Some video game franchises stand the test of time. Mario. Zelda. Final Fantasy. Others have produced modern classic after modern classic – the Elder Scrolls, Grand Theft Auto, Civilization. Some are more niche, but loved by many – like Dark Souls, Street Fighter, or Starcraft. But we all get attached to certain franchises more than others. These are my top 10 personal favorite video game franchises.
10. Total War
Games Played: Rome: Total War (PC, 2004), Medieval II: Total War (PC, 2006)
The Total War series is a series rich with history, strategy, and tactics. You control your empire in both Civilization-style turn-based strategy gameplay, and your armies in RTS-style real-time battles. The ability to take troops into battle that you’ve painstakingly recruited, trained, and groomed is very satisfying. The battles are full of action and tactics, and the turn-based portion provides a lot of strategy in terms of economics, diplomacy, military maneuvers, and more.
I’ve only played 2004’s Rome: Total War and 2006’s Medieval II: Total War, however the premise of the series has stayed fairly constant. The two I’ve played are considered two of the better in the series. An additional reason I enjoyed these games so much is mod support. Fans have taken to creating total conversion mods of these games. My favorites are Fourth Age: Total War and Third Age: Total War, two Lord of the Rings mods for Rome and Medieval II, respectively. Additionally, Zelda: Total War and Morrowind: Total War for Medieval II were also excellent.
9. Paper Mario
Genre: Casual RPG
Games Played: Paper Mario (N64, 2000), Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (GCN, 2004), Super Paper Mario (Wii, 2007)
Paper Mario is a really interesting franchise, for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s an RPG featuring Mario, something that had only happened once before in Super Mario RPG on the SNES. I consider it a sub-series of the greater Mario series. It’s also separate from the later Mario & Luigi games which are RPGs with some similar battle mechanics, but very different game designs.
The original two games are designed as cutesy RPGs but feature compelling and engaging RPG mechanics including attribute allocation, ability assignment (through “badges”), party formation (using different partners) and action-command based RPG combat. The stars of the show are the fun and interesting characters and world design, however. For a series of games that seems to be very “kiddy”, the world and characters of Paper Mario are just as compelling to any adult.
That being said, starting with Super Paper Mario the gameplay of the series began shifting dramatically. SPM was more of a platformer with light RPG elements. I never finished the game, but nevertheless the characters and worlds of SPM still made it a fun game. It was definitely not as deep or as engaging to RPG fans, generally, as the first two PM games. Things unfortunately took a real turn for the worse with Sticker Star on the 3DS and Color Splash on the Wii U. Sticker Star was especially abysmal.
With little news on the horizon for this franchise, Paper Mario may never return to its former glory. Nevertheless, the first two games in the series are some of my favorite RPGs ever, with Thousand Year Door especially being an incredible video game.
8. Fire Emblem
Genre: Tactical RPG
Games Played: Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones (GBA, 2004), Path of Radiance (GCN, 2005), Radiant Dawn (Wii, 2007), Awakening (3DS, 2012)
Fire Emblem is one of the most consistent game franchises out there, with solid game after solid game since the 90’s. Fire Emblem characters have now become engrained into the Nintendo and greater gaming sphere so much to the point that Super Smash Bros. often is ridiculed for having too many FE characters. Few can deny most of the games’ quality, however.
I’ve played a handful of the games and they all are strong, engaging tactical RPGs. If you lose a character, they are gone. For good (unless you play on Casual difficulty in Awakening and onwards… but don’t be like Andrew, man up). Careful strategy, alignment of troops, and mastering the rock-paper-scissors based weapons triangle is key to victory. Aside from the rock-solid tactical gameplay, required and optional character dialogues and relationships give a lot of flavor to the series. Here’s hoping Three Houses is good!
7. Assassin’s Creed
Genre: Open world Action-Adventure
Games Played: Assassin’s Creed (X360, 2007), II (X360, 2009), Brotherhood (X360, 2010), III (X360, 2012), IV (X360, 2013), Unity (PC, 2014), Syndicate (X1, 2015)
Assassin’s Creed is usually loved or hated by most. The formula hasn’t really changed all that much from 2 back in 2009 (aside from the most recent two games, which I have yet to play), but the formula is really solid. The combat is flashy and stylish, if a bit shallow at times. The stealth gameplay and assassinations are top-notch, in my opinion. The open worlds are absolutely gorgeous and filled with historical intricacies, unlike any other game out there. However, they are often filled with tasks that quickly become boring and repetitive, though that didn’t stop me from doing many of them.
The quality of the stories and characters fluctuate. 2, Brotherhood, and 3 had solid stories. Ezio is a classic character, and the other assassin’s haven’t really lived up to his standard. Gameplay-wise, the best games are probably 2, Brotherhood, and 4, though I really enjoyed 3 for the setting, and Unity was actually really good after they fixed the bugs. 4 especially is quite the gem and sort of the oddball, as it is more of a pirate game than an assassin game… which turned out to be a good thing. Overall, this series is a strong example of solid AAA title after solid AAA title.
