Top 10 Games is a new, semi-regular series that hopes to offer a bit of insight into the twisted minds of Goomba Stomp’s writers, editors, and podcasters by allowing them to tell you about their all time favorite games, and why they love them to such an unhealthy degree.
I’ve been writing for Goomba Stomp since around the time the site launched 2 years ago. I’ve done plenty of reviews, editorial articles, and even have my own column where I talk about news and opinions related to import games and gaming in other cultures. It was really difficult coming up with a list of 10 games that I thought were “the best.” Instead, I wrote up about some of my favorite games, and ones that have influenced me as a writer and shaped who I am today.
I don’t really have that much to say about Frogger. It’s not really a game I think too hard about to be honest, but it is one that’s near and dear to me. My dad used to collect arcade and pinball machines before he met my mother. He has some weird ones, but I mostly remember Frogger since it was the one he kept the longest. Before I even knew what a game console was I was playing Frogger and trying to get my pixelated green friend across streets of darting traffic and past the mouths of hungry gators.
I’m sure if I took more time to sit down and replay the game I’d have more to talk about, but Frogger is just something I can attach good memories too. It was hot summer nights in the garage, and chilly fall evenings after school. It was thinking I accidentally broke the machine when I was four, when really it was just a decade old arcade machine with a dead monitor. It’s a little weird thinking back to be honest, because I can see more parallels between me and my father now. He started getting into pinball and arcades after college, while I’ve started importing and repairing Japanese arcade motherboards.
9) Fatal Frame
The horror genre is one of my favorites. It’s a category that’s defined by feeling and getting a gut reaction out of the player rather than something like a platformer or shooter, which are based solely around their gameplay. It’s hard to say if horror has ever had a shining period, where developers really captured what it means to “scare” your audience, because it’s something that’s constantly changing from generation to generation.
The PlayStation 2-era survival horror explosion is probably one of my favorite periods in game development history. This was around the time where everyone was looking at Resident Evil and saying “I want that.” There were a lot of clones and bad impersonators, but underneath it are some often ignored games with lots of good ideas. Fatal Frame might not be on the same level of obscurity as Haunting Ground or Kuon, but it’s what I consider to be one of the more interesting and innovate horror games to come from the early and mid-2000’s.
The idea of using a camera to exorcise spirits sounds ridiculous, but it has some actual real-world parallels with spirit photography from the 1800s. It also works well as a mechanic since the only way to damage ghosts is to let them get in frame, and you do even more if you focus on them, forcing you to get close to them and risk getting hit. Fatal Frame is pretty unforgiving, you really don’t have that many healing items or ammo, making even rationing difficult. I remember having to restart this game twice when I first tried playing it, but the rush of overcoming everything, the thrill of playing a game that literally made me “face my fear,” felt so rewarding to overcome.
Fatal Frame was one of the first horror games that truly left me feeling scared and tense. It was the first horror game I had played that forced me into first-person. It was the first horror game I played that didn’t put me in a familiar small Mid-Western town. And it was the first game that forced me to get uncomfortably close to the things trying to kill me. Fatal Frame might not be the most polished game in the franchise, but it’s the one I remember the most fondly, and it’s the one I keep going back to when I want something spooky to play.
I can’t think of a single game quite like the .hack// quartet. Cyber Connect’s first multimedia project in the .hack// franchise is without a doubt their best one. The quartet is a supplement to the anime .hack//Sign, which aired around the same time as the games were coming out. Both projects have very somber themes. They explore how people use the internet to hide their own lives and troubles, as well as all the problems a network-centric world can create. It’s an interesting dystopian future story since it doesn’t follow a lot of the conventions typically associated with that genre. Everything in the world of .hack// looks fine on the outside, but there are people suffering and trying to find meaning underneath the barriers and masks that the game gives them.
The .hack// quartet does a good job of capturing the feeling of playing an online game with others, at least for the early 2000s. The range of people you can encounter and recruit while playing in The World has a very wide range, including reclusive and depressive middle schoolers, a mother-to-be trying to pass time, and even an American Japanese teacher that’s using the JPN server to keep his language skills up. There’s no “chosen one” or group of super-powered teenagers, the heroes in .hack// are about as human and normal as you can get. You learn more about your allies by sending emails or going on quests with them. You can find special items, events, and even unique party members by trolling around on the game’s online forum. It’s pretty cool and engaging, since you can actually miss out on some really strong partners and items if you choose to ignore the side content.
