25 Greatest Video Game Franchises of All Time

Video games exist at a particularly strange nexus of commercialism and art. Where most great works of literature, theater, and even film come as singular entities, video games cannot leave well enough alone. If something sells, it must be sequeled.

Luckily for the medium, those sequels are given the chance to iterate upon what their predecessors pioneer. This leads to franchises that grow better with age than withering as they stretch across the decades. Here are 25 series that have stood that test of time as the best franchises in video game history.

25. Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing might be the most consistently heartwarming series in video game history. Since its debut on Nintendo Gamecube, Animal Crossing has occupied gaming's niche for comfy and quirky indentured servitude simulators. The franchise remains a Nintendo mainstay, even if primarily on its handheld consoles.

24. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

As wildly different as S.T.A.L.K.E.R. may be from Animal Crossing — and it is wild, full of irradiated monsters, vicious mercenaries, and magical anomalies that will slough the skin from a skeleton — it shares a profound sense of warmth. In its most stirring moments, hidden away in some campfire lit bunker, away from the gray skies and violent threats in the outside world, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. glows with precious, fragile life.

23. Kingdom Hearts

Kingdom Hearts is, as many of these franchises are, an audacious experiment. That experiment begins with the merging of two beloved franchises in the form of Disney and Final Fantasy (I'm sensing a slightly off-kilter power dynamic here), but it continues with over a decade of story, tightly woven and spooled out across multiple of platforms and titles. And with Kingdom Hearts 3 set to tie only some loose of the series' ends, that story just keeps going.

22. Resident Evil

Resident Evil crafted the definitive zombie text for video games, a claim that carries monstrous weight in a world still recovering from the zombie-craze that gripped its pop culture through the late aughts. Resident Evil 4 is a bona fide classic, one of the pillars both of survival horror and third person games more generally. Cinematic and scary, the game and its series continue to strike nerves, leading to this month's Resident Evil 2 rerelease and, likely, beyond.

21. Halo

The Halo mythos began with Halo: Combat Evolved, a wildly accomplished first person shooter that more or less set the standard for the genre. Its technical achievements rivaled the epic sci-fi story it began, and its sequels built that story out to true video game myth.

20. Fire Emblem

Fire Emblem never expected blockbuster status. Instead, the game chose a more modest dedication to perfect craft. Its goofy anime sensibilities and heart-sleeved characters help elevate it, but the true stars are the game's systems. Each entry in the series has hammered ever truer, honing its mechanical edge to razor thinness. Few games can boast that level of quality, and Fire Emblem has maintained it for nearly 30 years.

19. Madden

Madden NFL wasn't always the preeminent football game. In the early days, the series scrapped for dominance of the space, innovating on play selection and camera angles at a pace its competitors failed to match. The series may be resting on its laurels these days, but its influence extends even outside of video games to the way the NFL broadcasts its games. That kind of impact secures Madden's legacy beyond doubt.

18. Warcraft

The Warcraft series follows the classic Blizzard formula: Get there second, but become the hands down best. Warcraft's approach to real-time strategy was groundbreaking and streamlined, crystalizing over three games. Its last entry birthed the original Dota, and its lore World of Warcraft. Once South Park dedicates an episode to you, you're likely set for legacy.

17. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater

Tony Hawk is a cool dude. The series of video games that bears his name is even cooler. The series cashed in on the alt dream of skateboard stardom with a mechanically inventive playground that players couldn't get enough of. Later entries have fizzled on release, often weighed down by gimmicks and peripherals, but the core entries in the series remain a ludic dream.

16. Battlefield

Battlefield will always be developer DICE's baby. The franchise has ballooned into a blockbuster behemoth, competing with Call of Duty for control of the military shooter space, but its character and multiplayer extravagance go back further. That, and the Frostbite engine that power its impressive destructible environments, make Battlefield an all-time great.

15. Super Smash Bros.

Super Smash Bros. was fated for success. Cramming so many successful franchises into a single mega series was an all-but guaranteed win for Nintendo. Smash Ultimate arrived in late 2018 to rave reviews as the fifth game in the franchise, securing Smash for the next generation of consoles and gamers.

