My Favorite Games of the Decade Say a Whole Lot About Me
While the past ten years in gaming have been some of the best yet, here are my 10 personal favorite games of the last decade.
As the last decade finally came to a close, I believe many of us have been taking the time to ponder not only our favorite games of the 2010s, but what games we feel will stand out the most when people look at artistic and technical achievement in regards to the era’s section of interactive media. That includes DualShockers as well, and you can check out the official staff list here from late last year.
I, however, wanted to share with our readers my own personal, more biased list of titles that impacted me the most, especially considering I surmised (erroneously) that gaming would start to decline in accordance with my own personal tastes. Considering I’ve never been much of a fan of big-name annually released Western or esports games, I am happy to say that there is still a niche for those of us who grew up playing fantasy-themed RPG & action titles. And thankfully, it’s quite possibly the best that it’s ever been.
That being said, this was actually a rather difficult list to make, and there are so many great pieces of work that won’t be on here; but I allowed myself to indulge my thoughts and share with you the games that I feel are definitely worth a nod of appreciation or a playthrough, if you have not done so yourself already.
So without further ado, here are my personally impactful and on-brand games of the decade.
Honorable Mention: The Last Story
I personally find myself considerably stunned that more people, namely Final Fantasy and Legend of Zelda fans, have not played this title (released in August 2012) for the Nintendo Wii. Boasting a unique action-RPG style of play that keeps the game fast-paced with a character-driven narrative in a beautifully-developed world, I would easily call The Last Story a masterpiece.
Developed by Mistwalker Studio and headed by Hironobu Sakaguchi (yes, the man who gave us the golden age of Final Fantasy games), The Last Story combines the best of traditional RPG elements with a modernized, fresh twist that keeps the game from feeling grindy and slow. My Legend of Zelda comparison stems from the trifecta of characters in the game—Zael, Callista and the primary antagonist, Zangurak–that are thematically similar to Link, Zelda and Ganondorf. Brought overseas to the states, along with Xenoblade Chronicles and Pandora’s Tower via Operation Rainfall. I can’t help but feel the latter and The Last Story was overshadowed by Xenoblade Chronicles. Xenoblade is an absolutely fantastic game, I might add, but The Last Story is subjectively better depending on what you’re looking for in an RPG. The art, the writing, and a smaller cast of well-written characters worked extremely well in tandem with the game’s refreshing combat system. One can certainly hope we’ll see a port to the Switch for this title—I know I’d certainly be on board with it.
10. Bravely Default
In an era where it’s not uncommon to hear older Final Fantasy fans bemoan, “I just can’t get into these newer Final Fantasies… I wish they’d return to the old turn-based, job system formula…” RPG fans will be happy to know that these games are still alive and well on the 3DS—they’re just not called Final Fantasy anymore. Bravely Default is exactly that– a turn-based traditional RPG featuring all of your favorite jobs from its predecessors with an impressive narrative and a small, close-knit cast, akin to Final Fantasy V.
The story has an extremely impressive twist—one of which most of us did not even see coming. Despite the light-hearted introduction and design aesthetics, the game is surprisingly dark and grim. Packed with multiple endings, a plethora of side quests, and a wonderfully scripted supporting cast as well, Bravely Default is an absolute win for both new and old RPG fans alike. The game has a direct sequel, Bravely Second: End Layer, and a third installment of the series has just been announced for the Switch (even though it’s called Bravely Default 2). Special shout out to to this game for using the front-facing camera on the 3DS at a very intriguing time—I’ve always wanted to look at my tired, puffy face floating in the clouds during an intense boss fight!
9. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
It was 2015. I was criminally addicted to playing Bloodborne and could not help but think back to one of my favorite games ever while I was enjoying it so much—Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. My love of the game held true through many iterations conceptualized by visionary designer Koji Igarashi. I enjoyed every subsequent Metroidvania style game released since then—Order of Ecclesia, Portrait of Ruin, and all the rest. What happened to the Konami I loved so much? Would I ever get to play a quality Metroidvania style game again?
That’s when it happened. Koji Igarashi announced his Kickstarter for a new game that he envisioned entitled Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, a Castlevania-inspired 2D, side-scrolling action-adventure game with gothic-fantasy motifs and art. I immediately backed the game (the only Kickstarter game I’ve backed to date, I might add) at a higher tier, and began my four-year-long wait until the game was finally released in 2019.
Was it worth the wait? Absolutely. Anyone who loves the aforementioned games in this section will love Bloodstained too, complete with its 8-bit companion title Curse of the Moon. The story, combat and art work incredibly well together, and the experience was thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. With further quality of life updates and DLC on the horizon, Koji Igarashi did not disappoint.
