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03 – The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past – 9.8/10 – SNES, GBA, Wii, WiiU, Switch

I fully confess this is really only here and above games like Breath of the Wild and Wind Waker – two games I feel are objectively better – because of nostalgia. A Link to the Past was the first Zelda I ever really got into way back in the early 90s, and I remember trading secrets and tips and tricks with my friends at school and a friend of the family who enjoyed the game. He's an asshole that nobody likes now, but at the time he was our token gay friend! Now everyone's gay so he's not special and people see through his schtick to realize how much of a prick he really is. I'm getting off topic.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, I actually don't have a whole lot to say about this one. Again. I mean, I kinda want to relate it to Ocarina of Time, but at this point I don't want any more negativity to creep into my experiences. Sequelitis did this already and while I don't think they hit the points that were needed, they still made a lot of good points. Alas, here I am, once again typing my heart out, just sort of rambling because I've committed to this list of games that ended up about twice as long as it needed to be. This is one of my top three favourite games of all time and I don't know what to say about it.

I know I didn't care for the first Zelda game because I like a little more guidance in my games. I didn't like Zelda II because it was too RPG for me at the time and I didn't get into RPGs until 1996, and even then only just barely. I didn't like Ocarina of Time because to me it just felt like A Link to the Past but with uglier graphics and more finicky controls. I never played Majora's mask. So really, the only Zelda I loved for its first five outings was A link to the Past, and I love it. I love it so much. I love how when the game starts you end up guided to the castle. I feel that the game guides you well enough while giving you enough freedom to explore. Like Super Metroid, you can sequence break if you know what you're doing, and it feels good to tackle hard dungeons out of order. There's plenty to do, the world is packed with secrets and collectibles, and this game introduced a two-world system that would be reused and integrated into other games as time went on. It was great!

Like, the overall plot and narrative structure was really awesome if you ask me. In some ways it influenced Dark Souls! The game starts on a linear path. You leave your house and enter the castle. There, you find the princess in the dungeon and help her escape through the sewers beneath the castle. Once you get through the dungeon, you exit into the church, where she resides, safely under sanctuary while you go about your quest. This is act I, a linear level with a defined goal. Once you exit the church, you are basically free to go wherever you want, explore whatever area you wish, with some small limitations based on what skills you have. You can go to kakariko, you can go to the desert, you can go to the forest or the lake region, or you can attempt to go back to the castle. All of it is pretty well opened and free for you to explore. From here, you have to do three dungeons and get three pendants, mostly in a well defined order with some leeway in between. This is Act II, open-world, semi-linear.

Act III involves you, now in possession of all three pendants, heading to the forest to acquire the master sword and storming the castle to save the princess. In most games, this is where it would end, but Link to the Past does you one better because this game has a five-act structure and you're only half done the game! For, once you make it to the princess, the villain uses magic to transport her to another world, and when you fight him, he draws you into the dark world with him! Muahaha! From here, you realize that this new world is a twisted reflection of the old world, with the level design similar but subtly different. And you can swap between them in ways that effect one another, which leads to tonnes of puzzle potential as you go on.

From here, you head to the first of seven palaces, each one of which rewards you with one of the seven sages needed to release the seal on Ganon's tower. This is act IV, and now that you're unleashed upon the dark world you can do the seven palaces with plenty of freedom to do them out of order. There is a prescribed series you have to go through, but you can do them out of order. For example, you can do palace 6 before you do palace 3, but only if you do palace 4 and get the item there. You can also do 6 before 5, but you can't do 5 until you do 3 and 4 because you need the titan mitt and the fire rod to get through it. You can do palace 7 – which is really more of a cave – before others as well, as long as you got the item in palace 6. Again, sequence breaking is a thing. The only thing I do out of order is I do palace 4 before 3, because 4's ability gives you the ability to find a tonne of upgrades and I find Palace 3 to be one of the trickier and more confusing dungeons in the game.

