By nature, video games are, and always will be, dependent on technology. Luckily, video game technology has come on leaps and bounds in the past twenty years, allowing the many creators of this medium to push their ideas further and further, whether the ideas are of a gameplay, narrative or purely technical nature. Although the greater diversity of styles available in games today is a result of this technological development, it is also due to major transitions within studios that have had to change the way they develop their projects. One thing is certain, these past two decades have made a lasting impact on the millions of players who have lived through them, and this is a selection of titles that, each in their own way, have left their mark on the videogame landscape. So yes, iconic titles like Minecraft, Deus Ex, DOTA, Assassin’s Creed and GTA, as well as the excellent Outer Wilds and Subnautica (odes to exploration and environmental storytelling) will be missing. However, the purpose of this article is to present games whose influence can still be seen today, by the impact they made at the time of their release, by the many clones they spawned, or by the creation of their own genre. I hope you enjoy reading this article.
1 – Silent Hill 2
Released in 1999 on the first Playstation, Silent Hill was able to utilize the technical deficiencies of the console to create one of its signature elements: the thick fog that covers the ghost town of Silent Hill like a lead blanket. The corroded universe designed by Masahiro Ito and Akira Yamaoka’s melancholic industrial music support the game’s tortuous and sinister plot so well that this first opus became a must-have of the horror genre. But it is really with the second game released in 2001 that the series was able to affirm its style and enter the video game pantheon.
In this episode, the main character James Sunderland receives a letter from his wife Mary who invites him to join her in their “special place” in the town of Silent Hill. But there’s a problem: his beloved Mary died three years ago. As you walk through the foggy, deserted streets with James, the town gradually transforms into a projection of his tortured mind as he faces uncomfortable truths in order to grieve and confront his own guilt.
Supported by the power of the Playstation 2, the game developed an artistic identity as well as the psychology of its characters, who are shattered and marked by their fate. While the series loses its way somewhat after the fourth chapter, which itself was criticized, it still produced other experiences that were as terrifying as they were spectacular, in particular with Shattered Memories for the Wii, which was created and written by Sam Barlow (creator of Her Story and Telling Lies).
Dormant since the cancellation of Silent Hills, which was to be directed by Hideo Kojima for the Playstation 4, fans of psychological horror are still waiting for the series’ return.
2 – Metroid Prime
With its futuristic and anxiety-inducing world and its heroine who is far removed from the damsels in distress encountered in the likes of Super Mario Bros and The Legend of Zelda, the Metroid series is very different from most of the Kyoto firm’s productions. Driven by a dark atmosphere and a pretty high difficulty level, Metroid never gained the popularity of its counterparts, which explains the relatively few installments in the series compared to its predecessors. Despite this, the game was the instigator of a genre that was later called “metroidvania” (a portmanteau composed of Metroid and Castelvania, a historical series by the Konami studio) and several chapters became part of gaming history.
Super Metroid is one of them of course, but so is Metroid Prime, which marked the return of the series after eight years.
In the hands of Retro Studios, a Texan company that employs former Half-Life developers, this episode (and the trilogy that would follow) moved away from 2D to introduce a first-person view from inside Samus Aran’s spacesuit. As usual, the valiant bounty hunter must thwart the plans of the space pirates and put an end to the Metroids, a race of flying jellyfish with claws that suck the life force out of all living beings. To do so, Samus goes to the planet Tallon IV and investigates the actions of her eternal rivals but also a dangerous substance called Phazon.
Metroid Prime successfully transferred the series’ concept from 2D to 3D, which is always a tricky exercise in video games. But its success didn’t stop there, as the studio managed to make a first-person game that was easy to control, something that was still very rare at the time for home consoles. In addition to providing intuitive and precise controls, the game established a heavy atmosphere conveyed by brilliant and complex level design that made the exploration of Tallon IV particularly memorable, as well as making this episode a highlight of the 128-bit generation.
The series never forgets its roots, as several installments were released on various Nintendo handheld machines between 2002 and 2017, reverting back to the traditional two-dimensional approach. In addition to these two versions, Metroid: Other M was released on the Wii. Many people didn’t appreciate the storytelling choices and artistic direction of this episode, but it’s easy to forget its bold and enjoyable gameplay and the incredibly clever level design. This game was also the opportunity to play an even more expressive and human Samus, who was more sentimental, but still as strong and determined as ever.
