First of all, thank you to any and every person who took the time to read through this list. It’s been long-winded, way more than necessary, and really doesn’t matter to anyone but me, so I appreciate those who peruse my silly blog for any reason whatsoever. Thank ya.
As far as the list goes, I need to say something: I obviously am missing several games or type of games that many would have in their lists otherwise. There’s no Final Fantasy VII, no MMORPGs, very few shooters, no Metroid games, and to what might be a surprise for some of you, this being my list, no sports games.
I’ve got a short list of games I’m going to play soon, FFVII being one of them. I’m not going to play Earthbound, Super Metroid, or basically any MMORPG. They’re not my thing. I’ve tried Earthbound and Metroid dozens of times now and not once have either of them spoken to me enough to play them through. Same with a game like Mass Effect. I’ll never say never, but for all intents and purposes I simply can’t bring myself to play them, even if they are considered by many to be Best Ofs.
I also have never owned a PlayStation console, and have only lightly dabbled in some PS3 titles of my roommates, so largely (and regrettably) I’m woefully ignorant of many PlayStation classics (Banjo Kazooie, Metal Gear Solid, etc). I’ll simply ask you overlook my shortcomings as a “gamer” this time, knowing I’ll do my best to play some of those best titles before I kick the bucket.
Sports games are tricky. I’ve played EA Sports games and Backyard sports titles for years and years, dating back to NBA 95, NHL 94, WWF Royal Rumble, all the way to up their modern variations. It’s difficult to place them on this list because I don’t look at them the same way I do other games; I see them as a mostly separate thing that borders on simulations. It’s like putting Euro Truck Simulator on a list, you know? Then again I’ve got Rocket League and The Sims on here, so maybe I’m just full of shit.
If I HAD to add sports titles to this list, my favorites would be Madden 2004, NHL 2015, NHL 94, Backyard Football, NBA Jam TE, and MVP Baseball 2005 – the greatest baseball game to ever exist. Anyways…
Let’s review how we got here, and remember all scores are out of 60:
- Pokemon (39)
- Papers, Please (39.8)
- Mario Kart 64 (40.1)
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (40.8)
- Stardew Valley (41.5)
- Age of Empires II (43.1)
- Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (43.2)
- Super Smash Bros Melee (43.8)
- Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (44.2)
- Donkey Kong Country (44.6)
- The Sims 3 (44.8)
- Command & Conquer: Red Alert (45.2)
- Super Mario World (46.7)
- Sid Meier’s Civilization V (45.6)
- Red Dead Redemption (45.7)
- Hearthstone (46.3)
- Minecraft (46.4)
- Super Mario 3D World (46.7)
- Grand Theft Auto IV (48.3)
- The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker (48.6)
- Diablo III (48.9)
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (49.3)
- Halo: Combat Evolved (50)
- Grand Theft Auto V (50.1)
- The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (50.4)
Now on to the final 5. Let’s do this, and thank you once again for indulging my posts.
- Rocket League (2015, PC) – 51.9
Gameplay – 10
It’s probably the best game I’ve ever played with a controller, honestly. You can play on mouse and keyboard if you wish, or even the Steam Controller may suit you, but my XBOX One controller was, in my eyes, made for Rocket League. It is visually superb, games don’t last more than 6-8 minutes, there’s a variety of vehicles to play with in many different game modes on many different maps (and more and more coming all the time). The developers are in constant communication with the RL community and content is consistently spilling into the game, many times for free. It satisfies the sports gamer in me and fuses it with a goofy premise. It scratches so many itches with aplomb.
Fatigue – 9.3
Approaching 800 hours of Rocket League, I can’t get enough. I’ll be playing Rocket league for years and years to come, and while it’s not a title for everybody, it checks multitudes of boxes for 30-odd year old Andy that I don’t anticipate many others games ever nailing down so expertly as to ever supplant it.
Music – 6
Electronica isn’t my thing, and many of the bombastic tunes are of that mold. Not my favorite, but it’s kind of part the game’s soul now, and the soundtrack (which also gets updated with every major update) is always of high quality and matches the feel of Psyonix’s prize turkey. That said, I usually have it turned off. It’s GOOD, just not my thing.
