In 1988, Sony began working with Nintendo to develop a CD-ROM add-on for the upcoming Super Famicom/Super Nintendo. Contract disputes put a sudden end to the arrangement, so Sony decided to enter the console market on their own. Nintendo’s refusal to embrace optical media and Sega’s self-destruction opened the door for Sony to climb to the top of the market. Sony made their platform very inviting to publishers, and major third-parties lined up to support them. Securing the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest franchises made the PlayStation the console of choice for most Japanese gamers. The PlayStation reshaped the entire industry and became the first console to reach sales of 100 million. With over 2,000 games released for the system, the PlayStation had one of the most well-rounded libraries of any console ever.
- Suikoden II (1998)
Suikoden is loosely based on the classic Chinese novel Water Margin in which 108 “Stars of Destiny” come together to rise up against an oppressive Empire. The main draw of the game is the ability to recruit up to 108 members to your party. Much in the same way that the water margin remains level regardless of the underlying topography, your party members in Suikoden are treated as equals despite their varying skills and abilities. The basic concept is that everyone will contribute where they can and the entire group will reap the benefits. Not only will your recruits participate in battle, but their specialized skills also help the development of your party in other ways. Once recruited, blacksmiths will help sharpen your weapons, engineers will help modify your headquarters, and various merchants will open up shop in your fort. Standard battles support up to six characters at one time, and special combo attacks become available depending on which characters you have in your party at any given time. In addition to the traditional turn-based battles, Suikoden features large-scale battles in which you lead your entire army into battle. Suikoden II is a direct sequel that looks, plays, and feels like its predecessor. I’m recognizing the sequel here due to refinements to the massive battles, a new inventory system, the inclusion of several mini-games, and a much appreciated dash button. Also, Luca Blight is one of the most sick and twisted villains to ever appear in a video game.
- Metal Gear Solid (1998)
Metal Gear Solid stays close to the foundation of the original MSX titles, but brings the series to a whole new level with its Hollywood-level production values. Unlike most action games, Metal Gear Solid is designed in a way that actively encourages players to avoid combat whenever possible. In order to avoid being spotted, you’ll crawl through ventilation ducts, disable cameras with chaff grenades, and sneak around in cardboard boxes. This is not to say there is no action though, as you will still have access to an assortment of weapons – ranging from handguns to remote controlled missiles. You even get to use a number of basic items in creative ways. For instance, cigarette smoke can help detect infrared lasers and ketchup can be used as fake blood to trick guards. Cinematics play a huge role in Metal Gear Solid, and the gritty visuals, dynamic camera angles, and stellar voice work help create a convincing virtual world. The plot borders on the ridiculous, but the characters are well-developed and extremely memorable. The game isn’t particularly lengthy or difficult, but it’s full of hidden details. The game’s outstanding training mode is also worth mentioning, and it was complex enough to spawn a separate expansion game. Without question, Metal Gear Solid is one of the most ambitious and creative games of its generation.
- Resident Evil 2 (1998)
The original Resident Evil was an instant classic that helped define the survivor/horror genre. Capcom took great care with the sequel and even ended up scrapping a near-completed prototype just to ensure that the sequel would deliver. In the end, their tremendous efforts paid off. Resident Evil 2 has much in common with its predecessor. Fixed camera angles and limited ammunition help build suspense as the protagonists explore a facility infested with zombies. The game has a lot more content that the first Resident Evil. There are two characters to choose from initially, and each has multiple scenarios to complete. Resident Evil 2 is a much prettier game than the first one. The improved animation is especially noticeable, and realistic body language adds to the drama. The improved graphics engine also allows for more zombies to fight and larger bosses to topple. Because you’ll usually want to avoid conflict altogether, the extra enemies serve to create a heightened sense of fear. The true genius of the game is in its pacing. You’ll exercise great caution every time you open a new door and will worry about what might be waiting for you around each and every corner. In the one moment you decide to relax, the game will scare the shit out of you. Capcom did such a great job at controlling the flow of the game that they knew precisely when they could catch players with their guard down. All three Resident Evil games on the PlayStation were excellent, but none got the heart pumping quite like Resident Evil 2.