Only once you get all 7 sages can you enter the finale. Act V, where you once again storm Ganon's tower, fighting Agahnim before being launched across the world back to the great pyramid where Hyrule Castle used to be. That's Linear for act I, Partially nonlinear for act II, Linear for act III, feasably nonlinear for act IV, then linear in act V up to the climax. I just love this structure, and it keeps things fresh no matter how many times I play the game. Because, and say it with me folks, the game has aged remarkably well and even 30 years later I'm still finding little things I didn't notice before. I break this game out at least once a year, sometimes trying to speedrun it but giving up by the time I make it to the dark world. I love finding all the spells and weapons, I love getting all the heart pieces and expanding my health, and I love the fact that the game is simple enough that it worked flawlessly on the SNES but is refined enough it still feels crisp today.

Oh, and did I mention that this game also has one of the best soundtracks ever? Seriously, so many of my SNES games and Final Fantasy games have some of the best soundtracks ever. The only game I can think of that came out post 2000 that has a theme as iconic as these SNES games was Halo. Oh, and Undertale. But seriously, the DKC games, Mega Man X, Super Mario 3 and World, Yoshi's Island, A Link to the Past, Mega Man 2 and 3, Super Metroid, Chrono Trigger, Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, Final Fantasy IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, and IX, all iconic as hell. There does seem to be a bit of a link between great soundtracks and great games, and Link to the Past is predictably one of the best examples.

Oh, and the dual-world mechanic is one that came back for Twilight Princess, for Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, for A Link Between Worlds, and has been in some way or another been utilized in other games like Guacamelee, all because of this wonderful, iconic, influential game.

02 – Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars – 9.9/10 – SNES, Wii, WiiU

These final two entries are, like so many others on this list, virtually a tie. In fact, when I was compiling the list that adhered to the rules set by the forum I was posting these on, I actually put this as my top prize because I had just gone through it again thanks to the Game Grumps having done a playthrough of it. Maybe it's recency bias, but I do feel there's something special about this game I do not feel about my #1 entry, and that's that it's more easily replayable. That's not to say I like it more, but that it's not as long, not as involved, and is a far simpler game. In fact, that relative simplicity is why it's such a significant part of my past. My history. And the reason I ever even got into the Final Fantasy series. Without Super Mario RPG, a significant portion of my gaming life wouldn't be the way that it is.

Way back in the mid to early 90s, I was a platforming kid. I wasn't much into RPGs. Like, I didn't just not have an interest in them, I outright disliked them. My stance on the matter was that it was boring and lacking in skill to just tell your characters what to do then letting them do it. I didn't see the appeal at the time. I even rented a few RPGs like Breath of Fire and Final Fantasy from our local rental store and hated them. Thought they were dumb as hell.Dear younger Runa: You're an idiot. RPGs are great.

A friend of mine who was into RPGs had been trying to get me into them ever since Final Fantasy VI came out. I kept denying him, telling him I liked games like Mario and Donkey Kong. So, when Mario RPG came out, he found his secret weapon. He told me about this wonderful, magical game that was both an RPG and a platforming game. It had turn-based battles but also required you to time your hits or do button commands and prompts to get the most out of the game. It was Mario, so I had that franchise affiliation baked in. I was hesitant at first, but he was right and I came to absolutely LOVE Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. I am one of those loudly crying for Geno in Smash.

I don't really know what to say! This game was just so quirky and weird and fun and it broke all the rules while also serving as a perfect introduction to JRPGs. It took the Mario world and lore, expanded upon it while making its own unique world and lore that somehow has never been revisited. It introduced two of my favourite Mario characters of all time – Mallow and Geno – while also giving us a sparingly-used but menacing main villain. It twisted things up by making Bowser your ally and Princess Peach a party member. It explored weird concepts like a town made up of monsters that turned good and don't want to fight you. None of this should work, but it did! It worked, and every time I think about it I feel like I need to play it again.

