So lets get started.
10. Legend of Mana.
Year released: 2000.
Genre: Multiplayer co-op action RPG, Epic, pick your own adventure story.
platform: Sony PlayStation (the original), PlayStation 3 (downloadable title).
Everyone remembers "Secret of Mana." You know, that awesome Super Nintendo game that had multi-player co-op a full decade before Mass Effect 3? But I doubt that anyone really remembers its awesome sequel. Legend of Mana had just about everything that Secret of Mana had, but its big innovation was that you, the player, could shape the world. Literally. As you progress through the game and complete quests you will find artifacts that, once you place them on a spot on the map, will become new locations and towns for you to enter and explore and find new stuff to do. Another cool feature are the various workshops and farms that you can unlock that allows you raise pets and create Golems to take with you on your adventures, make your own customization equipment and magic instruments that you use to cast spells, and even farm fruit from the sentient tree growing in your back yard. The co-op aspect of the game works like this: the second player can either take control of one your pet or Golem, one of the many side kicks that you encounter as you progress or, if the second player has memory card with a Legend of Mana file on it, your buddy can bring in their character into your game and play through the story. Speaking of story, this is where Legend really differs from its more famous predecessor. Where Secret of Mana was a traditional straightforward linear plot, Legend of Mana is a non-linear "pick your own adventure" kind of plot. Legend of Mana's premise is that the world was destroyed in a cataclysmic event when the Mana Tree (the source of magic in the games universe) and the Goddess of Mana became "rotten with evil" and disappeared from the world. And now a young man (or young woman) are on a self-appointed quest to find and cleanse the Mana Tree and to show the Goddess what love is. Aside from that premise, the game doesn't really have a central plot. Instead, it offers the player three story branches to follow, all of which are connected by the centeral theme of love. Not just romantic love, but also the love between family members, and the love between friends. Once the player has completed one of the story arches, then they are given the option to move on to the Mana Tree and untimely the end of the game. Each branch is self-contained and tells a complete tale that is both the point and pretty compelling. Sadly its not possible to complete all 3 story arcs in one play through (the most I've completed in one sitting is two), but the game does have a New Game+ feature that lets you bring your equipment and your stats into a new game. The graphics and music are also worth mentioning. Both are just damn beautiful. The characters are all 2d sprites and the back grounds have this hand painted look to them, giving a surreal and fantasy atmosphere that you don't see in a lot of games today. And Yoko Shimomura's incredible score just adds to the mood and makes you feel like your entering a dream world, like these two examples from the title screen:
Now as much as I hate to say it, Legend of Mana is begging for a remake. Not because it would look pretty in HD (and it would BTW) but because its co-op aspect would be incredible if it went online capabilities. So come on SquareEnix, do it!
9. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.
Year released: 2010.
Genre: hack and slash, action/adventure, epic, Gothic horror, redemption story.
platform: Playstaion 3 and Xbox 360.
Weather it be the straight forward running and jumping on platforms of the NES and SNES era or the 'Metriod exploration' style of 'Symphony of The Night', the gameplay of the Castlevania series has always been solid. And that's still true with Lords of Shadow, the difference being that Lords of Shadow drops the Metriod style and ops for a modern 'God of War' style of gameplay. So for it loses points for a lack of originality in that regard. But where Lords of Shadow really shines, is the plot. Until this game rebooted the franchise, the overarching plot of the series (a family of vampire hunters known as the Belmonts in an eternal blood feud with an all powerful supervillianized Count Dracula) had become so convoluted and idiotic that it stopped making sense even if you applied comic book logic. So after almost three damn decades of idiocy, Konami (the company that makes all these games), finally pulled the plug on the original series and decided to start fresh with Lords of Shadow. Anyway, Lords of Shadow takes place in Medieval Europe. The story revolves around Gabriel Belmont, a member of a military organization known as the Brotherhood of Light, on a quest to drive back the evil that has griped the world by finding the pieces of a holy artifact called the "God Mask," a mask said to posses the power of God. But Gabriel has his own personal reasons for seeking the mask out, he wants to bring his murdered wife, Maria, back from the dead. The story is heavy with Christian imagery, undertones and themes such as damnation and redemption. But unlike the original series, these elements serve an actual purpose to the story and are not there just to be cool.
