Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Critical Order's Top 10 Video Games of All Time

The hardest list I will ever make.

From as long as I can remember, I have been a gamer. I remember being a little kid and playing Super Mario Bros and Duck Hunt on an NES, never fully understanding how to play either of them. For nearly my entire life, I have been enraptured by video games and what they are capable of. It's not even a hyperbole when I say that if it wasn't for video games, I would be a very different person than I am. Even more so, video games are something that I hold near and dear to me. They can bring people together, create fantastic memories, pass the time, and just brighten people up when they're having a bad day, or make them feel melancholy and reflective. Video games are capable of a whole spectrum of emotions, and I refuse to tolerate people that shrug the entire medium off without even trying one.

So, as it turns out, Gamefaqs, a video game website, is currently hosting their third "Best. Game. Ever." tournament, a five year tradition where members vote for what the community thinks is the best game ever. For the past two competitions, the winners have been Ocarina of Time and Final Fantasy VII, both incredibly good games that deserve all the praise that they've received. But they weren't MY favorite game of all time. They were the communities. So, I've decided that I should make my own Top 10... and then I hit a snag.

In making this list, I've actually made it a Top 30 by accident. I simply could not narrow all of my favorite games down into a list of 10. It was, quite literally, impossible. It's impossible to compare games from different genres, different consoles, and different generations on an equal playing field, and it all came down to personal preference. Even then, was it really just personal preference? Some games I played very recently and held them in higher regard to games that I haven't played in a while but are still fantastic games. So, can they really be called my favorite games if I'm just basing them off my current feelings?

I spent literal weeks trying to comb through the hundreds of games that I've played in my lifetime, and I narrowed them down to my favorites from each console, then ranked them on a scale of six categories; Plot, Aesthetic, Sound, Gameplay, Length, and Difficulty. These six I feel are the best ways for me to personally judge a game and its merits, while also taking into account my nostalgia for a game. So, it went from 30 to a painful 10, but I finally have a list.

Now I want you to keep in mind that these are just my own personal favorite video games. If you like other games more than these, more power to you! And if you think this list is completely wrong, good for you as well! But these are the games that I feel define me as a gamer. When someone asks me what games have made me the man I am today, these are the games I would point to without any doubt in my mind. Am I probably gonna want to make changes to this list later on? Probably. That's just the nature of making a favorites list. But as of this moment, in this frame of mind, with all of the games in existence that I have played, these are my personal favorite games.

But because it's me, before we actually progress to the list, I want to briefly just mention a few games that are simply fantastic that I adore, but for one reason or another did not make this list. If I could, then I would put Digimon World, Sonic Adventure 2, One Piece: Unlimited Adventure, Kid Icarus Uprising, and Mega Man X4 on this list, but consider those my honorable mentions. And so, here we go. My personal Top 10 Favorite Video Games of All Time.

#10: Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (2009: Wii, PS2, PSP)
So, I'm fully aware that Shattered Memories is THE black sheep of the franchise. Hell, whenever anyone wants to talk about Silent Hill, it all leads back to Silent Hill 2 and ends at Silent Hill 2. Personally though, I never found Silent Hill 2 as engrossing as Shattered Memories. It's still a fantastic game, but Shattered Memories hit me in a way I did not expect it to.

I went into a lot of detail about this game in my Top 10 Horror Games, where it tied with the original Silent Hill, but I tried incredibly hard to keep my feelings about the game under wraps and focus on the horror. But the horror aspect is probably the least interesting thinga bout the game to me. In essence, I love Shattered Memories because it has the single best story I've seen in a video game. The Silent Hill series has always had good stories (except for the original, 0rigins, and arguably Downpour), but they've always had a solid atmosphere and mood to them. Shattered Memories subverts the series traditions and instead opts for a story that has player input and takes its player on an adventure until the very last scene. You can develop theories about what's happening, why things are happening, and how many of the strange events make sense, but it's all impeccably hidden until it hits you like a slap to the face in the last scene. And my God, that last scene is one of the most gut wrenching an devastating scenes in a video game.

Unlike the other games in the series, Shattered Memories puts a strong focus on ice and the color blue as motifs used constantly in the game. The Other World is always frozen, dark, blue, and snow present in nearly every scene in this game. For nearly every other version of the Other World, it's always been covered in grime, steel, and decay. While those are certainly unnerving, it's the ice and emptiness of the game that really gets to me as a player. This is a game that makes you feel completely and utterly alone, which is an idea that isn't explored often in games. Yes, you can play games like Journey or Shadow of the Colossus where your character is alone for most of the time, but the isolation isn't oppressive. It doesn't make you feel paranoid or unnerved. It's merely just a part of their games. Shattered Memories loves to make you feel empty and weak, which makes the atmosphere all the more chilling. Special mention goes to Akira Yamaoka for his stellar last soundtrack in the franchise. Every track feels empty and will actually make you feel colder just listening to it.

