Series Kings: The Best Games In Five Big Franchises
Most people can easily rattle off a handful of their favorite games, but comparing every game you’ve ever played against every other one is tough – especially if you’re supposed to rank them. But what if you limit the field a bit? If you only compare the games within a specific series, it gets easier to single out your favorites. With that in mind, I’ve chosen five major franchises in which I’ve played every mainline installment, and then selected the one game from each that deserves to wear the series’ crown.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence
For a series with as many entries as Metal Gear (and so many passionate fans), you’d think the debate over the best entry would be a contentious one. But surprisingly, most players seem to agree with me that Metal Gear Solid 3 is the standout game. It’s not unanimous, of course, but Metal Gear Solid 3 just has so many outstanding characters and moments. The mystery surrounding The Boss’ motives. The fight against The End. The ladder. Plus, because it is the first game chronologically in the Metal Gear timeline, you don’t need a ton of background knowledge to appreciate the story. All of this, combined with tense stealth in both interior and jungle environments, creates the quintessential Metal Gear experience. By the way, I specifically singled out the Subsistence re-release here (rather than the original Snake Eater) because it has a much-improved camera, plus it includes the original MSX Metal Gear and Metal Gear: Solid Snake games for those who really want to dive into the series’ history.
Final Fantasy VI
Over the years, Final Fantasy VI has established an insurmountable lead in my mind as my personal favorite Final Fantasy. In fact, it’s my favorite game, period … so it has this win locked down. However, a person could easily make the case for several other games in Square Enix’s long-running RPG series. For example, I think Final Fantasy X has the best story, while Final Fantasy VII is certainly the most groundbreaking. And though it’s a sprawling MMO rather than a traditional single-player adventure, Final Fantasy XIV is like a “greatest hits” of the whole series. I can’t argue against those excellent games, but Final Fantasy VI comes out on top with its fantastic cast, airtight combat system, beautiful music, and a surprising mid-game twist that left me staring at my screen in disbelief. I’m sure my nostalgia for this 16-bit classic weighs heavily on my choice here, but Final Fantasy VI blew my mind when I first played it.
Assassin's Creed Valhalla
For several years, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate was my favorite installment in this series. To me, Syndicate represents the pinnacle of the “old style” of Assassin’s Creed, before Origins pressed reset and took everything in a more RPG-like direction. That new direction for the series is not a bad thing; after spending a decade traveling down one evolutionary path, it just took a few installments for the series to find its stride in a new direction. With Valhalla, Ubisoft finally seemed to get a firm grip on Assassin’s Creed’s new identity, and it knocked Syndicate out of my top slot for the series. Valhalla has a little bit of everything I loved from older installments – sailing, town-building, weird present-day stuff – and incorporates them into the newer RPG-style foundation. The result is a massive and enticing Norse world full of cool little stories, entertaining combat, and lots of secrets waiting to be found.
God of War (2018)
I’ve been a fan of God of War since the beginning. I loved the original trilogy, I enjoyed the PSP spin-offs, and I even had fun with God of War Ascension. But even though those older games drew me in with their bombast and gore at the time, today they just feel like the foundation that made 2018’s God of War possible. That isn’t to diminish their influence, but I don’t think Kratos’ original adventures have aged particularly well. However, his most recent outing takes a mesmerizing leap into the modern era, updating the series’ approach to combat and redefining the tone of the its narrative. Kratos is a quiet, restrained father – a transformation that carries added weight if you played previous games, but doesn’t depend on them to tell the tale. The fights are more brutal and intimate, trading zoomed-out blade-slinging for up-close axe-throwing. And delving into Norse mythology opens up a whole new pantheon for Kratos to confront. But even though the gameplay and story are great, the thing that elevates this entry above its peers is its ability to acknowledge the past and learn from it, a theme that applies to God of War just as much on a meta level as it does to the in-game events.
Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition
One word: Vergil. The original version of Devil May Cry 3 was already a high point in terms of ridiculous weapons, stylish combos, and action-packed cutscenes. But when the special edition released, it introduced a playable version of Dante’s twin brother, Vergil, and sent this entry blowing past the competition. He offers a distinctly different playstyle from Dante, emphasizing precision and mobility rather than overwhelming force. And, let’s face it: With his icy and aloof demeanor, Vergil is just cooler than Dante. Of course, other games in the series have also added Vergil (including special editions of Devil May Cry 4, Devil May Cry 5, and even DLC for Ninja Theory’s DmC), but none of those versions are built on Devil May Cry 3’s rock-solid foundation. The base game has creepy demonic locations, amazing boss fights, and a versatile progression system that lets players develop a playstyle tailored to their preferences. When taking all of that into account, plus the option to play as either Dante or Vergil, this entry is undeniably the total DMC package.