Michael Apps’ RPGs of the Decade
In addition to showing the results our staff-wide voting, our massive RPGs of the Decade feature allows individual staff members to highlight their personal favourites from the last ten years. While our main list is limited to entirely new entries from the decade, our writers have been given a bit more leeway for their personal lists, being able to combine titles into a single entry in their list of ten, include various remasters and ports, and use whatever ordering, or not, they wish. Here, Michael Apps gives us his picks.
After Skyward Sword presented me with some of the best dungeons in the entire series, I was really unsure where it would go next. Sure, Skyward Sword mixed things up a bit with non-dungeon areas essentially being extensions of the dungeons themselves rather than the mostly empty expanses of previous games. Even so, it still largely stuck with the traditional expectations of a Zelda title. So when Breath of the Wild was revealed as an open-world title, with not much in the way of traditional dungeons, I was certainly worried. Why throw away what worked for so many years?
Well my worries vanished the second I stepped out of the cave Link wakes up in and took a look at the wide world laid out before me. It had been a long time since a game left me so awestruck. With a massive world that is shockingly devoid of the janky bugs we’ve come to expect with open-world games, Breath of the Wild fulfilled the promise of exploration and adventure that the original Zelda filled us with as youths. It is a stunning technical achievement for a game, though mostly played on the Nintendo Switch, to still runs on the Wii U hardware. I’ve returned to it countless times and often wander over a new hill or mountain and find some little surprise I hadn’t seen before. The size and scope of the game are incredible. This is the finest game in the long and storied history of the Legend of Zelda franchise. The future for the series looks bright, and this game’s influence will likely be seen for many years.
Note that I’m putting the 3D version on the list here simply because it is the version I played. When I was presented with the opportunity to review Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, I jumped at the chance because, though I hadn’t been able to get into the Wii version, it seemed way better than the games I had been reviewing and came with a recommend from our late great editor-in-chief, among other staff. So I expected to have some fun, but not to experience one of the most memorable and wonderful RPGs I’ve played in my whole life.
There are so many things to like about this game. A wonderful cast brimming with personality portrayed by great British voice actors. An incredible soundtrack with everything from hard rock battle themes to calming environmental music. A story that surprises with its twists and turns towards a wonderfully satisfying conclusion. Huge open areas that are fun to explore with many optional challenges for the daring. To me though, its biggest achievement is finding a balance between a linear, focused story and giving players the option to explore. By always providing clear directions on where to go for the next story mission, but also allowing players the ability to freely explore the game’s world, players can actually have their cake and eat it too. Xenoblade Chronicles is not just high on my list for the decade, but one of my favorite RPGs of all time.
Just narrowly falling behind the original game on this list, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 accomplished the seemingly impossible by following in the footsteps of one of the best RPGs of all time and still managing to succeed and feel like its own unique thing. With enhanced battle mechanics and a larger world to explore, along with a new and entertaining cast of characters, this massive RPG gave Switch fans even more to devour after they finally took a break from Breath of the Wild. With a massive expansion to play as well, this is an absolute must-play for any RPG fan who owns a Switch.
No list for this past decade is complete without Dark Souls. Though it was a tough choice of which to put on this list first, the first game in the series has to go higher for having a smaller and more focused world. Despite being the second “Souls” game, this is the one that really solidified the formula and influenced much of the gaming world for the decade to come. It remains an easily replayable classic.
What if you took one of the best games of the decade and refined and expanded it? The result is, of course, Dark Souls II. This game took everything that made Dark Souls a transcendent experience, improved it, and set it in a larger and more varied world. This included enhancements to smooth out some of the more annoying aspects of the original. It is still a very challenging game, but now with many more ways to build a character to overcome its challenges.
Monster Hunter 4 is the culmination of around a decade of iterative development on the Monster Hunter series. It even has an entertaining story to boot. The new monsters are fantastic, and the addition of two new weapons give a needed amount of variety to the series. Most importantly of all is the added verticality to hunting grounds that adds a ton of variety to the minute-to-minute gameplay. Though Monster Hunter: World is the best-looking game in the series, Monster Hunter 4 remains its finest moment.
There’s no doubt the SaGa series hit on hard times after the blunder that was Unlimited SaGa. The most we saw out of the series for many years were some remakes and rereleases. When SaGa Scarlet Grace was finally announced, its resemblance to Unlimited SaGa certainly filled most fans with a bit of worry. Thankfully, the end product is one of the finest games in the entire series, with one of the best turn-based battle systems ever. Though it took a few years to reach the west, the wait was worth it.
It was an interesting experiment to release a Fire Emblem game in the vein of Pokémon with three separate campaigns. Unfortunately, one of the two primary ones wasn’t great, but Conquest stood out as not just the best of Fire Emblem Fates‘ three campaigns, but one of the finest in the series. With lots of gray area as far as what the characters had to do to accomplish their ultimate goal, the story will stick with players well beyond its end.
Disgaea 4 is notable as the first game in the series to feature fully redrawn HD sprites. Though Disgaea 3 is certainly the better of the two (despite coming out in the prior decade), it still used the PS2-quality sprites. With a fresh look and a great cast of characters, Disgaea 4 successfully brought the series the new look it desperately needed and was great to boot. It has some of the most interesting and fun maps in series history, and, thanks to the failures of the subsequent game, remains the best Disgaea available on modern platforms.
With the SaGa series largely in limbo, some former Square Enix developers thankfully filled the void with the wonderful The Legend of Legacy. With a battle system as good as the best of SaGa and an interesting world to explore, it largely skipped story and focused on gameplay, to its benefit. Too often JRPGs get bogged down in overly verbose dialogue, so The Legend of Legacy was a nice breath of fresh air.