3 – Half Life 2
How do you create a sequel for a game that has become legendary? This question still haunts the productions of Valve studio and the Half Life series in particular. The first episode of the series, which revolutionized the FPS genre in 1998, introduced us to the unfortunate life of Gordon Freeman, a scientist from the Black Mesa complex facing an alien invasion and then a military coup. Half Life’s artificial intelligence and scripting resulted in groundbreaking battles that had a profound impact on both gamers and the industry, even inspiring many other games.
Six years later, players discovered the follow-up to this phenomenal game. Expectations were high to say the least.
The first thing that was striking was the significant change in atmosphere between the two episodes. Exit the arid surroundings of New Mexico. This game takes place in a dystopian environment resembling Eastern Europe. Some twenty years after the events of Black Mesa, the world is in the hands of the Cartel, a powerful extraterrestrial race. Freeman has to infiltrate and start a revolution in Cartel-controlled City 17. Of course, the mission isn’t easy and the hero has to use a wide range of weapons and, for the first time, vehicles to achieve his goals.
One of these weapons actually became a hallmark of the game: the anti-gravity gun. In fact, Half Life 2 featured innovative physics controls that allowed every object in the background to be grabbed by the gun and become a deadly projectile to be used against the opponents. In the last few hours of the game, the weapon even becomes capable of catching and propelling enemies and bigger objects than before, making combat exceptionally exhilarating.
After an episode that succeeded in being just as memorable as its predecessor, two expansion packs prolonged the story and ended with a plot twist that frustrated fans… until the release of Half Life: Alyx in 2020, designed solely for VR. However, this game takes place sometime in between the two episodes and still doesn’t provide a real conclusion for what Valve originally intended to be a trilogy. How do you create a sequel for Half Life 2? This question has gone without an answer for 15 years now.
4 – Resident Evil 4
The 128-bit era was a challenging time for creators of highly popular series. Already iconic when it was released in 2005, the Resident Evil 4 episode from the emblematic series is the result of a complicated development process that required the return of creator Shinji Mikami in order to be released. No more static camera and characters: in this fourth installment, the player controls a dynamic Leon S. Kennedy who jumps through windows and over obstacles, kicks and performs suplexes on his enemies.
The U.S. federal government agent can even upgrade his inventory and weapons throughout several chapters that allow the player to frequently review his stats (number of enemies killed, shooting accuracy, number of deaths). While the character mobility and scoring system take the series down a more action-oriented path, RE4 doesn’t abandon the series’ main factor: fear.
To do this, the fixed cameras are replaced by a camera that closely follows Leon and comes nearer when aiming, preventing any movement just like in the first episodes. The blind spots created when aiming reinforces the sense of danger, especially since the enemies arrive in droves. This famous over-the-shoulder view was then used in almost all third-person shooters to the point of becoming a real standard in video games.
The other main change in this episode is the rhythm. Lasting two to three times longer than those in previous episodes, there is a continuous flow of iconic scenes without any pause. Moreover, the game’s progressive difficulty regularly forces the player to use their talent and sense of observation to get out of seemingly insurmountable confrontations. This element of surprise is also due in part to the ever-changing locations in the game. Leon’s mission takes him to a Spanish village hidden in the middle of a forest, a gigantic castle and lastly an island hiding a research facility, the source of all the problems in this episode.
All these elements helped bring about a real change within a well established franchise that was aware of the need to adapt to remain relevant, and this daring stance helped inject modernity into the gaming world.
5 – Metal Gear Solid 3 : Snake Eater
Don’t be fooled by the number “3”. This episode of Hideo Kojima’s cult saga is actually the starting point of his spy series. While the two previous episodes adopt a cold, techno-thriller atmosphere, MGS3’s uchronian 1964 story takes place in the heart of the lush jungles of southern Russia. The player plays Naked Snake, a soldier from the Fox unit tasked with bringing back Soviet engineer Sokolov, who is being held captive by Colonel Volgin.
