Nuu’s Top 100 Greatest Games of All-Time
Released: January 1989 (Exact date unknown)
Definitive Version: Arcade; Also on: MD, Virtual Console (Wii), PS, PCE
Well, you’ve finally reached this point. The top ten of my Greatest Video Games of All-Time (IMO) list. There were literally dozens of games that fought their way to get on this placement, however only a couple made it through. It took me a while to think which titles left as big of an impact and are enjoyable enough to actually rank in this area. I feel it is pretty fitting that Strider would make it to this level. For those unfamiliar with the game it is a side-scrolling action game set in the future that stars a highly acrobatic ninja named “Strider Hiyru”. The game was released at that start of when these side scrolling hack-n-slash games began to become the standard in the market. Ninja Gaiden for the NES was released just a few weeks prior, while Sega was set to release Revenge of the Shinobi in a couple months. What made Strider standout from these games, as well as almost every other game that followed, was that platform it was developed on. Strider was developed for the arcades, therefore it didn’t have to work around the limitations of consoles. The game featured huge sprites, many enemies on screen, and even an in-game physics system that calculated gravity. This alone made Strider head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd.
That said, despite the game’s technical prowess, few people care or even notice it. There are two things that make Strider such a beloved game. How well the constant breakneck pacing mixes with the games acrobatic and fast paced gameplay, and the game’s marvelous setting. To make things simple, there is always something going on in Strider. The heroic ninja constantly walks around the area (usually to the right) and uses his long range sword to slash at every enemy he sees. His ninja flexibility and agility allow him to scale and climb nearly any platform or building in the area. Every time the X or Y axis of the screen moves, there is usually something prepared as enemies and platforms are placed very well in the game. Not only that, but the game features array of unique levels and segments. From scaling to the top of the sky-scrapers of Neo-Moscow to assaulting the inners of a zero gravity airship base, Strider offers plenty of variety and excitement. It’s non-stop action from beginning to end.
There is also the title’s awesome setting. It takes place in the distant (while I guess today not so distant) future where cyborgs, robots, and magic dominate. The game is like every ten year old kids fantasy come true. There is even a level where you travel to the amazon rainforest and interact and fight with dinosaurs (both organic and robotic)! The game’s art style is very comic booky and bright and the music manages to be both dark and cartoony at the same time. If you were going to point to someone what would be the quintessential example of a video game setting and atmosphere, Strider would be a top candidate.
The game isn’t without its faults however. For starters the game does decline in a quality after its third level as the final two stages aren’t as enjoyable to player as the first three. This goes double with the final stage which is far too punishing and dare I say confusing for its own good. While the cutscenes are a great touch, and it’s even cooler that they are voiced with each character speaking their native language, they are far too short which leaves the story to be practically nonexistent in a game world that has so much potential.
Like Duke Nukem 3D, Strider was an excellent title in the series in which the developer could never come close in matching again. Strider 2 for the Playstation was widely regarded as a disappointment. The recent reboot by Double Helix was regarded as good…but that’s just it, it was “good”. Strider isn’t suppose to be a “good” game, it’s suppose to be an incredible one. Hence why the original Strider is still talked about while the few year old reboot is all but forgotten.
Despite staring in only three official games, Strider Hiryu has been featured in many more. Despite hardly being Capcom’s most popular franchise, it seems that whenever there is a Capcom ensemble involved in a title, Strider WILL appear. This is probably due to the fact that the character is just so bad ass. He’s a futuristic ninja who is a master in acrobats and wields long reaching plasma sword. Why wouldn’t you want to play as him? He is a regular in Monolithsoft’s “X” SRPG series which gathers Namco, Capcom, SEGA, and Nintendo characters all together as playable characters. But where Strider is really well known is in the Marvel vs Capcom series. Most of this is due to the highly praised Marvel vs Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes. The game boasted an insane roster of 56 playable character in a 3 vs 3 team fighter. However, the game contains insane speed and complexity at high level play that very few other fighting titles feature. Due to this the roster of viable characters for competitive play shrunk to around 16. Of these 16 only just 3 or 4 of them were from the Capcom side. Strider was one of those characters, and it really propelled him to being more recognized in the gaming community, especially since his character was so fun and unique to play as. Strider also returned in Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 where he was once again viable in a game that boasts a huge roster that significantly shrinks when accounting characters that are tournament viable.
In age of where Capcom has all but become a shadow of its former self, it’s worth looking at games like Strider to remember just why they were held in such high regard in the first place. Sure Resident Evil, Street Fighter, Mega Man, and Devil May Cry all have great games in their series, but Capcom has produced tons of exciting and entertaining games over the years. And that’s worth to remember.
09| Kid Icarus: Uprising
Released: March 23rd, 2012
Available On: Nintendo 3DS
It has been a running gag for sometime that during one Sony’s major press conferences, a reboot of the Crash Bandicoot series will be announced. Sure technically there have been plenty of games featuring Crash Bandicoot in recent years, but they weren’t really Crash Bandicoot games as they were developed by a different developer, published by a different publisher, and were…well kind of shitty. Similar to the situation the Terminator film series finds itself in, Crash Bandicoot was a well received video game series when it was controlled from the ground up by it’s creator, in this case Naughty Dog. Once Naughty Dog moved on to bigger and better things, the license was sold and the franchise went to…well shit. Since then fans have been clamoring Sony to buy the license back and return the character to their former glory. Over the years Sony has given some teases to bringing the series back to the spotlight. Recent examples are things such as the glorified entrance during E3 2016 of Activision releasing a HD remaster of the first three games and a presenter wearing a Crash Bandicoot shirt during another Sony conference.
