A year ago I decided to embark on this crazy adventure that bears the name “Legacy of Games”. What started as a way to get out of the system and write about whatever I wanted took off more than I anticipated, thanks in large part to all the people who read our articles and gave us positive feedback. We are by no means huge and may never be, but I am definitely happy with the way things are. As such, I figured it would be fun to do the quintessential countdown article: my top 12 favorite games (of all time).
I didn’t want this to be just a list of 12 really good games, though. When a game makes my top 12 it has to be a game that affected me to such a degree that I could honestly say that, without it, I would be a different person entirely. Some of these games we have already reviewed here and others are on the short list for future appearances. But hey, listen! Enough with the introductions, let’s get started on the most obvious entry on the list.
#12 The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Any fan of the Zelda series is likely to have at least one of its games on their list and for me that is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. This game came out when I was a little fellow and I borrowed it from my cousin after watching him beat the game once. We didn’t actually speak English and had to form our own story around what was happening. I never got far back then, but a lot of its early scenes were etched into my mind, like the Gohma battle, Kokiri Forest, and getting butchered by skeletons in the fields of Hyrule.
It wasn’t until years later when Twilight Princess came out that I reconnected with the Zelda series and finally beat Ocarina of Time. Of all the games in the series, I just feel that Ocarina had the best balance of gameplay and story, presenting a great cast of characters and lots of side-stories to explore alongside solid, if a bit retroactively clumsy, gameplay. Its dungeons, despite being the first time Nintendo attempted to 3D it up, are sublimely designed with complex yet memorable layouts, and the bosses that await at the end are among my favorites in the franchise.
Nowadays it is best experienced via the remake for the 3DS, which perfectly spiced up the game’s visuals and added other features to deal with some of the more outdated mechanics.
I wanted to hand the #11 spot to an indie game, but which one I would pick was perhaps the hardest decision on this list. Video games continue to struggle with story telling that really sweeps the player up and completely engrosses them in the adventure, stories that make them feel like they just took part in something important. I could think of three such games at the top of my head, Undertale, Dust: An Elysian Tail, and Bastion. Taking gameplay into consideration, I chose to hand the spot to Bastion, it being the only game so far I have awarded a perfect score.
Bastion presents players with a beautiful fantasy world torn apart by some cataclysmic event, and has you piece together what happened as you and the few remaining survivors try to pick up the pieces. From its wondrous artstyle to the rock-solid gameplay, this is easily one of my most replayed games. And even though I have completed it this often, there are still story endings I haven’t seen, simply because the characters are so endearing and the lore so enthralling that I always end up doing the same paths that I know will give me a satisfying conclusion.
#10 World of Warcraft*
Perhaps a strange pick for somebody so disinterested in multiplayer, but I used to be super into World of Warcraft. Note the asterisk, however: this entry refers to a game that no longer exists and we have Blizzard Entertainment to thank for that one.
I played WoW when it was a new thing and I don’t think any game ever managed to feel this much like a fantasty adventure. The world of Azeroth was gigantic, harsh, and, at the time, full of mystery. You didn’t know what was going to lurk behind any given tree, what the next areas were going to offer and how likely you were to run into friendly or unfriendly players there. And going at it alone the game could be really tough, especially as a spellcaster like I was. Enemies were sturdy, each hit increased your casting time and there was always a risk that another enemy joined the fight.
My favorite part of the game were the dungeons you could find. Players had to organize into parties and each group of enemies needed a plan, as rogues sapped one guy, a mage polymorphed a second, and the tank then pulled the remainder. All to get that sweet loot held by the bosses, which were a big challenge in and of themselves. Over time Blizzard took the game in another direction, tanks could easily handle one or two full groups of enemies, bosses became a cakewalk, and it was increasingly clear that the end-game content was more important than the journey there. When Blizzard finally pulled the plug and removed all the old quests with the Cataclysm expansion I left the game and never looked back until we did our retrospective of the series.
When all I had was the Nintendo GameCube, I often jealously read about the kind of games that PC gamers got to enjoy. One game in particular absolutely sold me, I was going to get a better computer and I was going to play it. The reviews spoke of frightening encounters with the resident spooky girl Alma, how fellow soldiers would be butchered or disappear before your eyes, and how cunning the enemies were. Reviews have rarely been this accurate.
