31 Games I Loved from the Last Decade

I see lots of people on Twitter posting their top ten games of the last decade, so I wanted to do something here, where I have more room to say a little something about each game. So I made a list of games I loved from the last ten years, then when I thought about having to whittle them down to ten and order them, I groaned. Then I wondered why I had to do that. This is not a print source, where I’d have limited space, nor do I represent an online outlet where my ordering of them matters much. So, you know what? I’m just going to write about all of them. How do you like that? What’s that? You’re not evening reading this long, boring blog? Well then how did you just read that sentence? Got ya. Check and mate.

I’ve written about several of these games already, so I will try and be brief, but I love revisiting the warm and fuzzy memories associated with some of my favorite games. I’ll probably post an ordered top ten list on Twitter, but the list below is not in any particular order.

Persona 5 (PS4, 2017)

I have written pretty extensively about my love for Persona 5, but it’s hard to overstate my adoration of so many facets of it. I love the art, I love the characters, I love the world, I love the music, I love the combat… I just love it. I now have a tattoo of Ann, and I hope to get more characters in the future. I would love to get a whole back piece based on characters from Persona 3, 4, and 5, but that’s a big decision and a lot of money, so I doubt it’ll be any time soon. Anyway, I am very excited to play through the game a fourth time when Persona 5 Royal comes out in just a few short months. I’m sure I’ll have even more to say then, so clear your calendar of all important and unimportant plans so that you can read it.

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Horizon Zero Dawn (PS4, 2017)

I have yet to replay Horizon Zero Dawn, but I think about it often. Aside from being one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played, it has some of the most satisfying combat as well. It’s perfectly balanced between complex/deep and straightforward/accessible. Every time I’d enter a new area and see a new type of robo-dino, I’d feel nervous about engaging them, certain I’d get my ass kicked. And I did, a few times. But I quickly learned to sneak carefully, observing the enemy’s movement, analyzing its armor and weak points, then using the right tools to strike at the right moment. It was almost always thrilling. A sequel is a given, and I assume they’re developing it for the upcoming PS5, so I can only imagine how gorgeous it’s going to be.

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Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (Switch, 2017)

I have been such a huge fan of the Mario Kart series since its debut on the SNES, and Mario Kart 64 was one of my favorite games of all time for years. Mario Kart 64 doesn’t age very well, sadly, but Mario Kart 8 plays like my memory of 64 likes to pretend that the older games do. It’s smooth, precise, and the balance between chance and skill is *chef’s kiss*. And with four different Princess Peach’s, I’ve never had a problem getting my favorite racer. It’s also still exciting to play the Hyrule level, and I very much hope that the next iteration of the series takes a cue from the Smash Bros. games and expands the roster to other first party Nintendo games and, eventually, maybe even third party games.

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Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age (PS4, 2018)

Dragon Quest VIII has more warm fuzzies in my memory than XI, but I think XI is the better game. It has much of the same charm and style of previous entries I’ve played, and I grew to adore the cast in this installment, even more than I loved the ragtag group in VIII. DQ XI takes what I love about classic JRPGs and continues to smooth the rough edges, like grinding, and further perfects the formula. I got the platinum trophy for the game on PS4 because I just didn’t want to stop playing, and I loved every second of it. I recently got the definitive edition for the Switch and though I probably won’t get to play it anytime soon, I’m excited to experience that world and those characters again.

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Doki Doki Literature Club! (PC, 2017)

As I said in my blog on this game, I don’t want to give anything away by saying too much, but this game surprised me and plays on established genre tropes in a way that is so exciting and refreshing. It’s a free game on Steam, so I always want to tell people to go and play it, but it’s tricky because I don’t want to say why. Either way, I really loved my time with it, and I’m hopeful for an expansion on that universe sometime in the future.

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Gone Home (PC, 2013)

Every time I revisit Gone Home, I’m struck by how great it is. I don’t know how I seem to forget. I think it’s because it is such a simple, straightforward experience, but there is so much meaning packed into its narrative and world building that it’s easy to be fooled into thinking it’s a pretty standard ‘walking sim.’ It’s not, though, and I love both its story and the way that it’s told. The way it builds atmosphere and tension through sound, music (or lack of), and snippets of monologues, is among the best in narrative games, I think. And I just really like exploring big, empty houses.

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Emily is Away Too (PC, 2017)

So much of my affection for this game is tied to the nostalgia that its AOL Instant Messenger interface and gameplay evoke, but I also think there is a very obvious attention to detail and affection for game making that went into it, and it shows. The first game, Emily is Away, was also great, but the sequel really struck my emotions in a powerful way. Its developer, Kyle Seeley, is working on a new entry, Emily is Away ❤, based on early Facebook interface, and if his tweets are any indication, the release isn’t too far away. I’m super hyped.

