The Shadow’s Sixty Countdown – Rank 18 to 13

We’re in our final third, about to break into the final quarter… and getting real close to that final top 10!

Looking back at the list, we’ve got a pretty good snippet of the best gaming has to offer, don’t we? We’ve covered JRPGs such as Child of Light, Final Fantasy 9, Chrono Cross, and Legend of Dragoon… amazing platformers from Megaman to Sound Shapes… shooters like Uncharted, action games like God of War… even fighting games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter 2.

Mass Effect

We’ve covered consoles from all eras, PC games both old and new. We’ve hit on some of gaming’s most recognizable figures, and obscure indy titles that you might not have even heard of before this list. But we’re not done yet. We still have games of many different genres ahead of us. To start this list off… we have what is, in my eyes, the best Western episodic game of all time.

18. Mass Effect

Some of you are probably going to call me a cheater for this one, but I can’t separate Mass Effect into 3 separate games. I consider Mass Effect to be another game in the same vein as the Legend of Heroes games: I consider it episodic. I look at Mass Effect as episode 1, 2, and 3 – not 3 separate games. Why, do you ask? The answer is simple.

Mass Effect 3

While the games do have defined beginnings and ends, they make no sense without the context of the series and they work infinitely better when you look at each game as part of a story as opposed to looking at the parts of each game as combining to form a whole. Mass Effect 3, for example, is extremely criticized as a bad game, but the majority of the criticism I’ve read completely stops being applicable if you look at Mass Effect 3’s entire length as being the ‘ending’ of the game as opposed to being a game with a beginning, middle, and end on its own. Even the criticism I levied in my own review doesn’t fit when you look at it this way.

And, as an entire whole, Mass Effect tells one of the best stories gaming has ever seen. The character progression, start to finish, is phenomenal – even for the ‘build your own’ main character. It features a cast that doesn’t contain a single major character I’d describe as ‘bad’, even if some of them appeal to different crowds than others. It features a story progression that hits all the buttons you’d want it to. The suspense is right where you want it, the foreshadowing is present throughout, the characters each have their own part to play – with none feeling forced. And, it does all of this without sacrificing any notes for the gameplay.

17. Final Fantasy 6

I’ve always stood by the fact that FF6 and FF4 are my favourite entries in the core Final Fantasy series, but I’ve often wavered in which order they belong in. This made this part of the list particularly difficult to sort out. Final Fantasy 6 features several really good characters, a great difficulty curve, a ton of variety, and some of the most unique character abilities the series has known.

FF6-Kefka

From among 6’s cast, my favourite was always Gau. This troubled child had, arguably, my favourite character mechanic that Final Fantasy has ever had: the Leap/Rage mechanic. I loved hunting to try to complete the list, and was very saddened to find out that the list could not be completed due to a few glitches! But more than just his unique mechanics, the hints to his backstory were awesome too… completely optional, mind you, but awesome. And the veldt had some of the best music ever – so catchy, it still gets stuck in my head from time to time without having played the game in years!

Probably the biggest key to Final Fantasy 6’s success is its unique villain. So many games try so hard to make villains approachable or relatable. Whether it be revenge, greed, or otherwise… you can usually see where a villain is coming from. Kefka, not so much. Kefka was just absolutely and utterly evil. Insane, evil, and diabolical. And he actually achieves his goal – he wins, gets to rule(and practically destroy) the world, and becomes even more evil in the process. It was a great twist on the standard, and it really made the game stand out.

16. Final Fantasy 4

So why is Final Fantasy 4 above 6 on the list? Well, what can I say? I’m a sucker for a good love story. I really enjoyed the already established romance between Cecil and Rosa, as well as the more over-the-top one between Edge and Rydia. These two stories build so organically throughout the story, and it’s such a rare sight to see a couple who are already past the silly ‘does she/doesn’t she’ moments – especially back in those days. The fact that Cecil and Rosa knew they loved each other from the start, were already an item, and were already serious made the love story so unique for its time and so engaging. They were able to focus on the trials of staying together through a situation as opposed to the trials of getting together, and it allowed for arguably my favourite character of all time to have his time to shine: Kain.

FF4-RosaCecil

But barring that, I think that Final Fantasy 4 had the two best characters the final fantasy series has ever known: Kain and Rydia. These two characters have such conflicted stories, and the game does a great job of exploring both characters in depth. Kain with his long-time unrequited love and his desperation to belong – and the awesomeness of being a dragoon. I mean, that was the reason I played Lancer first when I started Final Fantasy XIV – I wanted to be a dragoon. Right alongside Kain was Rydia with her tragic origin and rapid coming of age. Rydia’s triumphant return is one of the most memorable scenes in my gaming life, leading in to one of the most epic comebacks of all time. These two characters really define this game, for all that it is – in the end – Cecil and Golbez’s story.

The interesting part of comparing FF4 to FF6 is that their villains are both standouts for completely opposite reasons. While Kefka was the ultimate evil, Golbez is the epitome of a relatable villain, once the truth comes out. The parallels between Golbez and Kain are simply fantastic, and the overall progression of Golbez as a villain really help to anchor the story.

