2. Demon’s Souls
Okay so now that I’m done telling the internet that I’m trash lets try to transition to something more people may agree with. Demon’s Souls, the first of the infamous Soulsborne series. I would love to have put Dark Souls in this spot, however, I did not own Dark Souls until it was released for the Games for Windows Live client, and anyone who has ever heard of that knows what a nightmare it was. Also now that I think about it, I feel there are a lot of differences between Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls that may have me like the latter over the former, despite the technical advancements and better PVP presented in Dark Souls. But I don’t plan to sit here and compare the two as they are both different experiences to be had, rather that I would enjoy playing Demon’s Souls over the other Souls games.
I’ll admit that nostalgia slightly guides my hand into liking this game. Back when it had come out there was a big outcry about video games being too easy as we saw a lot more licensed movie games and things of that nature rather than fresh new IPs. But then, almost out of nowhere, rumors started to circulate of some insanely difficult game overseas that was going around. It featured realistic sword fighting, a dark fantasy setting like we had never seen before, and a brutal system of losing all your EXP upon death. Naturally, I was interested but had to wait for its North American release to get my hands on it. The funny part of this story is that I never got the original US version but rather the Chinese version that had somehow sneaked its way into my local Game store. This only further drove the point in that the game was hard because I couldn’t read the instruction manual!
But nostalgia aside, Demon’s Souls brings a lot of great mechanics to the table that make it a game I’ll always fondly remember. Demon’s Souls, being the first of its kind had this kind of wondrous and larger than life attitude that I don’t think it ever let go of. Each world had something unique and horrific about it and the fact that you are basically alone in the world creates a Metroidvania kind of feel that lets you easily get lost in the landscape. I’ll always remember the fear I had upon entering the Shrine of Storms to see a skeleton warrior rolling at me with his scimitar in hand or when I freed Yurt the Silent Chief only to find him killing the NPCs of my hub world. Demon’s Souls is about being a lone wanderer in a tarnished land and being brave enough to face the horrors that encapsulate it.
Honestly I could go on and on about Demon’s Souls, like how the weapon system, while not the best was interesting and allowed for different weapons to be fused together to get legendary swords as opposed to needing specific items to create the weapons. The music was also noteworthy because it was only there when it needed to be, and when it was, it was epic.I liked how some of the bosses were only hinted at in the loading screens and part of the challenge was being worthy enough to face them and others had unique and interesting takes on Boss tropes we’ve seen hundreds of times, I mean, at the time of release there was one boss that literally summoned another player in with boss like stats to fight! That was something we had never experienced before in gaming to that degree. Demon’s Souls kicked the wall down for what video games can do, and that is why I love it.
3. Metroid Prime
I mentioned in the Demon’s Soul write up that the game had a Metroidvania feel to it so its only fair we talk about the source material with Metroid Prime. This one is on a lot of people’s lists already so I won’t go into too much detail about why it is my favorite and we all know that Metroid Prime was not the first of the series to do what it does. Metroid has always been about exploring vast expanses as a lone hero to create an atmospheric experience but I feel that Metroid Prime hit the pinnacle of this format by transitioning from 2D graphics to 3D graphics. I believe this is mainly because although you assume the role of Samus, it still feels like it is you that is turning over every rock and shooting every monster. Much like how people tell us going out into the forest and exploring is fun, Metroid Prime lets you experience this hypothetical adventure in your own home. It immediately creates a level of immersion that most players won’t fall out of until the game’s completion.
And boy does it take awhile to reach the games completion. During the game’s prologue you start out with what you assume to be Samus at her maximum potential. She can use the grappling hook, thermal visor, missiles, double jump and more but then, at the end of the prologue, she loses those powers and crash lands on the mysterious planet of Tallon IV. Then, as you progress through the game you find a multitude of spots that you could have advanced if you had your old powers which immediately creates a drive to get those powers so you can see the next crazy stage the game has in store. Its also a great way of silently keeping players on the right track while simultaneously respecting the intelligence of a human being–an idea that would have been completely ruined with a radar or auto path feature like we see in more recent games.
