1999: Staff Favorites

   While the general consensus amongst the GIA staff was that 1999 was a poor year for games in North America ("We were drowning in titles, all right, but not drowning in riches," as Andrew Vestal put it), a handful of titles stood out from the crowd. None too surprisingly, Final Fantasy VIII emerged as a particular favorite amongst games covered by the GIA, appearing on all but two editors' top three lists and earning top honors from four. Other popular selections included Um Jammer Lammy, Suikoden II, Silent Hill, and Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete.

   (Sketch Artist and Parallel Universe maintainers Andrea Hartmann and Tamzen Marie Baker were too busy curating their respective sections to actually play any games this year.)

Drew Cosner (Double Agent)

  1. Silent Hill
    • Resident Evil startles you; Silent Hill genuinely creeps you out. While much of the suspense and anxiety found in the Resident Evil series stems from the fact that you are hopelessly outnumbered, Silent Hill takes the "survival horror" subgenre to the next level by infusing a standard adventure game engine with a disturbing atmosphere and events that honestly will make the hairs on the back of your neck raise. Any game that can make you fear entering a particular room deserves to be given its props.

      Although the voice acting is typically laughable, and the smothering fog can get to be a bit of a pain, Silent Hill rises above these faults with its ingenious puzzles and unsettling storyline. Not only that, but it allows me to finally live out my "beating dogs over the head with a lead pipe" fantasies. And that, friends, is why Silent Hill is, in my ever-humble opinion, the game of the year.

  2. Final Fantasy VIII
    • What is there to say? Final Fantasy VIII had an intricate battle system, excellent plotline, and captivating characters. You really can't go wrong with a Final Fantasy title, and this latest installment in the franchise is no exception. If you're even remotely into the RPG genre, and you have as of yet to pick up this title, you're truly doing yourself an injustice.
  3. Um Jammer Lammy
    • Hey, this title may just be a revision to Parappa the Rapper, but when a title is as charming and quirky as Parappa, that's hardly a negative in my book. There's something about this game that keeps you coming back for more no matter how many times you've played through it, and the screwy cutscenes seemingly never get old. If you have some kind of problem with my selection of Um Jammer as the third best title of the year, you can go to [An Island].

Fritz Fraundorf (News, reviews, previews, features)

  1. Pokémon Snap
    • Just when I think innovation is dead, along comes Nintendo to restore my faith in gaming (again). The "photography sim" concept is cool enough, but what really makes this game shine are the puzzle elements. To find all the Pokémon -- and take the highest-scoring shots of them -- you have to use various items (fruit, a flute, and Pester Balls) and interact with the environment around you. Terrific replay value and the chance to take pictures of most of your favorite Pokémon (Balloon Pikachu is just too cute) combine to make this game more fun than a barrel of Mankeys. Hands down the best game of 1999, and a perfect example of gaming at its finest.
  2. Suikoden II
    • An achievement long believed to be impossible, Suikoden II is the first console RPG ever to succesfully pick up where its predecessor left off. Dozens of Suikoden I characters return as both heroes and villains, and you even get the chance to visit Gregminster itself. The lack of any sort of bonus card game is unfortunate, but, hey, at least there's plenty of secrets and a cool story. It may not be saying much to call this the best RPG of 1999, but I'll say it anyway: Suikoden II is the best RPG of 1999 (at least in lieu of Persona 2). Recommended whether or not you liked Suikoden I.
  3. Um Jammer Lammy
    • Topping 1997's addictive PaRappa the Rapper is no easy task, but Masaya Matsuura and Rodney Greenblat proved themselves more than up to the challenge. Um Jammer Lammy improves on PaRappa in every way imaginable: the challenge is greater, the music is better, the game is longer, and you can even play as PaRappa himself! On the other hand, SCEA deserves a collective slap in the face for rewriting Um Jammer Lammy's storyline to suit young children, and then following up with an advertising campaing that indicated the game was clearly not targeted at young children.

