My sister is my best friend, and we like to exchange top 10 lists. Of everything. We’ve done the basics, (movies) to the weirdly specific (top ten most romantic songs without the word “love” in the title). The one we’re on currently is top ten favorite video games, and this one I feel so strongly about it requires a long fleshed out blog post. Hope you enjoy.
Honorable Mentions — Final Fantasy X, Super Smash Bros, Sly Cooper, Warcraft III, Mass Effect, Mario Kart, Metroid Prime, Fallout 4, Chrono Trigger, Persona 4, Pokemon GO!, Marvel’s Spider-Man, I am Setsuna, Horizon Zero Dawn, Fire Emblem, Little Nightmares
10.) Humongous Entertainment, The MECC, and the Learning Company
This is fudging it a bit considering that these companies made a bunch of games, but I simply cannot mention one without the others, and in my mind they’re all one big awesome game. These are the ones that started it all–the educational video games that my parents let myself and my siblings play from the very beginning. If you grew up in the 90’s and never played Oregon Trail, I’m sorry for you loss. Their spinoffs Amazon and Yukon Trail were just as good, and I must’ve played Putt-Putt Saves the Zoo and Pajama Sam 3: You Are What You Eat From Your Head to Your Feet dozens of times, and Super Solvers: Mission T.H.I.N.K. is a great adventure full of mini games in which you have to collect board game tiles in order to beat the nefarious villain.
These games made learning fun, and although they were short, they were very sweet, and opened up my mind to the magnificent world of gaming.
9- Pokémon Blue
After the educational games that I devoured on the PC, Pokemon Blue was the next video game I ever played. But the emotional connection goes beyond that. The Gameboy Color along with Blue was a gift from my late grandmother, Memé. I have very fond memories of her, even though those memories are few since she passed when I was still young. I don’t think my mom was very happy with the gift, but it opened my mind to a different kind of storytelling and adventure, and I was able to supplement my love for the cards and the tv show with a fun, all encompassing RPG that I still revisit to this day. Not to mention that I am still playing Pokemon Sword, the new one for the Nintendo Switch. Anyone want to help complete my PokéDex?
8- Batman: Arkham
Batman has fascinated me ever since I discovered his 10 cent comics in the corner of a hobby store when I was a kid, and he will always be one of my all time favorite fictional characters. I have consumed every Batman, comic, game, show, and movie that I can, and I am familiar with every one of his adaptive iterations. Okay, that’s hyperbolic, but I’ve seen all 16 films released since the 40’s, every television show (yes, even the Batman/Tarzan Adventure Hour from the 70’s), read as much of the comics as the internet and my budget for comics allows, and played every major video game title that he is heavily featured in (with the exception of the VR one). Safe to say, I love a flawed superhero who doesn’t have a true super power. Yes, he has his privilege and immense wealth to help him overcome that, but make no mistake, Batman is a complicated and compelling character worthy of re-exploring for generations to come.
The Arkham games are exceptional, boasting a compelling story and more than just one major villain per game. The stealth and combat gameplay elements fit the Bat Detective’s personality perfectly, and the stellar voice acting (Mark Hamill is the best Joker, fight me) makes for an amazing and immersive storytelling experience.
7- Bioshock Trilogy
I had a lot of trouble trying to decide which first person shooter (FPS) game to put on this list, and after narrowing it down to Metroid Prime, Fallout 4, and Bioshock, I decided to go with the latter based on the better narrative. Not only is the Bioshock franchise made up of story centered, ambitious FPS’s that explore wholly original environments such as a city built at the bottom of the ocean, but they deliver maybe the best twists in video game history.
The twists though….the twists I tell you! They are spectacular. I won’t dissect them here as this is a list blog post and not an analysis, but one day I shall. Just know that it is “fantastic fiction: believability enough that you’re living the moment. Rapture might be a fantastical backdrop, but BioShock‘s most dramatic instance of deadly intimacy felt more palpable than any plot twist from the world of film.”
6- Shadow of the Colossus
15 minutes into this game I realized two things: SotC is the most unique game I have ever played, and that I must discover and play it all. So after experiencing this truly remarkable work of art and beating it once, I promptly played it another half dozen times. This is one of the first games that I achieved platinum status on, meaning I unlocked every single one of its trophies on the PS 4. I speed ran it, I beat it on hard, I unlocked all special items, I found every hidden stat building lizard, and I discovered all the little hidden gems in the game’s magnificent world that had been inaccessible to my weaker character in previous playthroughs. In the gaming community, this is what is known as “completionist.” And holy hell, what ride.
Doing my best not to spoil this must-play experience, SotC is simply 16 boss fights / puzzles. You find a Colossus and then you proceed to puzzle out how to bring it down, all for the remote possibility of reviving your lost love. The game’s themes of death, rebirth, love and futility are immersive and powerful, setting up a finale and emotional payoff that is nothing short of phenomenal. Along the way the player is treated to some of the most breathtaking art direction in any video game, ever. I never had the privilege to play this masterpiece in 2005, but thank the aeons that it was given an HD remake and rereleased and that I was blessed to experience it.
