This has been a fascinating experience for me. Cataloging my favourite games of all time has required taking stock of ~25 years of time spent with various platforms. Weighing nostalgia and equating it to the reality of the situation… it’s really been a trip down memory lane.
But with this article, we’ll be reaching the halfway point of this amazing journey. In this entry, we’re visiting JRPGs both old and new, exploring the origins of one of gaming’s most notable series, and exploring a few repeats – games from series that have previously earned a spot on this list.
36. Disgaea 5
Disgaea 5 is one of the newest games on this list, coming out just barely before our December 31, 2015 cutoff point. And man did it deliver. This game outshone almost every other SRPG I’ve ever played, offering humour, strategy, and an almost unbelievable level of variety. With dozens of classes, a character name generator that is more enjoyable on its own than many modern games, a few interesting minigames, countless weapons, and a plethora of abilities to enjoy… this is a full package deal.
And it’s a package that’ll keep you entertained for months, if you choose to really delve into it. Not only does it have 9999 levels, but you can actually reset a character’s level to 1 to give them better starting stats to create a better level 9999 character in the end. Add to that the fact that you can level up items, upgrade the bonus stats on the items and combine them to create more, and even improve your character’s stats outside of leveling…. it’s really insane how much they’ve created for this game.
35. Super Mario RPG
Back before Nintendo pissed off Squaresoft and they went over to Sony back in the days of the PS1, the two partnered together to create one of the greatest JRPGs of all time: Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. You play, naturally, as Mario and team up with a varied cast, including series staples like Bowser and Peach and all-new characters Geno and Mallow. The characters are surprisingly well-developed considering this is a Mario game, but less surprising when you realize that Squaresoft did most of the work on this game. The story is both touching and humourous, the returning characters are true to their natures and the new ones fit in well.
The game explores concepts that few games have pulled off well in the intervening years. In Mario RPG, you can perform a ‘perfect block’ by clicking a button just as an enemy attacks you, negating a lot of the damage. On the counterpoint, you can push a button at the perfect time while making an attack to get bonus damage and, in some cases, secondary effects. This timing aspect is prevalent throughout the entire game. It helped to create a combat system that rewarded skilled play and good reactions. Overall, it’s just a great experience.
34. Atelier Escha & Logy
When I look at the Atelier games, I see a series that has been gradually refining their systems towards perfection. While Shallie does have the best crafting in the series, Escha & Logy is only a tiny step behind it in my eyes. But if Escha & Logy is behind Shallie, how is it higher in the rankings here? Simple: The game does a lot of little things better than Shallie while still having a crafting system that is so close to perfect it’s hard to find fault with any part of it.
It may sound strange but Escha & Logy benefited from having a time limit. The fact that the game was broken down into chapters which would progress whether you’d completed everything or not kept a sense of time pressure on you… and with fairly attainable goals to each chapter, you constantly knew what you were aiming for. This corrected one of my biggest complaints about previous entries like Totori and even Ayesha – the fact that you had vast, lofty goals but no real idea of how to reach them. Escha & Logy handled it masterfully, which is why it stands out as the best in the series in my eyes.
33. Final Fantasy 9
And now we come to Final Fantasy 9: Squaresoft’s love letter to past fans of the series. Take a dash of nostalgia, mix it with a sprinkle of innovation, a teaspoon each of incredible art and sound direction, and a healthy handful of addictive minigames, then stir until well blended and you’ll get one of the series’ finest entries.
One thing will always stand out for me about this entry are the minigames. I greatly enjoyed the cardgame, with its slight hint of randomness, and I fell absolutely in love with Chocobo Hot and Cold. Chocobo Hot and Cold is unquestionably the greatest minigame in gaming history, and I think we’ve got a long way before we match its greatness.
Additionally, Final Fantasy 9 boasts the most relatable characters in the series, in my eyes, and uses them masterfully to tell a story that will make you feel emotions from tear-inducing sadness to cheer-inducing glee. From anger and rage to silly laughter. It’s one of those games that stands the test of time and will always be awesome… but only if you’re familiar with the series’ staples.
You see, Final Fantasy 9 was created as a thank you from the team to their fans, and used a lot of concepts from previous games in interesting ways. There are references everywhere, and it is these references that make the game stand out so spectacularly. Every Final Fantasy has a good story, great characters, and so on… but only 9 offered you nostalgia – even when it was brand new – without having to sacrifice anything for it. But it is also this fact that prevents it from climbing higher in my eyes. Since it is reliant upon previous series knowledge, it can be a hard sell to new fans.
32. Metal Gear Solid
Metal Gear Solid 4 has already made this list, but the origins of this great franchise deserve higher praise still. Metal Gear Solid was a masterpiece… featuring some of the series’ most memorable moments, characters, and mechanics. Sniper Wolf is still regarded as one of the best female antagonists in gaming history, Psycho Mantis played with the fourth wall in ways unlike any other games, and Snake himself has become a gaming legend.
Metal Gear Solid provided an experience that went beyond what other games in the genre were offering, and changed matters because of it. The game was fun, the story was great, the characters were phenomenal, and the game made you think. And, as fun as it was to hide in your cardboard box, the game also made you go outside the box to find your answers.
31. Uncharted 3
It may surprise you to see Uncharted 3 on here, since we’ve already past Uncharted 2, but I am one of those rare people who preferred 3 to 2. I enjoyed the gameplay more, I found the shooting more responsive, the graphics were a huge upgrade(which is a surprise considering Uncharted 2 wasn’t exactly ugly), the characters more interesting, and the story more engaging. One nice twist on the common themes seen so often in these games was to make the mastermind behind it all a woman. And not just any woman, the head of an occult secret society… but I won’t spoil any further in case any of you haven’t experienced it.
I think the second point was probably the biggest deal for me though, as the game was significantly more challenging, and if the shooting hadn’t been on-point, it would’ve gotten extremely frustrating. But it was… the shooting was damn-near perfect, and it made the game feel amazing. And that allowed me to appreciate the game’s story, visuals, and characters even more.
Uncharted 3’s multiplayer also provided a bit of fun longevity to a game that is typically a ‘play-once-and-done’ style. It was hardly necessary, but it was fun. And I like fun. So that’s a definite plus.