Every world is unique and a perfect blend of original and inspired by prior Mario games. Places like the Mushroom Kingdom are exactly what you'd expect, and the KeroKero sewers are a take on the underground levels in prior mario games. Star Road has a role in the story, Bowser's Castle is here but with a twist. There's a haunted, sunken ship like in Mario World, a volcano level, and even a cloud world where one of the characters comes from. Almost all the characters are quirky and funny and well realized with hilarious dialogue and sly wit.

I don't want to call it a perfect game, but I really can't think of any weaknesses aside from the fact that I've played it so much I don't find it challenging anymore. When I first played it, it was pretty hard because it was a genre I wasn't used to playing. But now? I can breeze through the game in 6-8 hours. In fact, while the game caps out at level 30, I managed to beat the optional super-boss at level 17. Twice in the last month. My previous record was level 18 and I felt like I'd never be able to match it again because my record prior to that was 22 or 23. Maybe that's why I temporarily bumped it up to my top spot: I had just beaten the game twice right around the time I was compiling the list. Recency bias.

The point is, this game is great in virtually every aspect. The graphics are arguably the best on the SNES and hold up well even today, alongside the DKC trilogy. The music is, and say it with me, one of my all-time favourite soundtracks. The core gameplay is that of a JRPG, but it has timed hits and timed defence for each attack, plenty of hidden items and secrets to find for buffs and spells, and the overworld exploration involves a stunning amount of 3/4ths isometric pseudo-3D platforming to make sure you know it's a Mario game. Oh, and that opional super-boss? It has a remix of a Final Fantasy 4 boss theme, is clearly modelled after Final Fantasy's graphics style by being a non-moving sprite, and is accompanied by four crystals.

I genuinely would have a hard time better imagining a game that blends platforming and turn-based combat than this, and I would never have gotten into Final Fantasy had I not tried this game. I know they made Paper Mario as well as the Mario and Luigi series, both of which are/were Turn-based RPGs but neither of them had the same wit and charm and shocking depth of Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. If they do see a sequel, I'd love to see Geno and Mallow return, add Luigi and Yoshi as party members, and then add a few new characters.

Maybe it's Smithy's Revenge or somethinging and the Mushroom Kingdom Crew have to travel to Smithy's world to stop him before he recreates a new army. The first act of the game could be Mario recruiting Bowser and Kamek in the midst of a Peach rescue. Like, Bowser has peach rescued when something comes through the portal, Peach gets out of her binds like it's no big deal (At this point it's just what they do, nobody's actually in peril), then all three of them plus Luigi and Yoshi turn to the attacker, are getting their asses whupped when Geno arrives, helps to take out the enemy, then inform them that they need to go to Smithy's world! All of them follow Geno, but get spread across the world, Final Fantasy VI style, and you have to collect your allies before confronting Smithy!

It's fanservice, but come on, who wouldn't love playing that? I love the game and keep playing it, and it's basically perfect on its own, but hot damn I'd love more Mario RPG love. After all, Square-Enix and Nintendo are working together again, so it's not out of the realm of possibility! Make it happen!

01 – Final Fantasy VI – 9.9/10 – SNES, PS1, PS3, GBA, PC

Look, I kinda don't feel the need to gush too much or have some long-winded explanation on this one. It's my favourite game of all time and has been ever since it took the crown from Mega Man 2 back once I played it in 1996. This is the game that made me want to play Final Fantasy VII and settle into a life on Playstation. This is the game that made me realize that stories in video games can be deep and mature and introspective and poignant. If Mario RPG got me into Turn-based games and the JRPG genre in total, then this is the game that set me on a path that I was on until 2006. Then, after 2006, my interest in the medium waned until 2015 or so.

