On account that it’s the end of the decade that we referred to as the “Noughties”, it seems that magazines and websites alike have been doing a lot of top ten lists in the form of Albums, films and videogames. And, well frankly I never seen a list that I can personally say “That’s a good list”
So I thought to myself “why not join on with the fun” and do my very own top 10 to celebrate my love for the medium. Keep in mind of the usual things when facing this blog ( i.e. my opinion on the best etc.). And I guess I hope you enjoy (along with the other “greatest games of the decades” list), I took my sweet time with this, it was either this or study.
#10: Tales of Symphonia (GameCube/PS2) (2003).
If you’re going to do a JRPG that leaks with JRPG clichés that would make big JRPG tycoons “Square-enix” feel small by comparison , at least do it in a way that doesn’t make the players cringe or shake their in sheer embarrassment like what JRPG tycoons “Square-enix” tend to do nowadays. Yes, “Tales of Symphonia” is saturated with the obvious JRPG traits like: being first introduced to an protagonist as he sleeps who later suffers from the guilt of destroying his village, the girl who is the key in saving the world, speeches about morality and idealism and the mercenary who has (altogether now ) “a hidden past”.
Yet simultaneously, it tries so hard not to follow suit of the others with it’s real-time battle mode that actually works and absences of random battles and well developed characters that don‘t give me the urge to strangle them with a piece of twine. The story is located on that fine line between ‘understandable and enjoyable’ and ‘spaghetti-like’, and by that I mean: it’s easy and a thrill to go through yet it’s constantly changing for the better. Your current objectives, location and antagonist may not stay the same, but you’ll play just see how it ends, which makes feel more like an Anime-RPG than a JRPG. I’ll give you one nanosecond if you can give another videogame that got a anime spin-off in the last decade (No? didn’t think so).
I’d also like take this moment to compare it to another (overrated) game “Skies of Arcadia” . Sure, I love the characters and the airship battles, but the main story is as boring as chips, which wouldn’t been a problem if they didn’t ram it down your throat, which it does (a lot).“Tales of Symphonia” on the other hand, keeps its story in the passenger seat, which gives you the feeling that “it’s there, but you do your own thing first”. Also, the Anime FMV sequences is breath of fresh air than most CGI sequences nowadays where it looks as if all the npcs had use paint instead of makeup on there face. The lowest point is just the obvious writing in dialogue, then again it’s a JRPG, so I wasn’t going to expect the quality of Oscar Wilde. If you can get by that , then surely you can enjoy a game with a balanced battle mode, great look, a story that isn’t forced on to you like what other games tend to do of this genre.
#09: Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Old Door (GameCube) (2004).
Maybe it’s because I’m just from a different era of dinosaurs and Vikings, but even after twenty years that contains over sixty games with the “Mario” label on it, only two come close to the greatness that is “Super Mario World”: “Super Mario Galaxy” the definitive 3D Mario experience (I have about as much interest in “Mario 64” as I do with the fans that nag on about it) and “Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Old Door”.
Being European and N64-less at the time, I missed out on the first two Mario RPGs at the time, so I made it my objective to play. And who would of guessed Intelligent Systems would have made not one but two achievements in a single game.
#1: Taking a series universe like Mario and then recreate it with a look that seems to be inspired by children’s after school art projects. Everything is drenched in colours that most video game enthusiasts have forgot that exist. Even though the 2 dimensional character (literally! h-yuk h-yuk h-yuk…… sorry)seems to be a cop out in design, I couldn’t see the game any other way than it’s storybook appearance. Granted, the original “Paper Mario” succeeded in doing this as well, but shut up I’m trying to make a point!
#2 Giving the characters within the universe both charm and humour that develops as you progress through the game. Again, this was done in the original but just simply not as good. A special mention has to go to Luigi, where he is constantly rambling on about his own adventure that is near parallel to Mario’s own. And it’s not just Luigi that has been effected, character like Princess Peach and Bowser are also fleshed out with their own story. It would be cop to only include old characters, so I’d like to mention the brand new characters like Hooktail: A papier-mâché dragon who is has a psychological suffering from crickets. Doopliss: A ghost who was so bored he turned villagers into pigs and steal Mario’s outline. And Lord Crump: The goon who can break the fourth wall.
