As any long-time gamer can attest, sometimes you become completely enamoured by a game that seems to have been cast out into the night by the court of popular opinion.
There are a whole host of reasons that a title can get stuck with a bad reputation – a poor first impression, not living up to a predecessor, undue attention being given to one flaw that seems to eclipse everything that game does right. Whatever the cause, the result is always the same; derision from the mob (especially so from those who have never tried that game) while we turn into Lurleen Lumpkin, staring lovingly at the box art while singing about how “no one understands you… but I do”.
In honour of our favourite shunned gems, here are our picks for the top seven great games with unfair reputations.
Final Fantasy VIII (1999)
Very much the grey sheep of the franchise, Final Fantasy VIII has split players into two factions: one that considers it the weakest entry during the series' golden age and another (much more correct) group that believe it to be a masterpiece that can stand shoulder to shoulder with any other entry.
The reason for this division can be attributed to one factor, at least for those of us who grew up with the franchise and played FF8 at a young age: It was too complicated.
Boasting a story as political as it is surreal and progress governed by the elaborate new Junction System that threw everything we knew about JRPG's out the window, FF8 was the pinnacle of Squaresoft's increasing experimentation before returning to basics with Final Fantasy IX (2000).
Those who return to the game with more experience behind them will find a positively engrossing story (especially if you know about 'that theory' and analyse events with that in mind) and mechanics way ahead of their time, which meant that playing the game like a mix of Pokemon and Undertale (2015) would mold your party into an unstoppable force.
That being said, this whole entry could have been deftly argued with a single word: Gunblades.
Mafia III (2016)
The Mafia III that we got on release completely deserved its criticisms. A victim of the 'release now, fix later' mentality that many publishers have shown in recent years, it was riddled with bugs and glitches to the point where these became the main focus of most media coverage.
What's unfair is that the stink of these problems still hasn't been washed from Mafia III's reputation despite numerous patches addressing these issues and expanding the game with additional content. As a result, people have dismissed this title as not being worth their time even when given away as part of subscription services such as PS Plus and PS Now.
It's a shame because the developers clearly put a lot of care and detail into creating a rich and detailed environment in New Bordeaux, so now that the problems have been fixed, surely this game deserves a second chance, right?
Bioshock 2 (2010)
This is an odd one because Bioshock 2 is generally well regarded, the only problem is that it happens to be sandwiched between two of the greatest games ever released. Unlike the other entrants in this list it's not so much unfairly criticised as it is unfairly forgotten.
While Bioshock 2's plot failed to live up to the original, it still had a gripping, personal story that would have been acclaimed in a new IP, but unfortunately for this title, bore the inevitable burden of being measured against its venerated predecessor. It also boasts more refined gameplay, a new perspective on Rapture and some unforgettable sections such as seeing Rapture through the eyes of a Little Sister.
Deemed just another sequel that couldn't live up to the original by many disappointed fans at the time of release, and often skipped by newcomers to the series, this is a game that's underrated and all too easily overlooked.
Brutal Legend (2009)
The reason for Brutal Legend's marred legacy is a novel one. It's not because of a problem with the game itself, rather it stems from a playable demo offered prior to release and what that demo didn't show.
The demo showcased the opening 30-60 minutes, but what it didn't include was the Real Time Strategy battles that make up the title's biggest conflicts. Many people felt slighted by this, believing this to be an intentional way of misleading consumers, hiding the RTS combat that may put off a lot of prospective buyers.
It's hard to say whether this is the case or whether it just happens that the game's opening section doesn't include RTS elements, but we can say that this complaint being so intrinsically linked to the game's legacy is an affront to how good it actually is. The majority of the game is comprised of exactly what was expected - an exciting and hilarious action game set in an imaginative fantasy world based on heavy metal with one of the greatest soundtracks ever compiled.
DmC: Devil May Cry (2013)
It's amazing to see so much outrage over a haircut. Well OK, it was less a haircut more a complete character redesign, but let's be honest, the hair seemed to be the biggest sticking point here.
When the revamped Dante was revealed prior to this game's release, it become clear that however good the game was, people were going to hate it because this wasn't the Dante they knew and loved. Whether players were put off from playing it altogether or just went into it with a bitter taste already formed, the redesign was given far too much weight in how this game was judged.
On its own merits, this was exactly what an action game should be - fast paced combat, brilliant boss battles and the ability to instill excitement in the player at every turn. All in all, it was one of the best in the entire series, but despite this, some people just can't forgive that haircut.
Mass Effect: Andromeda (2017)
This release mirrored that of Mafia III: A rushed development leading to a release crawling with bugs. The difference is that whereas Mafia III was seen as a joke, the response here was venomous. Passionate fans were outraged at the state of what was anticipated to potentially be the best game of the year, and once again, that response was completely justified.
Over the months that followed, the developers worked to correct the game's shortcomings and create the product that should have been available on release and the end result was spectacular.
We've published a lengthy defence of this title in the past, so we won't dwell too much on it here, but suffice to say that while the story doesn't quite live up to Mass Effect 2 (2010), the combat improvements, open worlds to explore, side quests and variety in gameplay all combine to convey a sense of wonder that's rarely accomplished.
Final Fantasy XIII (2009)
When it was first released, FF13 received solid reviews from many major outlets that rated it to be on par with many of the series' most popular entries, yet as time has gone by, its reputation has festered to the point where many consider it to be a failure and the end of the franchises' decade-plus streak of top notch single player offerings. The reason for this? One criticism. Three words that have become synonymous with the title and acted as a plague on its legacy: “It's too linear”.
This critique isn't without merit, the first twenty or so hours spent traversing Cocoon are linear, until players reach Gran Pulse where the map opens up and a bunch of side quests and distractions become available. We're not here to dispute the truth of this or open up the argument of whether linearity is a good or bad thing, our defence is simply this:
Take a look at Final Fantasy X (2001). It's considered one of, if not the best game in the entire franchise, and how was that story set out? Twenty or so hours of linear paths until you reach the Calm Lands when the map opens up and a bunch of side quests and distractions become available. Sure, you could play Blitzball now and then to break things up if you enjoyed the mini-game, but the vast majority of the game was set out just like Final Fantasy XIII.
FF13 is not perfect but it does a lot of things right, yet it's condemned for a single reason that's never brought up when it comes to FFX. Can anyone explain the reasoning behind that? Answers on a postcard, please (or in the comments section below, either one is fine).
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