As Snake is about to complete his mission, his mentor, The Boss, stands in his way and reveals that he has moved over to the enemy’s side. Bewildered, Snake has no choice but to confront The Boss. The latter rapidly gains the upper hand and throws his former disciple into a river, leaving him for dead. The mission then becomes a personal matter for Snake, who embarks on a quest for truth and revenge in the context of the Cold War and nuclear arms race.
Building on the foundations laid by the previous installments, MGS3 was the opportunity for the Kojima team to expand gameplay by introducing food and health management (necessary for the character’s survival), as well as camouflage systems and hand-to-hand combat. Fights against some particularly memorable bosses, one of the series’ hallmarks, are also featured. But besides the rich and diverse gameplay, it’s the story of Snake’s first two missions, the Righteous Mission and Operation Snake Eater, that is particularly captivating.
Backed by brilliant twists and turns, charismatic characters, a superb soundtrack, a rich setting blending fiction and reality, a poignant and unforgettable ending and an ever-increasing sense of cinematography, Metal Gear Solid 3 is undoubtedly the highlight of the series and the career of its eccentric creator. However, Kojima had more than one trick up his sleeve and was able to masterfully reinvent his signature license through Peace Walker and, above all, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
6 – Super Mario Galaxy
The most famous video game hero needs no introduction. However, it is important to remember that when it comes to 3D platforms, Super Mario lives up to its reputation. Among the most memorable episodes in recent years, the Super Mario Galaxy duo has taken the series to new heights of ingenuity and wonder. With enchanting art direction and a soundtrack that regularly features a large orchestra (a first in the series), this diptych released for the Wii was an opportunity to introduce a new idea to the series that would become an integral part of the level design and gameplay: gravity.
Setting the game in space was a great opportunity to make the jovial Italian plumber’s head spin. The player must extensively explore different sized (and naturally spherical) planets to uncover all the hidden treasure.
The teams lead by license founder Shigeru Miyamoto and the game’s producer Yoshiaki Koizumi didn’t just use the different planetary axes: they decided to punctuate the galactic adventure with hundreds of ideas to renew the gaming experience and provide the player with immediate gaming satisfaction thanks to an even more responsive and agile Mario. Although these two episodes were released around a decade ago, one thing is certain: just like Mario himself, these adventures never get old.
7 – Bayonetta
A product of director Hideki Kamiya’s ebullient mind, Bayonetta marks the comeback of the man who revolutionized 3D beat ’em ups with the first Devil May Cry, released on Playstation 2 in 2001. This time though, there is no gothic atmosphere or red-clad male heroes, but Bayonetta: a strong and sensual woman who shares Dante’s taste for insolence and witty comebacks. After spending twenty years in a coffin, the witch is raised from her grave and brought back to earth to slay as many angels as she can. She suffers from amnesia and has to recover her memory over time in order to understand the different reasons that caused the disappearance of her clan.
Bayonetta is an excellent beat ‘em up and therefore provides a wide range of combos whose intensity is rarely equaled, even today. The witch uses a plethora of weapons (guns in her hands and at her feet, swords, a whip, magic gloves, sharp ice skates, a rocket launcher, etc.) that can be changed on the fly to build attack combos and strike her opponents with panache. The heroine also has an ability called “Witch Time” that allows her to slow down time around her, as well as a series of “Torture Attacks” that finish off ennemies in record time.
Equipped with difficulty modes suitable for all player profiles, this installment can be either encouraging or challenging depending on your individual skill level. But it never forgets one important factor: to offer a gaming experience that is both fun and exhilarating. The sequel is just as enjoyable and it even extends the already vast gameplay and corrects the few timing problems of its predecessor. Needless to say, the third installment announced in late 2017 for the Switch is eagerly awaited by fans of the witch of Umbra.
8 – Alan Wake
Building on its experience with the Max Payne series, Finnish studio Remedy decided to embark on the development of an “action-oriented psychological thriller” (in their own words) in the mid-2000s. Here, we play Alan Wake, a successful novelist based in New York who has been suffering from a lack of inspiration for the past two years. To overcome the problem, his wife Alice decides to take him on vacation to the town of Bright Falls, located in the northwestern United States. Surrounded by forests and far from the bustling streets of the Big Apple, Bright Falls seems to be the ideal setting for the writer to finally overcome his writer’s block.
