The premise of our new “Best of the Best” column is quite simple. We’re going to take a look at all the games that have won various awards over the years and them rank them from best to worst to crown what is, well, “The Best of the Best.” The purpose of this is two-fold. The first is to generate some fun (AND CIVIL) discussions between readers and staff as they agree, disagree and make their own rankings of the award winning games. The second is to look back at the history of Diehard GameFAN and see if we can find any trends in what’s won over the years. Obviously any “Top Whatever” list is highly subjective, so keep that in mind. After all, if you give ten people a list of ten games, the likelihood that even two have them in the same exact order is quite small. So anyone taking this as SERIOUS BUSINESS and getting butt hurt that Game A is ranking higher/lower than Game B will be given a pat on the head and reminded that we’re talking about something as inconsequential to the world as video games and that they should really just relax. Now let’s have some fun as we start this new column off with the biggest award of them all: THE GAME OF THE YEAR AWARD.
We first started giving out our Game of the Year award to 2003’s winner Disgaea: Hour of Darkness by Nippon Ichi and our most recent winner was 2012’s X-Com: Enemy Unknown by Firaxis Games. In ten years we’ve given the award to eleven winners, as 2011 saw a tie between two very different games that no one felt strongly enough about breaking. We all felt both games were exceptionally worthy and so you’ll see them both on this list. That said one game will NOT be on the list and will instead get an “Honourable Mention” place simply because I still haven’t had a chance to spend more than fifteen minutes with it. I wouldn’t feel comfortable ranking a game I haven’t played and so it’s off to the side, which is a shame as I’m a huge fan of the series. I personally didn’t get to play it because the last half of that year I had to spend every waking hour dealing with a loved one’s medical issues (and the first quarter of this year until they passed) and so I simply didn’t have time for a game of that size and scope. If you’re wondering how it still made “GAME OF THE YEAR,” well we do a group consensus here at Diehard GameFAN. I’m Editor-in-Chief, not Tyrannical Dictator in Chief. So with all that out of the way, let’s see what Game of the Year winner is declared THE BEST OF THE BEST.
Honourable Mention: X-Com: Enemy Unknown (Game 2012’s Game of the Year)
Like I said, I love the X-Com series and it pains me that I haven’t gotten to play Enemy Unknown yet, but real life comes first, you know? This game was universally loved amongst the staff and it was pretty much a shoo-in at the end of the year. I can’t really comment much except that I was amused about how Mark B. named his squaddies after people he knew including the DHGF crew and was quite happy to hear I did not die in his campaign. I have so many games on my backlog but rest assured I WILL get to this one, although perhaps not in 2013. Until I do play it, I can’t comfortably rank it. I mean rank and comment on a game I haven’t played yet. What site do you think this is – INSERT NAME OF GAMING PUBLICATION YOU ARE SURE DOESN’T ACTUALLY PLAY THE GAMES THEY REVIEW HERE?
10.Super Mario Galaxy (2007’s Game of the Year)
This was an easy pick for the lowest ranking spot on the countdown because out of all the games, this is the only one I can honestly say I HATED playing. I mean, it’s well known I don’t like most Mario games (even though I pulled a paycheck from a Nintendo for six years), but this was probably my least favorite in the series. I thought it was short, insipid and just not a very good game. Obviously I was in the minority as it won our GOTY and that’s fine. It’d be a bit draconian if I didn’t let the team have their pick. I knew the game would not age well and it didn’t. When the game was up for Hall of Fame consideration in 2010, only two of the twelve staffers voting gave it a YAY. That’s a 16.6% approval. When a game doesn’t hold up even three years later, even with the people who cheerfully voted it as GOTY, you know that it probably deserves to be last of the totem pole here. Honestly though, looking back 2007 was a good but not great year for gaming and I’m hard pressed to think of a game form that year I’d feel was GOTY worthy. Maybe Pokemon Diamond & Pearl, Mass Effect or Persona 3 by default? Other possibilities worth arguing for include The Orange Box, Halo 3 and Bioshock, although I’m not a FPS gamer so I wouldn’t be the one to make a case for those. Hell, 2007 was the year when we had a Dreamcast resurgence with games like Trigger Heart Excellica, Karous, and Last Hope and I spent much of that year playing those. Maybe that’s why Super Mario Galaxy won because it was a decent game in a year of crap, so it shone brighter than it actually would have in some other year.
