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1/15/2020

21 Best Games of the Decade (2000-2009)

Another tricky list for me to create, as there were so many incredible games released in the 2000s and I only have so many spaces to list my favorites.  Once again, though, I'm limiting myself to only one game per franchise to keep the list a bit more diverse.

21. Killer7 (Grasshopper Manufacture, 2005)


A gritty, stylish and - above all else - weird crime drama masterminded by Suda51 and Shinji Mikami.  Playing as the seven members of the Smith syndicate, each with a unique weapon and special ability, the game was a weird mashup of a rail-shooter and a very twisted horror show, having you battle foes and bosses in between navigating mazes of hallways and solving the odd puzzle.  It also highlighted quite a bit of talent from across the spectrum, with high-quality voiceover, stylish cel-shaded graphics and numerous cutscenes animated by Xebec and Digital Frontier.  Killer7 was a divisive game, but those who got into it swear by it as a classic.

20. The Xenosaga trilogy (Monolith Soft, 2003/2005/2006)


With the advent of Monolith Soft, another top-notch RPG company made its debut in the PS2 era.  Headed by Tetsuya Takahashi after his departure from Square, he set out once more to create an epic science-fiction serial drama in video game form.  In that regard he was successful, as the game bears a well-crafted storyline with some very layered and interesting characters.  On the other hand, that led to some very long droughts in gameplay where the player is watching cutscenes and dialog for 30+ minutes at a stretch (though they are slightly better about this in the sequels).  Still, those who could tolerate its pace and linearity found a very strong space opera worthy of hanging with the best of them.  Unfortunately, friction with publisher Namco led to a significant portion of the development team being reassigned or released as the series went on, cutting the story's projection as a six-part project to only three.  As a result, the third game's story ends up feeling rather abruptly wrapped up in its final chapters and it ends with a cliffhanger that may never be resolved.  Still, fans of good sci-fi epics should definitely give Xenosaga a whirl - in terms of cinematic storytelling, few games before or since have even been on the same tier as this one.

19. Deus Ex (Ion Storm, 2000)

I know I'd get lynched if Deus Ex wasn't on the list somewhere, so here it is. And what a game, especially for 2000.  Retaining the free-form design philosophy of games like Ultima Underworld, the player is presented with a goal and exactly how they accomplish it is completely up to them - sneak in via rooftops and sewers, go in guns blazing, disable security via lockpicks and hacking or using your augmentations to bypass obstacles entirely, are all equally valid options.  Moreover, your choices would have a tangible impact on the story, affecting how scenes would play out later, and there were three different endings to experience (each tailored to a different playstyle), which lent it a fair bit of replay value. But more than anything else, the story and setting was what sold Deus Ex, thrusting the player into a grim dystopia where every big-government conspiracy was very real.  A memorable game on every front.

18. Unreal Tournament 2004 (Epic Games, 2004)

Unreal blew people away in 1997 with its 3D visuals and stunning special effects, but Unreal Tournament is what truly launched the name to stardom.  Arena combat with plenty of creativity in its weapons and levels made it fun, but even more than that, the creativity factor truly set it apart.  Custom game modes, maps, character models and vehicles could all be added and tweaked, so you could have the cast of Full House battling vehicle-to-vehicle with Duke Nukem, Super Mario, Homer Simpson and Gumby if you really wanted.  The third game tried to emulate the style of Gears of War or Halo and lost a lot of the fun as a result. And with 4's cancelation, it seems Unreal Tournament 2004 will remain the series' highest point.  No bad thing by me, though, because it's just as fun today as it was back then.

17. Max Payne (Remedy, 2001)

A game that takes heavy inspiration from John Woo and hard-boiled detective novels, meshing both elements together in expert fashion.  The gameplay highlights this perfectly, with some fantastic action set pieces and a Bullet Time mechanic letting you not just take down hordes of gun-wielding mobsters, but look badass doing it.  It's a bit one-note in design, but the consistently enthralling narrative (conveyed both through in-game narrative and sequences of graphic novel panels) and sharp wit throughout keeps it fresh for your first playthrough while the well-designed, intense gameplay keeps you coming back for another round for years to come.