And yeah, the graphics are pretty. The music is as good as you'd expect given my propensity to extol the virtue of SNES soundtracks. The gameplay is simple at first glance but has enough depth to keep it fun and engaging. It balances out linear with non-linear progression, it has one of the best written stories and best-realized worlds with many of the best characters not just in Final Fantasy but in gaming as a whole. The villain is one of the most sinister characters ever, yes even better than Sephiroth, and the story has a pretty significant event at the half-way mark that once again completely changes the way the game's played. Spoiler for a nearly 30 year old game, but Kefka actually succeeds in overthrowing the emperor and remaking the world in his image. He literally uses the magic of the goddesses to create a world of ruin.

Remember just two entries ago when I talked about how A Link to the Past influenced other games? This is one of them. The entire first half of the game takes place in something called the World of Balance. This is where most of the plot and character development happens. You meet all your party members, you explore all the villages and build your party, and you build up a resistance to 'the empire' run by Emperor Gestahl. Then, as they seek out the power of the espers (This game's summon creatures who are also a sentient race of magically empowered people that Kefka and Gestahl are literally harvesting for the magicite they leave upon death that grants magic power), Kefka betrays Gestahl, takes all the power for himself and, I need to repeat, destroys the world and remakes it in his image.

This is not something you often see in any game, really. It's such a gut punch to see this truly evil clown-jester thing being terrible from top to bottom and manipulating things and murdering innocents before actually succeeding. And while the World of Balance is mostly linear with a few branching paths and some open-world exploration, once Kefka destroys the world the entire second half known as the World of Ruin then basically becomes a free-for-all as you seek out all your allies. Like Breath of the Wild, once you get to the World of Ruin and have your airship, you can go right to the final boss. You don't have to explore or revisit old locales affected by the rending of the planets landmass, you can just fly to Kefka's tower and have at him.

I love it. I love that a game can balance linear and nonlinear so well. I love the change in tone from hopeful and encouraging in the first half to desolate and depressing in the second half. I love how the entire World of Ruin basically functions as a whole game on its own with a three act structure and what would be a perfectly fitting finale on a floating continent against the bad guys we've been opposed to the whole time. The game would still have been perfect if you got to that point, beat Kefka, and that was that. It had plenty of story, it was long enough without being overly long, and all the characters had effective plot lines, it would have been a satisfying conclusion. But no, they put in a huge plot twist and in doing so basically doubled the length of the game. This is like Link to the Past all over again. This sort of thing was so successful they recreated it in arguably the best Castlevania game of all time, Symphony of the Night, where you get to the 'end' of the game only to have the castle flip upside down.

This is how you subvert expectations, and by doing things this way it makes the game more engaging, too, because now you can tackle the remainder of the game's levels and side quests however you feel. You can regain all your allies in whatever order you like with a few exceptions. There are dozens of optional super bosses to tackle and hidden side quests that I'm sure even I haven't unveiled yet. It's such a special experience to enjoy for the first time. Sure, the story beats don't hit quite as hard due to sprite work not being able to convey as much emotion as 3D models, and sure the lack of cutscenes is less than ideal, but they did so much with so little, and that's impressive. I still feel the emotional sting of the game's plot points because the writing is so good.

And to top it all off, there is no main character in this game. Final Fantasy IV has Cecil, Final Fantasy VII has Cloud, Final Fantasy VIII has Squall, Final Fantasy IX has Zidane, Final Fantasy X has Tidus, and Final Fantasy XII has Vaan. XIII has Lighting but we don't talk about that. XV has Noctis. Every other final fantasy game aside from the first one has a defined main character, a player character that acts as your eyes and is the vessel from which you experience the story. But Final Fantasy VI doesn't have that. Sure, the first character you play as is Terra, but she's not the main character. Outside of a few scripted sequences she doesn't even need to be in your party. Part of the World of Balance she's lost and you have to find her because she's had an existential breakdown. When you 'wake up' in the World of Ruin, you wake up as a completely different character and Terra is just one of the party members you have to seek out and find of your own volition.

