So it comes down to this. The top five.
Favorites change. For me, not constantly, but often. One game on this part of the list I never thought would surprise me as much as it did and reach this high up, either. But perhaps that's the last great variable when it comes to which games end up being your favorites: anticipation. I anticipated the likes of Kingdom Hearts 2 and The Last Story, for example. The improvement to the former is what won me over, while the latter game is no where near this list. Arguments can be made against the former and for the latter, but I won't get into that here. Meanwhile, games like Eternal Darkness, Tactics Ogre, and even Metroid Prime were either complete mysteries or I went in with a negative outlook. To come out loving the game after a blank slate or a poor idea is probably magnified exponentially.
I've always wanted to be surprised. To be wowed by a game I chose to invest money in. Especially one I chose to invest money in. A gift that turns into a favorite is one thing, but it pales (IMO) to gambling on a title you have no idea about. Or little idea about. As times change, the brick & mortar shopping experience is dying slowly. Purchasing a game now almost always entails upfront research to make sure the $60 spent is worth it. Ask yourself, when was the last time you walked into a store, saw a game you had no idea about, and just picked it up on a whim? This was as much a part of gaming to me growing up as playing the games themselves.
But enough dilly-dally. Let's see what obvious choices Browny has made for his top 5 games:
#5 - Persona 4
To make use of the opening quip, back in 2007 I was enjoying a trip to a shopping mall with my folks when I stroll into a Babbages (the precursor or contemporary to Gamestop). Sitting on their shelf was a game with a blue box and silhouttes on the cover. It was a copy of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3. This was a game I'd never heard of. A series I'd never heard of. And it was a brand new release just waiting to be picked up. And I had money in my wallet that was itching to be spent, so spend it I did. And I took the little game home with me.
It blew me away.
Then two years later, Atlus released the sequel. And I jumped at the game like there was no tomorrow. Much the same way Final Mix and IZJS improved upon their predecessors, Persona 4 did in regards to Persona 3. Everyone and their grandmother has probably played Persona 4 by now, so I won't waste any time detailing the game or what made it so great. But I have played this game several times from start to finish, and each time it has been an absolute delight. Even the Vita version.
There's really nothing more to Persona 4. It's a well-made game that I happened to play and love and will keep on loving for years to come.
#4 - Chrono Cross
Fun fact: I didn't play Chrono Trigger until several years ago. The exact date I couldn't say right now, but it was well into the Seventh Generation, and long after the game's initial release. This was always a hard game to track down for the SNES, and it would still be years before Square would rerelease the game on DS. But before I got a chance to, I was strolling through the same mall I would precisely one year later purchase Persona 3 from. And I walked into the same Babbages and saw a new copy of Chrono Cross on their shelf. A lucky find if ever there was one.
Chrono Cross was unorthodox. It played very different to any RPG I had played at the time, and was structured in such a way that I wasn't sure if the branching story paths were in any way consequential to the endgame. It was a learning process, to be sure, but it paid off in the end. The first time I beat Chrono Cross, it was a strange sense of completion. Almost like I had finished a gruesome trial. But despite that feeling, I wanted to try it again. I wanted to do it better this time. I wanted to pay attention to the world's nuances and characters' dialogue. There was something special tucked away in this game, and I had to see what it was for myself.
And so the more I played Chrono Cross, the more I became enamored with everything about the game. Nostalgia does play a big part in initial perceptions, and seeing as how I had none regarding the original Trigger, I was able to enjoy Cross in all its glory. Trigger might be the darling everyone showers with praise, but to me, Cross is the gem of the Fifth Generation. It is the greatest game to be released during that period of time, and I'm glad I was able to play it.
Honorable Mention - Super Mario Bros 3
A quick interlude before I move on to the top 3.
I've probably played more Super Mario World than Super Mario Bros 3, but this is the game that will always stay true to my heart from the franchise. Yes, RPG made the top 10, but sometimes a game doesn't need a definitive spot on some list to be amazing.
There's really nothing else to say about the game.
#3 - Xenoblade Chronicles
I've shared this story before: when Operation Rainfall was organized, of the three games on their list, The Last Story was my most wanted. I had tracked the game's progress through Sakaguchi's blog for years, and finally it would be in my possession. I had even stayed away from footage after the game's Japanese release to keep the surprise factor as high as possible. But to my dismay, Xenoblade Chronicles was to be the first game released as part of the operation. And following my revolting experience with Xenogears and Xenosaga alike, I was in no way hyped. But I bought the game anyway. Mostly due to positive word of mouth and a resolution to purchase every Rainfall game as thanks to Nintendo for releasing these three RPGs stateside.