Unfortunately for the couple, nothing goes to plan as Alice disappears shortly after they arrive. But Alan’s troubles don’t stop there, as a horror book that he is supposedly the author of but doesn’t remember writing starts to manifest and become reality, and an obscure force begins to devour the peaceful countryside, taking control of its inhabitants and objects. The author has to fight his way out of the heart of these frightening nocturnal landscapes to hope to find his wife alive.
Alan Wake is a third person shooter, but unlike the vast majority of games in this genre, the main character isn’t highly trained and he certainly doesn’t have the arsenal of Marcus Fenix. His most precious ally is simply light, in which the many shadows cannot reach him. Fortunately, Alan can count on his trusty torch and a few weapons scattered here and there to progress through the forests that have been poisoned by the darkness.
With a fantasy story inspired by the novels of Stephen King and a context reminiscent of the mysterious Twin Peaks series, Alan Wake merits a place in your game collection, especially as it is probably one of the most personal games Remedy has ever created. If you enjoyed the adventure, know that you can extend it with the excellent (and essential) expansion packs that complete the story. And if you’ve grown fond of the unluckiest novelist in the history of video games, you should know that he recently and mysteriously appeared in the brilliant Control, Remedy’s latest title.
9 – Portal 2
After an experimental first episode released in 2007, the surprising Portal puzzle game series took a giant leap forward with its sequel, concocted once again by Valve. In this first-person game, the player uses a unique weapon to create teleportation portals to progress through carefully designed and amazingly creative levels. Although this idea was already the basis of the first episode, Portal 2 goes much further in terms of gameplay possibilities and situations.
Valve’s game also diversifies the uses of the portal generator by allowing the player to build bridges of light, move objects and even use propellant or repellent gels to increase or decrease their speed.
But the other fundamental element of the series is also its black humor. Set in the same universe as the Half Life series but in a much more distant future, Portal 2 sees the player control a young woman named Chell, already the heroine of the first episode, in the ruined laboratories of Aperture Science. She is guided by the voice of a robot who introduces himself as Wheatley. Together, they mistakenly reactivate GLaDOS, a sarcastic artificial intelligence (also the antagonist of the first game) that will put them to the test.
Praised for its ingenious puzzles and the impressive structure of its levels, Portal 2 is a game that constantly challenges the player’s mind, but also tricks and surprises them. The result is an unforgettable title that constantly renews situations thanks to an original context and succeeds in making the player laugh with the scathing irony of the dialogues.
10 – Final Fantasy XIV
Japan’s most famous role-playing game series alongside Dragon Quest and Pokémon went through a difficult period with the arrival of high-definition consoles. Plagued by technical problems, arduous development and questionable decisions, it’s an understatement to say that Final Fantasy had difficulty applying its usual ambition to the new possibilities offered by HD machines. Final Fantasy XIV was born in the heart of this troubled period, experiencing a highly criticized launch before returning as a completely revised version, spurred on by Naoki Yoshida who was given the crucial role of director and producer to bring this online episode out of its bleak situation.
For his first major project, it would be an understatement to say that Yoshida successfully rose to the challenge. One of the most striking indications of the director’s smart choices is the fact that the cancellation of the first version of the game (and its shelving before the release of the new version called A Realm Reborn) was scripted within the story itself. The topography of the zones, as well as the game’s interface, activities and pacing were completely revised, resulting in a game that is both enjoyable and packed with possibilities. The game doesn’t overlook the key elements of Final Fantasy XI, the first online episode of the series: a strong scenario driven by charismatic characters and a will to focus the game on a single-player experience despite its status as a massively multiplayer game.
Thanks to various expansions, notably the excellent Heavensward and Shadowbringers, as well as regular updates that helped make the experience smoother and more inviting to new players, Final Fantasy XIV is arguably one of Square Enix’s most successful projects in the past ten years. The landscapes of Eorzea are fascinating to explore and promise the player many hours of gaming as well as scenes that are worthy of the most beautiful moments offered by the “offline series”. We can’t wait for the next game from Yoshida’s team, which could well be Final Fantasy XVI…
11 – Journey
After the unique flOw and Flower, which were praised for their peaceful and contemplative mood, Journey is the third game from the Thatgamecompany studio founded by Jenova Chen. Designed to be a short experience, Journey’s protagonist is a character dressed in red who we know nothing about and who wakes up in an infinite desert. The only thing we understand at first is that they want to reach a mountain on the edge of the horizon. In this dreamlike and sparse universe that the player can explore alone or in multiplayer mode, the journey, as the title suggests, is much more important than the destination itself.
