Top 100 Games of All-Time: #4

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Release Date: October 2, 1997

Platform Played On: PS1

2018 Placement: #6 (+2)

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What It Is:

The game that basically put the genre of “Metroidvania” on the map, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was the first of the Castlevania games to break away from the standard level progression and instead give you a giant Dracula’s Castle to explore freely (sort of). You play as Alucard, the half-vampire son of Dracula, who is investigating the return of Dracula’s Castle after his defeat by Richter Belmont in the previous game. While Alucard had been a supporting character in Castlevania III, the plot of Symphony of the Night is all his own.

This game introduces a lot of features that became standard in later Castlevania games – from full equipment (instead of just a whip and secondary weapons) and RPG stats to the interconnected map, Symphony of the Night became a blueprint for success despite initial sales being not great in the West. It also has one of the biggest surprise second halves in gaming history, as when you get to the top of Dracula’s Castle you discover Richter Belmont is the “villain” and “final boss.” Except once a special item is acquired, you find out he’s being manipulated by a wizard named Shaft (Shaft!) and there’s a whole ENTIRE SECOND UPSIDE-DOWN CASTLE TO EXPLORE and the map completion goes from 100% to 200% on your save file. The game goes from big to massive and it’s phenomenal.

Why It’s Important To Me:

This game sealed in the Metroidvania-style gameplay as one of my favorite genres. Coming off Super Metroid on the SNES, playing Symphony of the Night was a delight. Not only were there plenty of unique abilities, items, weapons, etc. to find scattered in nooks and crannies in the castle, but then you got an entire SECOND castle to fine MORE abilities, items, weapons, and so on. Like the previous entry, as a kid I just fucking loved a second map that was a twisted version of the first. Symphony of the Night’s upside-down castle is probably one of the more poorly designed map extensions if I’m honest – it’s literally just the main map but upside-down and with harder enemies, which makes traversal a little weird and awkward in some cases. But the sheer joy I experienced when I first got to the second castle and having that much more game to play was unparalleled.

It also has some great tunes that stick in your head (of course): the Colosseum theme is probably my favorite banger from the entire soundtrack. And then there’s the Clock Tower that just drops heavy metal guitar on you out of nowhere. The boss theme is incredible and gives crazy energy to every boss encounter. And the main Dracula’s Castle theme is another earworm that is perfect for Alucard’s introduction in the game. The game is just stellar from gameplay to music to boss fights to everything, what more can I say?

My Strongest Memory:

“Why don’t I press it and SEE?” Throughout the game you can acquire familiars, and one of them is the devil familiar. There’s this one area in the game that is only accessible by a switch you can’t possible reach – but if you equip the devil familiar he will press it for you. However it is paired with an incredible voice line reading that buried into my brain at a young age and refuses to leave. It is just unmatched in the voice acting department. I don’t remember Dracula’s voice, but I do remember that stupid little devil familiar.

The other strongest memory is actually a more recent one – the game was rereleased alongside Rondo of Blood as a collection within the last few years. I immediately got it and started playing through in on the PS4. Playing this game really, truly, felt like going home. I knew the map, the bosses, where all the items were, how to progress to the second castle – all of it was second nature to me. It was relaxing and nostalgic and peaceful and just pure joy and happiness. But the funniest part was that I was playing it and apparently regressed even further to a child-like state because my girlfriend pointed out I was so absorbed that I had been talking to myself/the television for the entire time I was playing it. Thankfully she thought it was cute – but arguing with myself/the television while playing a video game is a pasttime of a younger self and that was how strong this game was to me.

Why It’s #4:

Recency bias. Yeah, when I made this list I’d played the rerelease relatively recently. That’s why it jumped to #4 over Tetris Attack and Link to the Past this time around. But honestly, Symphony of the Night is another perfect game to me. Despite its flaws, despite the awful, garbage, no-good very-bad boss design of Galamoth (who, to be fair, is optional), this game is still just 200% the best Metroidvania. Nothing since, not even other Castlevanias, has come close. After all, none of them have an upside-down castle, and really that’s the key ingredient here.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #5

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

Release Date: April 13, 1992

Platform Played On: SNES

2018 Placement: #4 (-1)

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What It Is:

Link’s big transition from 8-bit to 16-bit, A Link to the Past was Link’s return to the top-down exploration vibe of the original game after Zelda 2’s sidescrolling departure. Like the original game, there is a large overworld to explore with many interesting characters, but you get a little bit more direction this time around. The wizard Agahnim has taken over Hyrule Castle so Link is tasked to find three pendants which will allow him to draw the fabled Master Sword and stop Agahnim.

And while it seems like the Master Sword will be the culmination of your efforts in this game, it’s actually only the conclusion to the first act. Upon defeating Agahnim, Link is drawn into the Dark World and must rescue the seven Maidens who have been sealed away in crystals. A second, warped map and seven more dungeons, each with their own complexities, await the hero and man, let me tell you, young me loved surprise remixed/altered maps. (This is going to be a theme in every game from here to #2, just you wait.)

