We all love top 10s, don't we? Let's have a nostalgia-fuelled discussion! In terms of criteria I've weighted replay value most heavily - it's hard to leave a game off my list if I've played it repeatedly or sunk hundreds of hours into it, as so few games justify that level of commitment when there are so many other stories being told. Right now seems like the perfect time to have these kinds of discussions. I want to help each other decide what to play next or what to re-play in lockdown as we wait for the summer's big releases. I'm falling down an RPG rabbit hole right now (I just bought the Grandia HD Collection on Switch plus both the Outer Worlds and Divinity: Original Sin II on the PS4 - I'm anticipating a long lockdown!), but this list is for TOP 10s OF ALL TIME. Without further ado...
10 - Final Fantasy X (PS2, PS4 Remaster)
Final Fantasy X is a game which holds a special place in my heart. Yes it's cheesy at times and the voice acting is a little awkward in places. The game is very linear (a common criticism nowadays but not something that tends to bother me if done in the service of telling a good story, as will be apparent from most of the games on this list!) for the first half, maybe two-thirds. The Calm Lands is where the game really gets going both in terms of story and in terms of the power-fantasy I want from my RPGs. From there on, the game gives me everything I could possibly want from a Final Fantasy game. The twist delivered by Yunalesca in the bowels of the ruined city of Zanarkand is truly heartbreaking and elevates the narrative far beyond the usual "good-vs-evil" JRPG tropes that the story follows to that point. Tidus starts to realise that his father was a much more complex character than he ever gave him credit for. The game starts to give you the tools to bend the sphere grid to your will, which turns progression from one-way traffic into one of the most rewarding, complex and customisable upgrade systems in all of JRPG-land. The hours spent hunting down all of the optional Aeons, Celestial Weapons, maxing out character's stats and beating secret bosses not just once but over and over again down the years mean this game has to be in my top 10. A classic which will keep you busy for a long, long time and, I believe, currently discounted in its remastered form on PSN. Thank me later!
9 - Diablo 2 (PC)
Diablo 2 is one of very few online multiplayer RPGs that I didn't bounce off of. The reason being that it still manages to tell a dark and compelling, if threadbare, story - quite the feat from a game in a sub-genre that unashamedly and quite rightly has to relegate narrative to a secondary concern. The real draw to Diablo 2 though is of course the gameplay. The game boasts some of the most interesting character classes and skill trees in all of RPG gaming and was one of the first games I remember that seemed designed to reward class diversity within the party. I loved the hours spent with my glass-cannon necromancer or sorceress builds, hurling spears of bone or ice into mobs and watching everything explode in a crescendo of gore. Lots of fun but such characters were, in a word, fucked without a hardy barbarian in the party to soak up damage from nasty bosses like Duriel (shudder) or Diablo himself. The cherry on the cake is the loot system which feeds you constant little endorphin hits to which you will quickly become addicted! The system inspired countless imitations (for better or worse) but this one has not been dulled down to push the player toward microtransactions. Not one to play now but Diablo 3 still has a strong following.
8 - The Last of Us (PS3, PS4 via PSN)
What else is there to say about The Last of Us? It succeeds as a survival-horror game, an action game, a third-person shooter, all wrapped in a story among the finest ever told in a videogame. Should Joel have sacrificed Ellie at the end? Probably. Did I want him to? Fuck no! This game makes you care about this pixelated girl like family and that's a feat few games can accomplish. A love letter to Cormac McCarthy's The Road and so many other post-apocalyptic survival tales which this game transcends, it's the best game Naughty Dog has ever made (high praise in itself) and definitely at least one of, if not THE best in Sony's long list of exceptional exclusive titles. Replay it now before the sequel's June release? I certainly plan to!
7 - Metal Gear Solid (PS1)
Metal Gear Solid was probably the second part of my journey into videogame addiction. Arriving shortly after Final Fantasy VII, as if to ram home the point that videogames were now a sophisticated medium more than capable of dealing in mature themes and delivering a political message as well as being fun. MGS single-handedly kick-started the stealth genre. It is punctuated throughout by memorable moments (Meryl pinned down by Sniper Wolf, the Miller reveal) and characters (Psycho Mantis, Revolver Ocelot and the two Snakes are the standouts) which stick in the memory even more than 20 years on. The series has evolved gameplay and graphics-wise over the years, but I personally don't think the setting and story of the original MGS has ever been topped. As much as I love the Metal Gear series the supernatural elements have always felt a little out-of-place to me, pseudo-scientific explanations or not. Here those are kept to a minimum and the story plays out like a Hollywood espionage epic - Kojima gave us the blueprint for a Bond reboot before anyone even realised we needed one. Sadly this one is not available anywhere on modern consoles, but we can play the almost-as-excellent MGS3 or 4 instead.