Brian Glick (News, reviews, media)

  1. Final Fantasy VIII
    • With considerably less pre-release hype than its predecessor, Final Fantasy VIII quickly rose as one of the top games in the series -- if not the top -- when it finally reached North American audiences. I thoroughly enjoyed the perfect blend of gameplay and cinematics, the seemingly endless amount of secrets, and a storyline which succeeded without needlessly confusing the audience.
  2. Suikoden II
    • A direct sequel to the first, Suikoden II gets my vote as the underdog hit RPG of the year. The translation is rife with awkward translations and embarrassing typos, the music doesn't even begin to match Suikoden's orchestral tunes, and the hero has a rather goofy character portrait, but Suikoden II took the addictive gameplay of the first title and expanded upon it in nearly every way.
  3. Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete
    • I remember looking enviously at the back of the Sega CD Lunar box many years ago, unable to purchase the system necessary to play what seemed like a worthwhile RPG. With the PlayStation re-release this year, I finally had a chance to enjoy the engrossing game previously lauded only in near-obscurity. Lunar's winning combination of storyline and dialogue enhance what would otherwise be decidedly mediocre.

J.T. Kauffman (Japanese correspondent)
(As the GIA's Japanese correspondent, J.T. selected his top three games of 1999 from those released in Japan, not in North America.)

  1. Shen Mue ~Chapter 1: Yokosuka~
    • Although it only barely squeaked into 1999, Shen Mue made a big impact on me real fast. You know that a game is good when you just enjoy wandering around, exploring the game world. Throw in the incredible graphics, full voice, and hints of the old Sierra adventure games, and you've got a game that makes J.T. a very happy boy...
  2. Final Fantasy VIII
    • While it wasn't the most innovative game of the year, FF VIII shows that Square still knows how to make an all-around killer game. FF VIII easily kept my interest the longest of any game of the year, with me getting about two weeks of interest out of it before beating it and moving on (short attention span? Me? Never...). Finally, one of my big personal draws to the game (past the incredible FMV) is the love story aspect, seeing as I'm a hopeless romantic, which is of course something that I would never admit publicly.
  3. Maken X
    • This one came out of nowhere for me. Trusting on a friend's recommendation (and finding it real, real cheap), I picked this up and immediately got hooked. While I usually don't like first-person shooter type games, Maken X is truly an adventure game in disguise, and even throws in hints of classic games like Strider and Bionic Commando. Extremely fun gameplay, truly unique & over-the-top character designs, and eight different endings easily gave this one a spot in my top 3 for the year.

Andrew Kaufmann (Double Agent, server guru)

  1. Final Fantasy VIII
    • Great plot, great graphics. It may not have been everything everyone was hoping it would be, but it was still easily the best game of the year. Here's hoping Square keeps churning out winners.
  2. Um Jammer Lammy
    • A guitar playing sheep. What more can you ask for? The sequel to PaRappa the Rapper had better music and was great fun for the air guitarist in us all.
  3. Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete
    • Well done game, if somewhat trite. The characters were lovable, which is becoming a forgotten trait in RPGs.

Arpad Korossy (News, archives)

  1. Final Fantasy VIII
    • Final Fantasy VIII totally blew me away. Usually when you go into a game expecting it to be the best ever, you're in for a let down, but that's what I expected of Final Fantasy VIII and it delivered. The story is well done, the characters are all well-developed, the junction system was superb, and I don't think anyone will argue that the graphics were top-notch. Definitely the top game of the year.
  2. Final Fantasy Anthology
    • I'm probably going to draw a lot of flak for nominating this, but I could care less. Although the delivery itself was a little weak, it was still acceptable. Save times were minimized by the ingenious memo save, and the extra options were useful and well done. Although a little more work on fixing the load times going to the menu screen and to/from battles would have helped, as would have including 'Battle with Gilgamesh' on the music CD, I've spent more time playing Final Fantasy VI this year than I have anything else except for VIII, which definitely earns it a spot in the top 3. The inclusion of Final Fantasy V, which I haven't even started yet, makes it all the better.
  3. Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete
    • Lunar was exceedingly nifty. Although the battle system was wretched, and the graphics were prettty bad, the characters were strong enough to make it into a very good game, which isn't easy. The top-notch script, anime cutscenes, voice acting, and the well drawn character portraits all helped to change Lunar from a mediocre game into a truly memeorable one. Plus, all the extras didn't hurt. Finally, the competition for third place consisted of Thousand Arms and Grandia, neither of which I played more than ten minutes, and both had the same sprites on 3D background setup which reminded me of Xenogears, and that's enough to disqualify them both right there.

