Zain’s top 10 games of the decade

Like sands through the hourglass, so are the games of our lives. With each passing year, we receive an exponential amount of games. Some excellent, while others remain mediocre. And these past ten years have possessed within them an excellent selection of titles across a wide number of consoles.

These past ten years have also yielded me a number of life-changing events. Getting married, having two kids, joining SaGamer in 2015 and the amazing team here, facing death (South Africa, the Crime Capital of the World), experiencing the loss of loved ones, and even having my time reduced due to often having no time to play at all – “life”! But throughout it all Video Games and the passion for it no matter how much time I have still remains and burns strong. And with that flame comes my top 10 titles of the past decade.

10. GRIS (2018)

I had the pleasure of playing this title a few months ago on the Nintendo Switch. Which, trust me when I say is the best console to have around when you’re not able to play as much as you could in your younger days at home and constantly on the go. GRIS was more than just a journey through a colourless world that needed me to restore it back to life. It was me travelling through an art gallery, with each level being another portrait of a once majestic and beautiful place. A place broken down by what felt like our daily struggles from within ourselves. Be it our depression, sadness, sorrow or our dark places within our minds. With each colour I restored alongside the protagonist I felt a piece of my own life being restored. I felt hope and light returning to the world. I felt that no matter what the challenge may be here on out, it’ll be okay. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to share your pain and heartache with others, especially loved ones. And mostly, it’s okay to be imperfect.

For a game that didn’t have much dialogue, it really made me feel a lot throughout the playthrough. And with her majestic movements through the game, the protagonists made it all feel even more like an art piece in motion. I highly recommend this title to anyone who needs something to admire. Something to listen to that feels as if it touches your soul. And also, something that doesn’t take more than 50 hours to complete. This truly was a short title, but one that’ll keep me remembering how beautiful the world can seem through other’s eyes, even with all the darkness that surrounds us daily.

9. Fallout 4 (2015)

War never changes. Although many who I’ve spoken to never really liked Fallout 4 as much as the previous Fallout titles, I took to it like butter sliding off a hot slice of toast. The game starts off in turmoil forcing the character to immediately kick into gear. With heartbreak being witnessed and revenge set in my mind, I felt personally attacked, being a father and husband myself. Although I never finished another incredible game of this decade (The Last of Us) Fallout 4’s opening sequence brought that feeling back and I attached myself including my emotions to the game. My venture and quest through the wastelands brought many trials. One of them being that the open-world itself was so vast with so many things to do, people to help, items to scavenge that I could have spent months building my base and creating my own faction.

However, the game did an incredible job of reminding me of what my true mission and quest were …revenge. And because of this none of those trials were more strenuous than the one where I had to develop relationships with each faction and then throughout it all either turn on them or give up on my family. The game truly does a great job of showing the player that no matter how bad our world becomes, or how dilapidated we make it, there’s always a greater evil within it, the people and their greed for power. Fallout 4 forced me to make some hard decisions, and the decisions when made actually makes you as the player feel quite bad for making them. And it is these decisions that to this day makes me feel that if Fallout 4 was indeed a real-life scenario, would I actually make the same decisions I made in-game? Remember, unlike video games, there are no save states in real life.

8. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015)

I never actually played any of The Witcher games before Wild Hunt. But that in no way removes from the enjoyment or blessing that will embody your time. Apart from Geralt being such a freaking badass, the open-world exploration left me in awe all the time! Roach and I would be on route to a mainline quest and see bandits or monsters off in the distance and be drawn to the commotion, only to realise an hour later that I never actually made it to the quest I originally set out to. Of course, being able to attack from Roach was an added bonus as well. Then there are the weapons. Geralt had magic at his disposal but there’s just something about him wielding his swords that made him the ultimate “Monster Hunter”…

I obviously cannot leave out Ciri. Nimble and agile, controlling her gives you a different perspective altogether. And without a doubt, the main crux most definitely has to be the way your actions affect the world around you. Nothing is as it appears in the world of The Witcher. An ally may just turn to be a foe and of course, every foe may just turn to be an even more dangerous foe. The Witcher 3 is rich in lore and literally has no shortage of activities to be completed that adds further strength to your quest as the monster hunter. And if you don’t mind its dark setting, it truly is a real treasure. Sadly, I was never really drawn to the Gwent bit of the game, but I am glad to see how it prospered into a complete stand-alone title.

7. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017)

A tale of old and a Legend reborn. Breath of the Wild was…excuse my phrase…a breath of fresh air. I originally played this on the WiiU. I remember my first time emerging from the cave and looking into the open world that was and mind exploding a bit. Unlike Fallout 4 and The Witcher’s open world, Breath of the Wild left me feeling small…but in a good way. Knowing, or rather not knowing what I’d be discovering around each corner, up every cliff or mountain…when it didn’t rain…and then looking down from that peak and paragliding across the land was a dream of extraordinary proportions. Breath of the Wild literally encourages the player to let loose and just deviate from the mainline story. So much so that you’ll have to discover a lot of the time as to what you should actually be doing. I’ve never experienced being lost in a game as the way I’ve been lost in Breath of the Wild.

6. Final Fantasy XV (2016)

To this day I feel a pain in my chest thinking about the last scenes from this game, gulping hard and fighting to not let a tear escape my eye. I’ve never taken as many photos/screenshots as I did in Final Fantasy XV. Perhaps its because as I played the game, I grew with each character. I never felt that I was Noctis but rather a part of the gang alongside Gladiolus, Ignis, and Prompto. The journey taken with them was incredible and every failure felt like my own. I felt like it was not only my duty but my honour to keep Noctis safe. And yet at the same time, there were so many side quests that pulled you away from the mainline quest that it felt as if I was on a road trip with friends and family. Even spending time with the gang at campsites was chosen over staying at inns or in cities.

And then there’s the battle system. I grew up playing and loving turn-based battle systems from JRPGs, and although FFXV wasn’t the first to implement a real-time battle system, I have to say, performing a warp attack with Noctis is not only flashy but pretty useful as well. Although many criticised the story of FFXV, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The camaraderie among the four travelling characters. The heartache between Lunafreya (…Luna) and Noctis. The honour-bound duty of Noctis. And the final tribute that signs off this epic tale of unity, friendship, trust, and loyalty.

5. Fire Emblem Fates (2016)

A lot of people may say that Fire Emblem Fates is, in fact, a disguised cash cow created and released by Nintendo and Intelligent Systems. And sadly, to an extent, I would agree with them. However, past the fact that you’ll need to play all three Fates titles to truly enjoy this gem, you’ll find a tale spread so intricately, that the bonds you build with each family will pull at your heartstrings every time you play through Fates and what is actually Fire Emblem Birthright (where the player resides with their birth family), Fire Emblem Conquest (where the player resides with their adoptive family) and Fire Emblem Revelation (where the player will unite both families). Three games that tell the story about the same characters but from different perspectives. And depending on which you play first, you’ll find yourself playing the role of an outcast and a traitor, breaking the bonds and ties you’ve built with either or both families.

My playthrough began with Birthright. An easy and enjoyable beginning to the three games, that allowed me to develop a strong bond with my birth family who I had not grown up with. It showed me a kind and just way of living unlike my playthrough of Conquest, a rather darker side of the story with my adoptive father being unjustly strict to the point of an unloving manner. However, in both Birthright and Conquest, you’ll find that your sibling’s bonds are what you as the player will grow attached to. From serious conversations about a battle to quirky and joke-filled conversations as it would be with siblings. Sadly, this happiness doesn’t last and as with Fire Emblem titles, you’ll always find tragedy. The tragedy that left me in shock and teary eyes even when I suspected something amiss. Birthright and Conquest are definitely a must play in that order. And with Revelation being made available to finish off and give players closure, this three-pack game title sealed its Fate as my number 5 of this list. Although Fire Emblem Fates wasn’t able to in my opinion knock off its predecessor Fire Emblem Awakening off of its pedestal, it certainly came close.

4. Fire Emblem Awakening (2013)

There are very few titles that brought tears to my eyes. And it just so happens that all of them are in fact on this list right here. Awakening is most definitely one of them. Fire Emblem Awakening was truly the awakening that many new fans needed to grow in love with this series. It was my first Fire Emblem title and not only entranced me with its incredible heart wrenching and emotional story. But also, with its impressive battle system and intense and thought-provoking battles themselves. And let’s not skip on permadeath. The option within the game that restricts players from resurrecting their characters who’ve been defeated in battle. Indeed, imagine training up a character for over 30 hours, developing their links with other characters to increase their battle abilities and then losing them in the next battle. Truly a tear provoking situation, don’t you think?

However, it is really Fire Emblem Awakening’s story that left me in shreds and joy at the same time. A story that possesses sacrifice for one’s country/people. A story filled with undying trust and faith. And a story filled with the ultimate sacrifice or regret from not sacrificing…If there is a remake that will be welcomed on the Nintendo Switch, it is Fire Emblem Awakening.

3. Monster Hunter: World (2018)

I’ve been playing and also been a Monster Hunter fan now for more than a decade. I never really started with the series like many others on the PS2 but rather with the PSP on Monster Hunter Freedom. However, throughout my playthrough of the first Freedom title on the PSP, I was completely solo. It is only from the second instalment known as Monster Hunter Freedom 2 that I was introduced to what I believe is one of Monster Hunter‘s biggest strengths, hunting with others.

