We have some super classic games here folks, hope you agree with me that they’re pretty awesome.
#30 Chrono Cross (Playstation, 1999)
Kicking it off with the fantastic sequel to the mind-bogglingly popular Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross brings us some of my favourite things in an RPG: Impossibly huge and varied cast, gorgeous visuals, more than one route to play and replayability. It seems to have it all. Serge is a cool example of a silent protagonist with a very attractive design, and he’s supported by a wide cast of people, animals and sentient objects with varying (no really, varying) levels of character development as they trek through two different versions of the same world.
The plot is complex, the music is stunning and the combat is deep and fun. It’s a Square game, alright. Battles are incredibly fun in this game. You take three characters in and they fight using stamina, able to choose weak but accurate attacks and strong but inaccurate attacks. As they fight, they gain access to their equipped ‘Elements’, which are this game’s answer to magic and skills. Uniquely, each Element can only be used once per battle. Additionally, each character and each Element is assigned a colour, from Red, Blue, Yellow, Green, Black and White, with each colour being strong against and weak to another colour (Red beats Blue which beats Red, for example). Characters are more adept at using their own colour, too. For example, Serge is a White character, so when he uses PhotonRay, a White Element, it’ll be more powerful than when Leene uses it, as she is a Blue character (in theory; Leene is pretty good at using Elements to be honest). That’s not even getting started on the way these Elements affect the flow of battle.
With so many characters, so many customisation options and so many split routes to take, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by choice. But really, with the game’s incredibly unique levelling up system (where characters gain only a few stats after battles, which eventual peter out until they fight a boss whereupon they get BIG GAINS) you’re never really in danger of falling behind, even if you try out every character.
It’s a huge game, and one that I’ve never actually completed. I know that I love it though, and I know that there will be many more hours spent on it in the future.
#29 Rayman Legends (Nintendo Switch, 2017)
I’d like to go on record and say that I think Rayman Legends is the best 2D platformer I’ve ever played and I can’t see that opinion changing soon, if at all. Since childhood I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the Rayman franchise, known for its tendency to be extremely unforgiving, very quirky and somewhat dark at times (lookin’ at you, weird pirates from the 3D games).
Returning to its roots and switching things up and becoming a fast-paced platformer did the franchise wonderful. Origins was a great reboot and Legends took that and ran with it. Every level plays really well, with the game having fantastic inter-level and intra-level difficulty curves. The controls are very easy to get used to and are extremely tight. When you die, it’s almost always your fault. And the checkpoints they provide are forgiving. The game is rarely frustrating, but still provides you with that satisfying feeling when you complete a level.
There’s a huge range of characters to play, by which I mean character skins that all play the same way. While cosmetic, it’s a really nice touch and it’s obvious that they’ve made an effort. Playing as Rayman decked out in Mario gear feels pretty cool when playing on the Switch.
And I’ll close by saying I think it’s justified in saying that the sound design of this game is a masterpiece. Sound effects that play as you pick up lums (the standard platformer pickup for this series) match the pitch of the background music, there are levels in which your actions will mirror the soundtrack perfectly (including an awesome rendition of Black Betty by Ram Jam that has to be seen to be believed) and it all comes together in a package that means you basically need to have the volume on to experience the game to its fullest.
#28 Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep Final Mix (PS4, 2017)
What I would consider the most fun Kingdom Hearts title I’ve played (I’ve not tried Dream Drop Distance on the PS4 yet though, and Kingdom Hearts 3 remains to be tried out), Birth by Sleep is a masterclass in how to carry out an Action RPG. The game is a prequel to the rest of the Kingdom Hearts series as a whole (barring that weird mobile/online continuity) and follows three keyblade-wielding characters:
- Terra, an edgy cool boi;
- Ventus, a familiar looking cutie whose history (and future) is a web of confusion;
- and Aqua, the single best character in the entire franchise. The mam friend.
Fights are fast-paced, and on harder difficulties it’s almost too easy to die. It’s easy to roam around in the easier difficulties just enjoying the game and button mashing to win, but the strategy and planning required in the harder difficulties, when it comes to choosing the right commands, levelling up in the best places and learning how to block attacks makes the game far more fun, in my opinion. The deck system they use, where you must collect, level up and combine actual abilities plays rather like a Mons game which is quite a fun experience. The way your fighting style influences which brand of Limit Break you can unleash (such as using a lot of Fire spells to trigger Firestorm, a short mode where your attacks are augmented by fire) is also inspired.
The story is a bit convoluted, but as you play through the game effectively three times (once from each main character’s point of view) you start to get a more rounded, complete idea of it. Once you’re on Aqua’s story though (or whoever you chose to play third, but Aqua is recommended), it all starts to feel a bit repetitive. I recommend switching it up. Play Terra’s story in Normal mode to get to grips with the game, Ventus in Easy mode to speed through his story, and then Aqua’s in Proud mode to get the satisfying challenge that the game presents you.
Also Mickey is really cool in this one I promise.
#27 Megaquarium (PC, 2018)
I love fish and I love tycoon simulators, so naturally I fell in love with Megaquarium instantly. So much so that I wrote a review for it. Check out my extended thoughts here.
