My favorite games of all time

Throughout my nearly three decades of playing video games, I've never really cared enough to try to rank my favorites, but I thought it might be interesting to try as an exercise. This list is likely to change from time to time as my opinions evolve or as I remember games that I've accidentally left out, but for now, here's my best attempt.

This is in no way, shape, or a form a list of what's "best," or a review-like ranking. I fully admit that my own nostalgia and personal sentimental value factors into these choices heavily. This is literally just a list of my favorite games, in my own mind.

List items

  • The first Super Nintendo game I owned, and still one of the most engrossing games I've ever played. Even after seeing every inch of the game world several times over, it still feels like it's full of secrets to find. In addition to fantastic and well-balanced gameplay, top-notch sound and graphics round out the package.

  • I may not have as much patience for long JRPGs as I used to, but the detailed art design, world-building, cinematic score, and deep party customization are as evident as ever. None of the other games in the series, before or since, were able to capture my heart to the extent that this one did.

  • A hair's breadth away from being my favorite Final Fantasy title, full stop. Oustanding presentation and a story that keeps you guessing, if somewhat hampered by its localization. The music here is, again, some of the best in the franchise. The only real marks against it are a somewhat uneven difficulty curve in the game's second half, and again, a mediocre localization.

  • It was a daring idea to make a game based around nothing but boss battles with some quiet exploratory sections in between, but I believe it succeeded completely. Atmosphere and quality art-and-sound direction go a very long way towards getting me to love a game, personally, and this game has all of those things in spades.

  • The finest 2D platformer ever created. The controls were razor-sharp, every single detail was polished to a mirror sheen, and the majority of the (numerous) levels had at least one secret exit to find. A massive, fantastic platformer.

  • While I like most of the games in this series to an extent, this one is by far my favorite. Instead of the heroes fighting back against a world-ending force, the story simply centers around two nations at war, giving equal attention to the large-scale and small-scale issues created by the conflict. Also working to its credit are a huge array of recruitable characters -- common to all the games in the franchise -- an interesting combat system, and turn-based strategic battles to mix things up. Observant fans will note that a variety of backstory groundwork is innocuously laid here that will only come back around in future installments almost ten years later.

  • The first Persona game to include "life simulation" elements, which felt pretty novel at the time. I generally prefer the tone and style of this game to Persona 4; I feel that P3 is extremely good at conveying a pervasive sense of mood, where the entire game -- even the ostensibly upbeat moments -- has this persistent feeling of unease hanging over it. As I said before, atmosphere goes a long way with me, so that earns this game a high spot on this list. As with Persona 4, every inch of this game is just dripping with style, and it made quite an impression on me back in 2007.

  • The original Apple II release was an astonishingly-animated, mysterious, stress-inducing action-platformer. It was also quite creepy to my young self, due in part to the grisly violence and sparse, metallic Apple II soundtrack. The expanded Super Nintendo release is my definitive version of the game, featuring beautifully-detailed graphics, an excellent musical score, and significantly expanded levels.

  • FF7 obviously gets a ton of backlash in response to being fanboyed over, but I simply loved it at the time because it was a great combination of what I loved about FF6 plus technological advances like gorgeous prerendered backgrounds and CD audio. No matter how much backlash it gets for being "overrated," I'll still always just consider it a damn solid mid-90s JRPG.

  • If there's one failing that I can level at Secret of Mana, it's that it has almost no story to speak of, and what *is* there is marred by a terrible script localization. However, it more than makes up for that via excellent real-time action-based combat, a variety of weapons and magic to experiment with, and a neverending variety of new places to visit. Simultaneous multiplayer support was the icing on the cake.

  • I don't usually play that many horror games, but Silent Hill 2 did an immaculate job in creating an atmosphere of isolation and dread. The designers seemed to know just the right balance between making you paranoid about what's lurking in the darkness, and actually presenting you with enough actual fear to keep you constantly on-edge. Its abandoned, underground, century-old prison is probably the creepiest locale I've ever experienced in a game.

  • P4 improves mechanically on Persona 3 in a number of ways and becomes a better game because of it. However, I'm not quite as big of a fan of the poppy style, the "TV" theme, or the way that the true ending felt like a bit of a disappointing retread of Persona 3's story. I did appreciate the greater variety of social links, including your uncle and cousin, which felt more personal than the social links in P3. Still a fantastic game, but just barely falls short of P3 for me.

  • Not nearly as lengthy or expansive as Final Fantasy VI, but Chrono Trigger made up for it by including an extensive set of end-game side quests to tackle. The team-tech system also encouraged you to experiment with different combinations of party members, and kept things fresh.

