Retronaissance’s Most Anticipated Games of 2017

SNES Master KI

Well, 2016 is almost over, and while there were some great games released, I mainly just want this year to end and to focus on the future (or gaming’s future, anyway).  Thankfully, 2017 in gaming fills me with a sense of true optimism (as opposed to forced hope) that I haven’t had in a long time, lots of series that haven’t had an entry (or a satisfying entry) in years are returning and while Nintendo has a lot less representation on this list than my ones from previous years, things should Switch on that front very early in the year.  So, let’s hurry up and get our focus to the new year.  I’ve decided to handle games from previous lists that got hit by delays with a rule that games can only appear on my lists twice, so Zelda won’t be showing up this time.  Let’s get this started!

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Of Axioms and Idioms: The “Bayonetta May Cry” Syndrome

I have this tendency to start new series on the Retronaissance blog seemingly at random, only to let them die. I think my main problem is that I come up with a topic that I would absolutely love to revisit on multiple occasions, I come up with one topic to serve as a pilot article for the prospective series and then when it comes right down to it, I’m either unable to think of a good follow-up or a severely limited number of viable subjects for future pieces. Here’s hoping this one ends up surviving.

Welcome to the first article in a new series, “Of Axioms and Idioms”. These articles will essentially act as a soapbox for various “rules of thumb” I appear to have. Odd quirky choices that have affected my personal taste in video games and specific trends I’ve pinpointed. These aren’t going to be simple revelations – so don’t expect articles on why I love arcade-style games over their simulation counterparts, why I love fighting games or why I detest most turn-based RPGS – more along the lines of specific aspects that transcend genres, companies and generations.

The topic of this first article is simple, yet more than likely incoherent: a certain phenomenon I generally refer to as the “Bayonetta May Cry” syndrome. Essentially, playing later games in a franchise/genre, has a certain tendency to paint earlier iterations in such a negative light, that I’m completely unable to enjoy them. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it is a prejudice I wholeheartedly acknowledge. Of course, on the surface it probably seems obvious: I’ve never heard of a case of a video game sequel not attempting to surpass its original.

“Bayonetta May Cry” seems like an odd way to phrase it, but I mainly identify it as such due to the events that led me to fully realize and articulate exactly what was going on. I was playing the original Devil May Cry on the PS2 for the first time. Unfortunately, by that point, I had already played through the original Bayonetta on Xbox 360 and it had painted a very vivid picture of what to expect of “character action games”, a sub-genre which DMC trailblazed. Unfortunately, DMC1 did not live up to the hype and as such, I never ended up finishing the game. I may want to do so at some point, but only on my terms – perhaps if Capcom decides to port that shiny HD collection to PC?

There are some other examples that come to mind. Obviously, I played Street Fighter II long before the original (or at least, a real version of the original) – but that’s so common, it’s not worth mentioning. Tekken 1 and 2, on the other hand, seems a lot more interesting. While I did encounter Tekken 1 first (in an arcade on vacation), Tekken 2 was the first game in the series I played. The evolution that went on between these two games is amazing – the graphics, the gameplay, everything but the roster had changed immensely. Likewise, you’ve got the Capcom vs. SNK duology: the first game was alright, but playing the second game first: with its extended roster, the expanded number of fighting styles and the complete overhaul of the ratio system, CvS2 surpassed the original in every way.

Aside from Bayonetta and Devil May Cry, perhaps the best example of this feeling happened with Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series. While I did technically start The Sacred Stones first, playing Awakening on the 3DS pretty much confirmed that I would never be looking back on it. The best part about this one is that I can even track my opinions of it. At first, I thought Sacred Stones was alright, a bit slow compared to other strategy-RPGs I had played at that point, but not bad. After playing Awakening, however, I decided there was no looking back: too much had improved and I was completely looking forward. The ability to pair up units alone confirmed that I would never go back to the GBA title and made me glad that I hadn’t paid a single cent for it – after all, I had received it as a 3DS Ambassador bonus.

