Lytherus recently brought Mike Anthony on to our team as a new full-time writer. As a way to introduce himself, we asked Mike to compose a list of his top ten favorites in the world of fantasy, scifi, and horror. His result — ten brilliant video games and movies which offer readers a great glimpse into the mind of our newest blogger.
1- NiGHTS into Dreams (Saturn)
Recently I was digging through some of my old games and came across my copy of NiGHTS into Dreams for the Sega Saturn. It didn’t take me long to decide to hook up my Saturn and play it for a few minutes. Well, make that a couple hours. NiGHTS was one of the flagship titles for Sega’s underappreciated and overlooked 32-bit System. The game tells the story of Claris and Elliot, two fourteen year olds who both experience troubling anxiety during the day. (Claris has Stage fright and Elliot was beaten in a basketball game and humiliated.) After they fall to sleep however, they escape their nightmares and meet up with the dream weaving jester, Nights. By working through the levels and beating the bosses, Including Wizeman the Wicked, the master of nightmares, Claris and Elliot conquer their fears and gain the confidence they need to achieve their goals.
For a game fifteen years old, NiGHTS plays like, well, a dream. The easiest way to describe NiGHTS is that it’s sort of like Sonic the Hedgehog in the air. You fly around and do acrobatics through loops while collecting orbs to advance to the next part of the stage. The controls (using the Saturn’s analog controller) are smooth, and easy to learn. The levels designs are excellent, and the graphics, although dated by today’s standards, are still beautiful and fun to watch as you play. Unfortunately, the Saturn never really took off outside of Japan, and therefore NiGHTS never reached the mass audience it deserved. If you are a retro gamer or a Sega Saturn fan however, you really owe it to yourself to pick this one up.
2- Lunar: The Silver Star (Sega CD/PS1/GBA/PSP)
Lunar: The Silver Star is one of those RPGs that has a sort of charm that defies the test of time. Unlike many RPG’s from the 16 bit era onwards, Lunar: The Silver Star turns away from the darker, angsty stores and atmosphere that popular titles have, (Final Fantasy is a good example of this.) Instead, Lunar is a light hearted fantasy of a boy named Alex who wants to be a great hero just like his idol, the dragon master Dyne. He sets out to become the next dragon master, a master warrior who defends the game’s goddess Althena, if needed. Along the way, he travels with his childhood friend Luna and meets all sorts of strange and fun characters in his quest to be a great hero and eventually save his sweetheart and the goddess.
Lunar became popular as one of the earlier console games to have voice acting and animated cutscenes. It was first released on the Sega-CD, an add-on to the Sega Genesis, and has since been re-release on several systems, including the PlayStation, GBA, and most recently, the PSP. For each re-release Lunar gets a few beneficial gameplay tweaks such as ditching random encounters for on-screen enemies and adding a limit attack to the battle menu. The battle system is fun and engaging in every release, as it implements some simple strategy elements. (Each time you attack you move on the battlefield, and where you stand determines attack power, range, and player damage.) However, I recommend either the PlayStation or PSP release, as the improved menu system and limit attacks make battles more interesting.
3- Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 (PS2/PSP)
Persona 3 is my favorite entry in Atlus’ popular Shin Megami Tensei: Persona series, and although it isn’t the most impressive J-RPG, it does what it aims to do well. In the story of Persona 3, there is a hidden hour of the day at midnight where a giant tower appears in front of the local boarding school and monsters come out and roam the city. While most of the people transform into coffins during the dark hour, and forget everything that happens afterwards, a few people are able to stay conscious with special abilities. This includes a team of students setting out to decipher the mysteries of the tower, the monsters, and the dark hour. The students fight using “personas,” hidden aspects of themselves that they awaken through firing gun shaped objects (dubbed “evokers”) at their heads. You play as a new student at the school and become drafted into the group fighting the monsters soon after your first encounter with them.
Gameplay in Persona 3 shifts between two modes. At night, you and your group enter the tower to explore and fight monsters, engaging into battles by running up to them on the game map. Your character can use several personas, each with different skills and magic, while the other party members are limited to one persona. During the day however, things are more unique. While awake you spend your time going to school, studying, and socializing. Depending on the actions you make and who you befriend determines your characters main attributes and also what new personas you can build and fuse. For example, if you are friendly with Yukari, You can develop stronger personas in the “Lovers” arcana. The story is very well developed but also is pretty dark and creepy. The game isn’t for everyone, but if you like J-RPGs and don’t mind some dark plot points, it’s worth a try.
