Welcome to part 9 of a brand new mega list for CelJaded’s Top 100 Best Video Games. This ninth post features entries #20 to #11.

Be sure to read the introduction that I put together beforehand too as it gives a more detailed introduction on what I’m trying to achieve here as well as a few other random musings that you may find insightful.

If you’re looking for another post in this same series then consider visiting the associated index which includes a readout of all published entries and the posts in which they appear.

Translation: two per cent probability that the miniature organic is simply looking for trouble and needs to be blasted. That may be wishful thinking on my part, master.”


 

#20 – Toy Commander

Principal Platforms: Dreamcast | Developer: No Cliché | Publisher: Sega | Genre: Action | Year: 1999

Toy Commander

When Sega officially exited the hardware market in 2001, many of the Dreamcast‘s best games were re-purposed for release on competing platforms.

Exclusive titles such as Crazy Taxi, Resident Evil Code: Veronica and Sonic Adventure all found a home on other consoles and as it stands now, there’s much of the Dreamcast‘s library you can enjoy without even owning the machine itself.

Toy Commander however is one of the few essential Dreamcast games that remains an exclusive to this day; a dubious honour likely brought on by a lukewarm success at retail.

One thing that isn’t in doubt though, is that Toy Commander is a charming 3D action game with a little twist of originality that goes a long way.

Players take command of various toy vehicles from army tanks, spitfire planes and command Jeeps as they traverse colourful household locales in the pursuit of mission objectives. Each stage takes place in a certain area of the house (bedroom, basement, attic etc.) and features several missions that must be beaten before advancing onto the next.

The key strength of the game lies in the diverse set of objectives for each stage as not every one is a simple case of blasting enemies that appear on-screen. One mission might see you bundling a Ken doll into a taxi and then navigating a maze of traps to deliver him to his Barbie. Another sees you bombarding a moving assault train from the air and one early stand-out example has you defending a toy city from a rampaging plushy that looks like a cross between Godzilla and Roger Rabbit!

The levels have a puzzle-like quality to them as each one has a best solution and part of the fun is experimenting with your arsenal of toys and finding an approach with a high success rate. They’ll be a lot of experimentation required too as despite looking overly kid-friendly, Toy Commander is a challenging game with missions and par times that can certainly frustrate. Fortunately you’re not required to complete every mission in order to see the end of the game, so if there is a level that’s giving you trouble, the option of simply bypassing it is present.

Toy Commander isn’t as outright spectacular as other action games, but the shoot ’em up mechanics are solid enough to hold their own. Projectile weaponry is suitably thematic too with tanks firing pencil missiles and planes dropping erasers and glue sticks in lieu of bombs.

Adding further value to the overall package is a multiplayer mode supporting up to four players. Deathmatch and team-based capture the flag modes are all present and correct as well as the option to fight across all of the unrestricted areas from the single player campaign. It’s a shame that there are no AI controlled bots available as it means that four players are really needed to enjoy this scenario to its fullest potential. The frame rate is very smooth though and the action is still good fun, so overall the multiplayer is a great inclusion that enhances the package just that little bit further.

If there’s one word I would use to sum up Toy Commander then it would be: solid. The graphics are simple but crisp and the game engine as a whole is remarkably robust and free from glitches. The soundtrack is limited but thematic enough and there are plenty of replay hours in here to make repeat plays well worthwhile.

It’s a real shame that obscure developer No Cliché never followed this game up with a full sequel (they did create an online minigame called Toy Racer for charity) as its original and generally violence-free gameplay makes for a refreshing change on a console loaded with arcade conversions.

Toy Commander is an overlooked gem of a game and one that I still get the itch to play even now.

 

#19 – Tomb Raider

Principal Platforms: PlayStation, Sega Saturn, PC | Developer: Core Design | Publisher: Eidos Interactive | Genre: Action, Adventure | Year: 1996

Tomb Raider (1996)

The polarizing opinions of Lara Croft and her unrealistic feminine proportions have persuaded some that the character is a bit of a joke, designed to excite teenage boys and thus demean women.

