Games
My interest in games started chiefly with the first 8-bit systems.  I was one of the heathens - I started with the Sega Master System (shown at right)  instead of the old 8-bit Nintendo, but there it was, just the same.  My first role-playing game was Phantasy Star, the cover for which is shown on the right.  The longevity of my Master System was unmatched, and it lasted well into the Genesis days and through until I got my Sony Playstation.  I can still play the original Phantasy Star using the converter for the Genesis; sadly, my Master System finally caved when the controller port decided it would no longer register input from the directional pad (which made it hard to play anything very well).  The Phantasy Star series continued on the Genesis with three sequels, a fair one (II), a horrid one (III), and an amazing one (IV).  Phantasy Star IV, The End of the Millenium remains my favourite video RPG to date.  This website gives an excellent overview of the PS games:  www.phantasy-star.net.
Some time into my Genesis days, I acquired a Super Nintendo (both shown at left), about the time I found out Final Fantasy II was being released.  I had played the original 8-bit predecessor at a friend's place, and so I went ahead and tried it out.  Square produced two great FF titles for the Super Nintendo (II and III) as well as the fun Secret of Mana and the absolutely amazing Chrono Trigger, but then jumped ship when it was decided by Nintendo that they would stay with cartridge-based games for the 64-bit generation.  They signed on with Sony, whose Playstation, as we all know, runs games off CD-ROM, which was a format that was more amenable with the style of RPG that Square wanted to create.  Some people criticize Square for this decision, but ultimately, a software company must change with the times to achieve its objectives.  I jumped ship too, partially because I thought the N64 was a piece of junk (I had one and sold it) but also because the I was by now an avid RPG fan and had to follow the FF series (especially since the PS series had - apparently - ended its run).
Of the three FF games that Square Released for the Playstation (VII, VIII, and IX), VII was the breakthrough and might always enjoy status as being the best of the three for that reason.  Square pushed the barrier on the video RPG and introduced the world to a new style of game, the cinematic RPG.  A number of other games were also released, including the disappointing sequel to Chrono Trigger (Chrono Cross), and the Parasite Eve games.  Parasite Eve was Square's was a departure from using super-deformed characters and an experiment into pseudo-realistic gaming.  From what they learned here, they produced FF VIII, the most visually stunning game I have seen yet.  Despite their technical success, VIII was not well received, and square returned to its fantasy and cartoon-ish look for FFIX, its last game FF game for the 32-bit Playstation.  I eagerly await the tenth installment in the FF series so that I may awaken my PS2 from hibernation...
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This area will be dedicated to video games, a hobby of mine that I've enjoyed since the first 8-bit systems were relased back in the late 1980's.  I'll start with a brief overview of my video-gaming history and then go on to review some of my favourite games.  The games I will be discussing are all in the RPG genre, as I play these games almost exclusively.  There is a separate page for a specific video game, Phantasy Star Online.
Books
The PS Series - Most gamers who started with a Sega Master System back in the 8-bit days will hail the Phantasy Star series as the best RPG series of all time.  Nintendo fans will probably go with Final Fantasy.  The unfortunate thing is that PS ended with its fourth chapter.  FF is still going strong on the Playstation platform, but it will never supercede PS, the series that introduced me to the video RPG.

Phantasy Star (1988)
- This game started it all.  In the days of the 8-bit, this game had phenomenal graphics, a beautiful soundtrack, three full worlds to explore, a great story, and innovative design.  Most notable in the innovation department was its use of the first-person perspective for dungeons.  In this game, you follow Alis, younger sister to the murdered Nero, a labelled dissident slain by the order of the tyrant ruler Lassic.  Alis vows to avenge her brother's death, but soon learns that Lassic may only be a pawn in the power struggle of Algo...

Phantasy Star II (1989) - Many PS fans count this game as their favourite of the series.  The sequel, released shortly after its predecessor for the new Genesis platform, continued the wonderful storytelling of the original PS.  The soundtrack and visuals were maintained, but two flaws were the use of a black grid as a static background for combat, and the use of overhead views for dungeons.  Given the size of the PSII world, however, both choices are understandable.  This game follows Rolf, a government investigator, sent to determine the cause of a recent explosion of bio-monsters on the planet of Mota(via).  Accompanied by his genetically engineered friend Nei, the pair meet many others willing to join their cause as they discover that the rapid advances in technology have resulted a world-wide apathy.  The destruction of Palma is a sign to the new heroes that perhaps something much more sinister is afoot in Algo...

Phantasy Star III - Generations of Doom (1991) - Two years later, the next PS was released.  Three times was not a charm; this game is a rotten pile of burning chicken $hit stuffed with dead dogs.  Maybe it isn't that bad, but you had to play this game almost all the way to the end to figure out what little connection it had to the previous two games.  There were seven worlds to explore in this PS, but they were small and in totality did not amount to much more than PSII's two worlds.  Worse still, battle graphics were rotten and the music was crap.  The gimmick (and it WAS a gimmick) to this game was the concept of a multigenerational story; that who you married determined the next generation of heroes.  Unfortunately, at the end of three generations, and four sets of third-generation protagonists, the plot lines were remarkably similar, the largest difference being that half of the plots ran through the seven worlds in one direction, while the other half advanced in the opposite direction.  The third generation protagonists were severely imbalanced as well, resulting in closing battles that could be incredibly easy (Adan and Gwyn - the twins - who end up with 4 healers in their party) or more difficult (Sean - who is a useless fighter, not a healer, and only had two healers in his party).  The magic (technique) system was changed in this installment to a ridiculous system where certain techniques could be strengthened at the expense of others, but which resulted in techniques so ineffective that there was no point in using them except those of the healing group.  In the end, a few good things came out of PSIII, all gameplay concepts that would be tweaked and improved by the genius team that would put together the last game of the series. 

Phantasy Star IV - The End of the Millennium (1994)
- This was the saviour of the PS series, my personal favourite of the series and my all-time favourite RPG.  The team that produced PSIV delivered wonderful graphics, beautiful music, an amazing amazing story that even managed to reconcile PSIII better than PSIII ever did, and added the innovative macro system.  They combined the beautiful battle backgrounds of the original PS with the character animations of PSII and developed an incredibly vivid battle sequence.  Cyborgs have returned from PSIII as well as the five character party.  And characters were the high point of PSIV; vivid, lifelife, and believeable, right down to details like speech quirks and odd habits.  With such a masterpiece in their hands, Sega was, in many ways, smart to end the series at this point.  This story follows the journey of Chaz Ashley and his friend Alys (a bit of nostalgia for you there) as they investigate a monster infestation problem in the basement of a Motavian school.  What they uncover is a nefarious plot led by Zio, the black magician, in the name of his God, a being that we are all familiar with by now.  Chaz and his friends travel between Motavia, Dezoris, and the mysterious fourth planet, as well as two satellites, to end the threat of the dark forces that plague Algo once and for all.  If you still have a working Genesis, GET THIS GAME.     
The FF Series - This is the other major video RPG series that hit it big in North America.  Hironubu Sakaguchi, the CEO of Squaresoft and the creator of the Final Fantasy series, deserves a lot of credit for having a vision and working to achieve it.  There were some confusing issues concerning the numbers of the FF games, and I will endeavour to only use the North American names.

Final Fantasy - I don't know much about this game, as I never had an NES.  I played it with a friend at his place, and I remember enjoying it very much.  In this game, you created your characters as members of specific classes and went on a quest to recover elemental crystals.  Why?  I don't know.  I remember having to find the rat tail and then having our characters suddenly grow up, and going through this really crappy dungeon to acquire the airship.  I can tell you this for certain, this was NOT a bad game.  Unfortunately, I can't tell you much more.

Final Fantasy II - In actuality, this was the fourth title in the series, released for the SNES.  This was really the landmark game for U.S. players, which established the tendency to have a character-driven plot.  This was also the game where we were introduced to Square's "Active Time Battle" system where the computer would kick your butt if you sat waiting too long.  The game opens with Cecil, a dark knight ordered to forcibly gather the elemental crystals by his liege, the King of Baron.  However, he begins to question his orders.  When he returns, he is sent with his friend, Kain, to deliever a package to the small village of Mist.  As it turns out, Mist is the village of summoners, and the package is a bomb.  Thus begins the tale of Cecil and his rag tag band of warriors as they go on a quest to unravel right from wrong.  This really is a good game, but the moral of the story is perhaps a bit heavy-handed and contrived.         

Final Fantasy III - This one was actually the sixth in the series, also released for the SNES.  This was the better of the two FF games that were made for the SNES platform.  The party size was reduced to four, but the character selection rose to 14!  Magic was learned via espers (the summons) such that any character could be a powerful spellcaster as well as a powerful fighter.  This opened up the possibility of character customization but also led to character homogeneity.  In this game, there really is an absence of main characters (in essence almost all the characters are main characters), but it opens with Terra, a mysterious woman who has lost her memory.  Once used as a test subject for MagiTek technology, Terra finds herself called by the lost espers, but doesn't understand why.  Through her journey, she meets many characters, the womanizing king of Figaro Edgar, his disciplined warrior brother Sabin, the Treasure Hunter Locke, and many others.  Together, they struggle against the domineering shadow of the Emperor's MagiTek technology, and later against an even greater, darker foe.

