20. Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo, 2017)-
Once in a while, Nintendo makes a game that is so goddamn good, you wonder what the fuck other game developers are even doing with their time. Super Mario Odyssey is one of those games and shows Nintendo is still one of the best game developers in the world. Super Mario Odyssey continues the trend of Nintendo franchises going back to their roots as Odyssey throws back to the open-ended levels of the Super Mario 64 and Sunshine days. But comparing Odyssey to these games is silly, because Odyssey is so much more than a platformer. It’s a celebration of both Mario’s history and an amusement park of platforming perfection. Every level has so many secrets to find, and the mechanic of throwing Mario’s cap and turning into different enemies or objects, as well as just jumping on it gives way to so many great ideas that the game barely feels like it scratches the surface of what is possible with them. The final level of this game is one of the most uplifting and memorable ending sequences in a video game ever.
19. Mega Man X (Capcom, 1993)-
If Mega Man II was run and gun platforming perfection, then I don’t even know what to call Mega Man X. Every single stage of this game is flawless, and while it doesn’t add a whole lot new to the formula, Mega Man X is such a perfection of the franchises’ core mechanics and equation that it’s hard to really get mad at it. This game’s bosses are easily some of the most notorious in the entire medium, and the music in the game is fantastic. I could be in a room with somebody playing this game and know immediately what level they are on just by hearing the music because these levels and the bosses at the end of them are so iconic. The timeless graphics are also a huge boon as this game will never look bad. If you’re a fan of platforming games, and you haven’t played Mega Man X, in the immortal words of Reggie “What’s wrong with you?”
18. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (Level 5, 2004)-
Level 5 made some of the best and most underrated games of the entire generation during the PS2 era, but they also took the reigns of one of the most beloved JRPG franchises of all time on the console and completely knocked it out of the park. Dragon Quest VIII isn’t the most innovative game, it’s pretty standard traditional JRPG fare. But it takes those traditional mechanics and shines them to a glorious luster. DQ VIII is seriously the most polished RPG I have ever played. The gameplay is so fine tuned and perfect, but it still reattains that classic Dragon Quest charm that fans of the franchise have grown to love over the years. The characters are amazing and charming, with the lead being such an icon in the industry that 90% of people I see playing as the Dragon Quest Hero in Smash Bros Ultimate use the alternative costume that makes him look like the character in this game. DQ VIII is such a sprawling and lengthy adventure, but it never feels padded, this title is such a complete and content rich game that you could play it for 100 hours and still not see everything it has to offer. Dragon Quest VIII was so good that Level 5 was given another crack at the franchise with DQ IX and big surprise, that game is also fantastic.
17. Bioshock (Irrational Games, 2007)-
This modern classic spiritual successor to System Shock 2 is not an amazing RPG or even the best shooter. But what it does have in spades is incredible atmosphere and story. The sunken city of Rapture is such an amazing setting for a game, and the beautiful visual style really makes for one of the best worlds in gaming. There are a ton of games that have great stories, but before Bioshock, I’d never felt a game story had ever posed so many strong philosophical questions, as the whole plot centers around the ruined city of Rapture itself as a counterpoint to Objectivism. The only characters that haven’t been turned into horrible monsters are the few main characters of the plot, including Andrew Ryan, who is one of the best villains in gaming. The cherry on top is the mind-bending 4th wall break twist near the end. If you like both philosophical plot twists and gameplay where you can shoot bees at people, then Bioshock is the game for you.
16. Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (Intelligent Systems, 2004)-
The second game in the Paper Mario series, this amazing turn-based RPG takes everything good about the original game and cranks it up to 11. The gameplay is so polished and perfect that Nintendo still hasn’t released a turn-based Paper Mario game since. There are so many great characters in this game, and so much clever writing to go along with the amazing gameplay. The original Paper Mario game is also one of my favorites, but it mostly stuck to the generic forrest/desert/water/ice etc. world structure of typical platforming games. In Thousand-Year Door, there’s a level that takes place in a pro wrestling tournament and on a ghost pirate island that you get to by helping a Pianta mob boss’s daughter convince her father to let her marry one of his henchmen. The badge system is such a cool mechanic that it makes me angry that they never brought it back after the first 2 games. My personal favorite part of the game though is how this was the first game in the franchise to really lean into the “everything is paper” gimmick, with a lot of the abilities being clever takes on papercraft.
