1998: Staff Favorites

A fine year.

    1998 was, inarguably, a year. And since it was a year, games came out during its course. While the GIA staff formed no consensus about which game was the best of the year, several games appeared on more than one of our lists. Here's a quick rundown:

Final Fantasy Tactics: 5
Xenogears: 4
Zelda: The Ocarina of Time: 4
Metal Gear Solid: 4
Brigandine: 2
Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo: 2
Panzer Dragoon Saga: 1
Pokémon: 1
Brave Fencer Musashi: 1

Allan Milligan (Letters)

  • Brigandine
    • In spite of an unoriginal premise, lousy graphics, and mediocre music, this one shines in its gameplay and details. When I entered a battle and one of my generals began to berate the enemy for their poor fashion sense, I knew I was in for something fun. This is one of those great games where you can invent your own tactics for combat -- it's tough, but not so tough as to discourage taking the most efficient route to victory every single time, and I appreciate that. Kudos to Atlus for this one.
  • Metal Gear Solid
    • When we founded GIA, we wanted to devote a page to the glory of "smart" games. Games with plot and style, ones that required thought to play and understand. One of the games we had in mind was Metal Gear Solid. The plot is detailed and interesting. The voice acting is excellent. The graphics, the cutscenes, the action -- it's like you're part of the single coolest action movie I've ever seen. Konami outdid themselves on this one, and I hope to god they catch sequel fever...
  • Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo
    • This was released as part of the Greatest Hits collection for PSX, and by gum, I'm using it as an excuse to plug this game once again. It rocks. It's cute as all hell, it's addictive, it's brilliant in two-player and fun in single-player. It's one of the top five party games I've ever played, and I have yet to meet anyone who has played this game, but does not love it with all their heart. It's twenty bucks, kiddies. There's no excuse. Own it.

Brian Glick (News, reviews, previews)

  • Zelda: The Ocarina of Time
    • The phrase "Miyamoto's masterpiece," while vastly overused, fits Zelda 64 like a golden gauntlet. I've never before had this much fun lazing around in front of a TV. My only gripe is the lack of Zelda's classic melody, but otherwise, this tops my "lifetime favorites" list.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics
    • What's this? A decent storyline in a strategy RPG? Mix in an amazing job system, helluva tough battles, and an incredibly solid engine and you've got, quite arguably, Squaresoft's best title. I got a good feeling!
  • Brigandine
    • Pure, simple addiction. My medical doctor has advised I stop playing this game. Sadly destined to be forgotten in the shadow of all the big-name titles this holiday season, Brigandine is a strategy RPG in the vein of Dragon Force which slowly grows on you until it's got your neck and you can't breathe any more.

Andrew Vestal (News, reviews, previews)

  • Zelda: The Ocarina of Time
    • It's not perfect, but it's damned close. And it's so much fun! Zelda has more gameplay goodness in its first dungeon than most games dream of! Okay, cut the hyperbole ... it's great looking, decent sounding, and immaculately designed from start to finish. Play it.
  • Panzer Dragoon Saga
    • Bigger isn't better. Better is better. PDS innovated in tons of ways, offered a great plot and realistic (but not boring) character and enemy designs. A better, more well-thought out world I have not seen. Too bad nobody ever played it.
  • Metal Gear Solid
    • Tactical Espionage Action = world's first Badass simulator. You're stealthy, you're sexy, you're attaching C4 to guards' backs as they pee. Few games provide the adreneline -- or testosterone --rush this one does. Even fewer have the gameplay to back it up. The presentation is the new gaming standard, period.

Fritz Fraundorf (News, reviews, previews)

  • Metal Gear Solid
    • Need I say more? The World's Best Game truly is, from the cinematic opening credits to the intense finale. You've heard it all before, but it's still true -- innovative gameplay, great storyline, and bad guys who read your memory cards. The replay value may be a bit limited, and the music needs more variety, but, really, who cares? If you have a PlayStation and a pulse, get this game. Period.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics
    • Yes, it's a blatant rip-off of Tactics Ogre, but FF Tactics has one key element that Tactics Ogre lacks: fun. It's one of those rare games that manages to provide deep and challenging gameplay while still keeping the game entertaining to play (uh, except on the Riovanes Castle roof). Top that off with the hilarious translation that will guarantee you "get a good feeling" and you get a game that's "a gift from God". This's the way!
  • Brave Fencer Musashi
    • Don't let the cartoony graphics fool you; BFM is packed with depth. Constant variety, creative play mechanics, and lots of secrets add up to one of the most addicting games I've ever played -- there's just so many parts that you make you stand up and say "Damn, that was awesome". Lame boss fights and a mild lack of length are the game's only real flaws, but the soundtrack more than makes up for them.