  • Probably my favorite shoot-'em-up that I've ever played. Every aspect of this game ties together with one another incredibly tightly, and no two credits are ever quite the same. The prominent rank system keeps you constantly analyzing your play on-the-fly, and you never really can settle too much into a static "route" where everything is the same every time. Bosses are very careful, delicate affairs, rather than straightforward "dodge all of the bullets until the boss is dead" encounters like many bullet-hell games.

  • Putting a compilation pack on the list may be a bit of a cop-out, but this was the only way that I was able to play The Lost Levels as a kid. As someone who didn't personally own an NES and could only play Super Mario 1, 2, and 3 at friends' houses, I was very happy to be able to have my own copy of not only all four games, but with very nice graphical and sound improvements, and the ability to save mid-game to boot.

  • The first open-ended game that I think I ever played. Maybe not TRULY open-ended because the game would eventually end when you reached a certain age, but you could go anywhere and do basically anything if you didn't care about the "main story," such as it was. The combination of available time periods, nationalities, and pre-baked scenarios only further added to the seemingly endless replay potential. The 2004 remake wasn't half-bad at recapturing this game's essence, though its art style was considerably more "storybook."

  • A masterful blend of the classic Castlevania aesthetic, Metroid-style exploration, and RPG-style equipment upgrades. With so many secrets to find and such a massive castle to explore, this is one that I still have a hard time putting down to this day. The portable releases that continued to follow this game's formula were all largely quite good, as well.

  • Say what you will about Sierra adventure games, but I always liked the sense of excitement that comes along with danger lurking around every corner. KQ6 learned from KQ5's mistakes by reducing the number of ways that you could make your game unwinnable, and made the game feel more nonlinear by introducing a variety of islands to explore and two different routes (one long, one short) that could be followed to reach the ending. Some of the biggest moments, such as your confrontation with Samhain, still stick with me to this day.

  • Probably my favorite first-person shooter, and it still feels great whenever I go back to it. Fast, intense action, hordes of enemies, and controls that do just what you need them to. Hunting for keys isn't always the most interesting thing to do, but generally, the action almost never stops.

  • It still impresses me how "right" Nintendo was able to get 3D platforming controls to work on their very first outing. The camera isn't always perfect, but this is as good of an attempt as I've ever seen in terms of adapting classic Mario gameplay to a 3D environment. I'm also a big fan of the level design that has you performing completely different tasks at separate locations within the same level in order to obtain different stars. More interesting to me than linear one-and-done levels, anyway.

  • Having never played the original Metroid, this game was pretty mind-blowing to me when I first played it. On top of the core Metroid gameplay, the sense of being isolated deep under an alien world was very well-done.

  • Didn't quite live up to A Link to the Past for me, and I had a few little nitpicks about it, but I was overall very impressed by this game. The dungeons, the endless amounts of hidden secrets, and the weapons and items all felt supremely Zelda-ish, despite the transition to 3D.

  • The perfect marriage of an eminently replayable arcade-style shmup, as well as a console-style progression mode with lots of content. "AC Mode" -- based off of the arcade version -- is where I've spent most of my time, because the sheer number of stages and ships is more than enough to keep a dedicated scoreplay busy for years. Add Chronicle Mode and CS Mode on top of that, though, and you have an overflowing abundance of content in a genre that's not normally known for such a thing.

  • This game turned out far, far better than I could ever have guessed when I first heard that it was literally being called "A Link to the Past 2" in Japan. While there's no direct story tie to the original game, ALBW reuses many of the same items, locations, and enemies from A Link to the Past, but they're all remixed enough to make this game fully capable of standing on its own merits. The remixed A Link to the Past soundtrack is especially well-done.

  • A weird, weird RPG with a lot of personality. Its style of humor was extremely unusual for an RPG in its time, and it just contained a lot of flat-out weird elements, like the ability to sell items via a fold-out For Sale sign, a handful of literally useless items, and the ability to rent a bicycle and ring the bell as you ride it.

  • The first and definitely the most primitive of the three games in its trilogy, this game nonetheless still holds a very special place in my heart. The concept of rescuing captured souls to restore humanity is an interesting one, and although fairly straightforward, the action is fun and there's a steady stream of new equipment and spells to try out. There are some moments -- like the child-like mountain people who live only a single year -- that I found especially memorable.

  • Again, this game largely gets points for its atmosphere and world design. The way that the game world ties together is fantastic, and I'm always in awe when I notice that I can see other parts of the world from my current vantage point. Optional areas, completely hidden areas...this game always feels like there's something new to discover. And that's not even starting to talk about the game's renowned character customization, weapon variety, and combat.

