My parents made a huge mistake when I was seven years old. Christmas 1998, after what must’ve been 3 straight years of begging, my parents bought me a Game Boy Color and a copy of Bomber Man under the contingency that it wouldn’t consume my life.
Fewer things have had such a profound impact on my life than the medium of video games. So when we were looking at picking our “Top 10 games of all time.” I just simply couldn’t do it.i I have favorites, sure, but of all time? I opted for our favorites in a particular genre, that’s something I can manage. So of the literally countless video games I’ve played in my 23 years, these are my favorites in their respective genres.
Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG)
I was a little late to the party in this particular genre. I was never really introduced to MMOs until I was given a copy of Guild Wars. Even then, I only asked for that because I saw the “Make Love Not Warcraft” episode of South Park and was like “Yeah! I want that!”ii
Some may call “Cult of the New” for me saying this, but my favorite MMO that I’ve ever played is Final Fantasy XIV. I’m not a largely multiplayer-centric person, but FXIV is just as good as a single player experience as it is a fully featured MMO. The Class system is top notch, and let’s you do whatever you damn well please without having to make 100 new characters. Story wise, it’s probably the best Final Fantasy game in a decade. It works just as well with a controller in hand, if not better, than with a mouse and keyboard.
The community is probably the friendliest in any game I’ve ever played. The combat is exceedingly solid. The game is gorgeous. Plus, it’s the game I got the most free swag from at my first E3. I could write 1000 words iii about how much I love this game alone, but I’ll say you should check it out for yourself. With the new expansion coming out, you won’t be disappointed.
Runners up: Star Trek Online, Dungeons and Dragons Online, Guild Wars 2
Western Role-Playing Game (WRPG) [Single Player Story Based]
There are a hundred games I could put under this genre that affected me in subtle ways, and affected how I look at video games in general. None more-so than Dragon Age: Origins. I popped that game in the Christmas I got it. Hachi machi, I just went for days. DAYS. Is it a little rough around the edges? Totally. The combat felt kinda weird on Xbox 360, and the graphics weren’t top notch or anything, but these were honest to god characters with real motivations. This was a living world with a past and a future. The decisions I made playing the game, and the choices my roommate made were so different, we ended up with RADICALLY different outcomes to the same game. The recent Dragon Age: Inquisition is probably a better game overalliv, but it didn’t stick with me the same way Origins did. Bioware are masters of branching storytelling, and in fewer places is this more apparent than Dragon Age: Origins.
Runners up: Mass Effect 2, Elder Scrolls V Skyrimv, Neverwinter Nights 2.
Japanese Role-Playing Game (JRPG) [Single Player Story Based]
I was introduced to J-RPGs much earlier in my life than W-RPGs, oddly enough. Pokemon was literally the basis for my entire existence from the ages 7 to 13. So purely on a nostalgic level, I have to give this to Pokemon Silver.
Though, as far as games that I can still pick up and come back to every time, all the time and still enjoy them…it’s gotta be Persona 4. I know I’ll get some shit for this choice from some of the J-RPG elitists, but I honestly couldn’t care any less. The Persona collection made the combat deep, but understandable and accessible. The relationship between the Social Links and Persona advancement was sublimely handled. The environments were more varied, more fun to explore, and more interesting than its (also fantastic) predecessor. The story was equal parts touching and hilarious, with very believable and identifiable characters. This is a game I can keep coming back to over and over again and not ever get tired of it.
REALLY CLOSE runners up: Kingdom Hearts 2, Mega Man Battle Network 3, Final Fantasy VI/VIII.
Confession: I’m sickeningly bad at FPSesvi. Very disappointingly bad. Yet there are two games that I come back to time and time again: Bioshock and Titanfall.
Let’s start with Titanfall, because my explanation for this one is much simpler. It’s just the only multiplayer FPS that I truly enjoy every time I pick it up. The verticality of playing as the pilot, mixed with the intensity of playing as a titan just makes every single match a blast. It’s simply the only FPS that I just don’t get tired of. Even a year later, I find myself coming back for more, and no other multiplayer FPS even gets close.
Now Bioshock. My first experience with Bioshock was an odd one. When I was a wee lad, I used to watch a lot of G4-Tech TVvii. (R.I.P old one) One day, I saw an “after dark” episode of Cinematech viii, where they showed teaser ads for games. I saw an ad for Bioshock and it Freaked. Me. The. Fuck . Out.
