Buying the farm, pushing up daisies, the big sleep, whatever you call it, death represents that great big unknown that theologians and atheists have been wrestling with for centuries. (Theologians, “There is a God!” Atheists, “Yeah, and it’s Michael Jordan.”)

But whatever side you believe in, real or fake, afterlife or anti-after life (Is that even a phrase?) here are twelve great games you need to play before you die. And if you disagree, all I have to say to the theologians is go to hell, and to the Atheists, go to Cleveland.

*Note: Some legendary games like Super Mario 64, A Link to the Past, and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 are not on this list because if you haven’t played them already, then you’re not a gamer. Sorry, but it’s true.

12. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess:
Nintendo Wii

With a launch day release akin to Halo, being released day one for the Xbox; the Wii had a killer app right out the gate. The quest was huge, the gameplay exciting, and the story was arguably Link’s greatest. Most importantly, though, is that this is the kind of game that’s really going to look good growing old with you. And believe it or not, some people even say that they like the Gamecube version better. But those people are idiots and can’t handle the power of the mote. It’s true. Trust me, I know.

11. Panzer Dragoon Saga:
Sega Saturn

The problem with a list like this is that many of these games, for whatever reason (probably because you didn’t buy them when they originally came out) are near impossible to find now, which is a shame, because Panzer Dragoon Saga really is an excellent RPG. Spanning four disks, this epic quest took everything you liked about the first two Dragoon games—the grandeur, the graphics, the majesty—and gave it a story that was sweeping enough to make it a classic. And the village sections weren’t even boring, either. You’d think an on-rails shooter about flying dragons would actually want you to stay on your winged pet, but many times, you would get off and talk to villagers to advance the storyline. Now that’s an RPG, baby.

10. Streets of Rage 3:
Sega Genesis

People need to lighten up. Sure, deep down, Streets of Rage 3 is just like any other beat-em-up—you walk around, punch some fool named X Axis in the face, eat chicken off the ground, and repeat. But there’s just something about SoR3 that makes it the king of all beat-em-ups, making it even better than its predecessor, SoR2, which some still rank as the best in the trilogy. Whatever. SoR3 had better music, more balanced characters, and a kangaroo. How can you get any better than that? Well, maybe it could be better if it had an extremely homosexual miniboss named Ash that is so stereotypical and over the top that even a very liberal guy like myself gets offended. Wait a minute, that’s actually in the Japanese version. Okay, I stand corrected, SoR3 can’t get any better.

9. Zombies Ate My Neighbors:
Super Nintendo

Okay, so ZATM is not the deepest game in the world (Find victims, save them, go through magic door, next level!). But when it comes to broad one or two player fun with a whole lot of character, you can’t get any better than ZAMN. With great music, cooky levels that never get repetitive, and an arsenal of weapons that you would piss your pants with if that’s all you had against a chainsaw wielding maniac in a hedge maze, ZAMN is definitely the game I want to be playing on my deathbed before the heart monitor goes, “Eeeeeeee.”

8. Rocket Knight Adventures:
Sega Genesis

Most people who had a Genesis had Sonic. Or Vectorman. Or Dynamite Heady. Or all of them! But very few can claim they’ve had Sparkster in their life, a blue armor wearing opossum that’s part marsupial, part rocketeer. The game play is pretty simple, with your sword being able to slash pigs until they fly out of their armor and run away. But the fun factor is way up their and similar to the amount of fun you’d probably get out of any of the early Mario games. Like excitement? Like flying? Like humor? Then you’ll LOVE Rocket Knight Adventures.

7. Super Ghouls and Ghosts:
Super Nintendo

Honestly, if you’re not already dying, then this game might actually kill you! Also, if you just put up a new roof on your house, then look out, because the difficulty factor will go right through it, as this is one of the toughest games known to man. Still, along with its difficulty is a grand quest where every double jump is a held breath followed by a triumphant exhalation once you make your landing. I actually got this game when it originally came out and I’m still trying to master the final level. That takes a lot of guts, kid.

6. Chrono Cross:
Playstation One

People will lament that I didn’t put Chrono Trigger on this list, but so what? If you’ve only played one RPG outside of the Final Fantasy canon, chances are it was Chrono Trigger. But not everybody picked up this dimension leaping sequel, and that’s a real shame, since I actually consider it to be better than the original. Following loosely on the story of Trigger, the story is, in my opinion, much deeper and more exciting, as are all the characters you can amass and use on your travails. Not only that, but the combat system, seemingly simplistic with its color swapping battle ground, is actually remarkably deep when used strategically. Curse you Square Enix for putting Chrono Break on indefinite hold!

5. Marvel Vs. Capcom 2:
Sega Dreamcast

Fighting games are a hard market to push in that once you beat one, there’s usually no reason to keep on playing it, but MvC2 is different. VERY different. If anything, MvC2 is a fighting game that can be played until the end of time with its huge roster, massive combo possibilities, and overall good time. The only thing actually hindering this masterpiece is the God awful music (“I want to take you for a riiiiide!”). With a soundtrack that’s so horrendously bad that it makes dying cats sounds more soothing, MvC2 is quite possibly the worst music I’ve ever heard. And that’s saying a lot. I listen to Wesley Willis.

4. Nights: Into Dreams:
Sega Saturn

Don’t believe what everybody says, Nights is still an excellent game and might actually be better than you remember it. Weaving in and out of the background as if you really were flying through some lucid dream, the game made up for its limited gameplay with exciting levels and a feeling of absolute freedom that wouldn’t be met again until GTA3. Honestly, can the Wii sequel get here any sooner?

3. Shadow of the Colossus:
Playstation 2

There is no other experience like SotC. None. A game full of nothing but bosses? A land entirely desolate besides the distant stomping of some epic (and innocent) giant? A story so heart rending that you actually feel bad for the protagonist, even though he might have doomed all humanity forever? All these and more are part of the unbelievable experience that is SotC. And if my beliefs are correct, years from now, gamers will look back on it like people look at a Picasso painting. They’ll see it as more than just a game—they’ll see it as pure art.

2. Eternal Darkness:

Survival horror is a very difficult genre to put a finger on. On one hand, it can immerse you in a game more than any other with its chills that practically glue you to the seat. But on the other hand, with terrible voice acting, ridiculous storylines, and implausible occurrences, it can also make you feel stranded entirely away from your television—Silent Hill 1 through whatever number they’re on now is a prime example. But Eternal Darkness is different. And I feel very sorry for you if you call yourself a fan of the genre and haven’t played this game yet. Yes, there is a gimmick, and it’s hallucinating, which occurs when you start to see too many monsters. But there’s also a killer storyline, too that totally immerses you in the lives of characters who have been wrestling with evil since almost the beginning of time. I don’t care what anybody says, I’d STILL choose this game over RE4 any day.

1. God of War 2:
Playstation 2

Surprised? Then you haven’t played this game then. While some people consider the first God of War to be the better title, I assume those people are on David Jaffe’s payroll or in his immediate family, because GoW2 is a superior game in every way. The boss battles SCREAM epic, as does the quest, the mythology, and especially the character, Kratos. Making you feel every bit as bad ass as a god killing Spartan as possible, Kratos is the kind of anti-hero that you not only root for, but also wish you could be, too. Deathbed repentance is important, but I think GoW2 might be a little bit more so. It IS the number one game to play before you die, after all.
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