40. Xenoblade Chronicles
Many modern JRPGs stand on the shoulders of giants, but none more literally than Xenoblade Chronicles. Set on the bodies of two decaying gods, it sees knobbly body parts sprout extraordinary level designs. Sprawling thighs hold rolling plains; colonies nestle in the soft bit behind the kneecap; a pointy elbow becomes a mountain peak. The mind boggles at the sheer imagination of the world, let alone how the humble Wii handles it without melting.
And it hosts a truly forward-thinking JRPG - borrowing a real-time combat system not unlike Final Fantasy 12's, but better unifying your party members with devastating combo potential and an affinity system that powers the strongest moves. Throw in a soundtrack of solid gold earworms and hundreds of hours of hypnotic side quests, and by the time you're done with this, your body will have sprouted a few grassy fields of its own.
True emotional investment is rare in games. Very few attempt to invoke it, but even those that do are usually about as subtle as a wrecking ball wrapped in plastic explosives. Team Ico's debut - a remarkable thing to properly consider - is a standout proposition, not just in what it tries to do, but in how it does it. Character names? Nope. Exposition? Nah. Long, superfluous cut-scenes? Behave.
Instead you have two characters bonded by circumstance, and an instinct to protect that which is good from that which is not. There's a delicacy and purity to Ico which has barely been repeated in the last 14 years - how many games have hand-holding as their key mechanic? Plus, that end scene is the kind of stuff which has grown men pretending they were chopping onions.
38. Animal Crossing: New Leaf
We're not sure how, but Nintendo managed to make the prospect of being in hideous amounts of debt to a slightly sinister racoon really fun. After stumbling into town and being presented with new Mayoral responsibilities and a tent for the night, it's up to you to work odd jobs for cash (or bells, as the case may be) and spend it on town improvement. In the process, you unlock bigger and better stuff, and further debts to pay for it all. Ah, commercialism.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf is all so wondrously charming; there's nothing quite like pottering around collecting bugs, or fishing while your neighbors - a lazy frog and a snooty anteater - swap fashion tips in the background. Being able to fill your house with anything from a space station to a dentist's chair is another highlight, especially when you can share your perfect (or creatively questionable) interior design skills online.
Games have a power to take us to all manner of places. So why do they so often take us to places we can actually go? For Japanese players, the world of Okami must be an intriguing collection of folklore nods and knowing references to ancient tales. For folks like us in the West, it's a wondrous explosion of stories both unknown and beautiful, all ripe for exploring from the inside out.
And doing so is an absolute delight thanks to a gameplay foundation riffed from 3D Zeldas, augmented with a cel-shaded artistic flair and a Celestial Brush which lets you paint to change the world itself. Plus, it's the only game we can think of that lets you play as a goddess of the sun embodied as a snow-white wolf wielding a disc of fire alongside an inch-high artist who's also a bug. So: win.
36. Fallout 3
Only a fool would think of Fallout 3 as Oblivion with guns. Yes, this is another 100-hours-or-more Bethesda RPG in which you roam an open world solving people's problems (mostly with violence) - but it diverges with a vengeance. First there's the dark humor which clashes '50s apple-pie Americana with the nuclear apocalypse, casting you as a resident of Vault 101 in the year 2277, forced to search a ravaged Washington DC for your father who is Liam Neeson.
Then there's VATS (or Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System), which lets you pause the action and target specific body parts to cripple and dismember. There are weapons to craft (pneumatic fists, laser cannons), companions to recruit (floating robots, dogs), and factions to join (militias, technology-worshipping monks). So yes, there are guns in Fallout 3, but there's a lot more besides.
35. Pokemon X and Y
The pinnacle of the monster-nabbing series to date, Pokemon X and Y brings the iconic franchise into a whole new dimension, adding trainer customization options and a more robust trading system to boot. The world of Kalos itself is no slouch either, filled to the brim with vibrant locations and some of the best new Pokemon designs since the first generation back in 1996.
While other reincarnations provide refinements, X/Y takes a genuine leap forward with its battling formula by introducing the Fairy type, horde encounters, and even sky-based battles. Mega evolutions also add a great tactical layer by letting you briefly super-charge your Poke-pals for a devastating show of strength, but only once per fight. It's more of what you love about Pokemon, only better.
34. Batman: Arkham Asylum
Rocksteady's debut take on the Dark Knight is, in a word, spectacular. That's no flagrant use of hyperbole either - out of a relatively unproven London studio came the greatest encapsulation of a superhero ever made outside the hallowed pages of its comic origins. Drawing on the familiar voices of '90s gem Batman: The Animated Series, Batman: Arkham Asylum adds just enough familiar authenticity to get your attention, then builds a world that practically oozes a character all its own.
The real triumph here is the balance between Bats' pitch-perfect stealth capabilities and the poetic brutality of the Freeflow combat system. Sure, if things go awry you can rely on a scrapping setup so smooth you're practically making music with your fists. But the sheer joy of stalking your enemies, sweeping between gargoyles, and snatching thugs into the darkness makes you feel as cool as the Dark Knight himself.
33. The Walking Dead: Season One
You haven't known tension in a game until you've had mere seconds to decide if you save a child and doom a young man, or vice versa. You haven't known guilt until you've seen how your choices made you an absolute monster compared to most other players. And you've not known heartbreak until you've had to ask your surrogate daughter figure to do something no child should ever have to, zombie apocalypse or not.
Taking the comics as a jumping-off point, Telltale's episodic spin on The Walking Dead revitalizes the adventure game template by making your decisions feel impactful and really, genuinely, gut-wrenchingly difficult. Seeing the sentence "Clementine will remember that" flash across the screen conveys more meaning than some games' entire stories, and we'll never forget that.
32. Chrono Trigger
With modern technology and massive budgets, it's still an impressive feat when a game can create memorable narratives, nuanced characters, and layered storytelling. Imagine pulling that off with pixelated sprites and no voice acting, while also trying your best to follow a plot that involves a lot of time travel.
Chrono Trigger is an epic collaboration from the minds behind Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, and it's the best of both worlds. All of its distinct historical periods are full of shocking developments and memorable characters, from a chivalrous frog to a gentle robot. All this is coupled with one of the era's best soundtracks, and a freewheeling combat system that abolishes tiresome random battles and amps up the turned-based action. Chrono Trigger is a trip back in time that every gamer needs to take - preferably via the brilliant DS port.
31. Portal 2
How do you improve on a seemingly perfect puzzle game? If Valve's second physics-mangling outing is anything to go by, you up the length, expand the story, and go crazy with the extra gadgets. Supplementing your portal gun with great gobs of bouncy, slidey, and whack-a-portal-anywhere-thanks-to-moondust goo, Portal 2 gives you larger, more inventive playgrounds through which to catapult yourself with speed, precision, and frantic prayer.
And who could resist the charms of Stephen Merchant as the hapless idiot-turned-sinister threat Wheatley? What's more, who'd have thought we could ever experience so much as a tiny twinge of sympathy for GLaDOS? By developing and refining all the physics-bending concepts presented by its predecessor - not to mention the introduction of fiendishly fun co-op play - Portal 2 makes the original seem like a (really good) demo.