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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Guilt-Gaming and State of Decay 2

It’s summer once again, and once again I feel that strange mix of emotions that comes with being between semesters of work. It’s summer: my favorite season when I was a kid. It meant playing baseball or basketball or football every day, swimming, sleeping as late as I wanted and, of course, no school. That warm glow has never left me, and I still consider it my favorite season, one that I look forward to during the school year when papers are piling up and final deadlines grow ever nearer. I can play video games, read for fun, catch up on movies, sleep as late as I want, I tell myself near the end of every spring semester. And yes, I can do some of those things. But when you’re a woefully underpaid grad student who doesn’t have the privilege to teach over the summer, there is a lot of stress that comes with this particular season. Having to save much of the previous semester’s financial aid because you don’t get paid is probably the biggest, and while I was lucky enough to snag a short-term job this summer, I also take my PhD comprehensive exams in August, so this summer has been far from the carefree break that I so miss from my childhood.

I have, however, allowed myself lots of time for video games. Gorging yourself on games over a break can sometimes come with its own sense of guilt, though. Should I really be spending so much time on this? Shouldn’t I be doing something, I dunno, more productive? Are people secretly judging me? Or would they, if they knew how much I was actually gaming? Sometimes these kinds of thoughts are active and present in my mind, but often they sort of sit beneath the surface, manifesting themselves as just an odd sense of sadness or anxiety. And, while these feelings have been popping up as I’ve recently been playing games like God of War and Undertale, I didn’t really feel them when I was playing State of Decay 2.

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Credit: https://www.windowscentral.com/state-of-decay-2-review

The reason this was so surprising to me is that I have a lot of problems with State of Decay 2. Or, I should say, State of Decay 2 has a lot of problems. I didn’t play the first game, but the premise sounded like lots of fun and a close friend was going to be buying and playing it, so I figured I’d give it a shot. It is a shockingly ugly game. I’m not just talking about the design elements, I mean the textures, lighting, modelling, almost everything is very rough, which makes the fact that the game has lots of issues with bugs, loading, and pop-in that much more frustrating. I would have thought they were trading detailed graphics for smooth loading, but that is not the case. Character movements are janky, combat is spotty, and driving is horrendous. These issues are compounded when playing online, even with just two people. I found myself being attacked by invisible zombies, crashing my car into invisible walls, and getting my character stuck in the road beneath a vehicle, all after the gigantic 20Gb patch that was supposed to fix many of those issues — a patch which broke the single player game for me, not allowing me to play at all unless I’m invited to a multiplayer session. The game also feels very game-y, with zombies constantly spawning so that it never feels like a real world with real consequence to your in-game actions. Conveniently enough for the game, there just happens to be a zombie every fifteen yards or so, robbing players of the fear that comes with exploring the unknown, because you always know what to expect after you recognize the obvious patterns.

Yet I played. And played. And played. I finished a single player campaign and despite my many, many complaints, I won’t deny that I had fun doing it. Why? Why did I even keep playing after the first handful of glaring bugs? If I am prone to feeling guilt when playing games that I love, like Civilization Revolution, during the summer, why would I spend so much time playing a game that frustrates the hell out of me, and why did it feel so rewarding doing it?

I think the answer lies in a sense of accomplishment, of working toward something systematically and being good at it. The rewarding sense of skillfully executing a carefully planned campaign. There was a lot to do when I started playing. I needed to make my people happier, collect specific resources to keep them happy enough to stick around, find a new base, clear out plague hearts, recruit new people with skills that would allow me to build new facilities that my new base needed, find and claim useful outposts, help outside factions when I could, and more. It was a lot, but the challenge gave my mind a multi-layered problem to solve. I didn’t have that when playing God of War, Undertale, Life is Strange: Before the Storm, or even Civilization Revolution. When I think back, I had a very similar feeling with Stardew Valley. I began playing that game right in the middle of the fall semester, which was not a smart time to start a game that is known to steal lots of hours of lots of days. And I did indeed play a lot of it. Like, just as much time as I spent playing Breath of the Wild. But it didn’t feel like a waste of time or a guilty pursuit, despite having lots of work to do around my play sessions.

