Everyone loves talking about their favorite games. That is, after all, part of what being a ‘favorite’ is all about. Recently on Twitter, some folks came up with an idea: “what are your favorite games from each year you’ve been alive?”
Sure. I can talk about 30+ games. I love games. I know what my favorite things are. I thought to myself how simple this could be.
I was also terribly wrong.
Filtering through the lists of games that came out from each year, I was a little stumped in the early years, and by the time I got to the Super Nintendo days, I had to slough off a lot of games to narrow them down to my favorite for that year.
Special thanks to The Well-Red Mage (whose awesome site is here and well worth a visit once you’re done here) for doing his own list that inspired me on to do mine!
Now, without rambling on any further, my list of favorites games from each year I’ve been on this Earth-
1984 – Marble Madness
I distinctly remember playing this for hours when I was a kid, and I tend to come back to this every so often. The game isn’t long and having seen it in arcades, I can confirm that it was meant to eat quarters like candy. The satisfaction of conquering a trouble area is just as amusing as watching the decimation of your poor marble when it shatters or melts at the hands of one of the many obstacles.
1985 – Deja Vu
One of ICOM’s ‘MacVenture’ series that puts you in the shoes of private eye Ace Harding as you attempt to solve a fowl play murder. I spent hours playing this with my best friend growing up, and while this was not the release date of the version we played- our system of choice was NES, which this came out on in 1990- the fond memories of this game had me go back to the original that I loved just as much.
1986 – Uninvited
Another of the ‘MacVenture’ series, this one sees you looking through an abandoned house after a car crash results in your sibling going missing. Ridiculously difficult in places, much like the rest of the MacVenture games, this game had a number of memorable moments and horror tropes that has brought me back to play through it’s numerous incarnations and versions.
1987 – Wizards and Warriors
My first foray into anything fantasy-based in video games. Playing as Kuros, you travel through the lands of Elrond to stop the reign of the wizard, Malkil, and rescue the princess. While the game’s plot is nothing out of the ordinary, the game itself is a blast, and I have very fond memories of this game and it’s sequel, Ironsword.
1988 – Super Mario Bros. 2
It should comes as little shock to those who know me that Super Mario Bros. 2 is my favorite of the Nintendo Mario games. Being able to play as four different characters, the whimsical colorful worlds that the crew travels through, and the ridiculous amount of secrets that the game felt like it held are just a few of the broad reasons why I keep coming back to play this game over the years.
1989 – River City Ransom
Everything about this game is a good time. After the gangs of River City go out of control, it’s up to Alex and Ryan to set things straight, rescue Ryan’s girlfriend, and stop the reign of the nefarious “Slick”. Brawling from street to street, gathering money for new moves and health restoring food, and picking up anything that isn’t nailed down to battle your way to the climax of the game is a great time, even today.
1990 – Super Mario World
One of the games on this list that absolutely speaks for itself, this game is a classic and is well-built enough to justify its place in video game history throughout the ages. With new power-ups, friends, enemies, and a whole lot of adventuring to go around, I can’t think of another game that could even compete to be in my top spot from this year.
1991 – The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
From the first harp trills when this game starts up, my excitement levels skyrocket. While I enjoyed the first two entries of the Zelda series, it was this entry that made me fall head over heels. Journeying to the Dark World, rescuing the maidens, and putting a stop to the forces of evil rampaging across Hyrule has been a passion for me thanks to this adventure.
1992 – X-Men: The Arcade Game
To me, very little is better than being able to play a cooperative game with a group of my friends. X-Men showed me the joys of that and how great arcade gaming can be. When the game was released briefly on XBox Live, I was ecstatic. If I were ever to own any one arcade machine, it would be this, hands-down. Between the innovation of the six-player machine and my love for the X-Men growing up, there were too many elements about this game that I loved not to include it.
1993 – Zombies Ate My Neighbors
Barely eking out Secret of Mana, this has been my perennial favorite and will rarely stray outside of my favorite game of all time. I still have my original copy from 1993, and I attempt a playthrough or five of this on a yearly basis. If you love tongue-in-cheek B-Horror action with a challenging slope and potential for two-player carnage, this is the perfect game, hands down.
1994 – Final Fantasy VI
If any game does knock Zombies from the number one spot, though, it’s this one. This game easily takes the blame for my love of narrative, game design, music, and a number of other influences I have used in many creative works in my life. Even having played through this more times than I can remember, this game has made me a firm believer that games can be more than just digital entertainment; they can be an experience.
1995 – Chrono Trigger
Given that I predominantly played Squaresoft games as soon as I found my love of RPGs, this was an early game on my list and has been another game I come back to routinely. The golden age of the Super Nintendo was strong, but this tale of time travel and nuanced characters trying to save the world from destruction is another no-brainer when it comes down to it.
