359. Rain

Rain was falling when I awoke a few days ago. I lay on my floor, tangled up in a sleeping bag and a light blanket, slipping in and out of consciousness, listening to the soft roar of the rain, and remembering.

The sound of the rain took me back to the jungles near Shell Mera, the town famous for Operation Auca and the brave men who lost their lives for the Gospel of Christ. When we lived in Ecuador, my family and I vacationed in a cabin with a corrugated metal roof. The rain thundered when it fell. I drank tea made from fresh hierba luisa leaves, lay in a hammock, and read a book or played a video game as rain beat the metal roof like a titanic drum.

Mangayacu cabin view

The view out of the cabin was beautiful, even when it was blurred by heavy rain.

A few days ago, as I lay listening to the rain, I recalled the rainstorms that hit my grandparents’ home in Florida. Once, after a heavy rain, I saw a rainbow rising from the yard next to the house where my family and I were staying. The rainbow disappeared when I got too close, but I was able to pinpoint more or less where it touched the earth. There was no pot of gold, but it was still exciting.

I was once privileged to visit the Galápagos Islands for my high school biology class. (Being a missionary kid has its perks!) As my classmates and I snorkeled in a rocky bay in a small island, a squall swept over us: driving sheets of warm rain that limited visibility to about fifteen or twenty feet. (It didn’t help that I wasn’t wearing my glasses at the time.) I treaded water, looking in all directions, seeing only water, hearing only the rain. It was one of the most magical moments of my life.

In Montevideo, where my parents now reside, rain is often preceded or followed by spectacular displays of lightning over the horizon. When the rain falls, it falls hard. I used to walk the dog in the rain—well, I used to try. My parents own a dachshund named Sam, known alternatively as Samwise, Samurai, or the Sam-pup. He doesn’t like getting wet, and he hates thunder. During my visits to Montevideo, I had to drag him outside by his leash when it rained. I loved the wet weather. The city blocks, lined with trees, seemed cleaner and lovelier when rain fell.

Rain washed away the grime of this dirty street and made it a corner of Eden.

Rain made this dirty street a corner of Eden.

A few days ago, I lay awake and listened to the rain: remembering, reminiscing, and—if I may borrow my younger brother’s word—nostalgifying. I love the sound of rain. No matter where I go, the gentle roar of rain never changes.

It reminds me of a line from the Kingdom Hearts games. (Although the story of these games is ridiculous, it has many moments of disarming pathos.) In a touching scene, a character raised near the ocean becomes stranded on a dark, deserted island. He has no hope of escape. There is only an empty beach, jagged outcrops of black stone, gloomy fog, and the soft swish of waves. It’s a bleak place, but the castaway finds a shred of comfort.

“At least the waves sound the same.”

A few things in my life have never changed. I love looking up at the stars. I joke that my childhood home is a particular video game, but it’s not really a joke: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has been more of a constant in my life than any place on earth.

Then there’s the sound of rain. In all these years, and in all these places, it has never changed. As I recently lay awake, I found myself thinking, “At least the rain sounds the same.”

Rain reminds me of the immutability and faithfulness of God. It exists in a state of constant motion, yet it never changes. Rain is beautiful, and it comforts me.

At any rate, it’s better than snow.

Lore in a Minute

Do you know what’s confusing? Video game stories. Seriously. Have you ever played a narrative-driven video game? Too many games set up complicated backstories or mythologies to rival Tolkien’s, which nearly always leave those games with one of two problems: explaining too much, or else not explaining enough.

I’ve played a lot of games with fantastic settings, brilliant characterization, and intricate plots—only to see those things obscured by poor storytelling. (I’m looking at you, Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, and Metal Gear Solid.) All the worldbuilding in the, um, world won’t matter if a game’s lore is too complicated for players to understand.

Fortunately for video game aficionados everywhere, a YouTube group called Lore in a Minute has taken it upon themselves to explain the complex lore of various video games, each in one minute… ish.

The video above explains the (admittedly complicated) setup of Chrono Trigger, which I consider probably the greatest RPG ever made. It takes one heck of an explanation to make sense of the time-traveling adventures of a swordsman, an inventor, a princess, a steampunk robot, a prehistoric cavewoman, a demon king, and a medieval knight/talking frog.

Yeah, it’s kind of a weird game. You should totally play it.

231. TMTF’s Top Ten Mad Scientists in Video Games

We’re all a little crazy.

Some of us, of course, are crazier than others. In video games, the craziest people generally fall into three categories: villains, mad scientists or both.