When you take a look at the wealth of sequels, comics, movies and action figures, that argument may indeed have weight, but before all of that began in earnest there was just this game; Tomb Raider.

Few titles manage to nail the trepidation of discovery into caves, ancient tombs and forgotten relics quite like Tomb Raider does. Indeed, the real star of the show here is not so much Lara as it is the fantastic level design.

Take the City of Vilcabamba with its looping tunnels and underwater grottoes, the ancient pyramids deep within Egypt or the labyrinthine nightmare that is St. Francis’ Folly. Despite its now rapidly ageing 3D engine, Tomb Raider manages to add such character to these locations with many set pieces designed to fill players with a giddy sense of both wonder and curiosity.

It’s important not to get too complacent admiring the view though because there’s always another trap nearby just waiting to catch you out. In true Indiana Jones fashion you’ll come across spikes, pits and rolling boulders; each one adding a certain authenticity to the concept of fantasy adventuring.

On the video game side of inspiration, Tomb Raider feels close to Jordan Mechner’s classic Prince of Persia; a connection that the creators openly admit to. Lara performs back flips, rolls and climbs ledges in a manner quite reminiscent of the titular prince, but not that’s not to say that she doesn’t bring her own set of moves and personality to the tasks at hand.

Proficient with wielding pistols, Uzis and even a shotgun, Lara feels very adept during combat against the various wolves, bears and Atlantean horrors that stand in her way. Her acrobatic ability lends itself extremely well to combat and it feels great to dance around enemies with huge leaps and quick direction-changing tumbles.

Tomb Raider is more about puzzle solving in the end though, and they’ll be many tricky switch and key based problems to solve before the end is in sight. With secrets to discover, traps to evade and relics to unite though, the story is constantly pulling you in to this web of intrigue and discovery.

Although the lovely pre-rendered cutscenes are a bit thin on the ground, Lara’s character is presented so very well in this game. A confident, self-assured and sometimes playful Lara is voiced beautifully by Shelley Blond here; a talented actress who effortlessly conveys the explorer’s confident attitude and strength with a pinch of cheerful playfulness that sounds so endearing compared to the more annoyingly cocky and cold-blooded Crofts that mire later entries in the series.

Continuing on the audio side of development is veteran Core composer Nathan McCree whose understated soundtrack adds the perfect ambient accompaniment to Lara’s adventure. McCree’s backing tracks, that trigger at specific points in-game, evoke a diverse range of emotions and feel extremely well tailored to what’s happening on screen.

An eerie chanting is heard when entering the legendary Tomb of Tihocan, a dramatic piano piece instils fear for when wolves attack in Peru and the spooky melody that pre-empts the discovery of a secret is as satisfying as it is curiously unsettling. All-in-all this is another sure-fire hit from McCree and one that has been crying out for a full release, complete with actual track names and liner notes, for many years now.

Whatever the world may think of the Lara Croft character today, the thing that really matters is just how good this original game was and still is.

Owing to its raw quality and broad appeal, Tomb Raider single-handedly brought the 32-bit era to the attention of the masses. And whilst not everyone will enjoy its noticeable learning curve, those that persist will find a complex and rewarding game that still delivers the goods nearly twenty years on.

 

#18 – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Principal Platforms: Nintendo 64 | Developer: Nintendo | Publisher: Nintendo | Genre: Action, Adventure | Year: 1998

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)

A common sight at #1 on many ‘best of’ lists, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is one of the most acclaimed and beloved titles in the history of video games.

Even with my relative disinterest in first-party Nintendo franchises, I can easily say that the overwhelming adulation and praise this game receives is well deserved.

Ocarina of Time is a game of pure quality then; playing and looking just as good now as it did more than fifteen years ago. Players take control of Link as he adventures across the magical land of Hyrule, starting off as a child before eventually growing into a man and a great hero.

The story isn’t anything profoundly original, but it’s effectively told and the varied environments you’ll see and charming characters you’ll meet all contribute to what is one sumptuous adventure. Despite being rendered in 64-bit, the land of Hyrule feels truly alive and the designs of the various temples and outdoor areas feel very evocative of the wondrous fantasy setting.