  • A creepy, creepy game. The RPG mechanics and character building were pretty fun, but this is definitely a case where the game's atmosphere and presentation trumps its gameplay. The atmosphere created via the immaculately-produced audio logs was so effective that games are still using audio logs more than 15 years later.

  • While Futari is considerably more "static" than Battle Garegga in that every credit plays out more or less the same way, the scoring system is simple yet extremely fluid, and the graphics and sound are generally top-notch.

  • I have some gripes about the combat and puzzles in this game (which, uh, I guess encompasses most of what you'd consider the "gameplay" in this game), but everything else about Undertale impressed me. It had tons of charm, great music, and the unique way that it ties the story directly into game mechanics was a cool inclusion. Every single minute aspect of this game feels like it was designed with a very specific intent, and everything fits together incredibly well into a cohesive whole.

  • The single-player campaign was actually pretty damn good in this game, but like Quake 2, the real time sink for me was the multiplayer mod support. Team Fortress Classic and Counter-Strike, together, probably accounted for 3 years of my life.

  • A unique game for Cave, in terms both gameplay and presentation. Based on Japanese folklore, Cave's polished bullet hell design and challenging score-play made this one a favorite of mine.

  • An action-heavy mech combat simulator for the PC. I loved how you could customize your mech's loadout however you wished, and then realized why cramming nothing but PPCs into your weapons slots was a poorly-thought-out idea. I also appreciated the heavy sim-like nature, where you had to be thoughtful about your movements.

  • While I like all of the games in the Ace Attorney series, the third installment is the best of them. With a gameplay system evolved from the first two games and a story that brings together long-hanging plot threads in a sweeping conclusion, AA3 is an excellent coda to the original Phoenix Wright trilogy.

  • This was the first game I played that really delivered on the promise of "solve this problem however you want," where at least three equally viable solutions were usually available to almost every problem you faced. I also liked the game's approach to level design, where non-combat and combat sections often bled into one another and felt cohesive, giving the game a distinct RPG feel rather than feeling like a first-person shooter campaign. The conspiracy-fueled setting was pretty cool, too.

  • At first glance it might seem pretty convoluted, taking all of the systems from the original Espgaluda and layering even more stuff on top of it. Once you get the hang of everything, though, this game has a lot going on to keep you constantly planning ahead and adjusting your strategy on the fly -- something that you don't see terribly often in games by Cave. The art and sound design are among my favorites, too.

  • Certainly a little rough around the edges in certain spots, but overall I thought that Square's attempt at making an RPG set in the Mushroom Kingdom worked surprisingly well. While some of the new characters created for this game were a little hit-or-miss, overall, this was a memorable, well-designed experience that included just enough little nods to the original Mario series in the form of action-based elements and minigames.

  • The first game I'd ever seen that came with a level editor. Fun, hectic action-puzzle gameplay. Combined with the ability to make my own levels, this game kept young me occupied for many, many summer evenings.

  • While Star Fox 64 is certainly the better-regarded game, I have far more personal nostalgia for the original installment, surely in no small part due to my being slightly younger at the time. While the game was obviously far superseded by the N64 sequel on a technical level, the original game made quite an impression on me in 1993, thanks to its SuperFX-powered polygonal graphics and excellent music. The inclusion of three different sets of levels to choose from was a nice feature, as well.

  • One of the most expansive, gorgeous open-world environments I've ever experienced. All of the highs and lows of an Elder Scrolls game are here, but I still feel like I haven't even scratched the surface of what there is to do in this game, even after dozens of hours.

  • The sequel to Soul Blazer, this game stayed reasonably similar to its predecessor's combat design, but gave the game a much more fleshed-out story to follow. The game's themes of death and rebirth also gave the game a generally somber tone, despite its cute-looking character sprites.

  • This game has probably aged the worst out of all of the games on this list, but I really liked the variable objective-based missions, where there were completely new objectives added on the higher difficulty settings, rather than just making the enemies do more damage or spawn in greater numbers. I also liked the ADS-like aiming controls, which felt like a nice innovation compared to what else was being offered by console FPSes at the time. The level design also stuck surprisingly closely to the environments from the film; more than might be expected from a licensed tie-in game, anyway.

  • A gorgeous and mysterious game, where almost nothing is explained and you're simply expected to learn by experimentation (and repetition, after you inevitably die horribly). Despite having zero dialogue, the game still manages to convey a coherent story, and the alien environments are full of imagination.

