Based on my initial criteria, there are a LOT of games that make it into consideration. I want some way of organizing them sensibly, so that I can explain not just what games make the list, but why. To that end, I’ve got the following categories, to help me filter games:
- Enduring Classics
- Medium Changers
- Genre Pinnacles
- Right Place, Right Time
- Honorable Mentions
- Why Didn’t I Include…
The first four cover games that I think make the cut for “best games of all time”, the latter two are for things that are close, or aren’t eligible for inclusion for one reason or another. I’ll be doing each one, day by day.
There are a number of games that didn’t quite make my list for one reason or another, but are either oft-expected inclusions or are worth mentioning for various reasons. I waffled on including these, and while I ultimately didn’t, they’re largely excellent games that deserve recognition. This is the list that I suspect people will be mad about, and know that I waffled on pretty much all of these before ultimately deciding against their inclusion.
Final Fantasy VI
Boy, did I go back and forth on this one. It introduced the ensemble cast, it showed a villain with a complete character arc. It offered highs and lows, and it’s a finely crafted game. What kept it off the list was criteria #6. The game was excellent for its time, but hasn’t aged well. Its pacing is all over the place, making it hard for its strongest suit — its narrative — to stand up to more modern games with a higher caliber of writing. While it pioneered several interesting ideas (most notably the ensemble cast and no “true” main character), it set a drumbeat that, for the most part, other games have not marched to, or seen much success if they’ve tried.
We may see a resurgence in the kinds of ideas that FF6 pushed forward, but outside of a few PS1 era games (SaGa Frontier, for example), it hasn’t really influenced much beyond itself, and doesn’t quite hit the heights or the long-term relevance of its biggest Genre Pinnacle competitor: Chrono Trigger.
Metal Gear Solid
MGS is very, very similar to FF6 in terms of what prevented its inclusion. It’s still a great game, and it continues to fuel a beloved series, but it marches to the beat of its own drum in many ways, with a lot of its innovations not really making a splash in other parts of the gaming sphere. It does a lot of things that only it can get away with, because they wouldn’t be appropriate or sensical in other games. It’s also worked very hard to become almost entirely inaccessible from the outside, with in-jokes and nonsensical storytelling elements that you either “get” or don’t, but either way it rarely bothers to explain them.
That having been said, it’s still a very good game with some very compelling moments, it just forged a path that the rest of the medium didn’t really follow, and as time has passed, it’s pulled more and more from other games than it has come up with ideas that other games then take.
Resident Evil 2
A survival horror game where limited resources and slow-paced controls help amp up the fear. This sort of third-person horror game dropped off fairly dramatically in popularity as controls got more and more refined, because they largely became third person action games against monsters with jump-scares, rather than legitimately provoking fear and dread. Like the previous two, a lot of the things in Resident Evil died as controls got more precise and more responsive; the fear factor in a lot of modern horror games comes from a limited viewpoint, not limited controls.
That having been said, Resident Evil 2 offered some genuinely terrifying moments and had some interesting, arguably well-executed ideas about control limitations as a mechanic, just none that really took off.
Shadow of the Colossus
SotC nearly redefined the boss battle. It was a game almost entirely composed of just boss battles, and it was visually astounding and occasionally very moving. It had compelling controls and exciting gameplay, offering forms of climbing and traversal gameplay years before Assassin’s Creed would bring parkour into cities. Its enormous bosses were fought not by hitting their legs until an HP bar went away, but by climbing atop them and avoiding their attempts to shake you off until you could reach their weak point and strike.
Unfortunately, God of War beat it to market, and the visceral action with quick-time-event driven boss battles became popular instead of SotC’s boss mechanics.
Beyond Good and Evil
It pains me, but I can’t *quite* give BG&E a spot on the list. It’s a brilliant game, with one of the best female protagonists ever, a lot of compelling non-violent and stealth-driven gameplay, and a rich, compelling narrative. When I played it as it first came out, I expected that I’d see a lot more games that focused on non-violent, more nuanced gameplay, where victory is achieved through something other than “hit everyone bad until they stop moving”.
Sadly, BG&E is a massively underappreciated game, and hasn’t quite gotten the cachet to influence the medium as a whole. It was, I think, ahead of its time just enough to keep it from being an instant classic. Its sequel has been in development hell for quite a while now, and while I’d like to hope we’ll see it, I’m not convinced we will.