I find mad scientists particularly interesting. They abandon morality (and occasionally their own humanity) in their frenzied pursuit of knowledge or power. Like Adam and Eve snatching the forbidden fruit of Eden, these lunatics rebel against God and nature in the name of progress.

Mad scientists may not be good people, but they sure are good characters!

In listing ten remarkable mad scientists in video games, my usual rules apply: I won’t include characters from games I haven’t played (with one notable exception) and will include only one character per game series.

Let’s get crazy, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Mad Scientists in Video Games!

Be ye warned, here there be minor spoilers.

10. Andross (Star Fox series) Andross Andross was once a brilliant scientist, but experiments damaged his sanity and ruined his body. Although he doesn’t have much personality, Andross establishes himself as a notable villain by killing the father of the games’ protagonist and declaring himself emperor of the solar system. I also want to point out that Andross is apparently comfortable with sacrificing his body and becoming a disembodied head. That’s pretty crazy.

9. The Doctor (Cave Story) The Doctor (Cave Story) No, not that Doctor. This Doctor is actually a medical practitioner, albeit one with a terrifying lust for power and a violent disregard for the Hippocratic Oath. The Doctor is merciless, selfish and cruel. He also gets bonus points for using himself as a test subject and becoming a hideous mutant. Besides, I love that he carries around a pen. More villains need pens sticking out of their pockets.

8. E. Gadd (Super Mario Bros. series) E. Gadd Egad! This nutty little gentleman has the distinction of being pretty much the only good guy on this list. Professor Elvin Gadd is an inventor and paranormal researcher whose crowning achievement is a vacuum cleaner that sucks up ghosts. He’s cheerful, egotistical and blithely inconsiderate. He also sounds exactly like an Ewok from the Star Wars films. Coincidence? Yeah, probably. All the same, this pint-sized prof definitely has a few screws loose.

7. Fennel (Radiant Historia) Fennel Fennel is the head of a military research and development team. He’s also just a head. (There might be a body inside that slug-like machine, but I’m not sure.) Working for the warlike nation of Alistel, Fennel develops thaumatechnology: an arcane sort of machinery consisting mostly of weapons and other stuff that can kill you. He’s in love with his work, which takes place in a dim, ironclad labyrinth of underground chambers. Seriously, Fennel is kind of creepy.

6. Jean Descole (Professor Layton series) Jean Descole I haven’t actually played any of the games in which Jean Descole appears, but my brother insisted I put him on the list. (I’ll finish the Professor Layton series sooner or later.) Descole is cold, calm and cunning… except when he’s angry. Then he’s kind of scary. This archaeologist, master mechanic and self-proclaimed scientist manipulates others, shows no remorse and stops at nothing to achieve his goals. Don’t be fooled by that detached smile. Descole is not a sane man.

5. Doctor Eggman (Sonic the Hedgehog series) Doctor Eggman As his name and title suggest, Doctor Eggman is a doctor shaped like an egg. Despite being extremely intelligent, he is not particularly bright; his schemes for world domination are invariably foiled by either a hedgehog or his own incompetence. Eggman is short-tempered, egotistical and prone to bouts of maniacal laughter: defining characteristics of a mad scientist. Besides, dat stache.

4. Pamela’s Father (Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask) Pamela's Father This poor fool, who is never given a proper name, is so devoted to his study of supernatural phenomena that he moves to a desolate, haunted valley to study ghouls and ghosts… and takes his young daughter Pamela with him. When his research causes him to deteriorate into a monster, she traps him in the basement and bars the front door against the ghouls circling the house. Terrifying? Heck yes. Pamela and her father are eventually rescued and his humanity restored. Regardless, any scientist crazy enough to drag his daughter to an isolated wasteland to study monsters is, well, really crazy.

3. Ansem (Kingdom Hearts series) Ansem Without delving too deep into the convoluted lore of the Kingdom Hearts universe, I can confidently declare this man a lunatic. His research into the darkness of the human heart leads to the creation of Heartless, shadowy monsters that swarm across the universe to devour worlds. Ansem himself becomes a Heartless. Then—in the time-honored tradition of mad scientists—he tries to conquer everything. This tanned, stylish scientist gets extra points for inverting the stereotype of the pallid researcher in a lab coat.

2. GLaDOS (Portal series) GLaDOSThis psychopathic artificial intelligence builds death traps and forces test subjects to solve them. Why? For science, of course! So what if her research methods kill a few people now and then? GLaDOS believes her experiments are worth the cost: “The science gets done and you make a neat gun for the people who are still alive!” I love how this AI becomes unhinged throughout the games, eventually stooping to ranting and petty insults. For complexity of character and degree of insanity, GLaDOS is wonderful.