Why am I bringing up Crash Bandicoot? Because it is the closest current example I can think of when comparing to what Kid Icarus went through for years. Kid Icarus was originally one of the classic NES games. In case you live under a rock, pretty much every one of Nintendo’s biggest standing franchises started on the NES. Zelda got its start in the on the NES and became a flagship franchise. Mario got its start on the NES and became a flagship franchise. Metroid got started on the NES and became a flagship franchise. All of these titles were very different from one another, complemented each other very well, and had multiple appearances on pretty much every Nintendo console. Zelda was an epic action-adventure game with a medieval setting. Mario was a pick up and play platformer with a cartoony setting. Metroid was atmospheric action-adventure platformer with a sci-fi setting. However, there was another game in the NES library that was pretty popular and complemented these games perfectly. Kid Icarus was an epic action platformer with a Norse fantasy setting. It completed the “main franchise” circle perfectly. Despite the game selling well, achieving critical acclaim, being “Nintendo unique”, and having a cult fanbase, it only received a single sequel for decades. After the 1991 Game Boy game the series was never heard from again.
Over the years, fans begged for a sequel, but it never happened. Then during the 2000s, some teasing occurred. First was 2006’s Tetris DS, which had an entire level dedicated to the Kid Icarus game. Then most notably was Pit’s inclusion to the roster in 2008’s Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Then in E3 2010, the impossible happened, a new Kid Icarus entry, was actually announced. Even more so, it was going to be developed for Nintendo’s upcoming Nintendo 3DS. As one would imagine, fans were floored.
Two years later the title was released. The first Kid Icarus game in almost twenty years. So how did it turn out? Very good, actually no, it turned out fantastic! Kid Icarus: Uprising not only met expectations, but it set a new standard in not just resurrecting franchises, but handheld gaming in general. Before I go into detail about the game, one has to understand just what kind of game the original Kid Icarus was. A vast majority of people think it’s simple a vertical platformer, in which instead of going from left to right, one goes from down to up. This is absolutely correct…for the first two levels or so. From there on out the game changes. It becomes side-scrolling dungeon crawler, then a traditional left-to-right 2D platformer, then a shoot-em-up, then back to a vertical platformer, then back to a side-scrolling dungeon crawler, then back to a shoot-em-up, then the game ends. My point is that the game had A LOT of variety. While it was technically mainly an action platformer, it didn’t really stick to one single genre. This is something that a modern entry of Kid Icarus had to get right. Kid Icarus: Uprising does just this. Half the game is pretty much one clearly defined genre. Though instead of this being the platforming genre, it is in fact the shooter genre. These segments are similar to titles such as Sin & Punishment in which the camera is behind the player as they move the reticule to shoot at enemies. It’s your typical affair, but what makes it stand out is how fast and frantic it can be. The game as a matter of fact let’s one control the “intensity” of each stage, so the higher intensity the player sets, the more enemies and chaos there will be on screen. This alone gives the game plenty of replay value.
Once the shooter portions are over, Pit (aka “Kid Icarus”) takes to the ground. The game then becomes a common action game. With Pit running on the ground, exploring the area, while taking out baddies with his trusty swords and arrows. However, these parts don’t just rest on their laurels, there is plenty of variety during these segments including controlling large robots, driving fast vehicles, and plenty of other things as well. The levels also change things up as some places are designed as labyrinth mazes or just straight forward action-platforming. Each stage has a boss battle at the end which is well worth your time. I’d dare to say that the game has some of the best boss battles I have ever played.
Now let me address the white elephant in the room. The controls. The 3DS, at least at the time, lacked a second analog stick. This meant that if you wanted to move character and aim at the same time, or move the camera freely around, you had to use the touch screen. So during the shooting stages the player had to move Pit with the analog stick while aim with the stylus on the touch screen, while shooting with the shoulder buttons. It takes time to adjust to it, but after a while one gets used it to it. Most of the biggest complaints are during the on ground segments. On the ground the player runs around with the analog stick, attacks with the shoulder buttons, uses items with the face buttons, and moves the camera or aims the arrows with the stylus on the touch screen. As one can imagine, this is pretty difficult to initially do and takes some practice. Especially due to how fast paced the game is. After a while however, most players get the hang of it. Keyword is “most”. Like Skyward Sword before it, Kid Icarus used a very unique control scheme which divided players into two groups: those who think it just takes getting used to and it enhances the game, and those who think it is broken, unneeded, and ruins the game. Personally, I am in the former category. Sure it takes time to learn and get used to the controls, but once one does it is very rewarding. That being said, I can understand the complaints. After playing the game for a while, it does get uncomfortable. I imagine those with more sensitive wrists will find it to be unpleasant. Nintendo realized this and sold the physical version of the game with a stand to aid players, especially those who happen to be left handed.
Despite the amazing gameplay the game goes all out on presentation. Make no mistake, this isn’t a “handheld” title. The game’s production matches that of a big budget console game. There is top notch voice acting, top notch cutscenes, a deep story, gorgeous graphics and effects, “epic” music, and tons of modes that I can’t even talk about. One could legitimately argue that it was Nintendo most ambitious game to date when it was released. I mean to me the only game that went so far at the time was Skyward Sword, besides that I have trouble thinking of anything else that compares. And it just isn’t all flash. The story is very engaging and characters are absolutely lovable. The world of Kid Icarus: Uprising is one you want to see again and again.
The title also sports an online mutliplayer mode. This mode involves a deathmatch or team deathmatch mode on one of many choices of maps, as each player controls their own Pit as they try to defeat their competitors by shooting arrows, attacking them with melee weapons, and using various items. It sounds like something that was very rushed and quickly put together, but it is actually surprisingly well throughout and pretty deep. Sure, it’s no Splatoon, but it’s not quite as far from that mark as one would assume. What’s really shocking is how active it was last time I played the game. I recall entering the online servers three years and a half years after the game was released and I never had a problem finding a match. Apparently the multiplayer had or has some serious legs. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were still players on the servers.
