If you’re reading this article when it was first published, then you’re probably aware there’s been a bit of a delay between the last installment of my Top 25 Games of All Time, and this one. Apologies – there were a number of other articles I needed to write first, some more time sensitive than others. The last installment should still be up for next week, but as each of these takes longer, I want to make sure they’re all as good as they can be. So I tend to edit. Edit a lot.
I do just want to say, if you’ve been reading up to this point: thank you for sticking around. By the end of this project, I’ll have written thousands of words about the games I care about most. I hope none of these entries have gotten too long in the tooth, but as we get closer to the top, I feel it’s only expected that I have more to say. The last installment will be even longer, trust me on that.
One more thing – my 100th post on this blog is fast approaching. If I time it right, then the end of this list will coincide with that landmark, almost as if I planned it. I didn’t, but it’s a cool coincidence nonetheless.
THE LIST SO FAR:
25. Kirby Air Ride
23. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
22. Legacy of Ys: Books I & II
21. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD
20. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
19. Mega Man Legends
18. Life is Strange
17. Super Smash Bros Ultimate
15. Chrono Trigger
14. Shenmue II
13. Animal Crossing: New Leaf
12. Final Fantasy VIII
11. Super Mario Odyssey
10. Demon’s Souls
Publisher: Atlus / Developer: FromSoftware / Platform: PS3 / Release Year: 2009
My journey with Demon’s Souls is the same story you hear from a lot of players: I played it a few times, didn’t get the appeal, and left it behind in frustration. After some time and curiosity, I returned with new eyes and devoured the game in one of the most engaging and rewarding playthroughs I’ve ever experienced. I’ve locked on to plenty of games before, but few have transformed me the same way. I went from struggling with the control scheme to feeling extremely comfortable with it. I chipped and chipped away until areas that were once impossible became scoured and memorized. There’s always a way to make these games more accessible to a wider audience, but I do appreciate the challenge From offers with titles like these.
In the past, I included Demon’s Souls in my list of Ten Games That Changed Me Forever, and more recently wrote a post about returning to the game after some time away. It’s an easy to write about, which has helped me understand why so many fans talk about Dark Souls and Bloodborne all the time. Each playthrough is filled with tons of memories, both good and bad, and they stand out more than most because the satisfaction they’re tied to is equal to the time invested in the game. I’d really like to give another From game a shot, but to do so is such an undertaking, I need to be prepared, and dedicate the appropriate amount of time. It’s not as easy as it sounds.
What specifically makes Demon’s Souls part of my Top Ten also has to do with when the hooks finally dug in. I was just out of college, still looking for a job, and really had nothing else to do besides browsing Youtube. This period of time only lasted a couple of weeks, but encompassed a feeling of comfort, a sense that all was right with the world, that I could have basked in for months. It was as if booting up my PS3 and turning on a 24-hour livestream was the easiest thing in the world.
Going back to the game always involves a small learning curve as I get used to the controls again, but it’s still comfortable when it gets going. It’s like slipping on a favorite pair of pants. Sometimes I get antsy, knowing I have a million other things I need to do, but going back and triumphing over a boss again is such a confidence boost. It never gets old. Demon’s Souls is one of the most rewarding games I’ve ever played, and deserves to be recognized as part of my Top Ten.
9. Wolfenstein: The New Order
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks / Developer: MachineGames / Release Year: 2014
Wolfenstein: The New Order launched on five platforms on its initial release, but it’s a good game no matter where you play. As a reinvention/continuation of the classic Wolfenstein series, this entry is important for both the ways it revitalized this franchise, and its story-driven direction. I never, ever would have expected BJ Blazkowicz to become a character I actually cared about, but this game makes it possible. After only a few decades, he’s developed into a brooding hero with a life, goals, and dreams, and somehow it comes across as believable. For MachineGames to swoop in and retool such an important franchise as they have; it’s unheard of in this industry.
I’ve played this game a lot. Six or so times, at least. What I find interesting after all this time is that my least favorite parts are in the beginning, when the story is still in WWII. These segments play okay, but they feel like a means to an end. They’re merely there to set up the real premise of the game, when BJ falls into a coma and wakes up in a future where Nazis won the war. That’s when the real New Order kicks off, and gives us an FPS campaign with real fighting spirit. Seeing the terrible place a world overrun by Nazis has become, the player is better able to perceive these enemies as an actual threat. The story is not content to just say “have fun, kill Nazis,” but it also explains why they needed to be killed, and what lessons the player can learn from it.
That’s the difference between this Wolfenstein and older ones. Entries like Wolfenstein 3D and Return to Castle Wolfenstein were impressive for their day, but they’re different beasts now. There’s a story, but they’re not looking to say anything interesting about WWII or the people who fought in it. BJ might as well have been a player avatar. These games operate on an older assumption of what a “game” is supposed to be, and it’s fine if that’s what some people prefer, but I find it hard to go back to. I’m never against blasting away some Nazis, but I don’t want them to feel like generic video game enemies. The New Order provides context, story, and sense of purpose that makes them into real, wretched people, and shows why the Resistance needs to win.
I can play this game any day of the week. I previously wrote about how replayable it is. It’s not perfect, but just like some people are able to watch Star Wars or Indiana Jones over and over again, this is my version of that. It proves for the umpteenth time that there is a future for thoughtful, story-driven shooters. Machine Games has crafted one of the best sequels a franchise has ever had, single-handedly making series relevant after years of disconnect and subpar entries. Five years on, and I think it’s an out and out classic.
8. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo / Original Release Year: 1998
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was my introduction to 3D action games. I was five when I got my Nintendo 64, and got this game not too long after. The beginning was wonderful because it acted as a giant tutorial for all of its systems, but in a way that made me feel like I was actually learning and not just being told what to do. What was even cooler was that, because my copy came used, I was able to access different saves further into the game, and got to see how those systems evolved over time. I didn’t quite understand how to actually progress in the game, but that would come later.
Ocarina was also the first game to legitimately scare me – several times over. I remember booting up saves from after the seven year timeskip, and being creeped out by the horrible future that befell Hyrule. The way the wind echoed in the Market set me on edge. Every time a ReDead locked eyes with me, I mashed on the buttons in a panic. I essentially ran around without a clue, so the whole oppressive vibe of Ocarina’s future really stuck out. When I eventually found my way to the Shadow Temple, things got even worse. Floormasters could snatch me up at a moment’s notice. The way Link screamed into the void when he fell off a ledge rattled in my ears. And there were all of these invisible paths I kept finding (because I didn’t have the Eye of Truth) that contributed to my anxiety-fueled unease so much, it still gives me shivers today. I was having a bad time all around – but also loving every second of it.
Growing up, things changed. I was fascinated enough with the game to keep it, even as I traded in the rest of my N64 carts for Gamecube games. When I eventually got a Gamecube copy of Ocarina, I beat it for the first time. I found that my fascination with the game was justified, because even among the other games I had, like Wind Waker, Ocarina was doing things those titles were not. Its scope spanned years of time, there was change in the environment as the story progressed, and it was not afraid to get dark when it had to. It became the game that I judged all others against; my default GOAT for years. It hit every square it needed at just the right angle, and it felt like no game could ever do better.
The thing about time, though, is that it makes even the best games look antiquated at some point. The polygonal models (even when improved for the 3DS) stopped being as impressive as they once were. The breaks in the story without clear direction became more pronounced. There’s still a lot to love, from the iconic music, to the narrative twists and turns, but to say it’s my favorite just isn’t true anymore. I’ve played other games. I’ve seen where my tastes have developed. At #8, I still think highly of Ocarina of Time, but it’s a huge symbol of my past, just as much as it’s a great game.
7. Pokémon Crystal Version
Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Game Freak / Platform: GBC / Release Year: 2001
This entry could easily encompass my feelings for Pokémon as a whole, but Crystal is the standout because as a kid, I was convinced it was a mind-blowing enhancement in technology. Though substantially similar to Gold and Silver, Crystal had better pixels, a more interesting story, some weird building called a Battle Tower, and biggest of all: battle animations for the very first time. The second generation of Pokémon never looked better. Never mind that I was playing Pokémon Stadium long before, but seeing those crude sprites wiggle and flicker was somehow way more impressive than watching polygonal models duke it out.
Crystal was one of my most played games as a kid, too. I sunk in tons of hours, and was impressed that I could play a game for 165 hours, 180, whatever came next, and still have plenty of Pokémon to catch and train. I got so paranoid that something would happen, like my save battery dying, that I decided to just start over from the beginning and racked up another nearly-200 hour save file. That’s not nearly as impressive as it used to be, but for a little kid that amount of time feels like forever.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that HeartGold and SoulSilver are better games. I’ve played them both, and love the way this generation got upgraded on the DS. However, if I’m being real, Crystal makes it on this list because of nostalgia. For years, whenever I was asked to make a quick Top Five, this would always be there, and I’d always talk about how I’d played it so much, I was able to memorize the Pokédex by Pokémon cries.
In my effort to do a Big Formal Ranking like I have, this game has dropped somewhat, but not as much as I expected. Pokémon was, and to a certain extent still is, important to my life. Before I was in grade school, I was collecting the cards, playing the games, watching the anime, doing what all of my friends were doing, and the affect this has had on me is evident nearly twenty years later. Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so. My memories of Pokémon in its heyday are mostly happy and positive. Even when I think about all those times I got into schoolyard fights over card trades, my time with Crystal balances that out.
Publisher: Square Enix / Developer: Cavia / Platform: PS3 / Release Year: 2010
When I reviewed Nier back in 2011 (you can read that here), I gave it a 7.5, which meant that it was “good” in my eyes, but not all that great. My biggest criticisms were aimed at the dull open world, the monotonous (but optional) job mechanics, and the basic combat. When I talked about what I liked about the game, I said there were “three areas in which Nier succeeds: its story, its sound, and its ability to switch to different genre perspectives.” The voice work and soundtrack made the story better, and the willingness to go from Kingdom Hearts-esque combat to a Diablo-style dungeon, to a text adventure, impressed me. Reading this review again, I found I still agreed with a lot of what it says – I stand by it.
So, how does a “good” game get in my Top Ten Games of All Time? Honestly, I don’t know. When I first published my review on the Game Informer Online Community Blogs in June 2011, I would have just finished my sophomore year of high school. I had been writing for a few months by then, and covered whatever game I wanted. I saw Nier as an interesting game, but ultimately just another in a stack of titles I decided to play. I don’t think that I paused to think how the things I praised really affected me. This can happen – in the rush to get a review written, it can be tough to listen to what your feelings are really saying. As I’ve written more though, I’ve found the process easier and easier to engage with.
It could also be that Nier is just one of those games that took its time. Just festering in my brain as I made the decision to download the soundtrack, then the choice to read up on the supplemental text, and on and on until it turned into a game that I always loved. Somewhere, as this appreciation blossomed, the desire to replay the game also popped up. At first I resisted, because I only played through two of the four endings for my review and did so for a reason. On the fourth ending the game deletes your save data, and that was not the kind of news a sixteen-year-old me could handle. Yet, over time this resistance ebbed and curiosity eventually got the better of me. In late 2017, I booted up Nier again to finish all of it.
During this playthrough, I realized I was looking at the game with new eyes. There was so much my original review neglected to mention: the parts that made me cry, the strangely precise details of the world, the beats that worked so well I didn’t care if my objectives were repetitive. When I got to the end, the real save data-deleting end, I knew I loved Nier in spite of its flaws. I was inspired to write about my updated impressions, leading to A Look Back at Nier – the first real post I published to this blog.
The headline for my original review was “LOPSIDED AT BEST” and I think that holds true, all things considered. There are parts of Nier that are faulty. It’s impossible to deny that. The load times are long, the aesthetic can be drab, the combat is simplistic. I guess what I’m saying is that my love for Nier has evolved to a point where none of that matters anymore. I think #6 is the perfect place for this game, as it shows that it’s important in my life, but acknowledges it’s too flawed to be my new GOAT. This isn’t to say that the games that rank above it are perfect, flaws but for various reasons, I think they’re all better than Nier.
Lend me your thoughts! Message me on Twitter! Send me an email (dcichocki(at)tiltingwindmillstudios.com)! Leave a comment below! You can find Part One of this list here, Part Two here, and Part Three here. Part Five, the finale, is coming soon!