Sam Wachter’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, Sam Wachter gives us her picks.
100 hours. I put 100 hours into an Assassin’s Creed game. I think this is in itself an impressive feat for me. I adore games that encourage exploration and I am a sucker for trophy hunting, all of which Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey gave me. I completed so much of the content in this game, from killing every single cultist to completing every single side quest, and still felt like I never entirely scratched the surface.
Assassin’s Creed has had such a unique transformation in this last decade, and Odyssey is the pillar of excellence for the series outside of the Ezio games. It has a compelling story, great humour, and Kassandra is a heroine worth rooting for.
Banner Saga is a beautiful example of how a player’s decision can truly affect an outcome in a story. Each part of this trilogy offered players grueling and uncomfortable decisions to make, while also forcing them on the longest death march to “potential freedom.” The world is plunging into darkness, hope is becoming scarce, and yet this tribe of vikings continues to push forth to protect their family from death and starvation.
Banner Saga requires players to manage supplies and morale, but what Stoic does well is that this process even becomes taxing on the player. When I played through the trilogy, I was emotionally exhausted, but completely satisfied in my journey. I fought the Dredge, I saved the world from the apocalypse, and lost so many good people along the way. How heartbreaking is that?
For the longest time, my favourite Dragon Quest was IV. I loved the cast and the simplicity of the adventure. Since IV, I’ve played countless more games in the series, and while I enjoyed them, none of them captivated me the way Dragon Quest XI did.
Dragon Quest XI is a rich RPG experience from a series that tends to hold onto its archaic roots. The storytelling is strong, and the entire ensemble cast is just delightful and memorable. There is so much humour and heart in XI, from Sylvando’s dance party to all awkward and fantastic interactions with Rab. Dragon Quest is a series with so much heart, and mine was completely captured in the fifty-five hours I played. While IV will always have special memories for me, XI smashed my expectations from the series and gave me an experience that I couldn’t stop going back to.
Stardew Valley is a game that came to me at the right time in my life. After finishing my mother’s estate, moving out on my own, and falling into a depression due to all the changes that had happened, Stardew Valley was a comfort game. The stories of the various townspeople, the way in which the game shares how empathy can transform lives; there is so much packed into this little game.
I think what I appreciate the most about Stardew Valley is how emotionally attached I became. It was a game that began to remind me that change wasn’t so bad. That I survived everything thrown at me, and that I could take hold of my life again and find out what I truly wanted. Putting seventy hours into Stardew Valley helped me at such a low point in my life, which is why it deserves a spot on my personal Best of the Decade.
The Atelier series holds a very special place in my heart. What I love about this series of games is that they are stories about personal growth for the protagonists. While I’ve played nearly every single installment since Rorona, it was actually the game’s sequel, Atelier Totori, that I hold a candle for. Compared to other heroines in the series, Totori’s story is one I could relate to — it’s the story of a girl learning to strike out on her own, who has no confidence in herself, and is grieving for her missing mother. Totori decides to go on a quest to become an adventurer just like her mother in hopes of finding her and making a personal connection. Totori’s results are the most heartbreaking you’ll ever see in a series that is best known for gentleness in storytelling.
I cried playing Totori. Totori is a heroine whose kindness and understanding of the world make you feel like she should have all the happiness in the world, and she doesn’t. She is someone determined to become stronger, but she’s also someone grieving for something she never truly had — a mother. I felt for her, and as I’ve gotten older, Totori’s story has always stuck with me as being one of the strongest in the series (its gameplay is a different story), and one I will often reference when people ask me what the series has done right in terms of storytelling. While I’ve played the Dusk trilogy more than once, I think I owe it to myself to replay Totori and see if my emotional connection is still there. For now, I treasure Totori for its simple but effective storytelling, and point to it as being one of the best when discussing the portrayal of grief in video games.
I was never a big Fire Emblem fan growing up. I felt a lot of intimidation regarding the series because I knew I wasn’t the patient type. I didn’t like games where permadeath was a game mechanic, and for years I shied away from it. Enter Fire Emblem: Awakening, and it was a huge game changer for me.