Of course, it’s all contextual: I’m a lot more forgiving when it comes to retro games – or at least, what I consider to be retro games. Anything before the 5th generation (Sega Saturn, Nintendo 64 and the original PlayStation) are generally safe, as well as the Dreamcast due to its short lifespan. The rest of the 6th generation – the PlayStation 2, the GameCube and the original Xbox – are more of a blind spot for me. I understand that they’ve been gone for roughly a decade now, but it feels like they were the beginning of what the current generations of consoles built themselves upon, a clear break from the earlier generations. It doesn’t help that that was the generation where I essentially felt out of mainline video games, preferring to stick to portables and classic retro for the time being.

I’m certain this bias has pretty much always existed in the back of my head. It’s part of the reason I’ve always liked playing series “in release order” as opposed to doing what most people suggest and start with the latest game in the series before working backwards. I’m completely convinced that playing later games earlier will ruin the earlier games in a franchise for me, though there have been some cases where this has not come to pass. For example, I played the TurboGrafx-16 version of Ys Books I & II after Ys I & II Chronicles+ on Steam. I enjoyed the TG-16 version a lot, despite Chronicles+ being a longer game, with more responsive controls and superior graphics. There were some things I’d argue that Books I & II did better than the later release – best example would be the fact that the leveling system was balanced to account for both games.

Still, I worry that game mechanics and features that I grow to rely on and expect in later entries in a long-running series may end up spoiling me. More importantly, I’m worried that it may color my outlook on the earlier games, because I’ll be unable to realize whether I hate it because it lacks features I’ve come to expect or if the game is legitimately bad. Of course, that’s something that anyone who focuses on retro games would have to worry about, whether there is nostalgia for the subject matter or if it’s an unfamiliar release. It’s important to keep this kind of thing in mind.

Of course, the truth is it’s for the best that I’ve realized this bias of mine. It helps me to compensate when playing older games. This came into play this past year, when I finally decided to livestream Final Fantasy 7 – one of the three games I’d consider the most beloved (if not overrated) of its generation, alongside the original Metal Gear Solid and Ocarina of Time. When playing the game, I promised not to compare it to more modern turn-based RPGs I liked: games like Undertale, Evolution Worlds and the first two Paper Mario games. I decided to compare it to its predecessors – Earthbound, Super Mario RPG – as well as a contemporary game: Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, originally released a few months before FF7 was in Japan. It didn’t help matters (I still ended up hating FF7), but at least I avoided the pitfall of judging the game against modern games that should have surpassed it.

Of the odd preferences and quirky opinions I could possibly discuss in this series, this one would have to be one of the more negative ones. Comparing older games to later iterations in their series or genre is clearly unfair, but the problem would have to be that it’s common. When you consider that there are younger gamers enjoying the medium, some that weren’t even alive during the 5th and 6th generations, it’s completely understandable: few people my age like watching films from before they were born, so why should kids today be forced to appreciate games that are clunkier and less refined than those that are available to them on a wider and more regular basis? The one upshot to that is that by acknowledging it, I can avoid unfairly judging older games by forcing them to live up to unfair standards and hopefully this will allow me to judge them more fairly, even in retrospect. Maybe one day, I’ll even go back to playing the original Devil May Cry.

