I started by downloading virtually every SNES ROM via a single BitTorrent and have been playing them with ZSNES (it works better on my system than Snes9x and requires less configuration and fuss).
Pilotwings – Boy, this game was made to be played on an emulator. If you don’t have the patience to play through, say, a whole rocketbelt stage to nail that perfect landing, you can just keep going back to a savestate and trying again and again until you get it! It’s sort of cheating, but in a good way – it helps you get better, faster.
Pluses: Rocking soundtrack, great gameplay.
Minuses: On an emulator, you can master it in a couple of days, and then you’ll be looking for something else. If you don’t have a lot of time, this could be a good thing.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past – This game never ceases to impress me, and I discover something new every time I play it. I actually own a copy, and back in the day I got pretty good – I made it to “000 games played,” for instance. Of course, doing it again with the help of an emulator was far easier =) and I played it with the aim of having a different experience, so I did the dungeons in this order:
1 4 5 2 6 3 7
You have to do One first, unless you’re doing a Death Mountain Descent, in which case you could do Three, but I wasn’t playing a DMD (and it’d be really hard to get 000 that way, too). But in previous games I’ve used this glitch and two other easy ones to complete dark world dungeons One and Three without the Moon Pearl.
Four is easy to get to because the dark world portal north of Kakariko Village can be accessed with only the Hammer you get in One – all you have to do is approach it from the north. All you need for Five is the mitt you get in Four – Bombos and half-magic make a fine substitute for the Firerod, and you only really need it once or twice anyway. Two gives you the Hookshot that you need for Six, and Three the Firerod that you need for Seven (there you’ll also need the cane you get from Six). I guess you could mix it up and do Seven before Five, but then you’re doing Seven with the Green Mail and taking more damage on hits.
The Legend of Zelda: Parallel Worlds – If you think A Link to the Past is too easy, I dare you to try this! This new take on the game is unbelievably tough, and savestates are virtually a necessity. I gave up on the game because it was a little bit too hard – hard in frustrating ways, like not knowing where to go. But I recommend checking out this game just for its first dungeon. You have to go through a lot of work just to get the sword, to say nothing of rescuing the princess! (You’ll get good at throwing pots.)
Secret of Mana – This game was a revelation, and I wished I’d played it when it was new, as it would have meant even more then. It’s not so much that it’s a great game – I’d say it’s a very good game. But it’s a special kind of game, a true multiplayer console RPG, and as such it has very little competition. (You can play the game by yourself as I did, it just means that your other characters are controlled by the computer.) As many have said, it really does take the best of, say, Zelda, and combine it with the best of, say, Final Fantasy.
There are problems, though, in my opinion – a glut of weapons (did they really need a spear and a javelin?), scant character development, and frustrating boss battles (mostly because some of the bosses are really hard to hit). I didn’t like the ending much, either. In my opinion, SoM is an important game, but not really a great one. Still, with its engaging gameplay, great graphics, and charming scenes, I can understand why it’s on a lot of people’s favourites lists.
Final Fantasy VI – Speaking of discovering new things about games on subsequent plays, here’s a king of replayability. I think you could play nothing but Final Fantasy VI and be satisfied (and I could say the same thing about VII), as there’s just so much – so much more than meets the eye.
For example, this time I endeavoured to make more use of Locke and his steal command. Well, that’s one thing that VII has on VI – it’s far easier to make any character do anything you want in that game. But in VI every character can still cast any spell - it’s the skills that make the difference. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to develop all the skills of all your characters concurrently, and I ended up playing a Terra-Sabin-Locke-Edgar/Mog game. I used to hate Sabin, but when I played the PlayStation version I realized that was because I had a crappy SNES controller that couldn’t do the Blitzes. I used to hate Locke, too, because compared to some of the other characters, he was a bit of a lightweight. But he can steal! Playing on an emulator, you can also abuse savestates to quickly get rare steals from rare enemies! (Unlike VII, many VI enemies have something you can commonly steal and something you can rarely steal, and you only get one per battle. Fortunately, the decision (get nothing, get the common item, get the rare item) is made at the time of the steal attempt, so it’s easy to abuse savestates to get what you want.)
Speaking of, in Japan I played the RPGOne fan retranslation via emulator. I highly recommend this, as you’ll be shocked by how much the North American SNES and PlayStation versions were watered down. All of the more risqué humour was taken away, which led to bland cutscenes, and I didn’t think much of FFVI’s characterization as a result. But now my view has completely changed. On this playthough, I was laughing out loud all the time – I’d never done that playing VI before! Also, some of the more serious scenes are – well, more serious. The Cid / Celes scene at the start of the second world, for instance, if you fail at the fish game.
Of course, on this playthrough I was also drinking beer. But hey!
Final Fantasy VII – When I was packing to leave Japan I discovered my old Versus Books Completely Unauthorized Guide to Final Fantasy VII, and almost as soon as I got back I grabbed a fresh memory card and started playing FFVII again. By the sheer number of times I’ve replayed it (though I’ve never finished it on PC – the PC version has a few translation fixes, but it’s probably best retired unless you have a good MS-DOS-based version of Windows running on an old box someplace, and even then it’s a struggle to get running perfectly), I have to say it’s my favourite game of all time, at least by that metric.
This time I played a get-things-early game – by the time I reached Junon, I had everybody’s limit breaks finished up through Level 3 (well, except for Cait Sith’s and Vincent’s and Cid’s – they couldn’t be in my party yet). I got kills easily by using the Beta spell, which I also got early – before I’d been waiting until after getting the Highwind, but there’s no need to wait! (Hint: Be in Sadness.) I got the anger meters built up by using cover in conjunction with the enemies in the mythril mine that cast Flame Thrower, but this was a painful process – later on (with Cid, particularly – and Aeris to get her second level 3), I just went into a Midgar Zolom battle with the other two characters dead and let it slap me around while I watched TV or grabbed a soda from the basement or something. By the time I’d come back, the limit break would be charged, I’d use it, kill the Zolom, and then get into another battle and do it all over again.
Playing a limit-break game, though, isn’t that necessary – in fact, FFVII is easy enough that there are a million ways to play it and succeed. That’s actually what I love about the game – like FFVI, you can take a different tack every time. Or I guess you can also do everything – I was simultaneously into raising materia (using double AP weapons and armor virtually all the time, except on the character I was using for mass-kills as they’d need the enemy skills material plus others that don’t have a lot of room to grow), raising limit breaks, getting enemy skills, stealing things, getting every item… the result of all this grinding is that I have this massively powerful party capable of doing anything in any situation.
Oh, of course I also raised chocobos – did you know that you can breed a mountain chocobo and get into the Ancient Forest while Tifa is still the leader? You can also get the Mime materia, one of my favorite in the game, while she’s the leader, and as soon as Cloud came back to lead I started racing (the Gold Saucer isn’t open until he comes back) and worked my way to the Sea Chocobo. Knights of the Round and Mime in hand, it was off to the Gold Saucer to get Omnislash and W-Summon and all those other goodies, entering the battles with the GP that I’d gotten from Chocobo racing. I learned the trick about hammering on the square button to get a peek at the position of the slot, and it helped a lot. (Savestates would be even better, but I’m not yet confident enough in my computer to play PlayStation games on it – maybe on my next computer!)
Oh, I raced and raced almost all night once trying to get a Magic Counter materia. Then I discovered you can just pick one up in the final dungeon. Augh! That’s the trouble with using a printed book instead of an online, frequently updated, searchable FAQ. So I wasted a lot of time there – after you buy Gil Plus and Exp. Plus and win everything you need at the battle square, there’s not much you can do with the excess GP. Outside of the package Esther gives you for beating Joe six times in a row, the only other Racing-exclusive items are the Sneak Attack and Enemy Away materia.
Ah… where was I? Well, there were some thoughts on some old games that I’d wanted to get off my chest. Sometime this year I’d like to polish off and publish my Xenogears FAQ (I wrote it because I love the game, not because I thought it would be useful, especially not now!) – I have one out there on Star Fox, and surprisingly it’s not the most verbose… Of course, it seems like all the nerds are making “Let’s Play” videos now – I don’t really have that kind of time and patience, though. I’m content to be a spectator in the screencasting arena, at least for now.