The decade has come to a close, and what a decade it has been for video games. In the spirit of things, I've put together my own best of the best list, although this is not a so much a treatise on game progression through the decade so much as it is a window into my soul. Note that this list only applies to games I personally played... as such, Mother 3 is not on the list. Now, without further adieu....
Runner-up: Riviera: The Promised Land
Game Boy Advance (2005)
An incredibly charming and compelling JRPG by Sting, whose most recent production is Knights in the Nightmare. Riviera told the story of Ein, an angel of death who's lost his wings and memory. After being nursed to health by the very faeries he was sent to destroy, he takes up arms to defend his newfound friends against the heavens. Riviera's gameplay was an interesting mix between quick-time events, turn-based battles heavily reliant upon item use and boost gauges, and a dating sim. The game had the best soundtrack on the GBA, with a plethora of battle music that was as fast and furious as the music of Capcom's 8-bit Mega Man titles. The art was very quirky, and the plot ended up being endearing (if cliched). Riviera was an impulse buy for me and it ended up being one of my favorite handheld games of the decade.
10.) Perfect Dark
Nintendo 64 (2000)
Superior to Goldeneye in just about every single way, Perfect Dark was Rare's magnum opus. The game took Goldeneye's engine and optimized it, with better graphics, audio, and gameplay. Perfect Dark introduced secondary weapon modes, which ranged from pistol-whipping bitches to turning your gun into a sentry turret. An incredibly extensive multiplayer mode included co-operative play, counter-operative play, and a hugely customizable deathmatch/multiplayer setting. The only thing that killed this game was the fact that its game engine outright died when four players hooked up... but to those who ran three-man parties (like my two cousins and I), it was first-person shooter heaven.
9.) Shenmue II
A series whose cult following is only surpassed by the Mother series, Shenmue II was the sequel to the unique adventure title Shenmue. It followed the story of Ryo Hazuki, who had traveled to China to search for his father's killer. The game was a hodge-podge of genres, for it included portions perfected in adventure games, fighting games, simulation games, and created a brand-new gameplay element: the quick-time event. Though Dragon's Lair technically pioneered the mechanic, it was Yu Suzuki who coined the term QTE, and truly perfected its implementation in gameplay. Even post-Shenmue, few--if any--developers have implemented quick-time events to the proficiency and competence that Shenmue did. The journey through the harbor town of Aberdeen all the way to the ancient walled city of Kowloon was an exciting one, and it felt like you were in a movie. Sadly, the franchise was never popular outside of Dreamcast faithful, and with the retirement of Yu Suzuki, it appears that the last we will see of Ryo Hazuki will be in that cave in Guilin.
8.) Mega Man Zero
Game Boy Advance (2002)
Those who said Mega Man was dead (before Mega Man 9) obviously paid no attention to the Mega Man Zero games. The titles featured the tightest, most complete platforming in the franchise, but what was most surprising was the story, setting, and characters--elements that were rarely compelling in prior Mega Man games (even the X series). Mega Man Zero was the start of series godfather Keiji Inafune's labor of love to Zero, the character he feels is his true child. This is illustrated by the fact that the Blue Bomber himself is the antagonist in the game, where he lords over an empire that has become corrupt and rules with a ruthless, iron fist. The Zero games received an artistic overhaul, featuring sleeker art design for its characters, and enemy bosses that were designed after mythological figures. What set the Zero games apart, however, was its intense focus on a forboding and moody plot, full of memorable scenes. The games also featured outstanding soundtracks. Overall, they are a must-play for anyone who fancies himself a Mega Man fan.