You Just Might Get It

Over the past year, we have seen a significant uptake in confirmations for long-awaited titles with a significant amount of fan demand. Square Enix is finally making a full remake of Final Fantasy 7, Capcom is at work on a remake of Resident Evil 2, Yu Suzuki is finally free to work on the long-awaited Shenmue III and Sony even revived The Last Guardian, a project many had assumed dead (myself included). We’ve also seen Half-Life 3 listed on a Steam database leak that included many other titles which have since been confirmed. Even last month, there have been some rumblings from some very reliable sources that Nintendo may finally be releasing Mother 3 outside of Japan, which is what led me to reflect on all of these events in the first place. Is this the beginning of a new renaissance for video games or could this be the beginning of the end of the current era of video games?
Yes, I know that last bit seems a bit like hyperbole, but think about it: many of these titles have been the money shot for companies, the one big thing each publisher could offer that could bring even the most jaded ex-customers evangelize that their once-beloved company has made a complete return to form…assuming all goes according to plan. After all, this isn’t the first time that games once thought impossible or abandoned have resurfaced.
Exhibit A: Duke Nukem Forever. After languishing in development hell for over a decade, DNF finally managed to hit store shelves in 2011. It was met with mostly negative reactions: the gameplay had modernized the wrong aspects, while keeping outdated elements that could use updated; the game’s storyline and humor was considered immature and juvenile at best and downright offensive at worst and some have even claimed that the graphics in the final build look worse than some of the earlier unreleased builds. One of the best examples of the old idiom “be careful what you wish for”, the only things that came out of Duke Nukem Forever’s eventual release were the IP being doomed to being confined to one of the scummiest developers I’ve ever seen since I started playing video games and the fact that it acts as a perfect warning that any dream game can easily be turned into a nightmare given the proper circumstances.
Then again, Duke Nukem Forever was merely a sequel. I’ve pretty much always assumed that remakes are held with even more scrutiny than sequels. A few years back, I wrote that sequels generally had a rough time just due to fanbases never being able to agree on how much or how little a new iteration of a series should change from its predecessors. Yet no one would disagree that a game’s sequel should change at least something. Likewise, very few fans would bemoan borrowing any concepts from the game’s pedigree – unless there were complete shifts in the series’ history and even then, most fans generally have a good idea of what game to use as a base for future games in their series of choice. When dealing with pre-established material, the idea that anything should deviate from the source material is itself a heated topic for debate. Some believe that a remake should closely resemble the original game as much as possible, with the only real alterations being improved graphics and load times. Others believe that a remake is license to fully reimagine the original source material to the point where it becomes unrecognizable. Most gamers fall somewhere between these two extremes and unfortunately, there’s the rub: with an even broader spectrum to play with, there’s an even smaller chance that the developers can make a product that would satisfy the majority of the audience.
We’re already seeing that now with Final Fantasy 7 Remake. When the game was first announced, every fan of the PS1 classic was completely elated, especially after the cruel tease that the Steam port of the original PC version was being ported to PS4 in the first place. Eventually, information began trickling in. Fans were pleased with the early graphics and the exploratory gameplay impressed many. Then Square Enix revealed the battle system: not the Active Time Battle-flavored turn-based system the fans had grown up with, but rather something that looked significantly more real-time and action-oriented. From what I could see online, the fanbase was immediately divided: some kept open minds about the changes, with a few even stating that the new changes looked interesting; while others felt betrayed, saying that Square Enix had turned their backs on them. However, the worst was yet to come – Square Enix then announced that FF7 Remake would be episodic, that is, split into multiple games. The most positive response to that bombshell was cautious optimism, but the majority saw the decision with pure, unadulterated pessimism.
The way I see things, there are two distinct outcomes for these games and they all rely entirely on sales and fan response, critics be damned. The game either hits or exceeds its sales targets or fails to make them by a significant amount. Ironically enough, I’d consider failure to be the more beneficial outcome on these projects. Why, you may ask? It’s nothing against the projects themselves, but if the games themselves fail and the publishers didn’t sink all of their finances on development, then it should be easy enough to regroup and come up with a new project without the hopes and dreams of an entire fanbase resting on its shoulders.
Conversely, let’s say these games are runaway successes. I’ve only got one question for the publishers should that happen: okay, what’s next? Let’s face it, if these games end up succeeding, all these companies (aside from SEGA, I guess, since they’re pretty hands off with Shenmue III) will have blown their loads when it comes to fan service. After all, what do you do for an encore when the most anticipated title in your library finally gets released? Sure, there are definitely other long-awaited titles from many of these companies – the problem is, none of them have quite the same reach as the titles they’ve chosen. Take Square Enix: if FF7 Remake succeeds, then what else can they do? Kingdom Hearts III has already been announced, but it’s currently being held up by FFXV. After that sees release, there’s really nothing with as much appeal – some fans might ask for a remake of FFVI (trust me, I know at least one guy who’s begging for one); others might ask for Squenix to try their hands at another series, Chrono Trigger comes quickly to mind. The problem with any of these projects is that they lack the same consolidated fan response that FF7 Remake has.
Of course, this is all just one man’s opinion – and that man tends to be pessimistic and likes to find the cloud in every silver lining. Maybe I’m wrong to scrutinize the logic behind finally giving the fans what they want, without any potential thought into the repercussions that might have in the long run or at least consideration of what “the next big thing” would be. In fact, I honestly hope I’m wrong. I happen to like most of the companies that are putting their necks on the line and don’t want them to go the way of THQ, all for the sake of a pie in the sky release that has a snowball’s chance in Hell of reaching the immense expectations of a fanbase that’s been salivating over these releases for at least a decade in most cases.

