I said I wasn’t doing a top albums of the decade (Drizzle’s–hopefully–handling that) list. However, I never said anything about skipping a chance to talk about some of my favorite games of the past ten years. Between 2016 and now, I dove back headfirst into gaming after taking a few years to play casual games, sports games, and the like. I made up for lost time in a major way. From JRPGs to shooters to epics, I rediscovered my love for gaming and got to experience what so many others had before me.
The following list is in no order, nor is it exhaustive of all the quality games to come out in the 2010s. That said, it does highlight some of my favorite games of the decade.
God of War (PS4)
While we’ll get into a game that influenced GoW, 2013’s The Last of Us, a bit later, no games of the decade list would be complete without the sequel/reboot of the classic hack-and-slash puzzle platformer. Without many spoilers, Kratos, retired from slaying Greek gods, goes on a trek to his wife’s final resting place with his son.
It has all the bite and wit of a God of War game with the emotional gravitas of a series that is even more story-driven. It’s dark, it’s gritty, you’ll wince and cheer at certain moments. It’s the proper re-introduction to our favorite bald godslayer. As a father who sometimes isn’t as touchy feely with my boys as their mom, this one hit me differently. Fathers, love your kids and let them know you love them.
Persona 5 (PS3/PS4)
Over the last 15 years or so, many JRPGs have been outclassed by their western counterparts. Final Fantasy XV, for instance (the less we say about that game, the better). However, 2016/7’s Persona 5 is, by far, the greatest JRPG and one of the greatest games I’ve ever played. Yes, even better than FFVII and Wild ARMS 2.
I was late on the Persona 5 train. I started it Christmas 2017 on a whim, after getting annoyed with Watch Dogs 2. While I played Persona 3 and Persona 4 and enjoyed them, it was just like “aight these are cool.” I wasn’t a hardcore fan of the series. That’s even after White Jay made his case about P4 being the greatest RPG in the last 20 years–several times.
Enter Joker and The Phantom Thieves of Hearts.
From the opening video, the stylish JRPG grabbed me. For me, it’s the Diamond is Unbreakable of JRPGs, mixed with some good old-fashioned heist drama and social simulation. It’s the best part of an already-stellar series that makes even the mundane, like making coffee or giving your confidants a gift, seem like an adventure. The only complaint I have is that the translation sometimes feels shonen-series-of-the-moment-like. It’s not a distracting dub, though, as it has some great talent involved (such as Kyle Hebert showing up randomly). The VAs make the characters feel real and make you want to invest countless hours in their lives.
With Persona 5 Royal, an updated version of the original (with a continuation of the main story), due out early 2020, it’s as good a time as any to start this game. This is the first game I’ll straight-up say “I will be buying the updated version, even if a chunk of it is just a replay of the original.” I’ll just say that where Persona 5 takes you…you’ll never see it coming.
There, I finally made a “Last Surprise” joke.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Switch)
SSB4 brought us Cloud Strife beating the beejeezus out of Pikachu while Mario uses The Hammer to knock Solid Snake into the stratosphere. Ultimate features Joker as DLC. As a P5 fan, that’d be enough. Then, the gameplay hits.
A culmination of almost 20 years of Smash, Ultimate is an amazing fighter. It’s technical while still being beginner-friendly. It’s colorful and graphically impressive. It’s possibly the smoothest fighter I’ve ever played and I came up dumping rolls of quarters into Tekken and Marvel vs Capcom games down Eastpoint Mall in between real-life BS.
Fortnite (every current-gen system imaginable)
Full disclosure: I suck at Fortnite. My (almost) nine-year-old, JoJo, can kick my ass at it five ways from next Sunday. He scores countless Victory Royales while I struggle to get out of the 60s. However, to deny what it’s done for gaming over the last few years would be, simply put, stupid.
The game helped create/refine the battle royal genre, mixing tween-friendly mayhem with an array of skins. It combined the fun and gun of Overwatch with the building elements of, say, Minecraft. Now, the whole “let’s take popular dances and profit off of them” thing rubs me the wrong way. From a gaming standpoint, there’s a reason why Fortnite flosses on most of the competition. Speaking of Minecraft…
Minecraft (every system and platform imaginable)
There isn’t much I can say about Minecraft that hasn’t already been said. It’s the most-popular game of all-time for several reasons, including the fact that it teaches while it entertains while it appeases the family-friendly element of games such as LittleBigPlanet. If you’ve missed out on the wave, get on it.
The Last of Us (PS3/PS4)
Zombie apocalypses are nothing new to video games. Games where there are two mains traversing the world aren’t new, either. 2013’s The Last of Us mixed those two elements with a gut-wrenching story of growth, family, maturation, and belonging.
Joel and Ellie’s adventure through the United States as some of the last uninfected humans alive throws them through the ringer. It, sometimes, becomes “Murphy’s Law: The Game.” Things go from okay, given the situation, to “OMG we’re about to die” in seconds. It does zombie survival better than most films. This is partly because the shocks actually shock you and the twists are built up so well. That element of surprise and horror kept me glued to the game until it ended. Hell, the Remastered version was the main reason I bought a PS4.
Part 2 is due out next year. Today’s as good a day as any to dive in. Just make sure you don’t alert the Clickers.
