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Joe Juba's Top Five Games Of Last Generation

by Joe Juba on Jan 01, 2015 at 03:00 AM

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My ranking of juggernaut franchises doesn’t really say much about what games define my experiences in the last generation. I could try to explain whether I like Mass Effect 2 more or less than Uncharted 2, but I’m going to focus on something a little more personal instead.

I loved Fallout 3. I loved BioShock. I loved Skyrim. I loved God of War 3. However, practically everyone loved those games. I can’t add much insight to the discussion of what made them interesting or successful; these are the clearly visible pillars that serve as a shared experience for many people who are enthusiastic about games.

When I look back on the most memorable experiences of the last generation, I think of what I played in the gaps between the blockbusters – the surprises that I ended up liking just as much as the major franchises. With a widening gulf between the high-profile hits and everything else, the previous generation highlighted the excitement of finding a diamond in the rough, sinking a ton of time into it, and breathlessly recommending it to anyone who will listen.

These are the top five games I just couldn’t shut up about.

5. Deadly Premonition
The question “Who killed Laura Palmer?” captivated TV audiences when Twin Peaks first aired. Deadly Premonition taps into the same unshakeable desire for answers, weaving a mystery around the murder of a young woman in a small town. Right from the haunting opening scene, I got drawn into the strange world of Greenvale and its delightfully weird characters. What I initially saw as flaws – like strange animations, stilted dialogue, and an odd soundtrack – soon became the charm that glues the whole experience together. Agent York and his bizarre mannerisms create an unforgettable hero, and his story takes several unpredictable twists before its satisfying conclusion. I acknowledge that Deadly Premonition has some mechanical issues, but they ultimately didn’t matter to me. A few rough edges can’t negate the many things that this atmospheric, imaginative titles does right.

4. Valkyria Chronicles
A lot of people I’ve talked to preemptively dismissed Valkyria Chronicles as “just another anime game.” While the striking art style is certainly one of the defining characteristics, the appeal here is not just skin deep. It is one of the best strategy games I’ve ever played, combining a top-level awareness of the battlefield (when you are on the tactical map) with the intensity of being on the front line (when you are controlling characters directly). Units have different advantages over others, but the game doesn’t use the rigid “rock-paper-scissors” mechanic you see in so many strategy titles, opting for more types of units – including powerful tanks – to increase your strategic options. Off the battlefield, I especially appreciate how you get to know your ragtag squad by their personal traits and their touching backstories outlining their reasons for joining the fight. Valkyria Chronicles can be sad and poignant, but this often-overlooked gem delivers on all fronts.

3. Saints Row: The Third
Volition’s crazy romp through the city of Steelport isn’t about immersion, gritty storytelling, or relatable characters. Instead, it embraces the potential of the open-world genre in other ways. You get vehicles like a hoverbike and a pixelated tank. You turn into a toilet for a while. You kick a lot of crotches. This irreverent approach to gameplay throws balance to the wind and allows players to do everything they wished they could do in other open-world games. Your upgrade progression eventually elevates you to invulnerability, allowing you to jump from a skyscraper, land unharmed in the middle of traffic, kick cars out of your way, and unload an infinite salvo of rockets as enemy bullets bounce off you. That’s not even part of the scripted missions, which are even crazier. The satirical tone and “Sure, why not?” attitude hooked me immediately and kept me playing until I had seen absolutely everything.

2. Dragon's Dogma
At first, Dragon’s Dogma seems to be like every other fantasy/RPG on the market. However, the more you play, the more you notice the unique (and brilliant) ways it sets itself apart. I can’t overstate how much I love the pawn system; your party is made up of your hero, one “pawn” you create yourself, and two pawns created by other players. As you progress, you frequently swap out those last two slots with different pawns better suited to your level, quest, or playstyle, so you get to see a wide variety of community creations. The combat system is great, too. It’s not as demanding as the Souls series, but it punishes blind button-mashing and forces you to play wisely. Also, I won’t spoil it here, but the ending is completely bonkers and wonderful and perfect – especially if you complete a second playthrough.

1. Bayonetta
Setting aside the ridiculous story, Bayonetta embodies so much of what I love about video games. The action is jaw-dropping, the visuals are stunning, and the combat is supremely polished and endlessly satisfying. In an age when the term “over-the-top” has been diluted and overused, Bayonetta demonstrates its true meaning with absurd and amazing sequences that shatter expectations. However, my favorite thing about Bayonetta is this: The more you play, the better it gets. Unlockable items, hidden characters, and secret weapons keep adding depth for subsequent playthroughs, revealing mechanics that only blossom long after you thought the game was done introducing new things. You can debate about the artistic merits of videos games all you want, but if you enjoy pure, unfettered entertainment, you can’t do better than Bayonetta.