It feels authentic. Persona 4 is a special RPG. EarthBound is probably the game that I rented the most. I know it's a weird thing to say, but I was a weird kid back in , which is probably why Shigesato Itoi's RPG resonated so heavily with me. It wasn't drenched in fantasy tropes and pathos, but rather brimming with color, humor, and some of the weirdest characters and events I'd ever seen in a game.
Simultaneously, it knows how to pack an emotional punch. So yeah, I rented it. Obviously, it didn't come with the pack-in player's guide, so I only made it so far before I had to return it. Then I rented it again. And again. Eventually, my parents noticed that my college fund was being given to Blockbuster, so they nipped the problem in the bud and bought it for me.
It's been my favorite JRPG ever since. Resident Evil was not only an impressively faithful remake of one of the most important games ever made — it managed to surpass the base material in almost every way, carving out an identity all its own without sacrificing an ounce of the original's creative vision. Retreading even the most familiar paths through the Spencer Mansion's many hallways and rooms felt like a fresh experience with its highly detailed, Gothic art direction.
The classic puzzle-heavy horror and inventory management were revamped rather than abandoned, polished up for a new generation of players without scorning the old. And yet it was the bold new additions that ended up as some of Resident Evil's most iconic elements: the otherworldly groaning beyond that mysterious gate behind the stairs, and the terrifying subversion of the original game's faithful promise — that the zombies you kill will stay dead. Resident Evil's reanimated zombies and vicious Crimson Heads brought a frightening intensity to the ghostly halls of the mansion, upping the stakes in a whole new way and bringing a new dimension to the core elements that drive the series: exploration, combat, and strategic item management.
While the series has taken many turns, few games in the series have come close to being as perfect as this one. I came to the Diablo II party incredibly late. The first time I actually played it properly was in , more than ten years after its initial release. Could this iconic game possibly live up to my lofty expectations that late in the day? In fact, I was surprised by just how good it was.
Even choosing a class and build is daunting, let alone learning the quirks of its many systems. What hooks you in, however, is just how perfectly measured the core gameplay loop of killing, looting and upgrading is. The odds are always overwhelming, the atmosphere always malevolent, and the reward always worth the risk. And as is typical of Blizzard as a studio, Diablo II can be played on countless different levels.
The simple joy of wading through thick knots of enemies with my necromancer and his summoned brood of skeletons and mages, setting off chains of corpse explosions and painting the world red was an end game in itself. Cutscenes were one of the driving forces behind the success of PC gaming in the late '90s and Blizzard was regarded as the king when it came to jaw dropping visuals.
They took things to an entirely new level with StarCraft and the Brood War expansion in , though. Not only were players treated to an excellent RTS experience, but their reward for completing sections of the campaign were evocative visuals that further immersed you in a world where humans are losing a war against brutal space aliens. Taking it a step further, those cutscenes were paired with some truly talented voice acting and narrative design. As I played through the storyline I learned to love the different little characters I interacted with and felt genuine anger when the Zerg managed to capture Kerrigan and bend her to their will.
This character had been with you through thick and thin and after she's captured you of course begin the mission to rescue her. Still, the highlight of StarCraft is easily the multiplayer. Few gaming moments are as satisfying as defending your base against a Zerg rush as the Protoss or successfully sending in a fleet of Terran to decimate an enemy's base. StarCraft is still played competitively in parts of the world, making it remain relevant for longer than almost any other video game in existence.
There's a reason too. It's because the gameplay is so expertly crafted and balanced that players can continually go head to head with a different result each time. It's those near losses and photo finish victories that keep you coming back and have kept the series alive all these years. In a universe where Everquest was king, and MMOs seemed like a dominated market, leave it up to Blizzard to turn one of their key franchises into the biggest MMO there ever was, and possibly ever will be.
After six expansions, World of Warcraft has shown very little signs of slowing down. Of course, the player-base has always fluctuated, but the massive hype around a brand new expansion is always enough to bring even the most retired player back for more. I believe the defining characteristic that draws people to the game is the freedom to play the game as you see fit.