The last thing I should mention here are the antagonist: Two of the three Lords of Shadow are Cornell Lord of the Lycans (Werewolves) and Camilla Lord of Vampires. But these aren't the sparkling, sissy, sexually charged Vampires and Werewolves of a young girl's Twilight fueled fantasy. Hell no. These are ugly 'kill you and eat your corpse' monsters. These are Vampires and Werewolves are supposed to be, predators. It might not seem like much: but in this day and age where writers like Stephanie Meyer made it so Vampires and Werewolves can't be taken seriously, Castlevania has the guts to give them there (metaphorical) dignity back. Oddly though Count Dracula, the series' main villain for more than three decades, is no where to be found in this game....or is he?
8. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Year released: 2011.
Genre: open ended, first person role-playing game, epic fantasy.
Platform: PC, Playstaion 3 and Xbox 360.
The first Elder Scrolls game I played was part 4, Oblivion, on the PS3....and I did not like it at first. Why? Because I thought it was boring as hell. The plot was generic, the characters were more dull and wooden than a floorboard, the combat was stiff and pathetic, the level up system was frustrating, the people looked like someone had brought barbie dolls to life, the environments looked like cardboard, hell half the time I just wandered around and hoped that something to do would plop down in front of me. The only thing the game had going for it was its massive immersion factor, which was on scale that I hadn't encountered before. Little did I realize though, that the best was yet to come. And thus leads us to Skyrim. While like its predecessor the plot is pretty weak, an evil Dragon god coming back after thousands of years and reviving its kind to take over/destroy the world and its up to you to stop them, and the characters are only slightly more interesting than the last game, Skyrim still managed to knock the ball out of the damn park. The gone is stiffness of Oblivion and in are smooth controls that use a dual combat system in where each hand is controlled by the shoulder buttons. This makes combat a lot more flexible and interesting because it allows for more customization. For example: you can either wield two weapons at once, or a weapon and a magic spell or two spells at once. the possibilities are endless. The tundra environments are massive, diverse and look absolutely beautiful, and they are populated by a more diverse fauna than Oblivion that includes tribal giants, mammoths, saber tooth cats, Walruses, Direwolves (called ice wolves in-game) and your run of the mill fantasy monsters like Trolls. And there are also tons more side quests than there were in Oblivion, and you're always running into one so you never have to worry about running out of stuff to do. And that leads us to the Dragons. Yes, Dragons are one of the regular enemies and you need to kill them to unlock more spells. The encounters happen at random, so you never know when you have a Dragon stalking you until you hear them roar and they plop down in front of you. The Dragon fights are like mini-boss fights and there are many different kinds: some dragons breath fire, others have ice breath, others just beat you down with their ridiculous loud voice. I never get tired of fighting one. Honestly if it wasn't for the weakness of the plot and the underdeveloped characters, this game would have been much higher on the list.
7. The Wheel of Time.
Year released: 1999.
Genre: First Person Shooter. Epic fantasy.
I couldn't resist putting this on the list. The game based on Robert Jordan's extraordinary book series of the same name, which I will remind you all is one of my favorite fantasy series of all time. But anyway, the game isn't based on anyone of the books, so you won't find any familiar characters playing a role in the story, except for Ishamael, and granted that the game isn't considered Wheel of Time cannon because of certain continuity issues, but it hardly matters, because this game is still great. The plot takes place sometime before the events books (when exactly is never explain) and centers around an Aes Sedai named Elayna who is chasing down a nameless dark friend who broke into the White Tower and murdered some Aes Sedai while trying to find the seals to the Dark One's prison. But the story soon changes into a race against time to stop the Black Ajah, Aes Sedai that serve the forces of Evil, and the Forsaken Ishamael from freeing the Dark One. Pretty straight forward stuff. The game uses familiar locations from the novels for its levels, like the cursed ruined city of Shadar Logoth, The White Tower, The Mountains of Mist and other locals.