1. Cidolfus Demen Bunansa (Final Fantasy XII) Doctor Cid Cidolfus Demen Bunansa is one of the best video game characters I’ve ever seen: supercilious, brilliant, arrogant, foppish and seemingly insane. He treats tyrants with casual disrespect and talks aloud to an imaginary friend named Venat. I would call Cid a delusional lunatic, except for one minor detail—he’s actually sane. Cid is a rational man obsessed with defying the gods and putting “the reigns of history back in the hands of man,” abetted by the mysterious, invisible Venat. Of course, on his noble quest to liberate humankind, Cid doesn’t mind shedding a little innocent blood: this man ordered the obliteration of an entire city with the magical equivalent of an atomic bomb as a scientific experiment. Cid is fabulous, fascinating, evil, despicable, astonishing and awesome.

O people of the Internet, what video game mad scientists would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!

213. TMTF’s Top Ten Life Lessons in Video Games

Wisdom can be found in unexpected places.

As we search for truth in literature, faith, philosophy and the lives of great people, we mustn’t overlook the lessons to be learned from BatmanDoctor Who, cartoon ponies and webcomics about video games. Speaking of which, video games have invaluable lessons to impart: useful principles that can be applied for success in real life.

What? You don’t believe me?

All right, then! Ladies and gentlemen, consider these practical principles as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Life Lessons in Video Games!

10. Be Creative in Solving Problems

As tempting as it can be for gamers to try solving everything with violence, some obstacles can’t be shot, hacked or blown away. Puzzles require critical thinking. Some enemies require timing and strategy, not brute force, to conquer. Players have to be creative in solving problems, and creativity is an invaluable gift.

9. Observation Is Important

Anyone who plays a Legend of Zelda game quickly learns to keep his eyes open for cracked walls. Apply explosives to a damaged wall and—boom!—a way is opened. In video games, good things come to those who notice stuff. Video games teach players not merely to hear and see, but to listen and observe.

8. Appreciate Beauty

I love solving puzzles and defeating enemies as much as the next gamer. All the same, one of my favorite things about video games is how darn pretty they can be. (Yes, video games can be beautiful. Like brushstrokes or pencil shading, pixels can make lovely pictures.) Players are treated to sunrises and forests and ocean views, and appreciating beauty in artificial environments is a step toward appreciating it in natural ones.

7. Plan Ahead

Bad things happen to those who are unprepared. The person playing a Final Fantasy game will be annihilated by a tough boss if she hasn’t leveled up her characters or stocked up on healing potions. The person playing a Mario Kart game will lose if he hasn’t bothered figuring out the controls. This brings us to the real world, where the person taking a test or applying for a job will fail if she hasn’t planned ahead and made necessary preparations. Once again, video games reflect how things work in real life.

6. Stay Calm

The player who panics and starts mashing buttons will most often lose, and gamers get plenty of opportunities to panic. It can be hard to stay calm when facing that tricky jump or twisty racetrack or nigh-invincible boss, but rational decision-making is more likely to lead to success than wild overreaction. People who learn to keep cool under pressure while playing video games are better equipped to keep cool under pressure while doing everything else.

5. Practice Makes Perfect

I stink at fighting games: kicks and combos and Hadoukens baffle me. There is, however, one kind of fighting game in which I will destroy you: a Super Smash Bros. game. (My younger brother is a rare exception to this rule; he defeats me effortlessly.) As a kid, I resolved to learn to play Super Smash Bros. to enjoy the game with friends. Mastering the game took time and effort and many failures… and it was totally worth it. Practice makes perfect. At the very least, practice makes better. Video games remind us of the fact.

4. It’s Dangerous to Go Alone

With these cautionary words, the first Legend of Zelda game echoes something in another famous work: a book called the Bible. Quoth the Teacher in Ecclesiastes, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” In other words, It’s dangerous to go alone.

3. You Reap What You Sow

So you’re playing a Final Fantasy game, slaying monsters, saving the world, when your quest is interrupted by some woman who wants you to gather medicines to heal a wounded traveler. A nuisance? Yes. You gather the medicines, the traveler recovers—and your kindness is rewarded. Another example: You take a break from your adventure in a Legend of Zelda game to attack a chicken. You’re enjoying yourself—after all, hacking away at defenseless fowl is fun—until the chicken decides to fight back, and your cruelty is punished with death. Seriously. For better or for worse, we reap what we sow. This biblical principle is common in video games.

