I’ve tried to make this list a hundred times, but I’ve always found it simply too difficult to complete. How could I possibly rank my Top 10 games of all time, especially when they change so frequently? How do you boil down three decades of gaming and hundreds of amazing games to a list of only ten?
UPDATED: Mark of the Ninja and Last of Us become casualties of more in-depth analysis of my feelings, as well as a new blasphemous contender to my Top Three that released this year. There are also some shifts as Super Mario Odyssey moves up, Horizon Zero Dawn moves down, and one of the loves of my life that I somehow left of this list makes Top 5.
This list is, by its very nature, imperfect and highly subjective to my tastes. It may change tomorrow, or this year when some amazing game releases; in fact it has changed in the space of this paragraph. As it stands right this moment though, these are my ten favorite games of all time.
10. Horizon Zero Dawn
This game was a big question mark for me right from the beginning. On its face it seemed cool: I mean who doesn’t want to fight robotic dinosaurs in a beautiful post-apocalyptic world? Still there were a lot of uncertainties when it came to this game, the biggest being that the developer, Guerilla Games, had previously been only known for making narrative driven first person shooters.
We now know how that played out though: Guerilla broke into the genre of open world gaming with amazing flourish, creating one of my favorite gaming worlds I’ve ever played in. The narrative was instantly engaging, following the protagonist Aloy who is outcast from her clan and tasked with solving the mystery of why humanity is on the brink of extinction with machines ruling the world. As the plot unfolds it splits into a dual narrative focused on the present and past while constantly ratcheting up the stakes until you are left stunned at the end.
If all it had was a great story going for it then it probably wouldn’t have made this list, but hunting these mechanical monstrosities is absolutely thrilling. As you make your way through the game you’ll learn their weaknesses, understand the beasts, and set traps to stop them. You’ll craft arrows through an ingeniously quick crafting system, and use different elements to bring down the biggest of monsters. The first time you take down a Thunderjaw it is an invigorating moment that is hard earned, and as you play the game you get progressively better until you feel like the master hunter that Aloy is.
I can’t wait to see what the future holds for this new IP.
9. Super Mario Odyssey
In a purely blasphemous move, the spot once held by Super Mario World has been usurped by Super Mario Odyssey. Although I adore the 2D Mario games, when this game was released it was such a celebration of the series I couldn’t help but fall instantly in love. By the time the credits rolled on the main campaign it had waahoo’d its way into my Top Ten.
From the moment you begin the game it is a pure joy to play. Movement in a Mario game is always fluid, but this game makes the simple act of getting around worth playing the game alone. The capture mechanic that I thought would be gimmicky and silly, instead takes this game to the absolute best of places, with captures that other studios might have based an entire game around.
Levels are impeccably designed, and absolutely full of secret discoveries and Moons to collect. There was never a moment I struggled to get to a place that there wasn’t some small treat there waiting for me; it seems the developers thought of absolutely everything.
The playful narrative of the game paired with the bright and colorful graphics of Super Mario Odyssey makes the main story a blast to play through, but even after the credits roll there is plenty to do. I still pop this game in my Switch from time to time, just to find that one more moon in New Donk City, or go through the grueling surprise world you unlock towards the end of the game.
There are a lot of games on this list that I consider engaging, narratively impressive, and impactful to my life in some way, but Super Mario Odyssey does what Nintendo does best: it is simply so much fun to play.
8. Ori and the Blind Forest
One of my favorite types of games is in the style of Metroid, growing powerful over a period of time, slowly fleshing out a map until you discover all its secrets. There is something unique to video games as a media where you play through a game, growing slowly more competent and your character fleshing out his skill set, and then coming back to a previous area and being able to get through that wall you couldn’t before. Ori does this while also having spot on platforming, an amazing checkpoint system, and being one of the most gorgeous games I’ve ever played.
The fact that the game has all this going for it makes it already amazing, but it also adds a poignant story that will leave all but the hardest of hearts aching. When you have those types of narratives they are usually reserved for walking simulator experiences, but this is a tough as nails platformer and Metroidvania that isn’t afraid to feed you your teeth every now and again.