By now some of you are asking "wait, you said this was a first person shooter. How can it be that when you're playing as some one who can use magic?" The answer is that apparently Elayna can't channel the One Power (use magic) more than a trickle, so in place of guns of bows and arrows or whatever, the game has you collecting Ter'angreal, items that use the One Power to preform a certain function. In place of ammo, the Ter'angreal get used up every time you use it and you have to keep collecting more to keep your stock in place. The game incorporates light RPG elements in the sense that some of these Ter'angreal can be upgraded to fire more powerful shots at the enemy or do different things entirely. The game is also different from many other shooters at the time because it forces you to be strategical and also has a higher focus on problem solving, there is even one level in the game that's just one big puzzle.
If you're familiar with the books then you've probably already picked up on the continuity issues I mentioned earlier. Ter'angreal don't disappear after you use them for one thing, and Elayna wouldn't never be allowed to become an Aes Sedai if she can't channel without Ter'Angreal. What's more you can actually kill Ishamael with Balefire, the most deadly spell in the Wheel of Time cannon which erases whatever it touches from existence, effectively erasing the events of the book series from history. But like I said, it hardly matters because this game is still a blast to play. Sadly, although the game was a critical success when it came out, it had the unfortunate luck to be released along side the newest releases (as of 1999 obviously) in the much more popular Unreal and Quake series and was quickly forgotten. Until now that is.
6. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3. AKA Persona 3 FES AKA P3P (Persona 3 portable).
Year released: 2007.
Genre: Role playing game, life simulation, supernatural fantasy, urban fantasy, psychological thriller.
Platforms: Playstaion 2, Sony PSP and Playstion 3 (downloadable title).
In Japan, there are three Role playing game franchises that are considered the best of the best: The Final Fantasy series, The Dragon Quest series, and The Shin Megami Tensei (often abbreviated as SMT) metaseries. In America, latter is mostly known only to hardcore gamer. The most recognizable title in the SMT brand being the "Persona" series. Persona 3, along with its squeal, is considered to be the best of the bunch. But I can only ethnically talk about games I've played before so that's why part three makes the list. Anyway, the basic premise of Persona 3's plot revolves around a group modern Japanese high school students in the fictional city of Iwatodai who are part of a secret club called SEES (short for "Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad"). Their mission? To uncover, and ultimately stop, the secret behind the The Dark Hour, a supernatural hour of the day, just after midnight, when the people of the world turn into coffins and strange supernatural creatures called "Shadows" come out and prey on humans. If you're wondering why high school kids are doing this and not, say, the army, well its because not just anyone can enter the Dark Hour, and the next morning when the world goes back to normal, regular humans don't remember the Dark Hour at all. What makes these high school children so special? The very thing that makes them able to fight the Shadows; their "Personas," physical personifications of the characters' subconscious mind that they can summon and use in battle. How can they summon them? Watch:
Pretty messed up stuff huh? Game play wise, Persona 3 has the traditional elements of an RPG but mixed with life simulation game elements. The latter comes into play during the day time, in where the Protagonist and the other central characters lead pretty much a normal life of school, homework, friends, relationships and after school clubs. Why is this important? Because it adds to immersion factor, yes, but more importantly it affects your ability to create more powerful Persona's. Each NPC character that the Protagonist can befriend or woo or whatever belongs to a certain Arcana, the category to which your Persona's fall under, and as the Protagonist's friendships grow closer, the Arcana becomes stronger and that in turn will allow you make more Personas. Besides which, each relationship plays out like a little sub-plot that further develops the Protagonist and the NPC involved as characters. The School, homework, school clubs aspect and other normal life aspects of the game do this too but they also serve another function, to increase stats such as Bravery, Charm and Intelligence. These stats open up more dialogue options and also opens up the chance to establish more friends and relationships. In other words, this is one of the few games I can think of that actually involves REAL role playing, as in psychological role playing, and not just the D&D kind.