It's actually kind of brilliant because it means anyone can be the main character and thus all the characters have stunningly well-written backstories. Terra was a half human, half esper hybrid that was one of the few who were able to use magic. The empire found her and slapped a slave crown on her to use her as a living weapon. So, when the slave crown is removed, she feels regret and feels the need to rebel against her captors. But, once she realizes what she is, and that the power of her kind have been fuelling the empire's ascent, she opts to be a pacifist in the World of Ruin, protecting a village of orphaned kids, only willing to grab a sword once more when it becomes clear that Kefka's reign of terror won't stop unless she takes up arms and puts a stop to him. That's just one character, there are fourteen characters. Not all of them have the same storyline, but I'd say eight to ten of them have equally compelling narratives that span the course of the game.

Locke is a thief with a heart of gold who's been a womanizer most of his life, but the reality is that he's only like this because his thieving put the woman he loved in a coma, and he could never truly love again while also needing to use his skills for the greater good. Two brothers, Edgar and Sabin, watched their father die knowing one of them was going to have to be the next king. The problem was, neither of them wanted that position, so they flipped a coin to decide who would be king. Edgar won that coin toss, and Sabin retreated to the mountains to become a monk. Celes was a general in the empire who was infused with magic as a child, but she always had a gentle touch and preferred to be defensive, her unique ability being Runic, a skill which acts as a lightning rod for any magic thrown at the party, which she absorbs in the form of MP. After seeing the evil of the empire, she actually becomes the anchor for the entire World of Ruin, as she's the one who wakes up and seeks out the others.

Cyan was a valiant knight who protected his castle from an attack by The empire. When he fought against General Leo – a noble and truly great man who just happens to be working for the enemy – there was a sense of honour between them. But when General Leo was called away and Kefka took over, Kefka poisoned the water supply, killing everyone in the kingdom including Cyan's wife and child. Cyan was the only one strong enough to survive this heinous act. An act so evil it actually got Kefka put in jail for a brief bit of the story. Then, soon thereafter, you literally board the Ghost Train that's in the process of taking his wife and child to their afterlife. IT's heartbreaking. Every one of the playable characters except like, Gogo or Umaro (the two optional characters you can only get in the World of Ruin) have a backstory like this.

It's just such good writing. It's making me wanna play it again. But I have so many other games to play. And I haven't even gotten to the actual gameplay yet. Honestly, that's because as far as a JRPG goes it's pretty rudimentary. Every character (Except Gogo) is unique and has their own specific ability that only they have. Everyone (Except Gau) Can attack and use items. Once you reach a certain point in the game and acquire magicite of your own, everyone (Except Umaro) Can use magic. Equipping that magicite allows you to use the magic spells that are offered by that magicite, and the spells can be learned permanently based on the spell's learning rate. IE: If it's a spell like float with a 20x multiplyer, then you need only 5 points to permanently learn that spell. Once you reach 100%, you learn that spell forever. It's a simple but effective system. The espers can also give you summon spell abilities.

But then, beyond that, every character has one unique ability that only they (And Gogo the Mimic) Can use. Terra can morph, going super-saiyan for a few turns and vastly improving her stats. This was the inspiration for 'trance', the Limit Break equivalent in Final Fantasy IX. Locke can Steal, or mug (Steal plus attack) if he has the right item equipped. Edgar can use the tools like a drill or crossbow that were made by his mechanically-advanced castle. Sabin has Blitz, a sort of hand-to-hand combat style with various moves where you have to input button commands like in Street Fighter. Shadow the ninja throws weapons and/or special throwing items. Mog the Moogle can dance, altering the terrain and giving buffs and random spells but loses control for the battle. Setzer does slots, a randomly generated effect that could range from giving you small healing to a screen nuke. Cyan has weapon arts, where he concentrates for a period of time and then does one of eight potential attacks, each one more devastating than the last.

