Discussion, and addition of your own recommendations in comments is, of course, encouraged! Likewise asking about a game you'd like to know more about. If I didn't like talking about these things, I wouldn't bring 'em up!
I'll be aiming for at least three for each in general, just for a nice round number. (And I like the number three!) May vary slightly, and may especially go over, if there are just a lot of top games for the system.
Warning: Long post is LONG.
Most of these are going to be fairly obvious but...
The Sims series
(Sims, Sims 2, Sims 3, Expansions)
Honestly I was tempted to just leave this one off the list because a) EA, and b) man the whole expansions-every-six-months scheme gets old and money-grabby after a while. But at the same time, the game's just too big and too immersive and addicting to just ignore it.
Anyhow: You get to have fun playing as a god more or less, creating characters of you, your friends, favorite celebrities, whoever, and going to town having them live their lives, hook up, and do basically whatever floats your boat. What's not to like? It's like a soap opera, where the scripts half write themselves, and half are written by you.
World of Warcraft
C'mon, yeah, it's huge, but it's huge for a reason. I guess you either tend to love it or hate it. I love it, despite being on a bit of a hiatus from it at the moment, due to their only being so many hours in a day (and we really should lobby someone about that, damnit).
Even if you don't enjoy forming parties and groups with other people 24/7, there's just something different and fun about sharing a world alongside other players, and World of Warcraft strikes one of the better balances between letting you enjoy the good aspects of a shared world, with not forcing you to do *everything* with other people. Yeah, there are still aspects of annoyance that come with playing in a shared world, but for me (and many other players), the positives outweigh the negatives.
Ah yes, my hobby horse. ;) I've raved about the game at length in other places, so let it just suffice to say that this is a game where you play as a Pirate King, and get the fun of a town-building game plus the fun of sending out pirate ships and plundering away. Dude, sign me up!
Also worthy of mention:
Tropico, The Longest Journey, Civilization series, Baldur's Gate/NWN games. All of which could well make the list, but I want this post to have some finite length (and with the PC and its games out as long as they have been, this is the one where it's easiest to go on and on listing, so I'm being harsher about cutting off).
Darklands which is an awesome game but would get cut anyhow due to being extremely dated in various ways, and more importantly the fact that it can be a bitch just to get it to run on any current hardware configurations.
Final Fantasy XI which I have much love for, and is definitely worthy of checking out if you like MMORPGs, but which also definitely isn't going to be for everyone.
Okay, I'll stop now. Really. Moving on.
Lost in Blue series
(Well, technically there's one on the Wii as well, but mostly they're the DS.)
This is the inheritor of the Survival Kids flag (and if you don't know those games, don't worry, you're not alone, unfortunately). Anyhow, the concept is that your main character is one of a pair of (or group of, in the case of the later games) young adults/late teens that have been stranded on an island by (insert vaguely sorta plausible if you don't look at it too hard shipwreck story here), and you need to a) survive, and preferably b) find some way to get off the island.
This all involves collecting food and other basic items around the island, and slowly building tools, furniture, etc., to make your surviving more efficient, eventually working your way up to either exploring far enough away (with the help of more filling and long-lasting foods, new base camps, etc.) that you find a way off the island, or getting yourself to the point where you can craft something sturdy enough to get you where you need to go or... well, something along those lines. The point is, it's a challenge just to stay alive at first, and actually exploring, slowly scrambling to improve your living conditions and finally winning over all the adversity is a heck of a lot of fun. IMHO. Mileages, they may vary.
Phoenix Wright series
Well, I guess this would more appropriately be the Ace Attorney series now, what with Apollo Justice, and the upcoming Miles Edgeworth (swoon) game. (Although I might blaspheme here and say I think I'd even rather have a Klavier Galvin game. XD) *ahem* but I digress.
C'mon, they're a) adventure games, which b) include investigation into crimes and courtroom Drama!, while having c) interesting, memorable (and generally likable/lovable) characters and d) humor and word play and just general good times. What part of this formula is not to like?
Yeah yeah, they're not exactly realistic with the courtroom stuff, and yes difficulty can waver a bit at times between insultingly easy and "how the hell could I guess that without a FAQ" levels. And yes, they suffer from "*cough* this is the USA, not Japan at all, no REALLY" syndrome. but if you're willing to hand-wave away a few things like that in the name of fun, no worries.
Hotel Dusk: Room 215
This game does not get as much mainstream love as it should, which is a shame. It's set in the '70s with a Noir feel to the world and graphics, and follows an ex-detective around as he, well, detects things over the course of a day and a night (more or less) at the two-bit motel he finds himself in. It's an adventure game, with piecing together of various mysteries thrown in. Maybe not extremely heavy on the "gameplay" front, or for replay value (although they do throw a bit in there), but the story and characters make it worth it.
While on the PS2 and X-Box and other platforms Castlevania has gone the 3D route with varying success, on the DS the series has stuck to the 2D roots, and tended to deliver damn fun but challenging games. Part of it may be nostalgia, but to me the games seem to combine the best of the platform, side-scrolling, and RPG genres (only the last of which I tend to be into much myself), and really deliver a lot of fun in a bite-sized package. Some games may be better than others, of course.
Also worthy of mention:
Various 8-bit or other remakes (the Dragon Quest games, Final Fantasy remakes, etc etc.), which are worthy and great games, but with so many other great original games for the DS, and so many great games coming out as remakes or just slighty-altered ports, well, I had to prioritize. (Which is apparently my Word of the Day.)
Harvest Moon DS/Harvest Moon DS Cute, which don't make the list because as much love as I have for the Harvest Moon series in general, well, the first one is just too damn buggy, and because they insisted on putting the games in one of the least fun locations of the series with the less interesting (IMHO) characters. Still, it's hard to ignore the large amount of stuff to do to improve your farm and challenge yourself, or the fact that while most of the bachelors for "Cute" bite, there's one that's perhaps the best in all the games. Likewise Harvest Moon: Island of Happiness is a one of the more challenging Harvest Moon games, but seriously flawed with the internet rankings system... thing, and may be a bit too challenging for a newbie to the series coming in fresh. And the characters again aren't as interesting in general, IMHO. :/
Rune Factory games, which could probably make the list, but I'm already covering them in the Wii section, and grr, there's just so much great stuff on the DS already anyhow, ya know? It's so haaard!
Pokemon series, which are good games in their own right each alone, but it's really really hard to take them alone without all the merchandizing, or dealing with the huge swarm of games that are basically attempts to grab your money as much as possible, and so on. I love monster-breeding/collecting games and these scratch a lot of itches, but I can barely get into them before something or other leaves me a bit cold.
Star Ocean: First Departure, Star Ocean: Second Evolution
Okay okay, I know, it's a bit weird that I throw the remakes for the DS in a quick "also-ran" blurb, but start off the PSP list with these. Part of it's the fact that, well, one of the PSP's strengths for better or worse is its ports/remakes, while the DS tends to have more and stronger originals (at least in my perspective), part of it is the fact that the first Star Ocean game, while technically a port/remake, wasn't even available in English (well, legally/officially) before this remake, and part of it is just the fact that Star Ocean 2 is my favorite game, ever, which I unashamedly admit strongly influences its inclusion here, despite the remake status. Nyah.
Now, with all that out of the way... while the graphics are starting to get dated, the games themselves are solid and fun. Okay, 2 more so than 1, which is a bit too straightforward. But seriously, you've got great casts of characters, and actual *gasp* choices about which ones you want in your party (I mean, taking them with you at all, not just which ones you tend to have sitting around camp all the time), you have a hefty and addictive item creation system, you have a long and interesting story (in the case of the second) that blends fantasy and sci-fi with a few cool and unexpected twists, you (again in the case of the second) have two main characters to choose from with definitely different playing styles, each of which gives you a slightly different perspective on things (and a few story bits that you can only see from one side or the other), you have a active-time battle system (from the days when the norm was still "line'em up and take turns, boys") that actually takes a bit of work to master... this game to me just takes a ton of the strengths of RPGs, and throws them all together into one joyous mix.
Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions
Ugh, yes, another port/remake. Now that this post is forcing me to actually think about it, I think I tend to settle too much for ports on PSP rather than seeking out great originals, mostly because honestly the DS is more my portable of choice. The PSP for me is more about those nostalgic games that take a great game and make it slightly better, in a shiny new package. Which is kinda... sad and unfair to the PSP probably, but there it is.
Anyhow, this game at least does enough new stuff (totally new localization, new cutscenes, other little added things) to make it at least somewhat a new game in its own right, and besides, the core game is good enough to merit its inclusion here. It's a Tactics RPG, and a nice one, that balances pretty well (okay, until/unless you reaaaally know what you're doing and unlock the really super powerful stuff), and has a lot of fun jobs, abilities, gameplay, and so on. The story... well, I'm both hot and cold on it. The whole world it creates feels deeper and more interesting than some of the stock cardboard bland fantasy worlds that are set up as a basic backdrop behind some other games, but at the same time the whole "I know, let's include a take on religion in this game because it's never been done before!" thing can get... well, yeah.
Class of Heroes
I might not include this game otherwise, but a) I wanted at least one original on the list out of a very limited number of originals I've owned/played for the system, and b) I've been playing it recently so it's still warm and fuzzy in my brainmeats. We'll see how it holds up down the road.
This isn't the deepest game in the world, but it's both fun and challenging. It's also a bit weird, because you don't even have one main character. The premise instead is that there are a bunch of students at a "hero academy," and you can either use the ones created to start with, or create your own from scratch, or any blend of the two. You have up to six characters in a party, and each character has a race with its own traits, and also has a job with skills, equipment, etc. based on that job. Going up in levels increases parameters, which in turn can unlock new jobs for the character (with a few things carrying over when they switch)...
Mini-review, not full review, right. Anyhow you basically fulfill missions that count as your classes, exploring dungeons, getting certain items, killing specific bosses, and so on, with the classes/missions getting harder as you go. You also have an alchemy system in which you create various items and equipment from parts you collect along the way, and... well, I'll leave off there. It's just a fun dungeon-explorer with job-based and mission-based systems, so if you like those, give it a try.
Also worthy of mention:
Persona which actually isn't out yet for PSP (at least in the States, not sure about in Japan) so I'd feel silly putting it on here, but from having played the PS1 version, I'd say it's going to be worthy of a look-see, unless they really manage to screw up somehow with the retooling.
Tales of the World: Radiant Mythology, which would probably take over Class of Heroes' spot for "token original" on the PSP, except it's a liiiittle too focused on bringing the various Tales of... characters together, and some of the systems aren't as robust as I'd like (item creation, etc.). Still, it's got some fun mission-based gameplay, so might be worth a look if you like that sorta thing, even if you haven't played the original games.
Okay, I lied. I don't yet own a PS3, so I have nothing to say about this one. Nothing informed, anyhow. ;) Any actual PS3 owners will have to chime in on this, in the comments.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope
After mentioning that Star Ocean: The Second Story is my favoritest game evah, can you be surprised this is on here? But seriously, this is still a great game in its own right. Now, yes, it's flawed... probably more so than most of the other games on these lists, where notable flaws generally knock a game down out of the main mentions. In this case though, I think the strengths are still, well, strong enough to balance the flaws out and overcome them. Your mileage may very well vary.
Anyhow, JRPG, somewhat cliched characters on the surface but I still loved most of them to death, fun gameplay quirks such as getting to see various character bits on the spaceship and actually getting to go back to re-explore previous worlds, a lot of different worlds to explore and have fun with in the first place, and a fun item creation system. Oh, and a just kick-butt combat system. And skill system. And fun achievements to try for. And a deeper feel to the world what with all the encyclopedia-type entries, the connections to other games in the series (despite the fact that they come later in the timeline), and.. well, good stuff. Great stuff. And Space Elves! (What do you mean they're not elves? Silence!)