Like grouping with friends? If so, the game gives you the ability to start with a crew and play through the entire game together, regardless of race or class. Want to make a go at it solo? Then feel free to take on quests alone. Of course the higher level dungeons and raids demand teamwork, but with its stellar Looking for Group system, finding people to tackle a hard boss has never been easier. While choosing a faction seems a tad more meaningless than it used to, mainly because the factions basically are tasked with the same things, the old days of Crossroads and Tarren Mill are memories some players will have forever.
It was also one of the first times the beloved IP was handed to a world-class developer in BioWare. The result was not just one of the best role-playing games ever made, but one that helped legitimize Western RPGs on consoles and establish the fledgling Xbox as a destination for top-tier third-party games. As such, it had the freedom to tell the story it wanted and invent a new universe of characters without Lucasfilm slapping it on the wrist and telling it no.
And so we got Revan and one of the best twists in gaming history, and we got the dark wit of robot party member HK Best of all, we got a Star Wars story where your choices truly mattered. Choosing to double-cross someone you'd agreed to help would earn you Dark Side points, and eventually you could become truly evil and sadistically powerful. But so too could your benevolent actions bring you to the Light Side and make you a virtuous hero. To drop players into the role of a new character after all the marketing material pointed towards Solid Snake as the returning hero was a shock to many, but in establishing a distance between the player and Snake, we got to see the legendary soldier in a new light.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Metal Gear Solid 2 is its ability to remain frighteningly relevant a decade and a half later.
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To say it was ahead of its time would be an understatement. Through its many twists and turns, the bizarre likes of which have rarely been matched by its successors, Metal Gear Solid 2 dove deep into subjects like memetics and the crisis of the information age, artificial intelligence, and the politics of a post-truth society. In But what really sets Final Fantasy VI apart for me is its many iconic moments: Magitek armor moving slowly through a snowy field. Celes singing at the opera house. Running into Deathgaze while flying around in Setzer's airship.
Kefka destroying the world and becoming a god. These moments have stayed with me for over 20 years. Along with its incredible story and soundtrack, Final Fantasy VI also features a fantastic combat system, which includes the ability to freely swap out party members between battles.
There are a whopping 14 playable characters in all. I also liked switching out spells and abilities using magicite, which allows players to freely customize characters however they see fit. Even today, I get goosebumps just thinking about it. Where Mass Effect set the stage a futuristic Milky Way, Mass Effect 2 let you explore and experience so much more of it. As Commander Shepard, I traveled the galaxy on the best recruitment trip I could have wished for, and experienced possibly one of the most heart wrenching stories — but whether or not the game ends in tears is entirely up to you.
The best change to the originals, of course, was a Pikachu following you around on your journey. The Legend of Zelda holds a special place in my heart as the first real game I attempted by myself. Up until then, I was content to watch my dad or sister play games and offer what limited advice my child mind could come up with. But once I saw the mysterious expanse that Zelda had to offer, I knew I would take on this challenge myself.
Never before had I thought that a virtual space on a TV screen could be capable of such wondrous exploration. Each new screen I sent Link to had more enemies, obstacles, and mysteries. I had began drawing dozens of maps with the help of my dad , labeling them with notes and tips I had picked up on my journeys, and the locations of dungeons I knew I would have to conquer. The Legend of Zelda set the bar very high for how open a game world could be, and how to cleverly guide a player through a treacherous journey with subtle nudges in the right directions. I owe a lot of my early childhood imagination to this game for igniting that spark, and helping it continue to burn to this day.
But its ambitious story — of religious and scientific schisms, of dreams and reality, of idiot gods and nightmare newborns — is told not in the overwritten prose favoured by Lovecraft but by an exceptionally savage third-person action game. As is usually the case, his design works flawlessly. When Metroid Prime hit the GameCube it was one of the prettiest, most technologically advanced games on any platform. In a post-Wii era, it's hard to fathom Nintendo ever shaking up the industry again with a cutting-edge, first-person shooter, but that's what made such an exciting year for GameCube owners.
