By my reckoning, 1998 is the greatest year in gaming history. No other year had or has had as many great games released within it.
In 1998, the Nintendo 64 continued its trend of having a historically great game and taking the best game of the year awards (for the 3rd year in a row). Nintendo’s machine also suffered from a software drought as most 3rd party releases had and would continue to find their way onto the Sony’s newcomer.
While the PlayStation was at this point in mid prime, it continued to demonstrate a varied library of good to great titles. The PlayStation did not have the absolute best game, but it did have many great titles that appealed to a variety of different gaming demographics.
By 1998, PC gaming had begun to hit its stride. The Nintendo 64 had been the hardware king from 1996 to mid 1997, but once 3-D accelerator cards arrived the PC took the horsepower crown (and never looked back). The Sega Saturn at this point was running on borrowed time, but it did have one last great game.
Finally, 1998 also brought us Britney Spears…which was a big deal. N0 14 year old boy could have resisted her charms. I know I didn’t!
10. Banjo-Kazooie (Nintendo 64) – 92.38
If Rareware had not existed, the Nintendo 64 would have been a wasteland filled of sporadic revolutionary all-time great titles that one could count in one hand. Rare delivered some of the best games on the system like Golden Eye 007 and Perfect Dark.
The English company also delivered plenty of Nintendo clones that were just as good (if not better than Nintendo’s own stuff) like Diddy Kong Racing and Banjo-Kazooie. Banjo was a Super Mario 64 clone, but a clone with massive improvements in terms of visual upgrades.
No one could quite push the Nintendo 64 like Rare did. Banjo had some of the best texture work seen on the machine and the game’s worlds were huge. The game also had a funny story which is something that Super Mario 64 lacked.
Banjo could fly (thanks to his side kick Kazooie), Swim, jump, and fight massive bosses. Apart from Jack and Daxter, Banjo-Kazooie is (at least to me) the best Super Mario 64 clone of all time. While Banjo-Kazooie managed to get everything right, it lacked a certain polish in its controls and platforming design that did not make it quite as good a game as SM64.
Critics, however, loved BK stating that it was prettier and more complex than Mario 64. Many felt that the game offered the perfect companion to Nintendo’s own revolutionary platformer, as Banjo focused more on exploration while Super Mario 64 focused more on platforming.
9. Panzer Dragoon Saga (Sega Saturn) – 92.46
Panzer Dragoon Saga is tragically underrated. Yes, some (well at least the few who have played it) consider it the greatest JRPG of all time. But the fact that the game remains one gaming’s most expensive unicorns (as copies can be found for as high as $2000) and Sega lost its source code decades ago means that most JRPG aficionados have not played it, and probably never will.
While PDS has often been called Sega’s answer to Final Fantasy VII, Panzer Dragoon Saga was a different beast. Unlike Squaresoft’s greatest hit, PDS was fully 3-D and had a variety of gameplay styles that deviated from anything seen in the genre at the time.
PDS might be the greatest looking game on the Sega Saturn. Two of the game’s staff members would die during the game’s development, and its director attributed the deaths to the stress and working conditions in which Panzer Dragoon Saga was developed.
The game featured a unique position-oriented turn-based system which was praised by critics as unique and more strategy oriented than other turn-based RPGs of its era. Critics would also praise the games visuals which were even more impressive given the Saturn’s hellish architecture and its notorious difficulty when churning out 3-D visuals.
The only downside to PDS, as I mentioned before, is that almost no one got to play this masterpiece. The game would win many RPG of the year awards and might have won more accolades had Nintendo not released The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time within the same year.
8. Star Craft (PC) – 92.85
With more than 11 million copies sold, Star Craft is one of their true commercial hits of the PC arena. Its sales would earn it a Guinness record for selling the most copies of a strategy game. The game is generally recognized as one of the greatest real-time strategy games of all time. Star Craft does a flawless job in managing its three races, all with different strengths and weaknesses.
Offering multiplayer options as well as base building and resource management, Star Craft provide players with hundreds of hours of play. Critics fell in love with the game’s deep story, voice acting, and superior strategy play within a genre populated by other great real-time strategy titles.
While Blizzard’s title would not win the ‘Game of the Year’ award, it did win the ‘Strategy Game of the Year Award’ in many publications. Many critics continue to rank the game as one of the best games of all time even to this day.
7. Grim Fandango (PC) – 92.97
Grim Fandango was an interesting adventure game. It was loved by critics but shunned by consumers. The game’s commercial failure prompted LucasArts to stop developing adventure games, and it was considered the reason for the death of the adventure genre as a whole.
The game featured exploration and puzzle solving. Critics praised the game’s art direction, and dark humor. Many of these critics considered the game to be the year’s best PC game alongside Half-Life.
Grim Fandango’s commercial performance was a grim, but Fandango continues to do well in contemporary all time lists, especially within the PC adventure genre where many critics still consider the game to be the best that the genre has to offer.
6. Resident Evil 2 (PlayStation) – 93.13
Final Fantasy VII had been an important release for the PlayStation in 1997. In 1998, Resident Evil 2 was nearly as big with most teen (and older) gamers. At the time, Resident Evil 2 was one of the best reasons to own a PlayStation.
The post-apocalyptic zombie thriller was bigger and much better looking than its predecessor. The addition of branching paths to be discovered with both protagonists (Claire and Leon) made Resident Evil 2’s survival horror experience one of the most repayable single player games on consoles available in the era.
Resident Evil 2 sold 6 million copies (N64 copies included), making it one of the most successful titles of the 1990s decade. Critics praised its atmospheric visuals, puzzles, and storyline. Many found the tank controls to be frustrating and the voice acting to be laughable, but the game’s quality and genuine scares made it hard for most to score the game low.
Gory and extremely violent (for its time), RE2 is one of the reasons that older gamers flocked to Sony’s platform as opposed to Nintendo’s (the N64 port would arrive nearly two years later). RE2 would have won the PlayStation game of the year award had it not been for the existence of Konami’s Metal Gear Solid.
5. Metal Gear Solid (PlayStation) – 93.24
My earliest memories from Metal Gear Solid were painful. It was the first game to ever receive four straight 10s from Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time would have to settle for being the second game to achieve the feat a few weeks after it. I was angry that MGS took away that one milestone from Ocarina, but other than that, the game was more than solid.
Metal Gear Solid brought stealth games to the forefront. As a technical showpiece, the game seemed to have pushed the PlayStation’s boundaries to the very edge of what the hardware was capable of. Konami’s attention to detail was impressive and critics gobbled the game up.
Magazines of the day praised the game’s storytelling and superb Hollywood caliber voice acting. Many hailed the game as the closest that a PlayStation game got to achieving “perfection.” Given the PlayStation’s hefty library, it is noteworthy that Next Generation magazine called MGS “The best reason yet to own a PlayStation.”
Metal Gear Solid would go on to sell 7 million units and win many accolades. However, the game would not win the vast majority of ‘Game of the Year’ awards thanks to the existence of Ocarina of Time. Any other year, other than 1998, MGS would have achieved top honors.
IGN would rank Metal Gear Solid as the best PlayStation game of all time in 2002.
4. Half-Life (PC) – 94.02
If there was ever a tour de force experience that highlighted just how far ahead PC hardware was from its closest console competitor (the Nintendo 64), that showcase was Half-Life.
Half-Life was, at its core, a single-player story driven first-person shooter that utilized scripted scenes to tell the story rather than pre-rendered cutscenes. What made Half-Life a revolutionary experience at the time was that the player always kept a real-time first-person view point as he or she witnessed the story’s events.
Critics would go on to praise its visuals and seamless method of storytelling with many calling it a revolutionary title within the genre. To some critics Half-Life did more than just revolutionize first-person shooters, it brought the PC adventure genre into a new era of proper 3-D graphics and interactivity.