To summarize, the game’s atmosphere that is presented both visually and literally through lore are done in such a way that perfect game immersion is achieved. The protagonist is easily able to switch from being your avatar to their own person on the fly and her drive to exterminate fight the ever growing threat of the Space pirates is one that we can easily follow. The game’s music, art, and game play are all perfect and thus making it a perfect game.
4. Super Smash Bros (N64, Gamecube, Wii, Wiiu, 3DS)
One of the most and least respected fighting games in the genre, Super Smash Bros as a series has always been a favorite to play and one I don’t feel I need to sing its praises too highly as the game speaks for itself–we are talking about a game where Mario, Sonic, Pac Man, Mega Man, Link, Charizard, and Solid Snake can all fight at the same time, in the SAME GAME. Smash bros to me has always been about doing the impossible, going that extra mile to blow us away with a new character or concept. Its a game where you can both live out dream match ups as well as play competitively. Its a game where you can be a button masher and make it out okay but also put in 30 different inputs in a second and also come out like a GOD. It so delicately hangs in the balance of being too casual and too complex which other fighting games struggle with. This allows smash bros to be a video game that breaks any kind of barrier people meeting for the first time would have when playing a game.
Smash bros stands as a sort of museum to all of Nintendo’s vast history, which makes getting characters into Smash Bros, quite a big deal. Each character is crafted to be a blend of both a functional fighter and hearken to that character’s source material. Each time you do a certain move with a certain character you’ll most likely remember when it was you did that move in the characters game. It creates that immediate pride in gaming that drives you to be the best you can be with that character or just have fun in general. And that is not to mention the fact that you can team up with friends to take on the story mode of the game in the goal of collecting trophies and unlocking other secrets. Its a game that pays homage to video games as a whole and for that it will always bee respected in my book.
Also people who know me will know that I play Smash Wii U at a competitive level. I don’t claim to be a God or even that good, but the community is filled with some of the nicest and most accepting people I have ever met and the e-sports culture that is slowly taking hold of smash bros is its own world to explore and learn about. But there is a video that covers that topic a lot better than this little paragraph which you should check out when you have some time.
5. Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn (PC, PS3, PS4)
This is a picture of my actual character back when I played the game but note how I say “character” in the singular sense. I don’t have to take you to my account page to shamefully show you the hundreds of hours poured into different characters…just one character that can be any class. For people who haven’t played MMOs or simply get no enjoyment from those types of games, these next couple of paragraphs will be a bit confusing or dull, but, Final Fantasy 14 is the MMO done right.
I grew up as a child playing World of Warcraft without really any knowledge of what MMOs were, only that it was fun and I could go wherever I wanted. I picked the gnome race because it was the closest to my height at the time and the warlock class because I mean, who doesn’t like shooting balls of fire and darkness at an enemy? Sounds like a great time! My favorite part about playing World of Warcraft was simply getting to the next zone and getting to do all the quests there to see what adventure lay in store and instances became something I was fanatic about as it was like living through a mini episode of of your own characters heroic exploits. With games like these, they really let your imagination run wild which kept me playing all the way up to the Wrath of the Lich King, but, the farther I got into the game, the more the effect was lost on me. Maybe part of it was me growing older but I began to lose the love of the game I had because I slowly realized that I was doing the same thing over and over again. The same spell combo, the same role in a dungeon, the same types of armor and ultimately the same results in PVP (not good). You could argue that this would mean it was time for me to create a new character, as many other people did which is totally a valid course of action, however, I couldn’t handle going all the way back to level 1 just to get some variety. When this happened it created a kind of need to play one character over the other and when I was finally in the mood to play my warlock, I would realize that my hunter is still only level 27 and would be much more enjoyable if I just man up and get him leveled to where my main is. Also, because the game focused on the conflict of Alliance vs Horde, I found myself inclined to never make a Horde character lest I betray my king, which in turn forced me to miss out on half the game. (Don’t worry, I eventually realized Horde was the better faction, I was 12 at the time and didn’t know)
Final Fantasy 14: Realm Reborn took that problem and threw it out the window by letting the character you make be able to switch to any class, much like the job class system in Final Fantasy 5 and the trainers for each class were located in specific zones in the main world. This meant that although you did have to go back down to level 1 to play a different class, usually, it meant going to a different zone to train that character so you didn’t miss out on any of the stunning environments or adventures to be had. This is only further enhanced by the FATES system that was introduced to the game which are time specific quests that would happen in each zone. I cannot tell you how fast I switched back to my main class while leveling my lancer when I saw the Fate for Odin start up in my zone with giddy anticipation.
My main point I aim to make by saying all this is that, FFXIV knew that the people coming in to the game had already played MMOs before and knew what to expect. This way they could simply take our expectation and try to redefine those. The developers respected that we understood most concepts an MMO has and gave us the liberty to switch between classes without restriction. Its a game that actively wants you to have a good time and attempt to not make everything feel like a chore. Also the fact that the game is deeply rooted in Final Fantasy lore, especially OLD final fantasy lore, speaks to all final fantasy fans in a way that will keep them playing the game for years to come. If I had more time for an MMO I would go back to this game in a heartbeat, maybe one day I will.
Honorable mentions and ending notes
These are games that I really wanted to put on the list, but for one reason or another were not able to stretch as far as the games provided. I still consider them wonderful games that have influenced and shaped me as a writer and a gamer, but not to the extent that the first five did.
- Jet Set Radio: Future
- A gem on the original Xbox, Jet Set Radio Future improves on everything Jet Set Radio put forth and then amped that up even farther than expected. Killer soundtrack, open world levels, a huge cast of characters, more tricks, faster gameplay, better graphics, multiplayer, edgy social commentary on antiestablishmentarianism and more! Overall JSRF creates a sense of freedom that is only amplified by the open world setting and its a real shame it hasn’t gotten an HD remake as it clearly deserves it.
- Metal Gear Solid
- What can I say about the Metal Gear series that hasn’t already been said? When people think of stealth action, their minds usually go right to MGS because it defined what people look for in a stealth game. While I like to give Hideo Kojima a lot of flack about how crazy the story lines and characters get in these games, he still manages to create new experiences in each game that make each game a different experience from the last. The fact that each level can be played out in a variety of different ways is what makes it a game that will always call me back for another run.
- Metroid: Zero Mission
- A GBA title!? What!? Actaully I really like this Metroid and find it to be the pinnacle experience for 2D Metroid, which I realize is an unpopular opinion because everyone likes and grew up with Super Metroid for the Super Nintendo. I don’t mean to say that Super Metroid is bad, it was revolutionary for its time. But now that technology has advanced and we’re able to do more with the Metroid series, Zero Mission feels like a glorious fusion between retro Metroid and the accessability expected in modern gaming. I’ll probably write more about this in the future, but the Metroid series in general holds only the most respect in my heart so its hard to list any single Metroid here without talking aobut the others.
- Final Fantasy VIII
- I will always be salty over the fact that Final Fantasy VII got the spot light over the superior Final Fantasy VIII. Literally the developers looked at FFVII, put in as much of that game as they could and then sought only to enhance that experience. I find Squall to be a much more relatable protagonist than Cloud and the supporting cast to be a lot more realistic than Final Fantasy VII. It was unfortunately bogged down by a slightly more complicated Junction system then the Materia system in FF7 and the magic system is questionable in that it doesn’t rely on Mana but, if you can get past that there is a far greater RPG experience to be had and is hands down my favorite Final Fantasy of all time.
- Sonic Adventure 2: Battle
- This used to be my favorite Sonic game until Sonic Unleashed came out. I’m pretty sure I still hum City Escape to myself at least once a day to give you a picture of how dedicated I was to the game. The Sonic and Shadow stages of the game are amazing and a blast to go through, and I remember spending a great deal of time playing the multiplayer mode with friends to see who was better at clearing the levels. This game ultimately didn’t make it higher on the list because I only like about 35% of the game, which is only slightly lower than the 50% I give Sonic Unleashed. The treasure hunts and the Mecha suit levels are all a chore to play and the chao system is like a watered down Pokemon add-on so the game gets old fast. I think this game is what made me realize what Sonic was all about though, and made me anxious to play a game that focused solely on playing the Sonic levels of a Sonic game.