Two Sides to Every Story

While video games are primarily known for their gameplay and interactivity, each new generation has increased the importance of various other qualities of the medium. Graphics, music and sound have all made impressive strides in the past few generation, to the point where gaming is unrecognizable compared to how it was even a decade ago, let alone three. By comparison, however, storytelling in video games has probably made among the largest strides by comparison. In this medium, we have gone from having either no context or a sentence-long blurb to having multiple hours of cutscenes in the average game.

That’s not to say that there haven’t been any shortfalls in the process, even toward when story in games has become so ubiquitous in the industry. Sometimes, an emphasis on story can hurt a game. Take for example, Ducktales Remastered. While I personally liked the game’s various cutscenes, which were literally scattered throughout each stage, many gamers threw a temper tantrum about the entire affair, claiming that they wreck the game’s overall flow. Of course, a later update added the option to automatically skip most of the game’s cutscenes, but the damage was done. Somehow, putting some story elements into a game based on a Saturday morning cartoon of all things ruined it for everyone.

Of course, the lessons one should probably learn are that some genres are more conducive to involved storylines than others. To this day, fighting games have had some major difficulties with implementing cohesive storylines and plots, just due to their history. In the fighting game genre, canonical events weren’t usually determined until the sequel, as there were several playable characters, each with their own unique endings and in many cases, one character’s ending would contradict another’s. Most modern Japanese (or Japanese-influenced) fighting games opt for fleshed-out story modes for each playable character that resemble a visual novel, with specific fights placed between certain segments for flavor. Netherrealm Studios did something similar in both the latest Mortal Kombat game and Injustice: Gods Among Us, substituting the visual novel portions with cutscenes and delivering one unified storyline with multiple playable characters, though generally not the entire cast. Many gamers preferred NRS’s style of delivering narrative and hope to see more companies attempt something similar in the future. The majority of long-time hardcore fighting game fans, however, don’t really care about these or other single-player modes, preferring a greater emphasis on the base gameplay mechanics.

Recently, a new concept has started to become popular within the video game journalism community: ludonarrative dissonance. Ludonarrative dissonance occurs when there are inconsistences between the gameplay and the storyline of a video game. The Bioshock series is among the most popular examples used to explain this: as the thoughtful exploratory nature of the games’ protagonists as depicted in the game’s storyline is considered by some to be at odds with the violent gameplay the series is well-known for. A simpler example would be how Aerith died permanently in FFVII, when Phoenix Downs are both plentiful and capable of resurrecting the dead. Since storyline is becoming more and more an integral part to most modern video games, this is something that must also be kept in mind.

