Nobody's Top 100 Games of All Time: 10-1
What's the word for this part, again? If only I had a famous Swedish band to help me remember...
Yeah, that thing!
10. Mass Effect (BioWare/Microsoft, PC, 2007)
We're at the point on this list where every one of these games in some way changed what I thought games could do, so I'm not going to say that for all of them. That out of the way, Mass Effect changed what I thought games could do. It's the beginning of what is far and away my favorite fictional setting, and even at this early point the world building is astounding. You feel important in it, to be sure, but it's clearly a world that existed before you and could happily continue without you. Sure, the gameplay can get clunky, but I keep that on easy so it spends as little time in the way of what I'm actually playing the game to see. And if you're like me and think individually iconic moments elevate an entire game? ME is absolutely chock-full of those.
9. Persona 5 Royal (Atlus/SEGA, PS4, 2020)
Royal is here because I said every entry was the best version of that game, but it's the least essential of the three recent Persona upgrade editions. There are loads of QoL improvements and some fun new areas, but I didn't particularly care for the bonus month and there's nothing else huge. So this ranking at #9 really reflects the fact that base P5 is incredible. It's the best at nearly everything that this series has ever been, and, despite the ridiculous premise of stealing treasure from people's minds, it does that by being the most grounded. Almost everything in the game boils down to an issue with the way Japan's rigid structures reject anyone who doesn't fit and often leave little room to fight back against mistreatment from higher in the social hierarchy. Behind the flashy characters and over the top everything, it's a remarkably harsh criticism of modern Japan. And there's a great game to back it up.
8. Sid Meier's Civilziation VI (Firaxis/2K, PC, 2016)
Civ 6 is a fundamental break with earlier games in that the map matters so much more than it ever did previously. You needed to care about whether you were near resources or on the coast before, but now you've got to worry about sources of fresh water, adjacency bonuses for your district and placement criteria for your wonders, nearby natural wonders, distance to trade partners, and, possibly, what will flood if the ice caps melt. New policy options turn what you build in your cities, and where, into choices that matter across your whole civ, and religion and city state bonuses can matter globally. The core Civ experience is still there, but the individual choices and options you have in each game are so different that I'm still not tired of it despite playing 200 more hours of it since Kat got started in November.
7. Slay the Spire (Mega Crit Games, PC, 2019)
For me, the fun in a roguelite is going in with one strategy in mind and having to repeatedly adapt that as conditions change and the rewards inevitably aren't quite what I wanted. Slay the Spire does that better than anyone because its character builds are such different experiences from each other, to say nothing of the other characters. One run of Defect, shown above, but be built around spamming frost orbs to have an unbreakable wall of free defense, and another might use a tiny deck with a few Claws to quickly build up massive attacks. Some builds work much better than others, and some probably can't take on the final boss at all, but even failed runs are enjoyable.
6. Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors (Spike Chunsoft, DS, 2010)
999 follows 9 people trapped on a boat that will sink in 9 hours unless they can get through 9 doors and escape. You might see where the title comes from. The catch is that whoever put them all on the boat is also playing the game. Each door leads to what is effectively an escape room, and the puzzles have an odd way of building towards something thematically relevant. People have an odd way of dying, too. All of it gets under your skin. Did that comment mean something? How was that last ending even possible? I spent a lot more time thinking about 999 than I did actually playing it. It's dropped a little bit because I found out on replay that I'd made up a better ending in my head than what's actually there, but it's still #6, so clearly that didn't take too much away from it.
5. Mass Effect 3 (BioWare/Electronic Arts, PC, 2012)
Yeah, the ending sucks, and yes, Tali's face being a lazy photoshop of a stock photo sounds like a comedy plot. "You can't just glue blue lines on that picture and call it an alien, Patrick!" But looks past the last 30 minutes and everything else in ME3 is almost perfect. It gives (nearly) all of its characters a satisfying and meaningful conclusion, even the boring ones. It wraps up conflicts that started all the way back in ME1, and takes you to every planet anyone ever wanted to see. It's like watching a gynmastics routine that's inventing a need for an 11 score, but then it ends with a faceplant. So you know what I do? I edit the video to crop out the face plant and paste in the Citadel DLC, which sticks the landing. Does it have anything to do with the Reapers? Absolutely not! But honestly, I was never playing this series for them anyway. Mass Effect is about the characters, and 3 does them justice.
