Konami has been making a lot of moves lately that has the gaming community at large a little nervous. It’s self-removal from the stock market, it’s strange disassociation with visionary director Hideo Kojima, the massive fall through of Silent Hills - all signs of an ominous future for the publisher. Some people are speculating these are all calculated decisions set to prepare Konami for it’s eventual departure from the games industry all together.
I don’t want to perpetuate that rumor mill, but if there is truth in it’s turn than we have no choice but to accept it. Where others take this time to mourn the loss of future games or scold Konami’s leaders for running the ship to ground, I find time to celebrate. If, by this time next year, Konami is no longer making games, I want to be able to say we were the first to celebrate Konami’s legacy. The following ten titles are the best of Konami’s long history, and cover games from a multitude of genres, some of which they helped invent/reinvent.
10. Zone of the Enders 2
Zone of the Enders was Hideo Kojima’s “not Metal Gear” series about young people piloting mechs and waging war for reasons they don’t really understand. Yes, that does sound awfully familiar, and the fact that the first debuted around the same time Gundam and Evangelion was picking up notoriety in the States probably has a lot to do with this game’s success.
The 2003 follow up was stellar upgrade to the best parts of the series. Combat was faster and more responsive, and it was one of the best looking games around at the time. It featured that silly melodrama and super convoluted story elements that any Kojima-produced game is expected to have, but its merits outweighed its flaws. I sold comparatively poorly back in 2003, which is probably why we haven’t seen another since.
9. Dance Dance Revolution
It’s difficult to isolate any particular Dance Dance Revolution title that its more important than any other one. Many features came and went from title to title. Difficulty settings were expanded and contracted throughout the series. Song lists changed from game to game. The fact remained: you bounced around with feet of fury, sometimes at impossible speeds. This core mechanic never really changed, and to anyone besides the hardcore player, the differences between the games are almost invisible.
That said, the original Dance Dance Revolution holds a certain raw, unfiltered charm that really wasn’t recaptured in later iterations. Like Rock Band or the original Guitar Hero, there’s a moment of clarity when playing the game where you genuinely believe that the whole genre is now put on notice. The first few sessions of the original Playstation classic are like man’s first steps on the moon. For that feeling of being on the cusp of a new world order, DDR can be hung up as a monument in the series, and as Konami’s best mad science moment.
8. Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest
Simon’s Quest is a game that is way more important to video games in general than just the Castlevania series. Yes, it took the platforming formula of the first and sprinkled some RPG elements - ala Zelda II - and made it all less linear. It added way more narrative that helped flesh out the world Simon was saving, even if it wasn’t translated very well. These things really did help push the series into new territory.
Castlevania II’s real worth is it’s influence on every game around it. It borrowed many elements from Metroid, another big Nintendo franchise at the time, and subsequent games in both series would lay the foundation of what is commonly known as a ‘Metroidvania’ game. The risk/reward system of traveling at night or during that day has tendrils that reach as far as modern classics like Fallout 3. The economy of hearts being both a currency and life force made in roads to developing more complex systems involving inventory management and life support. Simon’s Quest is a fossil to be studied and respected, like your favorite dinosaur.
7. Gradius V
How do you spice up a the most famous franchise in a genre you pretty much invented? You bring in developers from a studio who was arguably doing your thing better. When Konami reached out to Ikaruga’s Treasure studio, they did so looking to change Gradius in meaningful, yet eye catching ways. Boy, did they ever.
Treasure turned the boss rushing and tight space navigating up to 11 almost immediately, raising the bar dramatically in terms of difficulty, and bringing the intensity of Gradius up to the levels of Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga. There’s also ship customization galore, especially after you beat the game for the first time. Many of the weapons are interesting and fun to use, and you could finally stop you ship and manually aim your shots in the cardinal directions, instead of shooting only in the direction you’re moving.
Like many games from the late 80’s, Contra was originally an arcade staple, until it was ported to the NES and really caught fire. It wasn’t hard to really connect with American gamers in the 80’s when the two main characters in your game looked a lot like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. We were really into those guys back then.
The NES port made the term couch co-op a thing, as both players could play at the same time. For Nintendo games, this was sort of a breakthrough. Before this, you’d be waiting for Player 1 to die before Player 2 could play, if there was a second player option at all. It also debuted infamous Konami Code to American audiences. It wasn’t the first game to use it (that was Gradius) but this was the first time we felt smart for knowing it.
5. Metal Gear Solid
When Hideo Kojima decided to make games instead of movies, the gaming community at large profited in a way we wouldn’t fully appreciate when the first Metal Gear Solid hit shelves in 1998. Narratively dense and convoluted, Metal Gear Solid was also refreshingly open and challenging. It was only earlier that same year that we got our first decent 3D stealth game in Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, and MGS blew it away in terms of the many tactical options at your disposal when it comes to navigating through fields of enemies.