16. Resident Evil 4 (Capcom, 2005)

Resident Evil 4 had a very lengthy and complex development history, with numerous prototypes and concepts being tried and scrapped before they made the controversial decision to adapt the series into a more action-driven format.  And it actually worked thanks to the strong design, a consistently creepy atmosphere and giving you a ton of secrets to find and different weapons to try out.  The enemies are a delightfully unsettling freak show, the bosses are huge and epic and Leon's pervasive sense of humor even makes the plot scenes a lot of fun, keeping the B-Movie feel of the franchise intact.  Later iterations of the more actiony Resident Evil formula would have much more mixed results, but 4 is still a fantastically entertaining game I can pop in any time and have fun with.

15. Marvel VS Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes (Capcom, 2000)

A game that packed in everything great about the Marvel fighting games and then some, MvC2 was nothing short of an event. With 56 playable characters and each player picking a team of three to Duke it out with, there is an insane of content and variety to experience. The gameplay was also reworked to make your team a more active part of the experience, letting you call them in momentarily for assists (Both attacks and temporary buffs for your active character) or chain long strings of supers together for massive damage. The strange CGI backgrounds and light jazz soundtrack didn't do much for me, but the gameplay remains consistently fun and fantastic even with well over 100 hours of gameplay logged.

14. Grandia III (Game Arts, 2006)

Grandia is one of the best JRPG franchises ever made, though sadly it has yet to get a proper fourth entry. Even more of a crime when you consider that 3 is a fantastically fun experience. The series' trademark combat system - allowing characters to delay or cancel turns with well-timed attacks - is taken to new heights here. Literally - you can launch an enemy into the air and juggle them for massive damage, which is just as rewarding as it is fun to watch.  Some other change ups keep things fresh too, like Mana egg fusion and very well-produced cutscenes and VO. It may not be the series' best in terms of storytelling, but I was having way too much fun to care.



13. Metroid Fusion (Nintendo, 2004)

After a long and conspicuous absence in the Nintendo 64 era, Metroid made a comeback with four games in the next generation - two first-person adventures on the GameCube, a remake of the first game on GBA, and a somewhat controversial sequel to Super Metroid in Fusion.  Rather than the open, mostly nonlinear structure of earlier Metroid games, this one was relatively streamlined, telling a story throughout and having you flee, rather than fight, a particularly dangerous foe called the SA-X.  The enemies throughout were an odd case too - an aggressive and parasitic species that can mutate rapidly, fusing into unsettling hybrids of organics and machinery, so if it didn't keep the gameplay structure of the franchise, it certainly kept the creepy atmosphere. But regardless of the gameplay shift, Fusion still had enough hidden secrets and challenge for any serious fan to enjoy.  It may not have been for everyone, but it worked just fine for me.

12. Astro Boy: Omega Factor (Sega/Hitmaker/Treasure, 2004)

Astro Boy had a revival series in the 2000s, and Sega, being Sega, cashed in with two games. The Ps2 game was pretty forgettable overall, but the GBA version very much fit the bill of being a hidden gem - Sega, Hitmaker and Treasure all collaborated to create a title that is not just a great action game, but a perfect introduction to the works of Osamu Tezuka.  Treasure's talent for crazy action forms a great base as the game ended up a fast-paced, challenging beat-em-up with huge bosses, a lot of strategy in building and spending meter for Astro Boy's super moves, and a great storyline with cameos from just about every character in the entire Tezuka chronology.  Finding them all powered up your stats, allowed you to reach the true ending and unlocked profiles detailing other works they appeared in, which led me to want to read them firsthand.

11. Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne (Atlus, 2004)

The game that got me into Shin Megami Tensei, and to date it remains one of my favorites in the franchise. With a moody heavy metal soundtrack, striking visuals and a surreal atmosphere, the game looks and sounds phenomenal and quickly draws you into its setting.  The gameplay doesn't disappoint either - not only do you recruit monsters by striking contracts with them, but your character can be customized to the slightest detail - equipping magatamas will change your elemental properties and enable you to learn skills, which can be mixed and matched at your leisure.  All that, plus six possible endings to experience and a trove of optional content to complete, makes this not just one of the best RPGs on the Playstation 2, but one of the best period.