The downside to all of this is that gameplay in the quartet has aged about as well as decade-old milk. Combat is very slow, and the game feels like a turn-based RPG despite your ability to run around freely. Skills and specials are all tied to menus, so you constantly have to break the flow of the game if you want to use one of your higher damaging attacks. This is not a game for those low on patience. I love the .hack// games because of their plot, world, and characters, and I find it a shame that the series traded in one of the deeper stories I’ve seen in a JRPG for less risky anime tropes and even worse world building in following entries.
At least the recent .hack//GU collection sold decently. Maybe Bandai will consider remastering or remaking the original quartet as well.
7) Devil May Cry 3
People often turn to nostalgia when constructing lists of their favorite things. What things hold personal importance? What events and memories can be tied to those things? And that’s certainly the truth for most this list, but not for this entry. Devil May Cry 3 is just a damn good game. Tight controls, great visual style, a kick-ass soundtrack, and probably one of the best representations of Dante the series has ever had.
Devil May Cry 3 is the embodiment of refining a game until all that’s left are its best traits. I have such a hard time thinking of things I don’t like about this game because so much of it is well done. When the worst part of your game is just re-fighting all the bosses in a Mega Man-style gauntlet, I feel like you’ve probably done a lot right.
A great video game is not defined by only one of its parts. You can have an amazing story, but if the game feels bad to play then only the most dedicated fans will get through it. Likewise, you can have a fun game, but if its aesthetics are off, or its characters don’t resonate, then it will be a challenge of tedium to get through. If you put all the good qualities of game design on a Venn diagram, Dante would be right in the middle with his smug-ass smile looking right at you.
6) The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
It was really hard figuring out which Zelda title I wanted to put on here. This is a franchise I had been playing before I was even that interested in video games. The original Legend of Zelda was one of the first video games I had ever played, and Link’s Awakening and Ocarina of Time were the first games I owned. These games all hold a special meaning to me, but none quite as strong as that of Majora’s Mask.
Majora’s Mask is one of those games that I can always pop into my console and enjoy. It offers a large amount of variety in ways you can play and interact with things. The game is built with repetition in mind. Temples have multiple layouts, and different masks can be used to revisit areas and find new things to do. The world has a lot of repurposed assets, but the way they are used makes the game feel unique. I love the variety of ways you can tackle things with all the various masks and equipment that the game has to offer. I love the game’s soundtrack, and the theme of Clock Town will always be one of my favorite Zelda tracks.
This is the first game that I learned speed-running routes for, and is one of the few games where I attempted a run…only to find out that there had been new tech discovered that I didn’t want to bother learning.
5) Super Smash Bros. Melee
I’m not sure if there’s a single game in my collection that has as many hours crammed onto it as Super Smash Bros. Melee. Every other game I bought for the GameCube was secondary to Melee in terms of playability. There was no other game I would repeatedly go back to, no other game where I’d want to clear the challenges and try to beat my time, and no other game where I was committed to unlocking every stage, character, and pointless trophy (…and then my memory card died.)
This is a game that has been with me through every stage of my life. Melee came out right as I was finishing primary school. It served as my escape throughout middle school. In high school I met my first big group of friends through Melee because we’d all get together, practice, and then get bodied at major tournaments.
By college I had stopped playing competitively in favor of other games, but Smash was still the thing that kept most of my group of friends bound to each other. We played it a lot; in fact, we played it so much that we pissed off everyone else that wanted to use the dorm common’s TV.
My personal tales aside, Melee is also a great game. Its graphics are amazing, its gameplay is smooth and fluid, and its roster of characters ranges from staple Nintendo icons, to quirky joke characters, and even a few Japan-exclusive big shots. Melee feels like the perfect evolution of the original Super Smash Bros. on the N64. It moves faster, stages are more varied, and characters have more depth and options. Everything is an improvement.
My true competitive spirit grew through other games in college, but it would be ignorant for me to overlook the seed that Melee planted. It was the first competitive game I strove to get better at, and it’s the game I’ve met the most people through.
4) Nier: Automata
So remember earlier I was talking about how Devil May Cry 3 was in the center of a Venn diagram for all the components of game design? Well, take that diagram, turn it’s back, make it a grid, then give it a Z-axis and put Nier: Automata at the top of it. Yoko Taro and his team of highly trained goons have been making games for almost a decade now. The signature parts to a Taro-directed title are going radically against established tropes in both writing and game design. They mess with the player on a mental level, create sad and depressing scenarios that still end up feeling positive, and have a budget equal to what I paid for lunch in high school. Automata is all of these except that last one. Platinum Games stepped up to help. They combined their style and gameplay with Taro and his colleagues’ writing skills. What they made is probably one of the best games of this console generation in terms of story, engaging, varied gameplay, and beautiful visuals and music.