Why It’s Important To Me:

Every gaming person has a favorite Zelda game. For some it’s the first game in the franchise they played. For others it’s Breath of the Wild. As I write this Tears of the Kingdom is about to become a bunch more’s favorite. This one is mine simply because I think it’s perfect. It has the perfect amount of dungeons and the perfect amount of items that have the perfect amount of usefulness. The exploration between each of the two maps is perfectly spaced, all the bosses use the special weapons of their dungeons perfectly. The story and characters are perfectly executed with not being too strong to overpower the thrill of adventure and discovery, but not completely absent.

I dunno, it’s hard to describe this game in any other way. Ocarina of Time duplicated its dual world strategy in 3D, but for some reason it just didn’t have a huge effect on me like it did most others in my gaming generation. I felt like the items were more unique and fun to acquire in Link to the Past. I’ve played this enough that I have a lot of the map memorized like Link’s Awakening, but not fully so every time I play I still have to do a little bit of thinking and remembering. It’s long enough that I feel excited to play it again but never overwhelmed. I can’t ever get sick of this game.

My Strongest Memory:

Back in the 90s there was this magazine called Nintendo Power, and I was an avid subscriber. One of the things the monthly magazine had was a comic that semi-followed the story of Link to the Past. I loved following that little comic monthly and was doubly excited when I did stuff in the game that was also in the comic. You can read the comic in its entirety here if you’re curious (bless you, Internet!).

Other than the memory of the comic, my strongest memory is definitely the Thieves’ Town dungeon – the fourth dungeon of the Dark World. In the dungeon you find a surprisingly empty boss chamber and one of the Maidens you’re supposed to rescue chained up inside a cell deeper in the dungeon. After bombing a higher floor and allowing sunlight into the boss chamber, you can lead the Maiden into the light only for it to reveal Blind the Thief – the dungeon’s boss and a minion of Ganon. Unlike most of the other bosses in the game which are monsters or otherwise uncommunicative and just sort of attack Link regardless, Blind the Thief having a small personality and trying to trick Link always stuck out to me as one of my favorite bosses/enemies of the entire series. Figuring out how to reveal the fake Maiden’s true identity was one of the highlights of my first playthrough of this game and I’ll always rank Thieves’ Town highly in terms of Zelda dungeons because of it.

Why It’s #5:

Like I previously stated for Tetris Attack, this game is interchangeable in the #4-#6 spots. It will always be my favorite Zelda game and I don’t think the childlike wonder of discovering the Dark World for the first time can ever be replicated as a cynical adult now, no matter how fun the gameplay is. No other game has ever reached the highs of finding useful tools/weapons and then being able to use them in fun/useful ways across a vast open world – too much of big, open world gaming is highly directed nowadays. Give me the variety of a staff that creates blocks, a rod that shoots ice, and a medallion that makes earthquakes and I’m a happy camper. Also a hookshot. There must be a hookshot.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #6

Tetris Attack

Release Date: August 11, 1996

Platform Played On: SNES

2018 Placement: #5 (-1)

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What It Is:

A match-3-ish competitive puzzle game released many years before Bejeweled, Tetris Attack is a game where you have to switch around and match shapes to clear out your area which then sends large blocks to your opponent’s side to mess with them. The larger the combo when you match, the bigger the headache for your opponent. Released in Japan as Panel de Pon with fairy characters, the game was renamed Tetris Attack and redone with characters from Yoshi’s Island for Western audiences (despite the game not being similar to Tetris at all aside from the timed puzzle nature). I personally like the revision – the Yoshi’s Island characters gave the game much more personality to me.

It’s a pretty straightforward type of game – there’s a campaign mode where you fight each character before making your way through Bowser’s henchmen before taking on the big turtle himself. But the real fun from the game comes from the local play and demolishing your friends over and over no matter how hard they try to beat you.

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Why It’s Important To Me:

This was one of the first (if not the first) head-to-head multiplayer games that I enjoyed playing against my friends. Generally, I’m not a huge competition-based gamer as is evidenced by most of my top 100 list being solo games or games where you play co-op/working with your friends. But I was a Tetris Attack savant when I was younger. I was unbeatable. Friends tried and most gave up eventually and wouldn’t play with me anymore because it was not fun for them. And that’s okay. I still loved the game.

There is also, of course, the music. God, the music in this game is just incredible. Probably top 10 favorite soundtracks if I’m being honest with myself – yes it holds up against stuff like Persona 5 and Final Fantasy 7, I’m that serious about it. I think my #1 favorite track is the ice world theme for Bumpty. Then there’s Gargantuan Blargg’s theme in the lava world. And the theme for the main Bowser minions is also rockin’. Then of course every stage theme has a frantic escalation when your blocks reach critical mass where the music cranks up to 11. My personal favorite is the change from Poochy’s regular theme to his critical theme – it goes from this nice, peaceful, chill vibe to holy shit my world is burning. It’s fantastic.