Aside from simply looking pretty though, Ocarina of Time introduces many gameplay innovations for a 3D adventure title that make controlling Link an effortless experience. The targeting system is fluid and accurate, the context-sensitive action commands are effective and the use of automatic jumping is an inspired touch that removes the likelihood of cheap or accidental deaths.

The camera system is one of the genre’s best too and the way it focuses to highlight nearby enemies gives you a heightened sense of control in tense situations; a feature that’s very important for a game of this style.

What makes the game so memorable, for me at least, is the wealth of side activities that you can discover as the story progresses. Whether it’s learning to play the ocarina instrument itself, indulging in a spot of fishing or racing Link’s trusty steed Epona across the green acres of Hyrule; there’s so much more to the game than simply delving into dungeons and fighting endless legions of minions. All of this is further enhanced by a wonderful soundtrack, plenty of hidden secrets and many hours of rewarding exploration.

It’s just a shame that there’s so much wandering around to be done. I know I speak for many when I say at least one of my Nintendo 64 analogue sticks was worn and broken by the sheer amount of travelling you do over the course of this game. Plenty of dungeon areas are overly confusing the first time you encounter them too (Water Temple anyone?) and it’s a shame that the final boss fight is such a lame conclusion to what is an otherwise gripping tale.

Even with those lesser points in mind though, this is a game of near-unparalleled quality and one that rightly deserves a reputation as the finest piece of video game software ever produced.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time may not be my favourite game that I’ve ever played, but it’s certainly one of the best.

 

#17 – Gunstar Heroes

Principal Platforms: Mega Drive | Developer: Treasure | Publisher: Sega | Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up | Year: 1993

Gunstar Heroes (Sega Mega Drive)

As debuts go, it’s hard to get much better than Gunstar Heroes; the very first in a long line of critically praised shoot ’em up extravaganzas from the masters at Treasure.

Harnessing the full undiluted power of the Mega Drive to produce amazing 2D and 3D spectacles, this is a game that manages to impress in a technical sense as well as a stylistic one.

Similar to Rocket Knight Adventures, this is another good example of a game designed to be more of a situation rush than a typical platformer. Each setpiece is drastically different from the one before it with each one offering a high-octane shoot ’em up spectacle that rarely fails to impress over five levels of intense action.

You start the game with a basic power-up for your hand cannon which has the capacity to produce ballistic, laser, homing or flame based attacks in a fixed or free shooting format depending on the character you selected. Collecting an additional power-up during a level will enhance and morph your attack based on the combination of modules you currently have installed.

If you possess two flame modules for example, your gun will produce a large flame with incredible destructive power but a limited range. Combine a laser module and a homing module and you’ll be treated to a lock-on laser that quickly roams the screen and tracks enemies for sustained damage. Very broken.

Discovering all the different pairs of power-up are key to finding an attack pattern that suits both your current situation and your preferred combat style. For such an inherently simple system, it offers a surprising amount enjoyment for curious players intent on abusing all the different combinations of firepower available.

The situations that the game drops you in are what make the game truly special however. Whether it’s the rapid vertical ascent towards an enemy helicarrier, the transforming boss fight in a high speed subway tunnel or the devious ‘dice maze’ level, Gunstar Heroes is constantly surprising you with unique and inventive challenges.

The relentless soundtrack, multi-segmented boss characters, fully supported 2 player mode and SNES-quality 3D scaling have all ensured the game’s legacy as one of the most technically impressive and outright entertaining Mega Drive titles ever released to market.

Gunstar Heroes is to video games what Revolutionary Road is to Richard Yates novels; a debut work of the highest order and one that deserves a place in any collection.

 

#16 – Shenmue II

Principal Platforms: Dreamcast, Xbox | Developer: AM2 | Publisher: Sega | Genre: RPG | Year: 2001

Shenmue II (Sega Dreamcast)

For many Dreamcast owners in 2001, Shenmue II was the perfect swansong to a dying console.

A triumph of adventure game design and presentation, Shenmue II outdoes the original game in almost every department and represents one of the finest home console releases since Ocarina of Time before it.