The encounters made by the player are also an integral part of the experience designed by Jenova Chen, who decided to make it impossible to communicate by voice or text chat. All you can do to communicate is press the O button, and you and your companion are free to interpret it as you wish. The only “negative” action one can do is ignore your companion, as the game promotes compassion and helping one another. By joining forces, players can overcome obstacles more easily and allow each other to fly through the air for longer periods of time (a skill that is acquired at the beginning of the adventure).
Like Fumito Ueda’s approach, Jenova Chen favours simple and refined stories in his works, with interactions that create empathy and atmospheres with a dreamy and enchanting aesthetic. His creations are also an opportunity, controller in hand, to enjoy a moment of calm and solace that moves players with simplicity and accuracy. So, when the curtain closes on our adventures in these evanescent lands, the memory of this trip and the feeling of having experienced something unique and almost indescribable remain vivid in our minds. The mark of a great game.
12 – The Last of Us
If there is one license that was in the spotlight this year, it was definitely The Last of Us. While the renowned HBO channel (Game of Thrones, True Detective, The Wire) commissioned a TV adaptation, the second installment of Ellie and Joel’s adventures was released on Playstation 4, sparking a lot of debate about violence in video games but also about gender and sexual identity issues. Whether or not you agree with the views brought up in the game, it is worth taking a look at the ambition that such a series represents in the gaming landscape.
Released in 2013 on the Playstation 3, The Last of Us is designed by Naughty Dog, who at the time was enjoying the success of its Uncharted series. This new adventure was a complete change of scenery, as it takes the player to the heart of a post-apocalyptic world devastated by a pandemic that caused the extinction of a large part of humanity. Once infected by cordyceps, the fungus that causes the pandemic, people turn into zombies within hours and in turn spread the virus by biting other living beings. Twenty years later, there is still no vaccine to restore normalcy until the Fireflies, a small group that defies the established military order, learns that a young girl named Ellie has been bitten without developing any symptoms.
Joel, a surly 40 year-old who had to deal with the death of his daughter at the beginning of the pandemic, was given the mission to take Ellie across the United States so that a team of researchers could study her case and try to develop a vaccine. It is this journey that the player has to make. The adventure is presented as a third-person survival game where the objects necessary to progress (weapons, ammunition, medicine) are scarce. In spite of its context, The Last of Us offers beautifully contemplative moments and takes its characters into stunning urban landscapes that have been reclaimed by nature.
To give more substance to its characters, Naughty Dog chose to explore a father-daughter relationship and love in general, whereas the second episode deals with the theme of revenge. More ambitious still, the sequel takes on the challenge of continuing Ellie and Joel’s adventure, which left such a lasting impression when the first installment was released, and extends the story over a running time that is twice as long as before… for a more futile result? In reality, it doesn’t really matter, because despite its imperfections, TLOU is the culmination of several bold choices that have achieved something rare in video games: the creation of an intimate and personal storyline at the center of a major game title. And that’s exactly what this medium needs.
13 – Bloodborne
Over the last twenty years, rarely has a game designer sparked as much passion as Hidetaka Miyazaki. Designer, writer and director of Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls, Dark Souls III and later Sekiro, Miyazaki rose through the ranks of the industry to become one of the most influential creators of his time and was given the reins of the FromSoftware studio, where he long operated as a “mere employee”. Summarizing Bloodborne‘s success in a few lines inevitably feels reductive in regards to his genius.
But you should know that it is a culmination of sorts of the “Dark Souls formula”, as it incorporates the same high difficulty level (hard to beat bosses that require careful training), an omnipresent sense of danger, an almost identical character evolution system, online multiplayer features, a sprawling level design that interconnects all the zones of the game and, above all, a stunning environment that serves as the framework for a particularly obscure and fragmented storyline.