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The Witcher III: Wild Hunt (PS4, 2015)

I was late to the Witcher party, so to speak, so after having heard so much about it before even starting the game, I don’t feel the same kind of personal connection to this game as I do with other games on this list. Even still, I loved not only the core game, but the DLC as well. I am usually disappointed by DLC, but The Witcher III has maybe the absolute best DLC I’ve ever played. The world that CD Projekt RED built is so grim and beautiful and exhilarating to explore, and the cast is captivating. I just finished watching the new Netflix show, which is great, so I have the itch to play it again.

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Tomb Raider (Xbox 360, 2013)

I have to admit, I didn’t love the original PS1 Tomb Raider games. I liked the idea of Lara Croft more than I did the clunky platforming and chunky graphics. So I was pleasantly blown away by how great the 2013 reboot of the franchise was. Lara Croft was a richer, more nuanced character, tough and strong but also vulnerable and human. Plus the game is gorgeous, the exploration is fun, and I very much enjoyed the stealth and limited combat. I could have used more actual tomb raiding, but for an introductory tale I completely understood why they held back on that aspect of the game. I loved each of the sequels less and less, but I have high hopes that the next entry will build on the new formula in a meaningful way.

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Source: https://www.justpushstart.com/2014/03/tomb-raider-reboot-reached-six-million-sold/

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (PS4, 2013)

I got this as a free game with my PS4 at launch (I think it was a buy three games and get one free deal?), and my expectations were bracketed by the fact that this was a last-gen game that was ported to the next-gen systems. Despite that, I was immediately blown away by the beauty with which the Caribbean seas and tropical locales were rendered, and I fell deeply in love with the experience of sailing the seas with my own ship and crew, singing shanties, diving for treasure, and demolishing enemy ships. It was the kind of game I would play for hours only to lay in bed thinking about what I would do the next time I played. I have a feeling the mechanics and graphics will only stand the test of time for so long, so revisiting it after playing the newer entries will probably be at least slightly disappointing, but nothing can erase the magical memories of the weeks I originally spent with it.

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Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (PS4, 2018)

I loved Black Flag so much that I went back and started playing the original games, and I’ve played all but a couple of the mainline entries by this point. Having said that, I feel pretty comfortable saying that Odyssey is probably the best in the series. Objective assessment aside, I subjectively loved it as well. I didn’t have the same kind of magical tingly feeling that I did with my time playing Black Flag, but it was pretty close. The game is huge, beautiful, and I liked Kassandra, the main character, more than I did probably any other AC protagonist (though I still have a soft spot for Evie).

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Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown (PS4, 2019)

This is another game that tapped into my nostalgia pretty hardcore, because it is in many ways a throwback to Ace Combat 04, which is one my favorite games of all time, and one that I spent many, many hours playing back in the day. The return to form made it impossible for me to not love it, even if there are a couple of things that show how small of a budget this game had. It received strong reviews, so I’m hoping that sales were good as well and Namco decides to invest a little more heavily in a next-gen sequel that looks as mind-blowingly amazing as AC04 did when it came out on the PS2.

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Resident Evil 2 (PS4, 2019)

The original Resident Evil 2 was also one of my favorite games of all time, so I was very nervous but excited about this remake. I was excited because even if it was a one-to-one remake with better graphics, I would have been happy. But nervous because what if they tried to change things or made it action-heavy like the more recent entries in the series? Well they did make some changes, but for the better. They were subtle but made the game feel very fresh, even in 2019. The RE Engine is amazing, and it allowed the devs to make this a game with some of the most incredible lighting and textures, and it really brought the streets of Raccoon City alive. The gameplay, voice acting, story, and (of course) Mr. X were all also wonderful, so it’s no surprise that the upcoming Resident Evil 3 remake is at the top of my most anticipated list for 2020.

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Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Switch, 2019)

This was my first Fire Emblem game, and I was worried that the strategy elements might be too hard or overwhelming for me, given that I don’t play many games like it. I had nothing to fear, though, because the combat was fairly easy, which allowed me to focus more on some of the social and academic systems, which I really liked. And how could I not love such a vast and varied cast of characters? I like so many of them, but Edelgard and mah girl Petra were my favorites. It’s a very long game but I played through it twice just to see two different story paths, and I didn’t regret a second of the time it took to do so. Do I wish that the game didn’t look like a glossy 3DS port? Yes, of course. But that just makes me even more excited for the next installment, which I’m sure will be developed natively for the Switch.