My Strongest Memory:

So aside from all the good times I had smushing my friends into paste while playing this game, there was one particular memory of mine that has never left my brain. One day, me and my friend were playing a versus match on the Bowser stage and the Koopa King’s music was playing. Another friend of ours arrived and as he entered the room, he heard the music playing and immediately said “What IS this, field day at the old folks’ home?”

Me and my friend burst out laughing and I have not been able to remove that description of the music from my brain no matter how hard I’ve tried. It became a minor inside joke whenever this game was played and while it’s likely faded from all my other friends’ minds at this point, this memory and the game are forever intertwined to me. I literally cannot think about Tetris Attack without reflexively thinking about field day at the old folks’ home.

Why It’s #6:

So games #4-#6 of my top 100 are basically in an ever-rotating order. At any given time any of these three could be #6 or #4. The dice rolled on this one being #6 because it’s been the longest since I’ve played it. Tetris Attack is my favorite puzzle game and my favorite competitive multiplayer game – partly because I was so good at it and mostly because of the music. Yes, the original Tetris also has legendary music but to a young me this game’s themes were on another level. It also helped that I loved Super Mario World 2 as well so all the random enemies getting extra characterization in this game didn’t hurt. I will never not preach the good word of Panel de Tetris Attack.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #7

XCOM 2

Release Date: February 5, 2016

Platform Played On: PC/PS4

2018 Placement: #14 (+7)

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What It Is:

The original XCOM was released in 1994 and was a crazy hard (and sometimes borderline unfair) strategy game about saving the world from an alien invasion. The series was rebooted in 2012 with XCOM: Enemy Unknown and that game rocketed to the top of my list as one of my favorite strategy games ever. And yet…as you have seen so far, it is not in my top 100? Why is that?

Because its sequel, XCOM 2, blew it out of the water for me in every way, to the point that I don’t feel the need to play it anymore because XCOM 2 is the ultimate itch scratcher.

This game is one of my favorites because it is a direct sequel and goes in a completely novel direction for the series (and games in general): the bad end is canon. You failed to stop the invasion in Enemy Unknown and XCOM 2 starts off with the aliens in control of Earth. Instead of being a world government offshoot tasked with defending us from UFOs, you’re a ragtag rebellion trying to fight against the alien takeover with what resources you have left.

This adds a new layer of strategy to the game – missions often start in infiltration mode where the enemies are unaware of your presence, which allows you to set up a brutal first attack ambush to clear out enemies and give yourself a strong position. But like all XCOM games, you live and die by the percentages and sometimes your surefire start descends directly into chaos almost immediately. It’s a blast from start to finish and easily cemented itself as my favorite strategy game of all-time.

Why It’s Important To Me:

I can talk a lot about the bits and bobs and doodads of this game – the different classes having fun and unique abilities, the War of the Chosen expansion adding even cooler special troops (Templar for life!), the base management between missions being fun and manageable without becoming too overwhelming. But the main reason I adore this game is because I get to create my own stories within the world. You can design and customize all your troops – I name them after friends, after favorite characters, or sometimes just leave them as is because the random generation has personality.

And then as you play a full game, these troops become your storytellers. With my podcast partner I’ve retold many stories of XCOM 2 playthroughs where there were running stories between characters – how one person got captured and we had to go rescue him, only for his bonded partner to die sacrificing himself to get the prisoner of war to safety. One game my expy character of MYSELF was mind controlled at the very end of an hour-long mission, and I had the impossible decision of killing myself to complete it or running the risk of losing more people and possibly failing the entire mission after so much work. (I chose to murder myself.) And sometimes there’s happy accidents, like the time I accidentally had a character kick down a door and break concealment, and then RP’d the entire rest of the game with him kicking down doors any time he could because he didn’t give a fuck.

These personalized adventures are what make XCOM 2 a game I will always treasure. Sure, the strategy is great. But no other game gives me this.

My Strongest Memory:

So outside of the anecdotes I already spoke about, I have to make sure you understand how much I love this game. Because this game did not want me to love it. It was originally released on PC only without any indication of coming to consoles, so I upgraded my PC to bare minimum requirements to play it on launch day. It was slow, blurry, buggy, took forever to load, the animation quality sucked, and I fought like hell with outdated hardware to play it but I did and got all the way to the end even though my experience was more than suboptimal.

It came out on PS4 later that year and I bought it again and started a new campaign and played it for a while. It was still buggy but a much better experience.

And then the War of the Chosen expansion came out and I got it on console and started a new campaign on Commander Ironman from the beginning. And good fucking lord that game fought me. I had crashes. I had gamebreaking bugs. I had a game crash that was so hard it CORRUPTED MY SAVE FILE. TWICE. I had to redownload my playthrough from the cloud and lost a month of in-game time and mission completions. XCOM 2 is an unforgiving game but it was like the game itself was trying to break me. But I completed it.

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According to PSNProfiles it’s the rarest trophy I’ve ever achieved. It’s the trophy I’m most proud of in my entire collection anyway, because I fought software, hardware, aliens, humans, everything to finish that playthrough. And I will never forget it.