Style – 8.1
The various stadiums generally aim for a lucid, neon glimmer that looks good most of the time, but certain venues are more cloying/over-cluttered than others. It’s definitely eye-catching, even if I wish it was scaled back a tad most of the time, and you can modify the colors/brightness/etc. in the settings to your liking, so it’s quite accommodating. The cars are mostly unique, with some being “better” than others, but you can customize the shit out of them, especially if you’ve been playing a long time. It is VERY weird, however, to play out matches in front of an audience of eggs.
Challenge – 8.5
Rocket League, like most competitive and well-populated games, has a curve that tests your mettle. Even with nearly 800 hours on record I still can’t “freestyle” or care to dedicate myself to the competitive ranked play as much as I should, because the gamers who pour thousands of hours into becoming the best don’t mess around. There is definitely technique to be learned and harnessed as you grow into Rocket League, and many unspoken rules of where to be and when. Those who don’t comply are often ridiculed and unfortunately badgered with hate speech, depending on the asshole on the other end of the microphone. A veteran of many sports titles myself, I channeled countless years playing NHL games into Rocket League and the transition was seamless. For those who don’t play sports games or watch sports in general, the teamwork and timing aspect of Rocket League may drive you away (pun not intended) or not be to your liking generally.
Meat – 10
With Psyonix constantly dumping content into the game, whether it’s game modes, new cars, car skins, car hats, car trails, car toppers, new stadiums, new achievements, or series of loot crates, Rocket League is a treasure trove of both customization and gameplay. I can play this game for 10 minutes or 10 hours, and for someone like me who would prefer to dip in and out of games in chunks, it is immensely catered to my preferences. Rocket League is the shit.
- Secret of Mana (1993, SNES) – 52.6
Gameplay – 9.7
Real-time battles in a style of game that’s typically turn-based gave SoM a unique spin, but the wheel menu over the selected character was also neat. Combat is immensely satisfying, as you watch your bar charge layer over layer before you unleash a powerful salvo into the enemy’s stupid face. A wide variety of weapons and magic are there for you to upgrade and master throughout Secret of Mana, and if you’re not playing with friends, you can spec out the AI’s behavior so as not to screw you over in the midst of a major battle. There are grinding portions of the game I didn’t always love, but in the multiple times I’ve played SoM, it has never felt tedious or unwelcome.
JRPGs often feel ridiculous or at times unrelatable, courtesy of the fantasy elements in the story’s ingredients, but Secret of Mana does its best to remain grounded in spite of itself. Jema gives you, the recently banished hero, the quest to unseal all the Mana Seeds throughout your travels, and along the way you meet a magical smartass Sprite and The Girl, a royal brat who defies her family’s wishes for an arranged marriage. Together, you explore the vast biomes of this fantasy world and do your magical, badass thing to great fanfare.
Music – 10
I’ll just get it out of the way – Secret of Mana’s music is the best of any video game I have ever encountered, and nothing will ever top it. There isn’t a bad song throughout the game. Not one. Every area you stumble upon has a unique and catchy song tied to it that rings a visual cue in my mind’s eye even to this day. The theme of boss battles is the best battle music of all time, and you know you are in for some crazy shit when it hits. It’s flawless. I don’t know what else to say, honestly. It’s the best. The best. THE fucking best.
Style – 9.2
God, Secret of Mana looks good. Arguably the best looking game on the SNES (well, Chrono Trigger, but still), thanks to not only the variety of map geography you encounter, but the contrast of the more natural world elements with the dark, grimy mechanical horrors that seem to occasionally infect/flesh out as you play it through. It’s not perfect – high fantasy and steampunk are somewhat difficult to meld, but it does a noble job of making them blend, even if the game can’t quite make up its mind sometimes. Also the Rudolph/Santa Claus thing was kind of stupid, but it still makes me smile for some reason.
Challenge – 7.8
You needed to get your armor, weapons, and magic upgraded to fight comfortably throughout the story – that’s a given – but some of those bosses were sons of a bitches. The Wall fights are kind of tedious, Mech-Rider is also a challenge, but fewer things are more frustrating than the Fire Gigas and Spikey Tiger. This is even more difficult if you’re playing solo and have to constantly swap characters so you can do spells, heal with items, and do combat. It gets hectic going solo, but it’s a blast to play with 2-3 players. Coordinating your efforts into a sound strategy makes it far smoother to sail, but not that much smoother.
Meat – 6.5
There is definitely some replay value and grinding time-spend to Secret of Mana, but ultimately a great deal of my “meat” in this category is simply based on nostalgia and how important this game is to me. Secret of Mana, like Link to the Past, is part of my childhood. I treasure Secret of Mana dearly, and always will.