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Grand Theft Auto V (Xbox 360, 2013)

I still play Grand Theft Auto Online, so I was kind of shocked remembering that this game came out in 2013. 2013! And it still looks great (the PS4 port does, anyway). Say what you will about the story and characters and such, but Rockstar, like Ubisoft, is phenomenal at creating open worlds that feel organic and dynamic, so most of my favorite times in San Andreas happen when I’m just messing around, launching my Batmobile off of rooftops, or pushing around random cars in bulldozers with friends, or screeching to a stop next to a car illegally parked in a handicap spot so that we can destroy it with bats or gasoline. As long as Rockstar keeps spending time creating intricate, organic worlds, I’ll keep coming back.

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Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 Scarlet (PS4, 2019)

Okay, yes, this is a game about a bunch of scantily clad fighting ladies with unrealistic proportions playing volleyball and collecting bikinis, but I won’t deny that I had a ton of fun playing it. The volleyball in particular was very satisfying, and given that I like collecting things in games that I enjoy, I found myself trying to collect every bikini for every player. And I won’t sit here and make any excuses for liking a game with half-naked women in it, but I will say that I ended up really liking Momiji and do you think she likes me? Should I ask her out? Do you think I should try and be friends with her friends first? Okay well somehow I ended up being creepy about it anyway.

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Red Dead Redemption 2 (PS4, 2018)

Much of what I said for Grand Theft Auto V holds true here. I played and liked the single player story, but most of what I really loved about this game was the open world and my ability to interact with it in a multitude of ways. Doing a mission where my posse robs a bank and escapes the law is fun, but the memories that will stick with me are being out in the wilderness, cooking meat (from a wolf that attacked me) over a fire, feeding my horse some peppermint after a long ride through a dusty canyon, stumbling into an expansive cave system that seems too large to even exist… things like that. And I just started playing Red Dead Online with a friend, and so now it’s fun to share some of that same experiences with a friend, and the griefing is far less prevalent than I’d expected. So I see quite a bit more of this game in my near future.

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Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Switch, 2018)

Super Smash Bros. Melee was one of the finest, most well balanced fighting games in history, and I think the fact that it has had such a long life in the competitive circuit attests to that. But the balance that I mean, and the balance that makes me love the game, is not so much the technical, professional kind, but the kind that allows for almost anyone to pick the game up and play it, with its simple two button design. It’s so simple and allows for all kinds of very easy moves, even if you don’t commit to learning a bunch of combos, but it has the ability to be deep and lets you learn combos and defensive moves and more, if you want to. And Smash Bros. Ultimate is the, well, ultimate version of the game. It restores much of the balance that was a bit lost in the last version, and it has such an incredible roster of characters, levels, and music, from such an impressive array of games and companies. I am not very good at the game, probably, but I sure played the hell out of the single player, and I would love to play it casually with friends at some point.

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Stardew Valley (Switch, 2017)

Oh, man. My adoration of Stardew Valley seems to grow more and more intense over time. I wasn’t even all that interested in it at first, because I thought it might be too stressful having to get enough work done before the end of the day or season. But one of the lovely things about this game is that you get what you give. You certainly can put in a lot of work and try and accomplish things rapidly, or you can take your time and just spend your time having fun. The game doesn’t really punish you much, so I ended up pushing myself to get a lot done, but feeling very rewarded instead of pressured. I also love the retro graphics, the soundtrack is amazing, the characters and their backstories are memorable, and the little nods to Chrono Trigger are cherries on top of a fun, delicious sundae.

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Dragon Age Inquisition (PS4, 2014)

So Dragon Age: Origins gave me more warm feelies than Inquisition, but I still thought the latter had much of what make Bioware games so magical and memorable for me. The sense of building a character much like me, gaining power to stand against impossible odds, developing relationships along the way, and finding someone to romance. The romance aspect is a big part for me, though, and I have to say that I was slightly disappointed in my options in this entry. Morrigan was absolutely my top choice in Origins, so the fact that I couldn’t romance her here was sad, and my second choice, Sera, is a lesbian so she had no interest in me. I ended up with Cassandra, who was okay, but she’s no wild, wicked, dragon-blooded witch, I’ll tell you that.

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Fallout 4 (PS4, 2015)

I feel like a broken record, but Fallout 3 was really the game in this series that won me over and maintains a special place in my heart, but I also loved my time with Fallout 4. Part of what I loved about the third game was the sense of isolation and lonely adventuring in the vast, open, broken landscape, so when I realized that the fourth game had a companion system I was a little wary about how that might affect my experience of wandering the Wasteland. As luck would have it, however, I had just seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens and was completely smitten with Rey and BB-8, so having Curie (a similarly spherical, robo companion) follow me around was actually very nice and made me feel like Rey. And the fact that Curie was charming and smart and funny made it that much more interesting, and then helping her to become human and romancing her was the ultimate payoff. Am I saying that I would turn BB-8 into a human and be his boyfriend? No, you monster, what is wrong with you? He’s a sweet little bb.

