Everyone knows and enjoys the multiple installments of Mario, Sonic, Halo, Resident Evil, and other big-name franchises. Nothing wrong with them, but there are plenty of other quality games that people can enjoy. Why do some of these other games fall under the radar? Is it because it doesn’t appeal to a wide audience? The low user base of the platform it’s released on? Underwhelming advertisement? We’ll try to explore those reasons as we share our list of some of the most underrated games gamers should try out.
10. Blue Dragon
- System: Xbox 360
- Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
- Developer: Mistwalker
- Release Dates: Dec 7, 2006 (Japan), Aug 28, 2007 (US)
Many of you readers know of Akira Toriyama’s contributions to Dragon Quest and Chrono Trigger. However, did you know that he also served as a character designer for another RPG called Blue Dragon? If you haven’t heard of it, nobody can blame you. Not only did Toriyama serve as the character designer, it is also the product of Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi and Nobuo Uematsu happens to be the composer. Artistically, it is graphically superb, and its gameplay is in tune with the titles between the 8-bit and 32-bit generation of Japanese RPGs.
So where did the game kind of go wrong? For starters, some American reviewers criticized it for being too old school, and that’s a criticism that should consequently split prospective buyers. We understand people want something new, but sometimes going back to your roots can bring a different perspective. However, the game was meant to help the Xbox 360 in Japan since Microsoft has always struggled there. While the game was minimally a success, the overall failure of the Xbox 360 in Japan (and it was discontinued in Japan from 2009) just didn’t allow the team to reach the potential it could have had.
9. Asura’s Wrath
- System: PS3, Xbox 360
- Publisher: Capcom
- Developer: CyberConnect2
- Release Dates: Feb 21, 2012 (US), Feb 23, 2012 (Japan)
Taking influence from South Asian religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism is Asura’s Wrath. In addition to being an action game, the game has been praised as an interactive anime. Along with its anime influences, the game does a great job of capturing its cultural inspirations with the costumes, mythologies, and settings. While this game does have a lot of styles, there is some controversy over its substance, which is why it is an underrated game.
For those of you who are turned off by cutscenes, which this game has plenty of, it is understandable why some people wouldn’t enjoy this game. For gamers that are more interested in story and characters, Asura’s Wrath gets the job done. This is certainly a game for people with a specific taste in mind and is by no means for the casual gamer. If you are interested in the subject matter of this game along with some balls to the walls action, Asura’s Wrath is the game for you.
8. Dark Sector
- System: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
- Publisher: D3 Publisher Aspyr
- Developer: Digital Extremes
- Release Dates: Mar 25, 2008
In this action survival horror game, you play the role of a spy in a Soviet bloc country during the Cold War, and the character is infected with a virus that gives his arm some extreme powers. Now it is spreading and it is up to him to stop these threats. While the plot is rather typical of the genre but uses some distinct elements to distinguish it from other action horror titles. Though survival horror is primarily popular for using firearms, the right arm of the character can be used for offensive and defensive purposes even though guns are still emphasized.
The game also uses elements that are not exactly what people can qualify as stealth, but concealing yourself behind walls or other objects to avoid enemy fire or projectiles is a necessary skill in this game. Dark Sector has its own distinct learning curve that teaches you many techniques to make some really gruesome kills.
As for the violence, it is a pretty controversial title to the point that it was reportedly banned in Australia. Apart from its ban in Australia, what has lead to this title being underrated is that it was released in a time when the action-horror genre was progressively oversaturated and from a superficial point of view, Dark Sector just didn’t seem to stand out to more established titles such as Resident Evil. As a result, a possible sequel has been put on the back burner but some of its gameplay elements are carried over to Digital Extreme’s more famous title, Warframe, which is more of a spiritual sequel as opposed to a direct one.
- System: Dreamcast, PS2
- Publisher: Sega
- Developer: UGA
- Release Dates: Nov 22, 2001 (Japan), Jan 7, 2002 (US)
Though the VR version has gotten recent attention, not many people know that Rez happens to be over 15 years old! Developed by former members of Team Andromeda, who made the Panzer Dragoon series for the Saturn, is a rails shooter like no other. It was practically the second Tron movie long before it came out. Its main appeal was its graphics and music that made you feel like you were in a futuristic dance club despite shooting down enemies. As a rail shooter, the game is simple to pick up but has its own unique challenges to master with its level up system, and the music just kicks ass. At times, you can level down if in the event you take a hit. It was a game that truly captures the time when techno and trance were progressively becoming popular around the world. So why did its initial release go wrong?
One major factor is that it was released when the Dreamcast was at the end of its lifespan (and the Dreamcast version was Japan exclusive), and the PS2 was barely taking off. Plus, it was released at a very difficult time for Sega during the transition it was going through, so advertising fresh products, unfortunately, made it difficult to get recognition for the longest time. The fact that people are playing the game today in VR shows a trust testament of how excellently it holds up, and that it was not only a game for its time in terms of music but beyond its time for its overall presentation.