Why It’s #7:

XCOM 2 holds the highest spot for a “modern” game in my top 100. It is my favorite game of the “new” era of video games. Not to spoil anything, but the final 6 all were released before the year 2000. Yeah I’m that kinda person. But I want to be clear that this being here is no joke. For a long time my top 10 was immutable. XCOM 2 (and FF7R) making the top 10 are achievements on their own. And XCOM 2, quite frankly, has a shot at eventually breaking the top 5 with more time. I can always start a new playthrough of XCOM 2 because it has infinite possibilities in its stories to me. Other games I will shelve at the first sign of bugs or hardship. But even at my most frustrated I wouldn’t ever let this game beat me. That’s my XCOM 2 guarantee.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #8

Earthbound

Release Date: June 5, 1995

Platform Played On: SNES

2018 Placement: #7 (-1)

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What It Is:

Released in 1995, Earthbound was the sequel to a game called Mother, and while that game eventually did see a U.S. release, Earthbound was the first to see the western shore and became a huge hit (or a niche hit, depending on your viewpoint). It stars Ness, a young boy who goes on an adventure because an alien lands in his backyard. It’s quirky, it’s weird, and it’s really captivated. There weren’t many RPGs like it at the time: instead of a fantastical world with swords and demons and the like, you ride a bicycle, hit enemies with a baseball bat, and some of those enemies are hippies.

The game had its own weird humor that stood out from its contemporaries. But it also had a very strong plot that didn’t shy away from getting sad and philosophical. One minute you’ll be fighting a pile of vomit named Master Belch, the next you’ll be getting poignant advice from your mom or dad on a phone call. There are strange cults, policemen that arrest you for being a kid, and a nihilistic entity who wants to end everything. It’s a strange, strange game but it embraced its own style and because of it, it became one of the most memorable RPGs ever made.

Why It’s Important To Me:

As I mentioned in the Super Mario RPG entry, Earthbound was one of the first RPGs I ever played. I honestly can’t remember which of these two came first, but this game definitely deserves partial credit for getting me into the JRPG genre. I can also say the off-beat humor of this game was a definite influence of my own humor and creativity. Some of the boss designs are super memorable, even to this day: the Carbon Dog to Diamond Dog evolution, the simplicity of the Kraken design, that blasted New Age Retro Hippie. This is a game that oozes style from its pores, even in simpler 16-bit graphic times.

Of course, the music was another high point of the game. The hippie’s theme is just a classic battle track. The hauntingly eerie melancholy of the Sanctuary Guardians theme is another great song. As I keep saying, the game just has personality, and each boss theme just adds more on top of it: exhibit A, the oddly invigorating bop that is the Kraken’s theme. And of course, I’m not going to forget the all-timer of a final boss music.

My Strongest Memory:

Just to add to how bizarre this game was, one of the strongest memories I have of this game is not of the game, but of a smell. The strategy guide for Earthbound came with these scratch-and-sniff pages for different enemies and characters in the game. One of them was a monkey that smelled like the sweetest banana you’ve ever smelled. And then one was Carbon Dog and I still to this day cannot describe what it smelled like other than strange. It was like smelling spicy hotness, but with no actual good flavoring. Just…heat. It was weird as hell.

But they say olfactory sense triggers memories and let me tell you, I’ve never forgotten Earthbound’s scratch and sniff stickers. It’s the kind of thing that sticks with you. It’s great that the game was also fantastic, but the ad campaign for the game (“This game stinks”) was a weird one. Still, those stickers left an impression. Even just thinking about those odors is making me have trouble with coherent sentences and arguments.

Why It’s #8:

Now that the gaming library of RPGs has expanded to all kinds of types – fantasy, sci-fi, modern, western, vampire, etc. – it’s easy to forget that an RPG starring random kids that uses everyday stuff like baseball bats was a big departure from the norm at the time. But the game’s irreverence and willingness to stand out from everyone else was a big part of its charm to me. Even in the modern landscape where games have tried to capture Earthbound’s vibes, there hasn’t really been any RPG that’s truly succeeded. It’s a master-class of a game and not easily replicated. And I love it.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #9

Star Fox 64

Release Date: June 30, 1997

Platform Played On: N64

2018 Placement: #8 (-1)

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What It Is:

The (not cancelled) follow-up to Star Fox on the SNES, Star Fox 64 takes the same general directional shooter gameplay of the original and expands upon it greatly. You play as Fox McCloud, piloting an Arwing through different planets while your trusty wingmen Peppy, Falco, and Slippy help you and give you advice. The levels vary in size and scope: some are linear, on-rails shooters while others involve “All-Range Mode,” a new system that allows you to dogfight in a large arena. In addition to the Arwing you can pilot a tank, the Landmaster, and a sub, the Blue Marine, depending on the planet.

