Final Fantasy XV
This is the first time I’ve ever hit triple digits in a game’s playtime. I know that’s probably not much compared to even casual players – but for someone like me who can only make time for one or two games per year, it was a surprising indicator of just how much I really enjoyed FFXV. It’s strange, I’m actually quite frustrated with FFXV’s story – which is the element of a game that I value over gameplay. But in this case, the gameplay did hook me completely. The world is far, wide, and a pleasure to explore for hunts, side quests, dungeon raiding, or even simply level grinding. Many other games out there have these same features, but the charm of FFXV’s heroes are why I kept coming back.
I simply can’t think back on Journey without starting to hear the soft melancholic tunes of composer Austin Wintory. The music in Journey will be one of the soundtracks that will always stick with me, and I’m so thankful to have experienced it. Journey features puzzle platforming that takes you along a tour through beautiful vistas and caverns in a mysterious world, but what I treasure most is the game’s music.
Kingdom Hearts III
Kingdom Hearts is my favorite video game series. The story is messy, inconsistent, convoluted, and I love it! What’s kept me invested and willing to follow such a dynamic story all these years and across platforms are the gorgeously stylized combat systems, charming characters, accompanied by music from my all time favorite composer. Director Tetsuya Nomura delivers the best elements from throughout the series and now finely tuned.
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep
Yes I will post multiple entries from the same games series. If you want the truth about my top 10 games of the decade, then I can’t be honest if I hold back and only include one game per series. Birth by Sleep has been my #1 favorite game for the last 10 years. It was not surpassed by any other game until KH III released this past year. This game introduced the Wayfinder Trio of Terra, Ven, and Aqua. We’d seen just a glimpse of what we’d be in store for with this game from the secret cutscenes in KH II and KH II: Final Mix. Birth by Sleep is split into three main story campaigns that expand on the lore of the Kingdom Hearts universe and shed light on the mysterious events that lead to the story of the first Kingdom Hearts. Endearing characters meet tragic fates and I’m left completely invested in how the story progresses in future entries. The combat is built to make you feel like an absolute superhero with flashy combos and a fun special moves leveling system. And in place of the gummy ship sequences from past entries is a fun board game system for leveling up stats and abilities. The Mario Party-approach to leveling was a fun intermission between worlds that made for some welcome levity in an otherwise tragic tale.
Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
Can you believe this game even got made? I don’t think we’ve seen something like this since the first Kingdom Hearts; a major animation studio partnering with a major game studio. Studio Ghibli is even often referred to as the “Disney of anime”. I absolutely love the whimsy and fantastic visuals from the imaginary minds at Studio Ghibli that paired beautifully with team at Level 5. Side quests weren’t just fun, but especially rewarding because every side quest felt like it really made a positive difference in the lives of the various NPC’s that would assign them to me. My favorite gameplay element though, is the monster raising mechanic. The creatures are adorable and a treat to raise as party members to fight alongside you.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game
My first introduction the world of Scott Pilgrim was in the Edgar Wright film adaptation. I became enamored with the world that celebrated all things nerdy, packed with references to popular film, games, music, and anime. I eventually read the manga to experience the true ending of the story since the film adaptation was produced as creator Bryan Lee O’Malley completed the last volume. The game is a manga-inspired side-scrolling beat-em-up that was such a joy to play through. It’s not a genre I play often, but I have fond memories of playing Turtles in Time on the Super Nintendo back in the day. The playful backgrounds, character designs, and combat were a great incentive to get me to revisit the side-scrolling genre again. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve replayed the campaign on a whim, which says a lot since I rarely revisit games after completing. But Scott Pilgrim is too fun a world to not let off some steam in with some fun combos and impressive character animations.
I usually avoid city sandbox games because I tend to associate them with extreme violence. I would often hear my classmates share stories of all the criminal acts they would commit against crowds of NPC’s. I understand it’s just a fantasy. I don’t judge those who find cartoon escapism from playing these games, it’s just never appealed to me. Sleeping Dogs is different from those because although there is gunplay, there is also an incredibly fun melee combat system. This game is a playable Hong Kong action flick that is so much fun to participate in. It was a fun playground to explore. The character of the city is so well realized through it’s visuals, the shops, venues, and the people.
Ultimate Chicken Horse
Gaming for me has always been a solo hobby. My favorite genre are single player stories and platformers. My brother and I would play co-op occasionally, but if there was ever even just one more person in the room I would always opt to simply spectate while everyone else played. I’m still like this 9 times out of 10. I recognize that I’m not very good at most co-op games and even if the people around me don’t care, I just don’t find as much enjoyment in multiplayer experiences. Ultimate Chicken Horse was the strange unexpected game that I could not be held away from after trying it though. I rediscovered my appreciation for playing with friends through this game. The experience I had working with and against my friends to simply reach the flag at the end of a level gave me as many laughs watching as I did playing. Poor hand/eye coordination and slow reflexes are just a few of the reasons why I can’t get into playing shooters online, which is probably safe to say – one of the most common forms of playing with friends. But none of that mattered in Ultimate Chicken Horse. In fact, I’d argue that it’s almost as fun losing as it is winning!
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Part of why I enjoy the Uncharted series so much is because of it’s cinematic nature. In many ways it’s like watching a blockbuster movie with occasional gameplay intermissions. I wasn’t sure there was much else for Drake to explore after hanging up his holster, but Naughty Dog took a chance on checking in with action hero we grew up with and seeing what happens when you tempt him with one last job. U4 is gorgeous, the gameplay is approachable and fine tuned, and the story is pulp action fun. What made U4 one of my standouts for the decade though, was because of the absolute blast I had with its photo mode. From beginning to end I just could not stop diving in and challenging myself to compose creative shot compositions and experimenting with the various combinations of filters and settings. It was a playset I always wanted and never knew I could actually experience.
World of Final Fantasy
The Kingdom Hearts series takes original Square Enix characters and drops them into Disney worlds; World of Final Fantasy works similarly but leans into the Final Fantasy series as the glue that holds this story together. Much like Pokemon or Ni No Kuni, you’ll traverse a fantasy world battling and collecting monsters to add to your party. There is a fun Jenga element to combat where monsters can stack upon each other that adds an extra bit of tension that I found to be a lot of fun to master. The story is fan-fiction made real as our heroes come across familiar faces from the Final Fantasy series and work together to combat an oppressive force while trying to uncover the mysteries behind their amnesia.