Grand Theft Auto V (PS3/PS4/Xbox 360/XB1/PC)
You probably wonder why GTA V makes the list over, say, Red Dead Redemption 2. Aside from the fact that I started RDR2 late as hell (I’m talking within the past few weeks), something about GTA V‘s love letter to Los Santos and its previous eras just felt…right. Was it a perfect game? No. My God-tier GTA game remains San Andreas. But V kept me tuned into its story (which, like Persona 5, had a lot of heist film elements) and cast of characters.
Pulling from seemingly every era of GTA possible, V was the quintessential open world sandbox game. It took the scope of Red Dead Redemption 1‘s map and San Andreas‘ map and gave fans limitless opportunities. Want to shoot out with gangs? Done. Want to go to the strip club? Done. Want to gamble, then skydive and dive bomb through Los Santos? Done. Want to hang out with your heist team and build your rapport with them? That’s there, too.
Essentially, GTA V took the open world sandbox game to its current-gen potential. Without it paving the way, RDR2 wouldn’t be the amazing game it is. Give GTA V all of its flowers.
Plus, the online component has gone strong for the last 5-6 years and kind of lessens the need for a new (read: quickly developed for PS5/Xbox Scarlet) Grand Theft Auto game. GTA Online gets right what only God knows how many others have gotten wrong. If you ever want to team up, my PSN is SpeedontheBeat. Be warned, though. I haven’t played GTA Online in a few years, so I’ll be rusty.
Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)
Say what you will about Nintendo, their first-party games are top-notch. Super Mario Odyssey was a fun throwback to Super Mario 64 and was the first game JoJo beat on his own. That it made my son a gamer is enough to make me list it on my top games of the decade before we even get to its story.
A world-hopping adventure, Odyssey finds Mario and his companion, a sentient hat named Cappy, running roughshod over Bowser’s army. It’s typical Mario fare for a bit–until you realize that you need Cappy just as much as he needs you. Cappy functions as a power-up in of himself as he can give control certain enemies and solve puzzles. Without Cappy, Mario’s plans to save the Princess would’ve fallen apart from the jump. Add in catchy music, a colorful cast of enemies and allies, and a story where Mario even learns a bit about himself in the process and we’ve got a classic.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch/Wii U)
A game I play on my son’s Switch when he’s grounded, Breath of the Wild does for the Zelda series what the recent God of War game did for its legacy. That’s all you really need to know about it. If you’re in the market for an action-platformer with RPG elements and an engaging story, you need this one in your life.
Another Eden (mobile)
In between my periods of being a console gamer, I kept up with mobile games. Very few have transcended the gacha element, where you need to pay real money to advance further in the game. 2017’s Another Eden, released globally in 2019, was one of these.
Yes, we had Pokemon Go bringing everyone together to catch ’em all. However, I’ll be honest: I haven’t checked out PoGo in about a year–around the same time I started playing Another Eden.
A game that takes elements from the Chrono series (mainly because Masato Kato, scriptwriter for the Chrono games, was the director and scriptwriter of AE), Another Eden is a time-traveling epic with a motley crew of characters–and cats. Tons and tons and tons of cats. Said cats play a huge component to its story. Speaking of its story, when it hits you in the chest, you feel it. Its many plot twists aren’t overly telegraphed like some RPGs.
Like Ultimate, it has a P5 crossover event where Joker and Morgana become a permanent part of your party. It’s an old-school JRPG done right and you don’t need real money to beat the game (thank God).
Life is Strange (Various)
I started Life is Strange about a month before my mother died. The five-part episodic drama was quirky and sometimes clunky with its “edgy teen” characterizations. But its story of wanting to change the past, the possible repercussions of doing so, and accepting that what’s right is not always what’s easy was one I related to.
This was mainly because it helped me come to terms with my mother’s death. I had to grieve, yes, but I also had to move forward for her sake and everyone else’s. Just as Max and Chloe made their choices throughout the game, I made the choice to grow past a dark time in my life and pick up the pieces wherever they ended up.
The prequel, Before the Storm, places us in Chloe’s shoes and adds some important elements to the backstory. LiS‘s sequel delves a bit more into politics and fears of Trump and “others.” While still an engaging and important story, it wouldn’t exist without the first game setting the bar high for “choose your adventure” games. Yes, even with its hella awkward use of slang.
Horizon Zero Dawn (PS4)
Horizon Zero Dawn takes the wilderness setting of God of War and adds in a ton of cyberpunk-meets-Hunger Games-meets-Mother Nature elements.
Dawn, released a year before GoW, also deals with maturation, growth, humanity and adversity. It also has us directing a young woman to beat the crap out of mecha animals and use their parts to unify warring tribes after the fall of modern civilization. It’s an interesting take on dystopian science-fiction while still being a familiar one. It’s that familiarity–and the game’s writing–that kept me interested through Aloy’s journey.
Not since Spider-Man 2 on PS2 has there been such an incredible (video game) take on your friendly neighborhood superhero. Incorporating elements from every Spidey arena, we got a refreshing game that looked–and, more importantly, felt–like Spider-Man. It was an emotional story with conflict about the duality of Peter Parker and was a satisfying game on so many levels.
As I mentioned in the beginning, the 2010s were an awkward time for me as a gamer. I’ve played catch-up over the last few years and have experienced some of the games others experienced years ago. The adage “better late than never” comes to mind. If you’re like me and haven’t played the games on this list–or you want a refresher–check them out and support dope art in all its forms.
As a bonus, here’s the episode of ‘The Speed Report’ podcast where I talk about some of these games in depth.