40. Tales of Symphonia (2004)
When counting up all the RPGs on the GameCube, the list is criminally short. The GC represents one of the low points in history for Nintendo’s relationships with 3rd part developers. In 2004 GC owners were treated to a neo-classic JRPG, Tales of Symphonia. ToS wasn’t the first “Tales” game to come to the west, but it was the first I played. It’s a deep RPG with wonderful characters, a great story, and very moody music. Its watercolor-anime art design also sets it apart as visually striking. The combat in Symphonia is frantic and fast, but it makes for a varied and compelling game. It’s a GameCube classic and my introduction to the Tales series, a collection of games that has become one of my absolute favorites.
39. The Last of Us (2013)
The Last of Us is close to being perfect. Naughty Dog designed a game that represents the pinnacle of PS3 ingenuity. In the system’s last 3 years nothing has come close. TLOU is an achievement in modern storytelling and character creation. Joel and Ellie are both lovable and relatable while still being realistically flawed. The Last of Us was able to craft a story that humanizes a post apocalyptic world way better than The Walking Dead ever could. Through playing this game you will learn what makes survival possible and also challenges the conventional beliefs of what family is. Oh yeah…the mechanics are also great and the game is a dark, fun, trip into the fungal apocalypse. The Last of Us is more than just a game, it’s an experience and an absolute masterpiece.
38. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (2003)
Games that always get me the best are games that feel like an escape from reality. Wind Waker is a beautiful trip into a storybook world. It’s a huge, expansive adventure that paints a world that’s straight out of a cartoon. While the Zelda formula did get tired over the years, Wind Waker gave we Zelda fans the break we needed. This new “Hyrule” is a flooded world that finally forced Link to explore again. As Nintendo’s Peter Pan travels on his ship through out The Great Sea you learn how gigantic this game is. Also, it has limited load times so the fluidity of the transitions alone was a massive achievement in 2003. The Wind Waker is a seamless and gorgeous game that has more in common with the original Zelda game than any of the future titles. It’s great to see that Wind Waker has aged well and is now considered one of the better games in the series. HYAHH!
37. Final Fantasy IV (1991)
Final Fantasy IV was the first FF game to release on the SNES. The change in processing power from the NES to the SNES was the perfect vehicle for Final Fantasy to finally grow into the series we completely needed. FFIV is a story of redemption and love and hits some of the biggest emotional highs of the series. Cecil is a dark and mature lead character that was rarely visited again in future stories. While Final Fantasy IV isn’t the best game in the series, it laid the groundwork for the more intricate story telling that would be the focus of games like Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy VII. Sometimes I feel like this game is unfairly lost in the series, but it is not worth skipping. If you want to play a great, classic Final Fantasy title, few will satiate your desire like IV. It’s mobile version (DS as well) is the definitive remake of the game. It’s readily available and any RPG fan needs to play it.
36. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest (1995)
Donkey Kong Country on SNES was a game thin in substance dressed up in a beautiful suit made of cutting-edge graphics and sound. Nintendo themselves had many negative remarks about the first DKC and how it represented the western mentality of visuals over purpose. Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest, changed all of that. This simple platformer added much needed depth to the series by introducing secret stages, bonus collectibles, and endings based on how many secrets you got! It also introduced us to Dixie Kong, one of the greatest video game characters ever! To me she represents a power figure; she’s got the tools and the talent and outshines the title character by a long shot. She can also hold her own as the title character (See Grave’s Favorite: Donkey Kong Country 3). DKC2 is the best Donkey Kong Country game to be released on every front. It’s gorgeous, plays like a dream, has beautiful music, and completely redeems its predecessor. DKC2 is everything right about 1990s video gaming.
35. Uncharged 2: Among Thieves (2009)
A true masterpiece. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was a great introduction into the Uncharted series. It’s like Star Wars as it sets the mood and gets you familiar with the characters. Among Thieves is this series’ Empire. It’s bigger, better, darker, and did I say better? Uncharted 2 is the top of the tops when it comes to pacing, storytelling, and control. It plays like a perfectly-paced movie where no one section feels too long. Naughty Dog’s excellent combat design shines here as Nathan Drake shoots his way throughout the world. As Uncharted draws its inspiration from stories like Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider, it somehow manages to overshadow the latter. Nathan Drake is a Fillionian character who’s tough, lucky, and has perfect one-liners. Uncharted 2 will make you laugh, cry, and it gets the blood pumping. Games just don’t feel as good as Uncharted 2 too often. A classic for all times.
34. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2004)
What’s the way to make anything nerdier? Add Star Wars to it! So when a Star Wars RPG gets created that is based off of Dungeons and Dragons, nerds flocked to the video game stores to get their hands on KOTOR. This game is a complete combination of great ideas. BioWare’s fantastic approach to game design gave us a game that was the Star Wars story that we deserved amidst the awful Prequels. There are endless possibilities for character creation and hours upon hours of conversation options. Each time you play KOTOR your game can be completely different. Knights of the Old Republic gave birth to the morality system which has been used (and abused) quite aggressively over the past decade. KOTOR is a special game that should speak for generations. While it is somewhat disconnected from the original Star Wars movies (it takes place about 5000 years prior), it still feels like it has its niche within the massive Star Wars universe. Disney is doing a bang up job with their new movie, but they could still learn a few things from BioWare’s 2004 masterpiece. Oh and Revan is easily the inspiration for Kylo Ren, just look at that guy.
33. Banjo-Kazooie (1998)
I got a text message a few nights before I wrote this with a video attached. It was from Graves, he said “This had better be in your top 100” (paraphrased). Well Graves, it’s here and it deserves to be here. Continuing the trend of 1998 being the greatest year ever, Banjo-Kazooie was and still may be the perfect N64 platformer. While Super Mario 64 first showed us how a platforming game could work in 3D, Banjo-Kazooie blew up the formula by crafting an incredibly original adventure starring a bear and his bird-buddy. Banjo and Kazooie fit perfectly together as their moves work wonderfully in conjunction with one another. Banjo-Kazooie’s a fun and comical game that represents the best that Rareware had to offer. Rare shined brightest on the N64 and Banjo-Kazooie is a big reason why.
32. Red Dead Redemption (2010)
How often is the “sequel” better than the original? Actually, on this list, more frequently than not. While it’s somewhat unfair to call Red Dead Redemption a sequel, Red Dead Revolver was a simple western action game that felt very “one and done”. Luckily for us Rockstar decided to transform their GTA formula and give us Red Dead Redemption one of the best games of the last 10 years. RDR is a great sandbox game that brought gamers back to the west. Red Dead Redemption is the perfect video game representation of The West as its wild, open, and free. You can almost feel the breeze and smell the tumbleweeds. RDR’s lead character, John Marston is sympathetic and powerful. He’s the only lead character in a Rockstar game that is actually a hero. I hope that RDR has a sequel, I need to venture back into the American West.
31. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997)
Do you know why Symphony of the Night is so good? Because it’s Super Metriod. Sorry, I may have just marginalized one of the best games ever made, but SOTN is a love letter to Super Metriod, and that’s NOT A PROBLEM. Between these two games a new genre was created, Metroidvania, and the formula has been used time and time again to great success. While SOTN is quite a bit like Super Metriod it absolutely has its merits. It’s a dark adventure that plays perfectly. The late 1990s greatly improved the quality of video game storytelling. Symphony of the Night is indicative of its period. While it’s still 2D, it has the storytelling prowess of any AAA title. Castlevania needed the change in form which drove it to be one of the best. You can thank this one for games like: Shadow Complex, Axiom Verge, Ori and the Blind Forest, Shantae, Cave Story, Dust: An Elysian Tail, and Guacamelee. Symphony of the Night is a trendsetter and a trailblazer. Metroidvania rules…
30. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)
So if you have a spare 100 hours lying around your best way to spend them is with Skyrim. Bethesda does huge better than anyone. Skyrim is one of the biggest games ever made, with a map that’s the size of the UK (not 100% sure how true that is, but it’s big). Its the quintessential western RPG that’s massive and expansive, while still being story driven. Bethesda loves crafting games that have multiple story lines that intertwine with one another that take the player all over the realm. There’s something special with a real “time sink” like Skyrim, as the player feels like they’re just a small piece in a much bigger world. Also, you fight dragons…so that’s pretty awesome.