The plot of the game is a basic repeat of the first one, almost a retelling. It introduces the Star Wolf team, which is the evil version of your team of pilots. There’s also a multiplayer mode that allows you to battle your friends in an Arwing, a Landmaster, or on foot with a rocket launcher – something you don’t get to do in the single-player campaign. It’s probably the most well-known and most referenced of all the Star Fox games – this one stuck to the shooter gameplay the original was known for without too many gimmicks.

Why It’s Important To Me:

To understand why this game has stuck with me for so long, you have to understand how different the landscape of voice acting in gaming was 25 years ago. That is to say, there was hardly any. Even big budget RPGs like Final Fantasy 7 didn’t have any voice acting at the time. But Star Fox 64 was fully voice acted. Yeah, they were all very short, kinda cheesy lines, but it made the game an instant favorite among me and my friends due to the endlessly quotable lines from all the characters.

From Peppy’s ubiquitous “Do a barrel roll!” to a boss’s quick and disgusted “Cocky little freaks!” From Star Wolf’s introduction (“Can’t let you do that, Star Fox!”) to their in-battle taunts (“Too bad dad’s not here to see you FAIL.”). From the boss’s laments as they die (“I can’t believe I lost to this scuuuuuuuum!”) to the final boss’s final words (“If I go down I’m taking you with me!”). There are so many lines from this game that are eternally buried in my brain because of how much personality was injected into the characters by the voice actors. I can still quote most of these with the exact cadence and accents (well, badly in my case). Yeah, the gameplay itself was great and you can’t really get it anywhere else in other games, but it was all the characters coming to life and getting to see the potential of voice acting in future games that made me fall in love with it as a whole.

My Strongest Memory:

Aside from the aforementioned voice acting, this was a game I platinumed before there was such a thing as achievements and trophies. Back when all 100%ing a game got you the feeling of a job well done. I beat this game, got all the medals on the hard path, and then played it again on Expert. It was a game that captivated me so thoroughly that I played it and beat it multiple times in multiple ways. Sometimes I’d just pick it up and play through a run just for fun. (No wonder I still remember all the voice lines.)

It was also the first game that made me realize I loved dogfighting as a concept in video games. When All-Range Mode kicked off for the first time I geeked the hell out. Getting to do flips and barrel rolls and take on my friends in multiplayer was also a huge highlight. While I later got into games like Twisted Metal that replicated the same sort of dogfighting arena single player and multiplayer, Star Fox 64 was really the first that grabbed me.

Why It’s #9:

It’s weird. I can take each individual part of this game and find other games that do it a bit better. Yeah, I love the minute-to-minute gameplay of Bloodborne more. Yeah, I kinda like the characters and story from Persona 5 a little more. Yeah, there’s other games I prefer the multiplayer for. But Star Fox 64 is more than the sum of its parts. It’s just a damn classic. Even games that have hundreds of hours of voice acting now still can’t compete with Falco being a smart-ass. They’re the original smack talkers, and in my heart they always deserve a stop in the top 10.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #10

Final Fantasy 7 Remake

Release Date: April 10, 2020

Platform Played On: PS4

2018 Placement: N/A

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What It Is:

Of all the games that people have clamored for a remake, Final Fantasy 7 is probably the one that has gotten the most (or at least the loudest) support. The game itself is stuck in early polygon-era models, but since it captured the hearts of many and also had several later spinoffs (and a movie sequel) with better graphics there was a lot of hoping for an HD upgrade to the story.

People finally got their wish in 2020 as the Final Fantasy 7 Remake finally came out. It had the updated graphics everyone asked for, along with an all-new action RPG system that used elements of the original game. Because the project was so big, Remake only told the story of Midgar, the opening city of the game. For comparison’s sake, this 40 hour game was about 4 hours of the original game and was only a small portion of the first disc. The city of Midgar is brought to life even more than before with side characters being expanded upon and entire new areas and enemies to fight, along with old enemies being refashioned into bosses and characters that don’t show up until later in the game making much earlier appearances (here’s looking at you, Sephiroth).

But it wasn’t just the original game’s story with a shiny coat of paint and a different battle system. As the game progresses, things get weirder and start deviating from the original story. And before you know it, you release you aren’t just playing a remake: you’re playing an entirely new game. And it’s awesome.

Why It’s Important To Me:

When I sat down and started playing FF7 Remake, I knew I liked FF7 a lot. But I didn’t realize how much these characters and this game had influenced me until my emotions started running rampant as I played through this. I tore through this game as the COVID pandemic was starting its tear through everyone’s lives, and falling back into the comfortable, updated nostalgia of this game was just perfect timing.

And then the story beats went in an entirely different direction than I was expecting. It blew me away to the point that I ended up loving this game even more than the original. It does something with storytelling that can’t be replicated in any other medium as far as I’m concerned. It took something familiar, something beloved, something that people had been clamoring for, and built upon it and gave something nobody asked for. It was amazing. I’d never played anything like it and I haven’t played anything like it since.