15. Darksiders 2

When asked what my favourite recent Zelda game is, my answer is usually Darksiders 2. The first Darksiders game was decent, but had some flaws that made it hard to truly love. Darksiders 2 corrected all of those flaws, resulting in a game that stands as a testament to the old saying: ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’.

The game is an enjoyable action RPG, featuring a relatively solid array of attack abilities that allow you to tackle a variety of different situations. While its combat is not the best you’ll find out there, the controls are reliable and accurate, the animations satisfying, and the variety impressive. If this were nothing more than a basic action RPG, it would be serviceable as such on the merits of the combat alone. However, they don’t stop there. They also add in the diablo-esque loot system complete with a massive variety of equipment and weapons. My favourite were ‘possessed weapons’ that you could sacrifice other items to in order to level them, making them more statistically strong as well as granting special bonus affixes.

Darksiders2-Death

Of course, that alone would not have made this game a contender in the top 20 of my list. What made this game rise above was that they truly showed an understanding of what made Zelda great back in the distant past. Darksiders takes the formula and brings it into a more modern, mature game… and it works fantastically well. You’ll get to wield a variety of amazing weapons as you work your way through a myriad variety of worlds in this post-apocalyptic game. You’ll explore the various dungeons in these worlds, seeing all the things you can’t interact with, and then eventually you reach its depths and uncover a new item, power, or ability and suddenly the puzzles all make sense. That sense of satisfaction as you go back and overcome all the obstacles you couldn’t deal with before is incredible. It is that satisfaction, amidst this well-crafted action game, that makes this warrant such a high spot on this list.

14. Megaman X

While Megaman 3 is my favourite game in the core Megaman series, Megaman X is my favourite Megaman game overall. It’s true that X didn’t feature Rush or Protoman… so how could it possibly be better?

Well, it’s a combination of general improvements. Every aspect of this game is just a tiny bit better than its predecessors. The controls are a little bit more responsive, the stages a little bit more creative, the soundtrack a little bit more amazing, the visuals just a tiny bit better. Each of these small improvements combined to make the X series just enough better than the previous entries for me.

MegamanX-Eagle

However, there was one set of big changes that – to me – really upped the ante a lot. Megaman X introduced a series of ‘armor upgrades’ that allowed for increased functionality. One of these allowed for a dash move which is extremely useful, and another allowed you to break blocks by jumping into them. But most importantly, one of them included the ability to power up special weapons, which added a huge layer of new strategy to the game.  These charged special weapons offered a variety of options including both power increases and utility abilities.

This game also featured a few of my favourite stages and bosses in the entire series. While speedrunners may hate him, Storm Eagle was always my favourite boss. Not only is he an Eagle (which is a huge boon in my eyes), but his stage also has some of the coolest mechanics and the best music in the series.

13. inFamous 2

The inFamous series has always been a favourite of mine, ever since the original came out several years ago. Second Son made this list earlier, and the original game only just barely didn’t make the cut here. But inFamous 2 is just something special. It’s strange, when I go back and re-read my original review, I was critical of things that seem so insignificant compared to the lasting impression the game has made on me and the experience of replaying it. And what an experience that was…

This is one of the few games that have managed to do a believable anti-hero… Cole was such a fantastic character. He was a bit of a jerk, had his unlikeable traits, but he still managed to have some real depth. I will say that his character got a lot more fleshed out on the ‘heroic’ side than on the ‘evil’ side of things, but he still came across as a relatively believable character on either side of the fence. And the ending… oh the ending. This game had me in tears on both sides of the fence. The ‘heroic’ ending was tragic on a grand scale, while the ‘infamous’ ending was a much more personal feeling of loss. The game does such a great job maneuvering these characters into a position where you can care about them – even a scoundrel like Cole’s best friend Zeke – that these endings both have tremendous impact and the story overall feels right either way.

Infamous 2

But of course, all of this is relatively incidental to what truly mattered here, and that was its addictive gameplay. InFamous 2 is competent as a third person shooter, but it is the way the powers reveal themselves and develop over time that truly makes the game spectacular. Regardless of which path you choose, regardless of which powers you specialize in… the game refines itself, offering you the epitome of what you’re aiming to be over the course of the story. If you choose good, you get to become the ultimate precision sniper, whose powers incapacitate and stun rather than killing. Collateral damage becomes a thing of the past with this path, as innocent bystanders remain unharmed in the wake of your powerful arsenal.

If you choose to go the infamous route, your powers become more and more chaotic, creating desolation and destruction wherever you go. One of the greatest feelings I recall is throwing a massive barrage of the lightning bombs you get into an enclosed area and just watching as the explosions spawn more explosions and lay waste to everything and everyone around. It’s hilarious to watch, and truly fits the anti-hero that Cole has become walking down this path.

 

Once again I’d like to apologize for the delays in my writing here. So much has been getting in the way of my writing, but hopefully we’re starting to get past all of that. I have a few other posts I’m hoping to get started on in the coming days, and as my work and life schedules stabilize and I am able to start taking better care of myself, hopefully I’ll return to the same cadence of content I had in the past.

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