Beyond the core loop of Hangman and a multiplayer mode, that’s really all there is to Effacer. It’s an undeniably slim package and even though it boasts a whopping 40,000 words, I can’t imagine most people will get anywhere near seeing all of those words. Still, there’s a lot to like about the general vibe of Effacer, both on its own merits as a bizarre twist on Hangman and as a representation of the curious world of the CD-i. There’s really nothing else like it and playing Hangman normally isn’t exactly going to be the same thing unless you create your own alien backstories and role play them or something!
Override might not be the most exceptional shoot ‘em up ever, but it’s one that does nearly everything well, and the things it doesn’t do as well were corrected for its remake, which is a privilege most games don’t get to experience. Between the PC Engine version’s approachability and the Sharp X68000 version’s added bells and whistles, there’s something here for everyone who has even a passing interest in shoot ‘em ups. Override can be safely recommended for those unfamiliar with the genre as something that’s reasonable for them to finish (I beat it on my first attempt and I’m not good at the genre!), whereas veteran players can try to go for Last Battalion's elusive second ending to get the thrills they seek.
Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness
SO5 was quickly dismissed as a mediocre game and a disappointment compared to past entries, but I couldn't disagree more and firmly believe that this game is long overdue for a re-evaluation. This game captures everything that makes the series special even within its smaller scope and budget and is absolutely worthy of standing with the rest of the series as one of its strongest entries. Combat is an absolute delight, the story offers relevant themes and tells its tale in a way that's unprecedented for the genre, it features some of the best characters in the series, and it offers all of the tinkering and depth that I associate with the series. If you come to the genre only wanting best in class visuals, lengthy cutscenes, or turn based combat, this game isn't going to do it for you, but for those who want to see what JRPGs can do when forced to innovate within extremely high stakes and with limited resources, SO5 is perhaps one of the most impressive cases of "greater than the sum of its parts" that I can think of.
Star Ocean: Blue Sphere
Blue Sphere is a bumpy experience at times and will test your patience through gigantic, complex dungeons and battles of wildly varying difficulty, but it is absolutely worth sticking with. Even if the story doesn’t offer a ton to chew on, it gives a perfectly valid excuse to jump into another adventure with the SO2 cast while also offering some PAs to give you a bit of a glimpse into what these characters have been up to in the two years since their original journey. It’s a true passion project through and through, and irrefutable passion is something that I believe makes tri-Ace really stand out. No matter what you may think of their games, no matter how unbalanced or weird they might seem, there’s no denying that their games are truly singular experiences. I’ve always had a strong appreciation for their craft, and Blue Sphere was a wonder to explore while also being a prime example of their strengths and weaknesses.
Star Ocean EX
And as a different experience compared to the source material, I’d call Star Ocean EX a success. It takes something dear to me and many others and retells it in a way that expands upon its character and world. Even with its downgrades in terms of action and capturing the systems of the game, it manages to add a lot to a cast that already had me by the heartstrings. I know I said that it's about the journey and not the destination, but it really is unfortunate that it was never finished in its intended form because I would have loved to see how everything else played out in this fashion with beautifully represented character designs, lively music, and appropriate voice acting. I admittedly came in not expecting anything particularly special, and I have to imagine it wouldn’t be anything special for people not familiar with the game, but as someone who has been yearning for a replay of Star Ocean 2 but hasn’t quite had the time to squeeze it in, this really helped satisfy that hunger for the time being.
Astro Marine Corps
I think people who enjoy seeing consoles and computers pushed to their limits in clever ways will find a lot to like here if they can put themselves outside of their comfort zone. So much of the run and gun genre seeks to empower the player with similar types of power fantasies and make the player feel like a one man army, but AMC turns that idea right on its head. You think you’re getting Predator or the later Rambo movies or something, but it turns out you’re actually getting The Thing in AMC 1 and some good old fashioned cosmic horror in AMC 2!
Suishou no Dragon
Experimentation has always been in Square's DNA, which makes their back catalog fascinating to explore. Suishou no Dragon is strange even for their standards, though; what if you made an 80s adventure game with no music, slim amounts of dialogue and few NPCs, progression that rarely takes too much effort, and a runtime of less than an hour? Suishou no Dragon is a game that'll leave you feeling all kinds of ways by the end because nothing about it feels like it should be how it is. And yet, it is most certainly the way that it is! This is a game that I'd love to love, but there's so little to hold onto that even its most interesting qualities struggle to overcome how inconsequential it ends up feeling.