I have to say, when I saw MichaelB’s Top 3 Tuesday topic this week, I was confused. This appeared to be the one that broke him. I mean, really, top three games featuring desert islands? As if that wasn’t strange, the video’s thumbnail features Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! which, as far as I can tell, occurs somewhere within jogging distance of the Statue of Liberty and features exactly zero palm trees or coconuts (though you do fight King Hippo of Hippo Island, so maybe there’s something to that after all?). But what kind of response could this topic provoke? Everybody’s list would be a mix of those Lost In Blue titles for the Nintendo DS, and maybe The Sims: Castaways or The Forest thrown in for variety, right? Turns out one shouldn’t assume anything until one has caffeine in the system, and this was no exception. The more sensible reading of this question is, of course, “What are your Top 3 games you’d want with you on a deserted island?”. Given that’s what he asked, it seems only fair to answer that one instead of my original mistaken assumption. My only restriction for this list is that I will not include ‘sandbox’ games like Minecraft which offer essentially infinite, do-anything replay value at the expense of a completely non-existent plot. Assuming I’m on a deserted island, I’m basically playing Minecraft for real, so these three would be my choice for winding down after a hard day of punching trees, digging sand, and building towering megaliths out of pure obsidian.
3) The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind – Game of the Year Edition (PC)
Yeah, I’m greedy and want the expansion packs too — come at me. Morrowind is one of the best RPGs of all time, and it’s not for sissies. Long-time Elder Scrolls fans complained with each new iteration as Bethesda dumbed down the experience to attract more casual gamers by paring down the skills tree and adding the little markers on your mini-map so you knew right where to go for Oblivion and eventually eradicating the skill tree all together for Skyrim so you can create a character that can do everything well, but Morrowind? Morrowind is hard-core: we’re talking skill trees, classes, a quest system that doesn’t hold your hand and offers multiple ways to complete a number of the game’s quests, a lack of fast-travel except via Mage Guild or Silt Strider, no object markers on the map (you better get good at following signs, listening to directions, and identifying landmarks if you want to survive), a ridiculous number of factions to join (or piss off), the chance to construct and furnish your own stronghold, a storyline with plenty of twists and double-crosses you’ll never see coming, branching paths, unique quests, easter eggs, and a combat system more in line with D&D where even if you’re right on top of a dude you still need to make your roll ‘to-hit’. There’s nothing old school grognards love more than THAC0, right?
Gamers so loved Morrowind that Bethesda took us back there for Skyrim‘s Dragonborn DLC, showing us how the place had changed in the years since Nerevar’s rebirth and confrontation with the Sixth House. Granted it takes place on Solstheim, the island where Morrowind‘s Bloodmoon expansion took place, and not the mainland of Vvardenfell itself, but it was still a nice tip of the hat to gamers who could see how the little outpost/fort/settlement they built a decade of real-time earlier had come along in the years since. There’s so much to see and do in Morrowind that I’ve clocked more hours playing it than I have every single other Elder Scrolls game combined, and that’s not hyperbole. It’s the very definition of the perfect deserted island game, filled with an insane replay value, a phenomenal story yet to be equaled by its successors, and enough dangling plot threads that people today still argue over, discuss, and dissect the lore. I’m pretty sure this is the only one I’d need, but since MichaelB wants a top 3 list and not a top 1, I guess two more entries are in order.
2) Everblue 2 (PS2)
Speaking of games one could play forever… Everblue 2 is the sequel to Everblue, a game only released in Japan and Europe, but never in North America. For some reason Capcom published the sequel in the US though, and I’m glad they did, because Everblue 2 is a thing of beauty. Developer Arika went on to make Endless Ocean for the Nintendo Wii, which is a gorgeous and enjoyable game, but for my money, Everblue 2 is where it’s at. Everblue 2 casts the player as Leo, a shipwrecked diver and treasure-hunter who washes up on the beach of a thankfully-inhabited Valencia Island, where he’s taken in by a gang of rag-tag amateur salvagers called The Amigos. The seas around this Caribbean paradise are filled with all kinds of goodies, which Leo sees as the perfect way to earn enough money to repair his smashed boat. Diving for simple trinkets in the waters just off-shore is fun, as is photographing the local wildlife, but true large-scale salvage ops are where it’s at, and as the game’s story progresses and Leo earns better diving gear, players dig through a sunken ferry, a downed airplane, the remains of a cruise ship, a crashed submarine, a twisty labyrinth of underwater caves, a full-fledged pirate galleon, the remains of an abandoned fort, and even a sacred underwater city in search of a legendary treasure known as Erebos. What’s more, Leo and his friends aren’t the only ones searching; the evil SeaDross corporation has its eyes and fortunes set on recovering Erebos at all costs, and if they find it first, the oceans may never be the same.