Okay okay, since I did mention the flaws... some of the dialogue/acting can get a bit OMG Drama! at times, the characters, while I enjoyed them, might turn some off with their surface cliche natures, and there are a few loooong cutscenes (although these tend to cluster more toward the start and end). But nothing's perfect, right?
Viva Pinata/Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise
These games are hard to categorize, but fun. I think Viva Pinata was the first game I actually bought with my 360, after I'd held off on getting the console for a while, and unlike Fable for the X-Box, this game actually made me damn happy about my purchase.
The premise is that you're a new "gardener" on Pinata Island, and basically start out just trying to get your (smaller) garden into shape, and attracting a few of the basic Pinata animals that roam the island. As you start to meet their resident requirements they may move in, and you can breed them (after meeting more stringent breeding requirements), and you slowly start to go up in levels and unlock more space, more tools, more shopkeepers and thus more items, new pinatas that are attracted to either the more basic pinatas or the new spiffy items you've got... and so on and so on.
It sounds weird, and I guess it is, and it also has the dreaded veneer of "kiddy" hanging around it, but the game is addicting and fun as hell. IMHO. I guess it's maybe not everyone's cup of tea. But it's certainly mine.
Yeah, I feel a bit like I'm putting token games of various types in this top three. "Lessee... one JRPG, one non-RPG, one Western RPG... that should do it! *checks off list*" But at the same time, all three games are deserving of their spots on the list so... *shrugs*
What can I say? The game's not perfect, but it's got a compelling story, interesting and realistic characters (well, when you stretch the definition of "realistic" to include various aliens and so forth), consequences to your decisions, the whole good guy/bad guy split, and it's one of the best I've seen at including some aspects of a FPS while not completely turning off people who aren't, frankly, all that great at FPS games. It also feels deep, with a lot of aliens races and cultures, and a ton of files with backstory, etc., if you care to read.
Bonus points for an upcoming sequel that will actually use data from this game, and where your decisions in it will apparently have consequences there as well.
Blah, I included the bit about the checklist and genres and so on, then I go and screw it up by deciding to include a second Western RPG on the list. But c'mon, it deserves it. A post-apocalyptic world accompanied by 50's music and motifs, radio coverage that helps immerse you in the world and changes as you accomplish various things (or make different decisions), a ton of places to explore and go killin', giant super mutated things and bizarre corners of civilization somehow eked out of the landscape... it's just classic.
And then there's Dogmeat!
Also worthy of mention:
Tales of Vesperia, which I'm not putting in partly because I just never did finish it, despite enjoying it a lot, and the item system could have been deeper. Fun JRPG though, and definitely worth a spin if you like JRPGs at all. And really if I'd actually finished it or wouldn't feel like a bit of an ass including it without finishing, it might have made a list anyhow.
Various X-Box Live Arcade games, which should maybe just have gotten their own section, but I probably haven't played enough of them to cherry-pick the very best of the bunch. (Well, not that that's stopped me with some of these categories...) But usually these just tend to be in totally different categories (like almost straight ports, or board games), so...none of them quite made The List for the normal 360 section.
Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility
Alright, a bit of a genre game, but you'd be surprised how fun farming can be on the console if you've never tried it!
More seriously, I have (as mentioned above) much love for the Harvest Moon games, and this one is one of the best. Challenging but not too difficult, lots of people to meet, things to do, a ton of different crops and animals... a whole slew of interesting bachelors and bachelorettes to woo...there are some things that I'd change, given the opportunity, but on the whole this is a great game as it is.
Er... and since I guess if you have never played a Harvest Moon game you're still probably left out in the cold: you play a main character (male or female in this particular game), and end up with a farm for some reason or other. (In this case, as part of an attempt to re-kindle the town on this particular island.) Your mission, should you choose to accept it (and if not, it's a damn short game) is to start with a small house with just the basics and one field filled with weeds, stumps, etc., and to slowly but surely clear things out, buy new buildings, upgrade old ones, grow crops, buy animals and sell their produce, and so on and so forth, until you have a prosperous farm.