Luckily the fact that we have a system that allows you to create your own checkpoints right before these brutally hard obstacles means on all but a few occasions that you can try again immediately, without having that moment where you want to just give up. Ori is one of those rare games that asks that its players master what it has to offer, but it guides you through that mastery over the course of the game. By the time the credits roll and you inevitably start another play through, you are far more skilled than when you began, making jumps you thought originally impossible.
Ori is a modern masterpiece and one of the most gorgeous games I’ve ever played. If you haven’t played it, what are you waiting for?
7. Super Smash Brothers U
There hasn’t been any other game that has been as constant in my life as Super Smash Brothers. The idea of the game was instantly appealing, even in the Nintendo 64 era: Nintendo’s biggest and most well-known mascots duking it out in an accessible take on the fighting genre. It birthed a whole new genre of gaming in the platform fighter, and is to this day one of the most played games on the console tournament side.
Smash Brothers is such a great franchise to me because it is a celebration of some of my favorite games out there, and seeing these fighters come together in one game is a sight to behold. The fact that I was even able to play it single player has always been something special to me, unlocking fighters and their trophies, always having something to push for.
It was always the go to game when friends were over, but as time has moved on I’ve had children of my own and it has also become the game that brings my family together. My five year old can already hold her own with more of the powerful characters, she even beat my older son once as Charizard, and with so many ways to play I can customize almost every game to make sure it remains fun for everyone playing.
While Smash Brothers U might not be considered the finest edition for tournaments, it has the best roster of any of the games. If this is in question I point to exhibit A: Cloud Strife. Who would have ever thought we would have one of Final Fantasy’s biggest icons in Smash Brothers?
Nintendo, hurry up and bring this to the Switch, so I can stop cracking out all the Wii U controllers for this constant gaming staple in my household.
6. Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
I have a deep and abiding love for all things Studio Ghibli. Some of my fondest memories involve being snuggled on a couch with my children watching the latest masterpiece from them. The animation is always top notch and beautiful to look at of course, but where they really shine is the ability to make a world feel cozy and welcoming; filled with a history in every square inch.
So when they announced a JRPG was being developed by Level 5 who was partnering with Studio Ghibli they had my undivided attention.
Watching the trailers of this Ghibli movie turned video game had my expectations impossibly high. There was no way that Level 5 would be able to deliver on the hype I had created for myself before release. Yet somehow, they did just that.
Capturing the magic of Studio Ghibli and transferring into the world of video games is no mean feat, but Level 5 pulled it off. The game is utterly gorgeous, but more importantly, every inch of the world is beaming with character and begging to be explored. The story is textbook Ghibli, with sad undertones boosted by an uplifting message and joyful characters. Believable and fantastical all at the same time, Ni No Kuni is a joy to play made all the more wonderful by the Pokemon-esque battle system and creatures that you would bring to your aide.
I played the entirety of this game while my daughter was quite young, nestled in my lap asleep usually. Spending over a hundred hours with the game I only put it down out of necessity, and it remains one of my most beloved gaming experiences till this day.
We are only a month out from the sequel, and who knows, maybe I’ll have to make room on this list for it as well.
5. Final Fantasy VI
What could be said about Final Fantasy VI that I haven’t already extensively said? This game shaped my childhood and helped define my relationship with my younger brother, providing nostalgic memories that last until this day.
Nostalgia alone though doesn’t earn you a spot on this list, and I’ve played through this game many times since my original playthrough: it still holds up just as well as it did. I fell madly in love with it from the very first opening tones of the game, watching Mode 7 employed as armored suits powered through a snowfall. It was one of the coolest openings in video games, and it set the tone for what would be a magical experience.
With an endearing and interesting ensemble cast, an amazing narrative, and one of the best villians of the entire franchise, Final Fantasy VI makes itself known as my favorite Final Fantasy; indeed one of the best JRPGs I’ve ever played, trumped only by the next game on my list.
Overwatch is one of my favorite multiplayer games I’ve ever played, one of the finest FPS games I’ve ever played, and should have been on this list from the beginning.