Bloodborne‘s story takes us to the city of Yharnam. This gothic and crepuscular city is plagued by an epidemic that turns its inhabitants into bloodthirsty monsters. Yet a cure for the disease that contaminates the blood of its victims lies hidden in the heart of this chaos, and it is this very reason that leads the avatar you have created (like Dark Souls) into this deadly landscape.
Carried by magnificent art direction, surprising game situations and gameplay that is constantly evolving thanks to the many variables involved in creating the characters, Bloodborne belongs to that rare category of games that captivate, challenge, haunt and leave a lasting impression on those who dare to immerse themselves in them. And it is probably the best gateway into the visceral ethos of the “Soulsborne” series.
14 – The Witcher III: Wild Hunt
A free adaptation of novelist Andrzej Sapkowski’s books, The Witcher III: Wild Hunt follows the first two episodes developed by CD Projekt RED. Just like in the previous installments, the hero is none other than Geralt de Riv, a monster hunter with supernatural powers. In this episode, he tries to track down his adopted daughter Ciri who disappeared while fleeing from the Wild Hunt, a horde of warriors from another world. This quest will lead Geralt through vast territories, from Velen to Novigrad, via the Skellige islands and of course Kaer Morhen, stronghold of the sorcerers.
The Witcher III was a critical and commercial success upon release and for good reason. The game is praised not only for the complexity of its environment, but also for its storyline and the way the quests are integrated into this open world. Because it is a role-playing game, the player is free to make certain choices that will have a major impact on the world and characters around Geralt.
This title was also the opportunity for CD Projekt to make a name for itself internationally, as the Polish studio not only succeeded in making its game an undeniable reference of the genre, but also showed exemplary support for its audience by regularly updating the game in response to feedback from players. The work accomplished with The Witcher III and its two excellent add-ons remains both exemplary and fascinating to this day.
There is no doubt that you will be captivated by this game if you are a fan of heroic fantasy. Once this long adventure is over, chances are your attention will turn to Cyberpunk 2077, the studio’s latest game that has finally been released after eight years of development.
15 – The Last Guardian
After the one-of-a-kind Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, players had been waiting for Japanese director Fumito Ueda’s third project with bated breath. After two landmark games, would Ueda be able to live up to his own reputation despite the fact that the development of The Last Guardian was so troublesome that the game was finally released on the Playstation 4 and not on the Playstation 3 as planned? It was with a sigh of relief that his fans were able to answer in the affirmative as they discovered this touching and unique adventure.
In the heart of a ruined city located in an impenetrable valley, a young boy awakens next to a gigantic chained beast, named Trico. In spite of his fear, the boy frees the creature and they understand that they will have to help one another to reach the highest point of the valley in order to escape. As they ascend, they become friends and valuable allies. Will they reach their destination and if so, at what cost?
Fumito Ueda’s refined and poignant style is recognizable from the very first moments of the game. There’s no system for building experience, no skill trees or additional missions that distract the player from the main objective. As with Ueda’s previous titles, the relationship between the characters is at the forefront, despite the inability to communicate directly. Although it is impossible to control Trico, who is a free-willed living creature, it is still possible to make them understand which actions you wish to perform and to interact with them by talking to them and climbing onto their back, but also by taking care of and hugging them.
It is precisely this more tactile and emotional means of communication that establishes the relationship between the two protagonists and allows them to advance in this enchanting and mysterious world. This economy of speech and emphasis on pure and simple emotion, typical of Ueda’s games, ultimately reminds us that actions are more important than words.
16 – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
In 2011, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword exposed the limits of the Ocarina of Time format. Aware that it had become as predictable as it was clunky, Eiji Aonuma’s team took on the immense challenge of radically changing the structure of their legendary series. Hidemaro Fujibayashi, director of the last episode released on the Wii, was entrusted with this vast project. It took six years of work to deliver the most ambitious game in Nintendo’s history, and it’s an understatement to say that the result met players’ expectations.
