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: 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.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #13

Day of the Tentacle

Release Date: June 25, 1993

Platform Played On: PC

2018 Placement: #12 (-1)

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What It Is:

The sequel to Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle is another point-and-click adventure that follows the adventures of Bernard (from the first game), Laverne, and Hoagie (two new characters) as they attempt to save the world from a super intelligent Purple Tentacle. Unlike Maniac Mansion, which had multiple characters that could change how any given playthrough was solved, Day of the Tentacle is a more straightforward adventure – well, as straightforward as three people trapped in three different time periods using a Port-a-John to flush each other puzzle solutions can be.

It’s filled with irreverent humor, stupid puns, and bad jokes, but the overall game is the best point-and-click adventure of the LucasArts golden age. From finding a way to get George Washington to chop down a lemon tree, to dressing a mummy so it’ll win a beauty contest, to figuring out how to get fake barf off the ceiling (and more importantly what you’d even need that for later), the puzzles in this game make you think really hard about what you have at your disposal while never really getting to the “oh, well I GUESS that makes sense as an interaction” territory that some of the more complicated point-and-click adventures have.

Why It’s Important To Me:

Point-and-click adventures were my favorite genre of game growing up. Sam and Max Hit the Road, Full Throttle, The Dig, and Day of the Tentacle were pretty much the main games I played on my PC. The later revitalization of the genre missed the mark, either making the puzzles too complex or not complex enough. But Day of the Tentacle hit a particular sweet spot. All the main characters are engaging: I can still exactly hear Bernard, Laverne, and Hoagie’s voices in my head as they tell me what I can and can’t do with items. And all the supporting characters are fantastic too: from Green and Purple Tentacle to Weird Ed Edison to Benjamin Franklin, each character is funny and a blast to interact with.

This is by far my favorite of the entire genre. It has callbacks to Maniac Mansion (the poor hamster) as well as standing enough on its own that it’s worthwhile to play – I’d never played the original game before I played this for the first time, and yet it was instantly a favorite. I played this through enough times that when the Remastered version came out I was able to Platinum it fairly easily without a guide. It’s one of those games that will always be ingrained in my memory as a classic of the medium, even if the genre itself has warped and changed in the nearly 30 years since it released.

My Strongest Memory:

At some point in the game as Bernard, you find Nurse Edna sitting in a rolling chair in the security room. You can push the chair, but she grabs onto a statue and keeps herself from being flung completely out of the room. Now the solution to this puzzle isn’t super hard, but as a kid, for some reason the solution evaded me for a long while as I played the game. I can still remember the glee I got when Edna finally went spinning out of the room and crashing down the stairs after I solved it.

As Bernard says: “You know what they say: if you want to save the world, you have to push a few old ladies down the stairs.”

There’s also the rivalry between Bernard and Oozo the Clown, the absolute rockin’ banger that Green Tentacle plays in his room (and you can hear throughout the entire house as Bernard), and just…Laverne in her entirety. This game was endlessly quotable by my friends and I definitely give it credit for shaping a chunk of my sense of humor at an early age.

Why It’s #13:

It’s a classic. It will always be a classic. I sadly don’t dip into the genre itself as much anymore due to losing my patience for complicated puzzles – as a kid when you only have a limited supply of games it’s either solve the puzzle or do homework. Day of the Tentacle comes as naturally to me now to the point that it’s like redoing a crossword that’s already filled in. But I love it all the same and it will always rank high in my heart.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #14

Final Fantasy VII

Release Date: September 7, 1997

Platform Played On: PS1

2018 Placement: #30 (+16)

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What It Is:

Final Fantasy VII was what some might consider the flagship title of the original Sony Playstation. Final Fantasy, a popular series that had carried the Super Nintendo, moving to Sony was a big deal at the time. Not only that, but the 3D graphics and FMV sequences of FF7 were mindblowing at the time. It really showed off what three CDs could do compared to a cartridge.

A basic JRPG at heart, Final Fantasy 7 puts you in the driver’s seat of Cloud, an ex-SOLDIER who joins up with Avalanche to commit some eco-terrorism in protest of capitalism. It’s a much more prescient story intro several decades later, but eventually the story’s scope moves from fighting the man to saving the world from a giant meteor. You collect materia to make your characters stronger and it ends up being one of the best systems Square Enix ever made in a Final Fantasy game for leveling. Also, there’s this guy named Sephiroth, but I don’t know if you’ve heard of him, he’s a pretty niche villain.