F.E.A.R. is a game that makes you feel haunted and alone with a monster, as Alma is constantly on your tail. This frightening little girl is everywhere and those that oppose her, generally anybody that is supposed to help you, is brutally murdered by her psychic powers. And the story that unfolds around this girl is increasingly horrifying as you discover more about what the questionable Armacham Corporation has been up to with her.
Then there is the AI. Let me just say here that the fact we have yet to see games improve beyond this FPS from 2005 is absurd. The soldiers you fight throughout this game are excellent, perfectly capable of outflanking you, taking cover, and reacting to your every move. If you forget to turn off your flashlight they will notice you before you even enter the room and when you inflict casualties they will retreat and call for reinforcements that actually arrive. These aren’t mindless grunts that pop up behind walls until you beat them or idiots that senselessly charge at you; these are highly efficient killing machines that will tear you to shreds if you give them the chance.
#8 Higurashi: no Naku Koro ni
And just in case the above entries were a little too mainstream, let us delve into my love for obscure, Japanese media with 07th Expansion’s Higurashi franchise. Whether it is the original visual novel games, the anime adaptation, or the sublimely-drawn manga volumes, Higurashi is the one story that I absolutely obsess over. In fact, it may have broken me a bit.
Set in a cozy village in the Japanese countryside, this story stars a lovable group of friends that begin to uncover the dark history of their village and a conspiracy that surrounds it to this day. On the night of the local festival, one person dies, and another disappears. It happened several times before and as main character Keiichi begins to unravel this story, he begins to fear that he may be targeted next by whatever God, cult, or conspiracy keeps this annual slaughter in tact.
What makes the story effective is the groundhog day loop, that sees characters repeatedly fail to find the answers and perish horribly, only for the story to reset and give them another chance. While the first few times you can maybe laugh at the misfortune of these kids, by the end of the novels, when they have all received plenty of development and grown on you, playing a chapter where things seem to be heading the wrong way is nerve-wrecking. Whatever version you may pursue, this is not a story for those with a weak stomach.
#7 Katawa Shoujo
And while we are on the topic of tear-jerking, Japanese visual novels let’s get the only other entry in that category out of the way. I absolutely adore Katawa Shoujo, which is a game that seems to make a resurgence every once in a while when it makes another appearance on Reddit.
This is a romance game about a guy that has to leave his old life behind after falling ill and moves to a school for disabled students. While he is initially reluctant and dislikes the idea, he soon meets a number of friendly girls and makes sort-of friends with his peculiar neighbor. The reading is sometimes broken up by a choice moment and what you do here steers you towards a romance with one of six girls, as well as a number of bad endings where you don’t end up with any of the cast or mess up your relationship with who you got.
What elevates this game beyond a strangely specific dating sim is just how well it is written. Each of the girls has a distinct storyline where you enjoy the fun side of being in a romance, as well as the weight of having to share your partner’s struggles. Katawa Shoujo definitely features a good bit of drama and after every playthrough it takes months before I am willing to go wipe my save and try another storyline. In fact, I have had the game since its release in 2012 and have only played through three of the main stories so far.
#6 Left 4 Dead 2
Back when I was still in school we used to have a small group of students that all played Left 4 Dead 2 and at least twice a week we would come together and hit up the versus mode. A big 4v4 match filled with laughter, surprises, emotions, and zombies. Good times.
Nowadays I generally play it solo or with one or two friends, which is still plenty enjoyable. Left 4 Dead always had fantastic stages and the special infected combine with the AI director to create new challenges each time you play. That the game varies up the location of throwaway undead doesn’t interest me that much, but it’s amazing to see a system that procedurally generates content so well that it feels just as exciting as any game that uses scripted setpieces that I can think of.
This game and World of Warcraft serve to remind me that I am not against multiplayer, because the best memories I have of gaming generally come from there. I dislike it when smaller games take resources away from the singleplayer experiences to shoehorn in some multiplayer bits nobody will ever play. While not as prevalent as it once was, this used to be a major frustration for me with games like Two Worlds and The Outfit. Good multiplayer games are a genre in and of themselves and those continue to be played and loved by people even years after their release. Left 4 Dead 2 is a shining example of that, and one I owe many great memories to.
While recent years have been tough on ol’ Tim and his studio Double Fine, their misadventures with Kickstarter doing a lot of harm to the reputation of the once beloved and quirky studio, their first game remains a magnum opus in the eyes of many. Psychonauts was perhaps the last, truly great 3D platform adventure prior to the recent revival of the genre. It wasn’t quite a collect-a-thon, but it certainly carried the spirit of Rare’s finest with it and gave it a spin of its own.
