One thing I want to touch up on are the overrated games. These are the good nostalgic games but receive a little more credit than they deserve. While you'll have perennial classics like Super Mario World, Final Fantasy VI, and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, I would like to address a few standout titles you probably see your friends on Facebook reminiscing over from time to time?
For starters, this isn't meant to slight anyone. Rather, it's to look at classic gaming from a different lens. That lens is to understand that not all games are created equal despite their similar popularity among one-another in popularity rankings. Some classics from yesteryear aged poorly while others still look and play magnificently today. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is one such example. Blood Omen: The Legacy of Kain, on the other hand, only gets points for its story and music.
As such, do you ever wonder why certain games' flaws are glossed over despite their popularity? When it comes to overrated games, this is more than talking about why x game and y game are popular today. It's more of a study of the classics. When it comes to that word, however, you might know one game that comes to mind immediately.
Final Fantasy VII
The first is Final Fantasy VII. Notice how I used VI as the example above? That's because VI wasn't a pixelated or polygonal mess. VI was a wonderfully polished JRPG. VII was a wonderfully polished JRPG in every way, too, except its visuals. When you look at how Final Fantasy VIII and even Sony's Legend of Dragoon used the battle models as the map models, you look back to VII and realize Square had zero excuses to release VII the way they did. The map models look like dolls and are an eyesore to look at. System limitations be damned, it was completely possible for them to make VII's map character models actually look decent and not like low-res Mario in Super Mario 64.
|This is what Final Fantasy VII looks like to me.|
I kid you not, this is a real model in Super Mario 64.
Despite that, however, Final Fantasy VII is lauded as a revolution in the gaming industry. It introduced CGI cinematics which, by comparison to in-game graphics, look absolutely gorgeous or at least for their time. Outside of its audiovisual quality, it also told a stellar story and nailed everything high. Music, battle system, pacing, and world design were all enjoyable facets of the game. Just...it was an eyesore to look at and I won't gloss over it. Some people are adamant to defend Final Fantasy VII as a "product of its time" despite numerous games looking vastly better than it. This is partly due to blind nostalgia as well as a bias towards the game as opposed to the reality that Square could have used more time to make the game look like more than a polygonal mess but simply chose not to.
Also of note, as someone who otherwise gives Final Fantasy VII a high ranking, I played Final Fantasy VII Remake with low expectations. I ended up coming out playing perhaps the greatest game I have ever played. The level of polish dedicated to pacing, combat, side-quests, music, character development, and literally everything else stands as a testament to some of the greatest design I have ever seen. VII Remake may have raised the standards, for the JRPG genre and gaming as a whole, perhaps a little too high. If you have the PS5 version, play the Intergrade remaster to avoid the loading times!
Pokemon Red and Blue
Another I want to address is Pokemon Red and Blue. In the Pokemon community, we have a term: "genwunners." While the people who played the first generation of Pokemon and dipped either moved on from video games or lost interest in the series, there's an infamous subset of "fans" who seem to only recognize the first game as the only one that matters. This is due to their blind nostalgia to how great Pokemon was booming in the late 90s and early 00s with the anime, movies, and choice of Game Boy games alongside all the merchandise.
People who moved on after Gen I realized Pokemon wasn't their game or genre. That's totally fine. People who swear by Gen I being the "best" or the one that matters is an opinion revolving solely around nostalgia. I would dare say it's flat-out incorrect.
When Pokemon Go came out, the marketing was blatant. All the Ash Ketchum fans came out of the woodwork to embrace their 151 favorites. We all knew it was geared towards millennials who had fond memories of Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow. After looking at the image above, I imagine you can shatter those rose-tinted glasses and accept that, despite all the original Pokemon game accomplished, it's a mess by today's standards. Every single generation after it has outclassed the first in every conceivable way, from combat to pacing.
Gen I excelled for having still some of the most memorable Pokemon designs as a whole, an incredible soundtrack, and strong replay value for those of us who didn't even know sequels were coming when we were kids. Compared to The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, Donkey Kong, and Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land, they were arguably the best games on the original Game Boy. Their high level of replayability, memorable characters, and flexibility made them wonderful single-player experiences. What the original Pokemon games accomplished in the 90s could scarcely be replicated today and they're still titles anyone can play or replay.
But to say Gen I is "the best" is a flat-out delusion created by bias and nostalgia. Genwunners aren't labeled as such because Kanto is their favorite region. They're ridiculed for abandoning the series but somehow insisting that the first-gen, the one that applies to them, is the only one that matters. At which point it's no longer based around preference but ignorance toward how much the series has grown since.