Featuring the best graphics ever seen on Dreamcast, this is Sega‘s Zelda; a game packing in more expansive environments, more character models and more texture detail than ever before.

Moving from the Japanese city of Yokosuka to many new locations based in Hong Kong, this sequel feels more like a journey than the first game did, with plenty of new sights, sounds and stories to be told along the way.

For those who completed the first game in the series, this sequel does an excellent job of taking you out of your comfort zone. From the moment he lands in the Aberdeen port of Hong Kong, protagonist Ryo Hazuki finds himself in desperate need of money, shelter and the clues that will lead him to his father’s killer. Much of the early game is spent acclimatising to this new environment and it’s vital to learn the new street layouts, where to find work and who might have answers when questions inevitably arise.

Although the story from Shenmue is continued in much the same way (asking people for information, fighting thugs etc.), there is a definite feel that you’re out of your element here. Your player character doesn’t know the locals this time around and there is a palpable tension in figuring out which new characters you can trust and which ones you cannot.

Controls are better as they now come with many new context-sensitive commands that make full use of the Dreamcast‘s face buttons to enhance that pick-up-and-play appeal that comes when exploring the bustling metropolis of inner city Hong Kong. Other refinements include much faster and smoother animation, first person controls when in confined indoor areas and improved scripts for NPC AI.

The audio work is a master class in its own right and it’s hugely impressive how AM2 has managed to fit so much music and so many voice tracks onto a GD-ROM. The Dreamcast version comes with its native Japanese voice track too which is a godsend for those who grew tired of the robotic (and often hilarious) English dub of both the original game and Xbox version of the sequel.

Between the more thematic voices and enhanced cinematography throughout, Shenmue II presents characters in a much more convincing light than before and the resulting level of tension, drama and humour delivered in each scene feels more realistic as a result.

If there’s anything negative to say than it’s that the first disc in this four GD-ROM adventure is somewhat slow on the pacing side (as you grasp new mechanics and explore the environment) with the plot not picking up fully until a disc later. In this sense it’s hard to imagine Shenmue II impressing anyone who disliked the original as the strongest parts of the game arguably lie beyond its slower (but no less excellent) opening chapter.

Shenmue II is a wonderful sequel and considering Sega‘s financial situation during the time of its release, I feel very thankful that this one made it out the door at all.

Although the cliffhanger ending eludes to a another game sometime in the future, as of 2015 that particular dream seems very distant indeed and I can’t help but wonder why the story wasn’t altered to accommodate such bleak chances of a third title ever getting made in the first place.

Nevertheless, this is a game with more quality graphics, replay hours and quintessential gaming ‘moments’ than a hundred titles of a similar ilk. Shenmue II is a heavenly send off and one that sent the Dreamcast console out in a blaze of glory.

 

#15 – Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

Principal Platforms: Xbox, PC | Developer: BioWare | Publisher: LucasArts | Genre: RPG | Year: 2003

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (Xbox)

I’m not a fountain of knowledge when it comes to the Star Wars franchise (Episode I was actually the first film in the series I ever saw), but after reading the first magazine preview for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, I could tell that this it was going to be one seriously good game.

My guess turned out to be right on the money as KOTOR became a runaway success that brought the wacky world of BioWare RPGs to a much larger audience.

Following the same basic formula as their previous game Neverwinter Nights, this is a role-playing game set in the Old Republic era of Star Wars fiction. BioWare were given an unprecedented opportunity to craft this key area of Star Wars lore as they saw fit and as such, KOTOR tells a meticulously crafted tale about the war between Jedi and the re-emerging threat of the Sith that suits the game’s setup perfectly.

KOTOR takes advantage of the powerful Xbox hardware to present crisp graphics, thematic environments and many lines of spoken dialogue. What really sets the game apart from the usually crappy Star Wars titles of the time though is the extreme level of authenticity present in every detail.

Fans will feel giddy after witnessing the dramatic lightsaber duels (complete with trademark activation sounds), the take-off sequence for the Ebon Hawk starship and the quizzical languages of the many alien species located throughout the galaxy.