2. Success Is an Investment

You can’t traverse that treacherous pitfall in a Mario game? Keep trying. You can’t conquer that unbeatable boss in a Kingdom Hearts game? Keep fighting. You can’t get your client acquitted in an Ace Attorney game? Keep gathering evidence. Sooner or later, you’ll pass that pitfall or flatten that boss or prove your client’s innocence. Now consider the real world. You can’t pass a class? Keep studying. You can’t afford something? Keep saving. You can’t achieve a goal? Keep working at it. No matter where you turn, success is an investment.

1. Good Guys Win

The world is full of terrible, selfish people who seem to succeed. Video games are no different. There are monsters, jerks and villains who triumph by lying, cheating and backstabbing. In the end, an overwhelming majority of those bad guys are brought to justice. The good guys—the guys who strive and fight and sacrifice to help others—win. You know what? In our world, the same thing happens. We need to be reminded that good guys sometimes win.

O people of the Internet, what useful lessons have you learned from video games? Let us know in the comments!

Video Game Wedding Music

I’m not planning to get married, but I don’t deny the possibility. Stranger things have happened.

If I get married, I hope my wife doesn’t mind me choosing video game music for the wedding ceremony. Maybe I’ll just make her to listen to songs without telling her they’re from video games. Yeah, that might work.

How can she refuse the stirring notes of the prologue from Final Fantasy in the video above? Or this touching ballad from the latest Legend of Zelda game? Or some slow, sweet piano from Final Fantasy VI? What about this melody from the Kingdom Hearts series? Heck, the song is even titled “Dearly Beloved,” the words which began so many wedding ceremonies.

If my wife rejects all of these lovely songs, maybe I can persuade her to allow a nice, um, upbeat arrangement of “Pachelbel’s Canon.” The melody is a wedding classic, and therefore immune to all objections. I love loopholes!

191. TMTF’s Top Ten Weapons in Video Games

I love video games. I enjoy making top ten lists. Finally—despite my loathing for real-life violence—I like weapons.

This blog post was inevitable.

This top ten list, which includes weapons only from games I’ve played, defines a weapon as an object used to inflict damage on someone or something in a video game. Power-ups, vehicles and powered armor suits don’t count. (Sorry, Samus.) Weapons that originated in media apart from video games, such as lightsabers from Star Wars or the golden gun from James Bond films, will not be included.

Duck for cover, ladies and gentlemen, as TMTF presents…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Weapons in Video Games!

10. Barrel Cannon (Donkey Kong series)

Barrel Cannon

What’s more devastating than heavy artillery? Why, heavy artillery that fires gorillas, of course! The barrel cannon can be used not only as a form of transportation for Donkey Kong, but also as a way to turn the ape into a high-speed projectile. If only it fired sharks…

9. Masamune (Chrono Trigger)


This legendary sword, the blade of a brave knight who, er, also happens to be a frog, is a powerful and storied weapon despite its plain appearance. It carries tremendous sentimental value for its amphibious owner. Finding and repairing the Masamune is a major feat, requiring the game’s heroes to travel through time from prehistory to the modern age. Later in the game, a sidequest unlocks the sword’s full potential and transforms it into an extremely powerful weapon.

8. Satellite Gun (Shadow the Hedgehog)

Satellite Gun

Shadow the Hedgehog is a terrible game. Apart from its bad level design, lousy writing and atrocious acting, the game is a poor attempt to make the bright, whimsical Sonic series seem dark and gritty. There is at least one good thing about this game, however: the Satellite Gun. This weapon, which looks a bit like a television remote, uses a targeting system to lock onto enemies and signals an orbiting satellite to annihilate them with a freaking laser beam from outer space. That’s cool.

7. Poltergust 3000 (Luigi’s Mansion)

Poltergust 3000

This is a vacuum cleaner that sucks up ghosts, used by Luigi to rescue his brother Mario from a mansion teeming with spooks. (The image above is actually an advanced Poltergust from another game, but I’ve used it for this list because it’s much cooler than the original model.) Besides trapping phantoms, the Poltergust 3000 is capable of collecting cash from hard-to-reach nooks and blasting foes with fire, water or ice. All this begs the question: Who you gonna call?