I suspect these two games have that in common. On the surface, they certainly seem like games that would add to stress and anxiety, because you have to think carefully about the future and make lots of important decisions that will affect that future. But for some reason it has the opposite effect. I won’t say that playing State of Decay 2 was calming, but it certainly kept some familiar real-world feelings of guilt and anxiety at bay. So, as much as I hated it, it was an interesting, enlightening, and dare I say ‘fun’ experience.

My Favorite Games of 2017

It’s not much of a stretch to say that 2017 was among the best in history for video game releases. Hell, if it weren’t for Chrono Trigger and EarthBound both releasing in 1995, this year might have been the (personal) best year in my nearly thirty years of gaming. I love revisiting the memories I’ve had with games at the end of each year, but this year was particularly fun. Here are my Favorite Fifteen™ of this year.

15. Cosmic Star Heroine

This was another game ‘in the vein of Chrono Trigger’ that ended up not being very much like Chrono Trigger, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun. It wasn’t deep, exactly, but it was easy to get into and had some fun characters and cute dialogue. I wouldn’t mind a steady flow of these kinds of simple, short, low-priced RPGs.

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14. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp

I don’t normally care for mobile games, but come on: it’s freaking Animal Crossing. While I would have loved for a more fully featured AC game, I still spend at least an hour playing this game every single day. Plus, its lack of depth gives me hope that Nintendo is still planning on a heftier game for the Switch. But as it is, it’s still got some of that classic Animal Crossing magic. Now, instead of decorating my basement to look like a creepy murder-hole, I do it with my camper. See? Magic.

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13. Star Trek: Bridge Crew

Star Trek: Bridge Crew is like a slice of my dream Star Trek game, which would be a BioWare-esque RPG where you actually go through your last year at Starfleet Academy, graduate, get your first starship and then begin your journey through the stars. I don’t know that we’ll ever see that game, because it seems like licensing costs prevent publishers from having the will to throw enough money at a studio to do the series justice, but this game is an exciting enough sliver. Giving commands from the captain’s chair is exciting, but when you’re in a really tight spot and you jump to the engineer’s station to reroute power, then shove the helmsman aside to jump to warp, and end up back in the captain’s chair to drop shields and go stealth? Pretty awesome.

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12. Star Wars Battlefront II

I was a little upset by how the whole microtransaction debacle prevented reviewers from judging this game from an objective critical distance, but after playing it for a while I could see why they couldn’t. It’s not the money part of it that was constantly nagging at me, distracting me from the game, it was the progression system. I’m still playing it, and it’s still hard to be excited about unlocking things because I know it’s going to take forever and I’ll probably stop playing before I get all of the things that I want. That aside, I can’t deny that I love playing the game – it’s hard not to, being such a big Star Wars fan and being able to fly Darth Maul’s Scimitar over a Separatist battleship, hop around Tattooine as a jumptrooper, or just stand around and exist as Rey. The gameplay is frantic and fun, and I smile almost every single time I’m playing as a droid and I drop a turret, only to hear my character say “good luck, turret!”

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11. Mass Effect Andromeda

While this wasn’t the leap ahead for the series that I was hoping, it was more Mass Effect, which I will probably never complain about. Jumping from planet to planet, navigating relationships with smugglers, traders, and pirates, and (most importantly) wooing a certain spunky, blue teammate, made this adventure worthwhile. I’d have loved for a better villain and more engrossing plot, but I sincerely hope that BioWare doesn’t completely abandon the series. I mean, unless they go back to single-player Knights of the Old Republic games. A fair trade, I’d say.

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10. Everybody’s Golf

More like Everybody’s Gold, am I right? Eh? Eh? No one? Anyway, I was totally shocked by how much I liked this game. I seem to go through phases with sports games, where I buy a new game in each genre every three or four years and get really into it, so I was about due. For me, golf games have to feel right. If the wind doesn’t affect the ball in a realistic way, or my ball bounces oddly, or slopes don’t change the trajectory of the roll like they should, the game just feels wrong. Everybody’s Golf feels very right, though, and I found myself spending a lot of my dwindling mid-semester free time playing hole after hole, hoping to unlock more courses to play with my friend. Good times were had by all.