What really makes this game stick out is the replayability. From controlling the difficulty of every level, to the online multiplayer, to countless unlockable, to animated mini-episodes, and a many other things I forgot, this game is packed with content with a lot to love. It’s funny because it technically doesn’t need any of that stuff. The game in by itself is replayable enough as it is because it’s a very enjoyable experience that one wants to go back to. But despite that, Nintendo didn’t leave it at that, they went all out on this title. There is so much I have yet to talk about the game, but I feel like it’s best to end here or else I’ll just ramble on and on. The best summarization I can give about this game is this: buy it, play it, love it.
08| Jet Set Radio
Released: October 30th, 2000
Definitive Version: PC; Also on: Xbox 360, PS3, PSVita, DC
If there was a single game I’d show someone to summarize Sega during their twilight days of a powerhouse, it would be Jet Set Radio. I would feel wrong to begin detailing the game before I started to explain Sega at the time first. As virtually every gamer knows, during the 1980s Nintendo was the undisputed king of the console market. The NES had a virtual monopoly in North America. Then comes along Sega, a company mostly known for its cutting edge and fun arcade games. Sega released a series of consoles worldwide and none of them gained too much traction until their 16-bit Mega Drive, which was moderately successful in Japan and Europe, but wildly successful in North America. The system garnered a huge following due to it’s more “adult” and “big kid” centric marketing and library filled with pro-athletes, ninjas, and ‘tude characters. Shockingly, Sega’s follow up system was a dud in everywhere in the world but Japan where it saw some success. Despite having THE flagship 3D game series with Virtua Fighter, the company wasn’t really sure just how to approach 3D gaming. And with their follow-up system, the Sega Saturn, bombing almost everywhere and the arcades declining as a business the company was in a sink or swim situation. As a result, it threw out a lot of Hail Mary’s in order to save the company. Most of these faciliated in their next, and unfortunately last, gaming console, the Sega Dreamcast. Featuring funky controls, memory cards with a screen and minigames on them, and online gameplay it truly was a system way ahead of its time. But what most people remember about the Dreamcast was it’s unique titles.
Sega went out with a bang by creating games that nobody else really ventured in before. Shenmue is an obvious example as Sega combined free roaming map gameplay with a cinematic story, deep combat system, and pretty much something from every genre one can think of. Skies of Arcade was the first JRPG to really go all out in 3D as the maps were fully 3D models with no pre-rendered backgrounds in sight. Rez was a unique looking and playing arcade shooter similar to Panzer Dragoon. Phantasy Star Online brought MMOs to the console space. Sometimes they’d just throw shit at the wall, like they did with Typing of the Dead, which is a House of the Dead game…but where you type to kill the zombies with a keyboard.
Out of all the games though, perhaps the most beloved and well known one is Jet Set Radio. This hyper stylistic game focuses on players traversing the streets of Tokyo with inline skates as they have a mission in tagging everything and at times everyone with graffiti before the time runs out. It’s a very arcadey and Sega-like approach to the then popular skateboarding genre. It was both cool, daring, addicting, and most of all fun. It encompassed everything Sega was at the time.
Now one could think that the game is essentially a Tony Hawk clone, but only with a inline skates and the ability to use graffiti. This is a bit wrong. For starters, Jet Set Radio’s challenge doesn’t come from doing tricks in the manner of how many buttons one can press before they hit the ground, but more so how the characters play with the environment. To rack up the score it’s best for one to do a wall jump, then land on the rail, land on a car, do another wall jump, and land. As opposite to Tony Hawk which one just has to find a ramp and just constantly spam the two trick buttons. Jet Set Radio also requires a lot of skill to play. Grinding in the game is pretty difficult as one has to get the right angle and speed to do so. Setting up the tricks and just as, if not more difficult than doing the tricks themselves. The game is made to want you to go through the streets very fast and elegantly in order to tag your markers as quick as possible. In fact, it is a bit dishonest to call the game an “extreme sports” title. It’s more akin to a platformer. The goal is to reach areas by hopping around and playing with the environment before the timer runs out. The title is arguable more similar to Super Mario 64 than it is to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. And like Super Mario 64, one can play the game for quite some time just moving around through the area and playing with the environment. The game feels so good to just play.
Despite the title’s top notch gameplay, what most people remember the game for is how stylish it is. The game was one of the first, if not the first, to use cel-shaded graphics. This graphical style isn’t too uncommon today, as almost anything that’s supposed to emulate traditional cartoon uses this style. But back at the turn of the millennium, this style was never seen before. Playing the game was like being inside a living breathing cartoon world. And the atmosphere and setting of the game complemented that perfectly. The entire game is like a very upbeat comic book. Sort of like a “cool kids ” version of Scott Pilgrim. The setting of the game is about various “gangs”, more misfits than anything, having beef due to one thing or another. These differences are often resolved by graffiting their turf or something similar. So if you are expecting something more dark and, let’s face it, realistic like Grand Theft Auto, you’re playing the wrong type of game.
The title also has an incredible soundtrack. Using some of the “hippest” and “funkiest” music at the time, Jet Set Radio likely has the best use of licensed music in gaming to this day. It truly brings the world to life and makes you feel like you are a teenager again, but this time you are part of the “cool clique”. The atmosphere the music creates when combined with the rest of the game is most similar to The World Ends With You. It just nails the feeling of being a cool rebellious teenager.
Unfortunately this game never really got it’s due. It was initially released on the ill fated Dreamcast. It then received a pseudo-sequel called Jet Set Radio Future for the Xbox. The problem was, like most Sega titles on the system, is that it didn’t really gel well with the userbase that was focused on the dark, gritty, and realistic type of games. There was third title that was pitched for the Wii, but it never came to fruition. The original title did get a Steam re-release which sold very well…but apparently Sega still isn’t interested in making another title or even porting over the second game.
Today with gaming being so stale, it seems that late era Sega is needed more than ever. True, Nintendo is filling that gap to a degree, but they mostly take the weirdness too far at times. Usually relying on strange, or even appalling, control schemes as a way to keep a series fresh. Sega managed to create fresh games that used entirely new concepts consistently, all while having the titles focused on the devoted gamer. Unfortunately this arguable led to the companies downfall. The Dreamcast’s biggest problem was that outside few titles like Resident Evil: Code Veronica and Sonic, it didn’t really have any games that really appealed to the mainstream gamer. Even when Sega went third party, they still had this issue as nearly every game they released that wasn’t a Sonic title underperformed. So one can look at Jet Set Radio as a title that represents a period. A period of gaming where developers were much more willing to take risks, experiment, and just create fun games.