6. Enchanted Arrows (Legend of Zelda series)

Enchanted Arrow

Bows and arrows are pretty neat, but the Legend of Zelda series offers several variations thereupon that are nothing short of awesome. Players can use the three standard varieties of magical projectiles—fire, ice and light arrows—not only to damage enemies, but also to solve puzzles and navigate environments. Fire arrows burn away obstacles. Ice arrows freeze water, creating solid platforms for a player to cross. Light arrows activate switches to flip one particular dungeon entirely upside down, turning ceilings into floors and sky into an endless abyss. Bomb arrows (which are, yes, arrows with bombs attached) are cool, but enchanted arrows are nothing short of amazing.

5. Portal Gun (Portal series)

Portal Gun

The Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device, also called the portal gun, is capable of creating interdimensional portals on flat surfaces. Enter into one portal and you instantly exit the other. (Here’s a thirty-second video to demonstrate how it works.) Used correctly, the portal gun can harness physical laws like momentum and gravity to destroy enemy targets. Used incorrectly, the portal gun can use those physical laws to destroy the player. Look before you leap!

4. Keyblade (Kingdom Hearts series)


I’ve already shared my thoughts on this one, so I haven’t much to add. This creative, unorthodox weapon plays a huge role in the story of the Kingdom Hearts games. The Keyblade is transfigured into a new weapon by each token (keychain?) attached to its handle, and it can channel all kinds of magical abilities. Most importantly, the Keyblade is useful for smashing things.

3. Machine Gun (Cave Story)

Machine Gun

Indie classic Cave Story transforms a generic firearm, one that is practically a video game cliché, into one of the most empowering weapons I’ve ever used in a game. The machine gun’s rapid rate of fire is handy for mowing down enemies, but the weapon’s greatest value lies in its navigational uses. Fully upgraded, the machine gun functions as a jet pack when fired toward the ground, giving the player the power of flight. Awesome.

2. Buster Sword (Final Fantasy VII)

Buster Sword

Look at this sword. Look at it. Tetsuya Nomura, the artist who designed this weapon, referred to it as “the giant kitchen knife.” Its blade is freaking huge. The Buster Sword has no special attributes besides two circular slots for Materia (crystallized magic) that enable its wielder to cast spells. No, the weapon’s true worth is in its sentimental value. For Cloud Strife, to whom it belongs, it symbolizes the self-sacrifice of its former owner. For players everywhere, it represents a glorious, bygone era of role-playing games.

1. Master Sword (Legend of Zelda series)

Master Sword

This is it. The Master Sword. The Blade of Evil’s Bane. This is the iconic weapon that has become synonymous with the Legend of Zelda series, itself a legendary success of the video game industry. I can think of no other video game weapon with such a wealth of lore or backstory. Depending on which game you play, the Master Sword harbors a beneficent spirit, alters the flow of time or seals away the corrupting influence of evil. No matter which game you play, the Master Sword is one heck of a weapon.

O people of the Internet, what great video game weapons would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!

When Blacksmiths Get Geeky


The first time I saw a Kingdom Hearts game, I was surprised to see the hero use an enormous key as a weapon. I mean, where were the swords and axes? What the heck was going on?

The keyblade is actually a pretty cool weapon. In combat, it’s something between a pole-axe and a two-handed sword. The keyblade also plays an important role in the (admittedly incomprehensible) plot of Kingdom Hearts. Its significance to the story and unique design make the keyblade one of the most interesting video game weapons I’ve ever seen.

Then this blacksmith decided to make a real-life keyblade. Which is amazing.

This video takes me back to That Time I Was a Blacksmith: the summer I wore noise-reducing earmuffs and dirty shirts, used machines like band saws and belt grinders, beat the daylights out of red-hot metal and wished I could grow an epic beard.

What video game weapon would I most like to see forged by a blacksmith? Cloud Strife’s buster sword, without question. The fact that it would be impossible to use is unimportant. What matters is that it would be awesome.

169. Kingdom Hearts

Do you remember when I claimed the Super Mario Bros. games are weird?

Forget about them. For video game weirdness, look no further than Kingdom Hearts.

Kingdom Hearts

I may have mentioned this series once or twice before, but it’s worth taking an entire post just to examine how incredibly strange it is.

In fact, the only thing stranger than the Kingdom Hearts games is that they’re actually pretty awesome.

I won’t even try to explain the story of Kingdom Hearts. Frankly, I’m not sure I understand it. The plot is endlessly convoluted, hinging on a complicated cosmology that’s never really explained. Locations in the Kingdom Hearts games might be illusions, memories, computer-generated virtual realities or even real places. Characters might be Heartless, which are ex-people; Nobodies, which are pseudo-people; computer programs, which aren’t any kind of people; or even—wonder of wonders!—ordinary people.

Odd as these things are, they don’t begin to compare to the thing that’s strangest about the Kingdom Hearts games: they’re a collaboration between Disney and Square Enix, which means Final Fantasy characters rub shoulders and bump elbows with characters from classic Disney films.

Yes, this means a murdering, genocidal psychopath like Sephiroth is in the same game as Winnie-the-Pooh. Complex, brooding heroes like Cloud Strife and Auron interact with Goofy and Donald Duck.

Oh, and did I mention the protagonists of the Kingdom Hearts games fight with oversized keys?

I'm desperately resisting the urge to make several key-related puns.

I’m desperately resisting the urge to make key-related puns.

Even though the story of the Kingdom Hearts games is all but incomprehensible, it manages to deliver many surprisingly touching moments. The plot may be confusing, but the characters are easy enough to understand. Wonderful character moments such as poignant goodbyes and tragic sacrifices leave the player misty-eyed. At least, they left this player misty-eyed.

The Kingdom Hearts series belongs to the genre known as hack and slash, in which gameplay consists mostly of hitting things with swords… or keys. Fortunately, the series adds exploration, platforming, role-playing elements, minigames and other gameplay mechanics to prevent the games from becoming stale.

Although its story is hard to follow, the Kingdom Hearts games have some of the best presentation I’ve ever seen in video games. The music is fantastic, whether it happens to be upbeat or heart-rending, and the voice acting is superb. (Disney got most of the voice actors for its classic characters to reprise their roles for the Kingdom Hearts games.) The cutscenes are impressive and occasionally a bit trippy.

You know, trippy is a fine word for the Kingdom Hearts series. The games are trippy in the best possible way. If you ever play a Kingdom Hearts game, don’t try to understand it. Just enjoy the ride, and try not to lose your keys.

126. TMTF’s Top Ten RPGs Everyone Should Play

What is an RPG, you ask?

Maybe you don’t ask, but I’ll tell you anyway.

An RPG, or Role-Playing Game, is a genre of video game in which the player controls a character or group of characters that becomes stronger by vanquishing enemies. Besides fighting, most RPGs feature great music, engaging stories and vast worlds to explore.

I love RPGs. They offer deep, challenging gameplay and some of the best storytelling I’ve seen in video games. Since TMTF features top ten lists occasionally, I decided to list the top ten RPGs every person on Earth—well, every gamer on Earth—should play.

A few discerning readers may note an egregious lack of The Elder Scrolls, Dragon Age and other Western RPG franchises.

Western RPGs tend to be non-linear, allowing the player to create the story with his or her actions. Japanese RPGs tend to be linear, giving the player fewer opportunities to shape the story. Both approaches are valid, but I prefer the powerful, carefully-scripted stories of Japanese RPGs to the malleable—but often weaker—stories of Western RPGs.

This top ten list demonstrates my preference for Japanese RPGs. My apologies in advance to all the gamers whose favorites didn’t make the cut.

Without further explanation, TMTF is proud to present…

The TMTF List of Top Ten RPGs Everyone Should Play!

10. Final Fantasy VII (PlayStation)

This game hasn’t aged as gracefully as the others on this list, but I had to include it anyway. Despite poor graphics, a slightly confusing story and horrendous localization, Final Fantasy VII is a classic, featuring a huge world to explore, memorable characters, impossibly large (and proportionately awesome) swords and several really touching moments.

9. Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story (Nintendo DS)

This is a good game with things like music and graphics and gameplay, but Fawful is the best thing. Fawful, a villain who is evil, stylishly mangles the language of English. His dialogue sparkles with the brilliance of shiny goldfish. Quirky, funny writing is the ham on the delicious sandwich of this game, and Fawful is the mustard on that ham—the mustard of awesome! Fawful guarantees that a winner is you if you play Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story.

8. EarthBound (Super Nintendo Entertainment System)

RPGs almost always feature either a medieval or steampunk setting, with a few futuristic sci-fi games rounding out the genre. EarthBound is different. Its world is very much like our own, and its hero is a boy named Ness who goes on a journey with his friends—children wielding baseball bats, frying pans, bottle rockets and psychic powers—to save the world from a malevolent entity known as Giygas. Bright visuals, quirky humor and some surprisingly dark turns make EarthBound one of the most memorable games I’ve ever played.

7. Radiant Historia (Nintendo DS)

With a creative take on time travel, Radiant Historia gives a secret agent named Stocke the ability to travel between two alternative timelines, exploring possible futures in his quest to find “true history” and prevent the world from turning to sand. The story begins slowly and characterization could be stronger, but Radiant Historia gives players clever battle mechanics and two intriguing plotlines. The game feels both new and familiar, blending tradition and innovation in one truly excellent adventure.

6. Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (Game Boy Advance)

In Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, a tactical RPG, a boy named Marche and several of his friends are transported by a magic book into an illusory world imagined into existence by—metafictional plot twist!—a gamer who loves Final Fantasy games. Marche resolves to dispel the illusion, confronting friends and enemies alike in his quest to restore the real world. A compelling story, endless side quests and remarkably deep gameplay make this game a masterpiece.

5. Final Fantasy XII (PlayStation 2)

A refreshing change from turn-based RPGs, Final Fantasy XII uses a simple game mechanic to let players “program” characters to fight automatically and allows players to jump in at any instant and take direct control. This approach has met with mixed reactions, but I think it works well: it cuts out tedious fighting without sacrificing the need for strategy. Besides efficient battle mechanics, this game boasts exotic areas to explore, dangerous monsters to hunt, well-developed characters, superb acting and the best writing I’ve ever seen in a video game.

4. Kingdom Hearts (PlayStation 2)

I won’t lie: Kingdom Hearts is weird. This action RPG throws Disney films and Final Fantasy characters together into a bizarre, strangely captivating story. Its sequels feature gameplay improvements, but I recommend Kingdom Hearts because it’s the first chapter of the series. (The story is complicated enough without the player jumping in partway through.) The game’s presentation is superb, with great acting and catchy music. The gameplay is deeply satisfying. Even the confusing story has a number of poignant moments—and putting Cloud Strife and Donald Duck in a game together is nothing short of brilliant!

3. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (Nintendo GameCube)

It must be very hard to dislike this game. Bright, paper-like visuals and hilarious writing bring to life a story that never takes itself too seriously yet manages to be compelling. The turn-based battles never become tedious; players are kept engaged by timed button presses and quick tilts of the control stick. Apart from solid gameplay and delightful dialogue, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door stands out as the only game in the world to turn the gaming industry’s most recognizable character into a paper airplane.

2. Final Fantasy VI (Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Game Boy Advance)

It’s hard to know even where to begin. This game refines the traditional turn-based battles of the Final Fantasy series. The characters—ranging from a world-weary gambler to an inquisitive feral child—are characterized brilliantly and developed carefully throughout the game. The music, from “Terra’s Theme” to “Battle,” is incredible. The story is haunting: a tale of friends searching for hope and for each other in a world gone mad. Although it may be a bit old-fashioned for gamers raised on modern RPGs, I can hardly recommend Final Fantasy VI enough. (Play the Game Boy Advance version; the localization of the original SNES release is notoriously bad.)

1. Chrono Trigger (Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Nintendo DS)

I thought long and hard about Chrono Trigger, trying to find some fault to complain about. In the end, the best I could come up with is that the original localization was weak—a problem fixed in the Nintendo DS rerelease—and the bonus content in the rerelease fails to live up to the excellence of the original game. That’s it. Everything else is perfect: epic music, ingenious battle mechanics, beautiful graphics, an eclectic cast of well-developed characters and a unique time-traveling story. Dinosaurs? Check. Enchanted knights? Check. Derelict robot factories? Check. Ancient civilizations and islands floating in the sky? Check and check. This game has everything. Play it!

O people of the Internet, what RPGs would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!

97. TMTF’s Top Ten Video Game Heroes

Having previously posted a top ten list of video game villains, I felt obligated to put together a list for video game heroes, thus restoring equilibrium.

According to the standards of this list, a video game character must be playable in order to qualify as a hero.

Without further preamble, TMTF is excited to present…

The TMTF List of Top Ten Video Game Heroes!

10. Mario (Mario series)

The first thing to be said about Mario is that he has a fabulous ’stache. Equally impressive are his inexhaustible heroism and wide range of talents. When he’s not busy racing karts, competing in athletic events or curing viruses, Mario can usually be found trying to rescue his beloved Princess Peach, whose fate is to be kidnapped pretty much every time she steps outside. Apart from his mustache, chivalry and mad skills, Mario deserves a place on this list because…well…he’s Mario.