  • I was very surprised at the amount of content Resident Evil 2 had to offer, especially if you played through the "B" scenario. The addition of Tyrant to the second scenarios made a familiar game a much more unexpectedly-tense experience, and some of his jump scares are the most effective I've ever experienced.

  • That characteristic Quintet action gameplay, combined with basic city-building "god game" elements. The city-building parts don't really have much complexity upon closer examination, but it's still an interesting and very enjoyable blend of two incongruous genres.

  • HOMM3 is probably the most popular entry in the series, but my peak with the series was probably with the second installment. Rich with content but still very approachable, HOMM2 felt like the perfect strategy game for people who aren't super deep into strategy games, like me. I spent many hours with the map editor, too, even if I never produced anything worth playing.

  • The black sheep of the BioWare D&D games, it was always my favorite simply because of its (often-maligned) focus on controlling a single character. Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale, while clearly fantastic in their own right, were always a bit too micromanage-y for my tastes due to your frequent need to control your entire party. Being able to play through the game and having quite a different experience with different character classes (including some areas that could only be accessed with a certain class) kept me interested in coming back for a long time. The second expansion pack, Hordes of the Underdark, was fantastic as well.

  • One of the most enjoyable 3D platformers I've ever played, behind Mario 64. The usage of the Dual Shock was innovative, and it was tons of fun tracking down and sneaking up on the countless numbers of sneaky apes that there were to collect.

  • At the time, this game did the unthinkable: it stole away my excitement for Quake III. The game modes, maps, and weapons seemed like a cut above the standard Q3 deathmatch experience, and the addition of mod support brought even more reason to play UT. I still loved Q3 in its own way, but this game blew away my expectations.

  • I thought the single-player campaign was OK, but the real draw here was the multiplayer mods. CTF, Rocket Arena, Jailbreak, and more...many months were spent playing Quake II online. This is also the game that drove me to get my first 3D accelerator card, a Voodoo 2.

  • I've spent over 200 hours on this game, and I feel like I'm still a complete newbie at it. I feel like there's enough depth and variety here to keep someone occupied for a whole lifetime.

  • I don't have a huge amount of patience for grinding in games as I get older, and FFXIV is certainly not innocent in that regard, but the world design and music are some of the best I've ever seen in an MMO. I'd like to go back to it someday just to take in all of the sights and check out the story content, but for now, the weekly caps and loot grind just aren't my cup of tea anymore.

  • A weird game that broke a lot of longstanding rules of the Final Fantasy series and tried a whole lot of new things, some of which worked, and some of which didn't. Although the junction system was easily exploitable and led to lots of repetitive draw-grinding, it was fun to feel instantly powerful after you first obtained a new, higher-level spell. The way Triple Triad was integrated into the world as a whole was really well-done as well, allowing you to partake in the game throughout the entire story, and provided you with battle-related rewards for participating in the card game (and vice versa). Some cool set-pieces, though the setting can feel like a bit of a mishmash at times.

  • I have more positive memories of my time with this game than perhaps any other. While it's moved further into "been there, done that" territory with each successive time that I've gone back to it, this game accounts for years of good times and fun experiences with friends and family. The first few months after launch had perhaps the most exciting sense of exploration and discovery that I've ever had with a game since.

  • Most people would probably tell you TIE Fighter is the best game in this series, but I appreciated X-Wing Alliance simply because it was more, bigger, newer. A fairly classical Star Wars story that weaves a more personal story about your family's affairs alongside the predictable story of fighting the Empire. What made the game really shine for me was the massive variety of flyable vehicles, featuring just about all of the ships from the previous entries in the series, plus even more, as well as additional features like the ability to man mounted gun turrets.

  • Everything I liked about BioWare's classic RPGs, set in the distant past of the Star Wars universe (i.e., a canon-safe playground for them to do whatever they want). All of the dialogue trees and alternative problem-solving methods that you would expect from a BioWare RPG are there, and the game does a fairly good job of balancing lightsabers against other types of weaponry.

  • What a weird game. Just like its predecessor, Shoot the Bullet, Double Spoiler is a shmup that tasks you not with shooting down enemies, but with taking photos of bosses in 1-on-1 encounters, putting yourself in as much danger as possible to get the most valuable shots. The structure of the game is based on bite-sized challenges that can be replayed in score attack fashion, making this a great shmup to play when you don't have much time or don't want to commit to a full-length run. The difficulty gets extremely daunting in the later stages, too.

  • I thought the original Jet Grind Radio was pretty cool and original, but it wasn't until its faster, more sleek successor that I felt like the series really came into its own. Both games had their own problems, of course, but the fast gameplay and energetic soundtrack really epitomized the stylish Sega games from the early 2000s.

