There are a ton of video games. Far too many for any one person to play them all, but we all do our best. The problem is that no matter how hard we try we’re never going to actually play all the games we want to play. Some of them are going to slip through the cracks as more and more games come out and jump to the front of the line, and unfortunately, this happens with some true gems. While great games are getting more recognized these days, thanks to the internet and social media, there are still plenty of games that need more love and attention.
Whether you call them underrated, underappreciated, or overlooked, it really doesn’t matter. These games all fall in the category of those that either didn’t receive enough love when they came out or still don’t receive enough love today. Why they’re on the list is going to vary. It might be because it didn’t sell well at launch and became something of a cult classic, or it could be a game that initially wasn’t well-received but gained major accolades later in life. It could be a game that even now not enough people have played. These are those underappreciated classics that everyone should play.
While everyone has probably heard of Psychonauts by now, thanks in no small part to the release of Psychonauts 2, when it came out it was the definition of an underrated game. Despite having such a unique premise, with the potential to create any world they wanted through people’s minds, it didn’t sell well. Whether the concept was too weird, the art style off-putting, or people were just tired of 3D platformers, it didn’t catch on with fans until much later in life.
It was those fans that allowed Psychonauts to have such a strong comeback. Over the years it reached cult classic status and formed a very strong and dedicated community. It was the efforts of that community, along with an assist from Microsoft, that allowed Psychonauts 2 to eventually release to much critical acclaim. With the sequel a clear Game of The Year contender in 2021, anyone that wants to experience the original can find it readily available these days in places like Steam or on Game Pass. Give it a go, because it’s a great experience.
Earthbound, also known as Mother 2 in Japan, flopped hard in the United States. A mix of poor marketing and a style that was considered dated at the time led to fans choosing newer games over this very fun RPG. These days, Earthbound has a strong following and is considered one of the best games on the Super Nintendo. So how did a game that initially wasn’t received well, even among critics, turn it around? The setting.
When Earthbound was released it was up against the graphics of Donkey Kong Country, the mechanics of Super Metroid, and the story of Final Fantasy VI, three absolute juggernauts of the era. In comparison was this game that western audiences had never seen before, with “worse” graphics, and a modern setting. When they had the choice of what to play they chose fantasy, sci-fi, and new graphics, not the one about four children fighting dirty cops, road signs, and taxis. However, 27 years later and Earthbound feels timeless. The graphics, while not realistic, are colorful and charming. The modern setting is unique, even now, and the writing is genuinely funny. While it might not have the strongest story in the world, Earthbound is a great time because of its reliance on memorable moments and charm. An underrated masterpiece that even now doesn’t get the mainstream love it should.
The World Ends With You
This is maybe the coolest game on this list. Before Square Enix was focused on milking the Kingdom Hearts franchise for every dollar it could get, they released a Nintendo DS only game called The World Ends With You. Everything about TWEWY is cool from character designs, music, and modern Shibuya setting. The gameplay is unique with the player controlling the top and bottom screens at the same time in combat using different control schemes for each. The story is intriguing and interesting but kinda goes off the rails in that classic Square Enix way towards the end.
Some fans would likely argue that this game isn’t that underrated, because everyone who’s played it speaks very highly of it, but unlike other highly praised Square Enix titles this one just kind of came and went. It didn’t get ported many places, a sequel didn’t come out for 14 years, and it wasn’t until recently that Square Enix seemed to remember this game existed. Even when it finally did receive a port to the Switch it was considered a worse version compared to its DS counterpart. This game is underrated because of its missed potential.
Halo 3: ODST
When Halo 3: ODST came out it was easily the least enjoyed of the Halo games. It didn’t have matchmaking multiplayer, the campaign only takes about six and a half hours to finish, and it cost $60 — a little too much for a game that is really just glorified DLC — but time has helped ODST well. The campaign is one of the best of the main games and the move away from Master Chief to the more vulnerable, but still powerful, ODST’s works great. Firefight was fun at the time, and while it probably should have had matchmaking, many hours were spent with friends trying to unlock achievements.
The best part of ODST though is how it chooses to tell its story. The game begins with a team of ODST’s dropping into what they thought was a raid on a Covenant ship, but after that ship jumps into split space the entire team makes a crash landing and is separated. When the player awakens, as The Rookie, it’s been hours and he has to explore the city to try and figure out what’s happened since he’s been unconscious. These sequences are a mix of stealth, action, and exploration and it works very well together. Of course, this is still a Halo game and when the player finds a clue they’re thrust back in time through a flashback to see what the other ODST’s have been doing in levels that are the more traditional Halo affair. It’s a great storytelling mechanic and very fun, not bad for a game that most people didn’t enjoy when it came out just because of price.
One of the biggest weaknesses of the Xbox 360, and that generation of consoles really, was the lack of JRPG’s. The big focus on the time were shooters with franchises like Halo, Call of Duty, and Uncharted dominating. It didn’t help that one of the most highly anticipated JRPG’s at the time, Final Fantasy XIII, flopped and failed to meet fan’s expectations. For many people, the entire generation went by without a single JRPG worth playing. Unfortunately for those people, they missed out on a gem developed by a legend.
Lost Odyssey, an Xbox 360 exclusive, was written by legendary Final Fantasy director Hironobu Sakaguchi. With the music composed by Nobuo Uematsu this may as well have been a Microsoft-published Final Fantasy game. The results sure felt like one, because this is one of the best JRPG’s from that generation of consoles. The characters are well written, the gameplay is fun, and the story is solid. What’s great about it is that it has a combat system that is extremely accessible making it a fantastic choice for someone that hasn’t played a JRPG before. Unfortunately, while the game sold decently well in the West, it sold very poorly in Japan due to the country’s hesitancy to embrace the Xbox. Despite being such a well made game, Lost Odyssey is rarely mentioned in the conversation of best JRPG’s and that’s a shame because it’s a game that needs more attention.