29. Super Mario Galaxy (2007)
It’s Mario…IN SPAAAAACE! Super Mario Galaxy was such a great surprise for the Wii. While Nintendo’s small white console was bogged down with oodles of shovel ware, Galaxy is easily one of the bests. Mario Galaxy played with physics, gravity, and space travel which made this adventure incredibly unique. Mario’s adventures in space are unforgettable, as he visits galaxy after galaxy trying to once again defeat Bowser. Very few games feel as new and different as Galaxy did in 2007. I also never thought I would learn to appreciate gravitational pull as much as I did. Mario Galaxy is also tough, which is necessary for a good platformer. This game may look like its just for the kids, but Galaxy is no walk in the park. Super Mario Galaxy is the best platformer on the Wii, hands down.
28. Street Fighter IV (2009)
Street Fighter IV was released 10 years after Street Fighter III and the series was in a drastic need of a revamp. Capcom’s stylistic change and 2.5D graphics are beautiful. When SFIV hit the streets it hit hard and gave birth to a new generation of “arcade” gamers. With the release of SFIV Capcom fully embraced the Internet and gave we kids of the 1990s the gigantic virtual arcade we always wanted. I’ve played against people from the US, Canada, Japan, Australia, and the UK. It’s amazing how a simple fighting game can bring the world together. It’s also totally cool to converse about what constitutes a suitable breakfast meat with a bloke from England while shooting virtual fireballs at each other. Street Fighter IV isn’t all about online either, it’s about the progression and growth of a series. Street Fighter IV felt incredibly new and fresh and different, but it still was very much rooted in this series’ rich history. Too bad SFV isn’t living up to its prowess…yet…
27. Metal Gear Solid (1998)
When you first look at Metal Gear Solid you think you’re in for a deep, military sim with emphasis on stealth. While MGS does come wrapped nicely in militaristic style it’s more about the insanity behind the veil. Metal Gear Solid is a trip down a psychological rabbit hole. Solid Snake’s campaign against Fox Hound, their leader Liquid Snake (yep), and his “dad” Big Boss has been a cornerstone in video gaming since the late 1980s. MGS is essentially a Kurt Russell B-Movie dressed up with A-Level video game talent. Its deeply cinematic take on storytelling is also a marvel. Back in 1998 (the trend is alive) MGS challenged the norms of storytellling by using cut-scenes, intense dialog, and a completely voice-acted cast. While MGS isn’t necessarily the best game in the series, it shows how a video game can be presented. Hideo Kojima is a master of his craft and has used his fabled series to give us interactive films. Metal Gear tackles heavy themes like: child soldiers, nuclear disarmament, and the atrocities of war. It’s an eye-opener, and gives a very human response to said themes. It’s also absolutely, INSANE, but I love every second of it.
26. Mass Effect 2 (2010)
Mass Effect 2 built upon everything its predecessor created. It was deeper, longer, and smoother. The combat was revolutionized and made into an action juggernaut. Mass Effect is a bigger game than the first and shows real growth. Mass Effect 2 is an improvement on every aspect of the original game, while still feeling like its own thing. I’m a huge sucker for conversations in video games as they add to the depth of the story and make you feel like a small piece in the huge puzzle of the universe. ME2 had a great story that was bigger and better than the first. It also had a real ending, unlike Mass Effect 3. It’s everything the other two games aren’t, even if the first Mass Effect is also on this list.
25. Mega Man 2 (1988)
Where Sonic the Hedgehog represents everything 1990s, Mega Man is a visual representation of everything that ROCKED in the 1980s. His 2nd adventure is a rock-and-roll pumping blast-fest that could only be described as completely rad. Mega Man 2 is sadly the pinnacle of the series, and outside of a few bright spots (Mega Man X) no other games were able to reach its heights. Mega Man 2 gave us the Mega Man we grew to love and introduced us to Bubble Man, Crash Man, Metal Man, Wood Man, among others. Mega Man 2 is more memorable than the other games in the series, if only for the soundtrack alone. MM2 is a mainstay in my home and its impact on my gaming tastes is well noted. A thunderous game!
