Josh’s Games of the Generation
As the seventh console generation edges beneath the horizon, I can’t help but not be terribly sad to see it go. The proliferation of consumer-unfriendly practices like on-disc DLC, online passes (good riddance!) and microtransactions (amongst others), twisted me into a cynical, wearied version of my younger, unconditionally game-loving self. Because of all this, the PS3/360/Wii generation sits joylessly as my least favorite since I original picked up a Famicom controller in 1983.
Still, some bright spots managed to shine through the gloomy pall. Indie games truly took off last gen, with titles like Hotline Miami and Super Meat Boy taking risks that games from most big publishers can’t. Other tiny developer teams also created gems to delight fans of just about every genre imaginable. On top of that, publishers like Sony, Nintendo and Sega managed to get through the generation without being totally evil, and companies like Atlus, NIS and XSEED did yeoman’s work bringing niche Japanese titles to western markets.
When originally brainstorming my top five games of the generation, I realized that it wasn’t such a hard task. Sure, there were many games that I liked, even loved, but not many that I felt I would remember for the rest of my life as “game-changers” or all-time bests. That said, the five I’ve chosen here are all incredible, each one providing me with some of the best time spent playing videogames all gen.
So, without further ado, here are my Games of the Generation:
5) Yakuza 3
I first played Yakuza 3 when I was living Japan. It was my first Yakuza game, so i wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I trekked over to the local WonderGoo to pick up a copy. Quickly after starting my adventure as Kazuma Kiryu, I knew I was in for a treat.
The beauty of Yakuza 3 is, somehow, the developers managed to create an experience perfect for the mature, core gamer. Somehow they managed to mesh realistic, adult-oriented yakuza crime drama with over-the-top Dynamite Cop-meets three-dimensional Streets of Rage-style gameplay. The game is insane. One minute you are in a love hotel, suplexing a rival crime boss into a heart-shaped table, the next, you are sleuthing about for clues to local tea shop murder.
The Japanese version of Yakuza 3 (known as Ryu ga Gotoku 3) has a special place in my heart as the first game I platinumed on PS3, and in the process of doing so I saw most of what the game had to offer, and that was an absolute ton. Batting cages, dates with hostess girls, golf, karaoke, underground fighting tournaments, billiards, arcade games, the list goes on and on. If you want to waste time in a world that just so happens to offer the most realistic depiction of Japan ever in a videogame, Yakuza 3 is the perfect outlet to do so.
It must be noted that the sequel, Yakuza 4, has also been released on the west and is awesome in its own right (and much less censored), but 3 had more of a lasting impact on me, hence its inclusion on this list.
4) The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
What Games of the Generation list could be completed without this lovely game, right? I don’t know of anyone who has played this and hasn’t appreciated at least some of what Bethesda managed to do with this latest entry in the Elder Scrolls series. Even those who never got into the game usually admit that the province of Skyrim is one of the most expansive and beautifully realized fantasy environments ever featured in a videogame.
I do have some minor nitpicks about Skyrim: the sameness of some of the dungeons, a middling story, various bugs in the console versions, but, overall, it is one of the better games in a series that is one of my favorites in all of gaming (Morrowind still ranks as my favorite).
I will always remember the first time I stepped out of the spider-filled underground passage following the tutorial – the wide open expanse, white capped mountains, fluttering butterflies and bits of cloud that seemed to catch on the peaks and drift there lazily – it all just seemed so, well, perfect. Bethesda are the one company I can always count on to create game worlds that I just love losing myself in, and Skyrim is no exception.
3) Street Fighter IV
Ever since my SNES days with Street Fighter II, I’ve been sort of a softcore fighting game fan; I like to follow fighting game news, pick up new releases and beat up my friends, but I’ve never taken that next step to master a fight stick or stand toe-to-toe with experts. That said, it was very clear to me that before Street Fighter IV’s release in early 2009, the genre was waning. Niche titles were still there, but nothing big had come and really super-charged interest in the genre.
Good lord, did Street Fighter IV do just that. Fighting game purists jumped in. So did softcore fans like myself. Even people completely new to the genre took the plunge and, guess what, most of them had fun! Easy to jump in, hard to master – that was the goal of Yoshinori Ono and team, and they absolutely nailed it.
Now, it’s been four years since release and Ultra Street Fighter IV is on the horizon. Only time will tell if this next iteration will revitalize interest in the game, but the original’s lasting impact on the popularity of the genre is undeniable.
2) Monster Hunter Tri
Monster Hunter Tri is one of those games that you either love or hate. Obviously, with its inclusion here, you can guess what side of the fence I’m on. The aspect of the game that really turns off a lot of people, I believe, is the steep investment required for enjoyment.
That is to say, in this game, you really have to work hard to do well. Fighting the game’s titular beasties takes preparation, patience and skill, but the payoff is all the sweeter because of that. There are times when I’m out gathering materials for potions, assigning my felyne farmers to various agricultural tasks or sifting through menus trying to figure out the best gear to use for an upcoming hunt, and I’m not really having fun. But, I know that what I’m doing is important, and I know that if I’m engaged in a hunt and not totally prepared, I can get destroyed.
So I plan. I harvest. I craft. Then, I hunt. And, boy, is that worth wait. Whether you are using the great hammer, dual blades, bowgun or any of the other weapons, the combat is immediate, tactile and unforgiving. You have to weave a dance of death with the monster you are fighting, creating a constant stream of actions and reactions that flow gloriously until either the creature goes down (after which you carve pieces of its body, later used to craft new armor and weapons) or you do. Add three more hunters to the fray and the potential for additional monsters to interrupt a hunt in progress and you have one of the best gameplay experiences of the entire generation.
1) Dark Souls
What really needs to be said? This is Dark Souls – a game that wants to crush, devour, burn, impale and flay you at every turn. Yet we persevere on. Why do we do it? Haven’t there been many difficult games in the past that simply illicit frustration and dismissal from the gaming community? Certainly, but where Dark Souls gets it right is in the balance. You always feel like you’ve learned enough from your death to get a little further. “I should have been more careful,” you tell yourself. “I should have known that would happen.”
And gamers did continue to make it further. They made it through Blighttown. They made it through Sen’s Fortress. They even made it through the Tomb of Giants. But, not without help. Sometimes it’s a timely message scrawled on the ground, warning adventurers of potential pitfalls (or pointing out “items” of interest – Amazing Chest Ahead!). Other times the help comes directly, by way of white phantoms – fleeting champions that assist against Dark Souls’ uncompromising enemies, as well as from soul-hungry red phantoms. There are even some who have conquered the vicious and unrelenting last boss, not once, but multiple times. Preposterous!
All told, Dark Souls is certainly one for the ages. It’s a dark, unforgiving action-RPG that manages to be the best game of the generation without having any hand-holding, tutorials or even a storyline to speak of. Absolutely glorious.
Other Notable Games
So there you have it – my top five games of the generation. There were a few others, though, that I feel I need to mention here. Mass Effect impressed with a plot and characters that eclipsed most movies nowadays. Batman: Arkham Asylum showed what an amazing superhero game could be like. Valkyria Chronicles married gorgeous, anime-style visuals with brilliant, third-person-shooter-meets-turn-based-strategy gameplay. And, finally, Demon’s Souls crushed my soul first and opened the door for the best game of the generation.