Statistically speaking, it’s quite common when games are reviewed for them to fall quite close around an average score with a standard deviation around 5-10%. Mass opinion on a given game is similarly uniform, with most people agreeing on whether the game is good, great, or garbage. There are, however, some games that defy the usual statistical model, with some people awestruck by them while the rest simply stare on and wonder what everyone’s gaping about. These games tend to also spark heated arguments on gaming forums as their merits (or lack thereof) are debated. Those games are what this list is about. In order for a game to qualify for this list, it must meet three criteria. It must be well known, reasonably popular, and have a fairly devoted community. Furthermore, it must also be the subject of widespread controversy and debate within the gaming community. This is not about the Top 10 games that are awesome, but no one has ever heard of so they don’t get the recognition they should. They’re the games which receive huge numbers of 10/10s and 1/10s on the reviews. They’re games that you either love wholeheartedly or hate with a passion. And so, without further ado, the list.

Kingdom Hearts was an unexpected smash hit for the PS2. Developed by Squaresoft, it was an action-RPG that featured the unusual combination of Disney characters and settings with Final Fantasy characters and game mechanics. It sounded like a bad idea, but the final product turned out great and quickly developed a huge fanbase. The sequel was decidedly more of a mixed bag. It featured the same combination of Disney and Final Fantasy, but the game took itself more seriously this time around and a mixture of new quick time events, anime-esque transformation abilities and a somewhat darker, edgier plot turned some of the fans of the original game away from the sequel. It isn’t quite as hotly contested as the remainder of the entries on this list, but it still causes the odd spat from time to time.

Microsoft’s golden goose, HALO was a sci-fi shooter released in 2001 for the then-brand-new Xbox. It quickly developed a strong following and was a significant reason for the Xbox’s early success, giving Microsoft a much needed killer-app to promote their console. But, almost immediately, critics began to question exactly why HALO was doing so well. Fans pointed to impressive graphics, an enveloping story and an engaging multiplayer, but several FPS aficionados dismissed the game as nothing more than “passable,” claiming much better material was available on the PC. It’s fair to say that some of the criticism was a knee-jerk reaction to a new entrant in the console race, but HALO, as a series, has never really shrugged off this controversy and it has continued to be a subject of debate even up to the series’ most recent instalment on the Xbox 360.

Opinion remains split on whether or not the new look for Zelda was immersive and creative or kiddy and unbearably cutesy. This division has its roots from before the Wind Waker was ever announced. In 2000, Nintendo released a tech demo for their new console, the Gamecube. It featured a realistic looking Link and Ganondorf duelling each other in a gritty, highly detailed world. People speculated that this tech demo was actually a game in development. However, just one year later, the real Zelda in development was revealed, and the graphical style was about as far removed from the original tech demo as possible. Gone was the dark, gritty style and the realistic models. Instead, the game went with a cel-shaded look that painted Link in a style vaguely reminiscent of a Saturday-morning cartoon. The backlash from disappointed fans was extreme enough that Zelda-creator Shigeru Miyamato, shocked at the reaction, refused to discuss the game or release any more information until a playable version was available. Wind Waker has since been released and spawned a sequel (with another in development) and several other games with the same graphical style and opinion on the game itself remains divided. Although some find the new graphical style delightfully atmospheric and a charming call back to Zelda’s younger days, others find it to be discouragingly bright and cartooney. There are also concerns about the use of the titular Wind Waker to navigate the in-game world and lengthy sailing times, tedious treasure-hunting segments of the game and the relatively small number of dungeons are oft-raised complaints. Fans of the more realistic demo seen at Space World in 2000 got their wish with the release of Twilight Princess several years later. However, you will still find plenty of arguments as to whether its predecessor was a shining exemplar of a Zelda game or the shame of the series.

Ask when the Sonic series started going downhill. Go ahead, I dare you. Depending on who you talk to, it will almost certainly be immediately before or after Sonic Adventure and its sequel. Sonic Adventure was one of the ill-fated Dreamcast’s launch titles. It was graphically amazing for the time and had a great soundtrack. However, it also suffered from a glitchy camera and occasionally frustrating controls. Gameplay, depending on your opinion, was either awesome or terrible with major complaints being levelled at certain characters’ gameplay activities, which included treasure hunting and fishing. To some, the Sonic Adventure games were the last great entries in a legacy of one of gaming’s most well-known characters; to others, it was the beginning of the end for a legend. Wherever you stand on the issue, it’s difficult to deny that this is probably the most greatly debated Sonic title in existence.