  • It was pretty novel at the time to be able to play as a TIE Fighter pilot. The introduction of a more in-depth story that incorporated existing elements from the Expanded Universe was interesting, too.

  • This game took what I liked about turning on all of the cheats and just causing havoc in GTA3, and made it the focus of an entire game. It's not without its flaws, but it's so fun just flying over the countryside, looking for things to explode.

  • An immacuately-polished blend of puzzle gameplay and storytelling. The quality of writing in this game was excellent and unexpected. I grew immediately sick of the memes spawned from this game (and its sequel), but I won't let that tarnish my opinion of it.

  • My first Sierra adventure game. I always thought it was pretty cool how it makes you follow real-life police procedures, too. In the second half of the game the story really picks up, and hey, there's even a poker minigame.

  • Music games occupied pretty much the entirety of my college years, along with World of Warcraft. I love and have owned most of Konami's Bemani games, but I'll just put IIDX here to represent them all. When played for high scores, music games have the capability to be endlessly replayable just like most arcade games, and with such an absolutely enormous library of Konami-produced music, there's a level of variety in Bemani gameplay that no license-heavy Guitar Hero or Rock Band could ever hope to match.

  • The first stealth-focused game I can remember playing. While it could be annoying that you basically had to reload from a save whenever you were seen by a guard, it was cool to play a game where it was possible to get through a level without killing anyone at all, and where the focus was on looting things, not destruction. I seem to remember the later parts of this game getting kind of weird, though.

  • Aged art style aside, this game was a quintessential late-era 2D platformer. With tons of variety, lots of secrets to find, and solid controls, this game was an all-around great experience.

  • I've always appreciated the Ace Combat series's presentation: gorgeous, polished, and austerely self-serious to the point where it starts to become funny. The gigantic superweapons that you go up against are often hilariously preposterous, and the setting often resembles an anime version of real life. As was said in one particular GB video, it's practically Metal Gear with jets.

  • The first handful of Tony Hawk games were incredibly addictive yet incredibly simple in concept. I think I played just about every installment to full completion up through somewhere around Underground 2. I have high hopes for THPS5.

  • I played this game competitively in my local scene for a few years. While it's certainly got more than a few complaints you could level at it when compared to other fighting games, no other recent fighting game has created as large and robust of a community. I met so many new people through this game, many of who I'm still friends with today.

    SF4 was accessible while still offering enough depth for high-level players to chew on, and the roster eventually grew large enough that there was a character for anyone's tastes. ...Maybe too large, by now.

  • It's kind of strange that I feel compelled to put Infinite on here but not the original BioShock. I really liked the original game as well, but at the time, my opinion was marred by the knowledge that it was being marketed as the spiritual successor to System Shock 2. By the time Infinite came around, enough time had passed that I was able to more easily approach it on its own terms. That aside, the environment design is some of the best I've seen in recent years. The whole introductory sequence, before you're even given a weapon, is still probably my favorite part of the game. There's so many well-crafted details that can be noticed if you just stop and look around a bit.

  • I've never been a huge racing game guy, but I've always enjoyed the Gran Turismo series. While a lot of people seem turned off by its clinical approach and jazzy menu music, I like that aesthetic; it feels like it's taking itself way too seriously, and also not seriously at all at the same time. GT3, as an early PS2 game, was still extremely impressive for its graphics, especially as a step up from the series' prior PS1 releases. I'm looking forward to the eventual GT7 on the PS4.

  • The first real "modern" open-world game. Its style of storytelling was pretty impressive at the time, but most of what I liked about the game was turning on a bunch of cheats and just causing havoc. Back when just doing that was still really entertaining, I suppose.

  • At times this game went thoroughly over my head as a young kid, but even then I could appreciate its depth and complexity. I don't know that I've ever really seen any other games that have attempted to recreate a real-world wilderness survival scenario like this game did, and the fact that it was able to somewhat simulate moving around in a 3D environment on the Apple II is still impressive to me today.

  • This game did a great job blending first-person shooting with lightsaber combat and force powers. While it hasn't aged super well, as is to be expected from a late-90s first-person shooter, it was a pretty well-crafted Star Wars experience at the time, when Star Wars movie fever was at its peak. As a companion to the X-Wing/TIE Fighter series, a Star Wars fan could barely ask for anything more. I liked the expansion pack, too, which added colored lighting (ooh) and incorporated a bunch of elements from the Expanded Universe, which was cool to a young Star Wars nerd like me.