Tamzen Marie Baker (Vault)

  • Final Fantasy Tactics
    • My favorite game would have to be Final Fantasy Tactics, simply because it offered the challenge that I felt other recent RPGs had been lacking. Perhaps this was because I was relatively new to strategy games, but the idea of having to plan a battle made the game more difficult (and entertaining) for me. The story and the music were both phenomenal, and inspired me to try my hand at writing a fanfic, and the ability to create your own characters made for great replay value.
  • Xenogears
    • Next I would have to say Xenogears...a controversial game in many respects, loved by some and hated by others. With a story far more complicated than any I've ever encountered in a game, or even in most books, and some neat anime scenes (no matter how badly dubbed), it kept my attention for hours at a time...then again, that might also be due to the excessive random battles and few save points. ^_^ I truly loved the music in this game, and the character designs were pretty cool too.
  • Zelda: The Ocarina of Time
    • Lastly, I'll have to go with Zelda64. I've hardly yet begun it and already I'm as hooked as I was years ago by the original. I can't really say what makes Zelda so catchy, since it doesn't have a lot of the enticing story and characters that other RPGs do, but it always seems to exceed my expectations. I love it because I can sit there for ages struggling with one puzzle, and when I finally solve it, it makes me remember why I love video games so much.

Andrea Hartmann (Vault)

  • Pokémon
    • The thing that made this game so fun to me was the battle system, by a long shot. Pokémon attacks are so widely varied, and strength and levels aren't half as important as just choosing the right Pokémon for the job.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics
    • Again, a winner because of the battle system. I don't know when the last time was that I played a game where the random battles were as exciting as the major ones. And a nicely complicated political plot doesn't hurt, either.
  • Xenogears
    • Yeah, I liked the battle system here too, but the real prize here was the plot. Rather nice blend of sci-fi and fantasy. It may have had more non-RPG elements than many gamers seem to appreciate, but hey -- I like puzzles, I like platforms, and I like fighters, so it all works out.

Brian Maniscalco (Artwork)

  • Metal Gear Solid
    • I think Metal Gear Solid is right up there with Super Metroid and Castlevania: The Symphony of the Night as one of the great adventure games of the post 8 bit console era which didn't abandon the classic sidescrolling or overhead gameplay formats in favor of full-blown 3D environments. The game is refreshingly realistic in that subterfuge and stealth, not a BFG paired with a nigh immortal capacity for punishment, are required to infiltrate and progress. Its seemingly flawless balance of great gameplay, originality, realism, attractive graphics, fitting musical score, and interweaving plot make for arguably the most complete console gaming experience to date.
  • Xenogears
    • There isn't anything quite earth-shattering about Xenogears, but it does add sufficient innovation to a conventional but excellently-performed RPG formula to make it one of the top games of '98. The battle system, instead of being a stagnant mix of beating weaker enemies to a pulp with repetitive "button mashing," actually became a point of interest with the introduction of gear combat and non-menu based battles in which the player is rewarded for employing varied attack combinations with new deathblow skills. Although not without its flaws and nuisances (poor dub synchronization, annoying camera angles, platform-esque jumping), Xenogears' storyline and setting are intriguing and the totality of the RPG experience it offers is among the best yet.
  • Zelda: The Ocarina of Time
    • Zelda: The Ocarina of Time has often been cited as having the most thoroughly realized and immersive gameplay settings around. Unfortunately, Zelda 64 is a video game, not a reality simulator, and its actual gameplay doesn't quite live up to the swirling typhoon of hype and expectation that has surrounded the game for months. Enjoyable and rock solid? Yes. The game of the year, decade, century, millenium? No. I find myself gaping in awe at the humongous and detailed environments, but I don't find myself compulsively playing hours on end or itching to get at the controller when I'm not playing. That having been said, it is a very good game and has certainly raised the bar of quality in the gaming industry.

Andrew Kaufmann (Features)

  • Final Fantasy Tactics
    • I'll admit openly that I much prefer an old-fashioned, medieval-style fantasy to a modern, science-fiction style fantasy. The opening CG sequence with characters in armor and wielding swords tickled me to death, and the game's plot held up my high expectations. Toss in a nice, convoluted plot and battles that were fun instead of tedious and you've got my favorite game of the year.
  • Xenogears
    • It really reminds me of Voltron, which is my favorite cartoon ever. While I can't say Xenogears isn't my favorite RPG ever, it's good, clean, RPG fun. Not overly innovative (the battles were different yet not really much more interesting, in my opinion), the plot was entertaining, and the CG were graphics impressive. Add it up and you've got a great game.
  • Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo
    • When Allan told me this game was re-released as a bargain title in 1998 and was including it in his favorites for the year, I jumped for joy. This is simply a great two player game. It's not too much fun in one player mode (taunting your opponent verbally works much better if they are human) and the graphics are too cutesy for my likings, but that doesn't take away from the all important Fun Factor. This game is simply fun.

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