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9. What Remains of Edith Finch

Between this and Gone Home, I’m starting to think I just have a thing for walking around big, empty houses and looking through people’s drawers. But what drew me into Gone Home, in part, was the relative mundanity of the house. It was so normal that I found myself appreciating the care that went into making it look like a family had really lived there. In What Remains of Edith Finch I found myself appreciating the care that went into making it look like Tim Burton’s grandmother had once married Dr. Seuss’s grandfather and this is where that family lived. These games are all about detail, about how every bookshelf and stray magazine subtly contributes to the narrative, and this game in particular had so much color and quirk in its nooks and crannies. The overt nod to classic Tales from the Crypt comics also made me way more excited than it should have.

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8. Assassin’s Creed Origins

I don’t know that any game, Assassin’s Creed or otherwise, will give me the same kind of wave-breaking, swash-buckling, booty-plundering thrill that Black Flag did, but Origins was its own kind of special. Yes, the pyramids and deserts and landscapes were beautiful, and the combat was (eventually) satisfying. But what this game did better than any other in the series (that I’ve played) was make its characters seem human and make me care about them. I found myself so impressed by how Bayek changed his demeanor and tone depending on who he was talking to that I plan on writing more on it at some point, but for now I’ll just say that it made him so much more believable and memorable than any other lead character in the series (sorry, Evie, love). That made every mission and story beat that much more meaningful and worthwhile, and I hope they carry that lesson into future games.

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7. Emily is Away Too

Man. Emily is Away Too made me feel more feels in a shorter span than probably any game on this list. I spent a lot of time on AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) in my late teens, and a fair proportion of that time was spent flirting (very badly) with girls and wondering if they were flirting back. So this game was not only nostalgic in its interface, but it also did such a good job of capturing the kind of hesitant excitement that came with every winky emote or exchange of favorite bands. Where the first game, Emily is Away, took that and added a cruel twist, this game allows you to actually experience the joy of genuine connection, despite it being completely artificial. And I really loved that.

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6. Injustice 2

I played a lot of fighting games this year, but almost every single one disappointed me on some level. Injustice 2 was easily the exception, blowing away even its predecessor in depth, beauty, and fun. Every character was fun to play in this game, and for the first time in years I found myself looking forward to playing through each of their individual story/arcade modes. The main story mode was just as bizarre but immersive as the first game, but the cinematics were just gorgeous. Speaking of gorgeousness, the character models are stunning in this game, and I couldn’t stop taking screenshots of some of the many awesome characters, like Poison Ivy, Supergirl, and Scarecrow. I played many hours of this game and I still want to go back and play it as I write this. My only wish is that the next Injustice game brings DC’s Blackest Night storyline to the video game world. Zombie Batman versus Star Sapphire Wonder Woman? Yes. Please.

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5. Stardew Valley

“You have to play Stardew Valley,” my friend Tabitha said. Again. And again. For months. I’d put it off long enough, so its release on the Nintendo Switch (which is one reason I’m including it on this list, the other being that it was new to me in 2017) meant that I had run out of excuses. I downloaded it, and after a few hours of playing I thought “well, I guess it’s okay. I’m not sure what the fuss is about, though.” The fuss, Joey-from-a-few-months-ago, is what happens after those first few hours. Stardew Valley is not about the big moments, it’s not about a steady rise and fall of action and drama. It’s a slow, deliberate trek through a subtly touching and immersive town of weird, funny people who are both normal and completely odd. I spent over 170 hours playing Stardew Valley, and I don’t regret a minute of it.

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4. Resident Evil 7

As a Resident Evil fan from the very beginning, I’ve seen the series lose something about what made those first few games on the PlayStation special. I enjoyed Resident Evil 4 and 5, but both were a far cry from the cramped, claustrophobic mansion in the first Resident Evil or the empty and eerily quiet police station of its sequel. Resident Evil 7 captured that atmosphere again, and the fact that it did so in virtual reality is amazing. I wasn’t able to get past the nausea I experienced after the first twenty minutes or so (I didn’t try hard enough, honestly), so I didn’t get to experience it fully, but even without it I felt some of the same intimate terror that the early games evoked. I mentioned my odd penchant for big, old houses earlier, and the designers of this mansion did such a great job of giving each room its own unique brand of gross creepiness. Keeping the player in one general area makes developers put so much more care in the design of that space, and it almost always shows, as it does here. I know the game didn’t do as well financially as some had expected, but I hope that doesn’t dissuade Capcom from making future Resident Evil games in this same gloriously horrific vein.