Speaking of which, most of the turn based combat, exploration, and treasure hunting all take place at night in a tower called Tartarus, which is basically your high school transformed into a tower that would make Salvador Dali drool with envy and is filled with monsters. Said monsters also drop new Persona's which the player can then combine to create new, more powerful Personas and so on. So obviously time management is a huge part of the game. Also in the Original and FES versions of the game you only have direct control over the main character while the computer controls the rest. Thankfully the AI is intelligent enough to change tactics as you discover more about the enemy. My only complaint about this game is its length. Seriously, at the time of writing this, I've poured almost 150-200 hours in total play time and there is still no end in sight, and that doesn't include doing optional stuff, that just the main story. And no I'm not exaggerating it really is that long. The last thing I should mention is that this game has be remastered and remade multiple times. Once on the PlayStation 2 (the FES version) and once on the PSP (the P3P version). All three versions are basically the same game, but with added stuff into them such as new Persona's, people you can befriend and relationships you can start and an epilogue. While the PSP version adds features from the FES versions, and has the option of playing as a girl and experiencing the story in a new way. If you can find any version of this gem, then get it.
5. Chrono Series.
Games in the Series: Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross.
Year released (first game): 1995.
Genre: RPG, time travel, dimension hopping, future history, alien evil, environmentalism, philosophical, man vs machine, life and death.
platforms: Super Nintendo, Sony PlayStation (the original), Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii (Trigger only, downloadable), Iphone and Android devices (Trigger only), and PlayStation 3 (both games, downloadable).
Not only two of the best fantasy games, but two of the best games in history. The Chrono series is a story about Time Travel and the consequences of changing history. Here is the gist of the two games: A long time ago, in the game world's prehistoric past, Lavos, a parasitic alien creature, crash into Earth like a meteor and started to feed off the planet's natural energy (magic basically) like a tick sucking blood. For over a thousand years it lay silent underground, feeding and gathering energy, hidden from the eyes of humans until the year 1999 when it awoke, came to the surface and reduced the world to cinders before taking to the stars again. A group of three youths from the year 1000 inadvertently discover this future history and, unwilling to leave the earth to its fate, decide to save the future, battling across time itself and literally changing history. But the defeat of Lavos has unintended consequences, namely the creation of an alternate timeline/universe and that in turn creates paradoxes that will still doom the world (both worlds) to destruction at Lavos hand.
And if I try to explain anymore my head will explode. Its not that the Chrono series' plot is confusing per-say. Its more like the creation of an alternate universe and the paradoxes that resulted from the destruction from Lavos in the first game make it so that the two games don't match up seamlessly, creating inconsistencies that are understood, but never really explained (at least not very well) and that can be really confusing unless you pay attention and that's what keep this series from rising higher. But what really makes the plot work are the characters, Trigger's main characters come from all over game's timeline and are as fully rounded as they come. I just love their personalities, the three who discovered the fate of the world (named Crono, Lucca and Marle respectively) are joined by the medieval anthropomorphic amphibian swordsman Frog, the fierce cave woman chief Ayla, the fighting robot from the future Robo, and finally the powerful yet vengeful sorcerer (and Frog's arch enemy) Magus. Crono is a mute protagonist for the player to shape (for the most part), Lucca is a nerdy, peppy mechanical genius whose more comfortable with machines than people, and Marle is a naive princess with family issues. Each character becomes develops as a characters as the story progresses, Lucca comes out of her shell with the help of Robo, Robo learns the dangers of cold hard logic and conformity, Marle learns what it means to have family by your side, Frog learns to forgive himself and Magus for the death of his best friend (and turning him into a frog), Alya becomes a stronger leader for her fellow cavemen because of her travels with the others, and Magus...well, Magus gets his vengeance on Lavos for destroying his family and learns that you need help sometimes.
I love the cast of Chrono Cross too. The main characters, the protagonist Serge is more or less the same kind of character Crono in the sense that he's mute and he's your's to shape (for the most part) and the firey thief Kid is on a treasure hunt and is also out for revenge against the villains, an anthropomorphic Lynx named, well, Lynx and his playful human companion, the harlequin Harle. Along the way Serge and Kid are joined by....look, Chrono Cross has a total of 45 main characters/party members that span both the game's universes and I don't have time to write blurbs about all of them, just take my word for it when I say that they are all diverse and fully rounded complete characters ok? ok. Anyway, the game play of both games is at the most basic level your average turn based RPG...just on steroids. Chrono Triggers battle system was similar to the Final Fantasy games at the time, particularly Final Fantasy 4 and 6. But what made it interesting was the inclusion of double and triple tech attacks.which as the name implies, two or three party members would combine there abilities for preform devastating attacks when certain conditions were met. This feature would carry over into Chrono Cross as well, but Cross redefine the battle system by throwing out most of the Final Fantasy mechanics and replacing them with other things like an element table for each character (where spells, items and tech attacks were equipped) and a stamina meter which determines how many times a character could attack per-turn and that in turn raised the strength of the element the player could use during battle. The music for both games is just incredible. Everything about these games is.
But you know what sucks, Squaresoft/Squareenix has always kinda treated the fans of the Chrono series like total garbage. Even though Chrono Trigger was a financial and critical success when it came out in 1995, they had us wait nearly a damn decade before they gave into the fans demands and finally made and released Chrono Cross in the year 2000. Cross was also a massive hit and it was announced that a third game was in development with the working title of 'Chrono Break'. But the game never made it past the planning stages, because the game was canceled before it could enter into development. No reason was ever given, and the vocal demands for a third game have gone unanswered to this very day. With the exception of the occasional quick cash grab re-release, Square pretty much acts like this series doesn't exist. And that's just sad.
4. Shadow of the Colossus.
Year released: 2005.
Genre: action/adventure, puzzle game, epic fantasy, love story.
Platform: PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3.
Sure, it takes the minimalist approach to story, but that only works in its favor. In this game, you take control of a nameless wander as he enters a vast forbidden land in search of a way to revive his one true love. To do this, he is told by a disembodied voice, he must hunt down and kill 16 Colossi. Once done, the voice will give him what he wants. Armed with a magic sword, his trust bow and his faithful (if not terribly bright) steed, he sets out to do the deed. The game offers very little information about this character or why he is willing to risk life and limb to revive his dead girl friend, and there is hardly any obvious story progression, aside from killing the Colossi, until towards the end. But surprisingly it works because as you play through the game you you start realize just how far he is willing to go to save his one true love and sympathize with his character. Its simple, but beautiful. As far as gameplay goes, your put into this vast world to explore but the're aren't any regular enemies in to kill besides the Colossi themselves, for half the game your trying to find your way to the next Colossi. So in that sense, Shadow of the Colossus is basically one boss fight after another. And that when the game starts to get really interesting. Put simply, each Colossi is a puzzle to find the things weak spot, so that means you gotta get the monsters attention, climb up on it, and then stab it with your sword. And that's assuming that the weak spot doesn't move to another spot. Roger Ebert famously said that video games can't be art, a statement he later retracted when he finally admitted that he had only ever played one video game in his life and didn't know what he was talking about. But in that same confession, he also said that there was one video game that he saw which he felt came close to being a work of art....guess which one. That's right, Shadow of the Colossus.
3. Lost Odyssey.
Year released: 2008.
Genre: Role playing game, Steam punk, epic fantasy, environmentalism.
Platform: Xbox 360.
The true successor to Final Fantasy's mighty legacy and arguably one of the best things that Hironobu Sakaguchi (the creator of Final Fantasy oddly enough) ever made. Lost Odyssey centers around Kaim, an immortal solider who has lived for a thousand years with no memory of his past or why he is immortal. The setting of the game is a fantasy world that is on the brink of a "Magical-industrial revolution." Which, as the name implies, is an industrial revolution powered by magic energy. The thing is that, while magic energy was always in the world, it was never present enough to power such scientific, cultural and societal change before. So, after a devastating meteor crash is suspected to be linked with the increased amount of magical energy, Kaim and his friends, both mortal and immortal, are sent out to find out why this is happening. But this soon turns into a much more personal quest for Kaim as he rediscovers his past and starts to hunt down the man who is responsible for not only taking Kaim's and the other immortal characters memories and leaving them with a fate worse than death, but also poisoning the world with magical energy. Its a story archetype that's classic, and only gets better every time you play through it.
