Point 1 - These are all games I have personally played.
As with any opinion, results may vary. I want to be clear that these are my most memorable moments which is based entirely on my own experiences playing these games at the time that I played them. There may be other scenes in other games that blow these out of the water, but I may not have played them or I may have played them at a time when the moment was ruined by prior knowledge which would lessen the impact.
Point 2 - These are all events scripted into the game.
All player-driven or randomly generated events will be excluded. I wrote an article about my campaign to defeat Ifrit in Final Fantasy XIV which was monumentally memorable, but the challenge and coordinated effort of that struggle was completely player-driven and would vary from person to person. Similarly, I've had many exciting adventures in Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim that involved multiple dragons showing up to ruin my day, but as they were randomly generated I don't consider it a natural part of the game. My intent is to present scripted events that everyone will experience in roughly the same way.
Point 3 - I had no spoilers or prior knowledge to events listed.
Many of these moments would be ruined by knowing before-hand they were going to happen. So in saying that, I am warning you that the next few weeks of posts will be filled with spoilers about games I played and stuck out in my memory. Your prior knowledge of these events (if you have not yet experienced them) may tarnish the experience for you if you hope to play these games in the near future. The choice is yours, but know that when I played these games I had no idea what was going to happen next and so my opinions were heavily influenced as a result.
Now that I've set down the foundation for these opinions, I present my TOP Ten Most Memorable.
#10 - Zack's Death Scene (Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, Playstation Portable, 2008)
#9 - Battle with Psycho Mantis (Metal Gear Solid, Playstation, 1998)
“Metal Gear Solid” is a franchise that is made up of plot-twist after compounding plot-twist, but Psycho Mantis was most memorable for using the Playstation itself to mentally unnerve you and thwart your efforts to defeat him. His displays of psychic prowess break the proverbial fourth wall and confront the player directly and the challenge of defeating him required some out-of-the-box thinking and gaming.
#8 - First Fight with Magus (Chrono Trigger, Super Nintendo, 1995)
Chrono Trigger opens with a trip to the Millennial Fair which is celebrating the year 1000AD as well as the Hero’s triumphant defeat of Magus 400 years ago. As soon as you walk Crono out the front door the game is already conditioning you for the ultimate showdown with Magus in 600AD and you don’t even know it. The game does a good job of hyping up this fight and then it delivers in one of the best sequences in the game topped off with one of the best tracks of battle music as well.
#7 - Sora's Sacrifice (Kingdom Hearts, Playstation 2, 2002)
Sora proves without a doubt he would do anything to reunite with his friends. After learning that his friend Kairi will remain comatose until her heart is freed from its hiding place locked within Sora’s own heart, he does what any selfless hero-in-training would do – stabs himself in the heart with a Keyblade that unlocks all hearts. He frees Kairi and allows darkness to consume his heart.
#6 - The First Colossus, Valus the Minotaur (Shadow of the Colossus, Playstation 2, 2005)
Shadow of the Colossus is a masterpiece and every moment is memorable, but it’s easy to pick out the first of the sixteen colossi as the poster-colossus to represent the whole game. Though each of the colossi is a marvel in its own right, Valus sets the tone and scope of the entire adventure by taking your breath away as you grip your sword and run up to his enormous legs trying to find some weakness to bring this giant down.
#5 - The Sacrifice of Palom & Porom (Final Fantasy IV, Super Nintendo, 1991)
Final Fantasy IV is my favorite game to play. I’ve beaten it dozens of times because I love the story and characters. I want to note that my least favorite characters are Palom & Porom, but for one short scene they really steal the show. Their self-sacrifice has me tearing up every single time I live through it. Despite the twins spending most of their time annoying me with their sibling banter, they really show a courage and wisdom beyond their years when they step up and give their lives to free the other characters from a devious trap.
#4 - The Master Sword (The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, Nintendo 64, 1998)
The pivotal moment in Ocarina of Time is after you gather the three prerequisite pendants and play the Song of Time before the sword in the stone. Link pulls the Master Sword free in an unforgettable sequence. When you step into the shoes of Link as an adult several years into the future, you realize you’ve only scratched the surface of what this game has in store for you.
In an elaborate attempt to gain access to the world’s only privately owned and operated airship, the cast of Final Fantasy VI opt to cast Celes as the lead role in place of the opera starlet Maria, whom the airship owner is planning to kidnap. I expected to step on stage and see a few lines of text before the scene changed, but what I got was a full 20 minute opera completely composed in 16-bit. It shattered my perception of video game music, and remains one of the most amazing scenes in the entire “Final Fantasy” franchise.
#2 - Aerith's Death (Final Fantasy VII, Playstation, 1997)
The villain you’ve been chasing manages to get his hands on the Black Materia and use it cast a world ending spell known as “Meteor.” In response, the soft-spoken, kind-hearted token damsel in distress decides to head off on her own to seek answers and when you finally catch up to her, you find her peacefully praying on a dais in the middle of the Forgotten City. She looks up at you with hope in her eyes, and that’s when the villain descends from above and impales her on the end of his sword. Does this sound upsetting? Believe me, it is. This scene is burned into my memory.
#1 - Samus Unmasked (Metroid, Nintendo Entertainment System, 1987)
I believe Aerith’s Death (#2) may be slightly more emotionally traumatizing and shocking, but Samus pulling off her helmet and revealing she is a woman is my #1 because I was so young when I experienced it and it was equally unexpected. I was so proud of myself for beating such a difficult game, and the game itself rewarded me with knowledge that not many kids had at the time. This moment of revelation is really what kick started her as a video game phenomenon.