Nich Maragos (News, reviews, previews)

  1. Um Jammer Lammy
    • It's been noted before, and not just by us, that UJL is a psychedelic trip in videogame form. I could devote this paragraph just to the weirdness found in the opening cinema, its sensibilities lying somewhere between Ren and Stimpy and Un Chien Andalou. And its music, the most crucial element of a game centered around a rock star, is groovy in itself. But if swirling colors and great music were all this game had going for it, then I would just as well play N2O. Its real strengths are found in the way Lammy's increasing desperation as the stages go by draws you further and further into the game, until the end concert comes and you want to take a bow along with Milkcan for making it--without cutting any corners.
  2. Final Fantasy VIII
    • The most talked-about, most satisfying, most magical, most romantic, most engrossing, most interesting, and most recommended RPG of 1999 was not Lunar: Silver Star Story. Every one of those accolades, in my book, should be heaped onto Squaresoft's masterpiece of character, graphics, sound, and gameplay. Square cut RPG conventions to the bone (such as effectively eliminating levels, money, and armor) and created the deepest unification of physical and magical battle systems. With the addition of a compact group of well-developed characters and the most breathtaking imagery yet to grace the PSX in any genre, it easily surpassed every other RPG I'd played yet. It'll take a lot to top this one, and I'm eager to see someone try.
  3. Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions
    • How great was Metal Gear Solid's gameplay? So great that Konami was able to take it out of the context of MGS's riveting storyline, present it without any graphically stunning cinema sequences, and still come up with one of the best games of 1999. Of course, it helps that Hideo Kojima and his team came up with one of the most in-joke laden, self-mocking games since Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo--just witness levels like "THE TRUTH IS OVER THERE" or the final stage in Mystery mode. Finally, the ability to play as the Ninja, who is less a character than an unstoppable force of nature, is just too good to pass up. The best "puzzle" game of the year.

Ed McGlothlin (News, reviews, previews)

  1. Pokémon Pinball
    • An extremely worthy successor to Nintendo's little-known but amazing Kirby's Pinball Land. This time, a hot new license brought addictive pinball action to gamers everywhere.
  2. Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete
    • Remember "characters"? Remember how they can "interact"? When they aren't one-dimensional cliches caught in overly-epic storylines?
  3. Pokémon Snap
    • Makes for a nice break from the steady videogaming diet of killing things. A fun and original premise, plus a photographer friend of mine lauds the idea and plays my copy of the game endlessly.

Andrew Vestal (News, previews, reviews)

  1. Final Fantasy VIII
    • It wasn't perfect, but it was the best meld of cinematic presentation and good, old-fashioned RPG gameplay we've yet seen. Random encounters were eliminated by the end of the first disc, and armor, weapons, money, and levels were done away with almost entirely. Despite what some detractors claim, FFVIII challenged almost as much of the traditional RPG formula as it maintained. And while not everyone considers it the best game in the series, almost everyone can agree that it's a respectable, beautiful addition to RPG's greatest series.
  2. Silent Hill
    • I've never been a big Resident Evil fan ... the BOOGA BOOGA factor always struck me as more silly than scary. Which is why Silent Hill grew on me so ... it's not in-your-face or jumping-through-windows. At least, not for the most part. Instead, it builds a really, really creepy world, filled with not-quite-right enemies and disturbing locations. One of the best moments in the game is when you enter a locker room at a local school and hear something going "thu-thump, thu-thump" in the locker. Universally, everyone I know who has played the game (myself included) left the locker room and sat in the hallway for a few minutes. The game literally paralyzes the player with fear. This title has its share of flaws, but does enough things interestingly and differently (weak main character, fantastic atmosphere, dramatic lighting) to warrant a strong recommendation.
  3. Suikoden II
    • It's like the first Suikoden, only bigger, better, more fun. From the 108 characters to the gameplay to the graphics to the excellent-yet-quirky (and not proofread) translation, Suikoden II is like an old-school RPG that had the maturity to grow up with you. Surprisingly well-developed characters and a lot of depth adds up to an enjoyable sleeper hit you should definitely check out.

Feature by Fritz Fraundorf, GIA.
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