Personally, I’ve never been a fan of exclusively using cutscenes to depict story in video games. Some games have chosen a more “interactive” route in certain cases, allowing for in-game conversations that mimic the traditional cutscenes. A few games that utilize this include Arkham Asylum and the Half-Life games. While this does have the disadvantage of breaking immersion by allowing players to retain some control, it has the added benefit of making the transition between gameplay and story sequences more seamless than the traditional cutscene method. Not to mention, I tend to think it’s kind of fun to mess around with the in-game camera, attack them without doing any real damage or even just interrupting people in-game when given the option.

There’s also the method of hiding story materials within the gameplay itself. Games like the Bioshock series, Demon’s Souls/Dark Souls and the aforementioned Arkham Asylum all hid various items containing backstory and other context for the game’s story in the game itself. Retelling various characters’ and locations’ backstories through journal entries, signposts and even audio recordings does an even better job of creating an immersive storyline than all the cutscenes in every video game in the past decade combined and I would love to see more games attempt this sort of storytelling. Of course, this has the added disadvantage of “cheating” less adventurous players out of a significant portion of the deeper storyline, while cutscenes are generally available to everyone. If I’m going to be honest though, I think that’s worth it.

To wraps things up, here are some DOs and DON’Ts for any game developers, fledgling or otherwise, who happen to come across this article. DO allow for skippable cutscenes, some people aren’t really big on these things and the fact that this still isn’t an industry standard is disgraceful. If you’re going to prevent people from always being able to skip cutscenes, at least allow them the option to skip after the first time they’ve seen it. Forcing gamers to keep rewatching the same damn cutscene that takes place before that boss they just can’t beat is cruel and unusual punishment.

DON’T choose a game genre that doesn’t suit the story you’re trying to tell, and vice versa. For example, if your main character is supposed to be some kind of a pacifist, an action hack-and-slash game probably isn’t the best choice for your particular universe. And for the record, this isn’t a jab at the Bioshock franchise. In fact, I don’t even believe that the Bioshock games suffer from ludonarrative dissonance: both Rapture and Columbia have very seedy underbellies and survival is the name of the game.

DO make an effort to allow players’ actions have some kind of tangible effect on the gameplay. Even if it’s something as minor as some subtle aesthetic changes or some slight variation in some dialogue later in the game, this little parlor trick tends to make story-oriented gamers happy. Plus, it adds to replay value, which is always good to have in general. As long as it makes sense within your game’s narrative and you don’t go overboard with it, it should work out fine.

Speaking of overboard, DON’T oversaturate your game with cutscenes. If I wanted to sit through 7+ hours of uninterrupted non-interactive segments, I’d go for a TV show or movie binge on Netflix, because that’s what TV shows and movies are good at: being passive entertainment. If you ship a game with more hours of cutscenes and cinematics than gameplay, you have failed as a developer. A good rule of thumb, at least in my opinions, would be to shoot for at least 3 hours of gameplay for every hour of cutscenes in a single-player campaign, bare minimum.

DO try to achieve a proper tone for the storyline you’re trying to tell. Not everything has to be an epic, serious storyline: take a look at how well Sonic ’06 turned out. Light-hearted storylines or straight-up parodies shouldn’t be as rare in gaming as they are today. We need more games we can just laugh at. On that note, DON’T wedge a story into a game if you can’t make it work. Despite the fact that all single-player games seem to be moving more and more towards story-heavy experiences, I think there is still a need out there for some arcade-style games with minimal storylines. The backlash against Ducktales Remastered supports my point here. The most important thing to remember is that if your focus during development is on telling a story, make sure it’s one worth telling in a game, instead of some other medium. Interactivity should be key to your story in some form, even the crummiest fighting game storyline got that one right, because even at worst, it was the bare minimum of what could be considered a Choose Your Own Adventure, and a CYOA is more interactive than the stories in most other forms of media.