07| Freedom Planet
Released: July 21st, 2014
Definitive Version: PC (All major OSs); Also on: Wii U, PS4
In just such a short amount of time, it seems indie games have taken over the hardcore gamer market. To think that just a little over a decade ago, Xbox Live didn’t allow digital downloads of new content and that Steam didn’t even exist. Yet here we are today with many, if not most, of the year’s most anticipated titles belonging to independent developers. Now to me, there have generally always been two types of independent games. Those that are modern and try to experiment/push the trends of today, and those that are meant to emulate titles from a certain era. Time and time again we have seen many games, especially those from smaller and more ambitious developers, try their hand at recreating the glory of the old school titles from the NES, Super Nintendo, and Sega Genesis. And time and time again we have seen many of those games fail…miserably. Even the so called “good ones” I feel miss the mark.
The problem with these titles is that as enjoyable as they are, they focus too much on emulating the classics of the early and mid ’90s without realizing a core ingredient of what allowed those classic to be so great in the first place. There are a few titles that get this right however. But I think the one that absolutely nails it, is Galaxy Trail’s “Freedom Planet”.
The best way to describe the game is that it is two thirds Sonic the Hedgehog and one third Rocket Knight. The game is a 2D platformer where the player can choose between two three characters. Lilac, a dragon who can charge up and “fly”. Carol, a wildcat who attacks enemies with her claws and can ride a motorcycle with anti-gravity transportation. And Milia, a dog with energy attack powers. All these characters play very differently and can access different parts of each stages. This obviously leads to a lot of replayability. The game’s level design is very similar to Sonic the Hedgehog with it’s focus on speed, brief puzzles, and multiple routes. The stages are filled with ramps and even rollercoaster loops. It gets to the point that if someone managed to mod Sonic into the game, that an onlooker would never question whether or not one was playing a Sonic title. The game even has the player collect multiple rings crystals which tend to lead the player of where to go. Unlike Sonic though, the collectables have no relation to the characters health, as that is a separate life bar all together.
Describing the game like “Sonic with hot sauce and a unique flavor” is pretty accurate. That said, this isn’t a bad thing, because Freedom Planet doesn’t just match the quality of the previous Sonic titles, it surpasses them. Freedom Planet has better level design, has better boss fights, has better movement and character control, in pretty much every aspect Freedom Planet surpasses any Sonic the Hedgehog title. And this is a key ingredient of why I feel it succeeds more than any other title in terms of being an “old school throwback” indie game. What made games like Chrono Trigger, Super Metroid, Sonic, and Castlevania so great wasn’t the fact that they were shooting to be as “16-bit as possible”. They were great because they were focused on pushing their genres to the absolute limit. When looking at these games formulas and the hardware they were on, one can see that there wasn’t much more the developers could do. Today with modern knowledge and improved technology we can push these genres further. Freedom Planet does just that. It focused on pushing the core gameplay of the 2D action platformer genre. It mixed the beloved charge attacks from Rocket Knight with Sonic’s fast running speed. It took Treasures giant and frantic boss fights and added it into the game. And it upped the presentation with quality voice acting, a detailed MIDI soundtrack, and a story that is well put together. Due to this, Freedom Planet just didn’t reach the levels of the Genesis greats like Sonic, Sonic III, Rocket Knight Adventures, and Dynamite Headdy, it surpassed them.
A game that it reminded me of was Wayforward’s return to form title Contra 4. Contra is a game series has had mediocre title after mediocre title since the third game. Only one, well technically two, have managed to be a legitimately good game. And that’s Contra 4. The reason for this is that Wayforward just didn’t try to emulate Contra 3, they instead decided to expand on the game. Specifically with the grappling hook, by adding some Bionic Commando flavor, and much more ambitious level design and bosses. It was a winning formula that the company hasn’t replicated since with the series (well besides that one, but that WAS outsourced to Arc System Works.
I feel that developers can learn a lot from Freedom Planet. It isn’t enough just to simply emulate the games when titles attempt to recreate an experience. The best case scenario with that is that you get a quality title like Resident Evil: Revelations, which is seen by many as a solid entry in the series but is light years away from Resident Evil 4. The worst case scenario is you get a game like New Super Mario Bros. Yoshi’s New Island which is pretty much just like the title it is trying to be, but just with the most boring and uninspired design imaginable. One has to focus on making the best title possible and pushing those boundaries that already existed. That’s what made these titles so special in the first place. Now I’m not saying to innovate for innovation’s sake, but there is always something you can add to a title to spicin’ it up and make it more interesting, and developers should take note.
06| Ys Origin
Released: May 31st, 2012
Available On: PC
It could be argued that Falcom was the last developer to come stateside after the Japanese RPG floodgates opened. After Final Fantasy VII became one of the best selling games on the Playstation, it seemed that every Japanese role playing developer moved their titles stateside. Enix quickly hopped onboard, as did Namco. Atlus took a few years but was soon solidified, as did Nippon Ichi. However, there was one developer who’s presence was glaringly absent. And that’s the developer who arguably started the entire genre in Japan. Falcom was developer mostly known for their action RPG titles in Japan. Mostly known for the Ys and Xanadu series, Falcom published tons of quality action RPGs in Japan. They even ventured successful with traditional turnbased JRPGs with the Legend of Heroes series. To be fair, these titles were released in the West, and to very high praise. The NES release of Faxanadu was said to be one of the best games on the system for the few who played it. Ys for the PC Engine was ground breaking at the time, thanks to its cutscenes, voice acting, and CD quality soundtrack. However, despite these two titles being well respected, neither series received another Western release for decades. And for a quality port, it would be even longer.