My Strongest Memory:

To stay (heavy) spoiler-free: the set up of the Air Buster showdown. In the original game, the Air Buster is simply the second boss. It has a mechanic that you have to hit it from behind to do more damage but it’s otherwise fairly unremarkable. But the game takes your expectation and turns a pretty standard boss into an awesome setpiece. There’s so much build-up – fans of the game know what’s coming but the game ratchets up tension as you basically see it be built to attack you as you progress through the chapter. If you’re smart, you can disable some of its parts to make the eventual fight easier. And then the fight itself is just balls-to-the-wall action fun. You couldn’t ask for a better execution.

And then, of course, the remixed music. They took the original legendary soundtrack and just made it better in every way. The battle theme gets so many different variations: from the Airbuster version to a gym version. There’s even new songs for new bosses that kick ass. And there’s a remix of one of my favorite video games songs of all time, Crazy Motorcycle, that nearly tops off the game as it’s played towards the end of the Midgar section in the original game. I was looking forward to hearing the remix the entire time I played and man, finally getting to hear it did not disappoint.

Why It’s #10:

This is the last game on this list that wasn’t on the 2018 list. When I originally made the list in 2021, I was a little worried that recency bias was making me overvalue FF7 Remake. But the stupid smile I got while thinking about this game and listening to the music again as I wrote this entry just washed away any doubts. This is a fantastic game, and while it’s hard to replicate 20+ years of nostalgia wrapped into a surprisingly perfect package, if it does apply to you this game will hit your feelings hard and I definitely think it’s worthy of being in the top 10.

Top 100 Games: Honorable Mentions

This entry is a bit of a bonus edition, as I wanted to highlight 5 games that have released since I started posting the top 100 list back in 2021 that would likely have a place on the list. Since it’s unlikely I’ll do a list like this in its entirety again (at least any time soon) and it’s been a year and a half of MORE GAMES for me, I wanted to specifically talk about a few games in quick succession before the top 10. These are not in any particular order.

So here we go!

HM #1

Persona 5 Strikers

Release Date: February 23, 2021

Platform Played On: PS4

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What It Is:

A full-on sequel to Persona 5, but instead of another 90-hour JRPG, it’s a 40-50 hour musou-infused ARPG. The story is a continuation of the original game, picking up four months later as Joker returns for summer vacation to hang out with the Phantom Thieves again. They end up having to re-enter the Metaverse as they go on a road trip that’s part vacation, part saving the world. Koei Tecmo takes their patented musou gameplay and makes it uniquely Persona because you have to balance enemy weaknesses with your party’s attacks. The bosses end up being more strategy than just hack-and-slash and it turns into one of the best ARPGs I’ve ever played.

Why It Would Make The Top 100:

I love Persona 5 and this game just took the energy from the first game and kept it going. The story is engaging, all the main cast return and it just turns into a bonus round of getting to see some of my favorite characters in their element and interact with each other. The first game has a lot of great interactions, but the full cast is drip-fed throughout the whole game so you don’t get to see them all just hang out with each other much. Strikers is wonderful because you start the game with everybody together; there’s no slow “getting the band back together” phase. It’s just 100% good times from the start and I wish more sequels did that.

Also the music kicks ass and rivals the original: just listen to Loving Wonderland, the first Jail music and Daredevil.

HM #2

Elden Ring

Release Date: February 25, 2022

Platform Played On: PS5

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What It Is:

If you’ve been living under a rock since 2022 started (and really, who could blame you), Elden Ring is From Software’s latest entry. Taking the Souls gameplay they perfected and expanding on it greatly, Elden Ring is a grand open world that contains the challenge many players have come to expect from From. It’s another dark fantasy entry with sorceries, miracles, and blood magic. The sheer amount of weapons, armor, spells, summons, etc. let you play the game pretty much any way you want to. Co-oping with friends has never been easier and while the game can be punishing, it also ends up being one of the most accessible games for new players to date.

Why It Would Make The Top 100:

I’m one trophy away from the Platinum on this game. It would be my first From Platinum, and all I need to do is beat the game one more time. I’ll do it eventually, but the fact that I went through and beat the game twice already just says something about how engaging this game is. I spent over 100 hours on a single character and tried many, many different playstyles. The world is super engaging and every time you think you’ve seen everything, you find a new cave/dungeon/something to explore. When I played it the first night, me and two friends pulled off what felt like a Wild West heist on a big cart being pulled by a giant troll and escorted by a large number of enemies. The wonder this game produced is one of the highlights of gaming for me. Go anywhere, kill anything.

HM #3

Final Fantasy XIV

Release Date: August 24, 2013

Platform Played On: PC

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What It Is:

The followup to Final Fantasy XI, the initial release of the MMO Final Fantasy XIV was dreadful. But in one of the greatest comeback stories in gaming, A Realm Reborn was born from the ashes of the initial attempt and over the course of a decade ended up dropping one of the strongest stories in video games. The game is an MMO-ass MMO in its gameplay, but the main story and its characters are done so well that even I, a noted not-fan of MMOs, managed to play through 500 hours of content and enjoyed myself immensely. There’s something to do for everyone – from hard tactical endgame content to designing your own house, from helping new players to RPing with friends, the FFXIV community is huge and anyone can have a good time with it.

