one to stay in order to kill it and gain the 30,000 Experience Points it awards is hard. Unless you’re playing in an emulator with access to quicksaves…

Beating the Dragovian Trials gives you the opportunity to unlock the instant alchemy pot (which creates things instantly, instead of having to wait for them), and also a Legendary Monster, called Hev. Not to mention a set of special armour, and a unique sword.

You don’t have to do the Dragovian Trials to complete Dragon Quest VIII, but you do have to complete it to 100% the monster list and be awarded the Gospel Ring (a ring that, when worn, allows you to run around without triggering random battles), and also to get the “good” ending. The good ending is worth it though. In spite of the cartoony graphics and rather simplistic storyline, the ‘good’ ending will no doubt warm the heart of anyone who’s played through this great Japanese Role-Player.

See also: Dragon Quest VIII [Part 1]

More: Dragon Quest VIII on Wikipedia

Dragon Quest VIII, PlayStation 2

There is no doubting that this 2004 release from Square Enix is the best JRPG on the PlayStation 2. At least, in my mind.

Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King is a colourful and detailed re-imagining of the Dragon Quest franchise, with Cel-Shaded graphics and tons of monsters – many of them familiar – to fight it out with in turn-based combat.

Don’t be put off by the ‘cartoony’ graphics – this is a ‘hardcore’ RPG. From the outset you are in grave peril and gaining a foothold in the game takes some effort. And some grinding. But it’s worth it, because Dragon Quest VIII is a game that opens-out beautifully as you progress. Alchemy – crafting new items by combining old ones in an alchemy pot – plays a big part in this. And – while your characters do have limited inventories – you also have a separate bag with limitless holding capacity, so not being able to carry stuff never becomes an issue. Which is great because there are some fantastic items to discover in the game.

The game is played with a party of four characters. There’s you – the Hero – who you can name at the beginning. There’s Yangus; a Cockney ex-bandit and your devoted sidekick. Later on a female spellcaster called Jessica joins the team, and even later a Templar Knight called Angelo joins. And you keep these four characters all the way through the game. Each character has their own set of abilities, spells and skills to invest in, and levelling-up always rewards the player with skill points to spend (on skills, obviously), a bump up in general attributes (Resilience, Agility, Strength, etc.), and from time to time the award of new abilities. Yangus, for example, picks up the ‘Whistle’ spell quite early in the game and this is both useful and humorous at the same time. Basically, when it’s used it calls an immediate battle (if you’re in an area where random encounters happen), which is useful for grinding, and for other reasons.

Combat in Dragon Quest VIII is both involving and fun. At first you’ll struggle to survive, but building levels soon ensures that the tables are turned.  The sheer number and variety of monsters in Dragon Quest VIII is pretty amazing in itself. Some are actually quite funny; doing weird dances that impair your party members, or failing badly at special moves and falling flat on their faces. One (Kalamari Kid) even doodles away in the middle of a battle, which tickled my funny bone, as it probably will yours.

One of the best things about Dragon Quest VIII are the Boss Battles. There are lots of them, and some of them are very difficult to beat. Which is great: you want a Boss Battle to give you a challenge. And you want the Boss Battles to be varied and interesting. Dragon Quest VIII‘s bosses tick all those boxes, and then some.

Dragon Quest VIII is full of superb little touches, and some big ones too. Like, for example, the fact that – after you complete the game the first time – you can save and reload a special file that puts you back before the final battle, but with new, unlocked places to explore and quests to complete. I’m speaking specifically about the “Dragovian Trials”, which is arguably the best thing in the game; like an extended game for advanced players – a reward for completing the game once. And I haven’t even mentioned the Monster Arena; another great side quest where you collect famous monsters and pit them against other monster teams in a gladiatorial arena

I could go on about Dragon Quest VIII, but I’ll leave it at that for now. For me: a brilliant game. An excellent level-grinder, and one that endures to this day.

See also: Dragon Quest VIII [Part 2]

More: Dragon Quest VIII on Wikipedia

Arx Fatalis, PC

Arx Fatalis is a 3D Role-Playing Game developed by French company Arkane Studios and first published by JoWooD Productions in 2002.

On the face of it, Arx Fatalis doesn’t look particularly special, but scratch under the surface – make some headway into the game – and you might begin to think that it’s actually pretty darn good.

To play, it’s fairly similar to The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind, except dialogue plays less of a part and your actions decide which direction the game takes you. It’s nowhere near as good as Morrowind, though, and don’t believe anyone who tries to tell you otherwise. Arx Fatalis is good, but it’s not that good.

Arx Fatalis is relatively open-ended and is known for being a game that does not hold your hand while playing. Helpful hints do pop up as you play, but these are just bare bones tips. Without any prior knowledge of the game – and without a walkthrough – it can be a struggle to progress. The magic system, in particular, takes some getting used to. You have to use mouse gestures to cast spells, and although the manual is okay it doesn’t explain everything. Thankfully you can ‘pre-cast’ spells and assign them to number keys.

What is good about Arx Fatalis is that the world is well-constructed and atmospheric. You can manipulate most objects, and can combine a lot of them to make potions and new items. The game is a solid challenge too. On the downside: the combat is a bit poor (hold down mouse button to charge up your swing, then let go); the menus and inventories are weird; the scrolling text during dialogue is strange (why have it scroll vertically when non-scrolling text would have been much better?); the ‘pre-cast’ magic system is a bind in terms of key-presses; and there are either bugs or game idiosyncrasies that cause a real headache (like, for example, something I did (no idea what) that caused my life energy to slowly deplete, which made me give up on the game; or the levitate spell that doesn’t end unless you save and reload).

I’ve read a few comments online that rave about this game, but – come onArx Fatalis is really not that great! Playing it now it just seems like too much of a pain in the butt to play any further than the temple levels. If you like tearing your hair out when gaming, then Arx Fatalis might be for you. For everyone else, though, it’s probably a little too deformed to get any major fun out of.

Note: Arx Fatalis was patched by Arkane and re-released on Steam and GOG in 2011, but as the game was not written to run on more modern systems it does come with some problems. The game did not run ‘out-of-the-box’ for me (and many others, it seems). Thankfully the original game source code has been released online (just the game engine – not the assets), and a group of fans called Arx Liberatis have released their own patches to address some of the issues. It is frustrating that a game I bought (on GOG.com) required a patch to make it playable, but the fix was easy enough, and the game is really worth fixing and playing. Whether your game will need patching or not is down to your individual system setup. At the time of writing (2019) the required patches