There’s been a lot of good stuff so far. But today is the day when we start to hit those games that I could play over and over and never get sick of them. I’ve teased it a little bit already, but this is when the Final Fantasy games really start to show up in full force. We also see the introductions of the Diablo and Starcraft series – the franchises that made me fall in love with Blizzard. And, of course, Star Wars makes its return with what I consider to be my favorite games from that galaxy. I really, really like these games (and everything that comes after).
40. Diablo III (PC)
I’ll be honest up front – I don’t like a lot of the things that Blizzard has done with the game. They’ve taken away a lot of what made Diablo great, crawling progressively deeper through creepy dungeons, and just turned it into a late-game item grind. I know a lot of people did that with Diablo 2, but it was fun in that game BECAUSE the rest of it was still there. I don’t like that they’ve made multiplayer the emphasis of the game: just jumping in at any point of the game with no story-driven reason to do so really isn’t my favorite thing. It’s almost as if they’re treating the game like an MMO more than a dungeon crawler. Anyways, rants aside, I poured a TON of hours into this game – more than I probably should have. And I could have put a lot more. Actual combat in this game is really fun. The characters are all really unique and interesting. Though the story leaves a bit to be desired, it was still really interesting to move through the different areas of the game. Skills are almost all useful and interesting, and fighting really powerful elite enemies could be an exciting challenge. My personal goal was to go for all the single player achievements – and though I never got there, I certainly had a lot of fun trying! And really, that’s what this list is all about: fun. Even though I have a lot of criticisms, I had a ton of fun with this game, and that’s why it gets the spot that it does.
39. Final Fantasy V (SNES)
The job/character growth system is the best in any Final Fantasy game, bar none. They took the formula they invented in FFIII and absolutely perfected it here. Sure, it has all the normal stuff you’d expect from a Final Fantasy game, but the sheer variety of ways to play this game is pretty much the main reason it’s ranked so high. The story itself is pretty basic, and the characters mostly forgettable – but there is a surprisingly great deal of replay value in this quirky little package. One nice thing about this game is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, even when some dark stuff is going down. If you haven’t ever tried a Four Job Fiesta (a challenge where you have to play through the game using only four, randomly assigned job classes), then do yourself a favor and try it out!
38. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (SNES)
This game invented everything we’ve come to love about the Yoshi series. Turning enemies into eggs which you can then shoot, crazy transformations, tons of collectibles, and an entire host of unique and fun enemies (bringing shy guys over from SMB2 was absolutely brilliant). This is one of the most inventive and entertaining platforming games ever made. The art style is absolutely stunning, and the beautiful chorus of baby Mario screaming at you was just glorious. Ok maybe not so much that last one, but the music itself was still unforgettable. This game might have the best lineup of bosses in any game ever. It’s also insanely challenging and one of the few platformers on this list that I haven’t completed 100%. If you haven’t seen a TriHex speedrun of this game – go do yourself a favor and do it NOW.
37. Final Fantasy Tactics (PS1)
As great as FFV’s job system is, this one is right up there with it. It takes basically the same general idea and expands the number of abilities you can learn from different jobs by quite a bit margin. Add to that the pretty immersive tactical gameplay and you’ve got a pretty awesome and unique game. The game can get a bit grind-heavy, and the random battles are more irritating in this game than most FF games (given their length), but the sheer amount of content here keeps the game alive. The story is probably one of the best in any Final Fantasy game. I distinctly remember playing the game as a kid and getting stuck with weak characters, and then using a Game Shark to finish the game just because I needed to know how it all ended! Of course, I ultimately did go back and beat the game properly, and absolutely loved all of it. I never was able to get into the Tactics Advance series, but the original definitely stands out as a worthy entry in the FF series.
36. Starcraft II (PC)
This is the game that convinced me eSports were a thing. Actually, in a lot of ways, this is the game that showed me how fun it could be to WATCH video games. I know that the original Starcraft was a pretty major eSport in its own right – one of the originals, even – but I never really got into that. But watching matches of this game on YouTube to build my own hype for the game (shoutouts to Husky, HD, and Day9) led me down a path that I haven’t really left to this day. Watching streams, Let’s Plays, or other YouTube videos is something I still enjoy greatly in gaming to this day. But enough about my viewing habits – the game itself is actually very good. The story of this game doesn’t live up to its predecessor. The plot is quite a bit more forced and is much cheesier, along with some questionable story decisions. Despite that, however, the single player missions are very fun. In particular, playing through the game on Brutal difficulty and going for all the achievements is very rewarding in and of itself. The gameplay mechanics absolutely perfect the RTS genre. As I’ve mentioned, I’m not a huge multiplayer gamer – but if I were to play online games, this would be the one. It’s just SO good. (I wrote this before Legacy of the Void came out – and I still haven’t played it yet – but even despite the story’s flaws, I’m very excited to see how the whole thing ends.)
35. Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (N64) && 34. Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Dark Forces 2 (PC)
Got a couple of awesome Star Wars games here. They’re both very similar in a lot of ways, not least of which is the age at which I played them. They’re both shooters starring some rough-around-the-edges minor characters (Dash Rendar, Kyle Katarn). Each of them explores the periphery of the Galaxy Far, Far Away – rather than just dealing with the major conflict with the Empire (ie, Black Sun, Jerec’s shenanigans). Levels were large and full of things to explore and secrets to collect. And I played the crap out of both of them. These games were around right at the age when Star Wars meant the most to me. I didn’t discover Star Wars until I was older – around 12 or so – but that happened to be right when these games were some of Lucasfilm’s latest entries. These games, along with the Star Wars CCG and Expanded Universe books, really went a long way to establishing me as the huge Star Wars fan that I am (again… my name is Antilles, after all…). Shadows has some really cool variants to some of the levels (like the Hoth battle or Swoop chase), but Jedi Knight gets the nod because I think there was a little more to the main gameplay, what with the force powers and all. Plus playing online was a blast. I don’t know… they really are very close. Maybe Shadows should be #34 after all…
33. Final Fantasy VIII (PS1)
Oh Final Fantasy VIII, whatever will I do with you? Few games stir up as much controversy and raw emotion as this one does. It’s a game that people seem to either love or hate. As for me, I loved it! I’ll start off right away and concede that, yes, it is a terribly flawed game by its nature. Becoming crazy overpowered in the game is ridiculously easy, and the complaint that the game punishes you for leveling up and using your spells is a very real and legitimate one. It forces you to play counterintuitively, and that may or may not be a good thing. But I think that hidden underneath all of that is a very fun and engaging game! It’s a beautiful game, and the story (though a bit convoluted) is one of FF’s better ones! Squall also stirs up rather divisive opinions, but I think he’s a fantastic main character. The way he grows from being someone who wants to shut people out and just do his job to recognizing how much he needs and wants to help others is pretty interesting. I find the world very interesting and explored every inch of it. And, of course, there is the absolutely phenomenal Triple Triad. Enough said.
32. Metroid Prime (GameCube)
Not much else to say about this that I didn’t already mention when discussing its sequels. This game is the best because it created the formula and feels the most traditionally Metroid of the games. This game proved that Metroid could be done in 3D, and that it could be done exceptionally well. As I mentioned for the other games, all the classic elements of Metroid were there: exploration, mystery, item collection, backtracking to revisit previously locked areas, and super menacing bosses. The FPS elements of the game were handled extremely well – as being able to lock on to enemies prevented it from becoming too much of a generic shooter and kept the focus on the adventure. I also like the worlds and environment the most in this game. I’m a sucker for snow levels, and this game has some of the best snow areas in any game. Thinking through this list has really made me want to replay a lot of games – perhaps this one most of all.
31. Final Fantasy X (PS2)
Whenever I think about my FF game rankings, I always end up having a hard time deciding whether I prefer VIII or X. Ultimately, I have to give X the nod because it’s just simply a better game. The design choices made in this game are mostly the right ones. This game takes the character system established in IX (and earlier in IV) and really perfects it. Each character has a very specific role, and deciding who to use and when provides for some pretty interesting battles. There’s almost a rock-paper-scissors sort of thing going on here, in that each enemy is going to be susceptible to a certain character. It’s nice that everyone in your party is useful and that they aren’t all just clones of each other. I like Tidus a lot as a main PoV character and don’t find him irritating at all (a common complaint), and Yuna is easily one of the best heroes in all of Final Fantasy. Without spoiling too much, the role reversal that they go through about three-quarters of the way through the game is really interesting. I even like most of the mini-games/side-quests in this game (the exception being Blitzball, which is a major grind-fest)! Earning all the Celestial weapons was a lot of fun. And as tedious as the sphere grid is, there was just something satisfying about filling in all those little circles.
Deja vu time, because game 30 is…
Reminder: I’ve considered things like gameplay, replay value, timelessness, story, unique qualities, cultural impact, personal impact, and overall just how much fun a game is. Except for the times when I don’t consider them at all. I may even think a lower-rated game is “better” than one higher than it, or even more fun. Ultimately, the criteria are entirely my own. I make the decisions, I make the ratings, and I don’t claim to be either fair or logical in any of this.