Okay so this thread's giving me a minor existential crisis about what i would even consider a favorite game. In terms of criteria.
So then I took the approach I take to music: My favorite albums are the ones I can listen to a hell of a lot without getting sick of, which garner a strong emotional response from me, and which ALWAYS get the same emotional response.
So, in that sense, which games could I play /the most/ repeatedly, without getting sick of them or without them losing their effect?
And that's going to be a different list than the one I first posted. Because, for instance, as much as I find Unreal and Riven exemplary, they do kind of lose their effect over multiple playthroughs because, and especially with Riven, a lot of the magic is based on not knowing what you're doing. Or even something like Super Metroid (or most metroidvanias, really).
This is the same reason why I'm omitting certain popular RPGs like Chrono Trigger. Because the things I find in CT that make it stand out so much are also the things that, to me, weaken it on future playthroughs -- a lot of the game relies on its surprisal factor. Doing the unexpected. Stepping away from RPG norms. Once you're used to them -- once you're expecting what once was unexpected -- it's not the same.
Also feel like the same might apply to FFIX, to an extent. So while that's my favorite FF game, I don't think it'd be as robust to endless playing as, say, FFV would, since FFV allows for a lot more experimentation (although it loses out on the gestalt factor).
And I should note that it's not, for me, just an issue of replayability -- I barely even finish games the first time anyway. Rather, it's more a case of, can I experiment with new gameplay mechanics or new approaches as I go along? Once I am good at the game -- once I know HOW to win -- is it still going to be fun to pull off that execution?
List will have to be forthcoming as I think this out, but I can definitely say that SMT:N and SimCity 4 would still be on it.
--- edit ---
I think any game I boot up to just to wander around unproductively in is probably going to make this list.
Actual list, in no real order.
1. Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne - This game changed how I thought about traditional JRPGs. Genuinely hard to the point where mastery of the system becomes this joyous, enlightening moment. Tons of room to experiment. A sense of creativity in coming up with your demon/main character/party builds. A branching story. A battle system that, in retrospect, is so stupidly simple that it hits a rare level of elegance and becomes brilliant and makes you wonder why nobody ever thought of it before. Creative dungeons, and a general world sense that makes the environment a joy to walk through, even when it's trying to murder you.
2. Earthbound - This is one of those games that, for me, it's worth it just to walk through. I think the developers knew this, too, given how the ending works.
3. Ultima 7 -
4. SimCity 4 - The only limit to this game is your own creativity. Yeah, the game requires a bit more micromanagement, but the tradeoff is the level of customization -- control -- you have in building your city. You can grow some really unique character. You can always experiment with new street layouts. And the atmosphere is probably the best out of the entire series. Stupid terrain glitches aside, it's... easy to imagine living in your creations.
Tales of Symphonia