If you suffer from video game OCD, where you absolutely, positively must acquire one of everything on offer, Everblue 2 will be your undoing: there are seventy species of fish to photograph, sixty-one titles to earn (think of them as the trophies of modern-day consoles), dozens of shells to collect from the island inhabitants (basically rewards for completing ‘quests’), and over five hundred unique items to hoard from your salvage operation. While there are only a half-dozen or so specific areas to explore, the story offers multiple opportunities to return to them as you buy or find gear that lets you hold more oxygen in your rebreather, better-insulated dive suits that allow you to go deeper without suffering hypothermia, fins that allow faster and more precise movement, larger bags that allow you to pick up heavier loot, and a variety of accessories that do everything from decreasing your air consumption to increasing your pick-up distance or improving the brightness of your dive light. While your salvage at the start will be limited to smaller things like wood planks, rusted dog tags, metal screws, and other lightweight objects you’ll find free-diving, you’ll eventually acquire the bags and accessories necessary to salvage furniture, ship fixtures, giant statues, and even whole vehicles from the ferry’s cargo hold. The game also has some other RPG elements, so you’ll build up your HP meter (which is both a measure of your health and your strength, and is necessary to procure bigger treasures). The game is heavy on adventure elements as well, where islanders will task you with recovering specific objects, challenge you to bring back heavier and heavier items from the depths, and even request your help in completing their own personal collections of artwork, musical instruments, weaponry, and other things. There’s even an auction house where you can bid on random items or sell pieces you no longer need once per day (forty items in the game can only be acquired via the auction house, so collectors take note), a daily dive competition (again, more unique items can only be found here), an aquarium you can populate with the aquatic life you’ve photographed, and so much more. Most enchanting about Everblue 2 though is its pacing. Above-water, the island is sunny, bubbly, and bucolic with a gorgeous soundtrack filled with steel drums and Caribbean influences. Below the surface though, there’s just you and your rebreather. Inhale…exhale… Inhale…exhale… The atmosphere of loneliness and solitude this invokes is unreal, utterly unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in a video game outside of Super Metroid‘s Maridia section, broken only when the game plays a low-key musical track to warn you of sharks or other dangerous sea life. Learning your limits, weighing the risk of hauling more loot against your ever-decreasing health meter, and the adrenaline-inducing panic of realizing you’ve crossed your point of no return, prompting a frantic push towards the nearest exit at top speed: Everblue 2 is that rarest of breeds, a title that crosses the line from ‘game’ to ‘experience’. Even beating the game doesn’t mean it’s over, as that just unlocks more to explore, more treasure to find, and more items to help you go deeper in your quest to obtain everything. If I’m on a deserted island, I might as well enjoy some scuba diving in my spare time, right?
1) Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 Complete (PSP)
I assume that, at some point, I’d get tired of living in a fantasy world or searching for sunken treasure. My thirst for the real world could thus be slaked by playing a game set in modern-times, and if I’m going for a modern-day game with plenty of replay value, it’s hard to argue with Persona. While almost any Shin Megami Tensei title would fill the void nicely, my favorite has always been Persona 3, and while the PSP version strips out some of the voices and FMV for the sake of the UMD’s storage capacity, it offers the most in terms of in-game content, up to and including the ability to play the game a second time as a female protagonist instead of the default male guy from Persona 3 and Persona 3 FES. I hope I remembered my charging cable though, because the PSP’s battery life isn’t sufficient on its own to last the duration of this RPG behemoth.
Like many Japanese RPGs, Persona 3 Portable has a replay value that approaches infinity thanks to all the combinations, social links, storylines, side-quests, and adventure elements offered to the player. Due to all these possibilities plus the randomized elements thrown in for good measure, no Persona game is ever the same. Even following the exact same steps towards your final destination can result in any number of deviations, alterations, and frustrations, all different from earlier attempts. Shin Megami Tensei games always deal with some fantastical elements, but the one in Persona 3 is by far the most intriguing: the presence of a mysterious ‘twenty-fifth hour’ of the night that only the extremely gifted (or extremely unlucky) experience, and the nightmares that unfold for those unfortunate enough to be awake during that sixty-minute period. Finding out what’s going on and defending our normal realm from outworldly incursion is the base of Persona 3‘s storyline, but it goes so far beyond this that it’s impossible to relate in a column this short without devolving into monstrous spoilers, and I refuse to do that out of respect to my readers even though the original North American PS2 release turns ten this August.
Medieval fantasy, scuba-diving treasure-hunting adventure, and a modern-day Japanese RPG. I think I could survive with only these three titles to keep me company for quite a few years before getting bored. What say you, dear readers? Drop your favorite ‘desert island’ games in the comments.