10. Dark Cloud 2 (Level 5, 2003)-
Dark Cloud 2 is a game I can firmly place in my top 10 for numerous reasons. The first being that this game probably has more nostalgic value to me than any other game on this list. I played this game fervently growing up, and some of my earliest and most cherished memories are of playing this game on my brand new PS2. Dark Cloud 1 as you might remember, also made this list, but in my opinion, this game improves on it in literally every way without at all sacrificing the things that I loved. In fact, I would go as far as to say that this is the best game sequel of all time in terms of improving on an already amazing game. It takes everything that made the first game great and fixes the problems while also adding in tons of new mechanics that work perfectly. The graphics are better, the story and characters are more interesting and the gameplay is perfectly refined so that all the small annoyances from the first game are addressed. At its core, Dark Cloud 2 is the same dungeon crawler with city building elements that the first game was, but this iteration adds so much more content it’s insane. There’s fully fleshed out photography, golf, cooking and even the best fishing mini-game in the history of gaming. All of these things sound like side distractions, but in reality, they fit perfectly into the core gameplay. Dark Cloud 2 is long, but it never feels poorly paced because all the content has a purpose. I’m so happy that this game is finally getting the attention it deserves with the PS4 port, as it was one of the most criminally underrated games of all-time when it originally released.
9. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (Kojima Productions, 2004)-
The Metal Gear Solid series is arguably the most consistent franchise of all time. Whether it’s the revolutionary storytelling in the original, or the emphasis on freedom in the gameplay of V, MGS has always been on the cutting edge of whatever artistic and technical ideals it tries to tackle. MGS 3 is my favorite in an amazing franchise. The jungle setting in Cold War era Russia is such an amazing place to have a stealthy spy adventure, and this was the first game in the franchise to have a somewhat open-ended world. Just like in other MGS games, Kojima really thinks outside the box and breaks the 4th wall effectively. The best example of this is that you can kill an elderly boss of old age by setting the time on your console forward. The crowning achievement for me is the relationship between Snake and his mentor, and the fact that he has to make the ultimate sacrifice for his country. The story is so well done, and all of the characters, even most of the bosses are insanely memorable. Also, the theme song is literally the best non-Bond Bond theme ever, and when it plays as you climb the ladder to the end of the game has to be one of the most iconic moments in all of gaming.
8. Dark Souls (Fromsoft, 2011)-
The original Dark Souls is the definition of a flawed masterpiece. Fromsoft has created a title that spawned its own genre with “Soulslike” games becoming something of a cultural zeitgeist over the last decade. Yes, Dark Souls is fairly difficult, but that’s not why I love it. People seem to think that Dark Souls = difficult game with slow, methodical combat, but that’s only a small fraction of what makes the games special. It’s the Metroidvania style world that’s so intuitive to explore that it doesn’t need a map. It’s the unique visual design and dark story told through item descriptions and the dialog of the few NPC’s you meet. It’s the amazing soundtrack and the depth of world building that the game has. That feeling of accomplishment is great when you finally beat a boss, but it has the Silent Hill 2 effect where your small victories are always going to be short lived, and I think that’s what makes the games so satisfying. Dark Souls eschews the standard anime look of most JRPGs and instead opts for a more western dark medieval fantasy aesthetic that works really well. I think I’ve probably replayed Dark Souls more than any game just because playing a different build changes the game so much. I basically know this game and the world like the back of my hand at this point, so much so that I could probably guide people through it without even looking things up. It’s definitely not perfect and probably takes a lot of perseverance to be able to enjoy it at first, but you would be hard-pressed to find a more influential and deep game from the last 15 years as Dark Souls.
7. Resident Evil HD (Capcom, 2002)-
Resident Evil HD, the newest version of the classic REmake on the Gamecube (Or as it’s colloquially known RE-RE-RE-REmake) is the HD version of what I consider the golden standard for Remakes. The original PS1 game is a classic by its own merits, bringing the concept of the survival horror genre to the mainstream. But REmake is a not just a fantastic reimagining of the PS1 game, it’s a seminal release in its own right. The game has aged flawlessly, and still looks amazing to this day due to the pre-rendered environments. REmake follows the same beats as the original, while adding in content that was cut due to budget and time constraints, yet it feels like such a natural part of the game that you wouldn’t even know it wasn’t in the original if you didn’t have prior knowledge. The crimson head mechanic that forces you to burn the bodies of any zombie you don’t decapitate or they return as stronger, faster zombies is a brilliant addition. While the game isn’t as scary as some of its contemporaries, the atmosphere is top notch as the game has incredibly effective pacing and amazing sound design. REmake is one of the best Survival Horror games ever made, and a game that I replay every single year around Halloween as sort of a tradition.