The game's only about 8 hours long if you take your time, but with multiple endings and multiple ways to play through the story, it's a game that 100% should be experienced by fans of good story telling.

#9: Donkey Kong 64 (1999: N64, Wii U)
Even though this list just started, I'm pretty aware that this list is going to be full of games that people like, but it may be hard to understand why I love. Donkey Kong 64 is the primordial example of the "Collect-a-thon" style of platformers, where you jumped around to collect a huge variety of items to advance the game. DK64 has so many objects to collect that it won a Guinness World Record for the most collectibles in a video game.

I think what makes DK64 stand out to me is the fact that even though the game makes you play through the same levels five times, they're still fantastic levels and are played completely differently each time. You can play as five Kongs; Donkey, Diddy, Tiny, Lanky, and Chunky, but all of them have different moves, strengths, speeds, and abilities. Lanky's levels are more about speed and puzzles, Chunky's are about fighting, Tiny is usually platforming, and other distinctive treats that make each character unique. Even though they all go to the same locations, they have sections that only a specific Kong can reach and will often require the whole family to solve one particular puzzle. This game is so huge and packed with so much content that I still have not 100% beat this game. This is a game you can beat pretty quickly, requiring only 100 Golden Bananas to beat, but that still leaves another 100 to collect, effectively doubling your play time.

True story; it took me 8 years to actually beat this game. When I first got it, I played through every level and beat every boss (best level is Frantic Factory), and when I finally reach Hideout Helm, the final level, it was a crazy race to the end to get the last key. The only problem was that it required two specific coins to open the last door; the Nintendo Coin and the Rareware Coin.

The Rareware Coin was easy to get, but the Nintendo Coin was impossible for 5 year old me to get. You had to beat the original Donkey Kong twice, each with only one life. There was nothing harder for the little kid version of me, so I gave up playing the game. It wasn't until the mid 2000's, probably 2007, that I got home from school one day and saw that my brother got the Nintendo Coin and was about to face the final boss. It took 8 years, but we finally saw the credits and beat K. Rool's face in with Chunky Kong. I can ace through the game now, but it's one of those games that's so big, I just want to keep exploring and eventually fully complete the game just to say I did.

#8: Pokemon Gold/Silver (2000: GBC)
I always, for some strange reason, have the desire to play Pokemon Gold/Silver every year when Spring comes around. I can't accurately explain why, but I always just get this feeling that playing a Gen II Pokemon game is exactly the way to usher in the warmth and sunlight of the new season. I'm kind of weird like that.

Pokemon Gold/Silver are the absolute best games int he entire franchise not just for their advancements for the series, but because of how they firmly cemented Pokemania in the States. I played the original Red/Blue before I played Gold/Silver, but they never really did anything for me. They were alright games, but I just never felt like Pokemon blew my world wide open. These games, however, showed me just how amazing Pokemon could be and why it was so fun to catch them all (I never caught them all...)

Gen II did more to advance the series fundamentally than any other game before and after it. It introduced Special Attack and Special Defense as stats instead of an all around generic "Special" stat. It introduced Dark and Steel type Pokemon to balance the game. It added color and and a clock that ran off an internal battery to the game. It had two completely different regions! No matter which way you slice it, there was just so much content in Gold/Silver and so much of an improvement over the original games that I was frothing at the mouth when this game came out.

Unlike so many other Pokemon games, what made me fall in love with the game was that it put a much stronger emphasis on strategy than level grinding, a problem that I think the series has always had. Everyone remembers Whitney's Miltank and coming up with different strategies to fight it, but how about Bugsy and his Scyther's Fury Cutter? Or Morty and his team of Dream Eater Gengars? Plus the majority of gym leaders had non traditional types, so you had to experiment around to figure out what they were even weak against. Yes the Champion's strongest Pokemon was level 50, but it made the game a lot more balanced and flow at a much easier pace. You could catch different Pokemon and not spend an eternity trying to get them to the same level as the rest of your team. Everything felt like it was smoother and easier, with no major imbalancing like the over abundance of Water Pokemon in Gen III, the lack of Fire Pokemon in Gen IV, or the constant detractions for storyline missions in Gen VI.

Fun fact: back in my freshman year of college, my entire building was snowed in due to a bad blizzard. So about a dozen or so people went into our building's common room and for hours, we just sat and played different versions of Pokemon. I was doing a Nuzlocke of White, but even then, when I was having a fantastic time with everyone talking about Pokemon, I couldn't contain my love for Gen II and Gold/Silver.