6 - Bloodborne (PS4)
The high point of the rightly adored Soulsborne series, featuring punishing but fair, fast-paced gameplay, a million ways to play and build out your character (sorely lacking in Sekiro) and the series' best setting and lore. Vicar Amelia, Cleric Beast, Father Gasgoine - these are 3 of the first four bosses in the game and stand out to me as some of the most memorable fights in all of gaming, which speaks volumes of the quality of the design on offer here. I've played it multiple times, including the excellent expansion, but whether I played as a greatsword-swinging arcane paladin or a chikage-sporting blood-ninja, I had a blast. The biggest mystery in a game full of them is why From Software are yet to announce a sequel.
5 - Deus Ex (PS1, PC (Steam))
Granted the graphics have not aged well but I replayed this last year on the PC and the story and gameplay still hold up today. This game is another founded on a fantastically well-written tale of espionage and conspiracy. In fact, it probably piqued the inquisitive minds of a great number of today's most vocal conspiracy theorists (did Kyrie Irving play this game as a kid?) Despite the strong narrative the real innovations in this game were in the gameplay department. The game that invented the first-person action-rpg, Deus Ex straddles genres and started trends which many AAA games of today still follow. Multiple ways to complete an objective? Check! First-person shooter with fused with RPG levels of customisation options? Check! Branching story paths which can lead to the deaths of or allegiances with certain characters? Check! Multiple endings? Check! Bad-ass leather jacket for the protaganist? Check! This is the game that started it all. Always well worth a replay in my book.
4 – Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (PC)
The finest game in both Bioware and LucasArts extensive and, at least in Bioware’s case, consistently excellent back catalogues (Bioware’s recent missteps aside) Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic pioneered the action-rpg hybrid system recently used to great effect in FFVII Remake. Beyond that, the game features fantastic writing, one of the best twists in any medium, a loveable cast of characters and a morality system which sees your choices have a real and tangible effect on the game world. The world is also full of lightsabers – what’s not to like? I’ve played it countless times and it still holds up today.
3 – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo Switch)
I am still sore about the lack of traditional Zelda dungeons. The game is thin on story, even for a franchise which does not tend toward too much storytelling. What BotW does do though, is place the player in a game world where truly anything seems possible – it is a feat of digital world design unlike any other. The charming, cartoonish, watercolour aesthetic belies a world which stands out for its commitment to realism. The physics engine constantly surprises and empowers the player to imagine almost any solution to any problem one might encounter. The first true “open world” game feels like Nintendo is thumbing its nose at its detractors and saying “anything you can do…” in that quintessentially childlike Nintendo way. Full of beautiful discoveries to make in a world that serves as its own waypoint, there really is nothing like it. If the sequel can build on this and reintegrate some of the classic Zelda tropes that were lost, then BotW2 will likely take its predecessor’s place on my list. In the meantime, BotW is comfortably the second-best game in a legendary franchise. Unfortunately, in that quintessentially Nintendo way, Miyamoto stills wants you to pay 60 quid for it...
2 – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)
No surprises here. OoT should be first if I’m being honest, but I have a strong bias at play for no.1 on my list. This is a seminal game and undisputed masterpiece. I own an ancient, dusty TV whose only function is to be rolled out every few years to receive the signal from the N64, which I own for no other reason than to play this game and its brilliant follow-up, Majora’s Mask. I can’t even hazard a guess at how many times I’ve played it. OoT is the ultimate videogame comfort food and I shall never allow my girlfriend to stop me playing my little fairy boy game.
1 – Final Fantasy VII (PS1, PS4 Remaster)
I’ve made clear elsewhere that I am a HUGE FFVII fanboy. I still feel that, despite all the accolades and love for the game, it is underappreciated. Too many people don’t even consider it their favourite Final Fantasy. This is a thoughtcrime. To me FFVII is the finest game ever made and though I can make strong objective arguments in its favour the truth is that I have not arrived at this conclusion scientifically. FFVII is my favourite game because playing it transports me back into my 8-year-old self, sitting in a tiny chair (which still resides in my family home but which I would now turn to kindling) next to my bottom bunk in Power Rangers pyjamas, glued to a tiny TV. My father is standing over me and smiling as I wax lyrical about how cool Cloud is, and how grateful I am that he’d bought me the Playstation that previous Christmas. The most enduring memories, the most powerful ones, all have a trigger. Like how hearing REM’s “Losing My Religion” puts me right back in the car with my father as we headed off on holiday, or the smell of Werther’s Originals, which puts me right back on my grandfather’s lap as he read to me from one of his books about the Second World War. FFVII is one of those things for me and for that reason, there really is nothing any reasonable person can say to convince me that it shouldn’t be so high on this list! Would love to debate 10-2 though – please leave a comment with your top 10!
Honorable mentions: TLoZ: Majora’s Mask, Skies of Arcadia, The Witcher 3, Red Dead Redemption, Devil May Cry (just the whole bloody franchise really), RE (1-3, never played 4(!), 5-7 are a bit arse, the remakes are excellent), Fallout: New Vegas