Putting this list together was such a wonderful experience. It was immensely challenging, sure, but reading through all the games that were released in the last ten years brought back so many fond memories of playing a lot of them for the first time. It also made all of us realize what an incredibly rich ten years it has been in the world of gaming. In fact, it has arguably been the best decade of gaming ever!
This list is also (not coincidentally) coming at a great time of the year. After reading through all fifty selections, it goes without saying that any gamer on the planet should own, or at the very least play, every single game on this list. No question. They are all masterpieces and should not be missed by anyone. So, once all fifty games have been revealed, why don’t you print out the entire list and use it as your makeshift Christmas list!? Trust us, you will not be disappointed if any of these games shows up in your glitter and glue-covered stocking.
There are many items on this list that got the debate juices in the Destructoid offices flowing! (And, yes, that does sound disgusting.) Some games had many stellar installments, and it was very tough to decide which one game would represent the best of that particular series. One of these was Grand Theft Auto. One thing we did agree on: The series is too significant to not be included on a list of best games of the new millennium. Heck, Grand Theft Auto almost defined this last decade (based on media coverage alone)!
As for which is the best in the series, San Andreas just slips past Vice City to win the crown (a crown used to beat hookers to death, naturally). Both have great characters. Both have fully realized, intricately detailed open worlds. Both have creative and over-the-top missions. But Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has a few things extra that make it the best the series has to offer. It has an addictive upgrade system that rewards main character CJ with better abilities. It has more ludicrous missions. It has three gigantic cities and even more area to explore in between each of them. There is so much to do in the corrupt, fantastic world of San Andreas that it is easy to come back to the game at any time and find something completely new to experience.
Dreamcast classic Shenmue II is actually kind of similar to Grand Theft Auto in that it follows around a main character as he goes about his daily life in a large, metropolitan city. The obvious main difference, though, is, as Grand Theft Auto is completely over-the-top and set in a fictional world, Shenmue II takes a brilliant, realistic take on the actions performed by main character Ryo as he solves a mystery around multiple real locations around Hong Kong.
Shenmue II takes pleasure in the normally mundane. In most games, killing a creature will earn you money. In Shenmue II, you have to get an actual job. Used to your character not having to worry about sleeping? Well, Shenmue II features a complex day and night system. Even the weather effects are realistic! This attention to detail is what makes Shenmue II so special. The clever minigames and abundant QTEs (quick time events) sometimes make Shenmue II feel more like a glorified cutscene than an interactive movie, but the one-of-a-kind experience is so fascinating and engrossing that it is easily one of the most unique videogames of the last decade.
When Left 4 Dead released last year, we declared it one of the most innovative and revolutionary multiplayer experiences ever created. We still feel the same way.
Even if you are not a fan of zombies, the ingenious way Valve combines the exciting, narrative structure of a single-player game with the chaotic glory of a multiplayer shooter has to be recognized. Instead of randomly throwing an [x] amount of players on a giant battlefield and letting them fight off continually spawning hordes of the undead, Left 4 Dead follows four specific characters on semi-linear campaigns that perfectly balance a giant open world, multiplayer structure with scripted events straight out of a single-player survival horror game. The game is a nonstop, intense thrill ride -- a thrill ride you can even enjoy with three friends!
[Editor’s Note: Left 4 Dead 2 may turn out to be a better game than the original, but, at the time this list was finalized, the sequel had not yet been released.]
Skies of Arcadia doesn’t pretend to revolutionize the role-playing genre. The game is full of many common RPG trappings: random battles, elaborate dungeons, multiple playable characters. Where Skies of Arcadia shines -- and the reason it is still worshipped to this day by anyone who has played it -- is in the world it creates.
The main heroes of Skies of Arcadia bubble over with personality and inhabit a world full of numerous charming characters, brightly-colored locales, and some of the most entertaining use of airships in any game that has ever featured the popular fantasy vehicles. Skies of Arcadia may be a highly polished role-playing game, but, most importantly, it has a heart.
If you have not played Skies of Arcadia and are planning on giving it a try, make sure to pick up the GameCube port Skies of Arcadia: Legends. Sure, it doesn’t have some of the cool Dreamcast-only features (VMU!), but it includes more content and a much fuller story.
Before Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars was released on the Super Nintendo, people were skeptical about their beloved Mario starring in, of all things, a role-playing game. Lucky for everyone, Super Mario RPG turned out to be one of the greatest games of the 16-bit generation. Cut to years later, when screens of a supposed follow-up to Super Mario RPG made their way around the industry. To say people’s excitement turned into fear is an understatement. Gone was the Square-inspired, gritty, isometric look of the original; in place of it was a brand new, completely cartoony art style.
In a surprise to everyone, Paper Mario (a clever change from the original title, Super Mario RPG 2) turned out to not be just a kid’s game, but a robust, lengthy, and incredibly creative role-playing game -- maybe even more unique than its inspired predecessor! On the surface, the gameplay is very simple, but once you start to play it, Paper Mario contains a rich, deep mechanic that requires player interaction during every battle -- no more just sitting around idly while the action plays out in front of you.