Admittedly though, as enticing as it was to hunt these mammoth-sized beasts with a party of three other hunters, Monster Hunter was never a game that could be easily accessed by newcomers. This is of course why Monster Hunter: World for me is my number 3 on this list. Monster Hunter: World has completely changed up the ease of play, allowing newcomers to experience the intricate craft of preparing and then hunting a monster with simpler and shorter tutorials. Capcom also removed the loading screens within the hunting area, which in turn grants players a more streamlined and immersive experience into the world. Of course, it’s a bonus having it on next-gen consoles, allowing for a much better multiplayer experience, more so having the ability to party chat and co-ordinate with your guild more effectively and efficiently. However, being able to chat via the game’s comms isn’t the only advantage, because Capcom has also created a way for hunters to team up across regions, which prior to MHW, was never done.

Monster Hunter games have never been everyone’s cup of tea, but MHW has proven to be more than just tea. Creating a “World” for both veterans and newcomers. And with Capcoms continued support with MHW’s expansion Iceborne as well as regularly released additional monsters to the roster and collaborations, I’m sure this cup of tea will be served for many servings to come.

2. Pokémon SoulSilver and HeartGold (2010)

Of course, you didn’t think that my list would be without a Pokémon title now did you? Pokémon SoulSilver and HeartGold are actually remakes of what I perceive to be the best Pokémon titles to date before these released, Pokémon Silver, Gold and Crystal. So, what makes these games so special? Well imagine this, you’re playing the second instalment of your favourite game. You complete the main story and just as you think it’s over, you’re told that you can now venture back to the main story or at least the world itself from the first game in the series. This is what SoulSilver and HeartGold entail. Combining both the region Johto and Kanto, players are able to make their way through eight gyms within Johto. Take on the Elite four and champion and then continue their journey into Kanto and compete against Kanto’s eight gyms and finally take on Red, who is in fact supposed to be a replica of Ash Ketchum from the anime. All this while still retaining the ability to travel back and forth between the regions. Something that has not been replicated since, sadly.

SoulSilver and HeartGold also utilise the real-time internal clock system from the original games Silver, Gold, and Crystal. This clock quite literally allowed the game to mimic the time in real-life, forcing players to attend events within the game only when the day and time permitted. For instance, you were only able to catch a Lapras on a Friday (real-world Friday) since it would only appear in the cave on a Friday. Certain Pokémon would also only appear at a certain time of day since the game also included a day and night cycles aligned with the real-time internal clock.

What’s more is that SoulSilver and HeartGold included a device within their boxes known as Pokéwalker’s. A device shaped like a Tamagotchi which acts as a pedometer and allows players to transfer any Pokémon from the games into it. While walking the Pokémon within the Pokéwalker, that Pokémon will gain experience. Players that did not transfer any Pokémon to the device also had the opportunity to catch wild Pokémon with the device and then transfer it over to the games. I guess if you really think about it, this is a good concept of how Pokémon GO came about as well as how the Pokémon Ball Plus was created. Either way, Gotta catch ’em all.

1. Persona 4 Golden (2013)

Last year I had the opportunity of finally playing this gem of a game on the PS Vita. Persona 4 Golden encompasses and embodies what we experience throughout our lives. Combining real-world struggles such as being a single parent, while being overworked. Struggling in school and succumbing to peer pressure. Persona 4 Golden definitely doesn’t hold back its punches. Forging strong, meaningful relationships and bonds with the characters is one of the core mechanics of the game. Helping classmates overcome their fears of not fitting into society. Addressing bullying, insecurities, and depression. Admittedly it was this that I enjoyed more than the dungeons and battles within the game. So much so that when I encountered a scene within the game that had me at a crossroads and killed off a character that I had developed a deep fondness for, I had to stop playing, put down the console, get up, take a walk and breather and clear away the tears. This is Persona 4 Golden. A game that envelopes you into a world filled with imperfections, but a world also filled with joy, happiness, friendship, hope, and love.

If there is any way in the future to allow us to forget select memories, I would erase my memories of Persona 4 Golden. During my playthrough, the game wasn’t just a game for me, but rather a life within a life. The character development system or officially known as Social Links creates a responsibility inside of the player to develop, help, and forge an everlasting bond with these characters, which in turn actually helps grow each character to be a better fighter inside of the dungeons and during battle. I’ve never wanted a game to continue as much as I did Persona 4 Golden, and when the credits started rolling and my character waved goodbye to all of his friends within the home, I had built with him over the ‘year’ in Inaba (the town that the game takes place within) a tear rolled down my face, both out of happiness and sorrow. truly is a Golden Treasure of my past 10 years.

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