The story is well paced, keenly illustrated and features some truly great swerves along the way too. All of this is underpinned by a morality system that governs every quest decision you make.

The conflict between your character’s light side and dark side is a pressing point in the narrative and it’s something that’s always in the background as you journey through the game. Many developers have since copied this idea of course (with the chief culprit being BioWare themselves oddly enough), but it never ends up feeling a suitable as it does in KOTOR.

The constant struggle to resist the dark side of The Force is a defining feature of Star Wars storytelling and BioWare have captured this element perfectly here. Quest decisions aren’t always rooted in a black and white decisions and many times you’ll have to decide between the lesser of two evils when resolving conflicts between your party and the outside world.

All of this is backed up by a game that plays beautifully with real-time combat freezing at the touch of the button (for those more tactical decisions) and sub-plots that develop alongside some truly unforgettable NPCs and locations.

BioWare have been trying to emulate the magic they scored with this game for years now and despite the common perception that Mass Effect succeeded in that effort, nothing for me has yet compared to this one stellar adventure set in a galaxy far, far away…

 

#14 – Dragon Force

Principal Platforms: Sega Saturn | Developer: J-Force, Sega | Publisher: Sega, Working Designs | Genre: Real-time Strategy, Simulation | Year: 1996

Dragon Force (Sega Saturn)

Only the fifth (and now final) Sega Saturn exclusive to grace this list, Dragon Force is one of the greatest titles that the 32-bit era ever produced.

In a setting not too dissimilar from A Game of Thrones, players select one of the eight empires to control as they march their troops across the continent of Legendra in an effort to unite the land under their ruler’s banner.

A remarkably original game in practice and execution, Dragon Force is played in three distinct phases.

During the administration phase you’ll assess the size of your forces, hand out promotions, assign equipment and reinforce the strength of your castles and fortifications. Named officers carry out their own duties too and you’ll want to ensure they do this in order to recruit new soldiers, locate valuable artefacts and get abreast of the latest rumours.

Play soon moves to the strategic phase where you’ll dispatch your units to the world map in an attempt to take territory from your enemies. When two units collide, the view moves to the tactical mode where you’ll see both forces facing off against each other.

Rendered through the use of deformed 2D sprites, this portion of the game may look a bit strange at first glance, but there’s no denying how impressive the battlefield looks when both sides have maxed their allocation of troops and over 200 little soldiers start maiming each other in melee and ranged-based combat.

Your chosen officer sits at the rear and here you’re able to alter your force’s formation and activate certain special abilities and spells that will alter the flow of battle. Choosing the right formation for the job is crucial as you want to damage the opposing officer as much as possible before she manages to escape or all troops on the battlefield are destroyed, resulting in a head-to-head duel between each officer.

All of this makes for a hugely tactical game as you’re put in control of everything; from the troop deployment and battle plans to the promotions and day-to-day concerns, Dragon Force simply has loads for you to do over the course of a game week.

The storyline itself isn’t anything to write home about, but the narrative is supported well by various cutscenes and special events unique to each faction. The replay potential in Dragon Force is truly off the charts as the eight different empires (two of them unlocked by beating the game once) each come with their own unique cinemas, alliances and starting positions on the map.

Not everything is perfect though. The story hits a few pacing snags once the land has been united and it has to be said that the one track battle music really gets repetitive after you’ve listened to it for the fiftieth time. There are a few balance concerns in the selection of units too with archers being particularly useless for some unknown reason.

In spite of these lesser points though, there are very few Saturn games, or 32-bit games of that matter, that offer the sort of incredible depth and lasting appeal that Dragon Force offers.

Truly superb.

 

#13 – WWF No Mercy

Principal Platforms: Nintendo 64 | Developer: Asmik Ace Entertainment, AKI Corporation | Publisher: THQ | Genre: Sports | Year: 2000

WWF No Mercy (Nintendo 64)

The last official wrestling game developed by AKI Corporation, WWF No Mercy is part of an exceptional pedigree of wrestling titles for the Nintendo 64. Whilst not as robust and painstaking in detail as Fire Pro Wrestling D, No Mercy is a lot easier to get into and new players will immediately enjoy its simpler controls and more appealing 3D spectacle.

