FUCK! I'll give in. I'm not putting the damn things in any numerical order, though!!! Disagree with my list all you like, because it's not going to be popular choices by any means. However, these are all games that have shaped me into the gamer that I am today:
Featuring an incredible combo system, a beautifully rendered world to venture through, and a revamped version of the Parasite Eve combat engine, Vagrant Story captured my heart for a handful of reasons. The first was that Ash the Riskbreaker's struggle felt like a great hybrid between Zelda's dungeon-crawling, that combat engine I mentioned from Parasite Eve, and a story that didn't try to overstay its welcome. The second was a weapon creation system that allowed you to dismantle and reassemble your weapons, as well as forge new metals to make the weapons stronger, leaving an endless amount of possibilities for weapon and armor creation. The third, and most important, was the replay value. In order to even see 100% map completion on the game, you had to beat it three times. INSANE by today's standards, Vagrant Story unfortunately got little attention due to the game releasing close to the launch of the PlayStation 2.
With the first Dark Cloud, Level 5 offered the PlayStation 2 a pretty stellar and undernoticed launch title. As the popularity of the game grew over time, especially after hitting the Greatest Hits list, Dark Cloud 2 graced us with some of the best action-RPG gameplay to be seen to this day. Offering again a deep weapon merging system, as well as expansive environments to journey across, the game revamped its Georama system to be a bit more specific rather than general and free-form like the first game. One of the thing I enjoyed thoroughly about the game was its end-game: a 50 level dungeon of awesomeness after you completed the game and loaded up your Game Clear Data. Add in absolutely gorgeous graphics with unforgettable music and characters, and you have Level 5's masterpiece. The company would end up going on to make Rogue Galaxy and Dragon Quest VIII, two more amazing RPG games.
While the game came out on many different platforms, the Dreamcast version of this title is vastly superior in almost every way. From decreasing frame rate issues to smooth textures and graphics (for the time, mind you), Shadow Man featured great atmosphere and even greater replay value. As Michael, you used your voodoo powers to journey between Liveside and Deadside to solve puzzles, kill baddies, and collect stuff. While there was a lot of backtracking, the environments were so interesting that it was difficult to argue with it. Unfortunately for many, the Dreamcast version was hardly available at the time it was released, and the PlayStation version of this suffered greatly from being stuck in a 32-bit setup. Thanks to a non-linear setup, memorable characters like Jaunty and Mama Nettie, Shadow Man is still a game that I revisit fairly often for a trip down memory lane.
Time to kick it old school, fuckers!!! Ghosts 'n' Goblins was a game with one simple premise: you play at a knight trying to get to his princess being held by a big demon dood over 8 levels of gameplay. Here's the challenge: you can only take two hits and then you're a dead man. There's no saves, no continues...just the lives you have (which is minimal at any given time) and a possible checkpoint if you make it far enough in a given level. The game is still tough as nails, but a lot of the difficulty is found in dealing with frame rate lag. Once you take that into account, as well as the occasional "shit, I jumped too early" platforming...well, yeah, it's STILL tough as nails!!! Upon beating the game, you don't get much more than a "gratz, you saved the day" followed by a game over screen, but beating this game is something worthy of boasting about (and also something I've never done...stupid level 4).
As Slade, you steal a couple jewels that end up resurrecting the demon king. Yeah yeah yeah...the story to Shining Force II is pretty fucking cool, dealing with a lot of the classic types of Western conventions in turn-based RPGs - skeletons, demons, and general badass-ness. What separates this game from so many is its well-programmed computer AI, deep combat mechanics, and the fact that you don't lose anything you've gained if an ally is defeated. Essentially, it was one of the first games out there to not have a "game over" screen show up on you, making it a bit more accessible to new RPG players. Still, old D&D fans can look at this game and find TONS of kickbacks to the way Western RPGs should be. Unfortunately, Shining Force III on the Saturn only saw the first installment released in the U.S., and after that, the franchise went to complete shit.
While this game was treated as just another "average" game by most of the gaming press, The Suffering featured a lot of elements that make me care about a game: good atmosphere (and dark as shit too!), great gunplay, memorable characters and enemies, buckets of blood everywhere (including on yourself), and a hell of a rollercoaster story! As Torque, you are accused of murdering your family and sent to prison. Once the lights go out in prison, creature creations by the great late Stan Winston and evil bring the beast out in you...LITERALLY!!! Why is this one of my favorite games? Well, try this: 2am, pitch black in the middle of the country, brightness turned to damn near pitch black, and the only light you've got is either your flashlight (which never has enough batteries) or the muzzle fire from your gun. Incredible. The multiple ending setup plays into the game's sequel, which was also an excellent game.
Well-told stories are hard to find in most video games. Either they are very cookie-cutter (JRPGs, I'm looking at you) or they are very stereotypical. In the end, they rarely leave you FEELING anything. The Darkness...is not one of those games. Instead, it grabs you by the balls and features what is probably one of the GREATEST climaxes in gaming storytelling history. It's one of the few times I've ever gotten red-faced pissed-off at a game and thought "I'm gonna kill that motherfucker". As far as gameplay is concerned, Starbreeze tries to mix up gunplay with a little supernatural twist - you play as Jackie Estacado, who happens to manifest a "Darkness" (brilliantly voiced by Mike Patton). This Darkness likes to eat hearts, lash out and kill whatever it can, and even helps you manifest little Darklings to aid in your killing missions. Revenge is your motive, and it's oh-so-fucking-sweet!
This is one of my greatest guilty pleasures. Was the game AMAZING? Not really. However, as odd as the Scud comics were, and as odd as the character himself was, the game itself is JUST as odd. Scud was a unique game in that you could play it either one of two ways: using a controller turned it into a 2D side-scrolling run 'n' gun game like Contra. However, plugging up two light guns and going dual-wielding on that ass turned into a first-person on-rails shooting experience. And what is the point of the game, you ask? Well, Scud needs to keep the money flowing so he can make sure his last assassination target, Jeff, doesn't die in the hospital. Otherwise...Scud will self-destruct. Joined by his bottomless pit of a buddy Drywall, Scud was just a game that offered some pure, simple fun.
Back when the first PlayStation was around, I used to jam out on Hot Shots Golf like crazy with my brother. We loved that shit! It helped us build an appreciation for the game of golf. When Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004 came out, we played that motherfucker for a year and a half SOLID! It never left our PS2. I missed out on countless awesome games strictly because I couldn't get over the awesomeness of this one! The level of character customization was something unseen in most games at the time (outside of perhaps the WWE games). The courses were so dead-on and gorgeous. The use of the right analog to swing was perfect. All of the trophy balls and such in the game had the collector/completionist sides of me and my brother playing non-stop to get that last Eagle or that last Birdie that we needed. When we weren't trying to excel at the single player, we were teeing off in the outstanding multiplayer. GAME ON!!!
While the game gained its fame and notoriety on the PlayStation One, Soul Reaver was much like Shadow Man: it shined on the Dreamcast. The story of Lieutenant Raziel's fall from grace and revenge against Kain is one of the few times that I don't mind watching cutscenes, as the acting in the game was so damn awesome! The entire worth of Nosgoth was well-designed and fully-realized, the boss battles were epic as Hell, and the game even helped bring a couple of staples to the action/adventure genre. I remember when the game came out and people were touting how the game had "no load times", which was a big deal for the time. It did have load times, but you were too busy watching the cutscenes to see the game loading in the background. If you've never taken this trip to Nosgoth, it's definitely worth your time and effort...
So there you have it! Those are my top 10 games of all time. I know, I know...it's not a typical list. I also know that I don't have a lot of the games that I'd like to put on there, like:
Freedom Fighters Dead Space
Wall Street Kid
Back to the Future
Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain
Beyond Good and Evil
...and so many more, but then again, you've GOTTA limit it to 10 eventually, right?