15. Final Fantasy IX (Squaresoft, 2000)-
One of the last games released on the PS1, it went down in a blaze of glory with one of the best games in a long running series of genre-defining RPGs. The directors of Final Fantasy IX wanted the game to be a return to the series’ roots, and that’s exactly what it feels like; a combination of new and old. I really like this game’s setting, as the machinepunk meets high fantasy aesthetic really works for Final Fantasy. Vivi is one of my favorite characters in the whole series, but the entire cast of characters is amazing, with Zidane and Princess Garnett being two of the most memorable protagonists in the entire franchise. The overall plot is really special to me as well. Plus, it’s just a given that music in a Final Fantasy game will be fantastic. One of the more nostalgic Final Fantasy games for me, any fan of traditional JRPGs should love Final Fantasy IX.
14. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (Nintendo, 2000)-
Nintendo, for better or worse has never followed trends, and that extends to their own franchises’ formulas. Even if they don’t completely reinvent the wheel, they add some unique gimmick that gives every game in a series its own identity. Majora’s Mask is one of those times where Nintendo’s wild experimentation with a series’ formula produces something magical. Majora’s Mask isn’t exactly unique in terms of core mechanics, but the Groundhog’s Day style 3-day time loop you are stuck in leads to some fantastic gameplay and story moments. The dungeons aren’t the best in the series, but Stone Tower Temple is arguably the best one out of any game, and while the game world is fairly small, it really gets the best use out of the 3-day mechanic with engaging character quests. It’s definitely not my recommendation for the first game to play in the series for a newcomer, but Majora’s Mask is easily one of the most memorable Zelda games.
13. Chrono Trigger (Squaresoft, 1995)-
Chrono Trigger is one of the all-time great JRPGs ever put inside a cartridge. This is Square at their peak when they were releasing literally nothing but classic after classic in the SNES/PS1 era. Chrono Trigger is one of the few stories in any medium that actually uses time travel effectively, and interweaves the plot into the gameplay effectively. The music in this game is fucking spectacular, and the timeless graphics spearheaded by fantastic character designs made by the infamous Dragon Ball and manga artist Akira Toriyama make the presentation top notch even to this day. Chrono Trigger also boasts a lot of innovations to not just the genre, but gaming as a whole. Back then, in turn-based RPGs when you entered a random battle, there would be a scene transition into what I like to call the “battle dimension.” In Chrono Trigger, the battles take place on the same screen, which seems very quaint by today’s standards, but back then it was a huge novelty. Chrono Trigger is nowhere as long as other RPGs tend to be, but it also created what we now know as New Game + mode. Chrono Trigger is one of the best RPGs ever made, and one of only 2 games I consider a 10/10.
12. Final Fantasy VI (Squaresoft, 1994)-
I don’t really need to say that much about Final Fantasy VI, do I? If you think this game is anything other than one of the best video games ever made, then you deserve to be stabbed.
11. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (Konami, 1997)-
The game that contributed the second half of the name Metroidvania to the genre title, Symphony of the Night is one of the best side scrolling action games of all-time. One of the games that inspired everything from Shadow Complex to Dark Souls, Symphony of the Night is Metroidvania in its purest form. This was the first Castlevania game in this style, and with the advent of CD technology, games now had a bit more elbow room. Usually this resulted in 3D graphics or FMV’s that have aged awfully, but SOTN decided to stick with 2D pixel art and sprite work, and it has aged so much better than other games from this era. It’s amazing how many different types of enemies with highly detailed sprite models there are in this game. The gameplay is standard Metroidvania exploration, but SOTN also added in some nice RPG elements as well. The music is so varied and cool, it really gives nice atmosphere to each room in the castle. The entire game culminates in one of the best “holy shit!” moments in gaming when the entire castle is flipped upside down and the second half of the game is playing the same castle but with all the rooms inverted.