4- The World Ends With You (DS)
This often overlooked gem is probably my favorite game for the Nintendo DS. This is really saying something considering how highly I regard the thing. The World Ends with You (TWEWY) was a critical success but never really gained the mainstream success it deserved. In TWEWY, you play as Neku, a teenager with amnesia who finds himself playing the reapers game. The reapers game is a simple but sinister game for those have recently died to have a second chance and live. The rules are simple: there is one objective a day. Reach that goal within a time limit and you are safe. If you survive for a week and get the most points through the challenges and objective you win.
The objectives for each day are obscured by little problems that often end up as fetch quests or fights. You have to snoop around and learn things through telepathy to finish many of the fetch-type quests. The battle system for fighting is the crown jewel on what makes this game fun and unique. When you engage an enemy in a battle, you fight using Neku and his partner on two different planes using both screens at once. You fight with Neku using the touch screen. Here, you utilize a customizable set of pins that give Neku psychic powers to use; pyrokinesis, mind bullets, etc, to finish off enemies. Your partner uses the arrow or face buttons if you are left handed, to use a list of commands to bash and build combos. Throughout the game you collect all sorts of psychic pins to use and can power them up through fights or resting, taking a break with the DS off. I don’t think there’s another DS game that’s as odd and engaging as this.
Another way the game mixes things up and makes it more complex is the trend system. The game uses trends through different parts of the city to power up or down your character. Wear Goth clothes in the alley? Double stamina. Prep clothes? Nice try. The cool thing is you can change the trends by fighting well in certain areas with whatever you want, so in the end, the world does end with you.
5- Ocarina of Time 3D (3DS)
What can I say about Ocarina of Time that hasn’t already been said? The game is, in my opinion one of the best game experiences ever. It’s clever, it has great art direction and music, and the gameplay is close to perfect. I honestly can only think of one complaint and that is that the water temple is a pain and a half, but at the same time, it’s not so bad that it becomes impossible. Recently I bought a copy of Ocarina of Time for the Nintendo 3DS. But before I started playing, I had some lingering concerns. I already have the game for the N64, is it worth it to buy it again? Will it play well on a handheld system?
Well, after making it more than halfway through the game my answer is yes: it totally is. The game is gorgeous, the controls are solid, and the motion control tweaks make aiming with several of the weapons easier and more precise. Although I haven’t quite gotten there yet, I’ve heard that the problem with equipping and unequippng the iron boots in the water temple has been fixed. Thank You SO much Nintendo. If you are a 3DS owner, you really should pick this one up. The 3DS’ library has been farly anemic, and OoT3D finally gives you a reason to pick it up for long-term play.
1-Wait until Dark (1967)
Warning! There are some spoilers in this entry!
This is a great suspense thriller. I may not jump when I see the big scare near the end anymore, but I do flinch, and that says something. In Wait until Dark, Audrey Hepburn plays Suzy, a recently blinded woman married to a popular photographer. In the opening credits, her husband comes into possession of a child’s doll which unbeknownst to him is stuffed with Heroin. It’s not long before Mr. Roat (Allen Arkin), the man whom the doll was meant for wants it back. He sets up an elaborate con game with two other crooks to try and trick the poor blind woman into giving them the doll. Little do they know that she no longer has it and the plan escalates fast as they don’t believe her. After a while, Suzy figures out that these men are con artists, (with some help from the little girl upstairs). When she realizes the danger she is in, she smashes all of the lights in her apartment and the hall one by one to level the playing field, using the lack of sight to her advantage.
If you only watch the first half of this movie, you probably won’t be that impressed. Although the acting is good, (Audrey Hepburn and Allen Arkin stand out the most,) it just moves slowly. However, once you give the movie a proper chance you’ll understand that the odd pacing was deliberate. When things start to pick up for the second half, they do so with a great intensity. The climax takes place in almost total darkness, so you don’t get a good sense of what’s going on. It’s terrifying, but at the same time, it’s cool to see someone use their disability to cripple the chances of their attackers.