9. Mass Effect 2 (2010’s Game of the Year)
This is another case where the game hasn’t aged as well. Now I’ve always thought Bioware was overrated, but that’s in terms of storytelling, not gameplay. I originally played ME1 on the Xbox 360 and ME2 on my PC. I found I really did not enjoy my time with ME2. Then I played the PS3 version and found it played a lot better. I guess the PC version of Mass Effect 2 and I just didn’t synch up, which is odd because the PC is my go to platform of choice for Bioware games, especially their old D&D stuff. However three years on and a lot of the people I know that were foaming at the mouth for Mass Effect 2 have cooled considerably on the game. Now whether that’s because of EA’s business practices, fallout from the Mass Effect 3 debacle or now that the marketing hype has long since passed, people have realize that while it’s a good game, it’s not one to rant and rave over. I remember talking to Mark B. in 2012 and whereas he was once the biggest proponent of ME2 amongst the staff, even he regarded the game with a “meh.” Now none of this doesn’t mean the game is bad or even that it is unworthy of having claimed a GOTY spot – merely that it hasn’t stood the test of time and so due to fan and staff opinions on this game cooling considerably a la Super Mario Galaxy (although not as much), Mass Effect 2 takes up the number nine spot on our countdown. Of course my three favorite games from 2010 are Sakura Wars V, Pokemon Heart Gold & Soul Silver and Trinity Universe, but I don’t think I could make a case for any of them being better GOTY choices (especially the first two as one was a rerelease and the other a remake).
8. Katamari Damacy (2004’s Game of the Year)
The good news is that Katamari Damacy still holds up after all these years. When it was originally release, not only was it a truly original and bizarre game, but it was released as a $19.99 budget title! In the past nine years we’ve seen the series become watered down by no less than a dozen sequels and remakes/ports. By this time in 2013, what was once a truly memorable experience now feels like just another rolling a ball to collect stuff game. That shouldn’t take away from the original core experience, but trying to look back a decade later and remember just how magical that game felt is pretty hard to do. Katamari Damacy is still a fun game and is certainly one of the best releases of 2004, but I rank it towards the bottom due to dilution and because it only garnered a single vote when its Hall of Fame nomination came around. That says something right there. Side note: I personally pushed for Gradius V that year, as I’m a huge Treasure fan, but alas, no one else was as big a shoot ’em up fan on staff at that time.
7. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2006’s Game of the Year)
Twilight Princess is an odd duck. I definitely wouldn’t have considered it GOTY worthy, but I also can’t really say anything bad against it – the GameCube OR the Wii version. At the same time I think it’s one of the weaker Zelda titles out there. I mean, it’s no Ocarina of Time or Link to the Past. In fact I’d say the only two Zelda games I think are weaker are Zelda II and Skyward Sword. Again, there’s nothing I truly dislike about Twilight Princess, but there’s nothing that makes me champion it either. I kind of don’t feel anything towards it, which is odd. So I honestly don’t think I can rank it much higher than the seventh spot on our countdown. It was one of those years where again, there were a lot of decent or good games that came out, but nothing truly astounding that you’d really champion as a classic game for all time. Looking back, other titles bandied about as a possible GOTY winner in 2006 were Shadow Hearts: From the New World, Okami, Barrow Hill, Wii Sports, Disgaea 2 and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Although I really enjoyed all of those aforementioned games, some more than Twilight Princess, I think if any of those had won I’d have the same neutral puzzlement over them winning as I do over Twilight Princess. I mean Oblivion and From the New World are the worst games in their respective series, and had Barrow Hill somehow won I’d have wondered who I kidnapped, threatened and bribed to make that happen as I was the only guy on staff playing point and click adventures games at that point, and really it’s an obscure niche game at best. Twilight Princess also only garnered a single vote when it came up for its Hall of Fame nomination, but I do think it’s survived the test of time slightly better than Katamari Damacy in terms of how people view it.
