Final Fantasy VII is a landmark JRPG for a variety of reasons, but many of its achievements have now been lost to the winds of time and technological progress. Yet, its age has done nothing to change its status as the series' most popular and beloved entry, which has come about thanks to its wide cast of detailed, emotionally-driven characters that journey through one of the most memorable worlds to emerge from Japan's development scene. Fundamentally a story about dealing with loss and grief, Final Fantasy VII features troubled heroes fighting against the corporate might of the Shinra company, which is rapidly causing planetary devastation in the name of profit. The pacing of this continually timely tale is its masterstroke; Square allows you to slowly fall for its rag-tag bunch of eco-terrorists before introducing its main villain - the forever chilling Sephiroth - and then focussing the story on much more personal stakes, despite the looming apocalypse. While overall the story is heavy and sombre, the world thrives on its idiosyncrasies - a variety of bizarre incidental enemies, comedic minigames, and increasingly absurdly sized swords. It's this combination of light and dark that makes Final Fantasy VII such an enduring JRPG classic.
In this era of Trophies and Achievements, completing everything in a game is common. But when Yoshi’s Island came out, the reward for exploration was greater than a Gamerscore: for collecting all of the extremely well-hidden red coins and flowers and then finishing a level with 30 stars (which basically means you can’t get hit), you received a 100% rating. If you did this on every level in a world, you unlocked two more levels in each of the six worlds. And these levels were even harder than the others!
The key here is in how Blizzard looked beyond simply making a good shooter – it made an interesting one. Its backstory is PG-13 Pixar, its characters are diverse and lovable, and its community engagement is… well, it’s Jeff Kaplan. Pro gamers, cosplayers, fanfic writers, ARG detectives and everyone in between have all been given a reason to play a single game – no mean feat.
If you’re doing it right, you’ve named each of your very mortal soldiers after your friends and family, making the inevitable casualties you’ll take in combat sting far more than losing nameless fodder. Randomly generated maps ensure you never quite know what might be lurking around the next corner, and destructible terrain means that knocking down a building is always an option. The unpredictability makes the feeling of going from scrappy underdog to elite alien-butt-kicking futuristic super soldier squad incredibly rewarding, every single time. Except when you lose horribly.
I restore classic arcade and pinball machines and one of my favorite projects was bringing a Ms. Pac-Man cocktail machine back from the dead. With a rebuilt monitor, restored art, and of course the speed chip that makes it many times faster, Ms. Pac-Man made a popular addition to my homecade. We run an occasional high score competition at IGN and so I thought it would be cool to bring it into our lunch room for a bit. For a month, the machine was never left alone. We work in an office surrounded by the latest toys and games, but Ms. Pac-Man attracted crowds. People changed their commutes to come in early and stay late just to play. Frequently we'd be across the office in a conference room and the strains of the Ms. Pac-Man cutscene music would waft over and make everyone giggle. There are very few games which can create so much happiness after so many decades.
Stepping into the Black Mesa Research Facility as mild-mannered Gordon Freeman and bearing witness to the accident that sets off an interdimensional invasion is a master class in introducing a game’s universe. Instead of stopping the action and playing a cutscene to advance the story, Half-Life’s tale all plays out from Gordon’s perspective, never taking control away from us, but directing our eyes toward its scripted events. That technique was surprisingly effective at making me feel like Gordon and I were one in the same.
But, personally, Baldur’s Gate II was a truly digital representation of the world and rules of Dungeons and Dragons. D&D video games have historically been hit-or-miss, and as a kid I was enamored with games like Eye of the Beholder, but these virtual dungeon-crawling adventures were a far cry from the real thing. Baldur’s Gate II changed that for me, finally making good on the digital promise of its tabletop ancestry. And though it may be a little dusty, it’s still as good today as it was when the saga of the Bhaalspawn first unfolded.
In nearly three decades no game has supplanted Super Mario World as the best game ever made... Which is stupid. I’ll get to that in a bit. Super Mario World is a relatively simple game to describe. It’s a Super Mario game, and we all know what that means: Mushrooms; perfect running and jumping action; and a giant world to explore, crammed with secrets.
Few games have ever inspired the same sense of awe that Shadow of the Colossus does within its first 10 minutes. Climbing that first ledge and coming face to face with the first Colossus is among the most impactful, and almost terrifying, experiences in all of gaming. From its beautiful, crumbling ruins to the hulking, ancient Colossi, Fumito Ueda’s sun-soaked action/adventure game is drenched in a muted, melancholy aesthetic that has become synonymous with his, admittedly limited, works.
In nearly three decades no game has supplanted Super Mario World as the best game ever made... Which is stupid. I’ll get to that in a bit. Super Mario World is a relatively simple game to describe. It’s a Super Mario game, and we all know what that means: Mushrooms; perfect running and jumping action; and a giant world to explore, crammed with secrets.
This was one of those games you could easily lose hours playing, either alone or with friends. Among our nerdy cadre, there was no greater source of joy, sorrow, or white-hot rage than Burnout 3. Few things could ruin a friendship faster than wrecking someone's ride just before the finish line – though thankfully all was (usually) forgotten during the next round of Crash Mode.
Super Nintendo players knew Final Fantasy VI as Final Fantasy III for years after its release in 1994, because no one expected this Japanese series to become so popular stateside that the original II and III would be localized and the series renumbered. What made Final Fantasy VI one of the exemplars—not just of console roleplaying, but the genre in general—was how pitch-perfectly it synthesized so many different tangents: real-time battles, summonable magic-bestowing creatures, indelible characters, party-swapping, heartrending plot twists, an unforgettably iniquitous villain, a four-minute play-along opera and its artful inflection of dark fantasy steampunk.
Though there'd already been two official entries in the Metal Gear series (not counting Snake's Revenge, which we don't talk about) it wasn't until Snake covertly slithered his way onto the PlayStation that this franchise cemented itself as a big deal. Though often lauded for its contributions to the "stealth" genre, it was billed as a "Tactical Espionage Action" game. The moment-to-moment gameplay was about being sneaky, and players were rewarded for outsmarting the defenses of Shadow Moses quietly and cleverly, but things frequently got loud during iconic boss fights and over-the-top action setpieces.
Rovio’s debut 2009 mobile game, now one of the most recognizable franchises in the world, definitely benefitted from being one of the earliest titles for the iPhone. But the studio's quirky avian-flinging physics puzzler—players have to slingshot roly-poly birds at likewise rotund, entrenched pigs—also honed in on key elements of smartphone gaming's then-nascent purview: bite-sized levels for on-the-go play, easy to pickup (if grueling to master) gameplay, and eventually a free-to-play biz model built on micro-transactions. It's safe to say Angry Birds established the template for all the untold numbers of mobile games vying for our e-wallets since. 

For all its inter-dimensional threats, monster hunts and magic powers, I’ve always thought The Witcher 3’s key achievement is in how it nails the mundane. Geralt’s fantasy world is one of mud, thatch and metal, his main quests are freelance work, and he loves a game of cards down the pub. That sense of reality is what helps you empathise with Geralt, understand the world, and really understand how bad things have gotten when the crazy shit starts popping off.
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