4. NieR: Automata (Platinum Games/Square Enix, PS4, 2017)
NieR: Automata is almost impossible to talk about with someone who hasn't played it. What kind of game is it? It's a Platinum-style character action game, except when it would rather be about 10 other genres instead. How long is it? You can reach one ending pretty quickly, but it's not really an ending, and you shouldn't stop there. What's it about? We do not have time to explain a plot that loops multiple times and gets into this many concepts here. If you'd told me everything this game tries to be before I played it, I'd tell you it could never work. You'd be crazy to even try. And yet, it does. It's somehow 10 different games at once, but they're all good and all contribute to a cohesive theme. The credits - not the credits scene, but the literal credits themselves - even manage to be part of it. It could never work as anything except a game, and it's brilliant.
3. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (CD Projekt Red, PC, 2015)
TW3 is what every open world game before and since was trying to be. Whatever you might want from the genre - interesting and meaningful sidequests, a great main plot, rewarding exploration, or even just beards - it's here. A rather bizarre number of games have decided to rip off the detective-y bits rather than the quality sidequests and characters, but even those were actually fun in this game. Then the DLCs added even more great stuff, like a fascinating genie character who's just playing corrupt-a-wish with the whole world and a region that's definitely not making fun of France where everyone is just a little too stuck up. Thankfully, the stunning success of TW3 did not lead to any overconfidence at CDPR and they delivered their next game without any issue. I'm talking about Gwent, of course. Cyberpunk is still a mess.
2. Zero Time Dilemma (Chunsoft, Vita, 2016)
ZTD did not help people who think this series is just Saw. As someone who has never seen any of those movies, it sure looks like Saw. But while it absolutely does get gruesome, that's really not the point. ZTD is really about taking everything you know after the twists of 999 and VLR (gee, I wonder what #1 is) and showing you can still have the same sense of mystery even with all the new rules out in the open. It's most brilliant decision, which I admit I thought was a horrible idea at first, is to have you experience each scene in more or less whatever order you chose. Some still have to be unlocked, but for the most part you can just grab a scene at random and play it without knowing when or where it happened. But the characters don't know that either - they're losing their memories after every segment. Even though it isn't quite my favorite of the series, it's certainly the most unique, and leaves you to piece together a mystery without even a vague understanding of the sequence of events.
1. Virtue's Last Reward (Chunsoft, Vita, 2012)
Of course it's VLR. Even considering the other ZE games, nothing else has ever grabbed my attention as completely as this did. I replayed it two years ago knowing exactly what happens and still spent the last six hours glued to the screen. The trick, it turns out, is to take everything that was good about 999 and change the progression so that you can only advance as far in one ending as it takes to get to an important plot point. Then you hit a lock and can't come back until you've learned something important. It doesn't matter how much of a cliffhanger it stopped on, you're not going to resolve it until you've played other branches and have five other cliffhangers weighing on you. And yet, for all its mysteries, it's hitting you over the head with the answer at every opportunity and even has the solution spelled out in two anagrams you find right away. It has crazy ridiculous twists that blew me away, but I absolutely had the tools to solve each of them before the reveal. Even when I didn't, though, it felt rewarding to have spent that much time thinking of a solution. Maybe I was right about something else or at least came up with an idea for another lock. It doesn't really matter. VLR isn't quite perfect - no game could ever be as ambitious and not make mistakes - but there's never been much doubt that it's my #1. Replaying it only reinforced that, and I have no doubt that I'll find even more little hints and thematic ties on a third play that'll make me appreciate it even more.