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Final Fantasy XV (PS4, 2016)

Man. Final Fantasy XV did not sound all that attractive to me on paper. So I’m a dude taking a road trip with three other dudes? And this is a Final Fantasy game? A series which has had some amazing female party members that I still love? And they won’t be in my party. Okay. Got it. Sounds terrible. But it wasn’t! It was pretty great, actually. I actually ended up really digging the dynamic of the four guys, and although I would have preferred she be a permanent party member, I really liked Aranea and enjoyed having her as a temporary party member. The world was so beautiful, too, and I actually found the combat to be one of the most enjoyable in the series. The story itself was a little confusing at times, but the ending is pure melancholic beauty.

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Injustice 2 (PS4, 2017)

Seeing as how I don’t play fighting games with friends, because I am a friendless loser (hahaha, just kidding… unless…) the only way for a fighting game to make it onto my list is to have great single player content. And both Injustice games have excellent single player content, with great stories, lots of solid fights, and in the case of the sequel, tons of unlockable gear and customizable equipment. I had way more fun than I thought I would unlocking new costumes and accessories, and the graphics and effects are so good. I like just collecting cool costumes and, like, looking at my characters. As a fan of the DC universe and simple, straightforward fighting games, I had lots of fun times with this game.

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Mass Effect 2 (Xbox 360, 2010)

When BioWare announced that they were not working on a new Knights of the Old Republic game, and instead were working on a new, original sci-fi RPG, I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed. I loved KotOR and their follow-up, Jade Empire, and though it was developed by Obsidian I also really loved KotOR II: The Sith Lords. ”Why create a new universe and characters when you have the Star Wars brand?” I wondered. But I ended up adoring the original Mass Effect, and its sequel was even better. The storyline of becoming the first human Spectre, the terrifying Reapers (and the sound they make), commanding your own ship and crew, finally getting a chance to romance Tali, moral decisions carrying over from the first game… it was all so great, and if they release the long-rumored HD remastered trilogy set, I will almost certainly play through the saga again someday.

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Source: https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2011/01/mass-effect-2-review-ps3.html

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (PS4, 2015)

Once again I feel like I’m seeing a trend in some of my thoughts on these games. Several of them, this one included, begin with some variation of “I didn’t think I was going to like it, but I did.” I loved the previous Metal Gear Solid games, but the concept of an ‘open world’ entry in the series was very concerning. And while the narrative experience in MGS V didn’t have the same impact as previous entries in the series, probably because of my many sidetracks and wanderings, I ended up really fucking hooked to the gameplay loop. Part of it was, of course, the old “here’s a base to fix up” move. I love that shit, so I found myself doing mission after mission to collect money, personnel, and equipment for my base. And you get D-Dog to come home to? I also found Fultoning things and people out of places a ton of fun, I came to appreciate the 80s songs I could play on my Walkman, and despite the problems inherent in her depiction, I really liked Quiet. I walked away from MGS V shocked both by how different it was than previous MGS games, and how much I liked it.

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Rock Band 3 (Xbox 360, 2010)

Frickin’ Rock Band, am I right? I still get angry when I think about how Activision flooded the market when they got the Guitar Hero IP, leading to oversaturation and players and developers (mostly) abandoning music rhythm games. The first two Guitar Hero games, along with the Rock Band series, provided an experience like few others. You played with plastic instruments, sure, but they gave you a real, tactile sensation of rocking out to so many awesome songs, familiar and not. They eventually let you create your own character and band, and embark on a tour, features I was very excited to see develop in later installments… that never came. Rock Band 4 was solid, but Harmonix was open about the very limited budget the game had, which probably explained the shallow single player experience. So Rock Band 3 was, for me, the pinnacle of the series. Whether I just wanted to chill and play guitar on random songs or get out some aggressive energy on drums, I was set. And don’t get me started on playing with friends. One person on guitar, one on bass, one drumming, and one singing? Such a magical experience. Even writing this is making me want to pick up the ol’ plastic axe once again.

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Source: https://rockbandaide.com/5675/rock-band-3-new-features-explained/

Batman: Arkham City (Xbox 360, 2011)

I am a huge Batman fan, and this game is a huge love letter to huge Batman fans. The first game to successfully pair a super hero with an open world, it really captured what many of us imagined the Batman experience to be: being overwhelmed with crimes occurring in multiple places, solving mysteries with a keen eye and a few gadgets, dropping down from the shadows to thrash a group of thugs and zipping out again, and coming face to face (or face to Two-Face) with members of the infamous Rogues’ Gallery. And Solomon Grundy! The story is such an excellent Batman tale, too, subverting expectations and shocking us in the best ways. Arkham Knight may be superior in some ways, but Arkham City holds a special place in my heart.