Released quite close to the PS2’s launch, Final Fantasy X was an attempt to show off what the PS2 was capable of and to secure an early sales momentum in the still brand-new console war between the PS2, the Dreamcast, the Gamecube and the Xbox. It succeeded, shipping some impressive numbers remarkably quickly and garnering favourable reviews praising the game’s impressive graphics, deep storyline and rich soundtrack. However, the game quickly developed a healthy base of critics, who cited poor voice acting, tedious minigames, repetitive enemies and a whiny main character as reasons the game was not as good as advertised. FFX became the first Final Fantasy game ever to get a direct sequel, so its popularity is hard to deny, but there are still plenty of arguments being held out there as to just how good the game really is.

The history of the Guitar Hero franchise is almost poetic in that it follows the path of a popular, talented rock group almost perfectly. The first two Guitar Hero games spawned a revolution in rhythm games, as well as starting one of the most lucrative franchises in the past gaming generation. Aside from arcade-goers, few gamers had ever really tried a rhythm game and those that had were often inundated with J-Pop songs and the occasional 80’s dance hit. That all changed when Guitar Hero hit the scene. Combining some smashing rock songs with an easy-to-learn, difficult-to-master control scheme, Guitar Hero wowed hardcore and casual gamers alike and became an instant hit overnight. Developed and published respectively by Harmonix and RedOctane, a pair of – until then – relatively unknown companies, the game met with massive commercial and critical acclaim. Like a new band with a new sound hitting the charts for the first time, Guitar Hero’s rise to fame was nothing short of meteoric. Its sequel built on that popularity and pushed it to new levels. Now the video game equivalent of an established rock star, Guitar Hero seemed to have everything going for it and nothing to stand in its way. However, given the series’ wild success, it was only a matter of time before bigger companies took notice. And take notice they did. After the release of GH2’s expansion pack, Rock the Eighties, Activision purchased Guitar Hero’s publisher, RedOctane, while Harmonix was bought by MTV Games. The proverbial band split up to pursue independent solo projects in the form of Guitar Hero III, from Activision/RedOctane and Rock Band from MTV Games/Harmonix. Guitar Hero III was accompanied by a major ad campaign and the inclusion of real-life guitar heroes Slash (of Guns n’ Roses fame) and Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine. However, the change in developers did not go unnoticed by the gaming community and, while some Guitar Hero fans (including many who were playing the series for the first time) did not mind the new aspects of the game, some of the series’ faithful fans felt that their digital rock stars had “sold out.” Rampant product placement, the addition of a clunky-feeling duel mode and a general change in the overall feel and atmosphere of the game made GH3 feel old hat to some and even know, there are plenty of people out there who point to this game as the point where Guitar Hero lost its charm.

This entry could largely extend to the Metal Gear Solid series in general, as it really is perhaps the best example out there of a “love it or hate it” gaming series. I have opted to use the second game in the series for this list, as even amongst MGS fans it is seen as quite a controversial game. The brain child of game director Hideo Kojima, the original Metal Gear games for the NES went largely unnoticed and it was not until the series went 3D with Metal Gear Solid on the PS1 that it really gained any widespread recognition. Metal Gear Solid was arguably the first highly popular console stealth game, eschewing the widespread carnage found in most shooting games for an emphasis on espionage and getting by your enemies without being seen. It was a revolutionary idea at the time, and one that has spawned many imitators (although few of them pull it off as cleanly as the MGS series did). However, MGS had its share of critics as well, with some finding the gameplay slow-paced and frustrating and the story segments needlessly wordy and drawn out. These became emblematic of the entire series, as later instalments would prove. Those who didn’t mind having to study enemy movements to discern the safest way by them or listen to several hours worth of cutscenes found the series to be highly engaging and a very different take on the shooter genre. However, when MGS2 came out, opinion was heavily split. In addition to the criticisms levelled at its predecessor, MGS2 had several new features that were met with mixed reviews. The addition of stun weapons made it easier to ignore the stealth portions of the game altogether and simply shoot the enemies with silenced tranquilizer pistols to prevent them from spotting you, turning the game into just another shooter. The story was quite difficult to follow at points and the cast was often seen as not as memorable or likeable as that of the first game (particularly in the case of Rose, the save point operator and the love interest of the game). But perhaps the greatest point of contention for those that played MGS2 was that the star of the previous game, Solid Snake, was relegated to a background role for most of the game. In his place was a new character, a white haired youth named Raiden who was popular in Japan, but went over quite poorly in the US and PAL regions. The MGS series still achieved mammoth commercial success, but MGS2 remains a hotly debated game to this day.

