We’re going back quite a way here. I wasn’t even in high school in 2001. The sixth generation of consoles was only just getting going: Sony’s PS2 arrived the year before, and 2001 itself saw the arrival of Nintendo’s Gamecube and Microsoft’s Xbox.
Although the generation was still in its infancy, 2001 brought us many games that are now regarded as classics, or that would go on to spawn successful franchises that are still seeing success today. Let’s take a look at just a few (in a nicely objective alphabetical order, of course).
Final Fantasy X
I’m a little biased, I’ll admit. Final Fantasy X isn’t just my favorite RPG or game from 2001. It’s my most-loved game of all time. Still, it’s hard to dispute its quality. Square Enix (Squaresoft at the time) have always crafted beautiful-looking games, and FFX at the time was no exception. Boasting an evocative, emotional story, loveable characters and tons of content, it stands head and shoulders above most games even now, nearly two decades later.
Ironically, I was a little late in getting Final Fantasy X. I don’t think I played it until around 2004. I’d been in love with Final Fantasy VIII and Final Fantasy IX for so long, playing through each countless times, that I suppose part of me didn’t want to risk trying a new Final Fantasy game and not enjoying it. I’m glad I took that risk, though. It’s been my favorite game for about fifteen years now, and I’d be very impressed if anything manages to change that.
An honorable mention also goes to the timeless Final Fantasy IX, which was also released in 2001 in Europe.
Grand Theft Auto III
I’ll be honest, I didn’t really care for the Grand Theft Auto games on PS1. They were fun, sure, but the experience felt a little lacking, and there were many, many more enjoyable games out there. Personally, even the franchise’s first foray into 3D presentation isn’t a particular favorite of mine, but it absolutely does belong on this list. While I might not be a huge fan of the game itself, its legacy is another matter.
It was thanks to the success of Grand Theft Auto III that we got the two follow-up games in the series, Vice City and San Andreas. Those are two of my favorite games of the generation – the former especially. However, I do acknowledge that I’m in the minority by not loving GTA3, and I have tremendous respect for the legacy it left behind. Not only were its innovations the beginnings of a hugely successful franchise, but the impact it had on the industry as a whole is difficult to overstate.
Halo: Combat Evolved
This is another odd one out for me. I’ve always gravitated towards Sony consoles, with the occasional Nintendo system as a supplement. I’ve never owned an Xbox from any generation. That said, I have put an absurd number of hours into Halo. Although the original Xbox attained only a small fraction of the success enjoyed by the PlayStation 2, its native support for four control pads at once gave it a huge edge in one department: multiplayer shenanigans with your friends.
If someone asked me to explain the story of the Halo series, or even the first game by itself, I’d mostly be at a loss. I know the basics, sure. Master Chief, aliens, lots of explosions… I was mostly there for the multiplayer. One of my fondest memories of my early teenage years was going to a friend’s house after school, where we would all proceed to annihilate one another for hours on Halo (and eventually its sequels, naturally). Like Grand Theft Auto III, this is another game which had a tremendous influence on the medium.
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
Hideo Kojima’s bonkers stealth series had already garnered an impressive following with the original Metal Gear Solid on the PS1, but it was the 2001 sequel Sons of Liberty that really showed off Kojima Productions’ talents as a developer. Blending new levels of stealth – hiding unconscious guards in lockers, anyone? – with impressively realistic graphics (for the time, of course), this was one of the first games to give PS2 owners a truly next-gen feel.
I can’t even begin to estimate how many times I played through it, exploring every possible nook and cranny of the game, doing playthroughs on the hardest difficulty and so on. Even now, it remains one of my favorite games. Although some would argue that its successor, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, is the superior game (an assertion I would agree with), it was Sons of Liberty that really showcased its developer’s ability to both craft a compelling story and give players an experience that remains undiminished by the passage of time.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
As much as I’d love to say I have fond childhood memories of the Ace Attorney series, I first played them only a few years ago. The series is, in many ways, a relic of its era, so whacky and irreverent in its design that it stands out like a sore thumb amongst more modern games. Aside from the intricate stories, challenging puzzles and downright stellar characters, the appeal of the series has always been in how it rarely takes itself seriously.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is very much a video game of the early 2000s, developed long before the seventh and eighth generation of consoles would begin to create a push for hyper-realistic visuals – sometimes at the expense of quality elsewhere. From start to finish, each Ace Attorney game is so endearingly charming that it’s hard to put them down. For spawning one of my most beloved series and for being an excellent game in its own right, the first Ace Attorney certainly gets a spot on the list.
This one might seem a little out of place amongst some of the acclaimed classics on the list but bear with me. It’s one of Nintendo’s more obscure first-party franchises, chronicling the spacefaring adventures of Captain Olimar and his exploits with the strange creatures called Pikmin. Admittedly, when I first heard about the game, the name made me think it was a Pokemon rip-off.
In truth, it’s a cute, deep and slightly terrifying strategy adventure. Your little Pikmin soldiers are the snack of choice of local wildlife; you’ll inevitably lose a lot of them over the course of the game. The only really disappointing thing about the Pikmin franchise is how underrated it is. I was actually a little surprised when Pikmin 3 was announced for the Wii U, and there’s been the vague talk of a new main-series entry since. Here’s hoping for more of the little critters sooner rather than later.
Silent Hill 2
The passage of time has done little to alter Silent Hill 2’s reputation as a seminal entry in the survival horror genre. Steeped in complex lore and incredible depth, its story received critical acclaim at the time, and rightly so. Although the gameplay itself has aged somewhat poorly, Silent Hill 2 is still a prime example of expertly crafted characters and narrative.
The franchise has around a dozen installments at this point, but it’s the original trio of entries that people remember most fondly – Silent Hill 2 chiefly amongst them.
Super Smash Bros. Melee
Ah, Smash Bros. I’m terrible at it now. I bought the Wii U installment recently and whatever skill I once had at these games has gone out of the window. Back in the day, though, I was no slouch at Melee, and I played it a lot. I didn’t have many games for my Gamecube – the curse of being a penniless teenager – so the few I did have saw a lot of use. Melee was no doubt my most-played of the lot, and my only regret there is that I’ve squandered the skills I spent so long developing back in the day.
Melee is often regarded as the best in its series, building upon its solid, if a little empty, predecessor before its sequel Brawl fumbled things a little. Does it have strong competition from newcomer Smash Bros. Ultimate? Seemingly so. Regardless of the outcome of that, Melee has a very fond place in my memories, and I know I’m not in the minority there.
You can find more of our “Best Year in Gaming” articles right here.