24. Pokemon: Red/Blue (1998)
I will proudly sound like a broken record here, but Pokemon Red and Blue ALSO released in the US in 1998! When these games came out in conjunction with the extremely popular cartoon and the card game, Pokemania burst all over the Western world quicker than bubonic plague. Pokemon even traveled like a sickness: Your best buddy got it, you’d go over to his house after school, then you definitely got it a few days later. I wasn’t alive for the first theatrical release of Star Wars, Disco, or Pac-Man Fever, so Pokemon may represent the first real hysteria that I’ve ever experienced. Even more astounding is that Pokemon is still just as popular today, if not more so. Since its original release in Japan in 1996, Pokemon has conquered the world for the past 20 years. It is a series that’s built to be timeless. It’s easy to understand so it gets you while your young. As you grow up, Pokemon grows with you, releasing a new and better game every two years. Then one day you’re 30 years old and cannot wait for Pokemon Sun and Moon. I can’t believe that they’re still creating original characters and monsters and that the games are only getting better. Pokemon was also good enough to become a cultural phenomenon and not be sequestered to video games. Pokemon is even fashionable! It’s funny to realize that it all started with a small Gameboy game.
23. Chrono Trigger (1995)
In the 1990s Square could do no wrong! Before Final Fantasy VIII took over the world and one year after Final Fantasy VI devastated my 1994, Chrono Trigger was released as the perfect compliment to all of the other great Square RPGs on the SNES. Trigger utilized many of the RPG tropes that were seen in most of Square’s games, but it told a deeper and more complex story. Chrono Trigger is a story about time travel and teaches us all about Grandfather Paradoxes. Everything about Chrono Trigger is more cinematic than most JPRGS, even the combat. Trigger feels good, it works, and it is designed beautifully. Akira Toriyama was at the height of his popularity when he designed Chrono Trigger. His Dragon Ball style gives the game a more familiar and heart-warming ambiance. Its usage of time travel, while quirky, makes total sense in this universe and helps to establish a fantastic story told over multiple generations. Chrono Trigger is also filled with memorable characters like: Frog, Magus, and Chrono himself. Any RPG buff needs to spend a few weeks engrossed in Chrono Trigger, it’s a classic.
22. Resident Evil 4 (2005)
By the time Resident Evil 4 had been released in 2005 the Survival Horror, a genre Capcom invented, was dead in the water. What RE4 decided to do was kick it on its rear end and give it a complete and total overhaul. The “human-tank” controls of games like Resident Evil, Dino Crisis, Silent Hill, and Onimusha were gone. The player is treated to a great over-the-shoulder view which makes shooting and laying waste to your enemies all that much easier. Resident Evil 4 begins a new leg in the RE series and crafts a story in which the infected are not really zombies anymore. You fight occultists, monsters, insane villagers, and even a big crocodile. Resident Evil 4 is a dream of a game. It’s release in 2005 stopped me cold. After RE4 was released I could play nothing else for weeks. Since it’s release I’ve played this game dozens of times, and it just keeps getting better. Great games shouldn’t just be great memories, they should grow with age. Resident Evil 4 does that. An adventure worth of any generation, which explains why it has been rereleased so many times! It also represents the last great game in the series, which while sad, proves how monumental this game was.
21. Metroid Prime (2002)
Metroid is a special series. Before Prime blew my socks off in 2002, it was primarily a 2D side-scroller. Enter Retro Studios, an American subsidiary of Nintendo. Like Rare reinvented Donkey Kong in the early 1990s, Retro gave Metroid a much needed shot in the arm. Metroid Prime was able to take everything Nintendo created in Metriod, Metroid 2, and Super Metriod and spin it forward, by making it a First Person…Adventure. Metroid Prime is NOT a first person shooter. It’s an adventure game where you just so happen to shoot a lot of things. Metroid Prime’s platforming is perfect in First-Person and its shooting is easy to grasp and fun to master. Metroid Prime represents a true advancement in gameplay technology. It’s also loaded with story, if you wish to find it. Metriod Prime changed the way we thought about the series and challenged any preconceived notion gamers may have had regarding what a Metroid game should be. It also may have one of the toughest boss fights in history, the battle with Metroid Prime. Metroid Prime is also proof that the GameCube was a testament to how innovation can push a series to grow.
Tune in for the last 20!