A big reason for this is because unlike every other Japanese role playing developer (or really any other Japanese developer), Falcom did not focus their products on consoles but rather the niche Japanese PC market. And while there was a clear market for Japanese role playing games for consoles, it wouldn’t be for nearly a decade and a half later until PC market was proven to be a friendly place for Japanese role playing games. But for the longest time Japanese role playing games, and really Japanese games in general, were seen as a nonexistent market for the Western PC market. As a result Japanese developers rarely localized the PC versions of their games, and this included Falcom. In fact, Falcom’s games didn’t begin being localized on the PC market, but for the console. The studio moved production to consoles/handhelds due to the fact that PC niche market eventually shrank too small even for Falcom. Thus a lot of their previous titles began to be ported to the PSP. They were pretty successful, and thus Falcom kept porting.
In an odd twist of events, thanks to Square-Enix taking the chance with the port of The Last Remnant and Carpe Fulgar localizing the extremely niche but addicting Recettear: An Item’s Shop Tale, the PC market was proven not just to be viable for Japanese role playing games, but showing that the genre was actually in high demand. As such, Falcom began porting all of their old classic PC titles, which almost all of them selling very well. So well in fact that they are now starting to port their recent titles to the PC exclusively for the Western market. Quite the contrast to Falcom’s previous viewpoints of the Western PC market.
Now since Falcom began their PC and Sony portable localization binge there have been plenty of quality games they’ve brought over the Western shores. As a matter of a fact, I’d argue that all of these games are of high quality, accept maybe Ys VI. If I had to pick one game though to take the top spot, I would easily pick Ys Origin. The reason is very simple, it is the best action RPG ever made, and I do not bestow that claim lightly.
To explain the game, it would be best to explain its context. Falcon would truly make the jump from PCs to handhelds in late 2007 in Japan. Ys Origin was the last full, ground up, mainline major title they were developing for the PC. It was, in many ways, a signal to the end of an era. As such, Falcom truly gave it their all with title. In truth, there is nothing unique or innovative about Ys Origin in a core gameplay sense. The player can select between two (eventually three) characters each with their own unique play style. They then explore a, pretty linear, dungeon as take out enemies, solve puzzles, and fight tough bosses. What makes the game stand out is just how well everything packaged.
The combat is wonderful. It may not be Bayonetta, but is extremely satisfying as it is so fast and frantic that it keeps the adrenaline rushing. Each character plays completing different from a traditional hack-n-slash character, to a long range “bullet” attack character, to a rush down down in your face character. There is something for everyone to choose from. To add to that, each character has their own unique story in the game. The truly get the entire experience and understand what is going on, one must play each character to see the story through “their eyes” so to speak. It is very enjoyable and adds a lot of replay value.
The level design is top notch. Darm Tower isn’t most challenging dungeon in gaming, but it is very fun to transverse. The way enemies are placed and distance doors and different levels are from each other just make for such a smooth and seamless experience. The boss battles are “epic” and just so intense. And the story more than holds one’s attention and truly fleshes out the characters, their unique personality, and their struggles. And the music. The music! Holy shit! THE MUSIC! THE FUCKING MUSIC! Ys Origin comfortably has the best soundtrack I have heard in all of gaming. I realize that I often complement an entry’s soundtrack on this list, but believe me Ys Origin is the absolute pinnacle of this category.
Add in a ton of replay value, great tie ins with the other entries in the series, and various hidden tidbits, and you have a must have title for anyone’s RPG collection. There really isn’t anything else to say about Ys Origin, it is simply the best of the best. The ultimate action RPG.
05| Shin Megami Tensei IV
Released: July 16th, 2013
Available On: Nintendo 3DS
To say that Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne was a breath of fresh air when it was released on Western shores in 2004 is an understatement. Long after the twilight of JRPGs heydays, the subgenre began to grow stale, with quality release not seen for quite some time. It took the traditional blue sky adventure shonen formula and switched it into a dark occult modern horror fantasy setting. The usual brain dead turnbased battle system with a boring linear overworld, became a highly tactical and strategic turnbased battle system with the entire game being designed as one big dungeon. The title single handedly spawned the series to become a mainstay in the West and aided Atlus in becoming a dominant publisher for niche Japanese games.
Over the years there have been plenty of entries to the series. Such as the Digital Devil Saga titles, the Devil Summoners, Strange Journey, the Personas, etc. However, it was quite some time before an actual full numbered sequel was released. To gamers who don’t know much about the series, it was kind of like the wait for Street Fighter III. The studio kept churnning out all of these spinoffs, side-series, and technical sequels. However, they never really made a game that was actually a full numbered sequel. Eventually that changed in 2013 with the release of Shin Megami Tensei IV.
First, I have to address the giant elephant in the room. The game was made for the Nintendo 3DS, a handheld. This initially disappointed a lot of the fanbase as the series was traditionally associated with home consoles. Now while the series was never known for its crazy production values through most of its life, the third entry of the main franchise had a bit of a production going for it at its time, being that it was fully 3D with tons of character models and ambitious dungeons. Now to be fair this is a valid complaint, as Atlus probably could have upped the presentation department significantly if the game was on a PS3 instead. However, thinking of it, the game more then lived up in pushing boundaries in more ways than one.
To begin, I’m going to describe just the type of game Shin Megami Tensei is. The mainline series is basically a traditional dungeon crawler meets a traditional JRPG meets Pokemon. There is a main overarching story that the player has to go through with character development, world building, etc. This combines with the usual crafting of party members and the like. Though, it’s the type of party members one gets that’s interesting. As the player fights enemies they can choose to either kill them or “negotiate” with them. Basically instead of throwing balls in their face to get the enemies on your side, you have to talk with them and convince them to join you. If successful, then the enemy will be part of your team, if not they’ll either attack you, run away, or run away and steal something. Instead of being “pocket monsters” the enemies in the game are straight up demons from an alternate universe. They look dark and satanic which makes them appealing in a weird way. One can level up these demons with experience or by fusing them together with one or more demons to create an even more powerful demon. Though it just isn’t the power of a demon one has to keep in mind, but also the skills they have in order to help one’s party. Finally, one also transverses the world and visits different lands, but unlike other JRPGs, the entire world is basically one giant dungeon as all the maps have a maze like quality to them.