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Jurassic World Evolution (PS4, 2018)

I haven’t played very many sim or tycoon games, but I love Jurassic Park a ton, and the screenshots for this game looked like the closest approximation of the Jurassic Park experience that I’ve seen over the years. I was still very hesitant going into it, and I didn’t buy it right away. Would it stress me out? All of the building and managing? I just wanted to hatch and take care of some dinosaurs, I didn’t want to worry about customers or money or any of that. But then I read that you could drive a gas powered jeep around your parks, and you could fly a helicopter around to take photos or tranquilize/medicate your dinosaurs. That pushed me over the edge and I bought the game, still uncertain about how long I’d be able to stand the pressure of having to make a park that performed well and didn’t just house rad fucking miracles of modern science. To my great surprise, I actually enjoyed the management aspect of the game, even in intense situations, like when a predator broke free from its pen, a pen of herbivores got sick, and a huge storm hit my island, breaking fences and taking out power, all at the same time. It was stressful handling it, yes, but it was so rewarding when everything settled down and I had control of the park once again. They recently released DLC that allows you to recreate the original Jurassic Park on Isla Nublar, so I might very well be returning to the game again soon, and I’m excited.

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Until Dawn (PS4, 2014)

I grew up with horror films, and I still love the genre. Until Dawn is 100% a playable horror film. Even in its sometimes cheesy lines and stilted acting, it reminded me of so many classic slashers and scary movies set in cabins in creepy woods. It pays homage to lots of specific horror movies and tropes, and the author of the narrative brings in elements of his own horror movie, Wendigo, to add an element of surprise to the formula. The game is also gorgeous, rendering its human characters among the best in all of gaming. I also grew fond of the cast, and how many games have Academy Award winners’ (Rami Malek) likenesses in them? Though some of the decisions and consequences were, shall we say, suspect, I enjoyed playing the game multiple times to try different paths and save or kill different characters. I haven’t loved the follow-ups from the studio, but my affection for this game has me hoping they’ll produce similar caliber experiences in the future.

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch, 2017)

I sometimes hesitate to call myself a Legend of Zelda fan, because there are quite a few more Zelda games that I haven’t played than those that I have. But the original Zelda games for the NES, and Ocarina of Time were formative parts of my gaming history, and, uh, I have a fairly large tattoo of Princess Zelda on my arm. And it’s specifically the Zelda from Breath of the Wild, because she is strong, smart, sassy, and my favorite version of her in all of the games I’ve played – and the ill-fated animated series (though she was pretty cool in that, too). Her aside, it took me a while to appreciate this version of Hyrule, but the more I uncovered bits of story and history, the more I saw a seemingly large, empty world as a living tomb, a once great kingdom now overgrown with trees and moss, ghosts of the past haunting its ruins and shadows. Add to this a simple but classic Zelda story, and eventually I found myself in love with the world, the game, and my adventures within them.

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Persona 4 Golden (PS Vita, 2012)

Maybe it’s fitting that we begin and end with a Persona game, because I’ve played three of them in the last two years (and the dance game associated with each) and I have fallen in love with the series because of them. So it’s safe to say it’s impossible for me to look back at this decade of games and deny how much they’ve defined my experience as a lover of games. In terms of gameplay mechanics, combat, and interface, Persona 4 Golden and Persona 5 are very similar, but one of the things that makes each Persona game special is its characters, and as with 5, I grew to greatly admire my friends and party members in Golden. Chie and her love of kung fu, Yukiko’s traditional Japanese grace and contemporary attitude, Kanji’s closeted queerness, Rise’s adorableness, and more. If every Persona game going forward has the same gameplay but with new locations and characters, I would be totally happy. The ability to play a character in long, elaborate, multifaceted drama with a cast of colorful characters will never get old.

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My Year in Gaming: 2016

I am on winter break for the next few weeks, so I’m determined to squeeze a few blogs out before the madness that is spring semester consumes me once again. I’m starting with the obvious: a look back at my experiences with video games in 2016. This outgoing year has been pretty terrible for me, in several ways, but there have been some pretty great games that have provided little shining pockets of joy in the otherwise dismal abyss.

Fallout 4

Yeah, I started playing it in 2015, but I played it into 2016, when I finished it. I can understand why some people were underwhelmed by Fallout 4. Given that Fallout 3 was my first experience with the series, and its vast, dingy, irradiated world snared and enthralled me in a way no other had, its follow-up couldn’t possibly provide the same sense of excitement and wonder that comes with a newly discovered universe.