Why It Would Make The Top 100:

I spent 6 months and 500+ hours playing FFXIV. I don’t think I’ve been enraptured by any other single game for as long a time. I love the trial and raid gameplay – dungeons are great too. Endwalker, the most recent expansion, concluded a decade-long arc and was one of the most moving stories I’ve ever experienced – it touched on nihilism and the meaning of an individual’s life. I laughed, I cried, I did other cliche things. Final Fantasy XIV happened to me at the exact moment in time it needed to. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the time to dedicate so much of my time to a single game ever again, but from July 2021 until December 2021, I was neck-deep in FFXIV and wouldn’t change a thing about it.

HM #4

TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge

Release Date: June 16, 2022

Platform Played On: PS5/Switch

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What It Is:

Developed by Tribute Games, TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge is an homage to the 80s television show as well as the classic beat ’em ups from the 80s and 90s. It sticks mostly to the beat ’em up staples, but modernizes the gameplay enough to not make it feel old and unnatural to play now. The animation is fantastic and the game is 16 episodes in length, making it long enough to be enjoyable but never overstaying its welcome. With 7 total characters to play as and pretty much every major character from the TV show showing up either as a boss or NPC/collectible, it’s a perfect Ninja Turtle nostalgia trip.

Why It Would Make The Top 100:

Considering both Manhattan Project and Turtles in Time made the original list, Shredder’s Revenge is a no-brainer. It has great music and perfect references. From backgrounds that reference older games to bosses having the same animations for certain attacks, it’s clearly a love letter to anyone who enjoyed those games in the past. And I’m one of those people. I’ve played it through twice already – once solo and once with a couple friends – and it’s still not old. It’s pure Ninja Turtle goodness in the year 2022 and honestly I can’t believe we got this game and it was executed so perfectly. Well done, I’m happy.

HM #5

Triangle Strategy

Release Date: March 4, 2022

Platform Played On: Switch

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What It Is:

The follow-up to Octopath Traveler (both in creative team and weird naming convention), Triangle Strategy is an SPRG with tactical battles and an interesting political story. While the battles play out similarly to games like Final Fantasy Tactics and such, the story plays out with Game of Thrones-esque webs of intrigue. Your characters have opinions, and while you can convince them to change their mind with the right information, when it comes down to important decisions the characters make them instead of you. It’s a neat mechanic that makes the story that plays out feel a little more personal on top of the strategic battles.

Why It Would Make The Top 100:

I’m always looking to find the high that the original Final Fantasy Tactics gave me with tactical battles, and Triangle Strategy is the closest it’s come. Each character has their own special skills and abilities, so choosing who you bring into each battle has weight. Balancing your typical mages and healers with other unique support type games makes the gameplay more engaging. One of my favorite characters to use was a trap master, and setting up traps that would send enemies flying was an endless source of entertainment. On top of all that, the actual story is fantastic and while the game ends up very text-heavy following all the factions, I was never bored and never lost interest.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #11

Fallout: New Vegas

Release Date: October 19, 2010

Platform Played On: XBox 360

2018 Placement: #33 (+22)

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What It Is:

The non-numbered follow-up to Fallout 3, New Vegas is published by Bethesda (who made 3) but is actually written by Obsidian, a studio founded by the creators of the original Fallout and Fallout 2. It uses the same first-person system established in 3: V.A.T.S. will stop time and allow you to target specific parts of enemies, or you can play it as a direct shooter.

The world of New Vegas is your oyster: you are the Courier, an unfortunate victim who gets shot in the head by the smooth-talking Benny. But that’s just the beginning of the story, as you’re left for dead but manage to hang on and recover to go on a quest of roaring revenge. Along your trip to New Vegas to find Benny, you encounter many different factions and characters who populate the world and you can choose to help them or ignore them completely.

There are also extensive stats, perks, and skills that make role-playing in this game an immersive experience. From upping your Speech, to focusing on Guns, to getting your brain on with Science, each stat gives you unique ways to solve problems and make each runthrough of the game your own. You can clear objectives through negotiation and pacifism, or you can just shoot everyone and loot what you need from their corpses.

Why It’s Important To Me:

Yet another game in the 1000/1000 Achievement/Platinum Trophy club, New Vegas sunk its hooks into me early. While I never felt like Fallout 3 was that great a game, New Vegas was an absolute masterpiece. Alongside Alan Wake, it was one of the first games I enthusiastically bought all the DLC for. The extent of role-playing you can do and how different your approaches can be to every situation make every playthrough unique. There are four major factions to align with and four different endings you can achieve, and it was a blast for me to play through all of them. Very rarely do I choose to beat a game multiple times in succession, but New Vegas got me.

