Matt’s All Time Favorite Video Games: #10 – #6
As you may have noticed, I happen to be a big time gamer (as with the rest of us here on Metal State). I started out on an Atari 2600 back in the beginnings of the 1980s and haven’t looked back since. I can not think of a time in my life when I haven’t been completely in love with my digital darlings. Not to brag, but I will, I have played and finished hundreds of games, and not like 100 something games. Roughly counting, I’d say that number is up around the 500 mark. Yet somehow in my ~30 solid years of gaming I have not sat down and tried to make list of the best games I have ever played. So given we are slightly obsessed with lists around these parts, I figured it’s time to do so (my cohorts will be joining in with their lists as well in the coming days). Every single game on this list I consider a must play and highly suggest you check all of them out.
For my own set rules I made the cut-off anything released before 2013 as I still need to let the new releases sink in a bit more and some games get an entry as a series and some games in the series get their own number. If a specific game in a series affected me more than the rest, that game gets top billing and a series gets the number if I feel that the whole series works together to make a cognitive whole. I hope you all enjoy this little list and find some games to either revisit or discover for the first time. And as always, I’d love to hear your favorite games. Even though I have played a lot of games, chances are I may have overlooked a hidden gem and point in its direction is always welcome. Peace Love and Metal!!!!!!
#10: Final Fantasy Tactics
To this day I have yet to play a turn-based strategy RPG that comes close to Final Fantasy Tactics on the PS1 (very good port also available on PSP). Usually games in this niche genre feature a decent story but lack in gameplay depth or vice versa, FFT has them both in spades. Easily one of the best narratives of any Final Fantasy game, the story of young squire Ramza and 2 warring nations takes an infinite number of twists and turns, and unlike many Final Fantasy games, has a very dark and adult tone to it all. And at about 1/4 way through the game, which is about 60 hours long for a fast playthrough, the story takes a huge twist that adds so much to the narrative as subjects on religion join in with the themes of race, poverty, and caste systems. There were additional entries into the FFT series, but never was the darkness and seriousness of the first game reciprocated, such a shame as I thought it was an excellent tone to do an offshoot in a rather chipper series.
And with all the great narrative going on, the deep gameplay really sucked me in further. Working off the traditional job system in previous FF games and the classic ATB system as well, Squaresoft adapted them wonderfully for a turn based strategy game. Basically, you assign classes to your pool of characters and then choose which abilities they learn as they level up with something called job points. You can mix and match abilities as well. For example, a white mage will specialize in healing and defensive spells, but if you want to give them something to use on the offense in a pinch, you can fill a second spot with black magic. You also get perks and reaction skills to assign, so in the end, for the best army, it pays off leveling your characters in as many jobs possible so you can create a nice and diverse team of warriors, because you’re going to need it. The AI doesn’t fuck around and will give you a serious challenge (protip: save A LOT and keep many different save files)
I must have sunk hundreds upon hundreds of hours into this game and even more with the PSP port which is a delight to have when going on long flights. When it comes to turn based strategy RPGs FFT is where I keep the bar and no game has yet to come close in quality and depth. A must play game that holds up wonderfully today and I expect it to do so for many more years to come.
9: Red Dead Redemption
While at first I bought this game based on the Grand Theft Auto with horses look it had, when I started to play the game, I quickly realized that was probably the most basic description one could give this masterpiece of modern gaming. Playing as ‘the once bad boy now trying to get his life on the good guy track but unjustly thrust back into the world of killing people by the US government because they are blackmailing him and holding his family as hostage’ John Marston totally made me feel like a complete bad ass time after time. Nothing is more awesome than speeding through an open field chasing your target with a gang of bandits on your backside and then snapping into the games ‘bullet time’ feature to pick off a couple of pursuers and cripple your marks horse so you can run up to him, knock him unconscious, toss him on the back of your horse, and then get back to spiriting away before the rest of the bandits catch up. Totally exhilarating stuff, and this game is packed with great moments like that time and time again. Best part, is that it’s rarely scripted. And that organic and truly open nature is what really sucked me into the Wild West of Red Dead Redemption. Also the fact that I could tie up a hooker and stick her on the train tracks and get an achievement when the train runs her over.
The story in this game is also one of the best Western stories ever too coming close to matching the greatness that is The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and even surpassing the quality of many other Spaghetti Western films. As to not spoil anything about it for those that haven’t played it yet I’ll just say my above description of main character John Marston is all you really need to know and that you travel all over America dealing with themes like modernization, warring factions that both reside in grey areas, getting old, and as the title assumes, redemption. Each character has a fleshed out personality and each wholly believable only adding to the realism of Red Dead’s already quite realistic world.
This is pretty much the ultimate open world game in my book as no other really has nailed that living breathing world like this one has, and when you toss in the excellent multiplayer where you can make a posse with your buddies and travel around the games map taking on other posses or indulging in a high noon quick draw shoot out, that world comes even more to life. But really, even if you completely skip out on the multiplayer aspect there are countless hours of quality and fun game to be had in Red Dead Redemption. It’s also worth noting that the game’s story is a single full arc that comes to a complete close and ties up all loose ends without sequel baiting (even though there could be a possibility of a sequel, but it would have to be a whole different arc). Seriously, if you enjoy open world games and cowboys, this needs to be #1 on your to play list.
#8: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
I have a strong love of every entry in the Castlevania series, but by far the leader of the pack is when it took a turn for a more ambitious style. Everything I love about the series like the whipping, jumping, boss battles, killing Dracula are all here, but now there are RPG elements such as leveling up and meticulously choosing the proper equipment to suck me into the game even further. It’s just so much fun.
