What Makes A Classic?

I have said before that I own quite a lot of games. In terms of physical titles, I have several hundred, most of which are arrayed on various shelves around my room. It’s quickly becoming apparent to me that I will need to invest in further shelf space or other storage solutions in the near future, because shit is getting crazy up in here. For the most part, I only own games that are excellent or that I enjoy playing. The two are not mutually exclusive, but due to varying tastes, I may have a few titles that some consider “bad”. Dotted among the myriad rows and stacks are games that I would class as truly amazing; games that I have enjoyed to such a degree that I would name them my favourites.

My problem – if you can call it that – is that the vast majority of them are from two or three generations ago.


It’s a fact that’s become all the more prevalent now that we’re seeing a constant stream of re-releases of older games. Whether they’re in HD or just made available through GOG, PSN or the 3DS eShop in their original glory, I often find myself more excited about the prospect of playing them again than any number of new releases. Why is that? The answer I keep arriving at is: the older games are better. But when so much of how a game is perceived is entirely subjective, am I being impartial in my comparisons?

I look at great games that have come out in the last few years. Titles like the Mass Effect and Dragon Age games; Portal and its sequel; the Uncharted series; the entire Phoenix Wright and Professor Layton franchises. I look at these games and many more beside them and I know without a doubt that they are excellent. I played them and enjoyed them immensely. They’re all so good that it would be extremely difficult for me to decide on any way of ranking them in order from best-best to least-best. Shut up, those are perfectly valid descriptors.

Yet if I expand my search to include every game I own, it’s clear that anything PS1-era and prior takes the lead. My favourite game of all time remains Final Fantasy VII, despite everything that has come out since then. I still prefer Sonic 3 & Knuckles to any Sonic game – indeed, any platformer – that has ever been released. Dragon Age Origins and Dragon Age II can’t hold a candle to Breath of Fire III and IV.

2 - BoFIII

It’s no secret that nostalgia has a big part to play here. The rose-tinted view it offers can overwhelm your reasoning in a lot of cases. Yet even when I try to remain objective, admitting the various faults each game possessed both at release and in comparison to current titles, I find myself still preferring the games I “grew up with”. Perhaps therein lies the key to what makes a truly “classic” game: one that you can say had an impact on your development as a person. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that, had I not played some of these games, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Gaming has been nothing but a positive influence on my life, with my absolute favourites being those that have touched me the most.

It always amused me that the very word “classic” comes with a dual definition that seems to delight in contradicting itself. It can mean either “outstanding” or “typical”; the difference between a classic film and a classic case of paranoia, for example. Whereas some of the games on my various shelves will no doubt fall into both of these categories, it’s those games that stand the test of time that I seek to define. Am I simply arguing with myself from a decade ago when I try to compare games across generations? I believe the answer is yes, meaning that it’s important to remember that the standards of today should not be applied to the games of yesterday. What really bugs me is whether or not that works the other way around as well.

3 - S&K

The key, it would seem, is to treat games sort of like you would wine. There are very few titles that you can say improve with age, but if they remain as excellent today as they did a decade ago, I’d say that was a pretty good indication of brilliance. Which games are defined as “classic” can, will and should be different from person to person, because I believe it’s a very personal definition to apply. The only universal factor that remains constant is the requirement that time pass; for your memories to lose definition and clarity somewhat, yet retain their crystalline determination. Perhaps in another 10 years, I will look back on the masterpieces from this generation with an equal amount of fondness.

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About Chris Smith
A twenty-something gamer from the North-East of Scotland. By day, I’m a Computer Technician at a local IT recycling charity, where I fix and build PCs. Outside of that, most of my time is spent either sleeping or gaming, which I try accomplish in equal amounts.