Chrono Trigger was one of the most cherished RPGs for the Super Nintendo and really set the bar in terms of what an RPG was capable of. People clamoured for a sequel for years and were finally rewarded when Chrono Cross was announced for the Sony Playstation. However, what Chrono Trigger fans received was much different from what they were expecting. Aside from a few very quick character cameos and some very vague story references, the games may as well be from completely different series. Chrono Cross featured none of the original cast from Chrono Trigger, completely overhauled the battle and experience system and had one of the most complex plots ever seen from a Squaresoft game. On the positive side, the graphics were some of the best of the era, the music was extremely colourful and well-done and the story, if you could decipher it, was well put together. Some fans warmed up to the series’ new direction. Some did not. To this day, there are still many calls for a “true” sequel to Chrono Trigger. As of yet, Square has not acquiesced.

Oh boy, where do I even start with this one? The first Smash Bros. game was a surprise hit from Nintendo that wasn’t even supposed to ever see an English release. The unexpected popularity quickly produced a new sequel for the Gamecube. Both of these games were greeted with a great deal of fanfare and adulation from the gaming community and ranked quite favourably with fans of their respective consoles. Then came Super Smash Bros. Brawl, easily one of the most hyped Nintendo games ever. Ostensibly just a bigger, more fleshed out addition to the series featuring more characters, more items, more stages, more game modes, more options, and even an online mode, it didn’t seem like there was anything not to like about the game and fans waited through several delays for a release with baited breath. Then the game hit shelves and did the crap ever hit the fan then. Almost immediately the Smash Bros. community was divided as to whether Brawl was a worthy successor to its predecessor, Super Smash Bros. Melee. While the game delivered everything promised, it also removed several aspects of Melee (which, depending on your position, are either exploitable glitches or viable advanced game mechanics) that had proven popular with those more devoted to the competitive side of the game. As well, the addition of a few new features, such as tripping and super moves was controversial to say the least. Even outside the hardcore crowd, the debate raged as to whether Brawl was the next big Nintendo hit or just another passable party game. The proverbial wounds are still fresh on this particular entry to the list, and opinion remains heavily split as to Brawl’s true merit on the gaming stage.

Anyone familiar with GameFAQs should have expected this one coming from the moment they read the title of the list. I dislike putting two games from the same series in a single list and try to avoid it where I can, but in this case I feel it’s justified. Interestingly, this game was not always such a community splitter and opinion on it used to be a lot more uniform. Released in 1997, it was unquestionably one of the games that really put the original Playstation on the map and was popular enough to spawn several sequels of various types. However, in recent years, a growing trend has emerged of people claiming that FF7 really wasn’t all that special. Opinions seem split on whether the game is a unforgettable classic with an amazing story and fantastic characters or a boilerplate RPG with dated graphics, and a childishly low difficulty. Woe betide the gamer who gets into an argument over this game, because apparently those willing to discuss it fall into two categories; voicing your opinion on this game means you’re either a rose-tinted-glasses-wearing-fanboy or a bandwagon-hopping-hater and the game is either flawless or an average game that hasn’t aged well at all. Whichever camp you fit into, you’ve probably been drawn into at least a few arguments over this game if you’ve ever played it.

It’s somewhat curious how nearly every popular game series has at least one entry that seems to split the fanbase and the gaming community in general on whether or not it’s a good game. In a strange sort of way, it could almost be seen as the mark of a well-established series. There are plenty of other games that deserve a mention in this list, but regrettably space constraints means I can’t name them all. Hope you enjoyed the list all the same!

List by darkknight109 (06/22/2009)

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