3) Super Metroid
There are very few games that I’ve replayed as many times as Super Metroid. There’s so much to do in this game despite an average play through taking roughly 3 to 4 hours. Super Metroid was what I like to think of as a finely condensed experience. The game was built with everything in mind about how the player would approach things. Like in Majora’s Mask, there’s always multiple ways to complete objectives which is part of what makes the game so much fun.
Super Metroid also gives the player an ample amount of tools to explore and use throughout its world, and many of the coolest ones are things the player won’t even know they have till they accidentally stumble upon a scenario that requires them. Wall jumping in particular is my favorite of these, and every time I pop the game in I try to find new sequences I can try to avoid, or items I can get early with properly timed jumps.
Rewarding the curiosity of the player is one of my favorite aspects of good design, and Super Metroid is rife with it. Games don’t need to have hours of gameplay and huge overworlds attached to them to make them enjoyable, the experience just needs to be something worth playing.
2) Resident Evil 4
I have bought this game more times than should be legally allowed. It’s disgusting. I think the real saddest part of it though isn’t having a Japanese GameCube version of Resident Evil 4, it’s not having the awful chainsaw controller that came with the Limited Edition.
I already put Fatal Frame on here as my appreciation for horror title, but then I remembered Resident Evil 4 isn’t horror. This game is bonkers. It takes all the strict melodrama and scientific aspects of the original Resident Evil trilogy and throws them out the window to make the world’s clunkiest action movie. I enjoy everything about this game’s ridiculous style, from Leon’s stupid one-liners to the unexplainably huge monsters. This game changed horror from a pseudo-adventure genre to a pseudo-action genre, but that’s not why it’s here.
My personal connection to Resident Evil 4 is similar to my connection with Majora’s Mask. I’ve replayed it more times than I can count. In high school I would do gimmick runs to keep the game interesting: pistol only, no healing items, and knife-only, to name a few. This turned into speed-run routes in college until I eventually lost the time to keep going.
1) Persona 3
Persona 3 is, without a doubt, one of the most important titles in shaping how I look at and play games. It’s a single-player RPG that mixes elements of life-simulation with dungeon crawling. I instantly fell in love with the weird collage of monster-collecting systems, adventure-style choices, and the fast-paced combat the game boasts. Persona 3 was my first real exposure to how Shin Megami Tensei games played (even if it isn’t one itself).
The thing I like the most about Persona 3 is how it integrates its story with its gameplay. Persona wasn’t always part life-sim like it is now, it started as something more akin to a digital Dungeons & Dragons. Persona 3 would be the first game to establish the mold the franchise uses now. You get stronger by talking with people and forming bonds with them, which translates into an easier time in battle while exploring the monster-filled labyrinth at the center of the game’s plot.
Persona 3 is also an incredibly beautiful game. It might not be much of a looker now, but the stylized graphics in the game looked great in 2007, and they fit very well with its electric-pop soundtrack. Speaking of the soundtrack, Persona 3 is one of the few games where I hunted down every soundtrack and remix album I could get my hands on. I absolutely love the music in this game, and there’s plenty of tracks that make for good listening both inside and outside the game.
Persona 3’s story is one of the few video game plots that resonated with me, and this has a lot to do with the life-sim aspect. The game’s big theme is dealing with change, a lot of it being around personal family issues, death, or just fear for the future. It’s a morose game, but I enjoyed seeing characters in a modern setting dealing with contemporary issues, especially since I had several similar issues in my own life at the time. A lot of the side-characters are more interesting to me for that reason. The main cast is all special-powered teenagers, but the people you meet outside of them are just normal people, and even those main cast members have their own personal issues.
Persona 3 is a complete package for me. It is visually pleasing to look at, and it has a great amount of artistic style. Its soundtrack is catchy and swaps between pop, jazz, and a few other genres. Its combat is fun and streamlined, if a little bit flawed compared to other Persona games. Most importantly though, are its themes and setting and how they are portrayed. I think the main and side-characters in 3 are the most relatable in the series. The game has its goofy points, but it’s not hard to find a character whose plight you empathize with. It’s a morose game, but one I think that changed my way of thinking for the better.
Alright, some honorable mentions while making this list.
Digimon World for being one of the weirdest and most oddly enjoyable RPGs on the original PlayStation.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds for being an amazing top-down Zelda game, and probably my favorite one.
BlazBlue: Continuum Shift for being the game that I got largely invested into the fighting game community with.
Bloodborne for justifying my PlayStation 4 purchase at a time when there was nothing on this big black box (and also for being a very scary action game).
Phoenix Wright: Trials and Tribulations for being one of my favorite adventure games, and easily my favorite Ace Attorney game.