Breath of the Wild immerses the player in a vast open world, one hundred years after the collapse of the Kingdom of Hyrule. Link, the eternal hero of the series, awakens from a hundred-year slumber in a strange chamber and discovers a world covered by vegetation in the middle of which a few vestiges reveal the memory of Hyrule… and his own! Our amnesic hero will have to regain his memories to understand what happened during his sleep and in the last moments of the Kingdom.
Of course, not everything has changed in this episode. The player must save Princess Zelda and defeat the awful Ganon with the help of Zoras, Gorons and other well-known creatures from the series. The main difference is the sense of freedom in the game. There are no long dungeons that the player has to discover in a precise order with a spectrum of possibilities that becomes denser as the plot unfolds. The player is in control of all of Link’s abilities from the very beginning of the adventure, allowing him to clear the game’s one hundred and twenty shrines in any order he chooses, and none of them are actually required to complete the main storyline (other than the four Divine Beasts).
In addition, the vast world of Hyrule becomes a playground in which fun and exploration are central. Its visual style, reminiscent of Studio Ghibli’s movies, and ethereal and soft music are all elements that allowed the series to break away from its outdated formula and become a resolutely modern, polished and unforgettable game.
17 – Persona 5 Royal
In 1987, Atlus studio’s Megami Tensei series was born. Over the years, it spawned several spin-offs which themselves became series in their own right, sometimes exceeding the popularity of the original. The Persona series is one of Megami Tesei’s many derivatives and the fifth episode is now the greatest success of this independent saga created in 1996.
Persona 5 alternates between two different game contexts. The first takes place in the city of Tokyo and gives the player the opportunity to experience the main protagonist’s (whose name must be chosen by the player) high school life. Its gaming system is similar to a social simulation in which you have to organize various daily activities according to a precise schedule. But this world is only the tip of the iceberg.
On the other side is the metaverse, a parallel universe where souls from the real world meet and that our hero and his allies explore in their sleep. In this environment that is unknown to the vast majority of humans, a person’s psyche and deepest desires materialize in the form of a place that can be explored. The game then takes the form of a Dungeon-RPG, in other words a role-playing game that focuses on the exploration of labyrinthine environments, generally punctuated by turn-based battles.
In this contemporary adventure, the group of protagonists gathered around the hero aims to penetrate the souls of malevolent and dangerous people in order to steal their hearts. Once this mission is completed, the individuals in question can not refrain from publicly confessing their actions and crimes. However, this radical shift in behavior, which is inexplicable to the average person, cannot be ignored by a devious adversary who stands in the way of the Phantom Thieves of Hearts, the name given to the gang of young vigilantes.
Because of its multiple gameplay systems and a storyline that is full of complex and difficult themes (mainly bullying, abuse of authority, and sense of responsibility), Persona 5 takes its time to establish its mechanics, story, and characters. As a result, the very conversational adventure lasts for almost one hundred and ten hours of gameplay that cannot be condensed. But its fascinating story, mature and accomplished writing, endearing characters, and inventive mechanics that are continuously being enriched deserve your full attention. In a nutshell, if you were to play only one of the Japanese role-playing games released in the past ten years, it should be Persona 5.
18 – Hollow Knight
If there is one genre that many studios have embraced in the last twenty years, especially independent developers, it is metroidvania. An action-adventure subgenre that puts exploration at the center of the experience, metroidvania transports the player into the center of a vast world where new zones are unlocked as they gain new abilities. Amidst a host of conscripts, the most successful graduate is the mysterious Hollow Knight, the first game from the Australian studio Team Cherry that was composed of only four developers (until one of them left in 2017). So what makes Hollow Knight different from the competition?
Team Cherry’s title takes us to the depths of the Hallownest kingdom. This once prosperous land is now merely a pile of ruins that we must explore to understand the events that precipitated its demise. Hollow Knight has the particularity of placing the player at the controls of an unknown knight who surveys a two-dimensional underworld inhabited only by insects. Some will become precious allies and others, formidable enemies. The difficulty of the game revolves around two key ideas taken from the Dark Souls series: having to learn the bosses’ attack routines by heart, and the fact that two consecutive deaths in the game result in the permanent loss of our hard-earned money.