Putting the creativity of the game aside, the game play is just as well done, on second thought no it‘s not. At most points there can be an overload of enemies on the same screen, so there points where you’re constantly in battle.
While the battles are done in turn based style combat (which could bother some people) , at least the game does give you the courtesy of giving you the object dodging and countering instead of the usual options of “Looking“ and “enduring“. Yet, the badge system so paper thin (again, sorry) it might as well not be there. These are minor complaints that are out numbered by the many pros that this game has to offer. So for fans of Mario, you’re in for a treat. For the people who loathe him, well you can always roll him up into a ball a make him go into the water.
#08 Bioshock (PC/Xbox 360/PS3) (2007).
I never thought that there could be another game that could pull the very same emotional strings that Ken Levine‘s cyberpunk classic that is “System Shock 2” once did. And it’s no surprise that the game to perform this achievement again would be none other than “Bioshock”, another game by the Ken Levine. Sure, it ‘is’ “System Shock 2”with a steampunk feel rather than a cyberpunk one. Then again, what’s wrong with that (except for the whole not encouraging creativity thing)? It was immersive, subtle, evenly paced, well written and a bunch of other words that can be used to describe “System Shock 2” as well.
But, one can’t ignore the captivating universe that is Rapture, the proclaim utopia that collapse due to the psychotic greed that is man. Unravelling the stories and tragedies that developed within the place by means of poltergeist and pre-recordings, eavesdropping on the splicers the ADAM driven maniacs that were once human., it’s all there to enjoy in “Bioshock”. And where “System Shock 2” failed, “Bioshock” succeeds. Another example of this example is the weapons, even though “SS2” is set 200 years after “Bioshock”, it seems that the future forgot how to make a gun that doesn’t break down
after two shots. Yes, I’m aware that it is so it can truly enhance the already high scare factor. But are you telling me that if there is a world out there where narcissistic A.I. and space station that can travel at the speed of light exist, but no engineers that can manufacture a peashooter that doesn’t need maintenance after ten shots? And if that isn’t enough “Bioshock” triumphs for allowing you to shoot bees in out of your hand. Y’know the old saying: “You can do only so well, but you’ll never be better than a man who can shoot bees of their hands”! Too bad the game is crippled by it simplicity of the hacking system that would embarrass most players. I also didn’t really care for the hype that the game was constantly getting throughout it’s production.
I would like to take this opportunity to tip my hat to Ken Levine, the man who is also responsible for “Thief” series and “Deus Ex”, both equally fantastic games*.
Also, a round of applause has to go out to whoever took a term like “Big Daddy” make it into an iconic videogame character of this generation.
#07 Okami (PS2/Wii)( 2006-2009).
(Clover Studios/Ready at Dawn)
And if “Bioshock” wasn’t bad enough ripping off a game, “Okami” ripped off an entire franchise, except that you play as a wolf instead of a …… Wait forgot about the “Twilight Princess “ so never mind.
Ok, that was a huge understatement and lets remember that “imitation is the greatest form of flattery”. Beside, Okami has many things to be proud of like Cel Shading (like Wind Waker…. Ok, I’m just being annoying now), a creative battle technique, unique power-ups, a beautiful Japanese score, mini-games that are well spread out through the adventure, characters that are amusing to listen to and the fact like allowing a player to take the role of something like a wolf who has no outstanding physical feature (apart from being white with red tribal marks) and still manage to make him a loveable character to role play as.
Personally I’d advise players to pick up the PS2 version over the Wii one, you’d think that the console with the controls that allow you to draw on the screen would work with better ease. But frankly, the game tend to be strict and doesn’t want to acknowledge my ellipses as circle. Plus the PS2 has that whole washed down look makes it feel that the game “is” in fact a moving water paint picture. It’s also helps the game controls well in battle and the special are easy and effective to use. However, at most of the special technique are rather pointless to have and forgettable. I mentioned that the hit detection is a bit off and this becomes a nuisance in cut scene that doesn’t let you progress until you do it right, which also interrupts the game pacing.