7.) Rune Factory Frontier
The best Harvest Moon game ever made. That alone will catch the attention of long-time fans of the franchise. Yes, my fellow farmers, Rune Factory Frontier is the apex of the series, taking every single thing the series has done thus far and culminates it into a tremendous package of everything that makes the franchise great. Harvest Moon 64's great character development and writing? Easily outdone. Back to Nature's plethora of crafting mechanics, customization, and farming gameplay? Put to shame. Rune Factory 1 and 2's monster husbandry and dungeoneering? Perfected. Rune Factory Frontier is simply the best of the franchise, hands-down. It features beautiful aesthetics and artwork, as well as a sizeable amount of (very good) voice-acting. The bachelorettes are all great, too. The only drawback to this game is its trifling Runey system, which demands your attention like a needy cat.
6.) Resident Evil 4
Nintendo GameCube (2005)
Words need not be spoken, so I'll keep this brief. The game revolutionized the third-person shooter genre (which barely even existed prior to this game); and while it wasn't true survival horror, it nevertheless had much suspense. Truly memorable setpieces, bosses, and characters contribute to make this one of the best games of its generation.
5.) Etrian Odyssey
Nintendo DS (2006)
Designed by Kazuya Niinou to be a modern interpretation of old dungeon-crawlers like Wizardry, Etrian Odyssey took the fundamentals of those western role-playing games and interwove them with the artistry and quirkiness that's characteristic of Japanese developers. Etrian Odyssey had an underdog all-star cast, not the least of which being Yuzo Koshiro. The legendary composer was requested to create music for the game just like he did for Sorcerian in the 1980s, and to truly evoke the old-school feel that Etrian Odyssey was shooting for, Koshiro used the very same PC-8801 computer he used in the '80s to give the DS game's music an authentic throwback feel. Artist Yuji Himukai provided fantastic artwork that was simultaneously cute and badass, and Makoto Nagesawa generated lively portraits of monsters and creatures to battle. Lastly, though the game's plot was minimal, writer Shigeo Komori picked his battles well. There were numerous occasions where, when spelunking through the labyrinth, a mini-scenario would arise, and your uncertain choices made during the event would either lead to a beneficial or detrimental outcome. The story hit its high point in the Fourth Stratum, where the plot came to a Miyazaki-like iconoclasm between nature and mankind. Amongst an ocean of RPG remakes and ports on the DS, Etrian Odyssey was a brilliant breath of fresh air, and is perhaps the best original role-playing game on the handheld.
4.) Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
Sony PlayStation 2 (2005)
Magical. If I were to use one word to describe the eigth Dragon Quest installment, it would be magical. Dragon Quest VIII ushered the franchise into a beautiful, cel-shaded, 3D world. The realm was vibrant and full of personality, and traveling the overworld truly instilled a feeling of awe and wonder. Featuring a small but incredibly well-defined cast of party members, DQVIII also spiced up the battle system by presenting a more cinematic, third-person view. The game also introduced great new features such as the alchemy pot, an invaluable tool in crafting superior weapons and armor. The game also had a simple yet endearing plot that brought you to all corners of the world, from harsh deserts to vibrant forests; craggy mountaintops to the high seas. There were dozens of moments that roamed the emotional spectrum, evoking humor, suspense, and sorrow. Also remarkable about the game was its audio, as its U.S. release featured a fully orchestral score which added even more to the wide-eyed sense of Disney-esque magic. Further complimenting this was a truly outstanding voice cast, due to Square-Enix's hiring of classically-trained actors to provide voicework instead of pop culture icons. Dragon Quest VIII was vast, long adventure, but I was enthralled by it until the very end.
3.) Persona 3
PlayStation 2 (2007)
Persona 3 was a roaring resurrection of the old series, drawing early infamy from its imagery of teenagers shooting themselves in the head. Incorporating a rock-solid battle engine, dating sim, and anime narrative, Persona 3 was an otaku's wet dream and was revered world-wide. What truly enthralled me about Persona 3, however, was its writing. Persona 3 was rated Mature by the ESRB, and never before has a game warranted the rating such as this--because unlike 99% of M-rated games, this game actually was
for mature gamers. Its story featured tremendously well-presented issues of adolescents and late-teens, and had many subtleties that were gracefully presented. Its plot points, conversations, and character development were only appreciable by those with the mental maturity to enjoy such dignified quandaries. I felt that the third game had much stronger and well-written characters/Social Links than the fourth, which is why I ultimately chose this installment (the Sun tarot literally brought a tear to my eye; and Junpei is perhaps the most well-written character in JRPG history). A way I described Persona 3's plot was BLEACH (the popular anime) done right, as the game had a thrilling sci-fi/horror vibe. Venturing into Tartarus was a suspenseful affair that was the whole package: visuals, incredible audio, and the fear of pushing yourself too far and falling to a deadly Shadow--or worse, the Reaper. The memorable characters, thrilling journey to the top of Tartarus, and the climactic final showdown make for one of the best RPGs of the decade.
2.) No More Heroes
Rarely does a game invoke such artistic concepts of parody, satire, and self-referential humor to the extent and efficiency that No More Heroes does. Suda 51's wacky story of an otaku who becomes an assassin, No More Heroes has a level of depth to its artistry that is painfully unappreciated by most of the gaming industry. The game's much-panned overworld was sadly unnoticed as a reflection of protagonist Travis Touchdown's view of the world. Travis hates his life, and the only enjoyment he derives from existence is shedding the blood of fellow assassins, and his apartment full of otaku paraphernalia; the hub overworld is bland and lifeless because to Travis, it is
bland and lifeless. Only when he embarks on an assassination mission does his life find meaning and excitement. Also hidden deep beneath the Tarantino-esque plot was a moving "coming of age" story, which was only noticeable by truly examining the subtleties and metaphoric imagery of the game's setpieces and characters. The game featured a full compliment of fearsome bosses, ripe with personality and character, and aided in presentation by an outstanding soundtrack by composer Masafumi Takada. No More Heroes has some of the very best boss fights of the generation, taking an almost arcadey, Punch Out! style to the encounters. A tremendous voice cast brought the eccentric characters to life, bringing an aural quality that matched the beautiful character art by artist Yusuke Kozaki. In an industry that revolves around the almighty dollar, No More Heroes stands as a bastion of artistic ingenuity and brilliance. Punk's not dead.
1.) Metroid Prime
Nintendo GameCube (2001) The pwn heard felt 'round the world
. Metroid Prime not only met the challenge of transitioning the series into first-person, but it did so in a fashion that exceeded all expectations. Perhaps the game's most striking accomplishment was how it truly put you behind Samus' visor--not only did you have a meticulous HUD that kept track of many different variables, but the game world actually interacted with your visor in a way that immersed you into the game. Aliens destroyed at point-blank range would splatter, obscuring your visor with neon-colored ichor. Rain and snowflakes would patter on your helmet, leaving drops of water that slid down your visor. Passing through a broken steam pipe would fog up your visor, forcing you to pause until the fog dissipated. Also unique to Metroid Prime was its equally-immersive narrative: The game's plot was revealed by using your Scan Visor to piece together the logs of the Space Pirates, as well as analyze the memoirs of the deceased Chozo. Complimenting this narrative was something rare even today for video games: bosses which actually make sense. Unlike other games (including the subsequent Prime entries), bosses in Metroid Prime were not dull-witted lackies who were content to wait in their individual rooms rather than gang up on the hero--bosses were alien bioforms that had been quarantined, and their sealing chambers were simply in your way. Some of the best 3D boss fights were not only satisfying on a gameplay level, but on an artistic, narrative point. Unifying all of these strong points was an outstanding soundtrack, which started strong and hard right from the menu screen. Though it has a huge share of critics who call it an aberration of the "real" 2D series, the fact of the matter is that the original Metroid Prime is one of the greatest 3D games of all time, and my top game of the decade. Edited
for some composition errors, some explanation, and a runner-up. Hey, I'm an amateur writer for a reason.
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