In short, Shin Megami Tensei combines three main types of RPG genres and creates its own thing that appeals to a specific type of gamers. So how does the fourth entry in the series fair? Pretty damn well actually. Sure there were some changes that some may have mixed feelings about, but overall it is an extremely solid entry in the series. The first thing one notices is that the title is very clearly designed for a handheld. Unlike the console versions of the game, dungeons and areas are much more bite sized. This isn’t to say that they are easy, but transversing the average map/area in the game can probably be done in twenty minutes or so, compared to the console titles which are usually around three times that. The main story also takes a bit of a back seat to the sidequests which truly make up the meat of the game, as players will find themselves exploring the world and random areas to take out hordes of enemies, hunt for items, or challenge hidden bosses.
This may all seem very eyerolling, and in most titles it usual is. However, Shin Megami Tensei IV makes the exception in that this format gives more than it takes. The bite sized dungeons are admittedly a bit disappointing, however there are so many areas to explore and venture through it eases the pain. The side quests don’t detract from the single player campaign and do well to flesh out the world. They also work in synergy with bite sized dungeons in having the player go through an act with boss fight and all in a reasonable amount of time. And as cliche as this sounds, these two things also makes the game very easy to pick up and play, as well as results in it being very replayable.
The presentation of the game is great. I don’t want to spoil too much, but let’s just say that the game manages to serve fans who both are accustomed to traditional medieval style settings, as well those who enjoy modern settings, and those who enjoy the “not so distant future” settings. The lore is very well done and one can easily get lost in the world. There is also a bit of interesting philosophy thrown in the story, even with moral choices that truly effect the gameplay, even to the point of one half of the game being entirely different due to it. The only downside is that this is no Witcher, as the choices are pretty literally either black, white, or gray.
As usual by Atlus, the soundtrack is superb. Atlus really went all out to give the game its own style and unique feeling. Plus soundtrack art is some of the best I’ve seen. I mean…look at this!
THAT is an album cover. It really reflects the quality of the game.
In short, Shin Megami Tensei IV is a fantastic game. Despite being on a handheld, it managed to push the boundaries of the series and the JRPG genre. Also, much like Kid Icarus: Uprising, it significantly upped the standards of what developers should be doing for their handheld entries. Shin Megami Tensei IV may have been on a handheld, but it truly earns that number at the end of its title. It is a full fledged sequel and continuation of the previous titles in the well regarded series. Atlus knocked it out of the park with this title, and it deserves all the recognition.
04| Xenoblade Chronicles
Released: April 6th, 2012
Definitive Version: Wii; Also On: Wii U eShop, 3DS
If you were to ask any JRPG fan, they would largely agree that the ’90s was the “Golden Age” for the genre. Not only was it when the genre came to its own, but so many ground-breaking titles that have aged like fine wine were released then. Titles like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI and VII, Xenogears, Dragon Quest III and V, Secret of Mana 2, Earthbound, the list goes on and on. Not to mention if one were to include the dawn of the new millennium, then titles like Skies of Arcadia, Pokémon Silver, and Final Fantasy X would be included as well. After the early 2000s however, the genre began to slow down a bit.
After another brief boost in quality of, mostly forgettable, JRPGs during the end of the PS2s lifetime, people were waiting for the next wave of quality JRPG titles. The thing was, was that people were expecting games to push the genre more than ever before. Due to the power of the PS3 and Xbox 360, developers were now capable of making much more vibrant and elaborate game worlds than ever. This obviously had many fans of the genre very excited. Unfortunately, there weren’t any real quality titles that grabbed the bull by the horns when it came to pushing the envelope. The Last Remnant, while a quality game, didn’t really do anything from an ambition standpoint to push the genre that previous games did not. The Mistwalker Xbox 360 games developed a cult fan base, but were criticized by playing it too safe. Most notorious however was Final Fantasy XIII in which failed to push the envelope to the point that having towns in the game was ditched due to them being too “difficult” to do in HD.
The generation was about to come to a close, when finally, a title comes along that truly pushes the genre in all the right ways. After around a two year wait, Xenoblade Chronicles finally reached American shores. It was title that focused huge on exploration with gigantic maps to explore, contained tons of side quests that tie into the main plot, a battle system that was an evolution of the semi-real-time type, and over course a huge epic story that spans dozens upon dozens of hours. If there was juggernaut of the genre that one could point for that generation of consoles, it was Xenoblade Chronicles. But the irony of all of this, is what the game was released on. The title was developed ground up for the Nintendo Wii, a system that was basically inline in terms of power with the then previous generation consoles. It turned out that the most “next generation” JRPG experience was on last generation technology.
So, what made Xenoblade Chronicles so good? To put it simply, it’s a game where the developers put every ounce of their effort to make it as great as possible. Xenoblade Chronicles is your typical epic adventure JRPG. It focuses on a group of party members focused on vanquishing evil as they travel along a series of maps and encounter tons of enemies and bosses that the player needs to defeat until they reach the end. Again, it’s typical, but it is all so well done. In terms of gameplay the battle system, while having its kinks, is very unique and pretty solid. The enemies, and especially bosses, do a great job in testing one’s skills and abilities. The level design is sublime. Not only are the maps gigantic, but they are very interactive, layered, and most importantly, fun to explore. Throughout the maps are multiple secrets in the form of items, monsters, quests, and tons of easter eggs. This is the type of game where you definitely do not want to simply go from point A to point B.