1996 – Clock Tower
While it is not a fantastically well-crafted game, Clock Tower set me up for my love of survival horror, and it’s a great example of how limitations and a lack of resources can bring about fear just as well as gore and action can. With branching scenarios and multiple endings, this game has been just as fun to research as it has been to play over the years.
1997 – Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Mixing horror with pulp action and dramatic plot, this entry into the Castlevania series was the first time I really stood up and took notice. This is very much my favorite of the ‘Metroidvania’ games and every time I play, I find something new to enjoy or reference. It’s also just a straight-up classic in the Playstation library for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the stunning presentation visually and aurally.
1998 – Resident Evil 2
While the original Resident Evil is a staple in horror gaming, the sequel will always hold a strong place in my heart. Having a different story on each disc that unraveled in a unique way depending on how you played them was mind-blowing at the time, and Claire Redfield has been at the top of my action heroine list since I played this game the first time. The controls haven’t aged well, but there’s so much that I love about this game that I can forgive it whenever I start it up again.
1999 – Final Fantasy VIII
I understand why this game is a black sheep in the series, I truly do. It’s easily exploitable, the cast can seem shallow, and a lot of the plot is muddled and appears to rely on coincidence. The story that unfolds as this game goes on is an emotional one, though, and there are so many great moments and amazing set pieces (not to mention that killer soundtrack) that I can’t help but be enamored and engrossed when I think of this title.
2000 – Jet Set Radio
True story: I love the Dreamcast and a number of the games on it. Above most of those, however, is Jet Set Radio. I love the aesthetic of the game and the music gives it such a unique and engaging identity. Skating around town and tagging buildings is a trial, but it’s always a fun one to engage in. The pursuit of expanding your crew while defending your turf is a solid enough reason to keep hitting the streets.
2001 – Fatal Frame
What a weird and ridiculous concept this game has, and what a terrifying execution it brought about. While the whole series is terrifying, the original game about a young woman looking for her brother does everything right from the atmosphere to the scares to the pacing. Only armed with a spirit-warding camera, you slowly explore a dilapidated house and its grounds, creating a memorable experience that has chilled me for years.
2002 – Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
Speaking of terrifying, Eternal Darkness is one that no horror fan should pass up. With a Lovecraftian story that spans throughout history and plenty of tricks that not only fool the characters but the players themselves, every trip through this game is a new twisted venture that was surprisingly dark for the Gamecube. I’m still waiting for a sequel, though I’m sure nothing could match up to the original.
2003 – Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles
When I first played this game, I think I got a few levels in and said ‘ah, this is repetitive and I’ve got no one to play with, screw it’. Cut to a few years ago and four Game Boy Advances later, and I’ve now played through this a number of times with various groups of friends. While the beauty of this game lies in its multiplayer capabilities, the game itself is gorgeous and has made for some of the most fun playing games with people I’ve had in a long time. Crafting, keeping lists of artifacts, and venturing through the same dungeon a few times is way more fun with friends.
2004 – Katamari Damacy
I love the Katamari games more than is probably healthy. Once I start playing one, I can’t seem to stop for days. I still remember seeing this for $20 at GameStop and thinking how strange it looked. I mean- I wasn’t wrong, but the joy and weird relaxation of rolling up objects to get bigger and bigger until you’re taking on whole countries and planets is part of the charm of this ridiculous game. The King of All Cosmos and the stories revolving around him are worth the price of admission, as well, and the entire cast of characters is quirky and lovable.
2005 – Resident Evil 4
On the other side of things, we’ve got Resident Evil 4, which I sailed through in college and set a precedent for how action horror should be assembled from there on. This game improved on everything from the series from the controls to the graphics and even veering into the insanity of the plot that we know and dissect now. It still plays smoothly, and while I haven’t gone back to this one in a long time, I’ve still got very clear memories of a large chunk of the game. Even those memories are enough to remind me that Leon’s first solo trek was and continues to be my highlight of the year.
2006 – Rule of Rose
Controversial and a little clunky, Rule of Rose has burned itself into my top games of all time. There is a ton to analyze in the game as you play as poor Jennifer, who has been dropped at an orphanage and is now at the mercy of the other girls and the staff that reside there. There is symbolism abound, and the ending of the game is just as terrifying as anything else on this list. There are whole websites devoted to critically picking through what the game has to offer, and the physically presented terror is almost nothing compared to the psychological implications left well after the game is over.
2007 – Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions
While I enjoyed the original Tactics on the Playstation, there always felt like there was something missing; like it was just below par. With the re-release on the PSP, everything that the game needed felt like it was produced. The translation is scores better, and it cements this game into the Ivalice Alliance series flawlessly. The new classes and additional characters that are already part of the Ivalice series are strong additions, as well. The game was strong years before this, but the tale of Ramza Beoulve and the War of the Lions has so many improvements in this iteration that I already can’t wait to go play it again.