- System: PS3, Xbox 360
- Publisher: Atlus
- Developer: Atlus
- Release Dates: Feb 17, 2011 (Japan), Jul 26, 2011 (US)
Brought to you by Atlus, who made the Persona series, we have Catherine. If games could have some major psychedelic effect, Catherine is certainly the perfect example of it. In this game, you play as Vincent, a man in his early thirties who has been in a long-term relationship with his girlfriend, Katherine. However, his life takes an unexpected turn when he meets the titular Catherine, and has drunken sex with her. Unable to come to terms that he cheated on his girlfriend, he starts to have trippy nightmares. The nightmares are puzzle dungeons you have to navigate and each brings their own distinct challenges. While it sounds repetitive, each stage has different gimmicks to keep it fresh and wanting you to take a drug test to make sure you took any.
While Vincent isn’t dreaming, he hangs out at his favorite bar and ponders what to do about certain situations and these decisions can affect a morality meter, and ultimately the outcome of the game. Its visual qualities are what grab you by the balls and its down to earth story keeps you sucked in. If you could sum up the awesomeness of anime in a game, it would certainly be Catherine. Not many games have managed to capture the uniqueness of this game and the fact that there are no other games like it is why it is so underrated.
- System: PS2
- Publisher: Sony
- Developer: SCE Japan Studio
- Release Dates: Sept 24, 2001 (US), Dec 6, 2001 (Japan)
Many of you are familiar with the breakout hit, Shadow of the Colossus. However, did any of you know that it serves an (indirect) prequel to another game? If you didn’t know, that game is Ico. While they do have some similar visual qualities to establish they share the same universe, the games play entirely differently. While Shadow of the Colossus has you fighting against giant monsters, Ico has none of that.
If any of you readers have played Shadow of the Colossus, you may remember the shadows in the temple. In fact, they appear in Ico as the main enemies. The graphics, character design and architecture are pretty much the same so anyone familiar with Shadow of the Colossus can easily feel as if they’re in familiar territory. As opposed to exploring a vast land, you will be in a castle of numerous dangers. Last, both games use a fictitious language to give it its fantasy feel.
In Ico, you play as a horned boy who must escape a castle with a girl who can open certain doors. Throughout the game, they will be attacked by shadows and Ico must protect the girl from them. What makes this game unique is not its action, but having to figure out how to navigate certain obstacles not just for Ico, but for the girl as well. While climbing walls or jumping against gaps are standard in most adventure games, the real problem is helping the girl who does not have the same athletic capabilities as Ico in navigating these obstacles, so this game requires a unique sense of multi-tasking.
What also makes this game memorable is whenever Ico calls out to the girl to come to him, he does a very funny yell, which naturally has been subjected to parody. While the original Super Mario Bros and Zelda popularized saving the princess, Ico just takes it to a new level of creativity that many games have yet to emulate, which is why it is still underrated to this day.
4. Skies of Arcadia (Eternal Arcadia)
- System: Dreamcast, GameCube
- Publisher: Sega
- Developer: Overworks
- Release Dates: Oct 5, 2000 (Japan), Nov 12, 2000 (US)
In Skies of Arcadia, you play the role of Vyse, a young sky pirate who must stop the Valuan Empire from taking over the world. While this game does play like your typical JRPG, its cast of likable characters, vast sky world, immersing soundtrack, and diverse battle styles do make it distinct in comparison to more popular RPGs. In addition to your traditional RPG battles, there will also be battles when you use Vyse’s airship and in certain turns, you can use its super weapon, which was unique for its time. The attacks and spells have their own cutscenes to add dramatic flair. Unfortunately, if you don’t want to have frequent random battles, this may not be the game for you but it’s also a good opportunity to level up.
While most RPGs give you a reference map of the world once you can explore it, Skies of Arcadia is about creating the map as you explore, which brings a fresh set of challenges. While the game was largely well received, it did not make a profit and any potential future installment has been put on the back burner. Due to this game being released shortly before the Dreamcast was discontinued, this great game became victim to its timing and being released on a console that wasn’t popular for RPGs. So if you love old school JRPGs and raiding the skies, then we recommend this game if you want a game that feels like a Ghibli anime with a bit of Leiji Matsumoto.
3. The Last Blade 2 (Bakumatsu Roman Dainimaku: Gekka no Kenshi – Tsukini Saku Hana, Chiri Yuku Hana)
- System: Multiplatform
- Publisher: SNK
- Developer: SNK
- Release Dates: Nov 25, 1998
While weapons-based 2D fighters such as Guilty Gear and Samurai Shodown are well known in the mainstream fighting game community, if there is one old-school fighter that is still underrated after nearly 20 years, it would certainly have to be SNK’s The Last Blade 2. A game that takes place in the middle of the 1800’s in Japan, you play as a variety of characters with distinguishing fighting styles. While this game was made on old Neo Geo hardware, the graphics and animation still excellently hold up.