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Having said that, it was a really great game and I had a lot of fun with it. The narrative itself was interesting enough, and I did enjoy building relationships and outposts, but wandering the Wasteland provided the most enjoyable memories for me (as it did in Fallout 3). I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens while I was playing, so I couldn’t help but feel a bit Rey-like as I roamed around with Curie, my spherical robot companion, scavenging from old machines and kicking ass. Curie’s love of science, thirst for knowledge, and cute accent made her an obvious choice for a romantic partner, so I was happy that they included the side quest where you can transfer her mind into a human body. I don’t think Rey would do that with BB-8, but I won’t speak for her.

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I also spent a lot of time building my mansion on that isolated, enemy-free island. The building system isn’t perfect, but it was fun to mess around with, and near the end of the game I was more than happy to spend another handful of hours collecting materials for my ultimate base of operations. I had a game room, a dining room, a home theater, and a deck with a bar, a jukebox, and lawn chairs surrounded by palms and facing the sea. It was a nice way to finish off my quest.

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 Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture was a short, quaint experience, and most of my enjoyment came from imagining these people’s lives prior to their disappearances. The movement speed was infuriating, yeah, but the graphics were impressive and I loved the little details in many of the houses or yards. I do wish more of the doors were unlocked, but whatareyagonnado? The rural English countryside called to mind the sci-fi novel The Day of the Triffids, which added an odd sense of eeriness. I liked it.

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Rise of the Tomb Raider

The Tomb Raider reboot was not my first experience with the franchise, but it was done so well that I felt the same kind of magic that I do when I’m discovering a game or series for the first time. So, as with Fallout 4, I didn’t have the same kind of awe-inducing experience with its sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider, but I did feel like it was a better game, even if only marginally. The controls are fluid and intuitive, the graphics are gorgeous, and exploration is fun and rewarding. I was occasionally distracted by Lara’s hair, because the way they rendered the surface layer of hairs individually meant that it sometimes looked like she was wearing a wig, but that was only one of a few minor complaints. I did not have much of a crush on old-school Lara, but I definitely find myself attracted to the new version. Her strength and determination, with a healthy dose of vulnerability, make her a wonderful character, worthy of obsession.

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Day of the Tentacle (Remastered)

I have fond memories of Maniac Mansion for the NES, but as a ‘console kid’ I never got around to playing the PC-exclusive sequel, Day of the Tentacle. The newly remastered version gave me to the perfect excuse to finally check it out, and I wasn’t disappointed. While it does feel a bit dated, being an old-school point-and-click adventure, much of the humor and charm seems to have held up surprisingly well. It might be too quirky and tongue-in-cheek for modern audiences, but it was a fun flashback to a simpler time for me. My hope with games like this is that it will be successful enough to merit similar releases, so I have my fingers crossed for a remastered Maniac Mansion, as unlikely as that seems. I really loved that game.

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Miitomo/Pokemon Go

I lump these two together because, like many mobile games, they feel less like full games and more like mini-games to me. That may be unfair, but that discussion is for another blog. I liked Miitomo quite a bit, but its charm is almost wholly dependent on having others to play it with, and everyone I knew abandoned it within two or three weeks of release, leaving me to answer questions for an audience that didn’t exist. Before I eventually joined my friends in jumping ship, I tweeted “I like Miitomo enough, but I can’t help but wish it were a mobile Animal Crossing game.” The app seemed almost like a teaser or demo for a proper Animal Crossing game, so it just made me want the full experience. Nintendo announced that very thing not long after that tweet, but I maintain caution in my optimism. Can Nintendo (or their development partners) squeeze the entire AC experience into a single mobile app? If not, what will be sacrificed? How easy will it be to find new villages to visit? How many people can live in the same village? Will the villages be larger than what we’ve come to expect? I have a lot of questions, and I am still hoping for a new and radically improved iteration for the upcoming Switch, but I will almost certainly pick up the mobile version when it finally hits.

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As for Pokemon Go, I still jump on daily, if even just to get the daily catch bonus. I can’t possibly say anything that hasn’t already been said about it, but I was as blown away by its success as anyone else. I knew it would be big, as many people did, because it’s Pokemon, but the amount of money it’s brought in is unreal, and I wonder how its success will shape Nintendo’s use of the brand in the future, or their focus on mobile gaming in general.

Firewatch

Firewatch is one of those short and rewarding games that make you grateful for the indie movement and the power that digital distribution has afforded it. While I do wish the early narrative sections could have been more interactive, and that the choices you made throughout the game would have really made a difference, I was beyond pleased with the game’s story and how it handled tone and pacing. There were some scenes that were quite powerful, in part due to solid voice acting and writing. It’s games like this that help build a stronger and stronger case for games as art.