Secret of Mana
Perhaps the biggest offender of this entry comes from Square's SNES Action/RPG entry. Remember when I said not all games are created equal? When people talk about the stellar SNES RPGs, they're referring to the likes of Chrono Trigger, Super Mario RPG, Final Fantasy VI, EarthBound...and Secret of Mana. While the former titles might have their fair share of detractors based around preference or taste, Secret of Mana was an unabashed disaster.
I dove into this game expecting a fun Action/RPG. Real-time combat with gorgeous graphics and a soundtrack to match would make this a worthy top-level SNES game, right? I got an unpolished mess with some of the worst boss fights in gaming history. If you weren't forcing yourself to level grind, you were stocking up on magic nuts to refill your MP to cast-rush bosses. Melee combat became useless and Dragon Wyrm would combo-lock you to death if you made a mistake. Oh, and the final boss could only be killed with magic, you didn't have a shop or any way to refill, and the final dungeon didn't have a save point.
The sequel, Trials of Mana, would not hit western shores until 2018. People heralded Seiken Densetsu 3 as some holy grail that was somehow even better than Secret of Mana. In some ways, yes it was an improvement for pacing and combat. In other ways, the ugliness reared its head through HP-sponge boss battles that took too long and required little strategy. Even the 3D remake that followed felt like a slower-paced experience of what you could enjoy more from Kingdom Hearts or Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana. Note: The Ys series, particularly the later titles like Oath in Felghana, are among the best Action/RPGs you will ever play
Overall, Secret of Mana felt like a disappointment that only got worse the longer I played it. The latter half felt rushed and lacked direction forcing you to grab a guide to find where to go next. Moreover, the game lost a huge chunk of content intended for the game proving it to be a rushed mess overall. Even then, Square-Enix would later remake the game in 2018 without restoring said content. The game would receive lukewarm reviews. This wasn't due to it being a bad remake. It was because Secret of Mana was never stellar to begin with.
As such, the remake, released to both the old crowd and new players, could bring those flaws out to everyone in the open. Pretty spritework, good music, and the concept of a good combat system cannot save a game from being bad. Being released alongside stellar classics made by Squaresoft cannot save its reputation from being the weakest link out of their releases. But most of all, blind nostalgia cannot arbitrate a game's worth when paired with the reality that it didn't just age poorly but was not that great to begin with.
The point I'm trying to make is sometimes nostalgia clouds people's memories of a game. They might remember a game as some grand piece of media that colored their childhoods. Only later would they go back and play it to realize that it wasn't nearly as good as they remembered. Not because it was a product of the times, though. You could go back to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time or Paper Mario on the N64 and get nothing but an amazing experience today.
I've always enjoyed going down memory lane. I love retro and classic games and continue to play them to this day. Whether it's downloading Demon's Crest on my 3DS and playing it for the first time or trying the original Star Ocean on my PS4, I have a place in my heart for games from the 80s and 90s. It goes without saying that some aged better than others. Super Metroid continues to be a gold standard in 2D gaming whereas you see next to no one ever talking about most of the games on Sega Genesis Classics.
That's because a high number of Genesis titles aged poorly and aren't fun to play today. They were tolerated among the classics including the Sonic trilogy, Shinobi III, Streets of Rage 2, Castlevania Bloodlines, Contra Hard Corps, and a select few other titles on the system worth playing. Are you really going to play Decap Attack or Kid Chameleon for any reason other than a few minutes of curiosity?
Sometimes that rude awakening hits late. You might even play Dragon Quest I - VII on recommendation from said enthusiasts. But if you hate forced level grinding and getting lost, there's no way you would even want to play more than one game. Granted, the quality of life improvements implemented in VIII and especially XI made the titles much more accessible than their previous entries. In certain cases like Dragon Quest, it becomes a matter of taste in preference. I don't think DQ III and IV are terrible games but they just weren't enjoyable to me since I dislike forced grinding in JRPGs.
The point being is there are times when preference comes into play in determining how you rank your games. However, you get to a point where you separate preference from flagrantly bad design choices. Knowing that difference is whether you can say, "Chrono Trigger is overrated but it's not my thing" and "Final Fantasy VIII was overrated because dear God its battle system and story were a mess." VIII can be your favorite but it pays to understand why it's not as popular as VII and IX for more than just preference.