Even though it shares numerous traits with other SNK fighters, it still has its differences to give it its own identity. To put this game, in a nutshell, if you could add more supernatural elements to the setting of Rurouni Kenshin, that’s what you get with The Last Blade 2. A lot of its art style and presentation is much in tune with that respective series if you are a fan of Rurouni Kenshin, The Last Blade 2 is the perfect game for you. Due to the great number of fighters SNK put out around the time periods of its release (along with other fighters from other developers), The Last Blade 2 consequently fell to the bottom of the list due to not being as established as other fighting games like Street Fighter or Tekken. And for those who are button smashers, this game is certainly not for them. It has a very deep and rewarding learning curve for hardcore fighting game lovers.
2. Fire Pro Wrestling
- System: Multiplatform
- Publisher: Human Entertainment
- Developer: Human Entertainment
- Release Dates: June 22, 1989
With the WWE being the dominant wrestling organization in the US since the end of the legendary Monday Night Wars from 2001, a competition of not only in the domestic wrestling industry but for wrestling video games as a whole has made the product a little stale. While most gamers know of the recent WWE 2K games, there is still one wrestling series that hardcore gamers and wrestling fans love, and that’s the Fire Pro Wrestling series. While the series has maintained its 2D graphics since its debut, that doesn’t take away from its very deep gameplay with its grappling system. For gamers that have patience, it is very rewarding to learn and goes excellently hand-in-hand with wrestling psychology. What makes this game underrated is probably because it was a Japanese exclusive for many years, and that it doesn’t directly use real-life wrestlers to appeal to wrestling fans.
Due to Fire Pro Wrestling being Japanese in origin, the game appropriately takes a more technical approach to wrestling to emphasize on its athletic appeal as opposed to the Western style that relies more on the entertainment aspect. Due to actual wrestlers’ names being trademarked, none of the featured wrestlers in any installments are the actual wrestlers in name, but the featured wrestles from numerous generations and promotions do have modified names, costumes, and moves for fans to recognize who they are based on. You have spoofs of Stan Hansen, The Road Warriors, Hulk Hogan, The Great Muta, Giant Baba, and Mick Foley.
Another reason to recommend this game is its deep create-a-wrestler feature. It is probably the deepest in any sports game. You can design your wrestler’s appearance, weight, height, and give him an arsenal of moves from his standard striking, grappling, moves from the top rope, etc. It could take you almost an entire day to make your wrestler. And if there is any reason to get this game, is that you can play gimmick matches that you can never see outside of Japan. In addition to your standard one fall match, you can fight in MMA rules, steel cage matches, barbwire matches, and exploding ring matches. So if you want a true wrestling experience on every level you can think of, Fire Pro is it.
1. Dust: An Elysian Tale
- System: Xbox 360, PC, PS4
- Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
- Developer: Humble Hearts
- Release Dates: Aug 15, 2012
Originally intended as an animated film, Dust: An Elysian Tale tells a story of a fantasy world popularized by talking creatures. The game takes numerous influences from 8-bit and 16-bit classic franchises such as Golden Axe, Metroid, Castlevania, Ys, and gives us an ultimate adventure that most gamers have never been on. It excellently pays homage to those games in addition to having its own distinct identity with its setting, story, music, gameplay and voice acting. The graphics are visually stunning and the animation is smooth and badass whenever Dust swings his sword. The game has an amazing sense of flexibility with its combo system giving a vibe of fighters like Guilty Gear.
In addition, it has some pretty sweet animated cut scenes that feel like you’re watching an excellent balance of the visuals to a fantasy anime and the emotional investment of a Don Bluth classic. And try to guess how much it cost to make this game? Was it $4 million? $400,000? In fact, it actually cost $40,000 to make this game! As for why it is underrated, one reason could possibly be it debuted on the Xbox 360, and the fact that Dust takes so many Eastern influences and that the console was never a hit in the East was just a bad mix that unfortunately led to its status as an underrated modern classic.
In addition to our list, we’d like to make some honorable mentions to Panzer Dragoon Saga, Chrono Cross, Mark of the Wolves, Maximum Tune and the 2000 JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure by Capcom. I am sure there are some games you think that should be on this list and you are free to share what you think in the comments. We admit our list is exclusively what we think and everybody has their own distinguishing ideas on what are some of the most underrated games of all time.
As for why there are some games that don’t make this list, they’re probably more cult hits as opposed to being underrated under our criteria. We acknowledge they do go hand-in-hand but have enough distinctions to qualify as a separate list, which you can look forward to at a later date.