8. Borderlands 2
A game I never expected to like as much as I did—typically, I am not a fan of FPS games, or even loot and shoot games. I picked it up to play with my b/f and specific friends, and everything changed. Despite having some interest in the original game, it didn’t seem to have enough depth or personal appeal to pull me in. Somehow, Borderlands 2 managed, feeling like the absolute apex of the series at this point in time. With an expanded supporting cast, hilarious writing, RPG elements and characters whose combat style and design I absolutely loved (Maya!), I found myself strangely engrossed in this game.
Customizing your skill tree and the over-the-top nature of the weapons and vehicles while exploring Pandora with your friends became a go-to post-work activity for me for years after the game came out. The lore surrounding Sirens, and a compelling new villain, really amped up the potential the series had to its fullest, something the original Borderlands (while great in its own right) just didn’t manage quite yet. The expansions were a further testament to this—Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep was almost like playing a new game entirely, and felt the way a buyable DLC should feel. The focus on cooperative gameplay as opposed to PvP, which so many shooters are focused on, really set the game apart for me, and solidified Borderlands 2 as one of my favorite titles from the PlayStation 3 era.
7. Valkyria Chronicles 4
With the launch of the original Valkyria Chronicles in 2008, I was absolutely enamored with this new franchise, and extremely excited to see what the future held for it. The game combined beautifully water-colored cel-shaded art design, with intuitive, fast-paced SRPG combat where real time combat matters just as much as the choices you make each turn, and a compelling story about the horrors of war, racism, and the dangers of imperialism. Despite being very well-received, the game didn’t perform to the level it should have (sales-wise) due to a shift in popularity to more realistic art styles.
After a disappointing sequel on the PSP, and a third installment never officially being released in the West, it seemed the Valkyria series was dead in the water. Fortunately, despite a poorly reviewed spin-off even beyond that, the series made its comeback in 2018—with its best installment yet. Valkyria Chronicles 4 was released and returned to its original roots with a story equally–if not more so–compelling than the original, a new class, and more polished, complex combat to enjoy. Upon completion of the game, I daresay it even surpassed the original, with the plot of the story covering going even further to explore the marring of human nature in times of war. I would also HIGHLY recommend this game to all Fire Emblem fans out there—you will greatly enjoy this and the original title.
6. Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin
To anyone who may know me and is reading this, it was only a matter of time before I started cramming Soulsborne games down your throat, and I regret nothing—not even my inclusion of Dark Souls II on this list. Despite being extremely well-reviewed, the community largely considers Dark Souls II a step down from its predecessor. I however feel this is a matter of taste, and feel that some aspects of Dark Souls II might even surpass Dark Souls itself.
Because of the adjustments to the combat system, moving away from latency-timed back-stabs to a more balanced focus, and a new way to use weapons via power stancing, I found myself playing online content far more extensively than I ever did in the original Dark Souls. In addition to this, I feel some of the visual aesthetics and character designs unique to this entry are some of the most memorable across the whole series. The Emerald Herald (voiced by talented Oscar nominee Ruth Negga) is my absolute favorite Firekeeper, along with boss fights such as the Looking Glass Knight and the Burnt Ivory King, are some noteworthy moments that help Dark Souls II stand up to other games in the franchise.
With three full expansions, Dark Souls II is quite possibly the longest entry in the series as well. This also marks the first time in the series that director Hidetaka Miyazaki stepped away as director, and left others in charge; Yui Tanimura and Tomhiro Shibuya. Being only the third game in the series (including Demon’s Souls), the game felt very experimental in quite a few ways—but still an incredible entry all the same. The focus of the experience was being a combination of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, and Dark Souls II is a very worthy one at that.
5. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The Legend of Zelda series is one of the most hotly debated franchises as to which entry is the best in the series—and for good reason. Each game is very distinct in its own way, artistically and exploration-wise, boasting their own technical achievements unique to all of them. That’s why Breath of the Wild was such a pleasant surprise for me, as I feel it correctly hits every note the series is famous for.
Ask any Zelda fan what their top three titles in the series are and you will likely always get a different combination of games. While some have criticized the lack of distinct dungeons from previous entries, this was not a detractor for me personally, and the game quickly became my favorite entry in the series yet. Eclipsing my previous favorite, Ocarina of Time, followed closely by Wind Waker, Breath of the Wild’s open world felt like something the series was always meant to do.
Drawing inspiration from the original Legend of Zelda in this regard, the sense of exploration it provides the player with, including 120 shrines each with their own unique challenge inside, felt like a literal breath of fresh air for the series. The story had a charming narrative with a wonderful supporting cast that felt better integrated into the over-arching goal of the game’s primary cast than ever before. Breath of the Wild will be a deeply tough act to follow for future Zelda titles, which is likely way the next entry in the series is a direct sequel.
4. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Fire Emblem had been a series I’ve always wanted to get into, stemming from Marth and Roy’s inclusion in Super Smash Bros. Melee. Being a huge fan of SRPGs, I had no issues with the noted difficulty that the games have been known for. However, the inception of immediate permanent-death was rather off-putting to me, due to the time investment it takes to build a character, and how most players simply reset when this occurs.
Upon the release of Fire Emblem: Awakening, I finally ventured into the series, and really adored this installment—only to discover that many traditional Fire Emblem fans found the game’s updated art style and modernized tenets to be unlike what the series was known for. This continued with the release of Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest and Birthright as well. It wasn’t until last year, 2019, that Fire Emblem would finally unite fans of the older and newer games with the release of Three Houses.
Three Houses quickly became the best-selling game in the series ever, composing the best elements of its many predecessors with its own distinct content. The story opens with a Harry Potter-like plot where your character, Byleth, will choose one of the three houses to instruct—and concludes like Game of Thrones, with an all-out battle with radically different outcomes depending on which house you’ve sided with. The character development is superb, displaying a great deal of personal growth and emotion for each member of the game’s enormous cast. With even larger scale battles than its predecessors and wildly unique ways that the narrative can play out, Three Houses is an absolute achievement for Nintendo in terms of storytelling.
3. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn
With an absolute disastrous launch in 2010, going back to that year, who would have guessed Final Fantasy XIV would widely be considered the best MMORPG on the market today. In terms of gameplay and story, it’s become worthy of the Final Fantasy name in its own right, especially with the release of its latest expansion Shadowbringers. With a highly supportive development team, FFXIV feels like not only a homage to the series’ long, long history, but its own distinct entry with a stronger narrative, with each reoccurring expansion building its own unique story and world.
I have some history playing MMORPGs, but have subsequently quit most of the prior ones I’ve played (including Final Fantasy XI) due to the time demands required to “keep up” in them. FFXIV excels in this regard as the content structure allows for shorter period play quite nicely, with a broad range of activities for hardcore players, casual ones, and everything in between. Square Enix has even begun to draw on their catalogue of franchises to flesh out the game even further, such as collaborating with the NieR: Automata team for a new raid tier. Reaching 18 million accounts as of holiday 2019, Final Fantasy XIV in its current form is the best and most approachable that the game has ever been, culminating in a full 180° from its troubled launch at the start of the decade.
2. Dark Souls
What more is there to say about Dark Souls, which has easily become the most impactful game of the decade in shaping this form of entertainment as a whole? While it was most people’s introduction to the series, this was not the case for me. I originally played Demon’s Souls (which launched stateside on my birthday in 2009) and immediately fell in love. Between the simple, easy to learn yet difficult to master combat and dark medieval fantasy setting, this entry was something I had been looking for in a game for a long time. By the time Dark Souls released, I was already a fan of the series—but would the latest title live up to my enjoyment of Demon’s Souls? It more than did, and the rest of the world caught on to the hype.
One of the things that sets Dark Souls apart from its predecessor is how the game finally found its brand. While I was absolutely enamored with Demon’s Souls, I felt that the character and boss designs were not quite as memorable as they are in Dark Souls. The areas are a bit less distinct, and it was apparent that the creative team’s imaginations took off in terms of lore crafting and world developing. With incredibly memorable boss fight designs like Ornstein & Smough or Crossbreed Priscilla, and the most notoriously engrossing (and frustrating) level in any game this generation–Anor Londo–it’s easy to see how FromSoftware aggressively carved out their own niche. Of course, its success also led to many subsequent games emulating their ideas. The punishing difficulty, character building, and bread crumb trail style of exploration has been permeating in more and more games ever since. But what game could possibly top Dark Souls for the game of the decade, in my (not so) humble opinion?
Bloodborne seemed to refine the formula that FromSoftware created even further; the sluggishness and slow down of Dark Souls were finally improved in this installment. Running on an updated graphics engine more suited to the PlayStation 4 (which would be carried over to Dark Souls III), with even more stylized character and level designs, Bloodborne is a masterpiece that I continuously find myself going back to play. Delving more into eldritch horror than its predecessors, Bloodborne boasts FromSoftware’s most ambitious work to date. The game, along with its sole DLC The Old Hunters, feels extremely polished and complete, yet will leave you yearning for more—something many content creators are delivering on through consistent streams of cut content.
Bloodborne plays off of Lovecraftian horror motifs, feeling darker and faster-paced than its sister series. Every aspect of this game harmonized beautifully, with incredible replay value due to the randomized Chalice Dungeon system contained within the hub world, “The Hunter’s Dream.” Despite being a spin-off to Dark Souls’ very tough act to follow, Bloodborne has surpassed it in its own right—spawning its own variety of media including a board game, card game, and graphic novels amongst other things. When searching my brain for what game will define this decade, I could think of nothing else superior—boasting technical and artistic achievements with an elegant, rewarding game-play design that will stay fresh for years to come.