But what’s more memorable about the game is its crazy characters, it’s quirky and unique sense of humor, and its pretty clever take on historical fiction. There are few 20-something year old gamers who don’t know who Solid Snake or Psycho Mantis are, and you can thank MGS for that.
4. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
To many, Symphony of the Night is the quintessential Castlevania game. Many of the great ideas introduced in Simon’s Quest and some of the updates to signature mechanics and open-endedness in Dracula’s Curse were cleverly iterated on in this Playstation Classic. Alucard is fast, responsive, full of incredible potential thanks to the elaborate Action RPG elements cleverly entwined in his adventure. The game might also be the most quotable in the history of video games. Walk into a retro game store and ask “What is a man!?” I dare you.
Symphony is the blueprint for just about every 2D Castlevania game after it, and was the last time the series would receive a major stylistic change (excluding the 3D ventures, most of which should just be avoided).
3. Silent Hill 2
It sort of looks like Resident Evil. It plays like Resident Evil. You even solve silly puzzles and chase keys like Resident Evil. But to say Silent Hill 2 is simply a survival horror clone is to sell short one of the strangest games of all time. When people got excited about a potential Kojima/del Toro lead Silent Hills game, its because they were hoping to get another one of these.
Silent Hill 2 is more like a reboot than a sequel, taking a page out of The Evil Dead director Sam Rami’s book. Revisiting the initial themes and locations of the first game, Silent Hill 2 was given the space to elaborate on the very subtle things that make it so eerie. The overt shock factor exists, especially when you first meet primary antagonist Pyramid Head. The game doesn’t rest on this moments, though. With multiple endings, the game focuses less on what you did to get to the end, and more on how you did them. Pyramid Head could just be a walking demon looking to kill you, be he also represents protagonist James’ hard to shake guilt he possesses. He wants to be punished for his wife’s death, and Pyramid Head stalks him to deliver on his wishes. It never outright tells you any of this, mind you. When B-list gorenados are replaced by nuanced and thoughtful tension and menace, true horror can really be achieved. In my opinion, it hasn’t been achieved since.
2. Suikoden II
If you are ever tasked to make a list of the best JRPGs of all time and Suikoden II isn’t on the list, then you are doing both yourself and your readers a disservice. Suikoden II isn’t simply just an astonishing RPG from the Playstation era that is remembered fondly, it’s one of the best games ever designed that holds up just as well today as it did all those years ago.
Partially because the art style, though well tailored, was somewhat old timey - even for 1998. That said, the battles were fast and fierce as active parties could reach upwards of 6 members (out of a total of 108 recruitable characters!!). Party members could team up with others to do big damage on enemies Chrono Trigger-style, and there really wasn’t room for grinding levels. The game had a way of sweeping you from point to point very quickly. Large scale warfare was an option as well, adding new challenges outside of normal combat. Most of the game was a giant castle creation simulator, as you recruit and army and raise a stronghold to do battle with your enemies. The story is focused and poignant, doing it’s best to steer away from the melodrama associated with the genre to deliver a grounded fantasy tale. Please, please, please play this game.
1. Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater
It’s hard to make a truely official declaration, seeing as were only months away from Metal Gear Solid V, but I’ll do it anyway. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is the best game in the series, and is the best thing Konami has published in their over 30 year history.
Snake Eater is the most diverse, yet complete Metal Gear experience one can have. Tasking Snake to not only outsmart an entire army of enemies by his lonesome, he has the added bonus of having to actually survive in the wild. A prequel to the series, this game finally gets into the nitty gritty of what made Snake the person he is in the future. The short answer is science, the long answer is DRAMA!
The characters in Snake Eater are amongst the most interesting and mature in the series as well. Though the cartoony weirdness of The Fear serves to remind us that Kojima still made this, The Joy is a refreshingly down to earth and tragic character. As a game that doubles as a deep analysis of loyalty and the many subtleties of human relationships, it elevates itself as more than just that quirky scifi history fiction shooter you can wear banana camo in.
The game’s sense of humor plays a much bigger role in its mechanics, as well. You can wear a silly crocodile hat that, when you submerge yourself underwater, disguises you as a possible wildlife threat to nearby enemies, who promptly stay away. If you wear a mask that makes you look like a Cold War version of MGS2’s protagonist Raiden, you can infiltrate the ranks of the ruthless Col. Volgin much easier. Not without a little surprise, of course. Hell, if you spin around too much, you vomit. It seems useless until you eat something rancid, and realize you can throw it up and save yourself. There is a laundry list more of these that I could dedicate an entire piece on. I’ll spare you, but leave you with a plea: If you had to choose any Metal Gear Solid game to play, make it Snake Eater.
What’s your favorite Konami jam? Tweet us @CurseGamepedia, or leave a comment below!