- Recently, Undertale has gotten a lot of praise for being a fresh innovative take on the RPG genre and that may be true, but I think the only reason I put Undertale here, and not on the actual list is because I enjoy the idea of Undertale far more than the actual game itself. The theories and commentary presented in the game get my mind swimming in a way that the combat and exploration of the game doesn’t seem to do. The cast are all lovable characters and the music is great, but because the majority of the games secrets are uncovered through playing through the game multiple times, it can be a bit draining to mash the skip button to get those secrets. Its a great game for the heart and soul as well as a great message to game design in general, but as a game, I put it a little further down because combat is pretty simple and most maps are pretty two dimensional.
- Valkryia Chronicles
- This is a gem that I expected to get much more praise then it ended up getting. I love this game because it fuses RTS type games, with over the shoulder shooting games–which on paper sounds brilliant! Something from both camps that can reach a wider audience. Obviously this game won’t ask you to raise your APM or do anything you haven’t done before, but, the fact that you make an order as a commander and then move the soldier in question is what makes it more real than most actual RTS games. I’ll admit that the love story is a little ham-fisted but that’s not really a bad thing, because there is a whole army of characters to invest in. You personally watch each character grow and train to become stronger, and that creates a real weight as a commander if one of them are in trouble or even killed in battle. I’ll always remember the chapter where my favorite sniper got killed off because of a plot twist in that particular level. Sure I could’ve reset to get her back but the way that it had happened felt so real, that I think the experience would have been ruined if I did that. It was my fault that she died, and it carried with me all the way to the credits. If thats not game immersion, I don’t know what is.
- Kingdom Hearts
- So…Kingdom Hearts is an interesting series to talk about in that, most people are embarrassed that they like the game but continue to play it anyway. I’m not as big of Disney fan as most people are, but I am a huge Final Fantasy fan and shamefully, I’ll admit that I did get pretty excited when Squall and Cloud teamed up to fight the heartless, or fight ME in the arena. I don’t play Kingdom Hearts games for the story, or any of the main characters, but rather, for the combat system and the cameos. This is especially amplified in the boss fights of the game, as the atmosphere and music gets tense and there is a method for defeating each boss you have to find out on the spot. Although its cartoony, there is a sense of realism in the actual game play that keeps me coming back.
- Guitar Hero 3
- I know that playing guitar hero is nothing like playing an actual guitar and I am quite aware that you look pretty ridiculous when playing that kind of game but Guitar Hero 3 does a good job of embracing that silliness and still making you feel like a rock star. I feel like an important part of these games is that the track list needs to be comprised of songs that a lot of people know, and also be filled with songs that are fun to play and with the adjustments made to the hammer on system in GH3 I feel that this balance is met almost perfectly in this game. There is just a sense of accomplishment that not many other games can give you when you can perfect an expert song.
- Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles
- Oh man who could even afford the GBA cables required to play this mess? Not me. My friend did though when I was growing up, and I played countless hours of this game using their set up and my game boy advance. Honestly, when you play this game with friends, it feels a lot like a dungeons and dragons kind of experience. Everyone has their roles but you all band together to acheive a common goal, be it, finding loot in a dungeon or defeating a boss monster. If it wasn’t held back by the paywall for getting separate GBA connectors for each person that wanted to play and if you didn’t have to stay within the radius of the chalice to not take damage, I think this game would have been amazing and should probably be remade with some kind of online feature.
- Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker
- I used to be the biggest Zelda nerd when I was growing up but I had pretty good reason to do so at the time. There was this little game called Ocarina of Time that came out when I was roughly the same age as Young Link? You may have heard of it? Anyway playing that game blew my mind and kept me in the zelda camp for a long time but as the zelda series has gone on and become more mainstream, I’ve found that everything after Wind Waker has just too much hand-holding and or filled with gimmicky mechanics that detract from the value of the game. Wind Waker was the last Zelda game I truly enjoyed at a fundamental level. There was a lot of care taken to make each square of the Sea Chart add to the overall character of the ocean itself. The world felt alive and full of secrets and it even had its own legends and rumors which just added to that feeling of adventure that Zelda games need to survive. I know a lot of people felt betrayed by the super cell-shaded graphics, I was a nay-sayer myself until I actually played the game. But the blues of the ocean, and the greens of the fields are really enhanced with the style which would have been ruined with Twilight Princess’s love for the color brown. The styling was a good move, and the game-play is wonderful from start to end.