In the end, regardless of how important stories become as video games continue to evolve and grow, they should never come at the cost of gameplay. Even in the case of visual novels, where the most complex form of interactivity you’re likely to find is cycling through multiple menu choices, unless they include some kind of weird mini-game. Excising the gameplay from a video game is like taking the video out of television or movies, the sound from radio and even the words from books. In some cases, you’ll be left with something, but the main point of that particular form of media will be lost on its audience.

A Tough Act to Follow

Over the years, there were tons of video games that are universally liked by critics and gamers alike, and there were sequels that had much more praise than their predecessors. However, even among the most critically acclaimed game series there are games that other entries can’t come close to. What I’ve decided to do was to make a list and narrow down specific games that meet this criteria. There were ten different choices I have made for this list, and with that, I present to you the ten games that are a Tough Act to Follow.

Street Fighter II: The World Warrior – Arcade (1991)

The original Street Fighter hit the arcades in 1987 with lukewarm responses, but when Street Fighter II was released in 1991, the game became an instant hit. It was so popular that Capcom made an updated version of it a year later, followed by three more subsequent updates ending with Super Street Fighter II Turbo. People were getting tired of the updates, as they were waiting for Street Fighter III. A new game was announced in 1995, but it wasn’t Street Fighter III; it was Street Fighter Alpha. While the game was popular, as were Street Fighter Alpha 2 and 3, they never reached the same success as Street Fighter II. When Street Fighter III was released, it did not catch on due to the lack of classic characters save for Ryu, Ken, Akuma, and Chun-Li (granted, Chun-Li only appeared in Third Strike, while Akuma did not appear in New Generation). While Street Fighter IV (and its subsequent updates) was successful, the original game was criticized for balance issues (mainly with Sagat being overpowered, which was proven to be unfair). Still, its popularity couldn’t match the same type of popularity that Street Fighter II had.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles – Genesis (1994)

After two successful games in the series, Sonic the Hedgehog became a pop culture phenomenon in the early 1990’s. To capitalize on the success, Sega released Sonic the Hedgehog 3 on what was dubbed as “Hedgehog Day”, which happened on Groundhog Day of 1994. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 introduced a save feature, a new character, new ways to get into special stages, bonus stages through checkpoint lamp posts, and new power ups. There are greater distinction of levels per zone (including the music), as well as differentiation of characters in regards to their skill (such as Tails being able to fly or swim). While Sonic 1 and 2 had in game cutscenes, it was fleshed out more in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles to show what’s going to happen next. The game’s reception was a lot more critically acclaimed in comparison to its predecessors in spite of the fact that Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knuckles were released separately within a span of eight months.

Super Metroid – SNES (1994)

The original Metroid introduced exploration in a side-scrolling adventure game in a non-linear world. Metroid II introduced save points, which eliminated the need for passwords. Both of those games were popular in their own rights, and were both well received; granted, Metroid II wasn’t as well received as the first one, but was still popular enough. When Super Metroid was released, it introduced many new elements to the series, such as a map, more expansive areas, eight-way directional shooting, and new weapon and item upgrades. It is exponentially better than the original Metroid, and has done a lot more than what the original Metroid has offered. There have been many other Metroid games that came afterwards, but none of them have reached the same critical acclaim that Super Metroid had, although Metroid Prime came close to it. Since Super Metroid is held to a high standard, every Metroid game that came after it would always be judged in comparison.

Super Mario 64 – N64 (1996)/Super Mario Galaxy 2 – Wii (2010)

After many years of 2D Mario platformers, with the last ones being Super Mario World and Yoshi’s Island on Super Nintendo, and Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins for Game Boy, the next step was to bring Mario into a new world: The Third Dimension. The goal was to bring Mario into a 3D World where he can explore new areas like never before, and Super Mario 64 accomplished that. While the Nintendo 64 was not as successful as the Sony Playstation, Super Mario 64 was very popular, and to this day, is still highly regarded as one of, if not, the best platformers of all time. Super Mario Sunshine tried to capitalize on it with more expansive worlds, and a new mechanic, the F.L.U.D.D., specifically made for this game. Unfortunately, it didn’t reach the same critical and commercial success that Super Mario 64 had.