9. Samus Aran (Metroid series)

Unlike many women in video games, Samus Aran is no damsel in distress. Ms. Aran, a skilled bounty hunter, is quite comfortable fighting hostile extraterrestrials and exploring the uncharted depths of alien planets. Samus Aran’s high-tech armor is another good reason to give her a place on this list. Her suit is packed with all sorts of nifty weapons, tools and gadgets. It’s also modest and sensible—unlike many of the outfits women in video games are forced to wear.

8. Cloud Strife (Final Fantasy VII)

Introduced as an aloof soldier, Cloud is revealed to be a man with a tragic past, struggling to forgive himself and atone for his mistakes. He’s also kind of a jerk, which is why I debated putting him on this list. Cloud won me over in the end: partly because he’s a compelling character, and mostly because he’s ridiculously cool. Although his redemption is a major theme of Final Fantasy VII, most players remember Cloud for his impossibly large sword.

7. Sora (Kingdom Hearts series)

The protagonists in many RPGs are bitter, taciturn outcasts. (Ahem, Cloud Strife.) Sora is a refreshing exception to the rule: cheerful, friendly, fiercely loyal to his friends and always ready to help. Chosen by destiny to wield a weapon called the Keyblade, Sora is thrown into a universe in which all worlds are under attack by dark, mysterious creatures known as the Heartless. Sora never loses hope, no matter how desperate the situation, and he’s a genuinely nice guy.

6. Marche Radiuju (Final Fantasy Tactics Advance)

Yes, Marche Radiuju is an obscure character. Yes, his outfit is absurd. No, I don’t know how to pronounce his last name. Setting aside these concerns, Marche is quite a hero. When he and his friends become trapped in a fantasy world, he takes it upon himself to open a way for them to go home. Marche grows from a timid boy into a fearless leader, exploring new places, conquering vicious foes and even confronting his friends in order to do what he believes is right. He might not be as famous as some of the other heroes on this list, but Marche Radiuju is no less heroic.

5. Balthier (Final Fantasy XII)

The self-proclaiming leading man of Final Fantasy XII, Balthier is a sky pirate with a fabulous fashion sense. He was a powerful politician years ago, but he’s cleaned up his act (as he would put it) and become an honest brigand. Balthier has a strong sense of justice and loyalty, which he’s careful to hide behind an indifferent manner, a sharp wit and a truly staggering ego. In a story full of bitterness and betrayal, Balthier shines like the star he claims to be.

4. Frog (Chrono Trigger)

Although he appears to be a monstrous amphibian, Frog was once a brave lad named Glenn. A sorcerer called Magus murdered Glenn’s mentor and cursed the unlucky lad with a frog’s shape, ruining his ambitions of becoming a knight. Glenn abandoned his name and took up the lonely life of a vigilante. As the kingdom comes under attack, he joins the battle to defend it from Magus and his minions. Frog’s bravery, chivalry, unique appearance, intriguing characterization and epic musical theme earn him a place on this list.

3. Aerith (Final Fantasy VII)

Aerith is a paradox. She’s angelic and ethereal, yet down-to-earth and friendly. In the slums of Midgar—a dark, dirty place full of trash, monsters and ruined buildings—Aerith keeps a garden and sells flowers to make a living. The heroes of Final Fantasy VII are mostly embittered, tough and cynical. Aerith is cheerful, hopeful and compassionate. She has a beautiful musical theme, too. Then, halfway through the game, Aerith dies. Even though her dying actions help save the world, her companions (not to mention gamers everywhere) are left with a profound sense of loss.

2. Phoenix Wright (Ace Attorney series)

Objection! Lawyers are not nearly so interesting as warriors, knights and bounty hunters. A mere lawyer does not deserve so high a place on this list of video game heroes… or does he? In the case of this particular lawyer, I overrule all objections and present the court with the following statement: Phoenix Wright is awesome. A rookie defense attorney, Phoenix defends his clients with perseverance, sarcasm, luck, spiky hair and an unshakable belief that everyone deserves a fair trial.

1. Link (Legend of Zelda series)

Link lacks any intricate characterization or complicated backstory. He’s a silent protagonist, without so much as a word of dialogue. Why have I put him first on this list? Link isn’t merely a character—he’s an archetype. He is the Everyman, the unexpected hero who is snatched from a peaceful life, thrown into an adventure and pitted against a ruthless enemy. Link is a simple character, but his simplicity serves him well. Right from the beginning, the player gets it. No elaborate explanations are needed. Link is an ordinary guy who overcomes evil and becomes a hero. It’s an old story, and one that strikes a universal chord to this day.

O people of the Internet, what great video game heroes would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments!