Mike Moehnke’s 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, Mike Moehnke gives us his picks and a very curious ranking system.
It’s strange now to think about how totally Rainbow Skies held me in its grip. For months in the summer of 2018 it was all I played, and I couldn’t get enough. I remember an entertaining art style, a rewarding checklist of things to keep doing, and eagerly plowing through everything I could in an effort to fill out that checklist. Then the game crashed (I’m not calling it a technical issue when this was after about 530 hours of play time). It shook me out of the grip in which I’d been held, and now I’m having trouble recalling exactly what transfixed me so much. It did indeed transfix me though, and would probably do the same for other people if they let it.
This wasn’t my first time with a Vanillaware game, but I never felt any great love for Odin Sphere or Dragon’s Crown. Muramasa Rebirth hit on just about every level, and anyone with a Vita who hasn’t obtained it needs to do so immediately. It looks amazing, the story is interesting and told in a unique way, the score is excellent, its DLC is completely worth purchasing, and fighting through enemies stays engaging all the time. I may never fully understand Vanillaware’s obsession with eating food on-screen, but that’s just an oddity. Give this a shot.
If this is what playing a Bethesda game does to me, it’s probably a good thing that I haven’t delved into anything else by the company before. New places to explore and interesting things to find by doing so are everywhere in Fallout 4. The core narrative is fairly interesting, but the many side characters and their stories are where the real meat of the world is found. For several months I was caught in a gigantic loop of trying to experience everything the game had to offer, and at the time of writing I still haven’t completed it when my in-game clock says 17 total days have been spent on the thing. Bethesda’s technical ineptitude is on full display and it’s obviously not for everyone, but something about it just caught my attention in a big way.
XSEED took a chance localizing both Zwei games long after they were released in Japan, and the chance unfortunately doesn’t seem to have paid off in terms of sales. That’s a shame when Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection (much less redundant than Falcom’s default of Zwei Two) is one of the more charming titles I’ve encountered. Its characters are entertaining, the visual style is attractive, the dungeons are fun to go through, the soundtrack is excellent (per Falcom’s usual standard), and the game really should have garnered more attention. Maybe including it here will convince a few extra people to give it a try.
It’s plain in a lot of ways that Intelligent Systems thought this might be the last game in the series — which it could have been. Plenty of ideas were thrown at the wall, some revived from many years before and some never seen in Fire Emblem. It’s true that the overall narrative has some questionable parts, but Fire Emblem: Awakening nails its characters enough to make their interactions hold attention throughout. The limited voice acting has the paradoxical effect of making some of it more memorable – I don’t know if “Much gratefulness!” would have stuck in my brain had the words been part of a lengthier soliloquy. This did the trick of luring new players into the series while keeping most of what made it effective, and adding some extremely effective new materials. Any tactical fans who haven’t tried it yet need to.
Both of these hit exactly the right spot for me. It’s true that the first Persona Q is strangely paced, and saving its longest dungeon to the last didn’t appeal to a significant demographic. The Etrian Odyssey series has become a consistently fun experience though, and putting in characters (even characters stripped of much of the nuances from their original incarnations) with entertaining interactions instead of mute guild members makes dungeon exploration really engaging. The dungeons are the usual complicated-but-rewarding type familiar from Etrian games, and they’re great ways to spend a lot of time without it necessarily feeling too repetitive. I’m not saying I feel the need to compulsively replay the first title or follow-up Persona Q2 right now, but they were a blast at the time.
Who would have predicted that South Park could be turned into an RPG? Somehow Trey Parker and Matt Stone got the idea to make genuinely good games based on their amazingly long-lived series, and The Stick of Truth excels at being a game which fans will get tons of enjoyment from. The Fractured but Whole managed to be another excellent licensed RPG, something which is not a common statement by any but the most forgiving of players. Much of what happens in these games cannot easily be described without violating RPGamer’s usual decorum regarding language, but those familiar with the source material will be completely at home. They won’t work for anyone who never liked the show, but that’s par for licensed titles too.
I know Dragon Quest XI is supposed to be great, but I haven’t played it yet and Dragon Quest VIII on 3DS was such a good distillation of the series that I have no problem putting it here. Sure it’s not quite as pretty as on PS2. When it’s portable, I can have battles move faster than on console, enemies are visible so it’s plain what I’m about to fight, and there’s plenty of additional content. I have no qualms saying it’s the better version. I did lose heart in a new dungeon that was pretty brutal, but still had a great Dragon Quest experience. I could go into the details, but anyone reading this site should know what Dragon Quest is all about.
This seems to have been the decade in which I lost myself in games that never really end until I’m ready for the end to come. Borderlands’ sense of humor is certainly not universally shared, but the ever-maligned Claptrap is an entertaining character to me, and the rest of the cast holds its own. What kept me playing Borderlands 2 for *checks clock on Steam* 233 hours wasn’t the fun interactions of the cast though. It was the addictive gameplay loop of running around killing things, finding new weapons to make killing them easier or more ridiculously theatrical, and doing it some more. The game lost its luster somewhat once I entered the New Game Plus and found that everything had been given a lot of HP just to make death harder to deal, yet by that point I had most definitely gotten my fill.
Also, this prompted me to play the entirety of Tales from the Borderlands, my first adventure game in a VERY long time.
Partly, this is due to Konami almost completely abandoning video games in recent years. Funny enough, that didn’t suit some of the talent at the company very well. Once upon a time we were getting almost an annual Metroidvania, but those times are long past. It’s true that we’ve had plenty of games in the same style throughout this just-passed decade, but Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is the closest to an official new title in Castlevania we’re likely to see. It looks gorgeous and is rewarding to explore — maybe not functionally a new thing, but executed extremely well. Rocking soundtrack, versatile move list, interesting enemies, good controls — I could list a bunch of mechanical things to justify saying nice things about it all the live-long day. A superb Metroidvania that’s as close as we’re ever likely to get to a new Castlevania says the same thing.