3 GAMES THAT DESERVED BETTER

Posted by Red Dog 30/1/2015

Before we begin, I'd just like to clarify that this isn't a 'top three' or a suggestion that these are the games most deserving of this category ... I was just pondering which games I thought were overlooked and deserved more attention than they received and these were the three games that popped into my head from my personal experiences.

3. ICO

While it would be untrue to say this game was unappreciated by critics, the sales figures proved to be major a slap in the face for such an atmospheric, brilliant game. Released in 2001, the title had shifted well under 1 million sales nearly a decade later which is astonishing when you consider how it tells such a remarkable story without relying on bells and whistles or even a script! Make no mistake about it, this should have been the 'Dark Side of the Moon' of video games ... artistic, uniquely brilliant and sitting proudly in every other household. Sadly this wasn't the case and absolutely none of that can be blamed on the game itself!
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Poor publicity plus a lack of 'wow factor' in the screen shots and promotional material arguably damaged Ico's initial sales, but I'm still baffled how this game fell into 'hidden gem' status for so many years.

The plot is imaginative and engaging, as a young boy (imprisoned in a mysterious castle by his villagers) helps a young girl escape her grizzly fate by guiding her through puzzles and saving her from creepy 'shadow monsters'. With the girl's limited agility, it is up to Ico to climb ledges and scale dangerous heights to create a route for her to step further towards safety. Why was the boy known as Ico imprisoned by his villagers you ask? Did he commit a crime? Nope ... He was born with horns which is considered a very bad omen. To be fair, if a guy in my village was born with horns sticking out of his head, he would face a far more uncomfortable punishment than Ico did (them folks are are strange where I live).

The player can feel a strong bond forming between the two characters despite the fact there's hardly any dialogue, this is quite an achievement and Sony should be commended for this. By the time the game ends, you can't help but care about the fate of Ico and his companion and the final few moments of the game are extremely well delivered.

In addition to the great understated storytelling, the lighting, graphics and ambience were so unique for its time that Ico was able to strongly project the atmosphere of every room and suck the player into a dream-like scenario where the outcome really seemed to matter. The length of the game, while short, was perfect for creating a sense of finality and satisfaction while leaving you longing for more.

Despite the fact that critics loved this game and it received some impressive awards, the extremely low sales meant that it is far from being considered a financial success ... A game if this calibre deserves better!

OKAMI

Okami's poor sales were rumoured to be one of the main reasons that developers Clover Studio were shut down. Although this is debatable, it doesn't change the fact that Okami only sold 200,000 copies the year it was released! That same year EA sold 2.3 million copies of Madden NFL which shows the gulf in sales figures between the top sellers and this stunning (but largely ignored) game.
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Why would this game be ignored, you ask? You play a Japanese sun-goddess who uses the form of a wolf to save the land from darkness with the aid of a celestial brush ... hardly screams 'mass market' does it? This is a damn shame though because if you ask anyone who's played this game, they will likely tell you that it is awesome!

The gameplay involves overcoming platforms, puzzles and unique combat to progress through a fairly linear journey. The fighting, which takes place in a virtual arena, has the added intrigue of integrating brush techniques to help you defeat your foes. This all takes place in a world that's brought to life using a gorgeous Japanese ink painting style! The most unique part of Okami is the player's ability to call up a canvas and use the celestial brush to repair broken bridges by painting in the missing panel, or create strong winds by painting a loop in addition to slashing foes with paint strokes! You can also obtain upgrades and new techniques as the game progresses so the idea never gets stale ... this goes way beyond thinking outside the box!

Similar to Ico, Okami wasn't simply brushed aside (see what I did there?) by the critics, averaging a score of well over 9/10 in all the leading gaming magazines and websites. The fact that its sales fell so far behind games that were nowhere near it's calibre is criminal though ... No wonder developers seem afraid to break from the norm these days!

FINAL FANTASY IX

Okay, I understand why your shaking your head ... Final Fantasy IX is a very successful game that was hardly ignored and earned Square a nice fat chunk of money. But putting things in context, in my opinion, this superb game never gets the credit it deserves! How many of those blogs and articles that rank the Final Fantasy games place IX in the top three? It doesn't get half the love that VII gets and although I may get mercilessly beaten to death for saying this ... I think it's an all round better game!
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Despite having the highest Metacritic average out of all the Final Fantasy games, its sales were poor in comparison to the two previous instalments. This might be down to the fact that it was a radical departure from the super serious sulky lead protagonists of the previous games. Final Fantasy VII had skyrocketed to dizzying heights of popularity and introduced a whole new audience to RPG gaming. A lot of these people would likely have been put off by the crazy-ass character designs of IX but they would be denying themselves the pleasure of experiencing a fantastic feel good game if they chose not to buy it! Sure, it is full to the brim with RPG cliches, sure, it lacks an abundance of appealing sidequests and yes, It pays tribute to all the Final Fantasy games before it ... but believe me, it is very much a stand alone game with its own personality ... And a damn good one too!

From the moment I had watched the gorgeous opening FMV and Vivi had waddled from the ship into Alexandria, I was gripped by this game! Everything from the colourful characters and vibrant graphics to the awesome music and enjoyable plot was a great mixture of gaming goodness! Also, despite the serious nature of parts of the story such as self discovery, war, death, greed and manipulation ... The game never loses its feel good, enjoyable qualities and never fails to lift your mood! Compared to many of its predecessors and successors, which tend to try to be too cool and serious in places, Final Fantasy IX is a breath of fresh air with no needless complications!

While it admittedly sits amongst some incredibly tough competition, I feel as though Final Fantasy IX gets overlooked way to often when the great all time RPG's are discussed. I certainly wish Square Enix could churn out games of that calibre in today's gaming world!

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