Building on the success of previous titles, AKI perfects their trademark grappling system here and goes on to enhance the element that diehard wrestling fans pride above all else; resemblance to the actual product.

Although the 64-bit graphics look basic by today’s standards, No Mercy does it’s absolute best to bring you all of your favourite wrestlers from the 2000 era with as many authentic costumes, entrances and match stipulations as possible.

The move pool is deeper, the animation is smoother and the wealth of unlockables in the ‘Smackdown Mall’ add in many hours of repeat gameplay. Everything looks better in this game too. From the stylish menus, new backstage locations and sharper character models, you can tell how much effort has gone into delivering this rich wrestling experience.

The big feature that had every teenage wrestling fan in 2000 excited though was the new ladder match stipulation; a high-risk scenario where wrestlers can set up and abuse a working ladder for huge offence and some truly crazy falls. Not wanting to disappoint, AKI has squeezed out every last drop of the N64‘s processing power to make this mode playable with four simultaneous wrestlers in the ring at the same time; an incredible feat and one that’s very welcome for those fond of multiplayer game nights.

The improvements just keep coming. There are guest referee matches on offer, a breakable announcer’s table, persistent weaponry and a championship mode complete with many different storylines and special events. The single player survival mode, that pits you against a hundred other wrestlers in an over-the-top rope battle royal is also as addictive as it is merciless.

There are times when No Mercy seems too good to be true, but the sad fact is that there are so many areas in which this game could have been even better.

There’s quite a lot cut content from previous titles for one (full entrances, custom belts etc.) and if your Nintendo 64 doesn’t come armed with the expensive RAM cart expansion pack then you can also expect to see some noticeable slowdown in four player match-ups. Playing as a super heavyweight wrestler is also ill-advised because of the broken and all too random ‘lifting’ system and the rather limited character creation items, including a poor selection of masks and player portraits among others, hurts the game too.

Why the championship mode asks you to lose matches in order to diverge storylines is also a real mystery (why not use simple dialogue choices instead?). This is to say nothing of the on-again, off-again censoring of blood for the European release and a show-stopping bug present in the cartridge’s first printing that made the game unable to save data properly. Unforgivable, really.

Despite the game’s excellence, it really could have used a bit more polish to eliminate these problems and thus provide a leaner experience overall. If only the proposed sequel WWF Backlash could have been realised in time…

Ultimately though, WWF No Mercy cements AKI‘s reputation as developers of only the finest wrestling games. The key to success here is the same as ever, an approach where exceptional gameplay comes before anything else. The grappling on offer here is fluid, exciting and quite unlike any wrestling game made since; a quality offering that still draws favourable comparisons after fifteen years.

And you can take that to the bank!

 

#12 – Panzer Dragoon Orta

Principal Platforms: Xbox | Developer: Smilebit | Publisher: Sega | Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up | Year: 2002

Panzer Dragoon Orta (Xbox)

In 2002 Sega‘s flagship on-rails shooter Panzer Dragoon returned in style with a next-gen effort for Xbox called Panzer Dragoon Orta.

Once intended to be a Dreamcast exclusive, Panzer Dragoon Orta takes advantage of the Xbox hardware with many spectacular levels, tense boss battles and magnificent 60 FPS action.

Much like the 2D shooter Metal Slug 3 that I talked about before, Orta impresses through its original art style and location variety.

The first level is a tense escape from militant pursuers as rain falls and thunder roars in the background. Later stages take place in lush jungles filled with aggressive fauna, desert ruins guarded by ancient sentient constructs and even alongside the brow of a gigantic warship that must be systematically taken apart by destroying key systems. Everything feels inspired instead of derivative and the game has aged really well as a result.

New to the series are speed mechanics which allow your dragon to increase and decrease its flying velocity when confronted with pursuing enemies and you’ll have to make frequent use of this ability in order to line up shots with proper accuracy.

Your laser beams, plasma rounds and berserk modes will depend on the current form of your dragon however and over the course of the game you will need to collect power ups that enhance the base, heavy and speed forms that your trusty mount can morph into at the touch of a button.