The presentation however is also superb. The game’s world just feels so alive with so much going on in terms of lore and politics. The characters are very appealing and likable. And story in general is pretty fucking cool and will definitely suck you in. It’s a good thing too because the game is very long. It lasts around eighty hours or so and gives you tons of stuff to do throughout your journey. The graphics are spectacular and when playing upscale on HD, the game could easily pass an Xbox 360 title. The soundtrack is splendid, with music the complements the atmosphere very well.
Of course, the game isn’t exactly perfect. While the story has great pacing, the difficulty doesn’t. It’s very difficult to have a game that has good difficulty pacing that also puts a lot of focus on side quests. What often happens is that those who do a lot of the side quests will find themselves too overpowered and will be able to blow through the game, while others who just want to focus mostly on the main story will find themselves fighting enemies and bosses that are next to impossible. While the same games that get it more right than others such as Shin Megami Tensei IV or The Witcher III, Xenoblade isn’t one of those games. Far too often I found myself getting stuck on a very difficult boss battle in which I had to level up my party two or three levels. This usual took an hour or two to accomplish, and while it wasn’t so bad because I mostly did it via side quests, it was very annoying. I feel that much of it is because of how misleading things are. One could have party that is able to trounce all of the surrounding enemies, but then receive a beat down from the map’s boss. Being honest in any other game it would be enough to really sink my impression of it, but the highs of Xenoblade Chronicles are so strong that they easily tower over the lows.
Besides that, there isn’t much else. As far as I am concerned, Xenoblade Chronicles should be the defacto standard for any “epic” adventure JRPG to follow. Despite premiering at the beginning of this decade it still comfortably holds that title. The developer, Monolithsoft, did make a sort of sequel to the game called Xenoblade Chronicles X for the Wii U. It was similar to Xenoblade Chronicles only that it focused way more on the side quests and way less on the main plot. As a result, the game suffered tremendously. And while the title has its followers, most agree that the originally game was superior. Thus, during the Nintendo’s new console reveal, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was announced, the “2” emphasizes that this entry will be more in-line with the first game. Personally, I am cautiously optimistic, but either way, the game has some huge shoes to fill.
03| Sin & Punishment: Star Successor
Released: June 27th, 2010
Definitive Version: Wii; Also On: Wii U eShop
The Wii’s success really caught everybody off guard. It caught Nintendo off guard, it caught retailers off guard, it caught the press off guard, etc. However, those who were the most surprised by the system’s success were the game developers. They couldn’t have imagined that the system would be such a runaway hit. However, while the console was flying off store shelves and racking up a huge install base, developers didn’t know what exactly to do with it. Outside the obvious unique control scheme being a problem, there was also the fact that gamers associated with the Wii were primarily seen as casual gamers. Basically women in their 30s and 40s, middle aged men, and really people in general who aren’t that into games. Most publishers figured the best way to go about this was to release their casual oriented titles on the Wii while releasing their more hardcore title son the Xbox 360 and PS3.
Despite this, there were some developers who attempted a third option. A way to bridge the gap between casual gamers and hardcore ones. During the late 2000s and early 2010s a lot of arcade type games appeared on Nintendo’s console. The thinking was, “well casual gamers and hardcore gamers used to play in the arcades back in the day, why don’t we just make arcade games?”. Thus a lot of arcade games began appearing on the system. Games like NBA Jam, Jumbo Safari, and Tatsunoko vs Capcom were released for the system. It also arguably became the “go to” system for music games such as Guitar Hero, Rock Band, The Michael Jackson Experience, and Just Dance. But the most obvious example of this arcade phenomenon was with light gun games. Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles, Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, Deadspace Extraction, and most famously House of the Dead: Overkill.
But of all the arcade games released on the system, by the best one by far was Sin & Punishment: Star Successor. An unlikely sequel to the cult hit that bombed, the game is a rail shooter in which the player controls the cursor and the X/Y axis of the character as they run along shooting at enemies. It is a very simple premise, but like most games by its developer, Treasure, it is very well done with a ton of chaos. This is a game that starts at a 7 for the prologue level, then rapidly switches to a 10 for the first level, but somehow breaks the dial so the rest of the game is stuck at a 10. The entire pace of the game is so fast and frantic that it gives one little time to breathe. It’s either a constant stream of enemies and bullets in your face, or a huge boss battle…often with a constant stream of bullets in your face. The game is relentless and just does not stop.
This alone would be enough to put it on the list, but the game doesn’t stop there. Unlike most titles in this genre, Sin & Punishment: Star Successor is not a shooting gallery. The environments are very interactive, the camera constantly changes angles, and often the game will switch to different genres such as becoming a side-scrolling shooter or even beat-em-up. The entire thing is a rollercoaster ride.
I can’t really talk about the gameplay without mentioning the control scheme. This is a game that was made for the Wii controls. The Wii Remote and Nunchuck are simply perfect for the game. One just simply points the Wii Remote at the screen to where they want to shoot and presses the trigger. The nunchuck feels nice and his light weight, so one can constantly move the stick and not get tired. There really isn’t a better control scheme for the game. It’s as if one is playing with arcade control hardware.
Presentation wise the game is good. The graphics are detailed, the voice acting is kinda bad (but in a good way), it has a nice artstyle, and the music fits. My only complaint is that the protagonists look very generic. It is a huge step down from the first game which had cool, though very ’90s, looking protagonists. Outside of that I have no complaints about the game, even when I often replay it.
Treasure is a developer that has been on this list multiple times. There is a good reason for that, they are very talented and have quite a cult following. Unfortunately, they also haven’t released a game in any form since 2014. What’s worse is that it was rumored that the studio was done making games. Today, there isn’t a single game that the studio announced. It is very possible that Sin & Punishment: Star Successor was the last retail notable budget game from the well regarded studio. If that is the case, I can’t think of a better release to go out on.
02| Skullgirls: 2nd Encore
Released: April 10th, 2012
Definitive Version: PC (All major OSes); Also on: PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, PS Vita.