Why It’s Important To Me:

This was a formative game to my young mind: the first ever novel series I started creating at the ripe age of 12 basically had Cloud and Sephiroth expies as the protagonist and villain. Even when the story got confusing as all hell, the fact remained that this game left an impression on me. The jump to 3D graphics and Square’s use of FMVs just made my imagination run wild as I played through this game. I’d always wanted to be a novelist, ever since I won a writing competition at age 5, but Final Fantasy 7 was the first game to inspire me enough that a full-fledged novel series sprouted from my head like Athena after Zeus went on a bender.

And, of course, the music was yet another piece of the puzzle. From Still More Fighting to Crazy Motorcycle, from Jenova’s theme to the often replayed One-Winged Angel, every track of this game was rockin’. I even taught myself how to play the City of the Ancients’ theme on the piano by ear because that theme kept itself embedded in my brain long after I’d finished the game.

My Strongest Memory:

Up until Final Fantasy 7’s release, I was a Nintendo kid. In the Nintendo vs. Sega fan wars, I was always a die-hard defender of the Nintendo. Sega was the villain. When Sony came into the picture I held fast to my beliefs and hated them with as much vitriol as I could muster because Nintendo would always be the one true gaming company.

And then I went to my neighbor’s house and played through the introduction sequence in Sector 7 in Final Fantasy 7. I can still remember sitting cross-legged in the game room they had just finished adding to the house, completely enraptured by what I was playing. I didn’t want to leave or stop playing because it was so awesome.

I immediately started saving my money so I could buy a Playstation and play the entire thing. I was so enamored with the graphics, the music, the characters, everything. I’d gotten a paper route earlier just to buy a Nintendo 64, and now I was going to funnel that cash into a second system because I needed to play this RPG to its finish. And I’m glad I did because it was absolutely worth it.

Why It’s #14:

I undervalued Final Fantasy 7 the last time I made a list, but Final Fantasy 7 Remake’s release made me realize just how important FF7 is to me and my personal history with gaming. This game made me fall in love with gaming all over again and is probably what propelled me into gaming being a permanent hobby in my life. I think last time I tried to put it lower because it’s such an obvious choice and is well regarded by the entire community, so I wanted to be a little more unique and downplay my love of it. But it’s a classic for a reason. This is a damn good game.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #15

Undertale

Release Date: September 15, 2015

Platform Played On: PC

2018 Placement: #26 (+11)

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What It Is:

If you’ve been on the internet yet under a rock for the past seven years, I guess I can explain Undertale to you. Created by Toby Fox, Undertale is an RPG that subverts and upends the genre completely. You play as a child that wakes up in a world of monsters, and how you choose to interact with the world plays a big part in how the game ends.

The mechanics of battle are straightforward: you can fight monsters and kill them, or you can use actions to find ways to show them mercy and befriend them/let them live. You’re placed in bullet hell-esque scenarios and each monster has a few unique ways of attacking you. Your job is to move your heart around and dodge the attacks.

But the heart of the game (heh) isn’t just in the mechanics: it’s in the characters, the music, the humor, the setting. It took the internet by storm upon release and is in the running for one of the most successful indie games of all time. Characters like Sans, Undyne, and more have entered the gaming world’s lexicon for better or for worse due to how popular the characters and game have become.

Why It’s Important To Me:

It’s rare that a game makes me cry. I’m not trying to be tough or anything, but as a whole the gaming medium doesn’t often hit my emotional center the way TV, movies, or books do.

That being said, Undertale can make me tear up just thinking about it, and I definitely teared up and full on cried at multiple points during the game.

Just listening to Battle Against A True Hero will make me tear up if it comes up on a playlist. I get shivers and full on emotional thinking about the context of the battle it plays during. Undertale (the song) is another tearjerker, as a very important (and sad) plot point is revealed while it plays and the music Toby Fox crafted to go along with the scene is note perfect. The melancholy I feel listening to it makes it so it can’t just be on a playlist. Asgore’s theme is another emotional one, again due to the circumstances of the battle. No other game manages to hit my emotions the way Undertale did: it combines the power of music with the power of story and characters in a way that few other games manage.