#7: Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem (2002: GC)
When I first got my GameCube, I was a little kid, and my mom made sure that I didn't play Luigi's Mansion for too long because I may have gotten scared by it. Instead, I played a ton of Sonic Adventure 2 Battle and loved that game. It wasn't until 2012 that I actually got Eternal Darkness, but even then, I for some reason keep thinking back to my mom telling me not to play it for o long cause I may get scared by it! I don't know why, but it's funny things like that that creep into my mind when playing games.

So... Eternal Darkness. If there's one thing about video games that I really enjoy, it's a game that doesn't overstay its welcome. I can absolutely love a game for like the first ten hours or so, but the longer the games goes on, the harder it is for me to continue the game when it doesn't have anything to keep me going. A lot of games I love were cut from this list because I felt like they were just too long adn stretched the gameplay out too thin. There wasn't much for me to grab on to in the later parts of the game that I didn't already see before. Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, always kept me on my toes and always switched up the gameplay.

Every chapter had you play as a different character, each with their own stats. Some were stronger, some were weaker, some were fast, some had a lot of health, lot of magic, or a lot of sanity. Every chapter felt like a new challenge even though it took place mostly in four locations. But it changed those locations up a bit each time and made me think what changed in each level. Plus because the game takes place over centuries, you see how each level has adapted to the times. My favorite level in the game, the Amien's Cathedral, has you returning to it during the Inquisition, as a messenger for Charlemange, and during World War I, and each visit has you go deeper into the bowels of the Chruch to see what's really inside of it.

The insanity effects, though nothing spectacular today, are still a really cool sight to behold and will still get me every now and then. There's nothing like walking into a room with a swarm of enemies, only for the game to tell you it was a lie. Or to save your game only for it to say that you save file was corrupted. Now THAT's how yous crew with a gamer; tell him his save file is lost!

It's not a hard game, but the story is so eloquently told and told in such a unique way that I can't help but come back to it. I'm a sucker for a good story in a video game, and Eternal Darkness has one of the best stories that no one has experienced. It's only on the GameCube, so hunt it down and see why this game kicks so much ass.

#6: Final Fantasy VII (1997: PS1, PSN)
Just a few days ago, a trailer dropped for the remake of Final Fantasy VII, and after watching it, while I don't hate what I've seen, I don't think I"m in love with it either.

The remake just looks so joyless and the trailer takes the game so seriously that it's hard for me to remember all of the original fond memories I've had with this game. Just based on the trailer, I can't imagine trying to do the cross dressing scene with Cloud, or the first encounter with Yuffie, or anything to do with Palmer. The remake, as of right now, has forgotten what made Final Fantasy VII so enduring and what many people call the greatest game ever made. And don't even get me started on the change to the actual combat system that's present, making it an action RPG instead of a turn based RPG.

What made VII so good was how anyone could get into the game and understand it. The materia system was easy to learn and open to a plethora of depth and customization. Plus it was seamless and easily to change materia from one character to another. The ATB (Active Time Battles) were dynamic and kept me always engaged in the action that was happening. Not only that, but even though the graphics weren't that great, the colors and pre rendered visuals are still a sight to behold and make the game pop out much more than Final Fantasy VIII or IX did. There was life, energy, and fun put into nearly every scene in this game.

That's not to say there weren't any dramatic moments in VII, because some of the best scenes in the game were emotional and dramatic scenes. How about when Barret meets Dyne in Coral? Or Diamond Weapon attacking Midgar? Or Nibelheim? Or Cloud going through a major self discovery in his mind? Or Aerith's death? All of those scenes were fantastic and still stay in my mind. When I see the remake, I just can't imagine the game stirring up those same feelings and emotions within me.

Final Fantasy VII was a game where the central themes were relating to reincarnation and how Hironobu Sakaguchi was coping with the death of his mother and what that meant to him. Final Fantasy VII Remake is Tetsuya Nomura remaking the greatest game ever made and highlighting only the good bits hat people remember, but not the emotional moments that resonated with people. I know this whole entry was pretty much me breaking down a trailer for a remake that I'm not at all excited about, but there's a reason why my reaction is as strong as it is. I love Final Fantasy VII with all my heart, and I want the best for it. When I saw the remake, I didn't see Final Fantasy VII; I saw Final Hallway VII: Advent Children Edition.