It's a blast to mix and match. It's steadily rewarding to learn magic spells. There's so much side content to explore and so much hidden stuff to find. The game perfectly balances the linear and nonlinear segments. It somehow balances 14 characters with unique properties and stunningly deep and nuanced backstories. The visuals are fantastic for what they are (the sprite work is good but it hasn't aged as well as others on this list), and the soundtrack is one of the best ever. The villain is menacing and memorable, the world is deeper than it seems. It's just the total package. Sure, it's heavy and deep and deals with a lot of mature themes like suicide and depression and regret and genocide, but it's a well written and well made game that I recommend to just about anyone.

Super Mario RPG is more light-hearted and easier to recommend to beginners – it's what got me into the genre as a whole – but Final Fantasy VI is that genre in top form, with the best world and the best story and the best cast of characters of pretty much any game I've ever played. The gameplay, while a bit on the simple side, does balance depth and simplicity in a way that makes it just challenging enough to be engaging without being frustrating, and has enough depth and nuance to it that even I haven't mastered the game, 25 years after having first played it. I highly recommend it.


I know I rambled a lot, with the entries getting longer with every subsequent entry (Some of them are over 2,000 words long), but writing this just made me realize just how into games I actually am. When I started this, sort of foolin' around by mentioning how much more important games were to me and how they transcend traditional media, I was mostly doing it as a gaffe. You know, not meant to be taken seriously. But as I reflected on all the games I love as much as I do, I came to realize that it might be true. There really is something special about gaming as a media.

Gaming is entertainment, sure. But it's truly so much more than that. Due to it being interactive moreso than any other media, it's so many different things. It incorporates visual art, it incorporates music and sound design, it's online and social, it's personal and emotional, it's playful and competitive, and it's meaningful. Games are where all other forms of media and art converge into one place, making it the industry with the most potential for growth.

Sure, old people like to bitch because it's the newest form of media that's getting all the attention, and the fact that it's interactive makes it seem like anyone who picks up a Call of Duty game is gonna do a mass shooting, but the reality is that Gaming is more than the sum of its parts. It's more than just the graphics or the voice acting or the animation. It's more than the sound effects or score. It's more than just the story or world building. It's more than just the social aspects that come with it or the sense of competition or accomplishment that no other media can emulate.

And yeah, because the medium is so big it's easy to exploit people. I don't like Loot Boxes or mobile gaming, I don't like microtransactions or predatory monetization models. I don't like most games with mass appeal most of the time because they're usually clearly meant as products, not art. And while there is a place in this world for Fifa and Call of Duty and Flappy Bird, the games I like to play don't go near any of those genres or styles. Some of my games are serious and mature. Some of them are over-the-top gory and bombastic. Some simulate music, others are party or fighting games, some are cooperative while others are exclusively singleplayer. Some are tiny indies made by a team of 5 dudes in Quebec who care more about the art and the message while others are made by hundreds of developers with a budget of like 200 million dollars and sales goals to reach.

Gaming as a whole truly is better than it's ever been. Yeah, there's bad stuff out there, and it's easy to decry the big publishers for their greed, but you can't pretend there isn't more quality and variety now than there has ever been. We have new genres and styles being fleshed out, we're getting everything from indies to AAAs, we're getting games that are basically just vessels for stories and games that have no stories but are just fun. We're getting new IP as well as sequels and games based off other properties. We're getting tweaks on existing formulas and entirely new concepts. It doesn't matter what you're looking for, there are games out there for you.

And if there's a game or a monetization model or a developer you don't like, you can completely ignore them. You can never touch another EA or Ubisoft or Activision game in your life from here until the end of time and still not find time to play all the games. So yeah, Gaming is good. It has a special place in my heart, and I've never been more excited to see what the future holds.

Then again, I played the Elden Ring Network Test and after seeing that, I know it's gonna be great. Like, they mixed in all the best parts from ALL the previous Fromsoft Games! It's gonna be- Splodes

My Console Library:

PS5, Switch, XSX

PS4, PS3, PS2, PS1, WiiU, Wii, GCN, N64 SNES, XBO, 360

3DS, DS, GBA, Vita, PSP, Android