#26 Fable III (PC, 2011)
A Fable III, how we knew ye. Now known for being a buggy mess that doesn’t work well with Steam, plays like ass on newer computer and has less controller support than Minesweeper, I found Fable III to be an enthralling piece of work back in the day. It was one of the four games I had for the XBOX 360 and Steam tells me I have 27 hours played of the PC version. I’ve finished the game a few times and let me tell you, it’s more boring each time.
But that first playthrough is magical. Fable is the poster boy of the ‘Choices Matter’ trope, and it hammers this home at the beginning when you have to choose between letting some protesters die or having your childhood friend executed. It’s pretty brutal, and serves as a taste of what is yet to come.
The combat is easy to get your head around, pretty basic and only occasionally challenging. In that way it’s quite inoffensive. The quests are often humorous and hit the right balance between tedious and rewarding. The moral system by which your character shows his or her evil or good traits in their weapons and their appearance is quite well-executed too. Watching my sword turn into this angelic weapon of light was pretty satisfying, after all the work I’d put into being a goodie two-shoes.
Possibly the most fun and unique part of the game is the real estate system. You can buy both houses and shops, adjust the rent/tax and basically become a magnate. In fact, no spoilers, but it’s basically the only way to get a happy ending, by monopolising the housing market and sweeping up local businesses. How utterly tory.
#25 Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (GameBoy Advance, 2003)
When I first got this game as a nine-year-old burgeoning fan of strategy games and an established fan of Final Fantasy, I played this game for so long that I got sick from not eating or drinking. It ate up my life as an obsession. I started thinking in terms from the game, telling myself that I shouldn’t face away from other people or they’ll be able to hit me easier.
Yeah. It was my first real gaming obsession. It had me staying up so late it became early, something sacrilegious in those youthful days where we were supposed to live for the daylight. The only other game that did that to me in those days was Pokémon Gold. I remember it vividly.
FFTA takes place in Ivalice, the same setting as the original Final Fantasy Tactics, as well as Final Fantasy XII, to which it is more stylistically similar. It features five distinct races, including one of Final Fantasy’s most popular mascots, the Moogles. You take control of Marche, a boy who is thrust into this world of magic from a world which resembles our own, barring a mystical tome which creates Ivalice from the dreams of resident sad boi Mewt (or does it? The sequel leaves us guessing). Marche is quickly swept up by Montblanc, a Moogle Black Mage who serves as Marche’s guide. He joins Montblanc’s clan, a group of people who take on dangerous quests for money and fame, and thus the story begins for real.
The gameplay is standard isometric turn-based strategy RPG fare, where every unit gets their own turn to move and take actions based on their speed stat. The game switches things up with an intricate class and ability system that makes each unit incredibly versatile. Do you want a quick, stabby thief who can also use healing magic? Go for it! Do you want a summoner who can cast incredibly powerful AoE spells twice in one turn? Train her as a Red Mage beforehand and you’ve got it. Spend a few hours developing Marche as a Ninja and then switch his class to Paladin to have the quickest moving brick wall you’ve ever seen. It makes the game so deep and breakable. And that’s what makes it fun.
#24 Warriors Orochi 4 (PC, 2018)
Pretty new out, Warriors Orochi 4 is Koei’s latest example of high-quality hack-n-slash gameplay. Featuring a truly gigantic cast of characters that would make Super Smash Brothers Ultimate swoon, you control the legends of both the Romance of the Three Kingdoms and the Sengoki Jidai alongside some iconic figures of myth and legend, including Athena and Loki.
Featuring an original story that reads as a ‘humans vs Zeus’ tragedy with some minor character development here and there, Warriors Orochi 4 doesn’t do terribly in the writing department. It does enough to remain interesting throughout, keeping the player invested in what happens to the heroes next. As the cast of playable characters turns from a small group into a full blown army, the momentum ramps up and the fights get harder. It’s a game that’s hard to put down, it’ll have you saying ‘just one more level’.
Like Warriors Orochi 3, which can be found way down on the list, levels consist of armies fighting against one another with you taking control of what basically amount to superhumans as they cleave their way through swathes of mooks and duel with other superhumans. Characters from Dynasty Warriors play differently from characters from Samurai Warriors (with the former having access to powerful single-target moves that can defeat generals easily, and the latter having access to high-mobility sweeping attacks that can slay many enemies at once) which makes having a balanced three-man party a useful strategy to adopt.
What I’ll say is that the gameplay is just so fun inherently. The difficulty levels are fair, and it’s easy to just turn it down if you feel overwhelmed, as is quite common in these games.
#23 Roller Coaster Tycoon + Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 (PC, 1999, 2002)
If I could have sneaked my PC into my bedroom and played it under the covers like I could my GameBoy Advance, Roller Coaster Tycoon would have been another game that I played until dawn as a child, like Final Fantasy Tactics Advance above. My first encounter with this game was at the house of a babysitter, who I watched play through Forest Frontiers, placing that awful yellow Junior Coaster and carousels aplenty. I eventually convinced my parents to buy me this game and I was astounded when I was able to get my teeth into it. It’s one of the most gratifying, fun, pleasant games I’ve ever played.
