I’ve managed on this blog to remain fairly noncommittal when it comes to posts about my “favorite” this and “the best” that. If my television show four part series that I wrapped up recently is any indication, I find it difficult sometimes to definitively say, “This is the best” whatever “and I love it SO MUCH,” in the more than likely event that I remember something I liked even more (illustrated by the fact that the series was designed to include 20 television programs and ended with 22).
But not this time! Roused by the release of the Nintendo Switch and my digging back through my old game collection, I am making a definitive “These are my top video games of all time” list. I will openly admit that I have played video games for a very long time and if I let it, this list may go on forever, but I will do my best here to narrow down (and order!) the list so as to do justice to some of the best titles I’ve had the pleasure of playing.
As the title suggests, we’ll be doing this similarly to the way I did the TV series: four parts, five entries in each part, the difference being that they will be ordered, beginning at 20, and we will NOT do any more than that! I am setting myself to a standard here. I need to do better. Without further ado, here we go!
20. Alan Wake
I’m not the horror type. I’ve always scared too easily, had too active an imagination. Say the word “vampire” to the six-year-old that was at one point me and the next two weeks I’d have nightlong nightmares over what I’d built in my mind. To a degree nothing’s changed. I’m married, I’m not alone at night very much anymore, but let me see a creepy commercial or have an unsettling thought and I’m there again, a six-year-old, fighting back the fear that could overtake him in moments with nothing to defend with but a flashlight.
When I began writing, I softened on horror, I began to give in more to that fear. Horror stories sometimes are too interesting to ignore, too fascinating as a writer not to consume, and while there’re deep cuts in the genre that I’ve never even heard of, I gravitated toward the likes of Stephen King. His way of writing is so human, so raw, so true and unsettling—it’s perfect for the genre he writes in.
I say all of this to explain why Alan Wake belongs here, because Alan Wake is truly an homage: it is human, raw, and unsettling in a way that even Steven King would be proud of, and while I don’t believe Alan Wake is a perfect game by any means, I believe it to be one of my favorites. The protagonist played as an author and a setting placed in Washington are ingredients toward something great in my mind, but something about Alan Wake, though I don’t particularly love the genre, comes together in such a way that almost feels perfect, maybe not relatively, but perfect for it, for what the game is trying to do; I love it for that, and any game that can make me jump genres to play it is probably pretty good in my book.
19. Chrono Trigger
This is where the controversy begins.
Listen, for those of you who are visiting this post for the sheer spectacle that is a “favorite video games of all time” write-up by a recently married REALTOR in his mid 20s who is also depressively getting closer to 30 everyday, then this may not matter to you very much, but Chrono Trigger so low on a top 20 list is probably a blasphemous declaration; hear me out.
Chrono Trigger is a game that is square in my childhood. I remember playing the game, I remember my brother playing the game, I remember in high school getting a ROM of it on my phone and playing in between classes during the day. Chrono Trigger is a baller experience, a sheer masterpiece of its time, and even still today. But—and it’s a big but, as they often are—truthfully, it has been so long since I have played Chrono Trigger and my mind is so removed from it, that it could only land here. But that isn’t a bad thing.
Chrono Trigger does nearly nothing wrong. The story was fantastic, though not overly complex, the characters were thoroughly interesting. Combat was dynamic, the time periods you visited, unique, and it was one of the first games I remember to actually have meaningful options for its endings. It was a huge influence toward the game genres I continue to love today and even a note of its music brings me back to being a kid in a way only a handful of games even could. Chrono Trigger, though lower than some games on this list, is certainly one of the best—play it if you haven’t because it truly is an absolute classic.
18. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
I’m going to be honest, I struggled between this one and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. While Skyrim, I believe, is objectionably better, Oblivion was my first in the series. I played more of Oblivion, I strove to do more in Oblivion, but when it came down to it, the sense of awe and wonder that Skyrim managed to elicit, even after the amount of time I poured into its predecessor, is incredibly impressive and secures it a spot in my favorite games list.
It actually hasn’t been all that long since I revisited the world of Skyrim. The remaster that released this past fall gave me an excuse to jump back into the game, and after only a few minutes of fiddling around and familiarizing my self again, I was lost in everything there was to do and the areas there are to explore. I’ve run across quests I never saw when I first played, people and dungeons I never knew existed, and every time I sit to play for a bit, I experience something new.
The Elder Scrolls series, and Fallout series too, are masters when it comes to those sorts of experiences and while the games can be glitchy, the combat not perfect, they are games—and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim specifically—that are like no other.
What more can I say about Bloodborne that hasn’t already been said? It is one of the best games that I’ve played in the past few years. The combat is tight, the setting is on a spectrum from creepy to downright disturbing and the subtle narrative present behind the main story is absolutely fascinating. I don’t think Bloodborne, or any of the Dark Souls games for that matter are meant for everyone, but if you even have a passing interest in the series, please pick it up and do yourself a favor.
16. Kingdom Hearts 2
When I was younger there was this after school program through the local YMCA that allowed kids to stay a few hours after everyone else had gone home if their parents regularly worked late. My mom worked late, and many of my fondest memories from that age were from that program. My friends and I would play Pokemon on our GameBoys, we would trade Pokemon cards with each other, we would draw Pokemon and…do other non-Pokemon things, I promise—I just can’t remember what. But a lot of what made it so great were the counselors. They rotated occasionally, but the majority of them were big doofs like us, college kids brought up in video games like we’d been, but adults now with actual jobs.
I remember every Friday one of the counselors would bring in a console of his from home, run down the hall, find a rollie TV, roll it back, and set it up. There were a bunch of games and game series that I was introduced to that way, but none more interesting—to me anyway—than that of Kingdom Hearts.
I grew up on Final Fantasy, those sorts of games have always been my bread and butter, and the moment I saw that Final Fantasy influence melded together with the whimsy of Disney, I couldn’t throw money at the TV fast enough (well, I was a kid, so…I couldn’t quit asking my mom to throw money at the TV fast enough).
As great a game as the original Kingdom Hearts was though, Kingdom Hearts 2 was better. It was more refined, much tighter, much more varied an experience than the first game was, and, as strange a statement as this might be, I actually enjoyed the introduction (you know, the slow one, with the kid who isn’t Sora doing a bunch of random summer things and licking ice cream for 3 hours).
Kingdom Hearts 2 is truly one of my favorite games. It’s charming, it’s heartwarming and it’s been awhile since I’ve played the game so it’s a little further down my list, but make no mistake, if you’ve never played the game, or a Kingdom Hearts game in general for that matter, there is something here for you to enjoy—just take my word for it.