- Final Fantasy VI (1994, SNES) – 53.9
Gameplay – 9.6
I only tangentially experienced FFVI/III as a kid since it always appeared kind of intimidating to me, but I loved the way it looked and felt to observe, so when I finally fired it up to play it through in my late 20s, I was blown away by how much I enjoyed playing it all the way through. The ability to cherry pick my team from among the 14 playable characters was a total hoot, and it was fun to utilize them in various ways in the wide variety of areas. It’s one of the best games of all time for a reason, folks, and arguably the best RPG of all time. If you don’t believe me, get off your ass and play FFVI, pronto.
Story – 9.5
For a game consisting of pixel sprites, FFVI has a remarkably expansive and profound storyline. It gets a bit heavy-handed with the magical elements that so often dehumanize Japanese RPGs, but the relationships built are sound, and their plights equal parts sincere and at times even touching. For having so many characters, each one gets a fair portion of backstory, and none of it feels contrived or stupid. Kefka is one of gaming’s best antagonists, also. Equal parts maniacal, wicked, and funny, he gets a great treatment as your adversary throughout.
Music – 10
While not a masterpiece like Secret of Mana or as timelessly charming as Link to the Past, FFVI has some of the best music of any game made, and perhaps the Final Fantasy series overall (I wouldn’t know). I still to this day enjoy listening to Relm’s Theme and the scenes at the opera are incredible. So goddamn well done all around, honestly.
Style – 9.4
For all of Secret of Mana’s occasional frustrations with melding steampunk and high fantasy, FFVI does it right and more completely than pretty much any other title (besides maybe FFVII, which I have yet to play). It feels like a medieval world that got a massive injection from industrial tech, all imbued with magic and lore, to the point where it feels very plausible for the setting.
Challenge – 7.8
This isn’t a terribly friendly game for those who aren’t used to JRPGs, Final Fantasy games, or turn-based combat. The introductory battles help assuage the inexperienced, but there’s still a bit to learn. Magic, stat boosts, relics, immunities, party swapping, magic, espers…there’s a lot of stuff here to absorb, but after a while (and some gentle googling) I got used to it pretty quickly.
Meat – 7.6
Beyond the massive scope of the story and hours necessary to get the complete experience from FFVI, there’s a pile of side quests that flesh out character backstories, an alternative ending (of sorts), “Shadow’s Dreams,” and of course the grinding to level up your party to keep you busy. There’s certainly replayability and nostalgia factored in as well, but I think the score here is fair, at least from my perspective. It’s a masterpiece in gaming, truly.
- Chrono Trigger (1995, SNES) – 55.7
Gameplay – 9.7
For an overhead turn-based RPG that came to the SNES way late in its cycle, Chrono Trigger’s combat is possibly the most fulfilling of any of its kind. Outside of the overworld map, enemies aren’t randomly encountered, but right there for you to engage if you wish, and a variation of the time system employed by Final Fantasy titles keeps things moving. Techs are a staple of battles, and variations of which can be fused with other members of your party to unique effect. I can’t go into breathless detail, but Chrono Trigger was, from the very beginning to the very end, with no nostalgia employed, outstanding.
Story – 9.7
Taking place across multiple timelines, Crono, Marle, and Lucca meet a variety of colorful characters and all the while you explore each of their pasts, which are finely crafted and very interesting. There are something like 14 (!?!?) different endings possible, and by the end I felt reluctant to say farewell to Frog, Robo, and all the rest, because I so thoroughly enjoyed playing this wonderful adventure all the way through. It’s one of those things where I was bummed since the first time is in many cases the best, and once it’s over, you can’t quite have the same experience again.
Music – 10
Between Final Fantasy VI and Secret of Mana in terms of quality, it’s still a fucking 10 score. From beginning to end, Chrono Trigger’s music is exemplary and timeless (among video games, I mean). Frog’s Theme still, and I mean like right this very second, revs my shit up. One of my favorite songs from any game ever, perhaps number one. That said, Crono and Magus have great tunes, I mean c’mon. It’s all great. Play the game and you’ll know. Chrono Trigger’s music is legendary.