10. The World Ends With You (Square Enix/Jupiter, 2006)

2006 seemed to mark a turning point for Square after several unbroken years of mediocre junk games, with Final Fantasy XII proving a worthy followup to the Ivalice Alliance setting and TWEWY proving to be an exceptionally good original IP in itself.  A unique take on action RPGs that took full advantage of the Nintendo DS's unique features, you controlled two characters at a time (one for each screen) and would pass a "light puck" between you each time you landed a combo, increasing your damage multiplier and score as you did.  This in turn would earn you more pins, which could be exchange for cash or used as weapons, and it's also the only RPG I know of where fashion trends factor into battle.  All that, plus it had a striking visual style and one of the finest soundtracks ever composed, so it's a great experience on every front.  Alas, Square turned right around and shot themselves in the foot with more awful crap not long after (coughLastRemnantcoughFFXIII), but TWEWY remains a classic regardless.

9. Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening Special Edition (Capcom, 2006)

Widely considered the best game in the Devil May Cry franchise, and I'm in no position to argue as it's unquestionably great.  Taking everything that made the original game fun and dumping some of its more irritating elements (awkward fixed camera angles), DMC3 had style to spare and tons of crazy action, as well as four gameplay styles to choose from - Swordmaster (extra attacks with all melee weapons), Gunslinger (same, but with firearms), Trickster (giving you more tools to maneuver and evade) and Royal Guard (which could absorb energy with well-timed blocks and fire it back for heavy damage).  The special edition tweaked the punishing difficulty of the original release, but also added Vergil as a playable character, lending a whole new gameplay dynamic on top. It's a relentlessly tough game that takes a lot of practice and patience to master, but a very rewarding one to experience.

8. Half-Life 2 (Valve, 2004)

The first Half-Life was a huge success for Valve and spawned numerous spinoff games and expansions, so naturally, a sequel was put into production pretty quickly.  It launched seven years after the first, but all of that waiting was worth it as the game was stunning in every respect.  Putting the player into a dark and unsettling dystopia very different from the world they knew, its narrative was certainly a high point.  More than that, though, the game is immaculately well designed, utilizing physics to introduce numerous puzzles, a very creative array of weapons (including the iconic Gravity Gun, allowing you to weaponize almost anything in the environment) and a huge variety of enemies and hazards to overcome; no two parts of the game feel alike, and they're all a blast.  In fact, it's so well-designed, imaginative and consistently gripping that every shooter to follow it feels drab and lifeless in comparison.

7. Diablo II (Blizzard, 2000)

Blizzard had a huge hit on their hands with Diablo, so naturally, they quickly sought to capitalize on it by making a sequel.  The end result didn't arrive until three years after the first, but as they say, quality is something you can't rush.  It also saw quite an overhaul in style - while the first game was slow-moving, creepy and more of a roguelike with its negative shrine effects and cursed equipment, Diablo II is much more fast-paced and actiony; an almost Smash TV-style take on RPGs. The playable classes were not only greater in number (5 in the base game, 7 with the expansion installed), but each now had three skill trees and countless possible choices for equipment, adding tons of variety and replayability.  Moreso as equipment now came in sets that granted large bonuses when all pieces were equipped, and they were fitted with slots that could be fitted with gems to add elemental properties or runes which, placed in the proper order, could add some massive boosts. Fun and rife with depth, there is little wonder Diablo II is highly regarded and being played online by fans to this day.


6. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (Nintendo, 2000)

There were some fantastic Zelda games in the 2000s, and while I almost put Twilight Princess here, I eventually decided on Majora's Mask instead.  Released in the twilight days of the Nintendo 64, the game required the expansion pack to run, and it really did add a lot to the game.  Not only was the world much denser and more alive-feeling than Ocarina's, but there was a ton to see and do across the games' constantly repeating three days.  Hordes of sidequests to try out, two dozen masks to find and equip with various abilities (some useful, others mostly novelties) and some incredibly-designed dungeons that were as imaginative as they were fun.  On a purely cinematic level the game excelled too, putting the player into a surreal and surprisingly dark setting that was a thrill to experience, putting enough twists on the Zelda format to feel almost like a different series.

5. Advance Wars (Intelligent Systems, 2001)

While not the first in the Wars series (that being Famicom Wars from all the way back in 1988), it was the first in the franchise to get localized.  Being one of the first half-dozen games released for the GBA and thoroughly bored with Pokemon, I decided to grab it, and I quickly found myself hooked.  Capturing cities with infantry, scouting the terrain with recon cars and just plain blowing up enemies with tanks and planes proved to be a ton of fun, but that wasn't even the half of it - the COs in the game granted various benefits like being able to repair units in the field, speed up infantry or just deal bonus damage, and using them at the right time quickly became key to success.  Challenge maps, versus mode for up to four players (on one system or via link cable) and a custom map builder also helped ensure that this game remained fresh and fun, and I must have sunk well over 100 hours into the game unlocking every single thing in it.  It had a few sequels that added more of everything (and in one case, rolled back almost everything), but the original will always hold a special place.  Make more games in the series already, Intelligent Systems!