Raz is a boy with psychic powers who fled from the circus ran by his parents to attend a summer camp for psychics like him. When kids start turning up with their brains removed Raz starts an investigation, which involves him diving into the minds of the people around him and solving their mental hang-ups by platforming around stages based on their personalities.
Basing platforming stages on the varied cast of quirky characters was a fantastic decision and it results in levels that are both solidly designed and brimming with interesting detail. These are characters you want to learn more about, you want to know how they became the people they are, and the game utterly delivers in this regard, lending itself to infinite discussions about the many details that can be found.
#4 Our Darker Purpose
It’s strange to think that indie games weren’t a thing when was I young, especially after the majority of my career involved reviewing nothing but indie games. While making this list I pondered forever over this question: should a small indie game I am really passionate about win out against a larger and more culturally significant game? Since Psychonauts isn’t currently taking up this spot, the answer should be obvious.
Our Darker Purpose is the game I bring up whenever I can, as it is genuinely one of the most interesting and replayable indie games I have ever played. It’s The Binding of Isaac with the raunchy comedy and silly graphics swapped out for a puzzling mystery and gorgeous, gothic art-style respectively. The gameplay puts Isaac to shame, featuring many improvements over the simplistic roguelike dungeon-crawler, particularly in regards to boss fights.
The game is tough, though. I never finished it until I reviewed it for our second indie month. In fact, I rarely even got to the final stage before that, so that was a pleasant surprise. Still, even with the final boss defeated there are still mysteries to be found in the Edgewood Home for Lost Children, and I intend to uncover them.
While Ocarina of Time was a memorable game from my childhood, Banjo & Kazooie was THE game from my childhood. One that even my young, inexperienced mind could understand and play, even if I sometimes needed my parents to help me out anyway. Actually, my parents managed to beat this game before I could!
There are many games to nominate for this position, but I personally consider Banjo to be Rareware’s masterpiece and an argument for the often misunderstood collect-a-thon platforming genre. It’s not just about picking up an endless stream of colorful items, it’s about the creatively designed levels and how your moves and abilities can help you navigate and explore it. With the exception of Rusty Bucket Bay, I find each stage in this game to be absolutely enchanting and trying to figure out how to gather up all the stuff within them is immensely fun.
It was amazing to both play this game myself as a kid and watch my parents beat it, but I do fear it set me up with some really high expectations for all future games I would play. Perhaps Banjo & Kazooie is to blame for all those mediocre review scores I keep handing out?
#2 Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4
I am a big fan of the online show Extra Credits and have watched it pretty much since episode 1. From their days on YouTube, to The Escapist, to Penny Arcade, and now back to YouTube, I love this show to bits and have discovered many fantastic games through their videos.
It was in a piece on gender diversity in games that the Persona series came up and I decided to give it a shot. Somehow, perhaps by a miracle of some sort, my local video game store had a copy of Persona 4 in stock, new and sealed. I sank literally hundreds of hours into it and it quickly became one of my favorite stories in video games. I absolutely love how it features a realistic cast of characters that deal with problems you might very much encounter in real life. This includes drastic issues like gender identity and not getting murdered, as well as topics like how to be a good father and dealing with loss.
Since playing the game I have watched the anime ten times over, read the manga, everything, and still some of the scenes get me every time. It also helps that the game was just plain good and offered a challenging JRPG that streamlined some of the more annoying features of Persona 3.
#1 Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale
As a gamer I don’t particularly look for the nicest graphics or even the most refined gameplay, nor am I looking for the best story or even the most emotional whole. What I crave for in games, above all else, is that they allow me to do something unique and do it well. This can be specific like the particularly enjoyably mix of third-person shooting and strategy found in the Brothers in Arms series, or as blatantly obvious as basing an entire game on the concept of running the item store in an RPG.
That is what you do in Recettear, the game I proclaimed last december to be my all-time favorite game. Thoroughly enjoyable and unmatched in its cuteness, the tale of Recette who is forced to turn her house into an item shop to repay a massive loan left behind by her adventuring father, offers both an endearing story and remarkably complex gameplay. Players customize their store, haggle with customers, acquire stock from the guilds and markets, or take control of dungeon-crawling adventurers. It’s a fantastic feel-good game that can also be deceptively tricky to master, and still stands unchallenged as my all-time favorite.