Video games have been a thing for a long time. A very long time, in fact, but not every one was memorable. The best ones have kept coming back, allowing new fans and old to enjoy them together. From the massive, decorated cabinets of video game arcades, to home VR systems, games have changed and evolved to answer the desires of the public. Today, we look at the Top 10 Longest Running video game franchises that have become engrained in video game culture itself.
Wolfenstein has been in the hearts of first-person shooter diehards since its release in 1992. id Software’s Wolfenstein 3D, which originally released on MS-DOS, was THE 3D first-person shooter. Pitting a US spy against the Nazis in WWII, it delivered an unprecedented visual experience that set up an entire genre ahead of it.
Over the decades, the Wolfenstein series has made resurgences every several years or so, but in 2009 it came back with a vengeance. In development for 8 years, the game brought back tried and true mechanics that the FPS genre hadn’t seen in years. It was also a graphics enthusiast’s dream come true, using id Software’s own proprietary engine and technology to deliver exciting realism. With Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus due out in 2017, the series shows no signs of slowing.
9. Final Fantasy
The brainchild of the acclaimed JRPG visionary Hironobu Sakaguchi, Final Fantasy has been a series that has endured for decades. At 29 years old, the series has seen over fifteen releases in the mainline series, and twice as many spinoffs. Beginning from the original Nintendo NES, the series has featured a new cast and world in every release since 1987.
The stories have been epic, and the fantastic worlds have stimulated the imaginations of millions of gamers. Selling over 100 million units, Final Fantasy has seen a major Hollywood blockbuster, as well as additional feature films for its more popular games. It’s almost impossible to imagine JRPGs without thinking of Final Fantasy, and the series shows no signs of slowing as it approaches its 30th anniversary in December 2017.
8. Dragon Quest
Formerly known as Dragon Warrior in the US, it later returned to its roots under the same Dragon Quest title as in Japan. Started in 1986, the main line series is going on eleven releases as well as numerous spinoffs. From publisher Enix, who has now merged with Final Fantasy’s Squaresoft, the Dragon Quest series is another long running JRPG franchise.
Starting from the NES and MSX platforms, all the way to the Playstation 4, this franchise has transformed from simplistic turn-based mechanics to complex storytelling and impressive graphics. Alongside the younger Final Fantasy series, the two make up the foundation of the current Square-Enix’s JRPG library for the enjoyment of fans worldwide.
Nintendo’s popular Metroid series began as an action sidescroller for the NES in 1986. Since then, the series has evolved tremendously. Starring the biomechanical suit-wearing bounty hunter Samus Aran, the series has seen her take on the most fearsome enemies this side of the galaxy.
The Metroid series has evolved from 2D platforming into fully realized 3D exploration. With the reimagined Metroid Prime series by Retro Studios on the Nintendo Gamecube, Samus revived herself to become a part of modern gaming in a first person shooter. The series has existed in some form on every Nintendo device since the original NES, and fans are hopeful that the new Nintendo Switch will see her once more.
6. The Legend of Zelda
While Hyrule’s history is vastly long and complicated, Link has been protecting Princess Zelda and the Triforce since 1986. It begs the question as to just how many rounds Link and arch nemesis Ganon have left in them to duke it out. They have battled for the fate of the world in twelve of the main line series releases, and his various incarnations have been noted in several others as well.
The action role-playing series has changed drastically over the years. Top down puzzle action has evolved into fully 3D open world epics. The most recently released Breath of the Wild has even seen Link and Zelda interact in voiced over cutscenes, a first for the series. Where Link, Zelda, and Ganon’s paths will collide next is a mystery only the Sages know!
5. Romance of the Three Kingdoms
One of history’s most tumultuous eras has become a staple of strategy gamers and history aficionados alike. It was the age of the Three Kingdoms which pitted the three ruling kingdoms of China against each other and shook all of Asia to its core. It has a vast amount of intrigue and drama that has regaled historians for a thousand years, and been a staple of Koei’s game series since 1985.
Beginning from the earliest release with Sangokushi for the PC, the series has adapted the most exciting battles and events from the period all the way up to the 13th game. Romance of the Three Kingdoms has seen releases on almost every major console, and has become a point of inspiration for publisher Koei in other series as well; namely, Dynasty Warriors. The greatest betrayals in history have never been forgotten, and most certainly live on in Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
4. Bomberman (Bakudan Otoko)
The original Bomber-Man released on the PC-8801 in 1983. It starred a small little man who found himself trapped in a maze filled with balloon monsters. Of course, logic states that if you have explosives on hand you should use them to kill them. The grid-based bombing mechanics were fun and snappy, and the series became popularized with its release on the NES in 1986.
Arguably, the most memorable release would be Bomberman 64 on the Nintendo 64 console, which took the series into true 3D for the first time. The series has had 24 releases across various platforms over the years. The latest of which was published by Konami for the Nintendo Switch entitled Super Bomberman R. Clearly this explosive franchise still packs a punch.
3. Super Mario
Unfortunately for Mario, his princess has been in another castle since 1983. However, many do not know that the mustached mushroom muncher actually made his debut in the 1981 arcade classic Donkey Kong. Instead of being a plumber, he was actually a carpenter. Not to mention instead of rescuing Princess Peach, he was saving a woman named Pauline from who would later be revealed to be a much younger Cranky Kong. Not only was two years long enough for Mario to change professions, it was also long enough for him to become the face of Nintendo.
Super Mario Bros. may have started a 2D platformer which encouraged children to turn every upside down turtle shell into an opportunity for coins, but it quickly evolved into much more. Mario became the face of a multitude of beloved spinoff franchises. From Mario Kart, Golf, Tennis, Party and Smash Bros, he’s become a supremely iconic figure that is synonymous with video games. Even if he did get his start 36 years ago, he could go on for countless more!
No matter how much fruit you eat, or ghosts you outrun, clearing stages since 1980 has got to take it out of you. Although it seems like Pac-Man has been around for forever, more accurately it’s been approximately 37 years. In that time, the original game has set the record for highest grossing arcade game ever. It sold 400,000 cabinets (you know, those things we used to play on before TVs?) and raked in $3.5bil worth of quarters in just 10yrs.
Although Pac-Man has tried to reinvent himself several times over the years with varying success, fans have always been eager to embrace the tried and true original format. One yellow smile, colorful ghosts, and edible dots is all this franchise needs to keep things rolling.
1. Space Invaders
1978, the year after Star Wars, and the year of Space Invaders. We all know how unwanted company can spoil your day, so imagining unwanted invaders taking over your planet is even more upsetting. Completely sprite-based, you control a small tank as you ward off a dancing alien armada from descending below.
For its time, the only arcade game to ever surpass it was Pac-Man which launched two years later. However, subsequent remakes and reimaginings have given it new life amongst future generations. It is a revered game, and has become a favorite staple for the older generation of arcade goers. For 39 years, one game series has taught arcade gamers to look upwards (while shooting) and brace yourself for a close encounter.
There are plenty of old video games out there, but just how many do people talk about, reference, and compare others to? It’s always good when these older releases get remade for new generations. It’s also nice to look into a past series and remember just how far they’ve come.
Our memories and experiences as gamers can be readily shared, and each of our beloved franchises can become a method to unite us. Do you have a favorite franchise from this list? Do you feel we missed an oldie but goodie, or aren’t giving enough love to a series that’s gone on for forever? We’d love to know, so tell us in the comments!