Has it really been three months since I last did this feature? Yikes.
2002 was a good year for me. I began feeling more comfortable at college, and was quickly realizing that high school was a whole heap of bullshit served for a four year duration. College was so liberating – I finally was feeling like I was not a target for insults, and that I could be accepted for who I was without sacrificing crucial elements of myself to do so. I made some great friends, had a wonderful time with the drama program, and treasure those days to this very day. They were very good times, times that were long in coming.
Beyond school, I had gotten my first pair of glasses. In high school I had denied that my eyes were slowly deteriorating even as I had to sit upfront to read a white board – I think this was in part of a “hey, who wants ANOTHER reason to be made fun of?” line of thinking that I had latched onto while languishing, but I will never forget the moments after getting my glasses and putting them on. It sounds really dumb to anyone who has 20/20 vision, but I had completely forgotten that trees had texture – individual leaves and branches that didn’t blur together to make a mass of green. The clarity stunned me and made me realize how foolish I was to allow myself to let my vision suffer all because I was afraid of being teased a little more. But, sometimes the fear of piling on more attention, positive or negative, can make one’s mind do weird and irrational things.
It was around this time that I had decided that I wanted to get into anime. I bought Princess Mononoke first, and well…I’ve explained why that movie is so important to me elsewhere, so I’ll refrain from further comments here. I relished the new medium, and picked arguably the best time to get into the craze, as it was right in its glorious golden age in America where product was readily available and was about to burst forth a plethora of merch on top of the DVD’s. I discovered Trigun, Outlaw Star, Tenchi Muyo and Gundam Wing in this exciting time, and would soon be floored by such legendary pieces of anime like Cowboy Bebop, Spirited Away, Rurouni Kenshin, FLCL and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. Alas, the balloon on American anime saturation would burst early, and my enthusiasm would go along it. I still like anime, but it’s no longer an essential part of my daily life like it once was. That is not to say that I have shunned it or anything – I have enjoyed some more modern shows like Ouran High School Host Club, Fruits Basket, and Le Chevalier D’eon. But it’s just not something that compels me like it had.
I got a Game Boy Advance in 2002, if my memory’s not mistaken, and I had a fair amount of good times with my first portable. I had a chance to explore Fire Emblem, becoming quite enamored with its strategic gameplay and excellent characters (who could die if I was careless, never to return). Experiencing my first Metroid-inspired Castlevanias, Harmony of Dissonance (so-so) and Aria of Sorrow (spectacular). Getting my hands on a true Treasure action title with Astro Boy: Omega Factor. Not understanding what people see in Advance Wars. :p I still have my Classic NES model and it sees a lot of action these days, as I am quite addicted to the GBA Street Fighter Alpha 3 for no inexplicable reason other than it’s fun to waste time with.
I also got my Super NES this year, thanks to my college friend Seth. I had missed out on the 16-bit wars, so I’ve had a thrill trying out a ton of games I missed out on when I was a kid. Super Metroid and Chrono Trigger left the largest imprints so far, but I’ve got a heap of games to still try out. I got pretty lucky to snag some of the rarer cartridges, like Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen, Earthbound, and Lufia II, but I need to actually play them to truly appreciate them. XD
Next year is a big year in terms of memories, so I’m looking forward to…um…looking back. :p
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (PC, Bethesda)
Morrowind drops the player into a huge, open-ended world where the player’s imagination can truly run wild. Fighters, mages, thieves and archers, or crosses and blends of those basic classes provide an infinite amount of replay and exploration. A fantastic example of Western RPG design at its finest.
Age of Mythology (PC, Microsoft/Ensemble Software)
Age of Mythology has the best gameplay mechanics in the Age of… series if you ask me, with excellent diversity in the three powers you get to control. It also helps that the game itself is a joy to partake.
Metroid Prime (GC, Nintendo/Retro Studios)
Samus’ first adventure under the direction of Retro Studios is among the best in the franchise’s storied history – Retro managed to recapture the discovery, awe and isolation the series does so well, and does it quite handily. The first-person perspective does little to erase the pleasure – in fact, it brings a whole new side to the mythos of Metroid via the scan visor and precise gameplay.
In my opinion, the best game of 2002 was…
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (PC, Bethesda)
Morrowind is a game I yearned to play for years and years before I had the opportunity to. My old PC wasn’t up to the task. Grace (somehow or another) had it on her laptop, and after we got together I had a chance to try it out, but the laptop’s touch pad was too persnickety for me to appreciate the gameplay (and the mouse didn’t seemingly work on her laptop, either), so I didn’t get to give it a proper runthrough until 2007 with the arrival of our current desktop. It ran faster, controlled beautifully, and looked as good as it could get. I set out with Chadwick (who is now named Delton in my Black Blood project), a paladin who wanted to subdue political corruption and free the poor slaves scattered throughout Vvardenfell. My imagination took Chadwick on his own unique quest, crushing evil as he encountered it and ending the life of the dastardly sinister Orvas Dren, one of the seedier characters populating Morrowind. After his death, Chadwick took over the estate and proclaimed it his own, populating its rooms with books, weapons, treasures and artifacts found along his travels. Chadwick took on Dagoth Ur the correct, scripted way, ending that tyrant’s vain attempts to dominate the world. Armed with his fiery blade and the sacred shield, Chadwick’s journey obviously left a strong imprint on me. I relished wandering around Morrowind’s vast continent of Vvardenfell, interacting with its denizens, combating its enemies, and uncovering its secrets. Chadwick’s quest was in turn my quest, my personal exploration into a game I had been dying to try, and now found myself quite attached to.
Further adventures have followed. Karah, a necromancer in Black Blood, blossomed into a vengeful woman out to destroy the Redoran for slaughtering her family as she was young. She rose to the top of the Telvanni, mastered many magical spells (especially in Conjuration and Destruction), crafted a wicked soul-rending short sword, and she too led me on a unique and rewarding journey. Karah’s motives were darker and more bloody than Chadwick’s, and her focus on magic over brute strength changed the way I experienced the world of Morrowind significantly. She also got a custom fortress thanks to my tinkering with the Construction Set, although I have inadvertently caused a bug to happen, so I’ll probably need to rebuild it down the road. Kryst, the rogue you’ve seen in So..this Webcomic and Black Blood, had a short-lived quest of stealing the tons of treasure inside Vivec’s vaults, and became quite the wanted fugitive for it. Not being able to talk to the majority of the game’s characters due to her enormous bounty has made that particular attempt somewhat unfun, though. Nicole, an archer, developed her own unique quest with the expansions, ending Almalexia’s reign over Mournhold and conquering Bloodmoon’s werewolves.
In short, Morrowind has been a magical game for me, as it allows me to live out my own imagination in physical form. I can take these concepts and give them a new lease on life beyond sketches and words. And the gameplay is just about perfect. The combat is choppy, but on the whole it’s only one piece of the grander puzzle. I adore Morrowind, and it’s just shy of being an absolute of mine. Definitely one of the best games I’ve played, and I felt that sharing my personal time and investments within its borders with my avatars would make a stronger argument than breaking it down gameplay-wise (which, hey, I’ve already done!).
Some personal anecdotes:
I will admit that yes, I use God Mode to play Morrowind. Some may find that a sin, but personally, I’ve gotten so much out of the game that I don’t mind never truly dying. Some of the strategy may disappear, but I’m not delving into it so deeply for the combat side of things – I’m doing it more to develop my characters and getting them closer to their goals that I’ve put in place for them.
The great thing about Morrowind is that it’s pretty difficult to be able to say “I’ve seen everything it has to offer”. It’s such a huge game that each playthrough has opened up some new element or location I hadn’t been to before, and that’s part of the joy for me.
The expansions are fun additions, but lack the creative level design of the original game. Dungeons in particular use less unique tiles and repeat a lot of the same map types over and over again, which Oblivion continued in greater severity. That said, it’s nice to have two more areas to wade through, and the new enemies and gear make up for the lack of variety underground.
Grace has beaten the game without God Mode, and I applaud her for that. That is a feat, if I may say so.
So stoked about Skyrim right now I can’t even tell you.
Do hate Cliff Racers, though.
Age of Mythology
Bomberman Jetters (video game)
Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance
The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
Golden Sun: The Lost Age
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Heroes of Might and Magic IV
Kingdom Hearts (video game)
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Mega Man Zero (video game)
Metal Slug 4
Resident Evil (2002 video game)
Shinobi (2002 video game)
Super Mario Sunshine
Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos
Wild Arms 3
Back to 2001 – Forward to 2003