After last week I feel that I should come back with a more positive post and seeing as I need to do this for my application to Riot, I figure might as well.
First and foremost, these are console games I feel have had amazing overall designs. By that I mean the game play, the progression, the feedback…you know, system stuff, the things that made the game fun to play. I’ll admit that a fair number of these games might have story elements that feel dated or cliche’ now, but that’s not what I’m looking at. There may be spoilers, but if you haven’t played some of these games by now, you have no right to complain.
I realize posting this will open me up to all sorts of angst, but here it is:
I start out my top ten with a game that, much like me, doesn’t do any one particular thing well, but instead focuses its disparate aspects into something new and horribly addictive. Borderlands took the fast paced multiplayer lootfest dungeon crawling of Diablo 2 and married it to the run and gun circle strafe mechanics of 90’s shooters. The ceremony was unruly, with outlandish characters in attendance and an attitude that it didn’t care what you thought of it, Borderlands proved you can teach an old dog new tricks. I eagerly await the second installment with its promised more of everything.
9. Blazblue: Continuum Shift
I’m not a very good player at fighting games, but there’s something about Arc System Works’ BalzBlue that makes it easy for me to hold my own. Add in a balanced cast of very different characters, the mind-blowing HD sprite based visuals, an amazing soundtrack by the great Daisuke Ishawatari, and an over the top all out combat mindset and this game comes out head-and-shoulders above others of the genre.
7. Mega Man X
I wish every game did as good a job about teaching you to play the game by showing as the Mega Man series. In just the opening level alone, without saying anything to you, the game conveys all of the important concepts you need to play in a way that lets you learn naturally. It forges new expectations in a way that gives you time to react, it doesn’t use cheep tricks to defeat you. Yes, Mega Man X is hard–I’m not saying it isn’t–but its hard in a way that builds with an expectation that you’ve been paying attention and can now handle the both of the enemies you fought alone just a few seconds ago.
7. Dark Souls
In contrast to Mega Man X and its expectation setting, Dark Souls teaches by punishment and encourages experimentation. Dark Souls goes out of its way to let you know if you’re not a skilled player, you will die. A lot. But from this harsh expectation grows a skill set honed to razor’s edge and coupled with the oppressive atmosphere, you become an island of one. Each new enemy is a chance to test your instincts and skills. Each boss you out play feels like a thrilling accomplishment, each knight you defeat, a worthy foe. Dark Souls might be hard, but it builds character in a way that numbers in a menu can’t.
Ultimately, both games tie because they take two different approaches to the same end. I can’t really pick one to be the better, and they both belong on the list.
6. Resident Evil 4
I’m a sucker for survival horror and really this could just as easily be Silent Hill 2, but the sheer amount of time I’ve spent playing RE4 gives it the slot. While the story was a bit campy, the gameplay was outstanding and rewarded players who got good at the system. While I knew much of the back story for the series, I didn’t feel like the plot relied heavily on the source material which, along with the control redesign, made the game a great place to pick up the series.
5. Metroid Prime
Retro’s first contribution to the Metroid Franchise on the Gamecube was a stunning example of platforming and exploration working in a 3D environment. On top of the solid gameplay, the environment and atmosphere made the world of Talon IV come alive and really conveyed the feeling of a once might civilization being over taken by nature gone wrong.
4. Phantasy Star Online
I’m likely committing a sin by saying this, but all things considered I prefer PSO over Diablo 2. Yes, the story was weaker and the gameplay could be frustrating, but I still prefer the space age dungeon crawling loot fest over the dark fantasy one. There were just so many little nuanced things, like being able to consistently land the chain attacks or animation canceling to throw spells faster, that rewarded learning the game.
3. Legend Of Zelda: Link to the Past
Many point to Ocarina of Time as the ultimate Zelda, but Link to the Past will always be my number one. Ocarina is, at a design level, just a much more cinematic 3D Link to the Past. All of the things that come to mind when people think Zelda were at their best in Link to the Past. The game’s scale, the dungeon design, the boss fights, and the hoard of items were nearly flawless and still stand up to modern day scrutiny.
2. Final Fantasy 8
A controversial favorite, I love Eight over all other Final Fantasies because of how well the game worked—though that’s not to dismiss the cast or the story, but the system was what made the game for me. Everything about it was integrated, each part feeding into another and rewarding the player for taking on all the game had to offer. I feel it gets knocked by many because the level system was counter intuitive, but it rewarded intelligent play and fueled the integration that the game thrived on. Card enemies and don’t get experience, play the card game to get more cards, convert cards into items, use items to learn magic or power up GFs, be better equipped than monsters and bosses win the game. Even so, the game does its best to compete, even with an optimal run, the bosses are challenging and the game holds its own. Sure you could’ve just powered through the game using GF’s to kill everything, but there is so much more there just under the surface.
1. Secret of Mana
My favorite game from Square and personally the best game I’ve ever played. The combat was tight and intuitive, hitting monsters felt good, fighting bosses felt challenging and rewarding, the story was phenomenal, and the art was stunning. The dungeons were long and challenging. The monster types worked to complement each other and the weapon system let you pick a play style you felt comfortable with. On top of that was the three, yes three, player co-op. Everything that I’ve ever wanted in a game was in Secret of Mana, making it a something of a de facto measuring stick. I feel that today’s Action RPGs, from Skyrim to Tales of Graces, all fall short of what this SNES gem did in ’93.
Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3, Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo, and of course, Psychonauts