#5: Paper Mario (2000: N64, Wii, Wii U)
Paper Mario is one of those video games that you forget how much you love it until you actual play through it again. Do you ever have one of those? Those games that are always in the back of your head that you remember as being good games, but you don't quite remember why you love it so much. Then when you actually sit down and play it again, it all comes flooding back to you and you realize you don't just like the game, but you love it.

Paper Mario is that game for me.

I remember getting this game back when I was a kid and enjoying it a lot as my first RPG, but I never really gave it the light of day until I went back as an adult and played through it. Looking back, it still doesn't look like any other game out there, and even in comparison to the brighter and more polished Paper Mario games, I will still always prefer the clunkier, but charming visuals of the original. Every level was memorable for different reasons and had some of the best bosses I've played in a video game. Each boss was unique and offered their own challenge, but you never felt like you were unprepared to fight them. You always had exactly what you needed, and while I won't say that games are hard, they're not exactly the easiest either.

It's a simple little RPG that did remarkably well for what it was and is still looked back fondly on to this day. I know a lot more people are clamoring for a true Paper Mario sequel than they are a Mario & Luigi sequel or even a Super Mario RPG sequel. There's just something so simple and satisfying about the diorama design, the variety of enemies, the secret bosses, and the fact that you can beat this game in a pretty fair amount of time. I will never understand how some people can adore an RPG that's several dozen hours long that doesn't have a full driving story and is instead reliant solely on its side quests. Paper Mario has a lot of sidequests, but they're extras and don't detract from the main, overall game. They're merely there to enhance the game for what it is.

I say that Paper Mario is better than Final Fantasy VII based mostly on nostalgia, but also because I think that Paper Mario is just a much more interesting and fun game to play through. Simple as that.

#4: Bayonetta 2 (2014: Wii U)
Like the last time I talked about Bayonetta 2, the only way I could describe how good it was was to show how absolutely insane it was. I showed a half angel, half demon dressed as Santa Claus driving a car up the wall of a building in NYC. I showed a half naked woman with the power to turn her hair into demons throw an immortal deity into the God of the Underworld's mouth while he's flying through the air naked at several hundred miles per hour. That insanity it why I love Bayonetta 2 so much, and the polish applied to the game makes it the best action game I've ever played.

Yeah... that's all I have to say. Just experience it for yourself and see just how jaw-droppingly awesome this game is.

#3: Skies of Arcadia (2000; Dreamcast, GC)
I don't think I can accurately state how much I love the world of Skies of Arcadia. I really don't. This is a game where you control a band of sky pirates as they fly around the world, collecting treasure, and foiling an evil military empire. There is nothing I enjoy more than sailing around in a battleship with my own pirate crew and laying waste to enemies as I plunder the skies for discoveries and fight giant flying squids. There is so much creativity and freedom in this game that I can't handle it.

I almost wish this game had sequels and was a much larger hit than it was, because we need more RPG's like this in the world. In my opinion, RPG's are my second favorite video game genre just because of how much you can do in one game, the strategic gameplay associated with the genre, the often experimental setting and aesthetic, and of course, the sensation of leveling up your characters and becoming a badass. Here, you can be a badass pirate. Why are there not more games about being pirates???

The Dreamcast was a console that barely anyone played, yet it holds a special place in gamer's hearts. For me, while I never really had the chance to play this game on its home console, I was able to buy an enhanced remake on the GameCube, and it's still simply fantastic. I don't know why, but I'm nostalgic for games that look a slight blocky, but make up for it with fluid animation and colorful locals. This FEELS like a video game. Modern RPGs like Final Fantasy Type-0, Witcher 3, and potentially Xenoblade Chronicles X all look and feel fantastic, but they lack that air of fun and happiness that you get when playing a video game. You can say that you enjoyed the game immensely, but they don't look or feel "video gamey", if that makes any sense. When I play Skies of Arcadia, I feel like I'm playing a swash buckling RPG.

The story itself isn't anything to write home about, but it does a great job at building this world and having you care about what happens in the plot and really detesting the villains. The Valuan Empire feature some great antagonists in the form of the admirals, all of whom are memorable because of their appearances, personalities, or boss fights. I can remember distinctly each fight with them and their own plans/machinations.

As for the actual RPG part of this RPG, it takes a pretty unique spin by having each character attack based on an energy scale. Every character has a shared point pool to use attacks, so when attacking an enemy, you need to make sure you have enough points for magic, special attacks, or whether you need to charge for a turn to get more points. Plus each character can instantly change their weapon to one of six elements on the spot, so you can fight enemies on equal playing field. This is a game that offers strategy more than level grinding. Every enemy you can tackle, but harder enemies will require more strategy to beat them.

I adore Skies of Arcadia is nearly every way imaginable, and that is a true testament of its skill. Hands down, my favorite RPG.