4. Thief II: The Metal Age (Looking Glass Studios, 2000)

The original Thief was a masterclass of design; not just for stealth games, but for sheer brilliance in its execution.  Utilizing a number of gadgets like water-arrows to extinguish torches, flash bombs, footstep-dampening moss arrows and gas-mines to disable enemies was a tense, but enjoyable experience, and with its incredibly strong atmosphere and presentation, few games have ever been as unnerving or immersive.  Thief 2 takes that high level of quality and moves it into a twisted version of the industrial revolution, with new enemies taking the form of crude (but deadly) automatons of all shapes and sizes in addition to the supernatural horrors of the first.  Sneaking around mansions, caves, sprawling cityscapes and factories, finding loot and discreetly avoiding (or eliminating) resistance remains as thrilling as ever, and the tighter level design ensures that things don't get too long-winded or confusing.  Ingenious and compelling, Looking Glass's talent is still unmatched to this day.

3. Perfect Dark (Rare, 2000)

First person shooters were huge in the '90s and are practically a dime a dozen nowadays, with story-driven, arena combat and mission-based ones getting huge amounts of representation across every platform imaginable.  Still my favorite one to this day, though, is Perfect Dark.  The game was nothing short of incredible for the Nintendo 64 hardware, telling a running narrative throughout its missions (complete with voice acting and in-engine cutscenes) and giving you a huge array of gadgets and weapons to play with that made Goldeneye's considerable arsenal seem small in comparison.  From pinball-grenades to laptop guns to hacking tools to remote-controlled cameras, it really did make you feel like a futuristic secret agent.  Nearly all of that got worked into multiplayer too, with various game modes like Hacker Central, Tag and Capture the Flag, playable with up to twelve combatants (four humans and up to eight "simulants" of varying skill level).  Hell, you could even do the entire campaign co-op or even "counter-op", with the second player taking control of an enemy soldier placed randomly in the level and trying to stop player one from completing their mission.  It just had a ton to offer and all of it was extremely fun.  (And as per Rare standards, occasionally yank-your-hair-out frustrating.)

2. System Shock 2 (Looking Glass Studios, 2000)

The original System Shock was a game-changer for its time; utilizing the same engine as the legendary Ultima Underworld, it put the player in a labyrinthine space station with a number of objectives to complete, and with hostile enemies and booby-traps around every corner, it was quite a tense and captivating experience despite its clumsy UI and garish visual style.  System Shock 2 is that with the same masterful atmosphere and menace as Thief, taking place on a derelict spaceship overrun by an endlessly creepy alien presence that always seems to be one step ahead of you, creating a near-constant state of dread and tension.  Tensions remain high throughout as your character is quite fragile (especially so on the higher difficulties) and weapons tend to break easily, meaning that avoiding combat (or stealthily picking off foes one-at-a-time) is often a better option.  One is afforded a variety of skills - from hacking to weapon handling to researching enemies for more damage to even psionic skills - and making the most of all of them is essential for survival.  Terri Brosius even reprises her role as SHODAN, who is one of the best-written and most unnerving video game villainesses of all-time, adding even further to the game's appeal.  Not just a great action-RPG, but my pick for the single best horror game ever created.

1. Bayonetta (PlatinumGames, 2009)

Devil May Cry set the bar very high for intense action gaming, but Bayonetta still managed to blow it out of the water.  Hideki Kamiya (director of Devil May Cry 1 and Viewtiful Joe) upped his game in every way, creating a heroine who's equal parts badass and hilarious while pushing the character action format to new extremes with crazy setpieces, enormous and over-the-top boss battles, an armory of weapons that can seamlessly combo into one another (any attack can be followed by a barrage of bullets if you hold the button after) and a huge variety of enemies and minigames strewn throughout all make for a relentless, but very gratifying game that never gets old. Extremely challenging, endlessly entertaining and infinitely deep, Bayonetta is just a perfectly-executed game.