It is the dawn of new year, and our countdown is nearing its conclusion.
One of the worst trends of gaming criticism in the 2010s was the lack of middle ground regarding their rating systems. A lot of this was brought on by their tendency to overhype everything released by major companies to the extent that good grades seemed to be awarded to releases with the most press coverage rather than on the merits of actually being a good game. When reading their reviews, it gave off the impression that anything below a 90% or 9.0 wasn’t worth checking out. This is one of the trends I sought to defy when conceiving my own rating scale. I wanted to make it so that in order for any team to achieve a 9/10 from me, they would need to go the extra mile to earn it. For the following games, the pros outweigh the cons to the extent where you likely won’t be thinking of it for most of the experience. You can be sure that no matter how I decide to rank any of these games, every single one of them is a keeper.
12. Treasure of the Rudras
Final Fantasy may be Square’s flagship series, but in an ironic twist, my favorite and second-favorite games of theirs are not from that franchise. I found out about Treasure of the Rudras by mentioning that I had played through Live A Live earlier that year to a Japanese gaming fan. He recommended this game to me, and when I finished it, it quickly became one of my favorite JRPGs. Given how many games manage to garner a fanbase in the West despite lacking an international release, it’s a true shame this one tends to get overlooked. Indeed, it’s one of my favorite games that never left Japan along with another one I intend to review later this year.
Why is Treasure of the Rudras so good? Its familiar turn-based gameplay revolves around a novel premise; rather than learning spells by leveling up or buying them at a store, you create them yourself. Obviously, you generally won’t have much success guessing random words, but you can learn them in various ways including chests that have words inscribed inside them and NPCs mentioning them in passing. Because enemies use these spells as well, there’s nothing stopping you from simply copying them when its name flashes onscreen. Not content with having a unique mechanic, the storytelling is noteworthy as well, allowing you to play from multiple perspectives. Unlike the case with Live A Live, each hero’s story could have been its own game, yet they complement each other so well that separating them would have been a disservice to all of them. It’s not easy to check this game out given its Japan-exclusive status, but it’s well worth looking into.
11. Resident Evil 4
So far, this remains my only exposure to the Resident Evil series. Even so, I can still say that this is one of the best action games out there. Sure, it’s not exactly a survival horror by most standards and the writing isn’t exactly award-winning material, but that doesn’t matter because it’s an absolute blast to play from start to finish. In fact, given the direction the zombie apocalypse genre took nearing the end of the 2000s, replaying this game is a breath of fresh air because it knows how inherently ridiculous the genre is and the authors chose not to use the motif as a soapbox espouse their heavy-handed viewpoints, instead opting to embrace the wackiness wholeheartedly. Thank you, Capcom, for remembering to have a sense of fun when creating a video game.
10. Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride
Originally reviewed on: Unknown
I have seen a lot of artists attempt to do what Dragon Quest V does by crafting a story so heavily fixated on pathos, and not a single one them created anything that can hold a candle to what Mr. Horii and his team accomplished in 1992. This is because most of the time, those games go way overboard, stopping at nothing to evoke sadness from the player. That’s not the case here; Dragon Quest V realizes that those moments need to be earned, and by pacing itself properly, it ensures they’re a lot more impactful than if they were occurring every thirty minutes or so. Then again, some of this could be serendipitous, as this subtle approach was simply how much video game stories were told back then. Even so, anyone seeking to make their game an exercise in emotions should study this game, as it hits all of the right notes. If that wasn’t enough, we also have this game to thank for popularizing the monster-collecting concept in JRPGs, allowing new franchises such as Pokémon to achieve success.
9. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Even as a kid, I knew this was a game-changer the moment I started playing it. Though I don’t quite consider it the greatest game ever made, I feel the overwhelmingly positive reviews this game received, and continues to receive even to this day, are only barely an exaggeration. Similar to Metal Gear Solid, Ocarina of Time proved that as good as the series was up until this point, successfully making the 3D leap allowed it to grasp a certain something the 2D installments couldn’t, cementing the series as one of the best in the medium. It may not quite have the same “wow” factor it had back in 1998, but the pieces are there for anyone approaching it with a modern standpoint to enjoy it from its stellar level design to a story that, as is easy to take for granted, deconstructs the series’ familiar character archetypes.
8. Chrono Trigger
Like Ocarina of Time, the overwhelmingly positive reviews you’ll hear about Chrono Trigger aren’t terribly far from the truth. The reason I can say it’s my favorite Square game is because along with Treasure of the Rudras, it’s one of the only times they managed to provide a quality experience without any major road bumps along the way. You won’t have to worry about the writers throwing an out-there idea at the most inconvenient time, a ruined sense of pacing, or the game overstaying its welcome. Instead, you’ll likely be more focused on the intriguing time travel plot, lightning quick battle system, and memorable cast of characters, most of whom have great arcs to them. The idea that Hironobu Sakaguchi and Yuji Horii, whose respective series fiercely competed against each other in Japan, could band together to create this classic should serve as an inspiration for more artists out there.
7. Metroid Prime
Metroid Prime serves as a textbook case of why it never pays to cynically dismiss a concept before you play it. On some level, it was understandable; after all, Nintendo handing their then-dormant Metroid franchise to a company whose members had radically different design philosophies only for Shigeru Miyamoto to propose making it a first-person game sounded outlandish even for a company that was no stranger to taking risks. Instead of being fodder for a retrospective “What were they thinking?” list, the result was an instant classic and easily one of the best games of the 2000s. Retro flawlessly translated what made Super Metroid such a great game into a first-person action-adventure game that impresses even to this day. As was the case with Ocarina of Time and Metal Gear Solid before it, Metroid Prime allowed the series to ascend past the series’ humble origins and become something even greater in scale. As much (deserved) credit as Super Metroid gets for being such an immersive 2D game, the environments are much easier to appreciate with that extra third dimension.
6. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker
With Peace Walker, Hideo Kojima did something I absolutely would not expect from the average big-name AAA developer: he abandoned the approach with which he used to achieve his success once he realized it was time to give it a rest. No longer do you have to worry about endless cutscenes; instead, you can fully enjoy the gameplay, which retains a majority of the improvements Metal Gear Solid 4 brought. It even introduced a new RPG-like mechanic wherein you can capture soldiers on the field and recruit them to your side, and it was by amassing an army that you could unlock new upgrades. I also feel it marked something of a turning point for the medium. The handheld scene had quite a few silent successes before 2010, but this was arguably the first year one managed to outright surpass a majority of the console efforts. This was the series’ final hurrah, and though its bittersweet knowing how poorly Metal Gear Solid V ended up, it’s great that Peace Walker managed to get the decade off to such a strong start.