Link from Tears of the Kingdom
(Nintendo)

The 10 Greatest Video Game Franchises Ever Made

The ten greatest video game franchises, huh? This list is gonna be almost as divisive as a list of the greatest video games ever made. I had to kill a lot of my own franchise darlings. Mass Effect. Super Smash Bros. Kingdom Hearts. The competition was cutthroat, but these games came out on top.

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10. Dark Souls

A knight faces off against undead soldiers in "Dark Souls 2"
(FromSoftware)

“Soulslike.” Few gaming franchises can lay claim to their own adjective. Like “Kafka-esque”, it’s the self-identifying description that all artistic endeavors aspire to be. The Souls trilogy, (and Demon Souls before it) completely revamped the modern RPG from the romantic notions of Final Fantasy and the cartoonish capers of World of Warcraft to create a brutalist dark fantasy work of art that plays like a horror game. Shadowy worlds dripping with lore combine with crushingly difficult combat to create one of the most nightmarishly unique franchises ever created. It spawned thousands of imitators, but the Souls franchise stands supreme above all.

9. Fallout

A person in a suit of robotic armor stares into the camera in a ruined city in "Fallout 3"
(Bethesda Game Studios)

In a raygun-to-my-head choice between Elder Scrolls and Fallout, Fallout has the edge. There is simply no game quite like it. With its searing post-apocalyptic cynicism with its tongue-in-cheek 1950s-style retrofuturist comedy stylings, Fallout‘s tone is as chimerical as the monsters that inhabit its wastelands. It’s a sprawling end-of-the-world epic with a story unlike any other. Mutant marauders. Giant freedom-fighting robots. Cyborg detectives. No other franchise has a world that is quite as idiosyncratic, quite as creative, quite as kooky, bloody, and beautiful.

8. Resident Evil

Leon S. Kennedy stalks his way through the woods in Resident Evil 4
(Capcom)

Resident Evil is a testament to the power of raw gameplay. Until Resident Evil 7, the stories were action-horror movie fluff. The wisecracking action hero has to save the president’s daughter, etc. But the gameplay? God tier. The game is a white-knuckle experience in resource management. You never have quite enough space, quite enough ammo, quite enough health, quite enough courage. Taking on Resident Evil‘s menagerie of bodily horrors is a sublimely terrifying experience. It is the only game series that has ever made me scream out loud.

7. Final Fantasy

A blond boy stands gripping a sword strapped to his back in "Final Fantasy 7 Remake"
(Square Enix)

With over 20+ games and counting, Final Fantasy is doing something right. At its core, the franchise is a capital “R” Romantic take on Dungeons and Dragons. The franchise took the tactical turn-based mechanisms behind old tabletop RPGs and gave them a lush coat of paint. Final Fantasy is an exercise in style just as much as substance, with fantastical costumes and iconic weapons replete with buckles and belts and bells and whistles. The haute couture character design combines with resplendent fantasy soundtracks and breathtaking worlds that make your heart ache to look at them. It’s impossible not to feel something when playing this series. Melancholy. Nostalgia. And of course, good old level-grinding frustration.

6. God of War

Kratos and Atreus facing each other in God of War Ragnarök
(Sony)

God of War may have been one of the most successful video game rebrands ever concocted. The original trilogy was a gloriously over-the-top hack-and-slash epic, a gaming spectacle as sweeping as the Ancient Greek tragedies to which it owes inspiration. God of War III took the game to its apex, then pivoted entirely. As the fandom aged, the protagonist Kratos aged along with them, maturing from a bloodthirsty young warrior to a middle-aged father racked with regret. Watching a violent murderer turn into a loving father is gaming’s most well-crafted testament to the fact that people truly are capable of lasting change. God of War is one of the finest character dramas in gaming history.

5. Super Mario Bros

Mario and a cute little star fly through space in "Mario Galaxy"
(Nintendo)

Super Mario Bros. is Nintendo’s flagship game. It’s an Italian plumber smashing evil looking mushrooms while saving a princess from a turtle monster. It ain’t that deep, and it proves something that many modern game designers forget: Games should be FUN. Before video games pondered weighty artistic questions about the human spirit, they were meant to entertain. Give kids something to look forward to. Mario has understood this throughout the course of the franchise, and as a result continually pushes the boundaries of the platformer game to its limits. Gravity-defying space odysseys. Magic hats. Even the odd RPG game? Mario never ceases to surprise and delight.

4. Metal Gear Solid

Snake and Raiden aim guns at a foe in "Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty"
(Konami)

Hideo Kojima is a rare bird in the gaming world, the first game designer to ever truly be considered a director and auteur. Metal Gear Solid is not so much a gaming experience as it is a fully playable movie. Kojima always pushed the boundaries, with his original Metal Gear arcade game taking narrative leaps that Street Fighter next to it could never hope to conceive of. Fast forward to Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain which stars Kiefer Sutherland as the iconic Big Boss in a triple-A blockbuster spy thriller of a game. The globe-trotting historical narrative. The mind-bending boss fights that require you to think outside the console to beat. The groundbreaking stealth action gameplay. All of it makes for a one-of-a-kind experience. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention David Hayter, the originator of the role’s English dub, The man’s gravel tossed in a washing machine vocal tone immortalized Snake as one of the most enduring video game characters ever created.

3. Grand Theft Auto

The cast of "Grand Theft Auto V" looking ready for business
(Rockstar)

Grand Theft Auto understood something about the human psyche: We love to destroy things. Grand Theft Auto gave players a safe digital space to do just that. Grand Theft Auto‘s title alone promises to bring the player along on an unforgettable crime spree and delivers on that promise. Robbery. Arson. Murder. Every crime is not just possible but encouraged. The game’s tongue-in-cheek cynicism never fails to remind the player what they already know, that everyone in this digital rat-race world is looking out for themselves alone, and that the only way to survive is by listening to one’s darkest impulses and seeing them through to a bloody and hilarious conclusion.

2. The Legend of Zelda

Link and the cast of characters in 'The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask'
(Nintendo)

If Grand Theft Auto rewards the villain in all of us, the Legend of Zelda rewards the hero. Link is never given any real skin in the game. He doesn’t have a personal relationship that he’s supposed to rescue. He’s not a resident of the realm that he’s certain to save from destruction. He’s a wandering do-gooder, a hero for whom doing the right thing is its own reward. Link represents our innate desire to help each other. The success of the Zelda franchise paints an optimistic portrait of humanity, where none will refuse to good when it is in their power to do so. Of course, the gorgeous level design, stunning boss battles, and sweeping stories help convince people to take up their arms as well. But still, it’s all for a good cause.

1. Pokémon

Official artwork for the Pokemon Scarlet and Violet DLC: The Indigo DIsk, featuring numerous new Pokémon game characters and the final evolutions of the ninth generation starter Pokémon
(The Pokémon Company)

Pokémon is the quintessential video game franchise. A franchise that all can appreciate. It capitalized on humanity’s applaudable love for animals with our screwed-up desire to make them compete with one another in battle. It’s a moral grey area and a surefire recipe for success. Pokémon is one of the most successful companies on Earth and has sold over 250 million copies of its games. Despite hitting the shelves over two decades ago, the franchise retains a stranglehold on the gaming world. It’s cross-cultural and cross-generational, it’s so ubiquitously successful that even your 80-year-old grandmother knows who Pikachu is. It is a game with something truly for everyone. After all, with over a thousand Pokémon to choose from, ONE has to be a favorite.


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Author
Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.