It was gorgeous and fast, but it was also amazingly packed with detail: birds, bugs, and other wildlife occupied the ruins of the game, while hieroglyphs and etchings revealed its history. Metroid Prime was also a lonely game. Metroid Prime dropped you into the Chozo ruins with no one to talk to. Exploring an alien planet solo is what the series is all about, and why the subsequent games with space marines and hunters just didn't work as well.
There are only a handful of games that, in my mind, serve as historical benchmarks in our industry. Resident Evil 4 is absolutely one of those games. On paper, Resident Evil 4 was an unnecessary risk. It was the first mainline, numbered game in the iconic horror franchise to leave the confines of Raccoon City. It veered from the voyeuristic, fixed-camera that the series had established to an over-the-shoulder view, and in such, had a decidedly more action-oriented approach than the other games.
But the thing is, all of those risks paid off. RE4 went on to become one of the most revered games in the series, and its camera and control changes became the industry standard for third-person action games. Its thumbprint can still be seen on countless games today. That sense of reality is what helps you empathise with Geralt, understand the world, and really understand how bad things have gotten when the crazy shit starts popping off.
An RPG with enough complexity to satisfy the urge to tinker, but enough character never to feel impersonal, Wild Hunt is a staggering achievement no matter how you look at it. Its story deftly balances cosmic threat and family drama, its choices feel truly meaningful and world-changingly effective, and it looks gorgeous in its own grubby way. Even its two DLC expansions are among the best ever released. A thrilling masterpiece of patient and rewarding stealth gameplay and entirely unique fourth-wall breaking shenanigans. Could you ever forget plugging your controller into the Player 2 port to beat a mind-reading super villain?
Nintendo EAD. It makes a little more sense when you realise that its looks are a metaphor for its never-matched platform design. Each planetoid is a mechanical challenge. Every galaxy of planetoids is a series of challenges along the same theme. The result is a game built entirely on the pleasure of surprise — if you change to something brilliantly new every 20 minutes, you don't have time to stop having fun. Over a decade after release, that still holds true.
The thing I remember most about Shadow of the Colossus is the gamut of emotions that ran through me during each boss battle. That initial moment of fear and awe quickly took a backseat to contemplation, as each fight unfolded a lot like a puzzle game. But once I my sword finally pierced a beast for the last time, an overwhelming sense of melancholy and regret flooded over me. Was I doing a bad thing? Many of these ancient creatures were simply existing in the world, and I was a murderous outsider focused on nothing more than selfishly saving a person I loved.
Few games compelled me forward while simultaneously making me regret my decisions quite like Shadow of the Colossus.
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So much story is embedded in the dilapidated hallways and shuttered rooms of Rapture, a decaying underwater labyrinth that demands to be investigated. The first time I saw a dragon rise out of the waters of Lake Hylia, I put down my Switch and messaged about 10 people. I felt like the first person ever to see it — among my friends, I was.
This is what makes Breath of the Wild quite so special. The Civilization series falls into the latter, particularly the stellar Civilization IV. Civ IV is a game that truly lets you play the way you want to play. Hearing it now still brings a swelling light to my heart. The premise of Minecraft is incredibly simple. Mine materials such as first and wood, and build things with it. Yet the possibilities are incredibly limitless. Then as the sun rises and you watch all the enemies burn to a crisp, you are finally free to explore again, you are hit with a joyous urge to explore and dive even deeper into the game.
Will you keep your first house, or search for a better landscape? Will you become an unground dweller, or live atop a mountain? I'm not sure I've ever been more hyped for a game release than I was with Halo 2. The "Save Earth" marketing campaign had fans practically dizzy at the notion that Master Chief's fight with the Covenant was coming back home, and my first hands-on with the game — a five-on-five CTF match on Zanzibar behind closed doors at E3 — was all I could think about for weeks after.