The characters in New Vegas jump off the screen. Benny is slimy from the jump, and finally getting to interact with him after a long revenge hunt is a highlight of the game. Companions like Veronica and Boone have their own histories and give solid commentary as they accompany you on your journey. And the main quest isn’t the only enjoyable aspect: the game itself is filled to the brim with interesting side quests like finding the overgrown Vault 22 or investigating the isolationist Boomers who are holed up in an Air Force Base. Every character is intriguing and it’s one of the few open-world narrative games that kept me entertained and interested in all the plot points. I never felt like I was ready for the game to be over and had to mainline the story to the end.

My Strongest Memory:

While the main game is amazing, surprisingly enough my two strongest memories are of two DLCs. The first, Dead Money, takes place in a forgotten casino that has been enveloped by a toxic cloud. You go there in search of the casino’s lost treasure and it was the first time I played a game’s DLC and went “yeah, this deserves to be DLC.” The casino is so atmospheric, and you’re dropped into the scenario without any of your gear and an explosive collar around your neck. It’s such a great set-up for a side story. While the actual episode ends with more of a whimper than a bang, the overall experience of exploring the Sierra Madre was seared into my brain.

The second, Old World Blues, is one of the best DLCs of all-time. You’re abducted to the Big Empty, where you are experimented on by a group called the Think Tank. The story goes wild places and I don’t really want to spoil it if you haven’t ever played this DLC before, but it was yet another feather in the New Vegas cap. The fact that two expansions to New Vegas were not only worthy additions, but nearly surpassed the main game, is a testament to the strength of Obsidian’s writing.

Why It’s #11:

Fallout: New Vegas is a game that I already regarded highly, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much I loved it. HBomberguy’s excellent video essay helped rekindle my love for the game, along with a recent replay I did on PC. It’s a top tier video game and the best WRPG I’ve ever played: it executes the idea of an open-world role-playing game to perfection.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #12

Super Mario RPG

Release Date: May 13, 1996

Platform Played On: SNES

2018 Placement: #10 (-2)

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What It Is:

Square Enix and Nintendo teamed up to bring Mario into his first RPG. While Mario had previously been featured in sports games, racing games, and also got his Ph.D. as a doctor, this was the first real foray into narrative-based non-platforming that the silent plumber enjoyed. Alongside a cast of (mostly) unknowns, it was a new look at the Mushroom Kingdom that captured the imagination of many, many Mario fans and turned them to a new genre for the first time.

The game itself is fairly standard as JRPGs go, although it did introduce and pioneer the “timed hits” mechanic that is featured in a lot of RPGs now: do more damage by hitting the button again right as you attack the enemy. It made you a more active participant in the turn-based battle system, and also allowed for fun combos with Mario like jumping on a target’s head multiple times if you timed it correctly. It doesn’t get too complex with the mechanics, instead running with a beginner RPG vibe that is entirely appropriate for Nintendo’s main character.

Why It’s Important To Me:

Like many others, this was a formative RPG for me. I can’t remember if it was my first (it was either this or Earthbound) but if it wasn’t the first, it was one of the first. I mean, what Nintendo kid wouldn’t be excited to explore the Mushroom Kingdom in a more narrative-based story instead of platforming? This game definitely solidified the JRPG as one of my favorite genres of all-time and pushed me to get into the “more mature” JRPGs like Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger.

The music was fantastic, of course: Smithy’s First Battle still pops into my head randomly with no warning 25 years later. The big boss battle music is a bop, too. And both Booster’s Tower songs (one and two) are fantastic, and one of them actually led to one of my favorite video game remixes of all-time (and may have actually jump-started my love for techno/trance music back in the day).

Some of the villains are my favorite Mario villains as well: Mack the Knife (a pun I wouldn’t get until years later), Bowyer (instead of Bowser, haha!), Jonathan Jones, the Axem Rangers, and the aforementioned Booster: all of these are great characters that I consider Mario staples in my head, even though they only appeared in this game.

My Strongest Memory:

The first time I made it all the way around the world, finally got back to Bowser’s Castle and was able to take on the big-ass sword that had fallen into the castle and ruined the world, only to discover it wasn’t Smithy and was instead some punk named Exor?! I was flabbergasted! Now, I don’t know if I just had poor reading comprehension at that age or what, but I was gearing myself up for a final battle with Smithy the Sword, only to discover there was an entire last dungeon before I got to see the real Smithy and take him on. It was such a shock I still remember it to this day.

The other strongest memory was taking on the secret boss, Culex. I knew of Final Fantasy at that point, but fighting Culex made me realize that hey, maybe I should get into this Final Fantasy JRPG stuff. This art style is so cool and the music rocks. And the rest was history.

Why It’s #12:

Despite all the later RPGs – the Mario & Luigi series, Paper Mario, so on and so forth, Super Mario RPG still stands out as a completely unique experience that was never revisited. It’s the best narrative game that includes our favorite plumber and the fact that it never got a true sequel and its system was never iterated on again (despite the Mario & Luigi series getting close) is one of my biggest disappointments. It remains a perfect testament to what can happen if known quantities are allowed to take a risk and branch out into new genres.