The anticipation is building… we’re on the second last entry of the Shadow’s Sixty! This time we’ll cover rank 12 through 7. With this list we are finally entering into the true best games I’ve ever played. What genres will we see here? What games? Will your favourite make the cut for this list? If you’ve been following along, will your guesses match the reality?
These are all games that have left a lasting impression on me… some new, some not so new. Some of these games shaped my love of gaming, others made me lifetime fans of certain worlds. These games set the bar by which all others are judged, and it is my pleasure to give you your first glimpse into the top 10 today. I know some of you have been (im)patiently waiting for this day, so I won’t make you wait any longer.
12. Final Fantasy: Tactics
Final Fantasy Tactics is the best Strategy RPG I’ve ever played, and I have a hard time believing any other will ever surpass it. FFT features an amazing tale of religious corruption and the secret war that threatened to end the world. The narration is performed by a scholar who, years later, tries to piece together the realities of the events that happened as the written account of the history of that time is too biased to be trusted. Thanks to this narration, you’re given the advance warning that things are not quite as they seem, which just serves to make the events of the prequel chapter all the more jarring, and the events that follow all the more enthralling.
But none of this would matter if the gameplay weren’t rock-solid as well. The game offers a wide array of classes and abilities to play around with, letting you find the perfect playstyle for yourself. And, even though there is a ‘right answer’ if you just want to be OP, every class can be incredibly potent if used correctly, meaning you’re never punished for your playstyle. The game is a fantastic middle ground between the more shallow tactical RPGs that were prevalent around its time and the almost overly punishing ones that come out every so often.
11. Persona 4: The Golden
Persona 4: The Golden is one of the best games the Vita has to offer, and one of the best RPGs ever made. We could be here for ages if we wanted to talk about everything this game did right, so I’d like to focus on a few very specific and very special things it did.
The first thing I wanted to focus on was the way it managed to make turn based JRPG combat feel exciting. I’ve never seen another game make turn-based combat this engaging, but Persona 4: The Golden made use of a few different factors to bring excitement to what is normally not the high-point of an RPG. The first was the soundtrack. The music was so catchy that even the characters couldn’t help but move to the beat. The second was the addition of a cheerleader character whose role was simply to call attention to what happened, giving you props when you do well and letting you know when something goes wrong. She also offered conditional buffs and effects as a result of her being there to support you. It was fantastic.
The other thing P4G did so well was create an immensely customizable experience. You had the choice of a varied and interesting cast of characters for your party. You could choose which characters you spent time with to develop their relationships, which affected both their story and how they performed in combat. You could customize the main character’s arsenal of persona almost infinitely, between the dozens and dozens of available persona and all of the different active and passive abilities they could learn. There were even a plethora of endings to hunt out, including even a hard-to-find ‘true bad’ ending. It is easily the most dynamic RPG I’ve seen, start to finish. And it managed that without sacrificing quality in any area.
10. Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is a game that was so good that it single-handedly convinced me for around a decade that I loved Zelda games in general, as opposed to this one in specific. They created a near-perfect combination of linearity and exploration that had me hooked on it. This was the game that truly perfected the formula I referenced earlier when talking about Darksiders 2. That combination of frustration at being unable to do things you want to and relief/satisfaction when you finally uncover the item you’ve needed to interact with the blocks in your path… it is, to be blunt, addictive.
The other thing that always impressed me about this game is how well it managed to tell a coherent story with so little talking. You really only get talking at the ends of the various dungeons, but you still feel motivated to pursue it at all times. This is, in part, due to the addictive nature of the puzzle solving… but also due to the overall intrigue created by the story and the world. We’re not talking world class writing here, but it manages to – through events and what minimal dialog is present – to give you a reason for pursuing these actions beyond ‘damsel in distress’ over the course of the experience. Although, we all know that Link really just wanted to get laid.
9. Rayman Origins
When asked who the king of platformers is, a lot of people like to point to Mario. And sure, Mario’s had some excellent games in his life… but Rayman earned his crown with Rayman Origins. Rayman Origins does everything you expect from a light-hearted platformer. It is fun, lively, colourful, exciting, and its controls are perfectly responsive and accurate. But those are kind of what you expect from this type of platformer… and what you’d expect from Rayman of course, so that alone wouldn’t make Origins this high on the list.
What made Rayman Origins stand out among all the exceptional 2d Platformers I’ve played was how perfectly the game melds challenge with fun. It’s rare that a game will be so much fun that I’m willing to spend literally hours on the same small section of a challenge stage, working to perfect it motion by motion. It was amazing… the music was catchy and exciting and the art was extremely pretty. And between that, the fact that I was dying over and over again never bothered me… it also helped that I got to watch myself gradually make it slightly further each time. But don’t worry, that’s only the game’s most difficult sections! You can finish the core game without anything that difficult. The core game is just hard enough to make you feel like you’re up to trying the tough stuff without making it feel annoying or frustrating.
For a long, long time Xenogears was my favourite JRPG of all time. It did so many things right. The characters were absolutely spectacular – even the less-developed characters like Emeralda. Each member of the cast got such incredible development, and had a perfect place in the overall story. What made the story so special for me was that it was the first time I’d really seen a story touch on some of the concepts Xenogears hit, such as corruption in religion. It was so deep, and it left a lot of questions open for potential future exploration within the greater world, but still had a coherent and complete story. The other thing I absolutely fell for, even as a kid, was the gradual romance between Fei and Elly. The two characters both had such intriguing pasts, but the way their relationships built just fascinated me… it also helped that Elly is hot, of course. But I promise, that wasn’t all there was to it!
The other thing to note, although this may be somewhat influenced by nostalgia, but I really loved the battle systems it had. The normal battle system was really unique, with the concept of ‘storing’ points for combo attacks and the various techniques you could perform. It really spiced up the standard ‘turn based combat’ systems JRPGs all had, and offered some unique progression paths, forcing you to experiment with the various abilities and attack combos to learn new ones. It also bled into the mech combat, with certain combos in normal combat unlocking additional special attacks in the mech combat. And the fact that both combat systems were integral, without feeling forced, throughout the entire game was incredible.
7. Warcraft 3
Our 7th place game belongs to what is, in my eyes, Blizzard’s greatest game and the best Real-Time Strategy game of all time. They didn’t want to simply reinvent the wheel as per either StarCraft or Warcraft 2, so they introduced a very unique element to the mix: Heroes. This was, in my eyes, revolutionary. By making the units a little less disposable and having units who scaled on their own over the course of the game, it made the game more dynamic and engaging for me. It added a new element to exploration, as you not only had to watch for where enemy units were but also which neutral camps had been taken. It created a level of strategy that was so distinct from what I’d played elsewhere, and it allowed for new tactics to emerge.
Additionally, the story of Warcraft 3 is so good that it has, essentially, laid the groundwork for Blizzard’s success. It made countless lifetime fans of their writing and their worlds, fans who were so interested by this world that they were willing to jump into a relatively expensive genre just to see its continuation, which was a big part of World of Warcraft’s fanbase. The characters in Warcraft 3 are so well written and memorable that, to this day, they still form the backbone of World of Warcraft’s stories. Characters like Tyrande Whisperwind, the Stormrage brothers, Rexxar, and so many others. These characters were so memorable in Warcraft 3, that they’ve been able to carry them for over a decade since then and build on them.
So, we’re into the top 10 now. We’re closing in on the final list… and for any of you guys following along this list, I’m curious to know your thoughts at this point. Did you expect the way this list has turned out so far? Have any games’ placement surprised you? And most importantly… what games do you expect to see in the final list? Please, comment below if you’d like to share!