When November 9 finally came and Halo 2 released as Peter Moore's tattooed bicep promised , Halo 2 somehow lived up to the hype. Single-player was a well-told interweaving tale between Chief and the Arbiter that was, in hindsight, probably underrated, while multiplayer literally changed gaming. Besides the multiplayer hopper system and party setup that raised the bar for everyone else, gameplay-wise, Bungie was at the peak of its powers.
Weapons and vehicles were tuned to perfection, while the collection of multiplayer maps — even the 11 added later via a large map pack — were not just good but amazing. Halo 2 is still my favorite multiplayer shooter ever. When Half-Life first came out in , it was immediately obvious how transformative a game it was. Valve not only proved it was possible to tell a real, atmospheric story from within a first-person-shooter, but did it so brilliantly that its lessons have informed virtually every shooter campaign since.
That technique was surprisingly effective at making me feel like Gordon and I were one in the same. Iconic monsters — most notably the Alien facehugger-like Headcrabs that transform scientists into gruesome zombies — and impressive soldier AI gave Half-Life a spooky atmosphere backed up by enemies that pose a real threat.
Great and memorable weapons, from the simple crowbar to the silent sniper crossbow and the biological homing weapon that shoots alien bees, made fighting through the spooky ruins of Black Mesa a fantastic battle. This was the game that stripped the Metal Gear formula down to its very core and proved that it could still function even outside our expectations.
It forced us to take what we knew about espionage and infiltration and learn how to apply it in a new, unfamiliar environment, and it did so with a bold and elegant understanding of its own systems. You could have all the stealth know-how and military training in the world, but out there in the unpredictable jungle of the Russian wilderness, you were exposed, vulnerable… a Naked Snake.
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And it worked. This weird shift in tone, structure — it all worked beautifully, and with a poetic edge that is unrivaled in other Metal Gear installments. Snake Eater is arguably one of the most interesting love stories ever told in a game, one of the strangest and most exciting Cold War-era adventures, and one of the first games to truly make me reflect on my actions as a player. It manages to be tragic, sometimes devastatingly so, and yet still maintain that absurd comedic flair that I admire about this series. I still think about three moments in The Last of Us at least once a week, nearly five years later.
I knew I was in for something so narratively special from Naughty Dog.
That dissonance struck me, but made so much sense. The Last of Us marries its storytelling with its gameplay, and nothing made me feel more than that last moment. DOOM changed my life. My gaming life, at least. Having spent my entire existence up to that point playing platformers, side-scrolling action games, etc. Everything about DOOM was incredible. Graphics were colorful and convincing. Lightning was spooky. It felt like you were on a Martian moon. Music was memorable. Weapon design was brilliant, and enemy design even more so.
From the imps to the Cacodemons to the Cyberdemon, nearly every creature in DOOM was the stuff of nightmares — and in a then-unheard-of gameplay twist, they hated each other as much as they hated you. And then there was DeathMatch. And, incredibly, it's still fun. Chrono Trigger is widely regarded as the greatest RPG of all time, and for good reason.
Turn it on and pick a street. Any street. Analyse it; really absorb it. Look at the asphalt, worn and cracked; punished by the millions of cars that have hypothetically passed over it. Look at the litter, the graffiti. No game sells 90 million copies by accident. The most boring thing to note about Dark Souls is its difficulty. Because it stops you from focusing on all of the things that make it the most influential game of the last decade. You fail to mention how incredible Lordran is — a single continuous location that spirals from lava-flooded ruins to a glistening city of the gods.
A place where new paths often lead back to familiar locations, so that exploring it for the first time feels like solving a puzzle. You overlook its precise, nuanced combat or the fact it has the most interesting and meaningful bosses of any game. And you certainly never get round to discussing its story, which revels in ambiguity and invites interpretation like no other. Yes, Dark Souls is challenging, but the rewards it yields to the persistent and curious are limitless.
Action and adventure games
What can you say about the definitive fighting game, the game that has spawned countless imitators, acolytes, and sequels? While exceptionally balanced, the imaginative design and high-end graphics for its time helped set it apart. Street Fighter II became perhaps the first fighting game global arcade smash. Over the years, Capcom kept updating and refining the combat, allowing players to play as more characters, speed up the combat, and see new special moves for their favorite characters.