6. Metroid Prime (Retro Studios, 2002)
Games like Hollow Knight, Ori, Shantae and classic Castlevania are all Metroidvania titles I hold very dear to my heart. They all have one thing in common though; they’re all 2D games. Metroidvania has never really been translated all that well into 3D space. The other games in the Metroid Prime trilogy were on this list, but the original stands head and shoulders above them as the shining example of the genre in the third dimension. Metroid Prime is such a fun game to play, the controls (especially in the Wii version with motion controls) are so responsive and natural feeling, and it has translated platforming to a first-person perspective in a way that even modern games still haven’t figured out how to replicate. The atmosphere in Metroid Prime is so thick, and that is in no small part due to what might be one of the most underrated soundtracks in the history of video games. This being a Metroidvania game, there naturally is a lot of backtracking, but it never feels like a chore because each area is so unique from each other and there are hundreds of secrets to find along the way. It almost is like Dark Souls in the sense that you don’t need to use the map constantly because the visual design is so good. The pacing is for the most part excellent, and while there are a lot of small remnants from this era of gaming that will annoy some modern gamers, Metroid Prime has aged really well, and still holds up as one of the best games in the genre.
5. Paper Mario 64 (Intelligent Systems, 2000)-
The spiritual successor to the amazing Super Mario RPG, Paper Mario 64 is one of those video games that makes me feel warm inside when I play it. Not just due to nostalgia either. While it’s true that there’s no way I’d be as into turn-based RPGs as I am without playing this game as a kid, Paper Mario 64 holds up as an adult as being an amazing RPG separate of the nostalgic feelings I have for it. With Super Mario RPG, Squaresoft and Nintendo set out to make a hybrid of RPG and platformer, but that vision wasn’t truly realized until Paper Mario 64. The future games in the series have better writing, better gameplay, even more creative settings. But none of these games can match the razor sharpness and tight focus of 64. Paper Mario 64 isn’t big or long at all compared to your traditional JRPGs, but despite this, it feels like such a complete adventure with so much to do and collect and so much variety. You go from fighting Koopas who are a parody of the Ninja Turtles to fighting Shy Guys in a toy box to solving penguin murders in an ice world. The amount of diversity they packed into a 25-hour RPG is staggering, and even with all that, it feels perfectly paced. The combat, especially the badge system, is such an amazing twist on the standard turn-based formula that a lot of games have sought to replicate it over the years. Paper Mario 64 is a really special game that made me fall in love with turn-based RPGs, and since you’ve been reading this list, is obviously a genre that I adore.
4. Shadow of the Colossus (Team Ico, 2005)-
Shadow of the Colossus is one of those games that is so utterly unique and special that it’s hard to really define why it’s so good to somebody who’s never played it. On paper, a game about running around a big world that’s completely empty besides 16 boss fights sounds awful, but when you play it, it’s hard not to be engaged. Set in a unique and beautiful ruined world, the player is tasked with taking down 16 colossi who are these massive monsters that you must kill to revive your lover, but killing each one slowly corrupts the main character’s soul. The entire game is basically a series of cool boss fights, but they aren’t just about recognizing patterns and hitting the boss. Each one is its own unique puzzle to the point where it almost becomes a puzzle platformer. What I love about SOTC is that these colossi feel exactly that, colossal. When you climb one of these monsters to reach their weak point, you really get the sense of scale, like you are a flea clinging desperately to the fur of these enormous primordial beings as they paw at you and try to shake you off. Of course, that orchestrated soundtrack is fucking iconic and even before the PS4 remake, the graphics and atmosphere were beautiful. Sure, in a lot of ways its aged poorly, and for a lot of people, it will be hard to get over the fact that it still plays like a janky PS2 game, but SOTC is one of those games that I point to when I get tired of the modern gaming industry and complain about how much better things used to be. Shadow of the Colossus is a title that simply would not be made today in the AAA space because nothing about it feels safe or restricted or focus grouped for maximum profit. It feels like a group of people’s shared artistic vision, and it’s just damn good.
3. Bloodborne (From Software, 2015)-
If I had a nickel for every time I raved about how fucking amazing Bloodborne is… It’s no secret that Lovecraft is my favorite author and that I love cosmic horror. Bloodborne is so good at creating a Lovecraftian world that it can easily stand up alongside Lovecraft’s own work. It doesn’t do a whole lot to innovate on the Dark Souls formula; it’s still very much a Metroidvania style world with ball bustingly hard bosses, but there’s more of an action focus this time. I think aesthetically and story-wise Bloodborne really sets itself apart from the other games in the Fromsoft cannon. Its story is told in the same way as Dark Souls, but Bloodborne’s gothic Victorian setting full of horrors from beyond the veil of our humanly understanding is such a huge boon for me. Despite not being strictly a horror game, Bloodborne has better, creepier atmosphere than most actual horror games. The bosses are almost all amazing with great visual design and the DLC expansion is not only one of the best Fromsoft has ever made, but one of the best DLC’s in gaming period. I could write an entire dissertation about why this game is so good, so I’ll just leave it at this, good hunter.
2. Silent Hill 2 (Team Silent, 2001)-
Another game that I might as well fucking marry at this point given how much I’ve announced my love for it, Silent Hill 2 is nothing less than the greatest horror game ever made. Yes, it’s an incredibly atmospheric and creepy game, but that’s only a tiny part of why its so good. It’s the story and the characters that make Silent Hill 2 a masterpiece. There are plenty of good stories in gaming, but there’s a tiny fraction of game stories that I feel are undeniably good regardless of the medium, and Silent Hill 2 is without a doubt the best story in any game ever. No other video game has made me feel the same emotions that Silent Hill 2 has. Silent Hill 2 is not just a game I think is really good, it’s a game that reminds me that despite all the characterless AAA cash grabs, derivative open world garbage and soulless military shooters that gaming is worth defending as an art form. I could go on and on about how the soundtrack is fucking perfection, or how any single aspect of the game is brilliant, but I don’t need to do that to explain why this game is so special. All I need to say is that this game is the only one that has ever legitimately made me cry, and I think that speaks louder than anything else I can really say about it.
1. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (Nintendo, 2003)-
It’s no surprise that a Zelda game would end up being my all-time favorite considering the fact that I have 7 other titles in this franchise in various places on this list. But even among those amazing games, Wind Waker holds a special place in my heart. It’s not particularly different than the other games, but there’s an intrinsic feeling of adventure that comes from sailing the ocean, maybe it’s because the sea is inherently a mysterious and chaotic place, but no game has made me feel the spirit of adventure the same way that Wind Waker has. The cell shaded “cartoony” graphics were reviled before and even until well after release by fans, but now those people look awful stupid because that unique visual style has made Wind Waker withstand the test of time incredibly gracefully. Wind Waker isn’t very challenging or even long for a Zelda game, and the quality of the dungeons is debatebly not really up there with the best in the series. But Wind Waker has what few other games in the series do and that’s charm. Link has always been made to be the literal “link” between the player and the game, but here he actually has a lot of personality. He’s more animated and amiable than usual, and that even extends to Zelda and a lot of the side characters, and Koji Kondo’s soundtrack makes takes this game up another level just as all his scores do.
Gannon is a world ending threat in this title like he usually is, but just sailing around the various islands where people live, you wouldn’t really sense that. The game has a laid-back vibe that gels with my own personality more than a lot of the other games in the series. As a kid, for some reason I had the strategy guide for this game even long before I ever got it, and just looking at the map of the game world and the screenshots of people sailing around and finding treasure and secrets stimulated my imagination like few other things did. The sailing has always been one of the most polarizing features in the entire franchise, but I can’t get enough of it. Maybe it’s because it makes it really feel like a swashbuckling adventure, or maybe because I have a ton of patience for mechanics that add to the atmosphere and narrative pacing of a game, but the sailing has always made the game for me. The HD version fixes a lot of the small issues the original game had, and I would absolutely recommend it. All these amazing aspects allow Wind Waker to proudly sit on the throne atop my 100 games of all-time list