Style – 10
FFVI, Link to the Past, Super Mario World, and Secret of Mana are all beautiful by SNES standards, occasionally clunky in areas, but for the most part flawless. Secret of Mana has them all by a hair, I feel, and that’s partially due to coming so late in the console’s timeline. It utilizes every inch of graphical power available from the SNES to immerse you in a variety of interpretations of the Earth-like world you originate from, sending you from standard fantasy fare to medieval times to the stone age to the future to dystopia to a fucking time void thing, to space, to …. It covers a lot of ground, man! It’s a treat to behold, and is visually spectacular by JRPG standards. I think I may have just fainted.
Challenge – 7.6
To unlock particular endings, you may have to avoid particular events or employing certain armor or weapons, but ultimately it’s up to you. By JRPG standards it’s fairly challenging but by no means whatsoever unforgiving. With the right grinding, items, and secrets unlocked, you can lead a team of ass kickers to the finish line and not felt like you’d done too much sweating during your travels.
Meat – 8.6
Shitloads of sidequests are available in every world, and there are the aforementioned multiple endings and variety of unique combo attacks are yours for the pursuit. The game is large in scale, but not so much so that you wouldn’t consider playing it again (and again, and again, and possibly again). Unlike some of the other games I mentioned earlier, Chrono Trigger doesn’t hold nostalgia for me as an important keystone game in my childhood; Chrono Trigger was something I played when I was 29 or 30 and it was so fulfilling that I immediately knew I had just played one of the best ever. It checked so many boxes and was a complete experience all the way through. It’s beyond a masterpiece: It’s a lesson in game making.
…and without further ado…
- Diablo II (2000, PC) – 56.1
Gameplay – 9
Is it as buttery smooth as Diablo 3? No. Is it as absurdly layered as Path of Exile? No. Is it the core game of any subsequent ARPG ever made, perhaps the greatest PC title ever made, and one of the longest-lasting titles in gaming history? Yes to all of those. Diablo 2’s gameplay is extraordinarily satisfying, its plot thoroughly enjoyable, and classes all a pleasure to explore. Single player campaigns and multiplayer experiences are equally gratifying.
Story – 9.9
Some may disagree, but I loved Diablo II’s narrative. Your character doesn’t really matter, which is a bit unfortunate, but you are following the path of destruction trailing The Wanderer, who in gradually more horrifying fashion leads Marius, our pitiful narrator, along a literal journey into Hell itself. The biomes of Sanctuary are fleshed out in fantastic fashion, each one feeling more different than the next, with music and enemy design totally befitting each act superbly. The scenes between each act are great fun to watch, some of my favorite in any game, as Marius’ suffering is played out. Even the introductory cutscene at the beginning of Lord of Destruction (the kick ass expansion) is exemplary. While it may not be for everybody, Diablo II’s story telling was, to me, some of the best ever.
Music – 9
It’s amazing. From the somber and haunting dirges that swirl around the rogue encampment, to the aluminous shimmer of the desert wastes, to the despair-laced moans of Hell, Blizzard painted a fantastic audio portrait for Diablo’s sequel.
Style – 10
There’s a reason so many fans were a bit bummed when Diablo 3 was a bit too cartoonish for their liking. Diablo 2 was gothic, dark, and relatively humorless, and that’s how we goddamn like it. There’s color and bursts of light where necessary, but there’s some dungeons where if your light radius sucks, you’re essentially wandering through darkness, and that’s fine. I SAID THAT’S FINE. The look of D2 has served as inspiration for numerous other similar games, but nobody has done is as well or as completely as D2 did.
Challenge – 8.2
For my part, the story of D2 isn’t all too bad to play through, but by fuck you’ve got to earn it. Grinding is just part of the deal, and the game wouldn’t be the same without it. Leveling up, upgrading your gems, armor, weapons, build, and skills is the minimum. It’s the heart of the damn game. You don’t have to do it as much if you don’t want the challenge, but I can happily say I beat the game on Nightmare and was content with that measure. You gotta put in the time, though, and I did so happily, as have many others.
Meat – 10
The story is fairly linear and kickass, but the inbetween and endgame materials are where it’s at. You’ll lose hours, days, weeks, months, perhaps years toward maxing out characters and striving for whatever you want to make for your class. People played Diablo II long after it was even relevant, being the highest selling PC game of 2008 – 7 years after it came out! There were 11 million people still playing D2 in 2010, for God’s sake. It set an impossible and amazing standard that no game, and certainly no ARPG, will likely ever usurp.