Lists are great. They give everybody something to argue over, and they present things in an easy-to-understand way. This one is better than that one and such. This list, however, was much tougher than I ever thought it would be. As soon as I finished a draft, I would completely want to rework it. However, I plowed forward, and created what I believe is the definitive list of the best games ever made. It won’t look like yours, I’m sure, but I’m sticking by it. Be sure to check out parts one, two, and three. If you’ve already seen them, or are just too lazy, here is a recap:
50. Super Smash Bros. Brawl
49. Gears of War 2
48. Twisted Metal 2
47. Castle Crashers
46. Gran Turismo 2
45. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
44. Resident Evil 2
43. StarCraft II
42. Grand Theft Auto IV
41. Mario Kart
40. God of War 3
39. Arkham City
38. Red Dead Redemption
37. Ms. Pac-Man
35. Diablo 2
34. Uncharted 2
33. Rock Band 3
31. Mario 64
29. Mega Man X
27. Fallout 3
26. Mass Effect 2
25. San Andreas
24. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
22. The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion
21. Goldeneye 007
20. Secret of Mana: Sqaure was the undisputed king of RPGs in the 90s. Final Fantasy was the nuts, and a slew of other great titles, including Chrono Trigger and Super Mario RPG, really cemented their position as monarch. The plethora of titles released during Sqaure’s reign helped shape the genre, but one stands out as particularly ahead of its time. Featuring exciting real-time combat, an innovative inventory system and all the crunchy RPG mechanics that genre stalwarts loved, Secret of Mana wasn’t the first action RPG, but it was the best. A diverse set of weapons and magic, each of which could be independently leveled up, an expansive world and imaginative characters gave the game its distinct RPG coloring, but the awesome combat, which could be enjoyed in up to three-player co-op, had a feel all its own. Throw in one of the absolute best soundtracks in anything ever, and you have a recipe for greatness. Nostalgic fans like myself are either hoping for a next-gen sequel, or an American release of Seiken Densetsu III.
19. World of Warcraft: MMOs weren’t exactly a new idea when Blizzard tried its hand at them, but the impact that WoW had on the genre made it look like they created it. For awhile, EverQuest had the crown. Sure, it had plenty of technical problems, but stuffing hundreds of thousands of people into a giant fantasy setting and turning them loose had this primal appeal that made you overlook its myriad problems. Warcraft took this addictive formula, and mercilessly polished away any and all gameplay warts to create one of the deepest and most accessible games around. No matter what your tastes are, you can probably find something to enjoy in WoW. From housewives who just like to spend a few hours a week fishing to the hardcore raiders who spend more time looting than they do sleeping, Wow appeals to an insane number of gamers, and Blizzard knows how to cater to each and every one of them. Amazingly, they do it without screwing over either side. Essentially creating a monopoly of the MMO genre, Wow shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
18. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare: Whatever your thoughts on the Call of Duty franchise may be, it has its humongous player base for a reason. I’m convinced that reason is the rollover of goodwill and pure “awesome” from Call of Duty 4. Basically defining the modern online shooter genre, Activision has sold an estimated gazillion copies of CoD games all based off the blueprint of Modern Warfare. The persistent leveling system it featured was seemingly the missing link for shooters, turning them from fun diversion to destination mode. The single-player campaign was no slouch either, giving people a gritty and emotional look modern combat, including memorable sequences such as the gilly suit stealth level or the legendary AC-130. It’s a shame Activision tried to eat the founders of developer Infinity Ward (or something like that), because they sure know how to make a game, and Modern Warfare could have become something beautiful. However, not even its money-grabbing descendants can ruin Call of Duty 4’s legacy.
17. Super Street Fighter II: Fighting games were nothing new in 1991, there was a Street Fighter I you know, but Capcom made all the previous attempts look like kindergarten art work with the release of Street Fighter II. Sharp, kinetic combat mixed with timeless art work and Capcom’s signature polish were the cornerstones of the game, and proved to be an exhilarating mix, and the diverse cast of fighters made sure everybody had a favorite (Dhalsim, personally). Taking it a step further, Super Street Fighter II added a slew of gameplay balances, extra animations and color schemes and four new characters to enter the fray. Before Capcom iterated everything to death, it was nice getting an upgraded version of an already stellar game. I’m not sure if any other game has affected a single genre so heavily.