That drill through the chest at the end. Nightmares. I didn’t pay much attention to the game afterwords. Woe upon me if that had remained the case.
When I was a sophomore in High School, I played it for the first time. I was blown away. The atmosphere, the gameplay, the characters, the writing, the music. I had a kind of “aha” moment. “This is what video games could be. This is video games as art.” To this day, I still have my copy of this game, because it never, ever fails to recapture my imagination. This game takes this spot because Bioshock was my epiphany. This was the game that truly made me appreciate the artistry of video games.
Runners Up: Bioshock Infiniteix, Halo 3, Metroid Prime
There are more technically solid shooters than Dead Space. Hell, there are more technically solid horror third person shooters than Dead Space. But man, do I remember playing Dead Space for the first time.
It was me and a dark room in my college dorm. Three straight night time jam sessions and I finished it, and man, did I love it. The setting, the shooting, the aliens, it all just felt RIGHT to me. That one turret shooter section was kind of annoying, but by the time I finished the game, I knew this was one that would stick with me for a long time.
Also, this trailer gave me chills.
Runners Up: Gears of War 2, Uncharted 2, The Last of Us
The first time I played a Legend of Zelda game, it was Majora’s Mask on the N64. It scared me a lot, but man, was it a good game. Since those days, I have fallen in love with the franchise, but no game more represents the sense of adventure that Zelda instills than Wind Waker.
The open seas in the game was full of endless exploration. Each of the islands on the map had new opportunities to explore and things to find. the cell shaded art style was divisive when it first came out, but definitely, definitely stands up to scrutiny in the modern days. It’s absolutely gorgeous.
The gameplay is certainly solid, combat feels great, and just going around looking for treasure can be as rewarding as continuing the story. It’s the Zelda game that truly nails the feeling of adventure, and the HD version on the Wii U only makes it better. Wind Waker will always have a place in my heart.
Runners Up: Shadow of the Colossus, Shadow of Mordor
Bayonetta 2. I don’t especially know what to say about this one, other than the fact that it took the action genre and flat out perfected it. If you want to know more you can read my thoughts on it in my games of 2014, but man…this is the apex of action games, it just doesn’t get better.
Runners Up: Metal Gear Rising, Lollipop Chainsaw, Devil May Cry 3
Persona 4 Arena: Ultimax
Ruben and I have written at exhausting length about why this is our favorite fighting game series, so go check that out. This is bar none, my favorite though for more reasons than I could easily explain.
Rock Band 3.
Go ahead, ask anyone I knew in high school what I was doing any given day of the week. I played so many hours of rock band, either at parties or on my own, or wherever that I literally wore out an Xbox 360 copy of Rock Band 2 and had to buy a new one.
On a technical level, I think Guitar Hero 3 is the apex of how fun a rhythm game can be…but I’ll be damned if there’s a more fun way to spend an evening than getting a full room of people, hooking up all the instruments, and then spending an entire evening drinking and rocking. There are few games that have been such a tremendous presence in my social life. Literally every single party I went to in high school (and most of them in college) Rock Band was a major part of it. Extra points for that one time Ruben, Mike and I got super sloshedx, bought the DLC for “Call me Maybe” and played it three times in a row. We all sang.
Also bonus points for how the game handled DLC, it’s probably one of the best of all time.
Runners Up: Fantasia: Music Evolved, Guitar Hero 3, DJ Hero 2
Also, because this exists.
(WARNING: Mildly offensive and from my high school days. )
Pokemon Puzzle Challenge
I played too many hours of this game on the Game Boy Color during car trips, and by extension the N64 (Pokemon Puzzle League). I still see the shifting shapes of clearing 3’s 4’s and 5’s in my mind…It’s so ingrained in my subconscious that one time a friend of mine bought the game as a joke and challenged me. I annihilated him at it without even thinking, just muscle memory. It’s like the activation word for my secret Pokemon Puzzle Challenge spy training was said and I went into auto mode. THAT’S how ingrained in my subconscious that puzzle game is.
So…who wants to hit up some Pokemon Puzzle League?
It’s confession time 2.0. When I was in late-elementary school/early junior high school, I was one of those kids. You know the ones, they draw really bad Sonic the Hedgehog fan-artxi, run around with their arms behind their back like a goon, and generally just make you uncomfortable. One game did that to me: Sonic Adventure 2: Battle.