Rest assured, the difficulty level is never unfair or unreasonable, and in order to overcome all obstacles, the player has a major advantage: simple gameplay and surgical precision. So when you defeat a tough opponent, the feeling of accomplishment is all the more rewarding. To complete the adventure, the game features meticulously crafted level design. But the exploration of Hallownest’s underground galleries would not be as memorable without the melancholy and intriguing atmosphere that characterizes the game. Gathering the fragments that make up the memory of this extinct kingdom from among the vestiges motivates the player to explore every nook and cranny of the maps provided by Cornifer the cartographer.
Once the adventure is over, it becomes clear that Hollow Knight is the best representative of its genre to date. An incredibly masterful title of rare depth for such a young studio and a real eye-opener for the competition. Suffice to say that fans are desperately awaiting the sequel, Hollow Knight: Silksong, which will focus on the character Hornet.
19 – Red Dead Redemption 2
The introduction at the beginning of this article evoked games that, by themselves, represent an achievement in the gaming landscape. Red Dead Redemption 2, an action adventure game with a Wild West setting, is certainly one of them. Gargantuan and extravagant, this prequel is the perfect embodiment of Rockstar’s perfectionism. After the incredibly vast GTA V with its endless possibilities and contents, the studio pushed the boat out even further with this game. In addition to being the most beautiful realistic open world ever produced, RDR2 offers an immense playground that is much more varied than its predecessor, so much so that the diversity of climates will surprise those who expect to find only an arid, desert setting.
The scenery benefits from the full power of today’s machines (and more recently from its release on PC) to highlight magnificent and extremely detailed fauna and flora. Activities are abundant and the player can choose to live in this world by opting for peaceful or aggressive behavior.
A perfect blend of open world and American Frontier influences, RDR2 also reflects this notion of accomplishment in its writing, which is impressive from beginning to end. The game invites us to follow the life of Arthur Morgan, a member of a band of pariahs determined not to abandon their way of life despite the modernization of America at the beginning of the 20th century. More than ever, the dialogues allow the characters to take shape and illustrate their convictions, personalities and motivations with precision. The same goes for the brilliant voice acting, which fleshes out the inhabitants of this world, especially the characters in the band of outlaws.
This symbiosis between scripting and performance results in the most moving and appealing characters ever created in a Rockstar game. If you appreciate these narrative and immersive aspects, this is probably what will encourage you to see the end result of this unforgettable story and to overlook the realistic and slow gameplay, whose importance in this universe cannot be denied. We will miss this world long after we’ve completed the adventures of Arthur Morgan and his companions.
20 – Celeste
The Celeste Mountain attracts many travelers, starting with Madeline, a young woman who has come to climb this snowy mountain alone for an unknown reason. As our heroine’s motivations emerge during her perilous ascent, Celeste‘s pixelated and enchanting world reveals its inventive two-dimensional level design. Each zone in the game takes the time to fully develop and explore a specific idea and atmosphere. While the game features horizontal progression through its levels like many of its competitors, the many scenes that make up the various worlds are sometimes displayed in their entirety on the screen, allowing the player to predict in advance how they will advance.
The player is offered remarkably precise gameplay that constantly pushes them to advance, despite the challenges incorporated by the developers. But rather than being a ruthless trial-and-error game, Celeste intelligently provides a more encouraging challenge. Although our heart often skips a beat at the thought of hitting one of the many traps or falling into the void, the construction of the game allows us to take advantage of the frequent periods of respite in order to catch our breath before the next challenge.
What’s more, while some of the characters Madeline meets give her a hard time, others are reassuring and listen to the young adventurer, whose suffering materializes on this mysterious mountain.
The Matt Makes Games team, who already created the excellent Towerfall Ascension (a multiplayer combat arena game), once again demonstrates its gameplay expertise and proves that it can captivate players with a single-player adventure thanks to a stunning atmosphere and impressive, polished level design. Platform gaming at its best.
About: Julien Goyon
An ex-librarian and musician who is constantly learning, Julien Goyon became passionate about music and video games at a very young age, which have in common the ability to create rich and wonderful imaginary worlds. After ten years of editorial adventures for several video game websites, including Musica Ludi, which he founded in 2011 with several of his friends, he now writes for Third Editions. He has never forgotten his passion for music, as he also works as a composer and sound designer for various media as well as creating his own albums.