Genre: Monster-catching RPG
Games Played: Pokemon: Blue (GB, 1996), Stadium (N64, 1998), Silver (GBC, 1999), Crystal (GBC, 2000), Stadium 2 (N64, 2000), Sapphire (GBA, 2002), Coliseum (GCN, 2003), LeafGreen (GBA, 2004), Diamond (DS, 2006), Black (DS, 2010), Y (3DS, 2013), Let’s Go: Eevee (NS, 2018)
Whew, that’s a lot of games! Everyone knows about Pokemon. The games are generally fairly easy but charming monster-catching RPGs. My favorites are Blue (superseded by LeafGreen), Silver/Crystal, Sapphire, and Black. The recent games have not caught my attention quite as much, and I’m hoping Sword/Shield can breathe some life into the series. Nevertheless, the Pokemon games have a long history of being fun and engaging light RPGs. I was also into competitive Pokemon battling for a bit, which has a ton of strategy and complexity behind it. It’s fascinating.
Genre (Modern games): Open world FPS-RPG
Games Played: Fallout 3 (X360, 2008), Fallout: New Vegas (X360/PC, 2010), Fallout 4 (PC, 2015)
The modern re-imagining of the classic RPG Fallout games (which I haven’t had the privilege of playing yet) has resulted in three great open-world games. For me, the Fallout games are great for a number of reasons. First of all, the atmosphere and “feel” of the games is unlike any other. I never realized I wanted to shoot irradiated monsters in a post-apocalyptic wasteland while humming along to Dean Martin, until I played Fallout.
Additionally the open-to-explore, expansive Bethesda worlds are in full effect in this series. There’s nothing like exploring and discovering people, cities, and challenges in these worlds. The RPG elements also add depth to this series. In terms of my favorites, New Vegas is the true gem to me, followed by 3 and then 4 not too far behind. New Vegas has the best story, characters, and player choice in being able to pick and choose factions to join or fight, along with many different endings. It’s truly one of the best RPGs ever made. Fallout 3 is in a similar vein. Fallout 4 I feel lost a step in some areas, like dialogue and story, but stepped up in terms of having very solid FPS-like gunplay.
Unfortunately, I’m quite afraid for the future of this series given the crapshoot that is Fallout 76. Hopefully Bethesda can turn this once-great series around.
The Fantastic Four
The previous 6 game franchises are all some of my favorites, but they could probably have switched order in several places and still been pretty accurate. However, these last 4 are above and beyond my favorites, placing far above the other 6.
4. Red Dead
Genre: Open world Western
Games Played: Read Dead Redemption (X360, 2010), Red Dead Redemption 2 (X1, 2018)
“Your number 4 favorite series has 2 games in it? Really?”. Yes (not including Read Dead Revolver), it has 2 games. Two of the best games ever made. Both would be in my top 15 of all time in a heartbeat. These games feature some of the best worlds, atmospheres, characters, story, realism, music, and sense of place in the industry. Wild West America in the late 20th century is an absolutely fascinating time period and place, and Rockstar really nailed the feeling of being a gun-slingin’ cowboy in this time period.
The characters of John Marston (RDR) and Arthur Morgan (RDR2) are, in my uneducated opinion, the most well-written (and some of the most likable) characters in gaming. Their tales are compelling and believable. The world design of these games, from the supporting cast to the shockingly gorgeous (especially in RDR2) landscapes are top-notch. RDR2 is the most breathtakingly beautiful game I’ve ever played.
The gameplay in this series is not perfect; the controls can be stiff at times and there is a lot of riding around (especially in RDR2). But the gameplay overall is still very solid, and the array of things to do, again, especially in RDR2, is huge and extremely fun. From hunting, to fishing, to chasing down bounties, to robbing trains, to the deep and extensive story missions. These two are games are true open-world gems and some of the finest games ever made.
3. The Elder Scrolls
Genre: Open world First-person Action-RPG
Games Played: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (XBOX/PC, 2002), IV: Oblivion (X360/PC, 2006), V: Skyrim (X360/PC/NS, 2011)
The Elder Scrolls has truly captured my heart. I still remember the feeling of when I first played my first introduction to the series, Morrowind. My uncle was giving us his Xbox (the original) along with a handful of games, including Morrowind. I had never heard of the game before. I spent some time reading the manual of the Game of the Year edition I had been given, as well as looking up some information online before I could play it. Huge, open world? Be whoever you want to be? Create your own classes? Guy with incredibly bad-ass armor on the back cover? I had originally been excited to get the Xbox because it had Halo 2, but quickly I grew much more excited about playing this amazing game I was reading about!
Incredibly, Morrowind didn’t disappoint my enthusiastic 13-year old self. I fell in love with it right away, even with the slow walking speed, having to read through dialogue, and very clunky combat. I was captured by the idea of creating your own custom-tailored character, being dropped in the middle of a huge open world, and then doing whatever you wanted. I remember the first thing I did once I walked out of the Census and Excise Office in the beginning of the game was to cross the street, enter the first shack I saw, and kill the sole old woman living there with a rusty knife I had found sticking out of a table. I had my first home. MY home, not one the game specified as “player-ownable”. One I MADE ownable.
That kind of sounds a bit psychotic now, but I was really discovering and relishing in the first true taste of freedom I had experienced in a video game. This was well before open worlds became more common and more technically feasible. Morrowind, however, is still a game I return to and play to this day (though with some mods to freshen things up a bit). I’ve probably sunk over 1000 hours into it.
Without stretching this entry too much further, let me just say that the following two games in the series, Oblivion and Skyrim, both improved upon the formula and took steps back. Oblivion refined the combat a bit and made the main story more cinematic and gripping. It also added “Radiant AI” which gave every NPC custom, detailed schedules on top of full voice-acting. These changes greatly improved immersion. Oblivion also had some of the most memorable quests (the final Thieves Guild quest) and questlines (Dark Brotherhood – best questline ever) in any ES game. That being said, Oblivion added intense level-scaling of enemies that made early levels easier to play, but caused serious character build issues down the road and also made most enemy encounters feel similar. Class creation was also stripped down and consolidated a bit.
Skyrim went a step further and simplified character creation greatly, with the plus side of bringing in useful and (mostly) engaging perks. It did however balance level scaling a bit better and fixed most of the leveling issues. The combat continued to make improvements with the addition of dual-wielding and dragon shouts. Nevertheless, the freedom found in Morrowind continued to shrink in areas such as character specification, number of factions, and engaging questlines.
Though I might sound a bit negative on ES IV and V, please don’t take it that way. Both Oblivion and Skyrim are two of my favorite games ever, and I love them to death. I have incredibly favorable memories of both games. All three games are games I wish I could wipe from my brain and play over again fresh.
2. Super Smash Bros.
Genre: Platform Fighter
Games Played: Super Smash Bros. 64 (N64, 1999), Melee (GCN, 2001), Brawl (Wii, 2008), 4 (3DS/WiiU, 2014), Ultimate (NS, 2018)
Smash is the best multiplayer series ever made, don’t @ me. If you’ve read any of this blog you know my love for smash. It’s an incredible fighter. Each entry in the series features slightly different mechanics that create unique and interesting playstyles. Some games have solid story modes, like Brawl and Ultimate, while others are content to focus on other forms of content, like Event Mode in Melee or Smash Run in Smash 4 (3DS).
The draw of smash is playing on the couch with your friends. The games are very versatile in being able to appeal to casuals with easy-to-pickup controls and newbie-friendly modes like timed battle. At the same time, the games (especially Melee, Ultimate, and 4) feature deep and varied fighting mechanics with a huge amount of options at your disposal. Each character (even “clone” characters, to a degree) bring something different to the fight. And the creativity with which Masahiro Sakurai and his team demonstrate in creating fitting movesets for all of these video game characters is astounding.
The latest entry in the series, Ultimate, features the largest roster ever and a huge variety of ways to play, along with refined and deep mechanics. Smash Bros. is a celebration of video games (Mario, Link, Snake, Cloud, Sonic, Joker, Simon Belmont, Pac-man…) and an incredible video game series in and of itself. It’s challenging to rank in a list like this given it’s multiplayer focus, but I believe it truly deserves this high of a spot.
1. The Legend of Zelda
Games Played: The Legend of Zelda (NES, 1986), A Link to the Past (SNES/GBA, 1991/2002), Ocarina of Time (N64, 1998), Majora’s Mask (N64, 2000), Wind Waker (GCN, 2002), Four Swords Adventures (GCN, 2004), Minish Cap (GBA, 2004), Twilight Princess (GCN, 2006), Skyward Sword (Wii, 2011), Breath of the Wild (NS, 2017)
Zelda is the series I grew up with, and the series I have been in love with ever since. Each game is a classic tale of a boy or young man having the courage to embark on a quest to defeat the evil calamity confronting his land. No game breathes adventure quite like Zelda games. These are games filled with exploration, dungeon crawling, puzzle solving, hand-to-hand combat, horseback riding, and evil-slaying. Each game has a unique twist on the formula or improves on it in some way (some more than others).
I’ve mentioned several of my favorites in my Top 10 Games articles, but in my opinion, the best Zelda games are: Ocarina of Time, Breath of the Wild, Twilight Princess, and Majora’s Mask, followed closely behind by Wind Waker and a Link to the Past. I’m clearly a bigger fan of the 3D games, but I really appreciate the 2D games as well.
Ocarina established the series in 3D, and crafted one of the best adventures in gaming, even in modern times. Majora’s Mask twisted Ocarina into a dark, deep, and memorable adventure. Twilight Princess took the incredible Ocarina formula and doubled down with an epic story and expansive world. Breath of the Wild revolutionized the series, and is all about discovery, exploration, and creativity.
Even the original Legend of Zelda holds up well in many ways today. It’s a game about paving your own way through exploration and combat. It established the series as a game all about escaping our reality and going on a proper adventure. And to me, that’ s what a good video game should be about.
Thanks for reading this article! What are your favorite video game series? What are some franchises I excluded that surprise you? *cough*Mario*cough. Thanks again!