Its ports kept getting nominated for awards years after its initial release. Mario's move out of arcades, away from Donkey Kong, and into the Mushroom Kingdom changed our hobby and our industry as we know it, setting of a chain of events Nintendo's rise from the game industry crash's ashes, the popularization of the platformer genre, etc.
Super Mario Bros. Its influence cannot be overstated. Example: literally everyone reading this can hum its theme song, right now, from memory. Now it's playing in your head again. You're welcome. Halo didn't invent the first-person shooter. Not by a longshot. Nor was it even the first console FPS.
But it was the first FPS to finally get it right on a console, and the industry hasn't been the same since. Halo: Combat Evolved simply felt at home on a gamepad, and the fact that it had a likeable and heroic protagonist, a rich sci-fi universe that felt fleshed-out despite this being the first game in the series, and Halo became an instant smash hit.
But its story was only half of its success. Halo was quite simply one of the best multiplayer shooters ever upon its release, thanks to its incredible complement of weapons two-shot death pistol FTW! That it was all set to the chanting-monks theme song that, like the game itself, became legendary. Symphony of the Night is beloved by gamers the world over thanks to its responsive controls combined with its expansive, rewarding game world. It has devilish new enemy patterns, new bosses, and fantastic new equipment.
Not bad for a secret that is easy to miss entirely. Symphony of the Night is much more than just a fun side-scroller with an awesome twist, though. Alucard and all of his monstrous foes are lusciously animated. Art, animation, sound, gameplay, design… even replay value, thanks to multiple playable characters. It all comes together perfectly.
When a sequel to Portal was announced I was surprised and a little disappointed. Let a masterpiece stand on its own, I thought. I walked into Portal 2 expecting a competent, enjoyable, but ultimately unsatisfying effort. Instead, Portal 2 stunned me with better puzzles, fascinating new personalities, and comedic dialogue that had me pausing the game to gain control of my laughing fits. Every time I play Portal 2 I try to qualify how Valve managed to cultivate such a fertile ground for humor from such a limited cast of characters. The design is a case study in the kind of environmental storytelling Valve introduced in Half Life and perfected in Portal 2.
Every new area I entered had me eagerly anticipating what gags, story twists, and ludicrous logic-jumps might be waiting for me next. Mario games are synonymous with fun and innovation, and perhaps Mario 64 is the best example of the latter. It was still recognisably Mario — he collected mushrooms and ran and jumped his way to success, but he was forever changed. He could now long jump, triple jump, and backflip. While the underlying challenge remained the same and the locations were reassuringly familiar, the shift in perspective changed everything.
Mario 64 might now look a little blocky but it remains bold and brilliant, too. If you're reading this list and haven't played Red Dead Redemption, go find yourself a copy of the game and the appropriate console to play it on. Right now. Not only did I get completely lost in the massive single-player world, to the point where I'd started talking with a bit of a drawl because I was so used to hearing it, but it also drew me into online gaming unlike anything I'd played before.
Sure, CoD was fun for a bit and racing games were okay, but never before had I so successfully crafted my own stories and adventures with friends and strangers alike than in Red Dead's Free Roam mode. It was the kind of game you couldn't wait to discuss with your friends the next day. The only real downside to Red Dead is that it never came out on PC — which is mostly sad because my died years ago and I really want to play it again. Which came in handy in the third thing I remember most about HL2, which was Ravenholm.
The creepy mining town, now overrun by zombies and head-crabs, provided the perfect playground for you to try out your new toy. The classic Russian title-matching puzzle game by Alexey Pajitnov blew my mind way back in the day. Even as a little girl, I was obsessed with Tetris. I still remember spending hours sitting in front of the TV with the Nintendo Entertainment System sitting at my feet, rotating brightly colored puzzle pieces as they fell from the abyss, attempting to arrange them into horizontal lines that when assembled correctly would disappear and cause me to advance to the next stage.