Final Fantasy VII - This is where the North American FF releases finally caught up with their Japanese counterparts.  Released for the Sony Playstation, FFVII revolutionized the video RPG, both for Squaresoft and for the rest of the RPG gaming community.  Previous RPGs have all been sprite-based, but FFVII utilized polygon-based characters moving over photo-realistic painted backgrounds.  Combined with an amazing story, beautiful music, and great gameplay, FFVII became a classic.  Unfortunately, translation was not always so great, and the party size was further reduced to three.  FFVII follows the story of Cloud Strife, a ex-member of the military organization known as Soldier.  Now a mercenary, he joins Avalanche, a group of rebels struggling against the megacorporation Shinra, which has developed the technology to harness Mako, the energy of the planet, to fuel modern machines, at the expense of the planet.  Meanwhile, in the background, another mysterious ex-member of Soldier, Sephiroth, seeks the Promised Land, the lost land of the Ancients, and whose ultimate goal appears to be the destruction of all life.  As they did once in a faintly remembered past, Cloud and Sephiroth's paths will cross once again... you'll have to play the game to find out where that will lead.. 

Final Fantasy VIII - Hated by many, this was the visual stunner of the FF series.  After the success of FFVII, Squaresoft went on to experiment how much graphical power they could get out of the Playstation.  The result of that was the incredibly life-like Parasite Eve game (see below).  This CG technology was further refined and used in the production of FFVIII, which in turn blew PE out of the water.  One trick Square developed was the seamless integration of CG movie with gameplay polygonal graphics, emphasized in the opening scene as Squall and Quistis walk through the halls of Balamb Garden and when Squall's boat lands on the beah during his exam.  Graphical improvements aside, FFVIII was certainly a departure from all the other FF games.  The story is about a normal guy living a normal life who gets sucked into a political movement that escalates to all-out war.  Money is gained by direct deposit banking (that IS what it is) instead of fighting monsters.  Power is not gained by acquiring powerful items like weapons and armour, but rather by junctioning spells to abilities.  Spells are not learned but rather drawn (stolen) from enemies (or draw points).  The end result is a game that is vastly different in play style than any other FF, which unfortunately was a negative thing to many FF fans.  The story was lame, they said, but I don't agree. The story is just as epic, but on a less fantasical scale.  Given certain advances in our own technology, FFVIII could easily have been set in the modern world.  That's the beauty of the game, I think.  The gorgeous CG adds to an incredible world.  Ultimately, FFVIII is a love story, about a troubled loner named Squall and his interest of choice, Rinoa Heartilly.  Along with four other friends, Squall and Rinoa embark on a journey to stop the tyranny of the Sorceress that ends AND begins (as it turns out) with a VERY subtly intelligent surprise!  If you bother laying out the time line and all the characters (PCs and NPCs) once you're done, you can begin to ask yourself questions like:  who are Squall's parents?  The answers, while conjectural, are quite interesting.  This is a worthwhile game to play if only for the visuals, and it would definitely be a shame to dismiss it because of bad reviews.  I personally love the pseudo-realistic look, rather than the super-deformed look of FFIX.  Of the three FF's released for the Playstation platform, this is my least favourite, but not at all a bad game. 

Final Fantasy IX - I remember that part of the marketing campaign for this game was "The Return of the Crystal."  I have only finished the game once, a while ago, and I accidentally erased my save afterward (GRRR...) but I really don't remember that big a role for the durn thing.  To my recollection, the crystal made a brief insignificant reappearance in the last few minutes of the game before the ending.  Nevertheless, FFIX is a masterpiece and a lovely ending for Squaresoft's run on the Playstation I.  What did return is the four character party, which is welcome after having to deal with three character parties for the last two games.  The game also went back to its fantasy roots; you won't find high technology here.  Also returning are character classes and class-specific abilities; you don't get to choose character classes, but believe me, you can really tell the difference between a wizard and a fighter.  In addition, Square has returned to the super-deformed look for the characters (note that Vivi is the 3D version of the original FF's black mage).  The visuals are beautiful, and the music is good for the most part (the theme for Treno is bloody annoying).  In FFIX we follow the story of Zidane, a member of a mercenary band, who is sent to kidnap Princess Garnet of Alexandria.  Meanwhile, Princess Garnet is trying to escape Alexandria and looking for a way to get kidnapped.  Thus begins the story of these confused and confusing characters as they fight to restore order to The Kingdom of Alexandria and their oppressive ruler, Queen Brahne.  Little do Zidane and Garnet know that Brahne may be being manipulated by an otherworldly menace far more deadly...

Notes - Final Fantasy II (U.S.) was released for the Playstation in Final Fantasy Chronicles.  Final Fantasy III (U.S.) and Final Fantasy V (Japan) were released previously as Final Fantasy Anthology for the Playstation.  North American players thus have all the titles at their disposal except for the Japanese FFII and FFIII.
Other Square Games

Chrono Trigger -

Chrono Cross -

Parasite Eve -

Parasite Eve II -

The Secret of Mana -
Other Video RPGs of note

Wild Arms

Wild Arms 2