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 Dying Light

Not a 2016 game, for others, but it was for me. The Dead Island games had some definite faults, but I enjoyed the experiences they offered, so I was excited for Dying Light, which feels like a sequel. Dead Inland, maybe (I’m sure someone’s made that joke already, right?). The new climbing mechanics were a bit clunky, but added some welcome depth to exploration. One of the things I liked a lot about the Dead Island games was the attention to detail that the developers put into almost every room, hallway, and outdoor area. They did a nice job of creating believably abandoned environments, with objects scattered with care and consideration. I was, however, disappointed to discover that one of the small details had been taken out. There was, when the game released, a set of magnets on a refrigerator in an apartment in your starting base that were taken from an animation group called the Clock Crew, of which I have been a member since 2001. Virtually no one has heard of the group, though, so it was a shock when someone posted a screenshot of the magnets, and I was excited to see them in person. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the developers removed the magnets in a patch, and now they are just colored shapes. Bummer.

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 NBA 2k16

NBA 2k16 does something very interesting and uncommon with race, especially in video games: it forces your created character to have black features (because he is a member of a black family). It’s a bold and important choice, especially given the industry’s general focus on white characters. I can’t think of another game that does it. Unfortunately for me, I was unaware of this design choice, so I tried my best to make my character look like me (as I usually do with character creation), wondering why the physical traits were so limited in the creation mode. Because the physical options didn’t quite match up with my real features, the resulting ‘me’ was ugly, or as I tweeted at the time, “Jesus, my NBA 2K16 character looks like he crawled out of some swampy hole to ride hogs and smoke meth.” I quickly realized, in the first cutscene, that my character was supposed to be black, but I didn’t feel like redesigning him, so I just left it. My in-story nickname, “Freak,” was apt, anyway.

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As for the game itself, it was sort of a rude awakening. I hadn’t played a basketball game in like ten years, maybe more, and I was always a fan of the more arcade-y types (as I remember older versions of the 2k series being). It took me a while to get the hang of shooting, and I still think three pointers are more difficult than they need to be. I felt like an inept old-timer because I thought the game was too hard to master, but I’ve since had three students who play the game frequently agree that it is a difficult game to learn and almost impossible to master. So that made me feel better. A little.

Rock Band 4

Another game that I was late to the party to; I’ve spent a lot of time playing Rock Band 4 this year. My experience with transferring old Rock Band legacy DLC over makes writing about it almost painful, but I did end up getting into the game pretty heavily once everything was settled. I do wish the character creation was more robust (like, a lot more robust), but I was so happy to finally be able to create band members to join me on the road. I created, to the best of my ability, Rey from The Force Awakens (on bass), Jyn from Rogue One (on drums), and Schala from Chrono Trigger (lead vocals). I’ve played the hell out of it on guitar, and I plan on doing the same with the microphone and drums, when I get more time, but with so many songs (I’ve bought an obscene amount of DLC) I can’t imagine I’ll get tired of it anytime soon.

Assassin’s Creed Syndicate

Yep, another 2015 game that I was late in getting around to playing. And I’ve already blogged about this game, but I will briefly rehash my love for it. I know that Ubisoft pumps Assassin’s Creed games out at an annoying rate that waters the brand down like a glass of soda with too much ice, and I agree with the sentiment that longer development time usually equals better games… but I can’t deny that games like Syndicate or Black Flag are some of the best games I’ve ever played. Each game in the series seems to refine rather than revolutionize, and that can be frustration for fans expecting something new and exciting, but man are these some pretty games. Even writing this, I am fondly flashing back to the architecture of Victorian London in Syndicate and the beauty of the Caribbean seas in Black Flag. Also, I developed a bit of a crush on Evie, so I’m sad that we probably won’t see her again. But I liked this game a ton and am very much looking forward to what the next game looks like, given the extended development time.

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EarthBound Beginnings

This game was originally released on the NES in Japan as Mother, a prequel to the US’s EarthBound (Mother 2), one of my all-time favorite games. I was beyond shocked and excited when Nintendo decided to release it here as EarthBound Beginnings, and it gives me hope that they haven’t given up on the prospect of releasing Mother 3 here. Anyway, Beginnings is a lot like its sequel. So much so, in fact, that EarthBound feels like a retry rather than a true sequel. I recently read an interview with Shigeru Miyamoto from 1998, where he suggests that some of Nintendo’s early SNES games were just that: realizations of games that they’d wanted to make on the NES but didn’t have the processing power. So it makes sense that Super Metroid is essentially a beefier, prettier version of Metroid, and EarthBound is a beefier, prettier version of EarthBound Beginnings. Which means, of course, that I highly enjoyed it, though there was one innovation from EarthBound that I very much missed: the exclusion of random battles. It’s far more annoying to explore a new area freely when you’re plagued by random battles with sometimes difficult foes. Still, this was a fun playthrough that made me appreciate EarthBound even more.