Super Mario Galaxy changed things up, and Super Mario Galaxy 2 takes it into another level. The gameplay is similar to the original Super Mario Galaxy, where it has a new physics engine, which allows each and every celestial object to have its own gravitational force, which lets players circumnavigate rounded or irregular planetoids, walking upside down, or sideways, for a matter of giving the game a feel of going through galaxies. There are new unique stages with excellent level design, as well as a new Hub World, the Starship Mario. You collect 120 Power Stars, 120 Green Stars, and 2 special Power Stars, bringing it up to a total of 242 Stars. The game received critical praise that matches Super Mario Galaxy, with many of the critics citing that this game is better than the original. There have been debates on the Galaxy games (specifically Galaxy 2) and 64 as to which is the best in the 3D Mario series, and with Super Mario 3D World out now, only time will tell if it will match or surpass the praise of these games.

Final Fantasy VII – PS1 (1997)

While past Final Fantasy games were popular amongst dedicated gamers, Final Fantasy VII was the first Japanese RPG to have a mainstream presence in the western market. The gameplay hasn’t changed much from the previous Final Fantasy games, but it was the first game in the series in 3D. The pre-rendered backgrounds and the breathtaking FMV cutscenes wowed people to the point that an entire market opened up to JRPG’s. Final Fantasy VII for many gamers was an introduction to Japanese RPG’s, and the story was a lot more complex than what gamers had seen, and was a one of the first console based games to have more openly adult themes in western markets.

Final Fantasy VII was well received, and sold really well, and it cemented Sony’s dominance in the fifth generation console wars. While some later Final Fantasy games, such as IX, and in between X and XII, had dedicated fanbases, none of them matched the mainstream impact that VII had. To this day, people still demand a remake of Final Fantasy VII, but all Final Fantasy VII fans received were spinoff games and a movie.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – PS1 (1997)

Castlevania has always been a popular series ever since it made its debut on the NES back in 1987. While it had a lot of hits with games such as Dracula’s Curse, Super Castlevania IV, and even the Japanese TurboGrafx-CD game Rondo of Blood, it wasn’t until the series made the jump on the Playstation with Symphony of the Night. This game was a complete departure from other Castlevania games, and adopted a Metroid-esque style with RPG elements, allowing you to explore Dracula’s Castle in its entirety. The popularity of this game led to more games in the series, as well as other games to adopt this style, dubbed as “Metroidvania” due to their similarities with Super Metroid with the map and structure with the game. There have been other Castlevania sequels to come out after this game, and while some of them couldn’t match the popuarity, others just fell flat. No matter what Castlevania game comes out, people will always make the claim that Symphony of the Night is the best game in the series.

Resident Evil 2 – PS1 (1998)/Resident Evil 4 – GCN (2005)

While Resident Evil 1 and 3 have their respective fanbases, Resident Evil 2 was the most popular game of the original trilogy. The controls were refined, the ammo wasn’t as limited, and when you draw your gun, you face towards the nearest enemy. It made better use of having two playable characters, giving the game continuity between the character’s stories, and having rewards for beating the game with the second character. This game was well received, with fans wanting a remake of this game.