I still remember when I first ever found out about Skullgirls. I was enamored by the fact that the developers were making a game with cartoon quality “sprites”. However, I was very distasteful about the game’s art style as well as some of the character’s more…comfortable outfits. I didn’t think much of the game after it released on consoles. It seemed to have waned in popularity. Eventually the game launched a Kickstarter that was funded by fans in order to give the game an updated release on the PC. Wanting to try out another fighting game and being bored of Street Fighter IV I decided to buy Skullgirls on a whim. Little did I know at the time that I would eventually enjoy the game so much and take it so seriously that I would end up actually going to a major fighting game tournament for it.
Why did I end up taking the game so seriously? The answer is because it was worth it. Skullgirls represents everything an ideal fighting game should be. It’s very easy to get into thanks to having one of the most comprehensive tutorials and training modes in a fighting game ever. The characters are all diverse and very balanced so you have a wide array of fighting styles to choose from. Getting skilled at the game is very enjoyable partly due to how smooth the progression is and also partly due to the fact that the more you learn the more you things you can figure out that you can do.
Last but not least, the game contains a small yet very active and friendly community. This is the type of community where players will outright volunteer to help you get better at the game at their own expense for no other reason to want to see you get better at the game. There has been more than one time where players of the game have actively invited me to the game’s training room to show me how to play each character and the game’s fundamentals. Ironically I have done the same with many casual players, I guess it is contagious. This is a huge welcome compared to my previous experience in fighting games where I’d simply get yelled at or made fun of, I’m looking at you Street Fighter.
Skullgirls is a game I went from playing random online matches in my dorm room, to attending online events, to actually attending a tournament because the game is worth it. It is very enjoyable to play, the community is passionate, and the game always offers options to experiment and improve on. Add the fact that the game is balanced to the point where even the highest skill players don’t even look at tiers, and you have the greatest fighting game in existence.
Update: It’s been a while since I started this. The tournament was a blast and was so fun that I no regularly go to locals. I’ve met a lot of people through this game and have had hundreds of hours in playthrough with it. In many ways Skullgirls is a game that has truly affected my life not just in an entertainment aspect, but also a social one as well. This also ignores that this game keeps getting better and better the more I play it and the better I get. I stand by my initial claim that this is the best fighting game of all-time.
01| Half-Life² (includes Episode 1 & Episode 2)
Released: November 16th, 2004
Definitive Version: PC (All major OSes); Also on: PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox.
Every gamer has that one game in their lives that leaves a humongous impression. That game that feels less like you are playing a game and more like you are engaging in an experience that will last with you for a lifetime. The “Star Wars experience” I like to refer to it as. This often comes from releases in the medium that were so polished and so far ahead of their time that there was literally nothing like them. It was as if you were playing a masterpiece from the future. This perfectly describes what it was like playing Half-Life 2 around its mid-2000s release. At the time there was literally nothing like it. No game had such a cinematic experience where “you controlled the player”. No game had such spit polished pacing. No game did such a perfect blend of graphics, art style, writing, and atmosphere. No game incorporated so many game design innovations that relied so much on technical power. And no game certainly did all of the above. That is what made Half-Life 2 such a special game.
Reading the list above, it would seem this game would be classic case of “ good for its time but has aged badly”. However, replaying the game last year I was shocked how well it held up. It wasn’t just the fact that the game’s actual gameplay is still as sharp as ever or that the pacing is still the best the industry has to offer. But the fact that what made the game so incredible over a decade ago still hold up today at nearly the same caliber. The textures may not be the best but the graphics are amazing thanks to the art style and incredibly detailed animation. The cinematic feel of the game is still virtually unrivaled, which can be thanked due to the fact that the game is so excellently directed. The character’s animate well and act natural, the acting is top notch, and there is always something going on so you aren’t bored. But most of all the game has an unparalleled level of detail. Just walking around City 17 is enough to explain the entire situation of the world. Martial Law is intact as you see combine patrol the area and harass citizens. The city is an empty wasteland with the only human life seen are either the oppressive troops or citizens squatting in building fearing for their lives.
That said, the game isn’t completely flawless. There are minor scuffs of the game showing its age. The set pieces, while amazing, aren’t as detailed as they should be and can take me out of the experience as a result. While the gunplay gets the job done and certainly “feels” good, it is definitely a bit on the simplistic side. And the variety of enemies could certainly be improved. However, nothing is flawless. Playing Half-Life 2 today is the video game equivalent of watching on of the movie greats such as Indiana Jones or Star Wars. Sure it has aged in some ways, but for the most part it hasn’t, especially in some things where conventional wisdom says it should have. It’s a testament to the game’s staying powering and showing the game will likely hold its title as one of the industry greats.
Yet despite the game achieving such high standards, Valve managed to strike lightening in a bottle continuously. Releasing the subsequent game as bite sized episodes may have had many fans worried, and while it should have resulted in the game’s decline in quality in retrospect, in reality Episode 1 and 2 are every bit as good as the groundbreaking game they are built upon. While they weren’t technical marvels at their time they still retained the razor sharp pacing and design the previous game maintained. Playing through the games never feel like a chore and there is always something going on that will hold your interest.
However, I feel that Half-Life 2 deserves the number one spot on this list due to two simple facts. The first is what made Half-Life 2 stick out so much was that it was a true “next generation” experience at the time. Prior to Half-Life 2 no game had ever had such tight pacing, immersion, and a quality cinematic experience. Since the game’s release the entire industry has been headed in that direction. It seems that nearly AAA game puts a strong focus on a cinematic experience. Trying to blur the lines between game and film. Yet even in that context nothing has come even within spitting distance of Half-Life 2. Part of the reason is because Half-Life 2 wasn’t supposed to push the medium in a way to blend game and film into one, it was meant to push the medium to see just how far gaming can go in the strengths it excels at such as immersion, interactivity, and of course fun. This is something modern developers should take note of. The second reason is because the game is simply that good. And what better way to end this write up by just stating that as it compresses everything I’ve said into just five words. Half-Life 2 is just that good.