14. Counter Strike

Counter-Strike's influence can be felt most clearly today in its thriving esports system. As one of the largest and most stable games in esports, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is a worthy heir to the powerful foundations built in the original game, in Counter-Strike: Source, and in CS 1.6.

13. Call of Duty

The Call of Duty franchise has taken a lot of flak over the years. It almost singlehandedly birthed the conversation around franchise fatigue, and its grim war stories have been parodied ad nauseam. But those conversations and parodies and all the rest of it exist only because the franchise has become such a cornerstone. The first Modern Warfare set the tone for shooters for the next decade plus, and remains an all-time classic of the genre.

12. Metal Gear Solid

Metal Gear Solid was Kojima's first son. Its spirited tactical stealth action innovated on video game sneakery, producing the template games have followed ever since. But the game's are so much more than hiding around corners. They are somber tales told with twinkling humor and mechanical invention, and represent the gold standard in attention to detail.

11. Fallout

War may never change, but Fallout has. What began as an ambitious series of isometrics CRPGs has morphed into an equally ambitious open world RPG extravaganza that could keep fans exploring until the bombs drop. Fallout 76 may be the franchise's first misstep, but it'll take a bigger bomb than that to send this series underground.

10. Dark Souls

The Souls franchise's influence belies its young age. Beginning with Demon Souls in 2009, Hidetaka Miyazaki and FromSoftware have crafted an utterly distinct approach to action games, defined by punishing (but rarely unfair) difficulty, oblique, environment-based narrative, and an utterly melancholic worldview. The Souls games remains as refreshing today as they did on first release, because despite every "Dark Souls of X" comparison, nothing has quite measured up to the First Flame.

9. Grand Theft Auto

Grand Theft Auto's place in the pop culture canon sometimes seems defined by the controversy it provokes. The games in the series are often sophomoric in their humor and cynical in their parody, but the open world video game exists in large part because of the sheer ambition crammed into each of these games.

8. The Elder Scrolls

Skyrim. I mean, sure, Morrowind is an absolute treasure of an RPG. Oblivion embodied Xbox-era fantasy with a wondrous and beautiful sandbox. Even Arena and Daggerfall have their place somewhere in the canon. But even without all of those classics, the Elder Scrolls would likely make it into the history books. Because Skyrim.

7. Street Fighter

From the arcades to Evo, Street Fighter has carried the torch for fighting games. Hitting its stride with Street Fighter 2 in 1991, the series just about birthed the FGC. Today, tournaments continue to rake in views with one of the oldest franchises in esports, and Capcom continues to push the envelope for publisher support of an esport.

6. Tetris

For the most part, Tetris is as it was when it first hit arcades in 1984. The game's signature blend of puzzle solving and twitch reflex tests have made it a perennial feature on just about every platform since. Tetris is as prevalent on phones as it is on consoles, making it the rare game with unbelievable mass and niche appeal without compromise.

5. Final Fantasy

The Final Fantasy series is, may I say, stupid long. You thought Kingdom Hearts was convoluted? There are more than 50 titles in the Final Fantasy franchise, with 15 in the main series line alone. Final Fantasy 7 catapulted the series to global prominence, but excellence can be found throughout the massive oeuvre.

4. Metroid

When your game births an entire genre, you can step to Metroid. As influential in 2D sidescrolling explorathons as it is in first person adventures, the Metroid franchise has left an indelible mark on video game history. And it did it in heels.

3. Half Life

Speaking of influence on first person shooters — The Half Life series may have done more to shape shooters than any game before or since. Its revolutionary approach to exposition, combined with a groundbreaking physics engine and top shelf writing have earned the series mythic status. Even without a third installment, Half Life remains a high watermark in video games.

2. The Legend of Zelda

Without Zelda, there is no adventure game. With four installments in the conversation for greatest video game of all time (Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, Wind Waker and Breath of the Wild), The Legend of Zelda is an unstoppable juggernaut of innovation and superlative quality.

1. Super Mario

Mario may be the most iconic character in video game history, and with good reason. From core games that define each era of platforming, to party games your friends will never put away for good, to sports titles that have no business being so damn fun, Mario may never die. And that makes his franchise the greatest in video game history.