With over 9 million units sold, Half-Life had as high a number of sales as the best selling console titles of the era. The game proved that in 1998 PC gaming was growing rapidly and could be as profitable as the most popular home consoles were. Half-Life would go on to win the ‘PC game of the year award’ from many Computer publications in 1998, as it was the best reason to own a competent PC rig for gaming.
3. Gran Turismo (PlayStation) – 94.95
1998 was the best year to be PlayStation owner. Gamers got to play Resident Evil 2, Xenogears (barely missed the list), Metal Gear Solid, Tekken 3, and Gran Turismo. Racing was huge in the 32-bit era, and Gran Turismo was conceived as the racer to rule over all other racers.
Gran Turismo was far and away a car aficionado’s dream game. The game featured 140 real life cars and 11 real-world tracks. It was the ultimate driving simulator in an era where car racing games like Ridge Racer and Sega Rally were all the rage.
Gran Turismo was another game that appealed to older gamers rather than younglings, and it was a PlayStation highlight piece. The Nintendo 64 would never get a racing game to match it. Gran Turismo sold 10.83 million copies, making it the best-selling PlayStation game of all time.
Critically, GT fared just as well. Most praised the game’s outstanding visuals, soundtrack, tight controls, and quantity of cars. Most critics consider Gran Turismo to be the father of modern racing simulation games, and the game continues to rank high on modern all-time great lists.
2. Tekken 3 (PlayStation) – 95.80
A fighting game receiving heaps of praise by critics was not an uncommon occurrence in the 1990s. That said, Tekken 3 was special even by those standards. Before Soul Calibur arrived on the Dreamcast a year later, I cannot recall a single fighting game that received as much praise.
My introduction to Tekken 3 happened on the PlayStation console, but the game had been on arcade machines for years (since 1996 in Japan, and 1997 overseas). However, Tekken 3’s PlayStation port was a thing of beauty.
Visual compromises were made in order to facilitate a system 12 arcade game to run on the underpowered PlayStation hardware. Even then, Tekken 3 looked better than any other fighter did on the PlayStation.
Critics quickly awarded Tekken the highest honors for a fighting game in that year. Electronic Gaming Monthly would award it three 10s (and an infamous 9.0 from Sushi X) with critics praising the game as the pinnacle of the Tekken formula and 3-D fighting games of the 32-64-bit era.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64) – 97.54
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has a good claim for being the greatest game of all time. In that sense, it is not surprising that even amongst the star studded 1998 crowd of games, Zelda’s 3-D debut was far and away the most critically acclaimed game of the year.
My love for Ocarina of Time is world renowned, and there is not much that I can say on this list about it that I haven’t already said in other articles about the game on this site. Ocarina of Time is beyond a shadow of a doubt my favorite game of all time.
But what did the critics say about the biggest and most revolutionary game of 1998? Let’s start with one of the most popular game magazines of the time, Electronic Gaming Monthly. EGM used 3-4 different editors per big game review, and that made it my favorite and must trusted source for reviews as a teenager. It is more difficult for 4 different people to like a game than it is for one single person. Ocarina of Time would go on to score 10s from each different editor.
One of the editors said it best: “Is it the finest game ever made? Quite possibly.”
Beyond EGM, Ocarina would win ‘game of the year’ honors universally, making it the third and final time that an N64 game would win the award. Ocarina of Time would also rate as number one on all-time great lists from the following publications: Computer and Video Games, Edge, Entertainment Weekly, IGN, Metacritic, Next Generation, Game Informer, GameFAQs, Nintendo Power, and FHM, just to name a few.
At the time of its release, critics praised the game as a game “that could shape Action-RPGs for years to come” and “a game that can’t be called anything else than flawless.” Again, there is not enough praise that could suffice for Ocarina of Time’s historical greatness.
At the end of the day, Ocarina of Time was not only the best game of 1998, but also the game of the decade. Perhaps, of all time.
Agree with the author? Couldn’t disagree more and are frothing at the mouth to tell him? Leave a comment here, on Facebook or send an email and make sure to follow Never Ending Realm on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube!