Throughout my years playing video games, I have encountered games of all kinds. I’ve played puzzle games, platformers, racing games, shooting games, and even the gaming marvels of Backyard Baseball and Pajama Sam. But I figured it was about time to narrow down my five all-time favorite games into a comprehensive list and give the whole world (especially you, dear reader) a glimpse into my childhood and the games that have impacted me the most in my life.
5. Uncharted 4
I have been a huge fan of the Uncharted series from the very beginning. I kept up with the first game through various Game Informer Magazines and articles and they all talked about the unprecedented amount of facial polygons, the incredibly complex facial texture maps and the usage of motion capture techniques to create the most lifelike animations that had been seen up until that point in time. From the very start, I was in love with the Uncharted games, especially the second in the series. I am a sucker for Asian culture and I have a distinct fascination with Tibetan culture in particular, which upon reflection was probably encouraged by the Tibetan and Himalayan setting of Uncharted 2. Though even with my deep love for Uncharted 2, I have to admit my favorite game of the series was Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End which boasted a cinematic styled story that wrapped up into one of the most satisfying and comprehensive endings I have experienced in a video game to date. I know more than a few people don’t like the Uncharted series because it is less of a game and more along the lines of an interactive movie, but that is precisely the reason why I enjoy it so much. This is one of the only series that I introduced to my parents and the only one which they actually found genuinely interesting, harkening back to their experience with the Indiana Jones movies. This series is also one of the only ones that my wife enjoys with the same amount of enthusiasm that I have for other video games. Because the Uncharted series feels so cinematic it makes a perfect entry point into playing and enjoying video games on a larger scale. Even if the gameplay is basically “shoot this thing, run over here, jump this ravine and watch this cutscene” it bridges the gap between games and movies to allow almost anyone to jump on board.
4. Shadow of the Colossus
Shadow of the Colossus was probably my first foray into intricate and condensed world-building. Featuring probably less than 30 total lines of dialogue throughout the entire game, Shadow of the Colossus is a cult-favorite among mine and earlier generations due in part to the absolutely unique take on both the boss-rush (if that category even existed at the time) and puzzle platformer genres. Shadow of the Colossus is technically a puzzle game with a few stabby and shiny-lizardy elements littered between. However, what I liked most about this game (pre-walkthrough age) was that there were quite a few secrets to discover that were invariably passed around through word of mouth during school or an outing with friends. Talk of the secret garden and the shiny lizards captivated my young explorer tendencies and encouraged me to delve deeper and fully immerse myself in this totally unique world. I think that quality is what made this game so popular and widely loved. Shadow of the Colossus drops you into an unfamiliar land with a singular goal and essentially says “Figure it out for yourself.” This lets the player take their time and dip their toe into the world before submerging themselves in the mythical wonder that is the Colossi which by-and-large were the best thing about this game. Up to this point, very few (if any) games had toyed with the concept of the enemies being the levels in the same way that Shadow of the Colossus did. Each and every Colossus was totally different and unique and represented a fully functional, deadly, and mobile puzzle that took a great amount of effort to scale and defeat. But with each downed Colossus, the sense of accomplishment grew more and more, because you were defeating creatures almost 100 times your size with nothing but a Sword, Bow and Arrow, and a trusty steed. Even if the ending was a little weird, Shadow of the Colossus was a definitive part of my experience with video games.
3. Fallout 3
Fallout 3 and the next games on the list were difficult to place. Both of these games are generally the same game set in differing worlds (MAYBE! It has been hinted that they are the same Universe or possibly not) but they both share a rough design that can popularly be described as ‘Bethesda.’ To those who don’t know, Bethesda has made a career making wildly different games with the exact same game engine which makes all of their games look basically the same. But honestly, I never cared about any of that. When I first picked up Fallout 3, I was treated to such an expansive world that let me do basically whatever I wanted to without any restriction. Simply put, Fallout 3 gives you a goal and tells you almost no information before throwing you to the proverbial dogs and making you survive in a desolate wasteland. But as you discover, the wasteland is not as desolate as you would assume, there are communities of people, ghouls, super mutants, and good old Dave with his Republic. What made me love this game was the quirky absurdity that resulted from exploring the Wasteland, from throwing yourself into harm’s way by being a test subject for the “Wasteland Survival Guide,” all the way down to discovering Oasis and having a good time talking to a sad tree. The world of Fallout 3 makes you want to discover every single inch of it until you are sure you haven’t missed out on any interesting and potentially fun stories. But invariably you WILL miss something and that realization can easily drag you back into the inky depths of the Fallout universe. The combination of freedom of choice (do you want to blow up the starting town and be an absolute monster? Go right on ahead!) and a huge world with funny and interesting characters to invest your time into creating an engaging and wonderful world to get lost in for hours upon hours upon hours upon hours…
2. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
I used to catch a lot of flak for this one. It used to be ‘too hipster’ to like Oblivion more than Skyrim but Oblivion is truly the better game to me. That may be the nostalgia blinding me to the obvious bugs and flaws in this game, but to be honest, those bugs and flaws are what make Oblivion a GREAT game to play. I distinctly remember crafting a helmet and trying the enchantment system for the first time in Oblivion and creating the dumbest item I could have created. In Oblivion you can put a magical effect on any item you want, as long as it isn’t a unique one that the game gives you. One of the first ever items I created in Oblivion was a Steel Helmet with +5 Fire Damage on Self. No, you read that right, I created a ‘suicide by fire’ helmet that served absolutely no purpose whatsoever and actually killed me once or twice on accident. Even though that helmet did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to help me I distinctly remember it above almost any other item in the game (besides the Wabbajack, but come on. It’s the Wabbajack.) because it was mine. It was something stupid that I, and probably only I, had created and it gave me stories to tell about the Hero of Cyrodiil who killed himself by accidentally equipping the suicide helmet in the middle of a fight. Oblivion was also the first time in my life that I was able to rent an M-rated game from our local Blockbuster video store (woo boy, we’re going way back now). Because I grew up in a very conservative household I had to prove that the game I was playing wasn’t going to a bloody and nudity-filled romp through Murder-Brothel City, and I had to delve into review after review in my various GameInformer magazines to prove that it was fairly PG in content but just contained hints of the “bad stuff.” When I was finally able to play Oblivion I got a jolt of adrenaline because this was my first “Adult” game that I was allowed to play and I was going to be able to experience a gritty and dangerous world from the safety of the living room carpet. While Oblivion doesn’t have that innate quirky weirdness that Fallout 3 does, the world of Oblivion and the Elder Scrolls, in general, coaxed a deep love of fantasy that persists still to this day. As I grow up, I still revisit Oblivion and relive my childhood wonder at the mystery of the Ayleid Elves and the ever-fickle Daedric gods and realize that this is one of those games that stoked my passion for video games.
Before we get to the final game on the list, I would like to mention a few of the games that did not make this list but occupy a special place in my heart with these few.
Bioshock (especially Bioshock: Infinite)
The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings & The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2
Portal 1 & 2
Now finally, onto my favorite game of all time…
1. Kingdom Hearts 2
Kingdom Hearts is that guilty pleasure game of mine that I can’t usually articulate why I love it so much, especially to someone who has never played the games before. The story is so convoluted that I needed to read the synopsis online after completing both games back to back. The number of times that one character either transforms into another character, switches sides, or ends up being someone totally unexpected is almost beyond count- namely Ansem and Xehanort. Ansem ends up being roughly different 3 characters as does Xehanort in the span of the 7 games. Not mention, the Kingdom Hearts series is a continual story-line through all of the different games, but nearly all of the games released on different platforms. The main part of the series is on the PlayStation 2 which accounts for two of the games: 3 are on the Nintendo 3DS or DS, 1 released for Gameboy Advance, and 1 released on PSP. So in order to play (and actually understand Kingdom Hearts without reading an expansive guide) Kingdom Hearts you need four different consoles to do so. With the recent wave of games being remade for modern consoles like Crash Bandicoot and Shadow of the Colossus, Kingdom Hearts stacks up on that list as well with about 3 to 4 recreated bundles of the different games each with their own fun little addendum to the original titles like: “Kingdom Hearts 2.45: Re: Fwd: 342/678=0.504 Daysβ.” You may think that example is a bit far-fetched but seriously, click on this link (here) and look at the different titles of the new Kingdom Hearts games, they are absolutely ridiculous.
However, even with all of their faults (and rage-worthy bosses) I absolutely LOVE the Kingdom Hearts games. Admittedly I have only played about half of them because I never owned a Nintendo DS or 3DS, but with the remade games I mentioned above, I am actually able to revisit a bunch of these games with better graphics and a much better frame-rate. When I was finally able to pick-up a copy of Kingdom Hearts 2.5, I genuinely felt so giddy with nostalgia at the thought of playing through my most heart-felt memories again, mainly because I never completed the first game as a child- a fact that has haunted me for many years. I made it up to the final boss of Kingdom Hearts 1 and died so many times that I eventually just gave up and stopped playing. But finally, FINALLY about two months ago I defeated the final boss of Kingdom Hearts 1 and it was one of the greatest (and hardest) accomplishments that I have ever completed in gaming, but that difficulty is what makes the game so dang rewarding. Kingdom Hearts is a surprisingly punishing game for being fraught with cute and timeless Disney characters, but it tells a great story about the power of love, destiny, and fate. While Kingdom Hearts 1 holds a special place in my heart, I think Kingdom Hearts 2 ever-so-slightly edges out the first one in a couple respects. First, the actual ‘game’ part of Kingdom Hearts 2 is more well-realized than Kingdom Hearts 1 and second, the story feels more complete and engaging. Even with its quirks and problems, I will always love reliving and being a part of the different Disney stories that composed much of mine (and probably yours) childhood.
Except for Sephiroth. I will forever hold a grudge him.