6. Batman: Arkham City (2011’s Game of the Year)
Like all the games on this list (except Super Mario Galaxy), I enjoyed my time with Batman: Arkham City. I own both the PS3 and Wii U versions of the game. It’s only number six because I like the next five more. It’s a wonderful open world game that tells a fun story, offers some great visuals and voice acting and oozes so much fan service, it’s not even funny. I think the only thing I can nitpick is that several big name characters die (never a fan of comic book death because it doesn’t last) and that sometimes it’s a bit too big. What I mean by this is that sometimes it feels like there is just too much packed into the game and that actually limits you from enjoying it. I had the same problem with Makai Kingdom compared to other NISA SRPGs. I loved the story and Zetta is an awesome character to be sure, but it added so much new stuff to an already deep system that it felt like overkill. As great as Arkham City was and as much as I loved it, there are times I felt a tighter experience could have helped the game in some areas. I’d still recommend it to anyone who doesn’t own it and it feels a bit dirty trying to justify why this is “only” number six on the countdown because I really enjoy this game and feel it was definitely GOTY worthy back in 2011. That said, if you don’t have it already, get the Wii U version since you get all the DLC and some new Wii U exclusive bits to boot. Might as well get all you can, right?
5. Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009’s Game of the Year)
Bam! Two Batman games back to back. Why is the original ranked higher than the sequel? A few reasons. The first is the aforementioned tighter narrative that felt more like a comic book experience. The second is it was far more impactful. After all, Arkham City is just Arkham Asylum with more stuff to do. When Arkham Asylum came out, it blew everyone away and then some. It just had a far more impressive impact on gamers everywhere because aside from the NES Batman game and maybe Vengeance, there really hadn’t been a good Batman video game. All that changed with Arkham Asylum. It was not only one of the best licensed games ever, but easily the best superhero game of all time. When Arkham City came out, we weren’t all blown away. We simply expected an awesome game and Rocksteady delivered. So impact-wise, I think Arkham Asylum had a greater effect on the industry and that’s why it is ranked higher. That said, the reason it’s “only” number five is that damn terrible ending with Giant Venom Joker. It just kind of destroyed the overall feel the rest of the game had. The fact Arkham Asylum DOMINATED our 2009 awards in a year when Borderlands, Demon’s Souls, Dragon Age: Origins, just shows how good of a game it was, and still is.
4. Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga (2005’s Game of the Year)
Oh man, it feels weird to be putting this at number four because I am such a huge fan of that game. What does that tell you about the rest of the games on this countdown then? I love Megaten. Whether it’s the core series, Devil Summoner, Devil Survivor, Persona, IF, Nine, Strange Journey or what have you, I love the series. It’s mainly because of the stories. I still feel that the one two punch of Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment is the best Lovecraftian homage in the history of gaming. When Digital Devil Saga first came out I was blown away. The story was not only intact but it was captivating on so many levels. You had subtle bits like accents and speech styles of the characters changes for reasons you wouldn’t discover into much later in the game. At first when it happens you think, “Localization issues much?” but it’s actually extremely important to the tale being told. The game is also unabashedly Japanese, rife with demons, cannibalism, existential Descartian philosophy and the wonderful Turn Press Engine Atlus came up with. Look, I usually don’t like turn based RPGs. I’m more a SRPG or action RPG gamer, but this was such a great engine, I feel a little sad it’s not used anymore.
So why are there three games above it? Well, I can’t deny that Digital Devil Saga is probably the best RPG on the PS2, but it’s an exceptionally niche game that isn’t for everyone. Even some of the Atlus faithful who are used to the more school-simmy Persona 3 & 4 games might find the story of DDS too dark, too violent and perhaps most of all, too deep. There is a LOT being said between the lines of this game here. So much of the tale is metaphor and conceptual blending that some gamers won’t get what is really going on until the very end of the game when it hits you over the head with what has actually been going on the entire time you’ve been playing. That’s not an experience for everyone and I understand that. As well, much like both Persona 2 titles, you need to experience this AND its sequel, Avatar Tuner to get the full story and well, Avatar Tuner definitely isn’t as good as the original and because of that, DDS1 suffers a bit when the two are combined to form the whole narrative. Really the experience would have been better off just ending with DDS1, but that’s just me.