Each stage in the game is wildly unique to itself and they are all interconnected in on big map/castle for you to explore reaching new areas when you uncover a new item or special move, much like the Metroid games (which with the combination of the 2 gameplay styles created the Metroidvania genre known today). The graphics are wonderful and even today hold up since they have aged well and have a distinct style. And that music. Rocking Gothic symphonic heavy metal will keep adrenaline pumping as you barrel through hordes of monsters hell-bent on reaching the final confrontation with Dracula. Toss in a way to turn the whole castle upside-down and unlockable playable characters and you have a game the oozes with fun and value.
And it’s so replayable. When I first bought a Playstation the guy who sold it to me didn’t tell me I needed a memory card so for the first weeks I owned the console I had no way of saving my game. The only games I had were Final Fantasy VII and Castlevania and I was sure as hell not going to try to take on FF7 in single sittings. Castlevania on the other hand I played the shit out of trying to make it as far as possible before I got killed and had to start over from the beginning. Turns out it was quite enjoyable and now I think I can make it up to the Haunted Library without even coming close to taking a hit.
#7: Sam and Max (Series)
At first I was going to just place the 1993 Lucas Arts game Sam and Max: Hit the Road at this spot, but recently playing through the 3rd season of TellTale’s (which is basically the same team that made all those great LucasArts adventure games including the Sam and Max game) Sam and Max series I was reminded at just how fucking great the whole entirety of the series is. Nostalgia be damned.
Basically not much to talk about gameplay-wise. It’s your basic point and click adventure. But what sets this series apart from the rest is its title characters and wicked insane twisted sense of humor. Sam is a gumshoe dog in a fedora who has a penchant for taking the piss out of any and every hardboiled cop drama at any possible moment and Max is a hyperkinetic rabbity thingy, or a Lagomorph in layman’s terms. Together they solve crazy capers like finding a missing Bigfoot, stopping a space gorilla bent on taking over the universe with magical Fisher-Price toys, or stopping a happiness cult (slightly modeled after Heaven’s Gate and Scientology).
One thing I really love about the game is you really need to suspend your logic and immerse yourself into the way the game’s world works to come to a solution to the many off the wall puzzles the game tosses at you. Nearly every puzzle serves to advance the narrative and rarely ever feel contrived or shoehorned in. And the humor in the game works the same. The jokes always work in their context and outside since they are infinity quotable and memorable.
If you have a funny bone that needs tickling, I can not recommend any game in this series high enough. Each contains its own original story line and is filled with so many funny moments that have made me go back and replay them just like I would go re-watch Spaceballs for another round of good laughs. And if you have ever tried to play games that attempt to ‘be funny’ you know they are verrrry rare, and in such a hard to please niche, it’s quite amazing that the Sam and Max series consistently delivers on the quality belly laughs.
#6: The Walking Dead
If you haven’t noticed by now, I really enjoy adventure games, especially those made by LucasArts during the 90’s and TellTale Games. But if there’s one thing I could fault adventure games for it’s a lack of innovation. Point, click, solve puzzles, advance story. The tried and true formula has remained rather unchanged since the genre’s advent. But leave it to TellTale to push the genre forward. Experimenting with different ways of presenting the gameplay of the genre in their more modern games like Back to the Future, Sam and Max, and Jurassic Park, they have honed down the advancement of the genre to a ‘T’ in their multi-award winning rendition of The Walking Dead.
While there are puzzles and other common adventure game trappings, what is so different with The Walking Dead is that it places a stronger emphasis on the narrative/story and how it unfolds and the control the player has over the narrative. You play as Lee Everett, a man on his way to jail for committing manslaughter when the zombie apocalypse breaks out. He escapes death by zombie and his captivity and goes on to meet a young girl Clementine and they go on to seek safety and refuge meeting many other characters along the way. And in how you interact and respond to the different situations and dialogs between characters builds how the narrative unfolds in your own little personal story. Sure there are other games with the ‘choose your own adventure’ style story, but none execute it quite as perfectly as The Walking Dead. Every choice you make has potential to come back and bite you in the ass or drive the story in unexpected directions. This plus for many hard decisions you need to make under strict time restraints makes every choice really feel like it matters the whole world.
When you are shaping the narrative to your own, you find you have a deeper investment in every aspect of the game therefore leading to engagement unlike any other adventure game before it. You really get attached to the characters and their plights. There were characters I really hated at the start of the game, but as I reached the conclusion, getting to know them really changed my outlook on them as through deep tragedy I saw the stark humanity in them. And when I reached the end of the story, I can say, that The Walking Dead was the first game to ever make me shed a tear, and I’m a cold-hearted bastard when it comes to stuff like this (seriously, the last time a movie or game made me cry was when I was a kid and Atreyu’s horse, Artax, dies in The Neverending Story).
I have played through the game multiple times and mixed up my choices to see how things unfold and can say, while the story remains wholly the same, the way everything plays out leads to a different experience each time. This plus the already mentioned amazing story will have me returning to the game many more times in the future. While zombies and even The Walking Dead brand is being ground into a fine paste with over saturation, this game (and possibly the sequel) are the exception to the rule. This is a do not miss game for anyone, even non-gamers, and I wouldn’t be surprised that if I do another one of these top lists some years down the road that The Walking Dead moves up some places as it stands the test of time.