To this day, SA2 and its predecessor Sonic Adventure are just my favorite platformers out there…just without all of the fan-art and DeviantArt pages. The camera is garbage, the voice acting…exists, and the Tails stages feel REALLY out of place. But you know what? That’s why I love the games so damn much. What is done right feels so, so right. To this day, I’ll dip back in once in a while just to play with the ol’ Chaos xiixiiixiv and relive City Escape.
Runners Up: Super Mario Galaxy, Rayman Legends, Donkey Kong 64
When most people think of Skateboarding games, they default to the Tony Hawk series. Hell, THPS1 was one of the first games I ever had on the N64. But the game that I’ll always remember as my premier sports experience is Skate 2.
I tried to skateboard at one point in my life, but I was miserable at it. Especially compared to my younger brother, who still skates every day of his life, and he’s graduating college this year. xv Despite this, skateboarding videos always fascinated mexvixvii. Hell, Lakai’s Fully Flared is just a skate video, and it’s still one of the most well directed movies I’ve seen in a long while.
THAT’S why I like Skate 2 so much. It’s not necessarily an overblown parody of a skateboarding lifestyle xviiixix it’s just about chilling, skating, and enjoying the city. Pulling off tricks was more than just mashing buttons, it took finesse using the right stick, and the city of San Vanalona was exceptionally well designed for what it was doing.
One thing I especially appreciated was the sheer number of pro skaters they signed on, and not just in appearing roles, but as major characters who talked to you. Not in a “world destruction tour” kind of way, but in a “let’s chill and go skate” kind of way. There’s no better way to experience skating than in Skate 2.
Plus the opening cinematic is still one of the best things I’ve ever seen in a video game.
The Skate 3 one is even better for that matter.
Runners Up: Skate 3, SSX, SSX 3
Fire Emblem is great. Warhammer 40k Dawn of War is great. But there’s one strategy game that will always have a very special place in my heart: Final Fantasy Tactics Advancexxxxi. I don’t know where a lot of my old GBA games are, but I sure as hell know where my copy of FFTA is. With an ingenious ability learning system, a great class system, rule cards, Totema summons, and so much more, there’s so much depth to this game that seems so simple on the surface.
Not to mention that even for the GBA, the game is gorgeous and has superb music. Even the story of the game is both original and touching in ways that are unexpected for a Final Fantasy game. Of all the strategy games in my collection, this is the one that sticks out to me the most, and the one I still treasure to this day.
Runners Up: Shin Megami Tensei Devil Survivor 2, Civilization 5xxii, Fire Emblem: Awakening
I love racing games. I love the feeling of getting behind the wheel and just going for it. That’s why, like my FPS category, I’m splitting this into two separate styles of racing game: Arcade and Simulation.
My favorite arcade racer of all time, hands down, is Need for Speed Underground 2. xxiii I’m certainly not alone in this, of all of the games people want EA to remake, this is always on the list somewhere. What’s not to love? It was one of the first truly open-world racing games. The cars were fast, the car customization was wild, and the races were varied enough to keep interest all the way until the end. I don’t think a game like this would hold up today, it’s way too…early 2000s…in its sensibilities. But man, while it lasted was it a blast to play.
On the Simulation end, you just can’t beat Gran Turismo 4. In recent years, I’ve really fallen in love with the Forza Motorsport games, but the first time I played GT4, I was blown away. It was my first real run in with a Sim racer, and man I couldn’t believe my eyes. It’s like every car I could have ever conceived of was in that game. The racing was tight and realistic, the cars were gorgeous, and it gave me the option to drive a Lancer Evolution VI, one of my favorite (yet, most obscure) cars of all time. It’s such a well structured game, and it’s the sim racer that I’ll cherish forever.
Well, that’s my list. I know there are genres on there we either didn’t think of, of just didn’t have room for, so if you have your own thoughts or genres to ask about, go ahead and leave a comment! This list is by no means comprehensive, there’s so many more games in each of these genres that I just love, but didn’t mention. It would just be impossible. I had a lot of trouble picking some of these, and even now I’m thinking of games that I love, but maybe didn’t think of.
In writing this list, though, it’s great to remember why it is I love all of these games so much. It really speaks to gaming as a hobby that there’s just so much to love, and I truly am thankful for that Game Boy Color I got back in 1998 because in the end, it has brought me so much joy.