- Tekken 3 (1998)
While many fighting games allow you to jump around like superheroes and shoot fireballs across the screen, the Tekken series has always been centered around hand-to-hand combat. The third entry in the series featured the same fast-paced, combo-heavy gameplay that everyone expected and added a few refinements of its own. The overall mobility of the fighters was improved and the new sidestep ability added more depth to the gameplay. Eight characters from previous Tekken games returned and were joined by over a dozen new faces. These fighters represented a wide variety of fighting styles, including Kung Fu, kickboxing, professional wrestling, and Brazillian Capoeira. Meanwhile, ridiculous characters like giant pandas and wooden training dummies provided comic relief and added even more variety. Not only did each character have their own unique fighting style, but they also had compelling backstories and entertaining endings. Although Tekken 3 pushed the PlayStation to its limit, the graphics had to be downgraded slightly from the arcade original. To make up for this, Namco included several new modes, a couple of mindless minigames, and two new bonus characters not seen in the arcade. A better version of Tekken 3 would not be possible on the PlayStation.
- Tomba! (1998)
With games like Resident Evil 2, Gran Turismo, Tekken 3, and Metal Gear Solid all hitting the store shelves, 1998 was an awesome year for the PlayStation. Surprisingly though, the best PlayStation game of that year was an oft-overlooked title from a virtually unknown company. Tomba! is the brainchild of Tokuro Fujiwara – a man who worked on many of Capcom’s biggest titles, including Mega Man X, Strider, and Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. Even with this impressive resume, Fujiwara considers Tomba! to be his greatest achievement. Despite its whimsical appearance, Tomba! actually has more in common with Metroid than it does with Adventure Island. It provides a perfect balance of classic platforming and adventure elements, and a surprisingly deep mission system can be found behind the trippy atmosphere and colorful characters. With 130 mini-quests to complete, the diversity in Tomba! is nothing short of amazing. One minute you’re finding food for a hungry monkey, and the next you’re racing a go kart through a motocross course. Because these quests don’t have to be completed in a specific order (and some don’t have to be completed at all), gamers have a lot of freedom in how they choose to approach the game. The pacing in the game is downright brilliant and ensures players will always have a variety of directions they can go. Anyone not stuck in a “too cool for school” mentality will find an incredibly satisfying adventure in Tomba!
- Street Fighter Alpha 3 (1998)
The Alpha games added a lot to the Street Fighter universe. The games adopted an anime-inspired art style, put more focus on storyline elements, and reintroduced several characters from the first Street Fighter and Final Fight. Beneath the surface, Alpha also featured a multi-tiered super combo gauge and introduced many new gameplay elements such as chain combos, Alpha counters, and air blocking. The third entry into this sub-series feels decidedly more balanced than the pervious Alpha games. This was largely because several measures were taken to discourage cheap tactics. Projectiles do less damage in relation to the distance they travel, super combos are generally weaker, throws are more difficult to perform, and the new guard meter promotes a more offensive style of play. Perhaps the most significant addition to Alpha 3 is the three selectable fighting styles (known as “isms”) available for each character. The PlayStation version is generally considered to be inferior to the Saturn and Dreamcast ports, but there’s no denying that Capcom pushed the PlayStation to its limits. Not only were nearly all the animations from the arcade faithfully recreated, but the game also featured an impressive roster of 34 fighters – including five characters that were not available in the arcade release. In addition to the usual “Arcade” and “Versus” modes, the PlayStation version also includes a comprehensive training mode and a robust “World Tour” mode that allowed players to earn new abilities by completing various challenges.
- Final Fantasy IX (2000)
After Square ventured off the beaten path with Final Fantasy VIII, they brought the series back to its roots with the ninth installment. Final Fantasy IX still had slick production values and impressive CGI cutscenes, but it also marked the return of a traditional fantasy setting and classic Final Fantasy themes like castles, mages, and crystals. The core gameplay mechanics were reminiscent of older Final Fantasy games as well, and they borrowed as much from the classic SNES games as they did from the more recent PlayStation offerings. The game’s new “ability” system effectively revived the character class concept by designating certain abilities to specific characters. (For example, black magic can only be used by the black mage.) This system helped negate some of the more tedious micro-management aspects of the series and helped accentuate the individuality of the characters. Final Fantasy IX also saw the return of super-deformed characters. This might seem like a step back from the realistically-proportioned characters that were used in VII and VIII, but the inordinately large heads made it easy for the designers to highlight certain facial expressions and emotions. This is important, because Final Fantasy IX‘s greatest strength was its compelling characters. The plot was relatively linear, but the villains were intriguing and the roster of playable characters were likable and easy to relate to. Ultimately, its high production values, nostalgic themes, and charming characters make Final Fantasy IX an essential game for any RPG fan.
- Chrono Cross (1999)
In an effort to be more accessible to a greater number of people, Chrono Cross tries to distance itself from typical RPGs. There are no random battles to speak of, and it’s possible to completely avoid most of the enemies altogether. Moreover, the lack of a real experience system adds little incentive to bother with the battles in the first place. The ironic thing is that the battle system is actually intriguing (albeit a little easy to master) and I wouldn’t have even minded being forced into them. Players won’t have to spend much time grinding or earning experience points, but the game finds other ways to occupy their time. For instance, the game features an impressive roster of 45 party members to recruit. Many of these party members are one-dimensional, but the real fun is in convincing them to join you in the first place. It’s not possible to recruit all of them in a single game, so there is incentive to replay through the adventure. Chrono Cross boasts some of the most impressive visuals on the system, and the vibrant colors and detailed character models really stand out. The soundtrack is amazing too. Like its predecessor, the main draw in Chrono Cross is its compelling story. Taking place in two parallel universes, Chrono Cross questions what role fate plays in our lives and how choices we make can have great consequences on the entire world. Perhaps the best aspect of the game is its enigmatic plot twists which keep you guessing until the very end. The game had some very big shoes to fill, but Chrono Cross was a worthy sequel to Chrono Trigger and one of the best reasons to own a PlayStation.
- Final Fantasy VII (1997)
Final Fantasy VII influenced millions to jump aboard the PlayStation bandwagon and effectively launched RPGs into the mainstream. The production values were amazing, and you didn’t need to be an RPG fan to be impressed by the beautiful cutscenes or the dramatic summon spells. With only three characters to control at any given time, Final Fantasy VII feels more simplistic than its predecessors, but this also makes it one of the more accessible entries in the series. The game’s “materia” system makes it easy to assign unique skills and abilities to each of the characters, and the various mini-games and optional side quests help to ensure that the game never becomes too monotonous or repetitive. The compelling story contains love triangles, plot twists, and tragic inciting forces to motivate players throughout the entire adventure. Even though the game took many steps to reach new audiences, Final Fantasy VII never felt like it was outright abandoning seasoned RPG fanatics. Square even added optional bosses to provide a challenge for those who find the game too easy. Final Fantasy VII is the most successful game in the series and a masterpiece of the 32-bit era.
- Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997)
With Symphony of the Night, Konami decided to give the Castlevania series a major overhaul. Instead of a typical whip-wielding vampire hunter, players assume the role of Dracula’s son, Alucard. Alucard can use his vampire abilities to transform into a bat, wolf, or mist to gain access to certain areas. He’ll also have numerous spells at his disposal and several familiars to assist him. In short, the game mechanics are more varied than in previous Castlevania adventures and offer much more freedom. The level design is also more liberating, since gameplay now takes place in a series of inter-connected areas as opposed to a set of individual stages. The result is a game that feels as much like Super Metroid as it does Castlevania. Exploration is the foundation of the game, but the massive areas are crawling with enemies and peppered with dozens of memorable boss battles. In an era where so many companies were rushing blindly to make 3D games, Konami continued to improve upon the tried and true 2D formula. This resulted in a game that looks and plays better than nearly every other game on the PlayStation. The detail in the gothic environments is stunning, the variety in the characters is unmatched, and the silky-smooth animation is a true work of art. The music is equally brilliant, surpassing even the high expectations set by earlier Castlevania games. Finally, Symphony of the Night provides the most rewarding surprise since Zelda‘s “second quest,” and this unexpected twist turns the entire game upside down.
An ancient demon. Two princesses. A space detective who relies on luck a little too much. An exiled academic. All of the above deeply love and respect one generic kid in rural Japan, who may be tied to them more than anyone would expect. They’ll fight for his love. Tenchi will have to fight for survival. It’s one of the highest points in the harem genre, and it’s finally gotten a modern release, complete with both Blu-ray and DVD copies in a set paired with an art box. Is there No Need For Tenchi in 2013, or should we all hail the possible king of Jurai?
The series premiered in Japan in the mid-1990s, and in America in 2000 on Toonami, a legacy that was recently revived with the inclusion of Tenchi Muyo! GXP on the relaunched Toonami. It’s a corner stone of the modern anime movement in America, having been some of the most adult storytelling ever presented to children in an afternoon cartoon block, successfully marrying comedy, romance, and an sci-fi story that didn’t water things down (even if the televised version watered down sake to tea). It’s almost two decades since the original premiered. How has the original Tenchi Muyo! series aged after all these years?
The story, especially after watching the later incarnations that attempt to retell the same tale (Tenchi Universe and Tenchi in Tokyo) or revamp the series completely (such as Sasami: Magical Girls Club and Tenchi Muyo! GXP), is easily the most mature of the franchise, outside of the possible exception of the final movie, Tenchi Forever. The characters are at their strongest and smartest here. Ayeka doesn’t break down in tears or scream inappropriately; Ryoko doesn’t laugh off her pain as easily; Ayeka has the most traumatic backstory; Sasami’s origin is the largest character development the girl gets, even including the spin-offs which focus on her; and Mihoshi is actually moderately competent, given that Kiyone’s not around to be a crutch for the character, like later iterations. Tenchi himself is a believable teenage boy in this one: argumentative, sneaky, and actually having to step up to the challenge (instead of being the golden boy Tenchi in later series who’s ready for anything and everything).
For the uninitiated (and where have you been?), the story quickly grows. Tenchi Masaki is an average school boy who inadvertently lets loose a demon woman, Ryoko. Her release draws alien princesses, Galaxy Police, and more towards his grandfather’s shrine in rural Japan. Quickly he’ll learn of his true legacy and power, and that six lovely ladies all have the hots for him!
Darn. The original Toonami promotion for the show really did sum up the show in the best possible way, didn’t it?
It was a strong series in the 1990s, and it’s an even stronger series in 2013. The story is leaps and bounds above the others in tonality, and while it might not have exaggerated jokes like later series, it’s the foundation of a solid sci-fi franchise. In fact, you can almost trace the past two decades of Japanese animation starting with this series; the original was solid, humanely designed, and had humor in words and dialogue, not full-on slapstick (although that is still here, and appreciated). Skip half a decade later, and you have Tenchi Muyo! GXP which, while competently directed by Watanabe Shinichi, it’s vastly more Three Stooges than Charlie Chaplin. Cut to modern times, and War On Geminar‘s computer-generated mecha and backgrounds have replaced the painstakingly-hand drawn works of the 1990s. It’s an interesting beast to chart.
Visually, especially on Blu-ray, this series is amazing. It comes from the mid-1990s, which some might actually call the pinnacle of hand-drawn, hand-colored animation, with a direct-to-video budget that allows focus and time to be put in on shots, coloring, special effects, and the like. The easiest comparison is to look at Tenchi Universe (coming soon after this series) or the later episodes (theoretically featuring the same character designs, but coming a decade later). The former pales in budget and time, and while being competent, never goes beyond the TV series. The latter is so overblown with its computer-age nature that everything seems washed out and brightly colored, something that just seems so out-of-place with the nature-focused Jurai and the rural world of Tenchi Masaki. Audio is a different beast, as the dub is straight out of the late 1990s; for many, this is the iconic voice cast for these characters (the entire cast has been replaced at least once, with a few characters going through three or four voice actors, due to the length and breadth of the amount of productions this franchise has seen), and if anything, set the desired direction for the cast for America. The problem is, some people (justly) have some issue with where the voices went, especially Ayeka. Thankfully, a balance can be found in this series in the fact that the characters aren’t reduced to screaming at this point; while later iterations of Ayeka are sheer “prim-and-proper princess who will have Tenchi no matter what”, this version is a little more reserved. The complaints are out there, but you’ll not hear them often from me. As always, there’s the Japanese language track to listen to at will (or by force, in one extra feature detailed below).