Blizzard has always been a special name in my household. I grew up on Lost Vikings, Rock & Roll Racing, and most importantly Warcraft. I spent a good deal of my youth creating elaborate campaigns in Warcarft 2, and my whole family spent time playing World of Warcraft.
I don’t play a ton of PC games, so to hear an original FPS character driven game designed by Blizzard was coming to the console space I was ecstatic. The original trailer had me absolutely thrilled, and I adored the artwork of all the characters.
Since its release I’ve played this game pretty much non-stop, with small gaps while I completed single player games. I’m not the most talented individual, and my rank is split between PS4 and Xbox One, so it doesn’t accurately represent my skill. However, the joy of Overwatch is there are so many characters you are bound to find one that you not only love, but that you are quite good at playing with. Though I may not be the 360-no-scope guy, I’m quite good at support rolls, and can play a mean Genji if my back is against the wall.
I’m also a big fan of the way Overwatch has built out the lore over the years, especially lately with the archive missions that allow a co-op driven experience against waves of AI. My collection of Overwatch memorabilia grows as swiftly as my love for this game, which seems to have no real limits.
3. Chrono Trigger
The best JRPG of all time, at least from my perspective.
A stellar cast of characters, some of the best gaming music of all time, branching endings, time travel, deep combat mechanics, perfect pacing: this game has it all. Chrono Trigger is a far more safe choice for a high spot on this list, you probably won’t find many that disagree that this is one of the greatest JRPGs ever made, and a good lot of those think it is the best JRPG ever made as well.
Not much else to say about an instant classic. If you haven’t played it yet, what are you doing with your life?
2. God of War
I’ve always been a huge God of War fan, and have defended Kratos’ adventures against those who felt they were too one note. My argument was simply one that revolved around Greek myths and legends, they are typically parables that are one note, designed to highlight some valuable lesson. For Kratos, that lesson was that vengeance often costs much, and never provides the relief one is looking for. Ultimately it was a game designed around the 90s, all machismo and over the top gore, but I felt it fit well within the Greek pantheon.
However, Kratos did things on his quest for vengeance that made him a villain in many regards. I don’t judge his actions for destroying the Greek gods, they had all done pretty heinous stuff, but he also killed many innocents. As such, many people whole heartedly disliked Kratos, and Sony Santa Monica could have easily wiped the slate clean and started over. Instead they embraced Kratos’ flaws, and decided to tell a story about a man changed by being a father, and ashamed of a past that he clearly regrets in many ways.
Everything you could want from a game is here, and done spectacularly well. I honestly could drone on forever about this game, but the simple conclusion is that every other game in 2018 is going to have a tough time competing with this title for Game of the Year, and it has earned an easy spot in my Top 5 games of all time. Even after rolling credits I simply can’t stop playing the game, and it stands as a testament to the power of the entire gaming medium.
1. Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild
I never thought anything would supplant Chrono Trigger as my favorite game of all time, but this game managed that feat. My hype leading up to this game was absolutely out of control, Zelda is my favorite game series and with the new game being delayed a number of times I was rabid. With it being the launch title of my brand new Switch system, a console watched the world over as what many thought was Nintendo’s last gasp, the weight on this game’s shoulder was insurmountable.
Somehow, this game exceeded my every expectation and critics also. It went on to win just about every Game of the Year award there was, and was hailed as a masterpiece by pretty much everybody.
I play videogames to experience new worlds and live new stories. This absolutely gorgeous new version of Hyrule is alive in every sense, from its intelligent inhabitants to the expertly animated animals that roam through the wilds, and seems to have a life of its own. From beautiful meadows filled with flowers, blowing gently in the wind, to the encroaching and hard world of volcanoes, every inch of it is lovingly crafted and filled with wonders to explore.
With or without the Zelda license this game would be magnificent, and the fact that it adds the lineage of the franchise with all the various nods to the series is an absolute dream for a fan, even though it turns the formula I love on its head. Simply put the Breath of the Wild is one of the finest adventures you can have in all of gaming, and worthy of every accolade it receives as it is a true masterpiece.