I've always hated definitively ranked lists of "the best games ever." Who the heck do people think they are, ranking pieces of art like they are cars or computer hardware where the performance and value are measurable via the good old scientific method. So, just to make sure we're on the same page, I'm not proclaiming these to be the best games ever. For one, I don't play PC games much, and I missed out on 10+ years of awesome 8- and 16- bit RPGs. These are--of the games I've played--simply my absolute favorite. While this list is numbered, I really love these all equally. For every game on this list, there's another 10 I've played that don't hold up to these standards. Worst-case, you will hopefully you gain a bit of insight into the man and the myth, yours truly.
#16: Okami (PlayStation 2)
Okami was ashamedly my first Ocarina of Time-style game. I was drawn to it by the art style, but fell in love with the quest structure and awesome boss battles. This later led me to pick up LoZ: Twilight Princess as a Wii launch title, another great game. I would have included in my list, but it seemed less than genuine knowing there's better Zelda games out there that I haven't played yet.
#15: God of War series (PlayStation 2 / PlayStation 3)I was late to the God of War party. Right around the time a friend loaned me a PS2 copy of the first game, the re-mastered PS3 collection was announced. I beat the first Hydra boss on the PS2 and was blown away, but then decided to hold off and play the whole series in HD. I thought the mix-up of action and puzzles was great and matched with a decent story, although, is Kratos not an absurdly mad dude or what? I'd be mad too if I had to deal with the shit he does, but all the yelling is kind of crazy.
#14: BioShock (Xbox 360)While Jack didn't do squat for me, the entire city of Rapture is probably one of my top five game characters of all-time. Sander Cohen's Masterpiece was one of the greatest FPS missions I've ever undertaken, everything from the creepy-ass white "mannequins," to the freedom to let Cohen on his merry way at the end (and later give him his due comeuppance in the comfort of his home). The "save or harvest" choice was a little too binary to feel truly meaningful, but tell me that Andrew Ryan's treatment of himself didn't shock the hell out of you too?
#13: Uncharted series (PlayStation 3)I didn't play the first Uncharted until previews of Uncharted 2 begin claiming the sequel was the best thing ever in the history of the universe. I ended up enjoying both quite a bit, particularly for the well-acted characters and beautiful environments. Both games had their issues, though 2 was pretty close to perfect, especially it's still-to-be-topped set pieces. It's too bad the stories didn't blow me away like the next series on my list did.
#12: Assassin's Creed series (Xbox 360)Like Uncharted, I totally skipped the first Assassin's Creed based solely on lukewarm reviews, but made sure to pick it up and play through it to prepare for Assassin's Creed II, which had reportedly fixed most of the complaints from the first game. I dug the slower paced combat and admired the recreations of ancient cities which Ubisoft crafted. I ended up loving both games from beginning to end, and found the jaw dropping revelations at the end of the second game to make for one the most memorable endings to a game that I've ever played. That said, I'm a sucker for the religions of the world and conspiracy, so your mileage may vary.
#11: Yakuza series (PlayStation 2 / PlayStation 3)
Okay, shame time. I own the original Yakuza but have yet to play it. Thankfully, 2 & 3 have excellent story recaps to catch players up to speed. I'm a sucker for RPG quests (spoilers: Fallout 3 and Mass Effect are somewhere coming up on my list here), and the Yakuza series has these in spades. The action-oriented combat system also makes for a nice change of pace from your typical RPG, and . . . don't tell anyone . . . but both 2 and 3 each had a moment that made me almost physically cry tears of sadness. Aside from Lost Odyssey's touching text-only side-stories, this remains a feat no other games I've played have ever come close to accomplishing.
#10: ICO (PlayStation 2)With Fumito Ueda and Team ICO's The Last Guardian beginning to show up on people's radar, their older games, ICO, and Shadow of the Colossus, have also had the spotlight shown back on them. It's understandable that many people are just finding out about them now, especially with the upcoming HD remastered collection, but I was all up on this game launch day thanks to some very glowing previews I was lucky enough to catch. While the Yorda mechanic had its problems, being an early PS2 game, this was the first game I had played which created a believable world that was as beautiful to look at as it was fun to conquer.
#09: Mass Effect series (Xbox 360)Mass Effect 1 was my first introduction to a Bioware game. Yeah, I'm a horrible person. The series' reliance on dynamic conversations and a deep multi-game story arc scratched an itch I didn't know I had up to that point in time. While the games have their flaws, which have been well documented, the mixture of great voice acting, engaging action-based combat, and quests galore make this series one of my favorites. I can't wait for number 3, and have even bought all the books and comic books that fill in the story gaps between the games, something I've done for nothing else, game, movie, or other.
#08: Metal Gear Solid series (PlayStation / PlayStation 2 / PlayStation 3)Metal Gear Solid for the original PlayStation changed my perception of what video games were. Despite the now-crude graphics and isometric gameplay, it remains one of the most quintessential cinematic games ever created. The PS2 follow-up turned up the graphic-quality more than a few notches, but it wasn't until MGS3 (Subsistence, with the new camera), that I forever fell in love with the series and its deep back story. MGS4 was a perfect wrap up to Snake's story, fixing all of my game-play complaints, and I'll be damned if that title screen with the music and the flowers and the gun in the face still doesn't haunt me.
#07: Grand Theft Auto series (PlayStation 2 / PlayStation 3)You can only play an open-world game for the first time once. GTA III was a revelation in its day, handing players the keys to an entire city which, at the time, seemed realistically structured, and the lack of loading times within each island was incredible. Sure, the shooting mechanics were a horrible mess until GTA IV came along, but exploring the cities in the three PS2 installments was nothing short of a dream. Missions aside, who didn't love hopping into a car, hauling ass down the road, and careening straight into a wall. GTA IV tried to up the story ante, and despite how ridiculous Nico's tale was, it set a new bar that most story-driven games since have succeeded in raising. GTA IV also happens to be on a very short list of games I've played through to completion more than once.
#06: Shadow of the Colossus (PlayStation 2)
I've never felt worse killing an enemy in any game. Repeat sixteen, epic, heart pounding times. Enough said.
#05: Final Fantasy series (PlayStation / PlayStation 2 / PlayStation 3)Final Fantasy VII was my first RPG. I was 15, receiving it as a gift with my PlayStation in 1998, about a year after it was released. I didn't get it at first, and stopped maybe ten hours into the game, before setting it down for a couple of months. I eventually decided to go back to it, did some research, and when I restarted, I felt much more in control, having a better understanding of the Materia system, and very basic RPG underpinnings, like what haste is, and that fire magic is stronger than ice. Things you'd say to someone like me, "no shit, Sherlock." A certain event in the game forever changed what I believed was possible with game stories, and spawned my passion for JRPGs that persists to this day.
I've gone on to play every installment in the series since, save for online-only FFXI, and while they each have their ups and downs, I still await the release of each new Final Fantasy entry with bated breath.
#04: Xenogears & Xenosaga series (PlayStation / PlayStation 2)Xenogears & Xenosaga, to this day, remain the only games I've ever spent any time nitpicking and debating the details of on internet forums. The gigantic 10,000 year time-lines, Judeo-Christian references, and bizarre mix of old-world charm and sci-fi fantasy fascinated me to no end. Xenogears' soundtrack is also one of my all-time favorites. All four games have their flaws, but each did a better job of capturing my imagination than all the other games on this list combined, a tribute to the vision of writers, Tetsuya Takahashi, and Soraya Saga.
#03: Fallout 3 (Xbox 360)
1500 out of 1500 Achievement Points. 170 hours. Terrible Shotgun to thousands of faces. Heads rolling. Pure love.
#02: Half Life series (Xbox 360)
Valve decided that cut-scenes are stupid. While I can't say I agree completely, I definitely can't argue against their masterful use of the first-person perspective and silent protagonist to weave one of the most immersive stories told in the video game medium. Add the ahead-of-its-time physics-based puzzles and spot-on shooting mechanics, and you got a game everyone should play, even if they don't like killing things. Orange Box, by the way, is hands down the best dollar-to-value deal to ever grace the industry.
#01: Super Mario series (NES, SNES, Nintendo 64, GameCube, Wii)
Super Mario Bros. on the NES was the first game I ever owned. Sure, I'd played my dad's Atari 2600 quite a bit, but nothing on that system could even approach the fresh brilliance of action platforming that Mario's first major outing provided. I've explored and exhausted every nook and cranny of every single Mario game since then, 2D and 3D. I view them as a sport, and--especially with the later levels in SM Galaxy 2--I feel like I'm using pure athletic skill to pull off some of the crazy challenges on tap. Nothing on Earth could possibly make me happier than being handed a new Mario game. I would gladly give up the opportunity to play every other game on this list if I had to choose between experiencing what Miyamoto-san has crafted or never being allowed to set foot in the Mushroom Kingdom again. Mario games represent gaming at its purest, at least in my eyes.