So yes, I love this game and it’s hard to think of any game from 2005 that even begins to approach Digital Devil Saga in quality (maybe Psychonauts). I mean what else was there? Shining Force Neo? Haunting Ground? Jade Empire? Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth? Wrestlemania XXI? HA HA HA. No.
3. Valkyria Chronicles (2008’s Game of the Year)
Let’s be honest, by the time 2008 rolled around, Sega was a shadow of its former self, more the butt of the industry’s jokes for bad decisions, and even worse ones after Sammy bought them. From Shadow the Hedgehog to a consistent string of underwhelming games, this was not the Sega that gave us Shining Force, Sakura Taisen, Sonic the Hedgehog 1 & 2 , Phantasy Star or Panzer Dragoon. However, the team behind Phantasy Star II & IV and the Sakura Wars games (Overworks aka Sega WOW) had one left card to play, and man was it a doozie. Valkyria Chronicles was a throwback to everything that made Sega so popular in the 90s, but with modern visuals and a gripping stories that showed the frank realities of war (with a slight fantasy twist). It was one of the best games I had played in years and although the game sold poorly stateside, everyone who played it seemed to fall in love with the game. Joel, Bebito, Chuck, Sean, Aileen and Ashe all gushed over this game like it single handedly saved Sega. Hell, I did the same thing in my review of it. So it was no surprise that come the end of the year, Valkyria Chronicles won our Game of the Year award. It was inevitable. I still utterly adore this game and roll my eyes when I actually see people say they won’t play it because it lacks trophies.
The sequel went on to win our best PSP game in 2010 and well, we’re still waiting for an English version of Valkyria Chronicles 3. Oh Sega, one second you give us an arcade perfect The House of the Dead 4 and the next, you bar us from ever getting the last game in the best trilogy you’ve put out in at least a decade. Boo-urns, I say. In fact the only reason this game isn’t number one on the chart is because it’s very niche and the other two games are often times listed as the best game ever made in their genre…which is hard to top, you know?
2. Radiant Silvergun (2011’s Game of the Year)
So, clarification. By our DHGF rules, any game that has never been released in English is eligible for an award the year it comes out. Otherwise, if it’s ever been released in English before, as a port, remake or what have you, it’s really only eligible for our “Best Remake/Re-Release” award. Well in 2011, the unthinkable happened and we got an English version of RADIANT SILVERGUN. As a very fanatical supporter of the Sega Saturn, I’ve owned a copy of the original since 1998 when it first came out. Hell, half my Saturn collection are crazy imports like Slayers Royal, Shining Force 3, Scenarios 2, 3 and Premium Edition, X-Men Vs. Street Fighter, Dungeons & Dragons Collection, Prisoner of Ice and so on. Treasure’s little creation seems to be the Japanese game that gets the most play in my holiest of systems. Microsoft threw a LOT of money at Treasure to get an XBLA exclusive HD remake of the game for the Xbox 360 and when announced, everyone who has ever enjoyed a good shoot ’em up, pretty much let out a massive scream of joy. As Mark said in his review, for many gamers Radiant Silvergun is the Holy Grail of the industry and to get an HD remake on a modern system, why, for some of you it would be like getting Dragon Force 2 in English – or maybe Fatal Frame 4 brought stateside. For others it might be getting Mike Schmidt and George Brett to do commentary on the new MLB or The Show game. For others it might be that Final Fantasy VII HD Remake you’ve dreamed of, complete with new ending where Sephiroth and Cloud make sweet sweet love, causing Aeris to come back to life. This was a big deal and for those that have a Xbox 360 and do not own this game, well I say fie on you sir or madam, for you and your ilk are everything that is wrong with humanity. Or not. Maybe you just don’t like games where you are a plane blowing up shit.