Also I’m not gonna forget Megalovania. Of course I have to mention it: it’s not as emotional to me, but it’s still a banger of a tune.

My Strongest Memory:

Can I say the whole game?

I’m trying to be as vague as possible in this write-up because I think Undertale is one of those games that you have to experience yourself. Knowing what’s going on before you go into it will probably lessen the emotional impact. But the entire game is just one big fond memory for me. Drifting off with Napstablook, the snail race (Thundersnail!!!), Lesser Dog (and Greater Dog!), every single piece of this game is worth remembering.

Why It’s #15:

Undertale is a triumphant achievement, not just because of its amazing story and music, but because it was done by basically one guy. He had a few people help with art and other things, but this is an indie-ass indie game. And it’s probably one of the most popular games of the last ten years. It goes to show that great games can come from anywhere and any person, as long as they have the heart.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #16

Bloodborne

Release Date: March 24, 2015

Platform Played On: PS4

2018 Placement: #15 (-1)

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What It Is:

A brief detour from the Souls series, Bloodborne is a PS4 exclusive that Miyazaki was working on while another From Software team did Dark Souls 2. It takes the Souls formula and puts a different spin on it: instead of dark fantasy, you are deposited in a Victorian-esque world where beasts run amok, only for it to pivot to cosmic horror about halfway through the game.

Instead of magic and swords and shields ruling the day, you are given a gun and a trick weapon. Each trick weapon has two different setups that you can switch between at any time, even in the middle of combos. From the Threaded Cane (a cane that turns into a bladed whip) to Ludwig’s Holy Blade (a longsword that is sheathed in a greatsword) to the Blade of Mercy (a short sword that can be split into dual blades), the trick weapons offer a bevy of styles for how you want to approach the hunt. And the gun isn’t used for damage: instead Bloodborne builds off a unique parry mechanic where firing your gun at the right time will open up the enemy to a counterattack for massive damage.

Why It’s Important To Me:

I’ve never been a huge fantasy fan. I’ve always leaned more towards the sci-fi genre and outside of a few particular series (Wheel of Time being the main one) I’ve always generally not been interested in high fantasy. When I do dabble, it tends to be dark fantasy like Dark Souls or a mix of fantasy and sci-fi ideas (like Final Fantasy). Bloodborne’s Victorian gothic setting that transcends into eldritch weirdness is a backdrop that we rarely get in AAA games and it just oozes style that hasn’t been replicated yet for me.

The trick weapons are my favorite Soulslike iteration on weaponry, and while not all of them are useful their designs are fantastic and I love how smoothly they transition and how well they work within the world built by Miyazaki. The gun-parry mechanic is the only time I’ve ever really gotten parrying down (sorry Sekiro) and its uniqueness makes it stand out to me as fun and engaging in a way a simple shield or sword does not. And the bosses in this game have some of the best designs of any From software game. The simple yet otherworldly look of Rom, the terrifying Lovecraftian design of Ebrietas, and the hauntingly sad transformation of Father Gasciogne from man into beast: all of it is just top-tier visual design that is backed by the best gameplay From has to offer.

My Strongest Memory:

When the Old Hunters DLC came out, my character was on New Game+. I didn’t want to start a new character just to play through to get to the DLC, so I powered through to the point where I could access it and went from there. It was slightly harder than intended for a first run (New Game+ will do that) but I managed it – all the way to the last boss of the DLC, Orphan of Kos.

And there I was stuck.

I had to leave and come back to it, and because summoning isn’t as reliable in Bloodborne as it is in other Souls games, I ended up having to take on Orphan of Kos solo. It took me many, many hours. Cumulatively it’s probably the most time I’ve spent on any singular boss in any game. But by God I DID IT. I memorized his moves and I beat that sorry ass orphan one-on-one. To this day, the relief I felt when I got the final blow has been unmatched. I shouted. I jumped. I shared it with anyone who would listen. But I beat that fucker without any help on NG+ difficulty and while that may not seem like much in the grand scheme of things, I will wear that victory with pride because of how much time and effort I put into learning that battle.

