I’ve talked ad nauseam about Dragon Quest XI, praising and recommending its delicious glory, but I can’t say that I’ve done it seriously. My "review" back from last year was written mostly as a joke, and every time I talk about the game, it’s usually in an ironic, over-the-top tone. I do not think that Dragon Quest XI is the best game ever made, because there is no best game ever made. I can’t even say there’s a best game I played, really, because video games are such a subjective medium with an infinite amount of qualities that can be analyzed differently and offer such varied experiences to each person that consumes them. There are so many different types of players, all with so many types of tastes, preferences, biases, it’s completely out of the picture to declare a game is the greatest, best, and/or most influential game of all time.
There’s a chance you disagree with this on the basis that you know exactly what the best game of all time is. Of course it is Ocarina of Time, you might say. Or maybe Breath of the Wild. Potentially Resident Evil 4, possibly Halo: Reach, or perhaps Chrono Trigger. I am sorry, not sorry, to break this to you, but still none of these games are the “best of all time.” You might still push back, “No, wait! I have proof that Ocarina is the best, it has the highest metacritic score of all time!” I hope you alone can see the flaw in that. Certainly, one could be your favorite, these are some picks that I popularly hear people say, but “favorite” and “best” are far different and directly draw to the point of subjectivity versus imitative objectivity in video game reviewing.
There are a few categories, or pillars, of a game that you can try to critique on a base level. Gameplay is the highest, originality and story are important, innovation is needed, content amount defines replay value, feel is essential for distinction, and somewhere near the bottom is the fanciest word that has lost so much meaning, graphics. But there’s a problem here with trying to form a sense of objectivity, trying to find absolute inarguable truth, and I have already failed. I think it’s safe to say that most video game connoisseurs would rank gameplay as the single most important thing for a game to get right for it to excel, but this still is not true. Games are, once again, so incredibly varied just as are the people that play them. There are whole genres of video games that hardly even have gameplay. Visual novels, interactive movies, anything by Telltale, and others are completely valid genres that don’t have fun gameplay at all, but are still celebrated and loved by many. Gameplay might have been the first pillar to make games games, but the medium has branched out so much that it’s no longer fair to compare in this way. If someone were to score two games with those categories listed before, let’s say Super Mario Galaxy and Thimbleweed Park (a point and click adventure game), the former would probably receive a “10/10” for gameplay, and the latter would hardly even be on the map. Thus, if the rest of the categories were scored, Galaxy would come out on top of games in other genres just on the gameplay alone. But that just isn’t fair.
I am tired of repeating this sentence every day, but: Mario Galaxy is not better than Thimbleweed Park. The cool thing is, I can say this even without playing Thimbleweed Park, just because no game is better than another game. I think it’s easier to directly compare the qualities of games within one genre, like JRPGs, but it is still not fair or viable to say that Dragon Quest XI S is better than I am Setsuna. Even if it has a higher metacritic average, even if it surpasses it in all the ranking categories in my eyes, even if many players validate my same claim, it still doesn’t become true; even if I really want to just say that it is. Setsuna might just really resonate with someone more than the amazing, jolly, cozy, epic, sprawling, mysterious, funny, exciting, and charming Dragon Quest XI. So for them it is better, but it remains that neither is truthfully superior.
We could go even further and say what about sequels or games in the same series, the latest release of a storied franchise usually improves on most aspects of previous games. Yet, even then, the claim can’t be made that Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a better game than Animal Crossing: New Leaf. It is totally fair to say a sequel improved, added, changed, perfected even, all the right things, but someone might just really like a bunch of animals calling them their “mayor.” We could go even further and go back to Dragon Quest XI once again and ask, is Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age - Definitive Edition better than Dragon Quest XI. Well, pretty much definitely yes. Is the same exact game but with more content and fixes and happy bonuses objectively better? You’d be pretty crazy if you argued no, but this is where it all really falls apart. Maybe somebody actually does prefer to have less content, and in their eyes, the game was a more rounded experience before the developers added more, and once again, that is valid. But it really brings out my true point: it doesn’t matter.
There will forever be enjoyers of video games with a wide spectrum of opinions, history, and passion, and that’s a great thing. When discussing, debating, and especially reviewing games, at the end of the day it is just a recommendation that one individual feels that another person could get some joy out of playing a game they also enjoyed. Under no circumstances should someone get offended or put off, maybe even throw out “overrated”, when someone likes a game more or less than they do. The people who feel that Ocarina of Time is the best game of all time are right, for them, because the game had such an impact on them when they played it that a game just hasn't replicated since. Each person has different experiences that shape their taste, situations in life that make certain games impact more, or just individuality that draws them to like a game with more blue color than red. It is such a great thing to have this wide range of players to recommend things to each other. I personally love when someone tells me I should play a game they enjoyed. If I do end up enjoying it like they did, we have something to talk about and experience to share that we gained from a work of art produced from anywhere between one and thousands of people. If I, for whatever reason, didn’t like it, it just gave more insight about the person, not a reason to be upset.
If there’s anything I want you to take away from this, it is to maybe reconsider what someone is saying when they declare a game to be “the best of all time” or to take a second thought before you compare video games. Usually the person on the other end of the conversation has a passion for the specific video game and got so much out of it, and by them saying it is good, they are wanting you to be able to get the same joy that they had. Games are a positive thing because they were built on the foundation of fun, and even if games stray from fun, and even if you don’t like that, they are still games that people like and it wouldn’t hurt to expand your horizons to like them too. This applies the same to game reviews, while someone might be analyzing the qualities of a game, no review is objective, and the sole purpose is to say, “this was my experience with it, your’s might be similar.” In my own reviews, I don’t score games because once I give a game a “10/10” and another a “9/10”, it means that I think the 10 is better, but it isn’t. Opinions on games range from hate, to dislike, to meh, to liked, to loved, to “knocked my socks off and made me rethink my life,” and everything in between, not “this game is exactly this good, no better, no worse.” But hey, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe there is an exact scale of quality that every game sits upon and you alone have the keen eye to recognize it. Either way, it still, ultimately, does not matter.
Just to be clear, it is fair to compare games when discussing their strengths, weaknesses, and traits for the sake of discussion and analysis. This is different from comparing games as better or worse, which isn’t fair because every game offers so much different from everything else, and thus I will totally be deeply saddened by you if you ever, ever compare games ever again on my watch. (Obviously excluding Dragon Quest XI S, the greatest game of all time which you should sing its name across the world to spread the word that it is better than Super Mario, Super Link, Titanfall, Pokemon, Halo, Destiny, Fortnite, Pong, Bioshock, Rhythm Heaven, Fortnite, Seiken Densetsu, Horizon Zero Dawn, Apex Legend, Doom Guy, Fortnite, Persona, Animal Crossing, Chrono Trigger, Street Fighter, Terraria, Overwatch, Fortnite, Final Fantasy I-XV, Dragon Quest I-X, League of Legends, No Man’s Sky, especially Sonic, and every game containing the letter “e”.)