16. Chrono Trigger: If you are an RPG fan and have never played Chrono Trigger, you should go do that, like, now. A textbook example of why role-playing games were better in the 90s, Chrono Trigger took all the classic elements of an RPG and elevated them to a heavenly whole. A direct argument that video games cannot be art, Chrono Trigger told an incredibly nuanced and complex tale. Combat wasn’t traditionally the strong suit of the RPGs of the era, but Chrono Trigger’s innovative team-up techs (a mechanic that should be in every RPG ever) and great character design made it a blast. Watching Cronos and Magus partner up to take down a giant worm is worth the price of admission alone. A multitude of secrets and endings are lying within Chrono Trigger, waiting to be discovered. In the normal course of events, seeing all those endings would be nigh impossible, but Square showed another flash of brilliance in creating the New Game+ feature, something that any current-gen RPG is behooved to have.
15. Super Mario 3: When you have a pedigree like Mario’s, you simply cannot release a sub-par game. People would mutiny. After the massive success of the original Super Mario Bros., Nintendo realized that the plumber in red had an appeal far beyond what they expected. After phoning in a outsourced sequel (that still managed to be fun), Nintendo delivered an absolute knockout with Super Mario 3. Adding elements like an inventory, a world map and a variety of absorbing themed worlds, Mario 3 was much improved over its predecessor, yet retained enough classic Mario elements like superb platforming, hidden secrets and top-notch level design for experienced gamers to feel right at home. Scouring the world maps for the three hidden whistles was a uniquely cool experience, and the gameplay holds up flawlessly to this day. Of course, all these innovations pale in comparison to Super Mario 3’s best feature: the frog suit.
14. BioShock: Offering a game experience truly unlike any other, BioShock is so much more than it first appears to be. Drawing inspiration from the Art Deco movement and the philosophical works of Ayn Rand, BioShock has some heavy source material for a video game, and you quickly learn that nothing is as it appears to be. After being dropped (literally) in the middle of the ocean, the player is slowly introduced to the underwater dystopia Rapture. The mastermind behind Rapture founded the city on one principal: man, and nothing else, is responsible for his own destiny. As the layers of the town get pulled back however, you discover that ideas like free will, morality and obsession take on different meanings in Rapture, concluding with one of the most mind-blowing reveals this side of Samus’s bikini. Backing up its narrative with solid gameplay, superb level design and excellent soundtrack, BioShock set a new standard for atmospheric storytelling.
13. The Legend of Zelda: If you explained The Legend of Zelda to someone before it actually came out, they probably wouldn’t believe that it could be done. A huge world filled with hundreds of secrets, excellent real-time combat, an actual story that didn’t concern itself with any sort of high score, and characters that actually mattered. That stuff simply didn’t exist at the time, and Zelda did it better than anything that would come for the next decade or so. The innovations the Legend of Zelda premiered were groundbreaking; a battery-powered save system allowed you to resume your progress after turning your system off, a currency system was in place for players to purchase items from a store, but the biggest innovation came in the form of the second quest. After beating the game (or entering the name Zelda), players could take part in a completely separate second quest, that featured new dungeon layouts, secrets and enemy placements. While this may seem fairly mundane now, in 1986 this was a huge deal. The game industry was never the same again.
12. Metal Gear Solid: Redefining what was possible in a game, Metal Gear Solid was one of those games that seemed too good to be true. Could a game really be this much fun? Is this what we can look forward to for the rest of our gaming lives? Can they really not tell that I’m under that cardboard box? Blurring the line between cinema and gaming, at least at the time, Solid Snake’s adventure through Shadow Moses Island kicked off one of the best game series ever, with each successive entry raising the bar that much more. As great as the plot was in MGS 3, and no matter how awesome the gameplay became in the fourth installment, the original captured a kind of “in the moment” magic that has rarely been emulated. An interesting cast of characters, terrific stealth gameplay and an entire movies worth of cutscenes were worth the price of admission alone, but hearing everybody freak out when Snake went down was the real reward. “Snake? Snake!? SNAAAAAAAKE!”
11. Final Fantasy VII: I know it sounds crazy, but Final Fantasy VII just might be the first “modern” video game. It featured a lot of things that we take for granted now, but weren’t necessarily a huge part of the video game lingo in 1997. A huge marketing campaign preceding the game, CG cutscenes, a fully 3D setting, a mature and deep story, legendary endgame content (Ruby and Emerald Weapons), an independent minigame casino; the list goes on and on. The brilliance of Final Fantasy VII cannot be overstated, and, for a lot of people, it was an eye-opening experience of what video games were truly capable of. The tale of Cloud and Co.’s battle against Sephiroth has inspired millions of playthroughs, each one seemingly better than the last. Replaying FFVII is like rereading a great book; you always find some awesome tidbit you missed the first seven times. Remaining in the personal Top 10 of an innumerable amount of gamers, Final Fantasy VII is truly one of the legends.
Oh, man. We are almost there. Exciting, isn’t it? I imagine a lot of you have a pretty good idea about some of what’s coming up, but hopefully a surprise or two still lurks.