#2: Super Smash Bros for Wii U (2014: Wii U)
I want to tell you all a fun story about when I first got this game and why I think it's probably the most polished and near perfect game I will ever play.

When Smash 4 came out, I had just finished classes for the day at my college. My whole suite was hyped for the game and we planned the whole day perfectly. As soon as we got the game, we would marathon the game and just party like there was no tomorrow. So the game came out, and my suite drove with me to my Gamestop in my home town to pick it up with the GameCube adapter, the limited edition strategy guide, a Peach amiibo, Pokemon Omega Ruby, and a Pokemon poster. We drove back to our college and ran across campus from the parking lot to our suite playing the Brawl theme song, so stoked to actually play the game. We sat, and we played it for 10 hours straight with a group of 12 or so people in the suite at once. It was crazy, and it made me realize just how fantastic the game was/is.

There is literally nothing else I can ask for in this game. It has a plethora of challenges, all of them we beat in three months, over 50 characters, several dozen stages, costumes, character customization where you can give a character new stats, moves, and armor to fight with, an adjustable difficulty slider, online play, several single and multiplayer options, 8-player Smash, online tournaments, DLC characters and stages, a huge soundtrack, and so many other fantastic features that I can't even begin to describe to you how huge this game is. This game is so good that in the six months since I've gotten in, my suite has logged in over 300 hours playing the game. That's nearly two weeks of gameplay! Hell, in the four months since I've been gone, I'm certain that number is in the 400's.

The gameplay is so balanced that it makes we want to cry. I could have anyone play this game and after a minute or two of holding the controller, anyone can last for a while and maybe win a couple of matches. Plus there's a character for everyone! I usually switch between five fights (Jigglypuff, Bowser, Zero Suit Samus, Roy, and Wii Fit Trainer), but I still play all the time with customs characters or even just having a random round. I've had too many intense matches with people that they've been engraved into my head. But even taking away my personal memories, this is a game that sold Wii U's, a console that very few people own, but they bought it just for this game. Just to get Smash Bros for Wii U.

I don't think I can say as clearly as possible how fantastic this game is. It's everything I could ever want out of a video game, and there was no doubt in my mind that this game would be in the Top 5. But even from the beginning, I knew what would eventually be my #1 choice.

#1: Banjo-Kazooie (1998: N64, Xbox 360)
Banjo Kazooie is video game comfort food to me. After a long, hard day, I could always go back back, turn on Banjo Kazooie, and all of my troubles would melt away. So when making this list, I knew that Banjo Kazooie would be #1 just because it's the game I have played, beaten, and completed more times than I can count.

I have memorized practically every level in this game and how the game is structures. I can vividly see Mumbo's Mountain, Treasure Trove Cove, Clanker's Cavern, Bubblegloop Swamp, Freezeezy Peak, Gobi's Valley, Mad Monster Mansion, Rusty Bucket Bay, and Click Clock Woods. I have played this game so many times that I can accurately remember where every Jiggly, note, and Jinjo are. Now you might say that it makes the game stale if you can remember everything about the game and you're just going through the motions, but it doesn't matter for Banjo Kazooie. It's still fun to play and fills me with a childlike glee every time I start up the game.

This was the game that taught me how to be a gamer. It may seem simple and easy on the outside, but it requires real perserverance and dedication to actually complete the game. Anyone can play this game and do well, but you'll reach a point where you'll need to get more notes, or you'll need to get more Jiggies, so you'll have to go back and get better at the game to progress. This isn't a game where you can easily see the credits. You don't just blaze through the game in five hours, see the ending, then maybe go back to previous levels to clean up just because you feel like it. In Banjo Kazooie, at the very minimum, you need to complete four worlds 100% and get all of the notes in at least one. The other worlds you cannot get any less than 90 notes, and you lose all of your notes in the world if you die. It's a game that's deceptively simple on the surface, but the further you scratch away at it, the more you realize just how brilliantly designed this game is.

You know, I funded Yooka-Laylee, the spiritual successor to Banjo Kazooie, just based on the promise of getting another Banjo-esque game. That idea thrilled me, just because of how fondly I remember Banjo Kazooie. In my eyes, there are three things that make a video game great. It's being able to play the game easily, but taking a lot of time to master it, still feeling a sense of adventure and wonder every time you start it up, and being a game you demand others to play. Not just politely ask, but outright demand others to play because of how good it is. In all of those categories, Banjo Kazooie succeeds in spades.

That's why I love Banjo Kazooie. That's why it is my favorite game of all time, past, present, and future.

No comments:

Post a Comment