At the same time, you're making friends with the townfolk, seeing various events with them, participating in special holidays, and wooing the particular bachelor or bachelorette that strikes your fancy, until they become your husband/wife and live with you on the farm, starting a family of your own. As you interact with the town, ship more and new items, and build things, the town itself also develops, giving you new people to interact with, new shops, and so on.
It sounds simple and probably a bit dorky, but it's a lot of fun to actually play. Well, I think so anyhow.
Rune Factory Frontier
I feel a bit odd including this what with the other Harvest Moon game but... well, the Rune Factory games started off mostly as an offshoot of Harvest Moon Now With Added RPGness, but seem to be morphing into their own little thing. The one for the Wii is probably the deepest and best of them, despite my liking for the others. Much like the Harvest Moon games you start out with a farm that you have to slowly build up, but here you also have different dangerous areas to explore, and monsters to either fight or tame (which also become your "ranch animals," since you can't just buy such things).
There's a lot to like here - the dungeon-diving aspect, the monster-collecting/breeding aspect, the item creation, the sim aspects carried over from the parent series (wooing a bride, starting a family, becoming an integral part of the town, etc.). It's just a really nice blend between the simulation and RPG genres, and if you like both of those, you could do worse than giving it a spin.
Little King's Story
This game is odd, but great. It's like a blend between Pikmin and an RPG and a city-builder and.. and... I'm not even sure what.
You start out with a little boy king that found a magic crown, yadda yadda whatever. With the support of only a mere handful of characters to start, you slowly explore your world, throwing (literally) your followers at different obstacles to overcome them, unlocking new areas, which unlocks new buildings, which unlocks new jobs, which lets you overcome different obstacles which...
Yeah, anyhow. You can also take on quests via your suggestion box, and both completing quests and collecting items out in the field gives you money, which you use for the various upgrades. As you continue you can get stronger jobs for your followers and bigger "parties" to take out with you, and your end goal is to conquer all the known world.
The game seems kiddy on the surface, but there's humor and depth for everyone (like how many kids would get the whole lumberjacks-who-like-scones thing?), and the boss fights are actually challenging and require thought (generally) rather than just going at them as hard as you can. The game takes a few different genres and blends them all rather nicely, giving a game that's a hell of a lot deeper than it looks on the surface, and more mature, while not being actively kid-unfriendly.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
Yay for more realistic Link! I know a lot of people loved the art style for Wind Waker, but I wasn't really one of them. Anyhow, I guess you either tend to enjoy the Zelda series or not, but I fall into the former camp, and think this game is probably the best of the bunch. You have tried-but-true gameplay for combat and so on, with new things added with the wolf-shape scenes, and fun characters that don't necessarily fit the typical molds (like Midna).
The game is basically exploration of one area after the next, with puzzles thrown into the mix. A bit basic when put like that, but also enjoyable. Not for everyone I guess, but definitely worth a try at least.
Also worthy of mention:
Endless Ocean, left out because, awesome graphics, calming as hell, but also fairly... limited. Swimming around the ocean is fun, but there's only so much you can do and explore before you get a bit bored.
The Sims: Castaway. This is a surprisingly fun island survival/exploration game, but it's just not quite as deep as I'd like, or with as much replay value. It's also a bit tough to get past the frankly shoddy graphics. Still, lots of fun slowly building up your survival tools and getting progressively better buildings/clothing/etc.
Lost in Blue: Shipwrecked. This was already covered by the DS games, and really I don't think this is quite the strongest in the series. (Partly because the main character just annoys me.) But still good.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King</i>, left out mostly because while it's a fun and addicting game and is certainly polished (being Squarenix), it's also got definite flaws, and didn't get as much support from the parent company as it deserved. Plus it falls victim to the "wringing every last cent out of the user by selling everything separately" ploy.
I'd originally intended this post to also cover the slightly later consoles (basically Dreamcast through X-Box), but it's already long enough as it is, and the PS2 section's probably going to be largest so... I'll leave it here for now, and save the rest for next week.
(Crossposted to stormfeather_vg