It was crazy fun, even when blocks began to fall at an alarmingly fast pace and I fell into a frenzied panic. But no matter how many times I had to start the game over, it was just too much fun to stop. I never got tired of it, and even now Tetris remains one of my favorite games of all time. As a kid, I played almost any game that had a cool character on the box or starred my beloved Ninja Turtles.
So when I received Super Mario Bros. The game exceeded my every hope and wish for it, and I spent hundreds of blissful afternoons defeating Koopa Kids, rescuing kings, and discovering secrets strewn throughout Mushroom World. Mario 3 earned a place on my list of favorite games way back in , and 25 years of gaming progress have yet to dislodge it. So much of what we consider so quintessentially Mario — the suits, the boos, the overworld — all actually originated here. This iteration of Hyrule was more than just moving between enemy-filled screens, it encompassed everything an immersive experience should be: a vast open world that teased you with secrets hiding just beyond your reach, begging you to come back with new and inventive tools.
This version of Hyrule more than any other before or since, is the one I fell most in love with. The planet Zebes is atmospheric, oppressive, and extremely lethal. But then you start to look more closely. The parasite-riddled dead soldier outside of an early boss room. The crashed, half-submerged alien spaceship that may or may not be haunted.
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The techno lair of the space pirates hiding under your nose the entire game. An energy tank embedded in a seemingly impassable wall. A pair of missiles only obtainable from the collapsing blocks above, leaving you no idea of how to get up there, just with the knowledge that you can get up there. What makes it truly special is its genius combination of puzzle-solving, atmosphere, storytelling, exploration, game design, and gameplay. Puzzle games can sometimes be a little dry — more concerned with logic, reason, and the elaborateness of their design.
Portal was totally different. Its challenges were embedded in a much bigger story, filled with memorable characters and enduring moments. Video games in general manipulate space and perspective better than any other medium, and Portal takes full advantage of that unique strength.
Enter the portal gun — one of the great video game tools. Instead of firing bullets, it rips through space, allowing the player to traverse a level almost instantaneously. Sounds simple, almost like a cheat, but the intelligent design of each test chamber prevents players from making a beeline to the exit. Other variables, like velocity, also had to be considered.
Escaping Aperture Science elevated the puzzle genre beyond mere interactive conundrums. Fans waited seven long years for their chance to return to Hyrule, and after numerous delays and development issues, Nintendo did not disappoint. The first 3D Zelda game revolutionized the way people thought about action adventures and 3D combat, earning nearly unanimous perfect scores and critical praise from every outlet.
Mechanically,Ocarina of Time is a marvel; slowly introducing systems and increasing the complexity in such a masterful way that many of the elements from Ocarina of Time continue to be industry standards today. It became the template for Legend of Zelda games for nearly twenty years, and is still regarded as one the greatest games of all time. Super Mario World means so many different things to me. It took what Nintendo built with the first three games on the NES, and cranked it up to the next level.
Everything was bigger, brighter, and more complex. I was just absent-mindedly gazing at the television as my fingers adhered to years of muscle memory. Rather, I was looking past what was on the surface level, and really thinking about what went into the design of the game.
Start at Get started! Released Did You Know? Final Fantasy VII. Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness. The Oregon Trail. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge. Burnout 3: Takedown.
Fallout 2. Dan Stapleton Starting the journey of Fallout 2 as a tribesman with nothing more than a loincloth and a spear to my name and gradually fighting my way up to a power-armored, gauss-gunning killing machine is a fantastic and surprisingly natural feeling of progression — one that few games have been able to match. Miranda Sanchez A small child falls into the world of monsters and suddenly finds themselves the target of an ancient grudge that calls for their death. League of Legends. Miranda Sanchez League of Legends exists in a magical place that lies somewhere between intense competition and fun and enjoyable strategy.
SimCity Super Mario Odyssey. System Shock 2. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Persona 5. Grim Fandango. Marty Sliva Few games manage to create a sense of place quite as well as Grim Fandango. GoldenEye Super Smash Bros. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Brandin Tyrrel Skyrim was a pivotal turning point for me and my over twenty-year love affair with role-playing games.
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