Paprika is one of those movies that sucks you in right away by starting plain and sneakily sliding into the extraordinary. It opens with a policeman, gun and hand, sweeping through a crowd at the circus. At first it seems like your run-of-the-mill movie cop moments, but before you know it, the impossible takes over and the policeman is led through a maze of different dreams by a curious redhead girl. This leads to a confrontation with his most troublesome anxiety… and suddenly he wakes up with the red head girl sitting by the bed. He was never at the circus, or chasing a criminal, he was in dream therapy. I knew at this point I was going to love this movie.
Paprika is about a few psychiatrists using experimental equipment to enter, and recording their patient’s dreams. The technology is stolen, and the ice cold Dr. Chiba uses her bubbly alter ego, Paprika to dive through the dreams, rescue her colleagues, and sort the mess of the world out. Paprika is an anime directed by the late, great Satoshi Kon, and it’s just gorgeous. The story is good but the visuals are what drive it along. I should say that Paprika is not for everyone. It’s gritty and at times a little disturbing, as people die and get plunged into bizarre dream worlds. People grow more demented the longer they are in the dreams, and not all of them end up ok. In the end, most of the creep factor derives from the conceptual instead of the visuals, aside from one or two scenes. If you like sci-fi thriller mindbenders, this is perfect for you.
3- Silence of the lambs (1991)
Silence of the Lambs might be the greatest psychological thriller of all time. It’s well acted, well directed, and not only is the story captivating, it’s told well too. Silence of the lambs could easily have turned into a tasteless, cheap, murder movie, but thankfully it was handled with care. This movie doesn’t rely on big scares or blunt offerings of cheap violence; instead it’s slow, and careful.
The little things make the story pop and grow more rounded. Things like the bloody nail marks on the walls of the hole the kidnapped girl is in, or the sound of air whooshing out of the dead girl’s mouth when they take the cocoon out. It’s stuff like this that’s going to pop into your head at two in the morning when you are locking up your house. When a horror movie can ruin your sense of security hours after the viewing has ended, it’s done its job really well. While these little moments make you the most uneasy, it’s the characters that drive the story and make you want to know more. They’re well developed, and you learn a lot about them from their world without backstories and drama being shoved down your throat. This movie puts all the elements together into a powerful force of cinema that you never really forget. I mean, when was the last time you heard someone go, “What’s Silence of the Lambs about? Which movie is that?” Never, that’s when.
4- A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
When I was little, I was an anxious kid. I couldn’t stand scary movies. They’d keep me up for weeks. Every heavy breath or creaking floor board sent me running. So, when I was around nine or ten, I decided to watch a whole bunch of scary movies, some of them over and over again, to desensitize myself forever. Unfortunately for me, the first movie I put on was Nightmare on Elm Street.
This movie is amazing. The concept alone wins my respect. Some parents murder a man that killed local children, and as payback he comes back and kills off their children in the one place no one should be able to hurt them: their dreams. What makes this movie work isn’t so much the story itself, but more how it’s told. Big plot points are revealed in inventive ways, and most of the effects still look great. What I love is how creative the nightmares are, and how clever the scares and deaths are. Like the quicksand staircase, or Tina’s levitating slashed death. the film crew did a lot with a small budget. I’ve seen all the sequels and one or two of them are all right, but none of them touch the original.
5- Perfect Blue
I’ve seen Perfect Blue almost a dozen times, but there are still moments in the movie that make me hold my breath or squirm on the edge of my seat. Satoshi Kon certainly did well directing his first movie. Perfect Blue tells the story of Mima, a low-level pop star, who is making the transition to being a real actress. However, her first big job is in a sleazy crime drama, and to top it off, she finds a diary written supposedly in her voice that talks about her daily life in excruciating detail, but Mima has no part in writing it. As her scenes in the crime drama become more and more risqué and she isolates herself from obsessive fans that begin to stalk her, Mima begins to hallucinate and daydream her “old self” as a pop idol, in mirrors or in the haze out of reach. This “other self” teases her for her choices in life and mocks who she is becoming. In the end she loses track of reality and is forced to face her delusions and stalkers in a dangerous confrontation.
Sound a lot like Black Swan? Well, Perfect Blue was released in 1997, long before Black Swan. To make things more complicated, it’s confirmed that Darren Aronofsky, the director of Black Swan has drawn on the film before for the bathtub scene in Requiem for a Dream. He denies however to include it as an influence. Curiouser and curiouser…