The gist of Roller Coaster Tycoon is simple. You build a theme park. You place rides, build roller coasters, sort out theming and food and drinks, hire staff, research new ways to provide fun and basically have fun yourself as you create whatever you like. The first game came with a large number of scenarios which ranged from fairly easy to holy fuck what do you mean I’m not allowed to cut the trees down? and it was a glorious day when I managed to beat them all (about four months before my dear mother managed to beat them all, I’ll mention). Then came the sequel, which was a straight upgrade. With a far better resolution and far more rides, scenery items, pathing options and a whole new world of scenarios to play through. There’s a HD project out now which, if you have bought both games, you can play in an updated environment with a day/night system, a sorely needed fast-forward button and some fun cheat options.
I will never tire of these games, and no theme park tycoon game has come close to toppling it as the best. It was simple, efficient fun. It’s now out for handheld devices, and I’m the proudest son in the world to announce that my mother completed every single scenario from both games on her iPad. I have the coolest mother.
# 22 Total War: Warhammer + Total War: Warhammer II (PC, 2016, 2017)
My first foray into the Total War series and a successful one at that. Warhammer is something I came to recently, rather than growing up with the expensive obsession as many geeky boys are wont to do. I was instantly struck by the diversity of the races you can choose to play as, and shocked at how classic the overworld gamplay is as a 4X game. For those of you who need reminding, a 4X game is a game in which you eXplore the world, eXploit resources, eXterminate your enemies and eXpand your sphere of influence.
The gimmick with Total War games is that the battles your units undergo are controlled by you, the player. You move individual bands of units around the field of battle, ordering them to attack and retreat at your whims. In this way, Total War gameplay is split between turn-based strategy and real-time strategy. Personally, I prefer the former, but the latter is quite fun too.
Each race has its unique quirks that you must become familiar with – the mummified Tomb Kings for example are quite frail, but have dead-raising powers. The lizardmen of the jungles can go feral during battle, making them uncontrollable but more resilient against fearful stimuli. Dwarves can tunnel underneath mountains. And so on. The game is about using your advantages to overwhelm your foes and complete whatever the current scenario is asking you to do.
Co-op is fun, and the modding community is thriving but I’d recommend playing it without mods to begin with so that you know what you want/need to change. It’s an incredibly complex game, almost overwhelmingly so.
#21 Rogue Galaxy (Playstation 2, 2005)
Rogue Galaxy is one of those games that makes my chest tight when I think too long about it. One of those games I associate with nostalgic melancholy because I played it so, so much during a time where it served as a comforting tool. Following on from their success with Dark Cloud and Dark Chronicle, Level-5 (also known for Ni No Kuni, Yo-Kai Watch and Professor Layton) reached for the stars with Rogue Galaxy, a game about space pirates.
Featuring a diverse cast of surprisingly well-thought out characters with complex backstories and motivations, as well as diverse fighting styles and weapon choices, Rogue Galaxy is a dream to play through. Your main character is Jaster Rogue, a typical ‘wannabe pirate/explorer’ that we’ve seen in various guises over the years (Guybrush Threepwood, Vaan, Vyse) who has a hazy past and ends up being one of the most likeable protagonists I’ve ever played as. Following him you have a very strong cast of supporting party members:
- A spunky space pirate’s daughter who can kick enemies to death in stilettos;
- An edgy older pirate who speaks in gravel and chucks shuriken about;
- A whiny lizard hacker who plays with kids’ toys, and is dangerous about it;
- A huntress who still uses a bow when half the party uses high-tech guns;
- C-3PO with grenades;
- Scottish shorty with a degree in ways to turn things into ash;
- A dog with a machine gun.
The fact that the game takes you to different planets gives the game a good excuse to throw you headfirst into shockingly different environments, ranging from jungle to high-tech to mystical temples and even a ‘day at the beach’ planet. They’re really pretty locations (especially in the graphically decent PS4 port available on the PSN) that are fun to traverse. Fights can be trivialised easily, but that doesn’t detract from the gameplay, in my opinion. You can farm enemies for items that you use to develop your characters, or for weapon experience which allows you to combine your weapons into new, better weapons (which is a whole thing that makes the game super fun to mess around in, ignoring the story and just playing). There’s a whole bug collecting/breeding/fighting mini game that you are free to become obsessed with or ignore entirely. It’s a good game. With a surprisingly good story.
And boy don’t get me started on the OST. Some of the tracks, such as Planet Zerard or The Misty Town just fill me with nostalgia. Stylistically similar to the OST of Dark Chronicle, it works so fantastically for the game. Instruments are very recognisable and the melodies are completely infectious, which might sometimes be annoying to you but to me they give each environment and cut-scene a distinct personality of their own, which I love.
For me, this is when Level-5 peaked as a game studio. I enjoyed White Knight Chronicles to a certain extent, but Rogue Galaxy was nothing short of magical.
Stay tuned for next time, where I’ll look at everyone’s favourite lawyer, everyone’s favourite thief and everyone’s favourite hunter.