Chrono Trigger is widely regarded as the greatest RPG of all time, and for good reason. What begins as a typical “day-in-the-life” adventure, quickly spirals into a sprawling, epoch jumping romp that is equally exhilarating and endearing. Created by a “dream team” at Squaresoft including Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, Dragon Quest creator Yuji Horii, and character designs by Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama, Chrono Trigger’s pedigree was only outshined by its universal praise upon its release in the spring of 1995. Even at the twilight of the SNES’ lifespan, Chrono Trigger’s branching narrative, colorful characters and unforgettable soundtrack were are more than enough to earn it a place on our list in this timeline or any other.
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.
But its story was only half of its success. Halo was quite simply one of the best multiplayer shooters ever upon its release, thanks to its incredible complement of weapons (two-shot death pistol FTW!) that mixed seamlessly with third-person-controlled vehicles across a swath of classic maps like Blood Gulch, Sidewinder, Hang 'em High, and more. That it was all set to the chanting-monks theme song that, like the game itself, became legendary.
“You have died of dysentery.” The Oregon Trail’s notorious proclamation of ultimate doom was only part of the software’s brutal charm. As a simulation of Westward Expansion consisting of choose-your-own-adventure strategy and hunt-to-survive gameplay, it was rudimentary. But in part because it was originally developed in 1971 by three student teachers at Carleton College in Minnesota as an educational tool, The Oregon Trail found a captive—and willing—audience in thousands of classrooms across the country equipped with Apple II computers in the 1980s. There, it helped introduce an entire generation (several, in fact) to video games.
Where Mass Effect set the stage a futuristic Milky Way, Mass Effect 2 let you explore and experience so much more of it. As Commander Shepard, I traveled the galaxy on the best recruitment trip I could have wished for, and experienced possibly one of the most heart-wrenching stories – but whether or not the game ends in tears is entirely up to you.
While it may not be as old as Super Mario Kart or Road Rash, when it comes to arcade racers, Burnout 3: Takedown is an undeniable classic. I must have logged 60 hours in this game, and that was well before the days where I got paid to do that. I defy you to bring up arcade racers and not have someone mention Burnout 3. Its predecessor, Point of Impact, had fine-tuned the balance of high-speed racing and vehicular destruction, but Takedown perfected it.
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.
Borderlands 2 elevated an excellent game to Legendary status. The original Borderlands captured the attention of gamers, seemingly from out of nowhere, and its sequel took everything that made the original great and expanded on it. From its seamless continuation of the Borderlands vault hunting lore, to its unmatched writing, Borderlands 2 remains the high point in the Borderlands franchise. Borderlands 3 is overflowing with improvements over its predecessor The Pre-Sequel, but Borderlands 2 still can't be beat for its awesome levels, excellent DLC, and series-best villain, Handsome Jack.
However, where Metal Gear Solid was truly groundbreaking was its emphasis on narrative and cinematic presentation. Hideo Kojima's love of Hollywood action movies was readily apparent through slick cutscenes, and Yoji Shinkawa's character and mechanical designs added a heavy dose of anime sensibility, and the whole experience sounded amazing thanks to the musical contributions of Harry Gregson Williams and a stellar voice cast including Cam Clarke, Jennifer Hale, and *OF COURSE* David Hayter. Metal Gear Solid looked like a movie, sounded like a movie, and felt like a movie, but still played like a video game, striking a delicate balance that the medium is still striving for over twenty years later.
Turn it on and pick a street. Any street. Analyse it; really absorb it. Look at the unique shopfronts that aren’t repeated anywhere else. Look at the asphalt, worn and cracked; punished by the millions of cars that have hypothetically passed over it. Look at the litter, the graffiti. Grand Theft Auto V’s mad mix of high-speed chases, cinematic shootouts, and hectic heists may be outrageous at times, but the environment it unfolds within is just so real.
Civilization IV is a great turn-based strategy game on its own, but it wasn’t until the Beyond the Sword expansion that it became truly legendary, and the highlight of the 28-year-old Civilization series. The changes it makes are sweeping: it adds corporations, which add another religion-like layer, fleshes out the espionage system and victory conditions, and enhances the AI to put up a great fight.
Journey is the closest a video game has come to emulating the effects of poetry. In terms of structure it’s so simple: you must reach a snowy mountain peak visible in the distance. Along the way, your character surfs across glistening deserts, hides from flying creatures made entirely from cloth, and occasionally meets other players embarking on the same pilgrimage.
Still, the highlight of StarCraft is easily its multiplayer. Few gaming moments are as satisfying as defending your base against a Zerg rush as the Protoss or successfully sending in a fleet of Terran to decimate an enemy's base. StarCraft is still played competitively in parts of the world, making it remain relevant for longer than almost any other video game in existence. There's a reason too. It's because the gameplay is so expertly crafted and balanced that players can continually go head to head with a different result each time. It's those near losses and photo finish victories that keep you coming back and have kept the series alive all these years.