By the time Resident Evil 4 had been released, the initial Resident Evil Formula was considered stale due to the awkward fixed camera and controls, as well as it being a newer generation at the time, so it felt much like an early 3D game. Therefore, Capcom capped Shinji Mikami to reimagine the Survival Horror genre. While many prototypes became other Capcom games, the final product was significantly different from the Resident Evil of old. The game now resembles a Third-Person Shooter, but still stayed true to the series’ Survival Horror roots. You don’t have to find a specific item to save anymore, which removes the limitation of saving. It got really good critical reception, it received good reviews on release and has won Game of the Year on multiple publications. This game is also a fan favorite, with fans claiming that it was arguably the best game in the series. After Resident Evil 4, fans argued that the games in the mainline series focused more on action gameplay, as a detriment to the series. Other games in the series that had the Survival Horror gameplay either didn’t succeed financially, or did not give the Survival Horror experience that longtime fans had hoped for.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – N64 (1998)

Like Super Mario 64, Nintendo wanted to bring The Legend of Zelda to a new world. They did so by changing the top-down overworld seen in past Zelda games into a more dynamic 3D environment. It is the first Zelda game in the series to introduce free-roaming, context-sensitive actions, and Z-targeting. There is a method where you can change the setting to seven years in the future, where Link becomes an adult, and must rescue the rest of the seven sages. While the Ocarina has appeared in past Zelda games, Ocarina of Time lets you learn twelve different melodies for solving puzzles and teleporting to locations you already visited within the game.

When Ocarina of Time was released, the critical acclaim was exceptional, and even to this day, it’s always at least in a close struggle for the highest game in Gamerankings and Metacritic. It is not only claimed by fans and critics to be the best Zelda game of all time, it is also claimed to be the best game of all time. There have been other games in the series that rivaled the popularity, but Ocarina of Time is the last Legend of Zelda you can praise without the fanbase attacking you. It was even remade in 2011 for the Nintendo 3DS, which many people enjoyed just as much as the original, if not, more.

Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door – GCN (2004)

Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door is much like its predecessor, only better in every way. Timed moves and the Partner system were improved: with the partners now having their own Heart Points, as well as having more abilities. The battles are staged and audience participation can have an impact on the battle, and as you level up, it increases the audience size. Save for Game Informer’s infamous 6.75 score, the game was well received, and it sold well for a Gamecube game. The reason that many Paper Mario fans don’t like Super Paper Mario or Sticker Star is because it deviates too much from the formula that The Thousand Year Door perfected. Beta footage of Sticker Star implied that it was going to be a direct sequel, but as development time went on, it changed to a completely different game.

Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening – PS2 (2005)

While Devil May Cry was a genre trendsetter, Devil May Cry 3 felt more like a modern action game. It fixed the problem Devil May Cry 2 had, which was that the game was a lot easier. It added different styles for Dante to use that dramatically changed the gameplay. After gamers grew attached to Dante’s cocky and aggressive attitude in Devil May Cry, his emotionless performance in Devil May Cry 2 disappointed many. Devil May Cry 3 completely reverses this with Dante being even cockier, and the game had more over the top cheese than ever. After the negative reception of Devil May Cry 2, Devil May Cry 3 redeemed the series for many gamers and reviewers. Devil May Cry 4’s reception was lukewarm from fans and reviewers, and DmC had a massive fan backlash.

Honorable Mentions:

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest – SNES (1995)
It gave the series its own identity after the original borrowed elements heavily from Super Mario World. The level design really hit its stride with its cleverly hidden secrets. The game is held at a high regard where arguably not even the other games in the series would match its popularity.

Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 – Arcade (1995)
While Mortal Kombat 2 may arguably be better, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 was ultimately considered to be the last great Mortal Kombat game in the series until Mortal Kombat 9.

Mega Man 2 – NES (1989)
Mega Man 2 was initially well received and even considered to be the best in the series. Even Keiji Inafune considers this game to be his favorite Mega Man game that he has worked on.

And there you have it, ten different games that set the standards of the video game industry, with sequels unable to match the sales success or popularity. These games will always be looked upon as some of the best games of all time, and it shows when you look at retrospectives and top 10 lists. Many fans argue about what happened with these respective series after the specific game gets high praise, and many argue about which game is really better in their series. Regardless, there will always be games that are a Tough Act to Follow.