Awakening was the first game in the series to offer a casual mode for those who just wanted to enjoy the gameplay and story, without the consequence of losing characters permanently. While there are jerks out there who will criticize people for playing games on an easier setting, the accessibility of having a casual mode allowed more people to finally access this series in a way that felt impossible before. Fire Emblem is now a series I get excited for, and I am so glad that it’s more readily available to people who otherwise would have stayed away due to its difficulty.
My husband and I own five copies of Bastion. It wasn’t intentional, it just so happened we inherited them in a variety of formats. Bastion is one of the only games (besides Child of Light) that I have given a 5/5 to here at RPGamer, and it’s a score I stand by. Bastion was mystifying, creative, and it had this power of drawing you into its colourful yet isolated world.
What’s not to love about the game? It has fantastic and customizable combat, a beautiful story about worldbuilding, a fantastic narration style that just draws you into the story, and an amazing soundtrack that, to this day, I still listen to nonstop. Bastion showed us that smaller titles have the power to make just as big an impact as a triple-A RPG, and since Bastion, Supergiant Games has continued to make unique and innovative RPGs that push the limits of what the genre can do. Bastion showed RPGamers that the genre could bend and change in ways that never felt possible.
If you ask me about my opinion on the Fallout series, I will politely tell you I’ve never played 1 or 2, and my relationship status with 3 was heckin’ rocky. What most people don’t know about me is that Fallout: New Vegas was my first Fallout game. I had just gotten into western RPGs and began experimenting with popular titles. Fallout: New Vegas hooked me with its weird Elvis cult, Fist-o the sexbot, and my story about how I assassinated the President at the Hoover Dam. Let’s just say Fallout: New Vegas provided me with many stupid gamer stories and fantastic memories.
I loved the moral grey and the level of consequence in Fallout: New Vegas, and how decisions affected different elements in the world and story. I think the Old World Blues DLC might have some of the sharpest video game writing in this decade (who doesn’t love a murderous toaster?). I adore games that get me out of my comfort zone and ask me to make uncomfortable decisions, and New Vegas had moments like that in spades.
Most people who frequent the site know I am the crazy woman who loves the Yakuza series. Since buying my PlayStation 3 with my copy of Yakuza 3, this series has won its way into my heart and is something I look forward to with each and every release. Kazuma Kiryu’s story is one that I have loved from beginning to end and I maintain that Yakuza 6: The Song of Life gave Kiryu the proper send off he deserved. Yakuza 0, however, is the prequel most people didn’t realize they needed and it chronicles both Kiryu and Majima’s rise within the Tojo Clan.
It’s a wild ride. Yakuza 0 offers fans a new perspective, one which they only had bits and pieces of information for. It tells a fantastic and uncomfortable story, while also updating the combat system into something that should be the standard across all titles. Even the side quests were out there and wacky, and oh so fun to complete. Being able to have Majima’s story fleshed out was something I had wanted from the beginning, and it was everything I hoped it would be. Yakuza 0 has a place on this list for being this wonderfully unexpected and perfect game that didn’t need to exist, but I am elated that it does.
When Horizon Zero Dawn debuted at E3 2016, I turned to my husband and said, “There is a game where you get to punch robo-dinosaurs.” We watched the trailer again and both knew it was a game we needed in our lives. Horizon Zero Dawn was this amazing surprise in 2017, as it offered fantastic world-building with an interesting and curious heroine in Aloy. The world has been destroyed, and humans have become hunters and gatherers once more. Robotic dinosaurs roam the earth, ready to be murdered for parts.
Aloy’s story is one of self-discovery. She was rejected for being different, she loses her surrogate father, and is forced to find a way to belong. Aloy is also someone who refuses to be treated as damaged goods, and she has so much she wants to prove to the world. It is so amazing and empowering to have a character like Aloy exist and she is someone that so many people can relate to.
I also want to share how much I equally loved the gameplay. Horizon Zero Dawn had the right amount of challenge and content, to the point where I did nearly everything in the game. Aloy’s story and her world are so compelling. I think I gifted so many copies of this game because I simply wanted others to feel and experience what I had with the game! I cannot wait to see what a sequel in this world will entail, and I owe it to myself to gift more people this game and give it a replay soon.