If you’re looking for a deeper analysis with spoilers, I would highly recommend this fellow blogger’s post.
5- The Last of Us
If the stereotypes that video games are just violent pointless shooters or mindless platformers with no backbone are still prevalent, then I’m at a loss. Video games have evolved into diverse and complex works of art rivaling books, movies, television, and hell, even podcasts. If you think Tetris and Call of Duty is all that video games are, you are sorely mistaken.
In 2013, the zombie genre was oversaturated. The Walking Dead and bad zombie games like Dead Island added nothing new to the genre, and frankly, I had no interest in The Last of Us when it was released. That changed with the reviews and word of mouth and the consensus that The Last of Us was one of the greatest games of all time, if not the best.
Not wanting to play the game but experience the story, my sister recently watched a playthrough on YouTube and became attached to the characters. She loved the game and proceeded to devour any video essay available. We have spent a few hours ourselves discussing it. Having still seen aspects of gameplay my sister was even more convinced that she never wanted to play the game because of how terrifying it is, and that’s not what makes this game a classic anyway. It’s the relationship between the two main characters, Joel and Ellie. Their dynamic is staggering and the emotional journey they go on creates for the most compelling character development in any game this past decade. Furthermore, it sets up an ending that is, quite frankly, polarizing and utterly thought provoking. I revisit The Last of Us often, and I still have meaningful discussions about it with friends. I even spent an entire eight hour work shift telling its story and discussing it. No game in the 2010’s told a better story, or spurred debates about player agency and ethical quandaries.
After I played Pokemon Blue on my Game Boy color, I proceeded to move on to Generation II Silver, Gold, and Crystal. And while those games mean a lot to me, it was Zelda Oracle of Ages and Seasons that really stick with me. The top-down, dungeon crawling, insane boss battles were mesmerizing.
The newest game, Breath of the Wild, would top this list if the only criteria were open world exploring and wonderment. I wish I could adequately describe what it is like to play a Zelda game for the first time. Twilight Princess introduced gameplay as a wolf, Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask made the N64 a must have console, and Link to the Past made everything bad about Ages and Seasons better. The original and remake of Link’s Awakening are near perfect games, complete with their own ethical philosophical dilemma. The only flaw these games really have is character development, but I would argue there is no such thing as a bad Zelda game, and given the amount of titles, that is astonishing.
BREATH. JUST BREATHE.
Whew. Enter the top three. These games are so impactful and so powerfully emotional that I have trouble seeing them nudged politely off the podium. And they would step down humbly, because these games have personality, sensitivity, and are the standard. I will cherish them always.
Journey. Journey from point A to point B. You have two moves: jump, and sing/play a short musical note. There are variations, but really, that is it. You may sporadically encounter one other player, and if you do the only communication you can use is play your note and intertwine it with theirs–that is, should they reciprocate and offer you their musical collaboration, or even stick with you during the pilgrimage.
This is the only game on the list that I believe is 100 percent accessible. Anyone can pick it up and play it in a couple of hours, even if you have never played a video game before.
A few days ago, I played Journey yet again. I remember every play through and I weep every time, but this one was different. Early into the game I met another brilliantly robed character–meaning we had both completed the game before. We stuck along the path, occasionally getting separated, but always singing our musical note and finding each other again. I thought that I might know all the secrets, but at the very end, my companion showed me a trick, or perhaps a view, or perhaps a musical harmony. Together we continued to the finale, all the while playing our music, knowing that this was another unique and singular pilgrimage, but certainly not our last.
Madeline is struggling. She is dropped off with no context at the base of Celeste, for she has decided to scale the mountain and reach its summit. She will platform and learn the mountain’s language, and overcome all obstacles in her way.
In climbing, the crux is defined as the point of extreme difficulty. There are a million of these in Celeste, making it supremely difficult, borderline infuriating, and nigh impossible. But it is not impossible, and that is the beauty of it. Madeline suffers from anxiety and depression, and Celeste Mountain is the allegory. The main story, while challenging, is a pleasure to play, each screen and level a lesson in ultimate catharsis. The game invites you to learn from your deaths, and the time in between trials is so minuscule that it makes the death mechanic genius. You learn and understand immediately what it was you did wrong, or what route on the wall you need to take, and how to overcome.
Like Journey, Celeste is a game about departing from point A and arriving at point B. Unlike Journey, however, your demon self is there, infusing your quest with doubt and anxiety. I warn you that this is a spoiler, but when Madeline and her evil self come to terms with themselves, the result is brilliant and therapeutic. Celeste’s trials become somehow more difficult after that, but no matter. You are whole.
1- Chrono Cross
I have written extensively about this game on my blog, so here is a link addressing why this is my favorite game of all time.
I have a tattoo referencing this game, and Chrono Cross will likely forever be the best. If you do not feel like reading the entire blog post linked above, I offer up this final quote:
We experienced the journey, made the memories, explored our identity, and at the end come out with a better understanding of ourselves.
Which makes Kid’s final words so beautiful, so emotional, so full of unconditional love.
“Thanks for being born you…”