Lost Odyssey is also remembered for its game play. Not because it brought anything new or revolutionary to the RPG genre, because it didn't, but because it deliberately took an old school approach to gameplay and storytelling that was reminiscent of old school Final Fantasy games like Final Fantasy 7 and 10. This was the beginning of when western developed RPGs, like Mass Effect and Dragon Age, were starting to dominate the market and then comes a game like Lost Odyssey that proves that old school mechanics can and do still work and can compete with their western counterparts. As far as how you learn skills and spells and what have you, here how that works: Magic Spells you can find in the field or buy in shops. Learning skills and abilities on the other hand is a bit trickier. Mortal characters learn skills by leveling up, but Immortal characters like Kaim can learn skills by linking with a mortal character and learning the desired skill or ability as they gain experience points, or by equipping armor, weapons and accessory's. Combat itself is turned based, and if you've played any old school RPG then your gonna pick up on it right away, so there is not much to say on that. Oddly, the most compelling part about the game doesn't have anything to do with killing things or anything like that,but in text. The game has a pretty cool feature called "A Thousand years of Dreams" Basically as you play through the game and Kaim interacts with the world and its people, you unlock short stories that detail Kaim's back story and develops him as a character. Here one of example of it:
Its a pretty nifty Idea, I think and it also makes Kaim more compelling as a character without getting in the way of the main story. I hope that they bring it back if they decide to make more squeals.
2. The Legend of Zelda series.
noted games in the series: The Legend of Zelda, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.
Year Released (first game): 1986.
Genre: action/adventure, action role-playing game, swords and sorcery.
Platforms: Nintendo consoles.
Just like with Metroid and sci-fi themed games, you can't make a list about fantasy themed video games and not include The Legend of Zelda, it cannot be done, they are just too good. And with that said...oh who am I kidding, I couldn't pick my favorite Zelda game. Call me a fan boy, but I love them ALL. Let me put it to you all this way, while there were fantasy themed video games before, but Zelda was the first one that I remember to get it RIGHT! In other words, without Zelda, a whole lot of games on this list would not exist. Yeah, yeah, yeah they've all used some variation or another of the "Save the Princess" story motif and the timeline for the series has become so convoluted that its like trying to solve a jig-saw puzzle when all the pieces don't match. But you know what? It doesn't matter, Zelda still has a timeline and an over arching story that still manages to squeeze a compelling narrative out of 'Saving a Princess' with every entry. And as for the convoluted timeline, believe me I have seen much worse (in both story and continuity). Anyway, what makes Zelda so lasting, I think, is the game play. Sure every game in the series shares common game play elements (like exploring the world, gathering items, go through dungeons, solving puzzles and and what have you), but this is one of those cases where it doesn't matter what you do, its how you do it. Like for example: Wind Waker has this vast world for you to explore covered by a great Ocean and you can search for treasure on the ocean floor with a crane on your ship. Or in Majora's Mask, the world to to explore is this one town and its surrounding areas. Or in a Link to the Past you have two worlds to explore, a light and dark. I could go on but you get the idea. I don't have a single complaint with this series, so lets just get to number 1.
1. Final Fantasy VII.
Year released: 1997.
Genre: Role-playing game, epic fantasy, environmentalism, psychological, philosophical.
Platform: Sony PlayStation (the original), PC and PlayStation 3 (downloadable title).
Honestly, I could have filled this entire list with games from the Final Fantasy series, but that would've been way too easy. And normally I have a lot of debate with myself when I do stuff like this as to what to put at the top stop. But not this time. Final Fantasy 7 is, for me, not only the best fantasy themed video game of all time, but also the greatest over all game in history, hands down. Everything about this game is perfect. The story is wonderful (a monopolistic power corporation is literally sucking the life energy of the planet out of the earth and using it as a fuel and its up to the mercenary Cloud and his buddies, the eco-terrorist group Avalanche to stop them, but said corporation's threat is nothing compared to when Cloud's mysterious past catches up to him), the characters are great, the gameplay is perfect, the graphics for their time were incredible. THIS is the game the first influenced me to become a fantasy writer. I just can't do this game justice, you have to go play it for yourself. You'll be glad that you did.
well I'm glad that's out of me. talk to you guys later.