And again, perhaps because of my zero expectations, the game blew me away.
This is what Final Fantasy XII should have been. As engaging as Kingdom Hearts, but with a measure of gameplay depth on par with or surpassing Final Fantasy XII. The world was seamless, vast, and almost entirely free to explore. Invisible walls didn't exist here; if you could see the place with your own eyes, chances were you could somehow reach it.
But it was more than that. It was all the little things. Quests that not only rewarded you handsomely, but were completed immediately and didn't require one more trek to the quest-giver. A gem-crafting system to further outfit your characters to fit your own playstyle. Every art had a use, every skill a benefit, and not a single playable character was dead weight. Any combination of party members resulted in minor to radical changes in your approach to combat. And no one party combination was better than the rest.
The story wasn't anything new, but it was something uncommon for the JRPG. It was a character-driven revenge plot, introduced just late enough into the onset of the game to make you sympathize with the protagonists. The voice acting, an aspect of games I tend to dread, sat well with me. The characters themselves were fun to listen to, and a joy to watch them interact.
It was just a game that hit all the right notes at a time when gaming was practically dead to me. If this had been the last game I'd ever played before quitting gaming cold turkey, I would never have looked back.
#2 - Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies
I'm the Dragon Quest guy here on Gamespot. I could be wrong, but I don't think there's anyone else quite a fan of the series as I. But did you know that I wasn't always this way?
While the original game was one of my oldest and most cherished experiences, the series in general was something I had largely ignored up until the summer DQIX was released. On a whim, really, I chose to invest in both DQIV and DQIX. And that's when I realized just how far the series had come. It had adopted the silly visual premise and crafted a juggernaut of a franchise that I felt ashamed to have ignored for so long.
DQIX is an addiction. It's a game made up primarily of side content, and if that's not your thing this isn't the game for you. And normally, side content isn't my thing, either. But for reasons I could never explain it became my thing when I popped this baby into my DS. Much in the same way one spends hundreds of hours improving yourself in a MMO, I did that in DQIX solo. With every Slime killed, that was another point of EXP towards reaching my goal. What was the goal? I don't really know. That didn't matter. It was the journey that mattered.
Perhaps a time will come when this game won't be #2 on my list. Maybe it will get knocked off entirely. Maybe it will take the #1 slot. But for now, this is a game I can always go back to. I've clocked in over 300 hours, and there's still hundreds more for me to accomplish.
#1 - Final Fantasy IX
Final Fantasy VII was an experience unparalleled at the time I played it. It was the standard by which I assumed the gaming world judged all RPGs. And if VII was such a success, what was there to say about the others? I had sampled VIII prior to VII, so I didn't want to play that one next. X was on my radar, but I postponed buying it in favor of IX. Why? Because when I was younger (this was around 2002), my cousin picked up his own copy of Final Fantasy IX when it was brand new. So why not? Let's see what IX had to offer before X.
I could spend hours trying in vain to explain the sense of wonder and magic Final Fantasy IX relayed to me the first time I played it. Perhaps it was the comparison to the horribly poor translation found in VII, but every word spoken in this game seemed to ooze personality. The game world felt alive like no other I had ever experienced at the time. It was a fantasy setting like the one I had always imagined. Everything magical was almost mundane to the residents of Gaia, and that's what I wanted to feel. I wanted to be a part of this world, where magic was commonplace and so were talking anthropomorphic hippos. I wanted to be like Zidane, the charismatic womanizing thief. I wanted to fight side by side with Steiner, and cast powerful black magic like Vivi.
It was a light-hearted adventure that escalated at the perfect pace to a conflict to save the world. And best of all it was driven by the characters. Taken on its own, Final Fantasy IX's story is nothing the series or fiction in general hasn't seen before a hundred times. What makes this game is the wonderful cast of characters and the personal journeys they all go through. Granted, some more than others.
Final Fantasy IX is my favorite game of all time. I know it backwards and forwards, almost entirely by heart, and can sit down at any time to play it through start to finish and collect virtually everything in the process. And there's really nothing else to be said on the matter.
And to end this blog, I'll borrow a quote from my favorite movie of all time. Thank you for reading!
"Well. There it is." -Emperor Joseph II, Amadeus