Why It’s #16:

As I said in #17, Bloodborne and Persona 5 are locked in an infinite battle: my deep love of traditional JRPGs versus my newfound love of the Souls ARPG format. Bloodborne is the peak of the genre for me (yes, even with Elden Ring entering the fray) and, like Persona 5, is at the top of its class when I consider “modern” gaming (i.e. games I’ve played within the last decade that aren’t also tinged by nostalgia as a kid). The setting, the lore, the weapons, even the shitty-ass Arcane spells. I love all of it, and it will always have a place among my favorites.

Top 100 Games of All-Time: #17

Persona 5

Release Date: April 4, 2017

Platform Played On: PS4

2018 Placement: #16 (-1)

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What It Is:

The fifth entry in the SMT spinoff series, Persona 5 is a slice-of-life game combined with RPG action and the relentless march of oppressive adults ruining the world for the younger generation. You play as Joker, a silent protagonist who moves to a suburb of Tokyo and stays with a guardian for a year, being punished for a crime he committed in his actual hometown. Along the way he makes friends with a bunch of other high schoolers, investigates the hearts of evil adults and makes them repent their ways, and blackmails his teacher into becoming his maid.

Er, wait…uh, moving on.

Persona 5 is the high point of the franchise: it removes the randomized dungeon crawling in favor of specially crafted dungeons with a heist theme. The day-to-day gameplay has you managing your calendar as you want to increase your Social Links to both unlock more story and improve the stats of your character. You can hang out with friends, eat burgers, study, and do all sorts of different things in-between saving the world from the nasty adults. No other RPG really balances the social life and RPG dungeon battle gameplay the way the Persona series does, and Persona 5 nails all those aspects out of the park.

Why It’s Important To Me:

You play an RPG for nearly 100 hours and you really get to know and love the characters involved. By the time I wrapped up Persona 5’s ending I felt sad that this was the end of my journey with this particular group of students. Each character: Ryuji, Ann, Morgana, Makoto, and more, all of them fit together so nicely and the way the characters play off of each other is fantastic and ends up being one of the best RPG casts in the history of gaming. And the fact that Persona 5 ditches the random dungeons and incomplete control of your party just makes the actual dungeon gameplay part of the game the best of the series.

The theme is also the best of the Persona games (in my opinion): each character having a thief Persona and each dungeon basically being a heist to steal a person’s heart is a fantastic concept that’s executed to perfection. There are some hiccups: the aforementioned blackmailing of the teacher and very brief appearances by some homophobic side characters are low points in the game. But if you take the 90+ hours of content overall and compare it to the few bumps in the game, it’s a very well done RPG that is worth playing to completion.

My Strongest Memory:

You really think me, the person who has ranted and raved about soundtracks up and down this top 100 list, wouldn’t talk about the Persona 5 OST? Yeah, c’mon, like that was going to happen. I imported this 3-disc OST from Japan and it became a main staple for my car rides to work almost immediately (that is, when I actually had to drive to work). Almost all the strong memories I have of particular moments in this game are because of the awesome soundtrack.

Fighting Kamoshida for the first time and hearing Blooming Villain start its crescendo in his boss introduction. The first time Life Will Change kicks in with lyrics in a dungeon. Entering the fifth dungeon and hearing its hard-ass weird-ass rock theme blasting from my speakers. And, of course, when you get to the penultimate clash and Rivers In the Desert starts playing. I literally sat up and was on the edge of my seat as that theme was the cherry on top of how awesome that fight was. The Persona 5 OST is a top 5 gaming OST of all-time, you can’t change my mind (or steal my heart).

Why It’s #17:

Persona 5 is in an ultimate and neverending showdown with #16 on the list (which will be coming soon). I flip back and forth on which one is ranked higher as my enjoyment of both of these games is about equal. Whenever I make one of these lists, these two games will always be next to each other because Persona 5 is the peak of modern JRPGs for me, while the next game is the peak of another genre and depending on my mood, one genre will currently be outranking the other. While I can’t wait to see what they do with Persona 6, it’s going to be very hard for it to outclass 5 for me simply due to how much I adore the cast and music. And no, I haven’t played Royal yet. It’s on my to-do list, okay?