Special features are notably weak, but that’s partly due to the time and era. A simple art book is included in the box, and one post-episode short “omake” is included, but not dubbed. There are no original trailers, promos, and none of the legendary Toonami promotional work done for the series. The saddest disappointment is that this set does not include the episodes that came much later (and were released as Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki by FUNimation). That set is available on DVD but not Blu-ray (despite being modern and high-def enough that it could look pretty nice), and is the direct continuation of these episodes. It’s vaguely annoying that you’ll finish the “Complete Series” and immediately go online to order more or watch it on Hulu. Another bonus that would be heavily appreciated is the special related to this timeline, released previously by Pioneer as the “Mihoshi Special”. It doesn’t seem FUNimation has the rights to this, leaving another part of the old Tenchi releases stuck in the past, but would have been heavily appreciated.
It’s a beautiful, quiet, and engaging series that has gotten a decent rerelease, with the Blu-ray quality being used for the video to its fullest effect. More extras would always be loved, but given the age and the distance between this era’s voice cast and their roles, it’s tight. If you’re looking for a purely good show that looks amazing on Blu-ray (and want a DVD copy to boot), you can’t do any better.
Granville Street is a major street in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and part of Highway 99. Granville Street is most often associated with the Granville Entertainment District and the Granville Mall. This street also cuts through suburban neighborhoods like Shaughnessy, and Marpole via the Granville Street Bridge.
The community was known as “Gastown” (Gassy’s Town) after its first citizen – Jack Deighton, known as “Gassy” Jack. “To gas” is period English slang for “to boast and to exaggerate”. In 1870 the community was laid out as the “township of Granville” but everybody called it Gastown. The name Granville honours Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Granville, who was British Secretary of State for the Colonies at the time of local settlement.
In 1886 it was incorporated as the city of Vancouver, named after Captain George Vancouver, who accompanied James Cook on his voyage to the West Coast and subsequently spent 2 years exploring and charting the West Coast.
During the 1950s, Granville Street attracted many tourists to one of the world’s largest displays of neon signs.
Towards the middle of the twentieth century, the Downtown portion of Granville Street had become a flourishing centre for entertainment, known for its cinemas (built along the “Theatre Row,” from the Granville Bridge to where Granville Street intersects Robson Street), restaurants, clubs, the Vogue and Orpheum theatres, and, later, arcades, pizza parlours, pawn stores, pornography shops and strip clubs.
By the late 1990s, Granville Street suffered gradual deterioration and many movie theatres, such as “The Plaza, Caprice, Paradise, [and] Granville Centre […] have all closed for good,” writes Dmitrios Otis in his article “The Last Peep Show.” In the early 2000s, the news of the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympic Games, to be hosted in Whistler, a series of gentrification projects, still undergoing as of 2006, had caused the shutdown of many more businesses that had heretofore become landmarks of the street and of the city.
Also, Otis writes that “once dominated by movie theatres, pinball arcades, and sex shops [Downtown Granville is being replaced] by nightclubs and bars, as […it] transforms into a booze-based ‘Entertainment District’.” In April 2005, Capitol 6, a beloved 1920s-era movie theatre complex (built in 1921 and restored and reopened in 1977) closed its doors (Chapman). By August 2005, Movieland Arcade, located at 906 Granville Street became “the last home of authentic, 8 mm ‘peep show’ film booths in the world” (Otis). On July 7, 2005, the Granville Book Company, a popular and independently owned bookstore was forced to close (Tupper) due to the rising rents and regulations the city began imposing in the early 2000s in order to “clean up” the street by the 2010 Olympics and combat Vancouver’s “No Fun City” image. (Note the “Fun City” red banners put up by the city on the lamp-posts in the pizza-shop photograph). Landlords have been unable to find replacement tenants for many of these closed locations; for example, the Granville Book Company site was still boarded up and vacant as of July 12, 2006.
While proponents of the Granville gentrification project in general (and the 2010 Olympics in specific) claim that the improvements made to the street will only benefit its residents, the customers frequenting the clubs and the remaining theatres and cinemas, maintain that the project is a temporary solution, since the closing down of the less “classy” businesses, and the build-up of Yaletown-style condominiums in their place, will not eliminate the unwanted pizzerias, corner-stores and pornography shops – and their patrons – but will simply displace them elsewhere (an issue reminiscent of the city’s long-standing inability to solve the problems of the DTES).