And I can’t forgive the game for making me fight the longest boss in the entire game three times, in such a small space of time. Surely one game developer must of went “Surely this might be tad bothersome”.
Now that I finished my rant, it obvious that I like the game, why else would I put it on my list. If I’m going to as far as complaining about it having too many power up, then I must be a good game as I’m ‘that’ desperate in finding fault in it.
#06 Ico (PS2) (2002/2006).
A game that was wanted so badly, there was a reprint of the game in 2006 and yet I still have to resort to eBay with this one. According to the many blogs that are littered around the internet , if there were to mention one game by Team Ico it would have been the rightfully acclaimed “Shadow of the Colossus“. Yeah, that game was pretty good yet you can’t compare that to the confined yet illusive world we explore within “Ico“.
Most of the complaint that was brought up with “Ico” is that it was a game surrounding the one side mission quest which lead to the girl constantly kidnapped , personally I didn’t find that to be that big of a problem to snub the game (but hey, maybe I’m actually good at it!). Rightfully so it is a game surrounded by the one side mission, but you have to think of it not as a side mission but more of a relationship between the two main characters: Ico and Yorda. The game is littered around puzzle that are challenging, yet not frustrating enough to distract you from the awe that the game present itself with.
I do admit that guiding Yorda by hand is tedious and annoying to see Ico pausing every now so se doesn’t trip, but I can take that and turn into something that an Artsy sap would say like: “It’s there to represent the burden that Yorda become to Ico in order to escape the prison, yet he cannot leave without her”.
It‘s fair to mention that “Ico” is also one of the two game (The other being “Shadow of the Colossus”) that I know that has been praised by artist of different medium for it’s style. The artist that I’m referring to is none other than director Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth , Hellboy) who states (that if I’m quoting wikipedia correctly) both games a "masterpieces" and part of his directorial influence. Namedropping aside, the game is feat in directing, art and simplistic yet emotive storytelling about a quaint love story (probably the sappiest thing I ever said about a game), and if that isn’t enough ,“Ico” has one of the most pleasant feel good epilogue to grace the virtual screen.
Quite possible the best PS2 exclusive that was made*.
#05 Portal (PC/Xbox 360/PS3).
"I can’t think of any criticism for it. I’m serious, this is the most fun you'll have with your PC until they invent a force feedback codpiece" these are the direct word from acclaim videogame critic Yahtzee
of Zero Punctuation. And it is understandable why it is near impossible to find a fault to the game. Probably it was due to the fact that most people were first introduce to the game as just the extra on the orange box. Nobody had expectation for Portal the hybrid frogspawn of a FPS and puzzle games, the majority of us were too busy getting psyched up for the new instalment of “Half-Life 2” and the online favourite “Team Fortress 2” again. And it came, the unassuming bullet to the stomach of black humour and amazement that was “Portal”, which result to abnormal amount of praise by fans and critics. Perhaps too much.
It seems that anyone who has dipped their heads into a videogame website was aware of the game and it’s story, characters, inside jokes, quotable lines, phone numbers and dress size thanks to the aggravating fans, it was admittingly both irritable and intoxicating. Which you’d think it would be fine, however when the year 3000 comes and astro-archaeologists are trying to unravel what was the definitive gaming experience back in the day and according to their calculation it was “Portal”, they’re going to be a tad peeved that this game wasn’t the crème brulee we made it out to be.
Personally apart from all the praise the game has gotten and rightfully so. The game’s quirks and charm feel that it is painted on rather than filled with and putting the ending credit song aside, I felt empty inside. Of course it is still astonishing achievement of a game, with Glados the ditzy A.I. stealing the show with her mundane tone of pessimistic comedy that can be a smile to the most serious of stock brokers. I feel like I should write more for this games like how it recreates it‘s own world, and simultaneously tries to be videogame that attempts to establish in the context of Erving Goffman's dissemination on dramaturgy, “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life“,
but what I would be just repeating others, Wikipedia and myself with the thing about the other games. And that’s the main problem “Portal” no matter how much you try, there’s not a lot you can say about it. It’s a game that filled with admiration, jokes that are offbeat and some the best few hours you’ll ever experience! So just take my word (and the others who actually matter on the internet) that calling is a really good game isn’t generous enough.
