We all have unique preferences when it comes to certain games. Sometimes we’re not into the popular games that most people love, and sometimes we love games that get a lot of hate. It can be frustrating when a game clicks with you, but no one else seems to “get it,” or vice versa.
This is my personal list of games that I’ve enjoyed, but that tend to be unpopular among the larger gaming crowd. It’s just a personal examination of how I was able to enjoy these games when other people didn’t.
Ultima VIII: Pagan (1994)
The infamous Ultima VIII was a big departure from the preceding games in the once revered Ultima series, which emphasized large, open worlds, tons of quests, and an unparalleled level of interactivity. It was the Elder Scrolls of its time. But in an attempt to streamline the game, Pagan was made simpler, more linear, and more action-oriented. It also had an extremely rushed development cycle as EA forced the game out the door to meet an annual release schedule resulting in, essentially, a half-finished game.
The technical shortcomings undermine some really interesting concepts, but overall, fans tend to object to the game’s simplification and darker themes. Even series creator Richard Garriott considers it one of his “bad” games. There are no companions to recruit and only two real side-quests to discover. The game also eschew the series’ emphasis on virtues in favor of placing the player into morally ambiguous situations.
I admit, I have a love/hate relationship with the game myself, but as much as I could criticize it for its shortcomings, I also appreciate the things it does right. It has an amazing atmosphere and tone. The world feels mysterious yet compelling. I also liked its attempt at creating a more streamlined experience. I’ll also admit that it was my first Ultima game, so nostalgia does play a small role. It has some major problems, to be sure, but I feel that if it was more technically robust and fleshed out the way the developers intended, fans would’ve been more accepting of the thematic change in direction the series was trying to go in.
Instead, we got Ultima IX…
Secret of Evermore (1995)
The first and last game developed by Square USA, Secret of Evermore is an unfortunate victim of association. Borrowing its mechanics from the much more popular Secret of Mana, Evermore put a decidedly American spin on the formula through its story, concept, graphics, music, and even humor.
Most of the criticism aimed at Secret of Evermore stems from the belief that it somehow replaced the localization of Seiken Densetsu 3 (aka “Secret of Mana 2”). This is a myth that has been debunked by the developers, themselves, and it’s sad how many people still believe it. Still, fans seem to hold a grudge against Evermore simply for being the game they got rather than the sequel to their beloved Secret of Mana.
And this is the interesting part to me: I didn’t play Secret of Mana back then, and so I have no nostalgia for it. I played Evermore first without having any personal attachment to its spiritual predecessor, and I loved it. I appreciated its distinct flavor versus the traditional Japanese RPGs of the era, and I played through the game multiple times. It wasn’t until 2008 when Secret of Mana was released on the Wii Virtual Console that I really had the chance to dig into it. After years of all the hype at how much better Mana was supposed to be than Evermore, I have to admit that I came away from it a little let down. It’s interesting to me that my feelings towards both games are the opposite of everyone else’s, likely because I just happened to play them in the opposite order.
Star Fox Adventures (2002)
This spin-off of Nintendo’s Star Fox series didn’t start off as a Star Fox game at all. Rather, it was an original concept known simply as “Dinosaur Planet.” The particular details of how it became a Star Fox game vary depending on the source, but the final product brought Fox McCloud out of his Arwing (for the most part) for a Zelda-style action-adventure.
This game is a little difficult for me to discuss because, unlike the other games in this article, I honestly still don’t fully understand why this game gets as much hate as it does. Some people just don’t think it’s a very good Zelda clone. Some people nitpick about whatever small details. Some people simply complain that it’s a Star Fox game.
I guess this just boils down to difference of opinion in its purest form. For me, it’s a very solid, enjoyable action-adventure game with a lot of charm. I certainly enjoyed it enough to play through it multiple times. I will admit that I have nostalgia attached to it, as it was the very first GameCube game I bought. But still, it’s like there’s a significant disconnect between the game other people are describing and the game I’ve actually played. I have yet to understand for myself what this game’s great sin was.