Even more impressive than the fun gameplay is the gorgeous look. Sporting an art style inspired by a pop-up book, Paper Mario uses the 2D visuals and “Paper” name to its advantage, showing off some of the most creative visual touches ever seen in a videogame (environments unfold, Mario “flips” when turning from side to side, etc.).
The Paper Mario sequels are great, but the original will always be the best.
After Saving Private Ryan hit theaters, movie critics rightfully declared that it was almost pointless for any future director to stage the historic and bloody D-Day invasion, since the one captured in Steven Spielberg’s opus was too visceral and realistic to ever be topped. A similar thing happened with The Sopranos. Once the series ended, television critics and audiences alike knew there could never be a television show about the mob again -- at least, not one even close to as good as The Sopranos.
The same thing feels to be happening with Naughty Dog’s very recent Uncharted 2: Among Thieves for the PlayStation 3. No other action/adventure game has ever told a story in such a cinematic way, it feels very probable that no other game could ever present a similar movie-like presentation and come out even half as polished. Uncharted 2 is an extremely tough act to follow. It may be the most perfectly paced videogame ever created, from its first amazing set piece to its last.
Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King is significant for many reasons. First off, it was the first entry in the highly successful series to be released on the PlayStation 2. Secondly, it was the first Dragon Quest game to contain a completely 3D, cell-shaded world. And, finally, it was the first game in the series to be released in America with the original “Quest” in the title, as opposed to the name Dragon Warrior that we had all become used to over the years.
All these milestones are important, but the game’s inclusion on this list is for one reason and one reason only: Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King is an excellent game.
Most videogames suffer from having too many retro sensibilities -- especially ones of the role-playing variety -- but one of the charms of Dragon Quest VIII is its old school vibe. The game looks and feels exactly like a Dragon Quest game should, from its familiar enemies to its classic, beautifully scored music. In a way, Dragon Quest VIII combines a little piece of every other RPG on this list so far: It has the nostalgia of Lost Odyssey, the charm of Skies of Arcadia (thanks in part to some stellar voice casting), and the gorgeous art style of Paper Mario. Dragon Quest VIII is a classic in every sense of the word.
Cave Story is the little indie that could.
Created by only one guy (!) over five years (!!), Cave Story was initially released as Japanese freeware that you could download on the PC. Once people got their hands on it, they were instantly impressed by the game’s design. To this day, many regard Cave Story as one of the most ingeniously designed videogames ever made.
The game itself is a massive adventure in the vein of Metroid or the recent Castlevania games, following a pixellated main character as he explores a huge world, battling numerous enemies and discovering hidden power-ups to access new areas. In addition to the fantastic gameplay, Cave Story adds a surprisingly interesting story full of a great cast of characters and sharp dialogue (it was translated into English shortly after its initial release). If anything, Cave Story is an inspiration to anyone wanting to create a game with limited resources. It’s an absolute masterpiece and a testament to the effect indie games have had on the industry this last decade.
The rise of advanced technology in the new millennium brought about the ability for videogame designers to start making their creations full of so much more than just basic gameplay and graphics. Videogames started to display their own voices -- their own souls. They started to take such beautiful forms that the “games as art” debate hit a fever pitch.
Leading the charge that videogames could be seen as art was Ico for the PlayStation 2. The minimalist adventure game follows a troubled outcast who teams up with an ethereal girl to escape a massive and stunningly constructed prison. Playing the game almost feels like playing a dream. Each sequence takes on a life of its own -- at times relaxing, at other times harrowing. The game almost contains no dialogue, but the relationship formed between the hero and his female companion is unbelievably powerful.
There should be no debate: Ico is a work of art.
It goes without saying that Ikaruga is amazingly designed. Instead of offering a traditional vertical scrolling experience like most other shooters, the classic Dreamcast shoot ‘em up (or “shmup”) features one of the most complex, yet simple mechanics ever seen in a videogame. With the touch of a button, players can swap polarities on their ship from dark to light, affecting how the ship interacts with enemies. This strategic dance almost makes Ikaruga feel like a puzzle game at times. It’s an incredibly well-made mechanic that is taken to dizzying heights in the game’s later levels.
And Ikaruga only gets more and more impressive as the years go by. The design of the game is so ingenious that it really is hard to wrap your head around the way the opposing polarities are so seamlessly implemented. Could Ikaruga be the greatest shmup ever created? It is a definite possibility.
What do you think? How is the list shaping up so far? Hit the comments with your thoughts on some of your favorite games of the last ten years. I will save myself the endless replies by telling you I probably loved whatever games you mention. SO MANY GOOD GAMES!
Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for Part Four (#20-11) of our countdown of the Top 50 Videogames of the Decade!
Part One - #50-41
50. Metal Slug 3
49. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
48. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
47. Vagrant Story
46. Super Smash Bros. Melee
45. Team Fortress 2
44. WarioWare: Twisted!
Part Two - #40-31
40. Kingdom Hearts
39. Rock Band 2
38. Marvel vs. Capcom 2
37. Lost Odyssey
36. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
35. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3
34. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
32. Katamari Damacy
31. Civilization III
Part Three - #30-21
30. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
29. Shenmue II
28. Left 4 Dead
27. Skies of Arcadia
26. Paper Mario
25. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
24. Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
23. Cave Story
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