In all seriousness though, Radiant Silvergun deserves its universal hype as one of the greatest games ever made and it’s proof that an old Sega Saturn game is still better than 99.99% of the titles released for modern consoles and PCs, so maybe…just maybe there’s a lesson to be learned in all this. That lesson of course is that the Saturn is pretty sweet which is why Capcom, Treasure and Sega have finally started giving us HD remakes and ports of games for the system like Night Warriors, Fighting Vipers and Guardian Heroes. Let me know when they get to Burning Rangers and Shining the Holy Ark though so I can GET UP ALL IN YOUR FACE WITH HOW FUN THOSE GAMES ARE TOO. Ahem.
So why is this game ONLY number two on the countdown. Well, it is MY countdown and it’s for two highly subjective reasons. The first is that I’ve had and played the ever loving hell out of Radiant Silvergun for thirteen years before most English speaking gamers (and a lot of Japanese gamers too; the print run on the Saturn version was teeny tiny compared to most AAA games these days). Because of this the 2011 release didn’t affect me as much as it did those that were FINALLY going to enjoy it. The other is that it feels a little odd to say the best game released from 2003 on is a game actually released in 1998. I really strongly considered it though, but in truth it was kind of a coin toss between ol’ RS and the game that won and I’ll explain why said game takes the number spot in its entry.
Disgaea: Hour of Darkness (2003’s Game of the Year)
…and so here we are with our first Game of the Year award winner being crowned the best of the lot. I do think SRPGs are my favorite genre, which helped the game secure the top spot here, but there are several other reasons. The first is that it’s the only game on the list that has made it into the Video Game Hall of Fame. The second is that a very strong case can be made that Disgaea saved (or at least revived) the entire SRPG which, before its release, was in danger of becoming extinct. Hell it was the first mainstream SRPG since Final Fantasy Tactics or Shining Force. There’s the fact it’s one of the funniest games ever made (and definitely the funniest RPG up to that point). It also offers a crazy amount of value for the buck. Back in 2003 a RPG hour lasting over forty hours was rare. A RPG that could last hundreds of hours and still leave the gamer with multiple endings and optional encounters to still discover was unheard of. I could probably beat the other nine games on this list and the combined time would probably be as long as it would take to 100% Disgaea, give or take a bit. It’s the game Atlus USA made a mint on. It’s the game that convinced Nippon Ichi to bring their business stateside. It’s the game that convinced many a publisher to take the chance with some pretty bizarre Japanese games that would have stayed in their homeland otherwise. There are so many ways this game shaped our industry that we sometimes forget it in the glut of SRPGs (especially Nippon Ichi ones) that have followed since. Of course, there’s also the fact the game is a lot of fun, really revolutionized the SRPG genre and gave us some highly memorable characters like Laharl, Etna and of course, PRINNIES DOOD!
Overall, it comes down to the fact that I’ve probably had more fun with Disgaea than any of the other titles on this list in the past decade and that’s really why it ends up taking the top spot. After all, we’re looking at the past ten years and unfortunately for Radiant Silvergun the most fun I had with that from 98-01 on my Sega Saturn. I’ve enjoyed the HD remake but unfortunately for it, the past fifteen months of my life have been crazy hectic and so I couldn’t really sit down with it like the old Saturn version and thus it simply couldn’t recapture the same magic. All these things add up to why Disgaea takes the #1 spot on this countdown and becomes my pick for “The Best of the Best” amongst our Game of the Year winners.
…of course this countdown is highly subjective and just one man’s opinion. By all means, take this list of eleven games and rank them yourselves. If we were all the same in terms of tastes and preferences, then there’d be no point in waxing (or ranting) about video games on the internet. Feel free to leave your own rankings in the comments. I’d love to see them. Now for those interested in statistics, read on.
Developers that have won GOTY Award:
Firaxis Games: Once
Nippon Ichi: Once
Now Production: Once
Sega Wow: Once
Publishers that have won a GOTY award:
2k Games: Once
ATLUS USA: Twice
Electronic Arts: Once
Namco Bandai: Once
WB Games: Once
Systems that have Won a GOTY Award:
Microsoft Xbox 360: Once
Multi-Console: Four Times
Nintendo Wii: Twice
Sony Playstation 2: Three Times
Sony Playstation 3: Once
Genres that have won GOTY awards:
Action RPG: Three times
Tactical/Strategic RPG: Three times
Turn Based RPG: Once
Shoot ‘Em Up: Once