Welcome back! I hope that you’ve been enjoying my countdown so far! As we get closer to the top spot these lists will get a little shorter so that we can spend some more time with each game. Today we will be tacking 10 games. Games 20-11! Here we go!
20. Grand Theft Auto III (2001)
Grand Theft Auto III changed everything. We can look at modern video games and see a complete shift in focus after GTA III was released. No longer were games just about plunking away at the main campaign, We expected games to have side missions, expansive sandboxes, and enough characters to confuse us all. GTA III also embraced a bit of the ultra-violence, as it introduced a new generation of gamers to some real video game carnage. It was a game that pushed the player to be free, do what they wanted to do, and not let themselves be tied down to the same old thing. Claude’s murderous rampage through Liberty City pushed video games to a new limit and was an instant hit with any frustrated teenager who grew up in the suburbs. Grand Theft Auto III also had story, realistic story that felt more like a mafia film than a video game. As the PSX generation brought fully voice-acted games into the limelight, GTA III made sure we never went back to reading text ever again. It was cinematic and gritty, it also scored some great talent on the voices, showcasing mainstays from TV, B-Movies, and recording artists. Back in 2001 this was SERIOUS voice talent for a video game. GTA III hits the top 20 because of what it did for video games as it made the sandbox game a household name. Without GTA III we would have lost an entire genre. Never had a game felt so alive and free. Liberty City is a living and breathing metropolis filled with characters who have things to say and places to go. Your main character, Claude, is just one citizen in this city and he can do whatever you please. GTA III’s excellence is due to its expanse. While future Grand Theft Auto titles may have become bigger and better, they’d have nothing with GTA III. This game is a real trendsetter and worth every minute.
19. Final Fantasy tactics (1997/1998)
Final Fantasy Tactics is easily one of the games I’ve played the most on this list. I have multiple (upwards of 5) files of FFT where the clock has just stopped running at 99:59. So I’ve played at least 500 hours of Final Fantasy Tactics. The strategy RPG is an odd genre, one part JRPG the other part Battle-Chess. Final Fantasy Tactics is special because it toned down the intricacies of strategy games just enough to make this game much more fun. FFT is very rewarding as your team is something completely of your own design. Each time you start a new Tactics game, you’re given a blank slate to make the best possible squad you can think of. So what if the story was a horrifically translated mess? We still knew what was going on! Final Fantasy Tactics challenges the main series by providing us with an incredible cast of characters with deep backstories and dark motivations. You feel like the entire world is against you in FFT, and for the most part it is. Final Fantasy Tactics is Shakespearian in its scope as war rages through the land of Ivalice. This war is fought mostly between brothers, the church, and a bunch of evil Zodiac Monsters. So yeah, it’s both classical and INSANE! FFT employs a battle system that makes sense and the player can play the game as they choose. They can speed through and finish the game quickly or they can methodically dissect each battle. It’s completely up to the player, which is why FFT is so rewarding. You play how you want to, and when you win it’s not because of a linear path, it’s because you crafted the best solution to the problem. It’s a very personal game, down to most minute detail, you give the lead character his birthday. Your attitude and play style are major influences on the amount of fun you have with Final Fantasy Tactics. While the PSX version is great in its own right, the PSP and Mobile port, The War of the Lions cleaned up translation issues and added enough new features that make it worth the price of admission. Final Fantasy Tactics is a timeless wonder.
18. Fallout 3/Fallout: New Vegas (2008/2010)
Bethesda proved that they could make some of the biggest and best games around with The Elder Scrolls series. However, their acquisition of Fallout may have made for their greatest game. Fallout 3 was an instant classic and its “sequel” New Vegas continued to expand upon it’s predecessor. Never have I had more fun than when I played these back-to-back. The post apocalyptic world of Fallout is a place worthy of getting lost in. While you do often feel alone, you’re left to explore and discover the remnants of the old society. There is also a heavy amount of lore that is in the background of the new Fallout games and it’s there for you to find if you’re willing to search for it. Like Skyrim, Fallout rewards the player who ventures outward and looks to find the secrets this universe holds. Its style is also impeccable, pumped up with all sorts of retro-futuristic homages that any atomic age fan would be caught with their mouth agape. Fallout is an experience not just a mere game. As with many western games, you’re free to make your own path. You can create your character however you like. You choose what they look like, what they’re good at, how they fight, how they talk, and how they dress. There’s enough depth in Fallout to keep you busy for weeks. Bethesda also knows how to do DLC right. Their games are finished, and DLC represents extra time you get to spend in the world. You walk away from Fallout feeling like you’ve experienced something special. You feel accomplished as this series is an absolute BEAST! It’s a weird game as well, but it has its strange charm. Fallout 3 is the perfect representation of the Western RPG.
17. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (2000)
I spent an entire year playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. I don’t know what it was about it, but the game was addicting and immensely fun. The best game in the THPS series, 2 was all about improving upon the first game. Firstly, they added the manual, which is like riding on the ground, so the player can chain together endless runs of tricks. It’s also got an awesome soundtrack. THPS as a series is responsible for much of my music tastes today. I played this game for months on the Sega Dreamcast, and got literally everything. There are very few games that I have had the joy of finishing with a 100% completion rate, THPS 2 is one of them. I couldn’t put the game down. I still wake up itching for THPS2, but nothing since then has even come close. While it’s just a simple skating game, its simplicity is what makes the game work. You can also skateboard as Spider-Man, so you really can’t lose there. I’m going to take a break from finishing my list so I can replay THPS2, sorry everyone….
16. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (2004)
If Metal Gear Solid showed us how greatly cinematic and story-driven a video game can be, Snake Eater gave us the magnum opus of the series. One part American Action Blockbuster (like Rambo), one part 1960s spy film, and one part Japanese Manga, MGS3 is everything I want a video game to be. MGS3 is Kojima’s perfect game and it achieves everything he wanted to with all the previous games. MGS3 is a prequel to Metal Gear, you are introduced to Big Boss, Solid Snakes clone-dad. MGS3 finally showed gamers what real stealth was like as you constantly had to be wary of your camouflage and you had to stay out of sight from all the enemies. It’s also a big bigger and longer than the first two MGS games, it’s got some real depth! While it is still uniquely insane, MGS3 has some of the best characters in the series. The end boss, The Boss, is a perfect adversary. As always MGS3 tackles very deep and heavy topics and it forces the player to somewhat revaluate how they feel about many key issues. It’s a war game that hates war. Metal Gear Solid 3 is a master class in good storytelling, and while it may not all make complete sense, its approach to spinning a yarn is second-to-none. MGS3 forces you to survive in the wilderness better than any “survival horror” game ever could. It also has a pretty amazing theme song. I love Snake Eater.
15. Bioshock (2007)
I’m going to explain a situation to you. There was a warm summer day in August of 2007, I was sitting on my couch with one of my best buds and I decided to download the demo for a game called BioShock. I’ve heard of this game for a while, as there were some very popular teaser trailers floating around. We downloaded the demo and played through it. As I shut off my Xbox, I said “Let’s go” and we drove to the nearest Gamestop and bought BioShock without even batting an eye. This scenario actually occurred, and it’s the only time I can think of something like this happening. BioShock had me from the word go. It’s a very dark, and scary game with real danger around every corner. As a guy who doesn’t love shooters much, BioShock was the perfect compromise. BioShock is an addictive blast of a game, complete with tons of mini games, character customization, and a dark and compelling narrative. It’s villain Andrew Ryan is a horrifying mixture of Walt Disney and Vincent Price, who is responsible for creating this “perfect” society under the sea, Rapture. You as Jack, the lead character only see Rapture after its fall into ruin at the hands of its own citizens. We never really know what Rapture was like, so in a way BioShock is also a mystery as you are putting together its strange history. It has great villains as the Big Daddy has become one of the landmark characters in all of video games. BioShock also throws a MASSIVE twist at you which is way better than any think that M. Night could show us. BioShock is a dark sci-fi story that you can play, it’s like Stephen King meets The Thing. A true watershed moment for video games, BioShock does everything right. Few games can live up to its prestige.
14. Super Mario 64 (1996)
It’s-a Me, Mario! I remember the first time I heard that line, in my basement on Christmas Morning of 1996. It was 3 AM and I just couldn’t sleep anymore! I then went on to play Super Mario 64 for 4 hours straight, took a 3 hour nap, then played until Dinner. Mario was finally in 3D and it felt like he should have played that way all along. Super Mario 64 gave us expansive playgrounds to run around in and was the first real 3D game. While other games had 3D graphics before Mario 64, Mario 64 allowed you to move on a 3D plane. You could move in all cardinal directions, as well as up and down. The game had height and depth. It felt like you could jump right into the screen! While it was bogged down with camera control issues, Mario 64 was a marvel then and now. There’s so many things you can do in Mario 64: You run around fields, fly through the sky, swim underwater, punch Goombas in the mouth, and fight Bowser. Nintendo’s adherence to great game design speaks through out this title. They wanted every stage to feel different and allow the user to experience something new. They found a way to do that. No two stages in Mario 64 feel the same, they’re all unique and different. Also, you can play the game at your own speed. You can finish the game with 70 power stars, or you can complete the perfect game by getting all 120. It’s up to the player. Super Mario 64 kicked in the door for the 3D generation and encouraged us to play big. We did.
13. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (1995)
Nintendo’s real prowess is shown when they change up their formula. After releasing the ever-successful and timeless Super Mario World in 1990 Nintendo decided that their next “Mario” game wouldn’t star their lead character at all. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island stars Yoshi and give us the back story as to where Mario game from. While Baby Mario was on his way from the stork to his parents, he was dropped on Yoshi’s Island and the dinosaurs decided that they had to get Mario home! As Yoshi traverses six worlds to reach the end of his story, he’s challenged by dozens of enemies and eventually a very young Bowser. What makes Yoshi’s Island so great is that it is a complete break from normalcy. The game mechanics follow Yoshi and his ability to throw eggs, flutter jump through the air, and eat his enemies. This game plays like no Mario game ever did. Nintendo loves to mix it up! It is designed to look like a child’s story book, complete with crayon-drawn backgrounds. Yoshi’s Island also encourages the player to explore and find secrets. Each stage is not tied to a time limit, so you can play each area over and over. Yoshi games have continued to be about exploration and discovery. It’s also a bright and cheerful game, which is so rare these days. Yoshi’s Island is the perfect off-beat platforming companion to the Mario series.
12. Mega Man X (1993)
Now this is a Mega Man game. Mega Man X achieves everything the Mega Man series sought to do. It’s fast and frantic, challenging, and explosive. Mega Man X feels like the finished product of what Mega Man 2 was trying to be. For years I always felt that Mega Man 2 was the superior game, but it’s not. I’ve played Mega Man X almost 100 times in its 23 year life. It makes sense, and feels oh so good. While the MMX series declined rapidly after the first game, MMX stands alone as one of the greatest action-platformers ever. It’s got the cast, the tunes, and the gameplay. Mega Man X’s upgrade system adds much needed replay value to a series that was always just about “one-and-done”. You were forced to backtrack to find everything. While there are a plethora of collectibles, Mega Man X isn’t distractingly complex. It simply wants you to figure some things out and find some secrets. The X armor upgrades give Mega Man X the push to make him feel that much more powerful. MMX represents the maturation of the original Mega Man series. While Mega Man was a boy in the first games, his fight with Sigma turned him into an adult. Mega Man X feels darker and more mature than the original series, and ultimately more playable. It’s tough without being impossible and is very rewarding. Mega Man X is a necessary addition to any SNES library and will always hold that place in history. It shows the true prowess of the SNES and how much we miss from the 16 bit era. We can learn from Mega Man X that it is ultimately tight gameplay that makes us come back for more. Mega Man X is the culmination of the Mega Man series, and is Inafune’s masterpiece.
11. Final Fantasy VII (1997)
Did I just say Masterpiece? I remember the moment I was hooked on FF7. I saw a commercial on tv that had the tagline “if he fails you can always hit the reset button”. It sent chills down my spine and I needed a Sony PlayStation and FF7 STAT! I then proceeded to spend the rest of that year knee deep in Final Fantasy 7. I would read the guide in my spare time, surf the web for story information, and try my hardest to recreate Tetsua Nomura’s artwork with my terrible drawing skills. I wanted to live IN Final Fantasy VII, carry a big sword, and summon Bahamut. Final Fantasy VII wasn’t just a great game, it was a lifestyle change. The jump to CD-ROM showed us that you could make a much deeper game than anything on a cartridge. FF7 had CGI cutscenes that STILL look great, it had the most memorable video game music ever, and it was straight up gorgeous. We learned to love these characters, we cried when Aeris was killed, and it made we pre-teens gain an instant appreciation for Japanese animation. What’s strange is that on a mechanical level, Final Fantasy VII doesn’t do anything special at all, the real draw of this game was its ease of play, its wonderfully deep story, and the greatest cast of characters, possibly ever (Street Fighter II, debatable). Final Fantasy VII is also strange, humorous, and so much fun. Its take on modern fantasy storytelling gave us a narrative that is memorable and almost impossible to recall. We didn’t care, we knew what was happening. It may also be why we millennials care about the environment so much, Shinra is messing everything up! The lead characters are essentially a militant group of eco-terroists who are rebelling against a government who is bleeding the planet dry of resources for their own selfish gain. Final Fantasy VII gave us the perfect hero in Cloud Strife, the perfect villain in Sephiroth, and enough great side characters to fill fan fictions for years! FF7 represents how video games began to mature in the late 1990s. We grew up with Final Fantasy and FF7 was the perfect game to play as an adolescent. I also blame FF7 for the growth of popularity of the RPG, as it was the first real RPG to become a mainstream hit. It showed us the way to the Promised Land.
Check in later for the next leg!