The gaming industry has grown from a niche hobby to a multi-million dollar medium in the short amount of time it’s been in existence. Franchises like Grand Theft Auto, Fortnite, and Call of Duty are each single-handedly responsible for pushing geek culture further. It’s safe to say that video games aren’t reserved for nerds anymore. But even with all its popularity, the medium has produced some classic video games that have failed to live up to commercial expectations. Though they are cherished by many today, these cult titles still haven’t received the mainstream attention they deserve. The following list seeks to remedy that. Each entry below is wholly deserving of your time, regardless of your taste in genre.
Classic Video Games – Shenmue 2
Shenmue 2 built on the fundamentals that made the original game in the series so great and dialed it all up to 11. It followed protagonist Ryo Hazuki as he moved from his quiet Japanese town to the bustle of Hong Kong. With that jump in setting, a wide range of gameplay choices became available to the player. More action scenes, quick-time events, and arena-style fights meant there was never really a long break in excitement. What’s more is that the outcome of the above scenarios would determine the course of the game’s narrative.
Unfortunately, the sequel didn’t perform well against publisher Sega’s expectations. By the time it was ported to the Xbox, the game’s visuals looked dated and unappealing. Diehard fans had already imported the title from European countries too, seeing as how it was taking so long for it to come stateside. The series was truly innovative for its time, however. It remains to be seen how Shenmue 3 will shake things up even further.
Classic Video Games – Psychonauts
From the mind of Tim Schafer, Psychonauts was a platformer that had players journey into people’s minds in order to solve their mental problems. As would-be psychic cadet Raz, fans would explore varying mindscapes that ranged from 1950’s suburbia to World War II to a floating cube in space. The imagination on display was impeccable and the gameplay felt tight and responsive.
It’s a shame, then, that the game didn’t meet financial expectations. Originally meant to be an exclusive for the original Xbox, the project was canceled midway through development. Publisher Majesco swooped in to salvage what remained, answering the internet’s plea to save the game. Despite the outrage, however, the title failed to move units when it launched. A lack of significant marketing may have also been to blame.
Classic Video Games – Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem was a GameCube horror classic lauded by critics for its intriguing story and marvelous sound design. While it uses many of the gameplay mechanics found in the Resident Evil franchise, it distinguished itself through its use of “sanity effects.” This feature used a gauge to determine any one of the multiple protagonists’s slip into madness. Repeated sightings by enemies would result in a lowered meter. Once it has been lowered significantly, phenomenon like skewed camera effects, bleeding walls, and more would make it near impossible for the player to continue going forward.
Eternal Darkness sold less than half a million units when it launched – a less than favorable number at the time. Though it was praised by critics across the board, legal troubles prevented developer Silicon Knights from ever making a sequel. The studio later shuttered its doors in 2013. Nintendo still holds the trademark for the franchise, so it remains to be seen what the company decides to do with it in the future.
Classic Video Games – Beyond Good and Evil
Beyond Good and Evil followed the sci-fi adventures of a photojournalist named Jade and her anthropomorphic pig uncle as each tries to bring down a totalitarian government secretly running both parts of an ongoing war. It was praised by critics for its unique gameplay, which combined the best parts of Zelda and Splinter Cell. Puzzles, stealth sequences, and hovercraft combat were just some of the game’s highlights. It didn’t hurt that Beyond Good and Evil‘s script was well thought-out, too. A host of memorable characters took players across a fully realized game world that never failed to immerse players.
In addition to having to compete with publisher Ubisoft’s own software lineup for the 2003 holiday season, the title had to make a stand against powerhouses like Final Fantasy X-2, Knights of the Old Republic, Silent Hill 3, Max Payne 2, and more. Thankfully, a sequel to this cult classic is in the works. As to when it will release, however, remains anyone’s guess.
Classic Video Games – Okami
Okami also borrowed heavily from the Zelda series, yet still maintained a distinct identity of its own. The title offered an explorable version of historic Japan to players, filled with objectives to accomplish and monsters to defeat. Gameplay relied heavily on a painting mechanic, which saw fans draw on the screen using a magical brush. Perhaps the best part of Okami was its visual art style, however. It evoked a moving watercolor portrait, unlike anything the medium had ever seen.
The title released towards the end of the PS2’s lifecycle. Many gamers were already preoccupied with the promise of next-generation systems, thus couldn’t be bothered with current generation games. As a result, Okami didn’t perform well according to Capcom’s sales expectations. If you managed to miss out on the title back in the day, an HD iteration is currently available on both PS4 and Xbox One. Perhaps the ongoing support of the title’s ports may encourage the publisher to bring back this flaming dog one day.
Classic Video Games – Valkyria Chronicles
The original Valkyria Chronicles on the PS3 was also unique in its aesthetic. Its sketchbook art style was accompanied by a cast of memorable characters and a satisfying turn-based JRPG gameplay mechanic that recalled the early days of the genre. The old-time feel aiding in immersing players in the pre-World War II Europe setting the title was based on.
Despite a great response from critics, Valkyria Chronicles did not meet commercial success stateside. A significant price cut a few months later helped, however, alongside the release of an anime for the game. The series did go on to spawn numerous sequels and has since been released on Steam. Its port on PC moved over half a million units within its first five months, which is quite the accomplishment for a niche title like this.
Classic Video Games – EarthBound
Some hardcore Nintendo fans consider EarthBound one of the best games ever made. Despite this, not many played the title when it released in the 90’s. Known in Japan as Mother 2, the game sells today for an absurd amount of money on the collector’s market. It’s no surprise, as EarthBound sold only 140,00 copies stateside – roughly half of what it sold in its home country. Some blame the game’s cartoon aesthetic while others cite Nintendo’s poor marketing push as the reasons for this cult classic’s demise. Regardless, Earthbound did spawn a sequel in Japan in 2006. A Wii Virtual Console port later came out in 2013. Fans are clamoring for a Mother 3 to this day, but it’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not that will actually happen.
Classic Video Games – Dark Cloud
Dark Cloud was a classic video game originally intended for the PS2’s launch. It combined action role-playing mechanics with elements of city-building games. Players took on the role of Toan, a boy who is tasked with rebuilding the destroyed lands created by a mysterious dark genie. The game was met with great critical acclaim upon its release, particularly for how effortlessly it blended its action with fun construction gameplay.
Unfortunately, Dark Cloud did not meet a lot of financial success when it launched in Japan. It was only until the title came stateside that it became a worthwhile commercial venture. It’s perhaps for this reason that fans haven’t seen a Dark Cloud 3, as the game wouldn’t be met with fan acclaim in its home country. Sony owns the rights to the property for now. Here’s hoping that the PS4’s success will help encourage more financial risks like another Dark Cloud sequel in the future.
What are some of your favorite games that never managed to sell? Let us know in the comments below!