#04 Metroid Prime (GameCube/Wii) (2002/2009).
Metroid Prime was first frowned upon when it was first introduce to the to the public. Fan insulted saying it was taking the from it’s exploration roots for a First person Shooter style to attract a mainstream audience. Metroid Prime wowed everyone with it’s self declared First person Adventure style Adventuring. While most people (and by people I mean my friends, and by friends I mean my one particular friend who won‘t stop following me) still makes joke about the scan mode of Samus Aran, which does make even opening doors a choir (thought this is to cleverly hide the slow loading of the little console that almost could ).
I personally like how the game gave you the choice of the researching within Tallon IV and find out the back story of the forgotten race and how the space pirate emerge for the fuels of Phazon, or you can ignore all that and go for the “Aliens are bad with big teeth are here so killed now” approach. Plus, for a GameCube title, the attention of detail is remarkable, from Samus’s visor fogging up when’s it cold to the movement of the suit to respond to even the bounty hunter’s breathing.
It’s a fascination that Retro Studio went to arm lengths into making a not only a world, but a wildlife that looks like they come from a the sketch book of art prodigy/meth addict to go along with it. “Metroid Prime” may not be classified as an FPS, but has some of the smoothest control of that uses the First person perspective and shooting element and complete with a lock-on system, why most FPS chameleon tend to imitate “Halo” over this Gem still baffles me to this day and is the one question that is the source of my sleepless nights.
Like Legend of Zelda, Metroid is chock filled with over the top , jaw dropping epic boss battles except for the tiny twist that these battle can be somewhat challenging, where at some point you even have to
analysis the arena surrounding, and that were Metroid work best the observation, exploration and the taking in of the environment around you.
I read this new article recently where an IGN editor comparing Metroid being compared to the Citizen Kane. After a good long hard laugh of IGN.com trying to look seriously, I calmed down and I more I hear his argument, the more clear it stand. Of course, it’s no way the prime (no pun intended) example to represent director perfection in the videogame industry……. But it’s up there.
#03 Mother 3 (Gameboy Advance) (2006).
I have to admit, when I first told people about this game, most people didn’t take me seriously that the Mother series is one of the most compelling and charismatic game ever. I even showed this game to my sixteen year old sister and her first words were :”It look childish”.
This is the point where I tell them about the wonder and charm that is seals within the cartridge (or in this due to my lack of knowledge of the Japanese language, emulation) but I’ let them go around walking around in the ignorance blitz while I go around in totally aware-blitz (which like ignorance blitz except I have to spend more time in being more knowledgeable of one particular game, yeah that sounds bout right and totally worth it).
I could go on about the charm and the compelling story of the game, but I would ashamed of myself if I went on and not mention the cleverness of the game.
I like think of The Mother series as the Sunday comics of the videogame industry: Deep, intellectual hidden with a children theme of cuteness. Here we have story (without spoiling anything): Despair, conformity, identity with a hint of a environmental message to top it off. It’s easy to connect with the interesting and diverse character as you get a each control each one and experience the story from their point of view.
Discussing the actual gameplay, it’s approve par. Enough though I always wonder why they got the rid of the instant battle cancellation-thingy (?**) is beyond me, but there is no point in the game where level grinding is essential to progress.
Yes it’s a shame that Japan is self conscious about their critically acclaimed game series, and the only means for those who are outside out Japan to illegally download it (Shame that’s how low we sunk to play the game).
#02 Eternal Darkness: Sanity Requiem (GameCube) (2002).