2008 – Persona 4
Admittedly, Persona 4 is not my favorite of the series, but given the year that it came out and the amount of time I sank into the game, it’s hard to argue whether or not it left an impression on me in my current gaming state. Following the Investigation Team as they try to figure out the Midnight Channel, the world in the television, and the mysterious murders in the town of Inaba is engrossing, and while this had the same formula as the third and fifth entries, Persona 4 has the honor of being the standout game in its year.
2009 – Shin Megami Tensei: Persona
Another title in the Persona series, but this feels like it was a much needed one. Remaking the original- and quite honestly sloppy- game on the Playstation, this entry offers a re-translation, some cutscenes, and an entire alternate quest that was cut from the American release. In what I would call the ‘definitive’ version of the original game, this PSP-only version rekindled my love for the first game and made me not only realize just how off-base the first offering was, but how strong the story and nuances should have been in the first place.
2010 – Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
What a ridiculously amazing game this is. Put together by Studio Ghibli, this game is the perfect blend of classic RPG gameplay with a Pokemon twist and a beautiful animation style usually reserved for fairytales and the big screen. Among the beautiful styles of the production and the fun of rearing your familiars, the game hits all of the right emotional notes to be an instant classic that is worth going back to, even if just in reminiscence (as the game allows you to sink over a hundred hours in with no lack of new content).
2011 – Persona 2: Innocent Sin
Yet another Persona game, I know. In fairness, this was the one I was waiting for years for, given that we got the other part of the Persona 2 duology in Eternal Punishment back in 2000. The game did not fail to deliver, as it does everything that the original does but even better, offering stronger characters and more interesting dynamics in both plot and relationships. As this is my favorite in a series that I have already professed my love for a million times over, it’s no surprise that this game lands squarely into my top spot for 2011.
2012 – Fire Emblem Awakening
A near perfect feeling Fire Emblem offering, Awakening brought together features from a number of games in the series that created the perfect synergy to not only bring in a new group of fans but to also satiate longtime fans. The amount of times I’ve played and replayed this game are astonishing for the length of time it’s been available, but while there are a few issues here and there, it’s a game that has enough customization to make each play through feel new.
2013 – Shin Megami Tensei IV
While this game took me some time to get through, the result was well worth it as an addition to the already strong Shin Megami Tensei series. Even with some of the missteps in design, the story feels solid and it always feels satisfying to progress or complete a mission here and there when you can. By no means is this the best of the series, but so far as the game offerings of this year go, the majority of my fond memories go toward this.
2014 – Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call
As a rabid fan of rhythm games, hearing about the original Theatrhythm when it was coming out filled me with anticipation. While I enjoyed the original, Curtain Call was more of the same but better. It’s an easy to pick up and put down game, and playing along with the music can be anywhere from stressful to meditative, depending on what you want. There were plenty of great offerings from this year but so far as lasting fun is concerned, this has to be my top choice.
2015 – Until Dawn
Until Dawn is still amazing three years later. The motion capture and graphical qualities of the game are a step above most that try to do the same, and the game’s plot has some solid twists, despite leaning on some strange tropes every once in a while. Growing up with slasher movies, this game gave me the warm fuzzies in only the same way that those films could. Trying to keep the cast safe while determining who is involved with what in which way made this a perfect game for me.
2016 – Stardew Valley
I love Harvest Moon. I’ve dabbled in Rune Factory. I even tried Innocent Life. Stardew Valley grabbed me from the title screen and still hasn’t let go. With a variety of ways to make your living and a whole town of people to get to know, the plot and theme of keeping Pelican Town out of the hands of the megacorp, Joja Mart, adds a fun twist to the ‘save the farm’ formula and it feels like there are new things to do every time you progress a little further.
2017 – Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia
In a recent article, I had already named this remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden as my top game of 2017. Between the art style, the return to form, and the sharp gameplay and exploration sequences, my excitement for this game’s release did not go unrewarded. Fire Emblem Echoes may well be my favorite game in the series at this point.
2018 (So Far) – Fire Emblem Warriors
Let’s be honest. The year is still young. There are a ton of game on the horizon that I’m waiting for, and I’m sure this won’t stay in the top slot for long. That said, my love of the Fire Emblem series and the Dynasty Warriors series have formed a perfect union in Fire Emblem Warriors. While the game relies a bit too much on current characters from Fire Emblem Fates, which I wasn’t the biggest fan of, the gameplay is undeniably fun and seeing a slew of classic characters from the series on the field of battle has been a blast so far. While I can’t be sure of the game’s staying power, it has certainly topped my list for the year in this first month of 2018.