Digital Odysseys

What This List Is

Books have reading lists. Music has playlists. So videogames should have a list for themselves too! These are games that I hold in high regard, but also games that have made an impact on me. These games have shaped both my outlook on videogames, and are experiences that I treasure and think about often. I hope anyone reading this gets inspired to try some of these games. This list is updated periodically, so check back regularly for updates.

Table of Contents

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 Chemical Plant Zone

Everything comes together in Sonic’s second adventure. The level design remains some of the best of any platform game. Unlike modern Sonic games, it isn’t about blazing through the levels at the speed of sound; instead, blitzing through levels requires mastering the controls and learning level layouts. Levels themselves are large, encouraging exploration through their verticality, while remaining short enough in length to quickly complete. After almost 30 years of playing videogames, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 remains one of the games I can revisit that is guaranteed to put a smile on my face.

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind view of Suran

Morrowind is an RPG that demands patience and investment. It’s a game with many complex, intertwined systems. Unlike its successors, you can’t climb up the Mage’s Guild if you can barely cast a spell. Factions have allegiances. There will be conflicts between these factions; you cannot and will not be able to join every guild. Certain quests may interfere with each other. While managing this, you navigate a world that feels alien, where some live in houses crafted from ancient, giant crab shells, and wizards grow entire cities in the form of giant mushrooms. The local fauna is strange, unpredictable, and out to kill you. This mixture of unfamiliarity and deep role-playing mechanics creates an unforgettable journey through Vvarendfell. Once you get a taste of the freedom Morrowind has, it’s hard to go back to other RPGs.

Mass Effect Trilogy

Mass Effect 2 view of Illium

Each Mass Effect game stands out on its own merits. The original for its excellent worldbuilding. Mass Effect 2 for its intimate, personal stories of the galaxy. The final game for its exploration of sacrifice and cost of war. But the series shines when you play through it in its entirety. Despite the controversy on how the series ended, I maintain that it doesn’t matter that there are only a few prescribed endings. What makes the trilogy special are the small details. How your choices and decisions carry over and affect the next games. How you’ll see characters change and grow. How choices both big and small make you, the player feel. It’s an epic space opera that (rightfully) has been compared to the Star Wars Saga. It’s a multi-game experience spanning nearly 100 hours, where each playthrough weaves a tapestry of memories that are firmly embroidered into players’ minds, and most importantly, their hearts.

Grand Theft Auto IV

Grand Theft Auto IV driving

The term “living, breathing world” gets used a lot in open-world, sandbox-type games. Grand Theft Auto IV’s incarnation of Liberty City is one of the few game worlds I would ascribe that label to. People go about their daily lives whether the player gets involved or not. The game’s story is top notch, presenting one of the best stories in videogames. Niko is perhaps the most relatable protagonist in GTA history, and his story is of a personal tale. He is haunted by his past and is on a quest for revenge, yet he doesn’t relish in crime; he’s drawn deeper and deeper into it both because he is good at it, and that’s all he knows how to do. The game deconstructs the “American Dream” and the glorification of the criminal lifestyle, illustrating the grim realities and pain that they bring onto people. Grand Theft Auto IV remains one of the best open-world games of all time, with an Oscar-worthy story and one of the densest and richest worlds in videogames.

Final Fantasy Tactics

Final Fantasy Tactics battle scene

The story of Final Fantasy Tactics tackles many heavy themes that are relevant in today’s world. It’s a tale of friendship, betrayal, and selflessness. It’s about rising above your predetermined fate cast upon you by social standing and class. It’s about doing what you know to be right, despite no one sharing your views. Topics like political strife, the toil of war on common man, and religious corruption are all explored as Ramza and his crew travel Ivalice. The gameplay is compelling, encouraging both strategy and creativity in its battle system. The remake Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions includes a cleaned up translation, an extended script, and even more content to get immersed in.