Scaring people is easy. I mean, my friend got scared when I lost the tickets to Arctic Monkeys, so did my room mate by making them think he was shrinking (long story). In videogame game it’s no exception, most survival horror games rely on shock horrors ( i.e. Deep Space, Resident Evil, F.E.A.R etc.). While there are other games that went for the aspect of constantly keeping the playing “in fear” (Silent Hill, System Shock), you know something is to happen and you are just waiting for the inevitable . But “Eternal Darkness” is different, it’s a game that made it their objective to freak out the player but only whenever the game feels like. With its trademark “Sanity Metre”, you didn’t know what to expect from the game, you never knew whether the game was going to go with it’s random head explosion or zombie morphing. Or worse, it could just mess with you and not let anything happen at all, building up expectation that the end is nigh for you only to make you into a laughing stock (and screaming and mourning sound effects didn’t really help either) . Eternal Darkness was a game that truly lead you to your insanity, or did it?
A lot of reviewers were complimenting the game for it controls in term combats as it stood out from most of the survival-horror games for having actually having good controls. When I first heard, I bluntly went “Really, I didn’t even notice the controls ” and that right there is when you know the control are good, when you can play a game for two hours a day for a week and not once you’re not aware of the control (as if you were having “fun”?) . Some, would say that this go against the genre as the Survival Horrors controls are suppose to be shite as you are suppose to be defenceless as it enhance the thrill of being in the a survival horror and that’s when I use my memorised statement which is :”Fuck off”!
I have to mention (Again, without spoiling) the clever way of how the story allow the game makes each chapters seem fresh and exciting as the next and connect each character spiritually with the games macguffin .It a shame that most only will recognise this game as “Nintendo’s first Mature game” while it is much more that. It’s deep, immersive and down right freaky.
#01 Half-Life 2 (PC) (2004).
To many, this is not an surprise. The game is one of the few that has been crowned as an achievement in gaming in the eyes of developers, critic and the general public with it Havok physic engine and Source game engine. And what better way to show off the physics of the game with the gravity gun or if you want the zero-point energy field manipulator, where your ammo is anything isn’t attached to the ground!
You’d think that a game that is complimented about it’s mechanics wouldn’t have a heart, yet valve proves us wrong with their uncanny ability of making us care for the npc’s.
These aren’t you’re run of the mill npc’s were they always get in your way and have to tell you that “They’re old” before anything else, they’re Barney Calhoun your favourite security guard from Black Mesa or Eli Vance*** your aging co-worker who is now head of the lambda resistance. These are character that you grow attach to with their witty banter and playful insults towards you (Gordon Freeman) and each other, which is always a joy to listen as the dialogue is top notch.
“Half-life 2” is one of those games that is riddled with moment of sheer amazement that would make Francis Ford Coppola take notes in location and in direction, like the first time entering Ravenholm, or the marsh chase scene however none can compare to the moment of infiltrating the citadel, it just one of those moments in video games where you just have to take it in and just stare at the surroundings in sheer awe. There’s never been a point in the game where I can say that “Hang on. Something feels out of place….”, the pacing is extraordinary the characters feel genuine, the location are beautiful, the game mechanic is solid and some other fifth thing that I sure it can be found at gamespot.
I didn’t know whether it was cheating to include the two following episodes along with Half-Life 2 so I’m excluding it from it the countdown …Probably for the best, as the universe might implode might implode with sheer amazement if we did count all three games as one!!! I want to end this with ““Half-Life 2” isn’t just the best game of the decade, but one of the best games of all time” but I would have to
* I’m currently playing other games of the 00’s that are also solid candidates for the list: “Shenmue”, “Thief II” and “God of War”. I didn’t want to talk about a games that I didn’t complete, but if the games keeps their steady pace, “Thief II” Would be definitely taking the tenth spot in the list.
**The instant battle cancellation-thingy was a thingy introduced in “Earthbound” that if you got into a battle where the computer is so sure that you’d win, that it skips the battle and gives you the Experience points immediately. Seriously, why did get rid of it?
*** The guy who did the voice of Eli Vance in “Half-Life 2” is also the guy who did the voice of Rafiki in “The Lion King”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!