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3. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Simple yet elegant is how I might sum up Breath of the Wild. One of the things I pay attention to in open world games is how dense and varied the topography and foliage is, and at first glance this game might seem to be lacking in that department. But after you start travelling the plains, gliding from mountains, scurrying along cliffs, you begin to see how smoothly everything flows together. That tree is there for a reason. That cluster of rocks is not there by chance. That half-buried statue means something. This Hyrule is not thick with action and activity. It is empty. Lonely. But it has so much life.

Add that to the simple but versatile combat, the beautiful art style, and the low-demand high-reward narrative, and Breath of the Wild ended up being my favorite Zelda game of all time.

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2. Horizon Zero Dawn

Like other games on this list, Horizon Zero Dawn surprised me by how good it was. When Sony used the game as their showpiece for E3 2016, I thought “huh. It looks okay, I guess. I mean, I don’t get why cavepeople are fighting robot dinosaurs, and that seems like a bit of a gimmick, but it looks pretty, I suppose.” Once again, Joey-from-the-past, you were wrong. Breath of the Wild’s open world was indeed beautiful and visually poetic, but Horizon’s world was also gorgeous and extravagantly rich with not only life, but hidden relics of a forgotten world. I love both worlds, but I found myself pausing and just looking a lot more often in this game. I probably spent at least a few hours in photo mode, and that’s no exaggeration. Every moonbeam breaking through lush bushes, glowing machine eye bearing down on me, haze of fog hanging over a thick forest, had me captivated.

It wasn’t just the visuals of this game that won my heart, though. The characters, Aloy especially, were nuanced and subtle, believable and human. The voice acting was top-notch, the sci-fi storytelling was superb, the pacing managed to feel brisk despite being an open world game, and holy hell was the combat satisfying. When I began the game I felt intimidated by how deadly the machines seemed, especially the larger ones, but once I got a handle on dodging and aiming, I began to crave the challenge of a particularly ferocious robo-dino (or dino-robo?). I couldn’t survive by blindly button-mashing or hacking-and-slashing like in some other action RPGs, I had to think about my surroundings, my enemies’ weakness, the tools I had on hand, and the best weapon for the job. It was a deep but not impenetrable combat system, and it’s a big part of why the game became progressively more enjoyable as I ventured into new areas filled with ever-deadly machines. But I’ve said enough, I think. I loved this game. A lot.

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1. Persona 5

Speaking of loving a game a lot, though, hot freaking damn did I love Persona 5. I wrote a whole blog about it not long ago, so I’ll try and keep this short, but this is the kind of game that only comes along once in a great while for me. A game that I think about at random points every few days, without even realizing I’m doing it. I spent something like 360 hours playing it to completion almost three times and yet I sometimes find myself wanting to start it up again. If Atlus releases the screenshot restriction on PS4, in fact, I will almost certainly play it again this coming summer. I love the art style, the fast-paced combat, the characters, the humor, the world… I’m rambling. I probably can’t say it better than I already have in my previous blog, but this game is truly special to me. It’s objectively an incredible game, but subjectively it scratched some internal itch for me that makes it one of my favorite games of all time. I’m a broken record, I know. But I really do love it to death.

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There are two games that don’t qualify for me, because even though Mario Kart 8 DX is new to the Switch, it’s not new to me, and while Final Fantasy XV is new to me, it’s not new to any platform that I played it on (and it was released in 2016). But I mention them because I played a whole lot of both of them in 2017, making it an even more magical year for me as far as video games go.

And I still haven’t played everything 2017 had to offer, unfortunately. I need to finish Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, I bought but haven’t gotten around to Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Super Mario Odyssey, and South Park: The Fractured but Whole, and I really want to check out Doki Doki Literature Club! 2017, it seems, is the gift that keeps on giving, and I’m glad to have had the chance to take part in it.