Orta is a wonderfully cinematic game with its visual flair and art style only adding to the overall appeal. The soundtrack is suitably stirring too and watching the dragon take flight from the top of a snow-swept vista never fails to get your pulse racing.

Although it can be a hard game at times, Orta is very reasonable when it comes to checkpoints, so should you meet an untimely demise at the hands of a stage boss for example, you’ll be quickly resurrected with full health in order to try again. Whilst this impacts your scoring heavily, it means that those who aren’t necessarily interested in such things can still have a good chance at reaching the end.

It has to be said though that the story carries a rather unfathomable Eastern flavour and even though there are ten levels on offer, the game can be easily beaten in under three hours.

Smilebit prepared for this eventuality however by creating the ‘Pandora’s Box’ feature; a special menu that unlocks bonus content depending on your overall game time and aptitude whilst playing through the main story. This “box” is loaded with extra features, from concept art and cinematics to bits of lore and a whole new side story consisting of brand new levels. This is a fantastic addition that does Orta a world of good in the replay department.

Whilst many RPG-happy fans will declare Panzer Dragoon Saga as the defining moment of the series, I have never agreed with that assessment in the slightest. Panzer Dragoon Orta isn’t just the best in the franchise, but it’s joins the likes of From Software‘s Otogi as a defining cult classic for the original Xbox hardware and an essential gaming experience for shoot ’em up fans.

A work of art.

 

#11 – Dark Souls

Principal Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC | Developer: From Software | Publisher: From Software, Namco | Genre: RPG | Year: 2011

Dark Souls PC Box Art

Dark Souls

When industry pundits make reference to a “hardcore” game, this is exactly the kind they’re talking about. Dark Souls is the game that brings roguelikes bang up-to-date, and with what style it does so.

Touting a brutal learning curve and an equally chilly approach to player tutoring, Dark Souls is a ruthless RPG of peerless satisfaction once you master it’s deceptively graceful combat and giddy sense of exploration.

As 2010 rolled around I found myself lamenting the current state of RPGs; searching in vain for a setting and approach that would get me excited again. It turns out that this game was just the cure I needed as the failings that spoiled my experience of Skyrim were nowhere to be found in the cursed world of Lordran.

Every choice in Dark Souls is a meaningful one; the game is constantly updating your save file so there’s no reloading and trying again if something goes wrong. If you lose all of your hard earned souls (the game’s currency) then you’re out of luck. If you kill an NPC by accident or fail to save another from assassination then that’s just too bad. In this game you must live with those mistakes and what a refreshing change it makes for you as a player.

I instantly appreciated Dark Souls for its gritty feel, hard as nails gameplay and the simple fact that it made you actually want to go delving into the usually derivative crypts, dungeons and even sewers!

The magazine reviews that extolled a huge, connected world with foreboding areas, minimal loading times and a new ‘ambient’ style of multiplayer seemed too good to be true. To my surprise however; they were dead right on all counts.

To me Dark Souls is the game that has finally done difficulty (for established gamers at least) in the right way. Yes it’s hard as it can possibly be in the beginning; the game makes no concessions for your initial ignorance or pleas for clarity, but a lot of persistence and a little experimentation goes a long way in this cut-throat realm. All the tools you need to be great in this game are there- the transparent combat is intuitive, simple and easy to get to grips with if you have patience and the tenacity to stick with it and learn the little nuances that soon become second nature.

This is one of those rare titles where other games are now being compared to it. “This is Dark Souls” or “it’s like Dark Souls” are things that I catch myself saying regularly, even about games much older than this one. Although it’s firmly engrained in the roguelike sub-genre, Dark Souls has such a unique and identifiable feel to it that the new term “Soulslike” is starting to gain serious traction for describing any game that bears intense similarities to it.

The dream of an uncompromising RPG with depth, complexity, and intense satisfaction has been realised so well here and for a video game to accomplish that whilst maintaining such broad appeal is a feat that is impressive beyond measure.

Put simply: Dark Souls is a massive, unfathomably deep and truly rewarding odyssey that feels intensely and brilliantly alive in every conceivable respect.