Abzu

I hadn’t heard of Abzu until just before its release, when I saw a trailer for it and was immediately drawn in by how pretty and soothing it looked. I bought it and was not disappointed, as it is a low-stress game that rewards exploration but doesn’t force it. It is pleasing enough just to swim around and observe the ecology, and I’m excited at the prospect of having future students play it and create their own narrative, as the game only gives you only fleeting hints about it.

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No Man’s Sky

To say I’ve written ‘at length’ about No Man’s Sky is an understatement, so if you want more of my thoughts than you can handle, look no further than the Captain’s Log section of this site. I will say briefly that I understand, to some extent, why some people were disappointed at the launch version of NMS, but ultimately I still ended up loving it in spite of its flaws. I love exploring new worlds and systems, naming things based on themes, wondering if/when someone will run across my discoveries or if/when I will stumble on theirs. I have yet to play the latest update, with base building and mobile freighters, but I am looking forward to getting around to it… eventually.

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PlayStation VR

I’m just going to lump all of the PS VR games in this one section, because this blog is already too long and many of them are short, small experiences (and I blogged at length about my excitement for the system itself). My experiences have been mixed, I’d say. While some games, like Job Simulator and Arkham VR don’t seem to suffer from an obviously lower resolution, other games, like the Resident Evil 7 “Kitchen” demo and Perfect, do suffer, to the point that there is some tearing and jagged edges that become distracting. Arkham VR really shows what the system can do, though, and it’s the game I insist people try at social gatherings. No one has been disappointed in it, either. I never thought I was afraid of heights, but standing at the edge of the Iceberg Lounge makes me sweat, quite literally. And Rocksteady’s loving attention to detail and respect for lore shines through, as usual.

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PlayStation Worlds suffers from the ‘left drift’ for me, so I haven’t played more than a bit of it. Stationary games don’t give me much of a problem with queasiness, but some of the games that involve movement do. Here They Lie is a good example. You start out in a moving train, and you can both walk around and look freely around the world. I don’t know if it was a combination of all of the different movements, but it definitely made me feel sick. I’ve read that these feelings go away after a while, with more experience in VR, so I hope to come back to those games later.

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Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is not a PS VR exclusive, but it’s one of my favorite games on the system. It’s tense — duh — and can cause some uncomfortable snipping at people you otherwise like and respect, but it’s all in good fun, and the feeling of disarming a tricky set of switches with just a couple of seconds left is incredible. Until Dawn: Rush of Blood is fun and the sense of movement is something you have to experience to fully understand how crazy VR is. I watched two people play it before I started it, and I still wasn’t prepared for how weird it felt to be moving in the game and not in real life. When the roller coaster car stops in the game, your brain tells your body you’re stopping in real life. It’s bizarre but great.

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There are other games and demos to talk about, but I’ve probably gone on long enough. I do want to mention the non-gaming experiences, though, since it’s one of the aspects of VR that I am very interested in going forward (and not just for porn, but we’re all curious about that, right?). The videos I watched in a few different apps were mostly disappointing. I understand that the resolution is halved due to splitting the image, but the videos still seemed to be a lower quality than I expected. I don’t know if it’s the headset or the hardware the video was recorded with, or compression, or what, but I hope it’s not the ultimate fate of VR video on the PS VR. The videos (be it of a shark swimming near me or a supermodel lounging on a speedboat) just didn’t fully trick my brain into thinking they were real, as some of the games did.

DOOM

I won’t claim that DOOM is complex and deep. It fully embraces its old school, run-and-gun roots, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s fast, smooth, and beautiful, and it provided some much-needed stress relief after the election results came in. Is it repetitive? Sure. But it’s fun and rewarding, and I look forward to the new Quake as well.

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The Division

I only just started playing The Division last week, but I’ll throw out a few thoughts about it since it’s still 2016. I was surprised by how shallow the character creation was, given that it bills itself as an RPG. The gameplay is overwhelming at first, because there is a lot going on on-screen, but I’ve gotten the hang of it pretty quickly. I like the idea of building an HQ and the assortment of side quests look fun, so I can’t wait to start doing those and building my base up. I’m not sure I’ll end up playing online with anyone except my friend Tabitha, but I can see myself getting hooked on leveling up and customizing my character’s load-out and clothing.

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I’ve been traveling and visiting family this month, so I haven’t been able to do as much ‘catching up’ as I’d have liked, but I’m getting there. I was going to throw in some thoughts on games I am looking forward to playing soon, but I’ve already written far more than I’d planned, so I’ll just do a different blog on that. Stay tuned, non-existent readers!