- Persona 3 and Persona 4
- So I always thought the Persona games were weird because they were under the same umbrella as the Shin Megami Tensei games and all I knew about them was this guy: Didn’t seem like my cup of tea, but when a roomate let me play through their copy, I actually found a super enjoyable RPG experience. Luckily I didn’t run into too many weird monsters like this guy, and if I did I would just shake my head and go “Its a persona thing”. I feel the main draw of the Persona games, or at least Persona 3 and 4 is that it accurately recreates the fantasy of fighting monsters while going to high school, a dream all of us probably had at one point or another. That elation of being larger than life among all the common people is an easy way to immerse a player into their world. Side-characters were tropey, but not overly tropey, they each had their flaws and were far more fleshed out than most RPG characters. I mean, you literally get a dungeon based off of each side-characters flaws, its a pretty ingenious idea and is only enhanced by the fact that you can hang out with these characters after school to learn more about them. I wince at the idea of saying Persona has a dating sim element to it, but cringe even more so when I realize its more of a “having friends simulator” but thats the best way to describe the parts of the game outside of dungeons. And it all adds to an interesting narrative usually focused on some kind of mystery that all comes together at the end when you kill LITERALLY CREATION ITSELF. 10/10 would kill god with my friends again.
- Animal Crossing
- So if Persona was about creating a fantastical High school setting life, than Animal Crossing, creates a, and I use the term lightly, fantastical recreation of living on your own. Obviously the game is marketed to a younger audience but its with the idea that one day these kids will be moving out on their own and imparts a sense of yearning and education about what it will be like on your own. Of course its still a game, and doesn’t come close to filling you with the existential dread that comes with being an adult, but it does let you do things like buy a house, arrange all the furniture in the house the way you want, pay off your loans, talk to your neighbors–okay so most of us probably don’t do that last one but you get what I’m saying. The fact that each game doesn’t really elaborate on your characters past is the most immersive part of the experience, because, when meeting all your new neighbors, none of them know what you like or how you act, it is a chance to stand on your own two feet and declare “this is who I am” which in turn causes you as a player to create your own goals when playing the game. In short, its a way to create a realistic and dream life at the same time.
- Final Fantasy X
- I know I know, another Final Fantasy but I feel like I would be lying to myself if I didn’t put this one on at least an Honorable mention. The main reason I put it down is because I believe that fundamentally, its one of the best built Final Fantasy games. Final Fantasy 10 does what every other Final Fantasy game before it tried to do all in one game and I believe it to be one of the pinnacles of the series. Sure Tidus isn’t the best protagonist but the fact he is so clueless about Spira is what allows us to become immersed in the world–and its a big world. I love the sphere system in the game which, if used properly can make any character viable, unlike some games where only a handful of the roster should be in your main party. It has a wonderful and heartfelt story that is filled with character growth and overall drama and the battle system is handled perfectly with its turn based system that allows you to switch party members on the fly. If there was ever a need to learn how to make a final fantasy game, I believe all you would need is a keen eye and a copy of Final Fantasy X
So there you have it–my definitive list of favorite video games of all time. I’ll admit that some of them are unorthodox and I of course never mean to imply that what you rank as your favorite game is wrong or that I am picking from some kind of super enlightened position, only that these are the games that I think of when I think of “gaming” as a whole and what shapes my interest in today’s market. The main point I hope to get across through all this is that I like games that embrace the idea of being a video game, the idea of getting lost in a world aside from your own is one of the biggest draw points of video gaming in general and I feel that when analyzing what makes up these games, we can determine what can make a good game and what cannot, which I will further build upon in future articles.