TenguGemini: Falcom prove they are the best in the business with one of the most fully realized fantasy settings I have ever seen in a game. This also has some of the best character writing around.

Polly: This is where my love of an entire series began. Its humble and low-key introduction hardly bears mentioning now as I feel it's pretty obvious to most of our readers and listeners that this series absolutely goes places. Estelle Bright is one of the most endearing and well-written protagonists in the genre, and getting to know her here is a BIG part of why her later payoffs work.

Rhete: A charming as all hell game that introduces you to one of the best casts of characters ever, and sets the stage perfectly for it's two direct sequels. While I admittedly bounced off this game years ago, I returned to it eventually and once I understood the pace and tone it was going for, loved every moment of it. Truly the beginning of something great.

John: Trails in the Sky is one of my favorite stories, and this slow-burn first entry is a large part of its appeal to me. Other RPGs begin explosively and then fail to deliver on their promises. Trails starts quietly and then slowly builds your relationship with its cast and its setting. When the explosion finally happens it's all the more powerful because of the intimate build-up.

Ghosty: This series has the best character writing I have encountered not just in videogames, but in any media. (Though admittedly I don't consume that much other media.) Estelle Bright is the best protagonist in a videogame, period.

I really liked the plot of this game, and seeing the world today it made me somewhat uncomfortable. I love all the characters in this game. I love the richness of the world and how human almost everyone seems. The reason I can't rate it higher is because of the combat, and the JRPG staple mechanics, even if the game's combat had some neat ideas. I just have little patience for these things.

Zeloz: I haven't yet gotten past the prologue chapter (8 or 9 years after buying it??? Holy shit), but I'm really, really happy the series has taken off the way it has. I splurged on the Collector's Edition when it first came out, hoping to communicate to XSEED that we'd really like the other two games to come out here. And while that didn't exactly work as intended (SC came out years later, and the PSP is never getting III in English), the games found a new audience with the PC crowd, and while I can't say I had any involvement in that, I'm glad things worked out in the end for the series as a whole.

FreezingInferno: It's beautiful, and you're telling me there's like nine more of these things where that came from? This is a wonderful little RPG with great characters, and a true sense of exploration as you travel around your little country, itself one piece of a larger world. Solving problems and uncovering mysteries, helping people, hitting them with a very large stick... it's all so lovely. Its ending is bittersweet, but it does tease even more intriguing and hopeful adventures. One day I shall experience them, but I will always treasure this little experience on its own merits.

jetstorm4: A game I started several times, but wasn't until later that I finished it. Trails in the Sky starts as a simple journey of two young people finding their place in the world, and figuring out their feelings for each other, building up to them discovering what they mean to each other and ending at a point where that possibility could be shattered. A beautiful game.

Iffy: Pretty much the same opinion I have of Cold Steel, but CS gets the nod due to its gameplay. Still, this is the game that started me on my Kiseki journey and left me dead inside for five years with its ending.

Remnant: It's a rare game that can break through all the years of experience and cynicism that have developed over time and truly make you feel like a wide-eyed, innocent child. When I first stepped out of the Shrine of Resurrection as Link and onto that ledge where the camera pans and you see the world laid out for exploration...I was 7 years old again, dumbstruck by the awe-inspiring breadth of the original NES Zelda game. The experience that followed lived up to that first impression and then some. Any gripes or constructive criticisms (the weapons are too fragile and a repair/upgrade system like Dark Souls would have been better) are drowned out by that raw feeling of awe and exploration that inspired the foundational 1986 game, and how that feeling was given new life in 2017.

Rhete: I've never had as much fun exploring a world as I did with Breath of the Wild.

TenguGemini: This is the most fun I have ever had exploring an open world in a game.

FreezingInferno: It was very very good at the time, but time's mists made it fade from my memory pretty damn quick. Nevertheless, it's an absolute masterpiece of a return to form for Zelda, merging its original ethos with current open-world trends to make something really special.'

Pauncho Smith: I had largely written off console Zelda games after Wind Waker, but this one somehow hooked me back in. It helps that there really isn't a "wrong" way to play it, and you can settle on a method of doing things that best suits you.

lieronet: I loved Zelda games as a kid, but really fell off on the franchise after Twilight Princess. This is the first game since then that's made me feel anything.

jetstorm4: Breath of the Wild is an odd game for me. On one hand I dislike many of the things this game represents, what it takes away from the potential future Zelda projects may have if they keep with this style, and what this does to the thing I love the most: Zelda Dungeons. On the other hand, I do love the puzzles in this game, I actually enjoy the world it sets up and allows me to explore, and it finally realized that we want piano music, not boring orchestra soundtracks! BotW is something I have gone back to and have had fun with overall and while not my favorite Zelda of the decade, it is something I can find enjoyment in and hope that something interesting can come from it.

Atamine: My immediate feeling after finish BotW for the first time was that I was gonna like the next Zelda to follow up on it better. BotW is burdened to be obsolete due to its nature as a rough experiment, but the foundation it laid is still one of my fondest game experiences of the decade. The mobility it provides to explore the landscape is literally a dream come true for me. Ocarina was my first and favorite Zelda and in childhood I always marveled at the horizons beyond the landscapes and wondered what scenery I could find there. BotW is that childhood fancy come to life. The first thing I did when I exited the Shrine of Resurrection was turn left and climb up the wall next to the shrine and fucked off in the opposite direction the game wanted me to go for about an hour. It's weird to say BotW was the first Zelda that made me feel like I was playing Ocarina again because that game was much more narratively concise, but Zelda has been and means so many different things to different people. The sense of immersion in the world is something Zelda abandoned after the N64 games and I'm eternally thankful to BotW for bringing that back. The slight attempt at a meta-narrative for Zelda's continued regurgitation as a series is something I admired and while I think the execution needed far more work, BotW is one of the most thematically guided Zelda games.

Psychic_Heist: *Myself, two years ago*: "WHAT. THE. FUCK? What the fuck man!? What the fuck!? What the hell is this game doing this high on your list?"

*Me now*: "Hey listen. I know this doesn't look good, self-from-two-years-ago, and I know it doesn't make sense. The first time you played BOTW, you put about thirty hours into it. Never felt motivated to finish it. Called it a night. But let me tell you something. In a couple of years and some change, you're going to have a seven-year-old, four-year-old, and a one-year-old to take care of. You're going to go through a job-change, rub your wife's feet every night, enroll in five college courses, and then get very sick. On top of that, a fucking pandemic will happen, (yes really) and so you will have to manage all those factors while being confined to your house.

So out of a whim during that turbulent time, you will begin playing BOTW again. This time, already having confronted the disappointments you have with BOTW, you will begin to view BOTW in a new light. Instead of playing the game looking for some sort of gripping plot (because frankly this game totally whiffs tha), you will begin to enjoy the stories you start making up in your head as you explore a vast open-world in love with nature. You'll discover that the cathartic moments in this game are very different from previous Zelda games because of the lack of urgency. BOTW to you will be about chilling out and exploring the pretty scenery surrounding you. This experience will bring new meaning, because the sensation of going anywhere, and attempting anything at your own pace, will be a lovely release from the real-world pressures you'll one day endure."

*Myself, two years ago*: "Whatever dude, you disappoint me."

*Me now*: "I always do."

DoorCurtain: I get the strong feeling that, unlike NieR: Automata, which I initially ranked lower on my 2017 GotY list, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild's foundation will be built upon so well in its sequel that it will seem like ameteur hour when the sequel comes out. Things like better sidequests instead of the filler "collect X amount of Y resource" that littered Breath of the Wild, or not labeling all the fun sidequests "Shrine Quest" to spoil ahead of time what the end result will be, or better enemy variety. Unlike NieR: Automata, I think Breath of the Wild will have a harder time standing on its own over time.

But while it may fall to the same fate Super Mario 3D Land did when 3D World came out, I'll still never forget the sheer wonder I felt when I stepped out into the single most interactive overworld I've ever experienced in a game. All my misgivings about how the sidequests are filler or how in the late-game you become too powerful for much of anything to challenge your survival skills: all that melts away when I remember that I saw an island in the southwest and just... sailed there. I found a raft, a leaf to blow wind, and spent about 5 minutes just sailing in the open ocean to reach a new destination. I remember it raining, which people weirdly complain about, and deciding it was better to navigate around the mountain rather than over it for the time being. I remember being happy when I realized that I could drop some raw meat and have it slide down a mountain like a physical in-game object (because that's what all those otherwise pointless sidequest filler collectibles should *be* in open world games *glares at Xenoblade*) and have the enemies gather around it, becoming a perfect target for my last bomb arrow. I remember taking off my clothes and talking to Paya, seeing her embarrassed reaction, and catching her taking a peek through her fingers at the body of the guy she liked. I remember being able to physically climb almost ^every* surface in the game (this was overpowered and I think the sequel may tone it down) and spending hours just climbing trees and looking for eggs to cook. I remember a lightning storm happening, a very tough enemy about to kill me, and lightning attracting a metal shield in a pool behind the enemy, so I used Stasis to freeze the enemy in place, build momentum, and knock the enemy into the lake where it was electrified and died.

So while I have a few hangups with the game, I just haven't had this much fun with any adventure game, ever. The DLC giving Link a motorcycle to ride into the final battle was icing on the cake. The sequel has a lot to live up to, because even if Breath of the Wild wasn't as cohesive as NieR: Automata, the parts of the game that truly shined are an incredible standard to match.

Polly: Danganronpa was only something I'd heard people talk about for years and for some reason decided never to investigate what it was. Damn good thing too, or I'd have ended up spoiled on one of the finest visual novel/court drama adventure game series in existence. Danganronpa oozes style, it embraces the absurd, and does things with the genre and anime tropes that turn the entire shit on its head in the best ways possible.

Rhete: While I prefer the two sequels, the original Danganronpa is still a great game in its own right. It sets the tone and rhythm for the series that the sequels will later subvert in their own ways.

John: Danganronpa is an emotional reaction engine. The always-contrived setups are designed expertly to extract feelings out of you. You always know something awful is coming, but there's just enough sleight-of-hand to keep you in the dark on exactly what flavor the awful is going to be. And so it hits you like a train, over and over again.

The first Danganronpa is the shortest, simplest, most tightly-paced incarnation of the formula, and the purest distillation of its appeal.

Ghosty: It's stylish, it's savvy, and it is very Japanese. The setting, the framing, the characters all feels a bit out-of-this-world anime fare, but the way they keep things consistent is something to admire, something that even makes this crazy thing seem grounded and believable. Also, the cast is very memorable and unexpectedly good. I wasn't sure what to expect with this game, but playing through this series in parallel with a friend was special.

TenguGemini: Just a really really good VN. DING DONG BING BONG. A body has been discovered!

FreezingInferno: An absolutely incredible experience, and a game with philosophies and clashing ideologies that actually changed me as a person and changed how I view media. In that regard, it's incredibly important to me along with its characters and mysteries... and this first one isn't even the best one. They got better as they went on. Even here, though, the first is amazing.

Pauncho Smith: The first Danganronpa lays the foundation for everything to come in future installments: the neon-tinged retro game aesthetic, the-over-the top characters, and of course those maniacal class trials. Not everything lands here (the mid-trial mini games are mostly shit), but it's still very much an explosive opening act.

Rainiac: The game that started it all. Excellently written characters, well-plotted murder mysteries and an overarching storyline that is just bonkers. The post-game content isn't much to write home about but that's a minor nitpick. And the series somehow got even better from here.

Atamine: The first Danganronpa is a game I think was succeeded in every way by its sequels, but the original game that started the series is still a fantastic and impactful title in its own right. As someone whose high school experience was less than nice where trust issues got beaten into me, this is a game I wish I had with me earlier in life, and that's not something I can say about many games.

DoorCurtain: This game is basically an edgy murder story you wrote in middle school, except with superhuman care put into making sure every story beat and character moment is completely earned. That's impressive, but the game has 16+ characters, meaning this game and the series it spawned is one of the best murder mystery stories ever told. Locked into a school together, different high school students with incredible talents must either survive together or murder someone else while getting away with it in order to leave. You know how these things go, except, you also don't. Twists and turns where you don't expect them at all, this game was full of impressive writing that earned my respect.

Nate: NieR: Automata is a game by an evil genius who got paired up with a studio known for frantic and tight action and pulling it off. It's a game about what it means to play video games, what it means to live, and how to find optimism when life seems pointless. It is a "nier-perfect" game (hold for laughter) that embraces its strengths and, at times, looks better than most games on the next gen platforms will look.

Polly: NieR:Automata is literally another one of those games where the discourse around it has been so fiery since its release that it's hard to come up with anything new to say about it that hasn't been already said. Automata is just simply fucking fantastic though. It's a story that's unique like Undertale in that it can ONLY be told by this medium due to player interaction being a huge part of why the big important parts of it work. Also, soundtrack of the fucking decade. Everyone else can go home now.

Rhete: Some of the best feel bad side quests ever! I really liked this game, and then ending E blasted it into the stratosphere.

TenguGemini: This is some really good fucking scifi.

John: This game's a feast of tasty themes, but the individual journey that got stuck in my head the most was 9S's whole arc. There's so much interesting toxic masculinity examination stuff there the game doesn't get enough credit for, probably 'cause the high-concept sci-fi ideas and cool meta-turns are much more obvious hooks.

That's the part that stuck out the most to me. But every player is going to have their own aspect of the story that speaks the most to them. Because it's all about facing down the reality that we have no innate purpose, that any meaning in our lives is one we have to make for ourselves. And that's a trial that we, and all the characters in NieR: Automata, have to face and respond to in our own ways. There's almost certainly at least one journey in the story you'll see yourself in.

jetstorm4: Heartbreaking, but satisfying, NieR Automata is a game I am more grateful for as time has gone on. I will apply the same words as I said for the GotY entry in 2017: If there was a more confident, holistic experience released this decade, I didn't play it.

Beepner: In the vein of "ruined world to explore" games, NieR: Automata gives the scenario insane over-the-top action flair that makes it a worthy successor to my favorite 3D Zelda title, 2010's NieR Gestalt. This game is not-insignificantly removed from its predecessor in terms of control and actual story, while still retaining some lore cues and the kinds of bizarre sequences and emotional narrative arcs that tie the namesakes together.

DoorCurtain: I've decided, over time, that I respect NieR: Automata more than Breath of the Wild. While I remember the fun I had with the latter, I remember *everything* about NieR: Automata. I remember the horror of the revelations regarding the machine lifeforms and the androids. I can't forget the overwhelming difficulty of many of the boss fights. The image of little 9S having to destroy clones of 2B and his reaction to that is one that won't leave my head. There really is nothing I can say about this game that other people haven't already said. I'll just say that, despite...well, *something* making it unlikely for me to replay the game soon, I still want to find the time to do so one day, because I skipped past many of the sidequests my first time through. Unlike the ones in Breath of the Wild, the ones in NieR: Automata actually tie into the story and flesh it out and the characters too. The soundtrack is one of the best I've ever heard, too. I listen to Copied City whenever I want to lie in bed and get chills.

Atamine: I didn't know what to make of Automata when I saw Ending E. It took me over a week to come around and see it as the fantastic game that it is. The series of events in Automata feel so disjointed and pieced together that it's disorienting to follow the 'story,' but Automata succeeds as, for lack of a better word, an existential collage piece. The ruthless gameplay actually matched harder with its narrative thematics than the original NieR with the implication violence is pleasure for the androids. I understand the perspective that games about why violence is bad shouldn't feel good to play, but I don't think an honest exploration of violence can be made without confronting the fact it can be a source of pleasure and satisfaction. It's an action title that became a horror game during the course of my playthrough. It's the kind of thoughtful, off-kilter experience I wish I saw more of from AAA games so let's all thank Yoko Taro for being That Guy.

DoorCurtain: I didn't play Dark Souls this decade but I played this. It's probably just as good though, if not better. Hollow Knight is basically a side scrolling action-adventure game that actually plays nothing at all like Super Metroid or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. This is because the game is far, far less about progress being gated because you don't have the correct item or upgrade than it is about just...exploring the world.

Hallownest is not as interactive and toylike as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but it's been pointed out that it has a better sense of adventure, and the observation is correct. An indie game made primarily by three people has a better sense of adventure than the AAA budget title made to bring a sense of adventure back into a 30-year-running series. Check it out, it rules, far harder than most games out there proudly touting their status as "Metroidvanias" in the market.

Polly: It's not often one game can come out and so loudly drop the mic on an entire genre, but not only did Hollow Knight do that to the *cough* *wheeze* *barf* "Metroidvania", it almost took down another in the process (and some might even argue that it did.) Hollow Knight wears its Dark Souls influence on its sleeve, but not that fakey "HAHA DARK SOULS IS GOOD BECAUSE IT'S HARD" bullshit. It takes its world building and in-world lore as seriously as it takes its gameplay, as Hallownest feels as alive (and...ya know...decaying and dying) and lived in as any human-populated world might. It was astonishing to me that at the 35 hour mark, I WAS STILL FINDING BRAND-NEW LOCATIONS AND AREAS TO EXPLORE! This game is MONSTROUSLY huge and I feel is the only modern exploration-based platformer that actually *gets* why the good games in this genre work.

John: Takes all the right lessons from Dark Souls and brings the metroidvania genre much closer to its classic dungeon crawler roots. You don't always have a map. The world is large and open-ended, and power-up gates are rare. Enemies and boss encounters have teeth and often require many tries -- sometimes you'll want to leave an area and come back later after accruing more resources.

The game makes all those smart structural decisions, and marries it with a well-considered setting and story, an intensely cathartic finale, and a joyous bundle of movement and fighting rules to play with. It's just a great package, a journey I'm very happy to have taken.

lieronet: It's fucking Dark Souls, but with bugs. One of the only games I've enjoyed enough to attempt some permadeath runs.

jetstorm4: Now here's a surprise a Metroi--- *Thom was taken out during this writing and corrected at this time*

Ahem, a Exploratory Platformer on my list? A surprise for me since I'm not huge on this particular game style but Hollow Knight charmed me a lot with its wonderful art style and movement. Every powerup and ability in this game added to your abilities, and aside from my own problem with weapon upgrades only making enemies more resilient, it is a pretty game and a good game overall.

Rhete: Hollow Knight took a genre that has been under utilized for decades and finally fulfilled its potential. Instead of just following an intended path of required items, Hollow Knight offers a world that is truly open and ready to be explored at your own pace. It's a game that learned the right lessons from Dark Souls, making exploring incredibly rewarding and fun. To get the true ending you'll have to explore nearly every corner of this absolutely massive world, every inch of it fantastic.

Atamine: Pretty basic in terms of what it mechanically put forward, but it perfects its genre in a way I immediately appreciated. I adore it's aesthetic and it takes its Souls inspiration from my favorite place. The obtuse but empathetic worldbuilding. True End landed for me as hard as it did because I CARED about this cute and tragic little bug kingdom.

Ghosty: I adore this game! Whoever the people at Team Cherry are, they understand the appeal and downfalls of the old greats. They intimately understand tone in videogames, and most of all they understand that videogames should be FUN. (Also the art is fricken amazing!) Not just the best metroidvania game of all time, but the best videogame of all time!

Pauncho Smith: You know a game isn't playing nice when it throws both Deepnest AND a Meat Boy Cotton Alley-esque area at you. Has some killer boss fights though.

Psychic_Heist: In my opinion, if there is one true breakout star in the video game world of this last decade, it's the independent game developer. Not only are the tools in place and easily accessible for anyone to start creating their own game, but we also began having the generation raised on the NES/GENESIS/SNES era creating titles heavily influenced from it. I think 2010 - 2019 will go down as most importantly where video games developed by video game enthusiasts blossomed. Games for the people, by the people. It went to show that powerful and strong voices with less resources can still stand toe to toe with the AAA blockbusters. And I feel the strongest of those voices is Team Cherry with their work, "Hollow Knight".

"Hollow Knight" is the right kind of mixture of modern and contemporary game design. Fueled by love and respect of past game influences, but not relying on trends of nostalgia for merit. It has an incredible amount of content that can stand toe to toe with any multimillion-dollar video game project released these days, but one thing that "Hollow Knight" does a lot better than some of those bigger games, is that none of that content feels automated and soulless.

Just about every game I've listed in my top games of the decade, the exceptions being "Super Meat Boy!" and "Overwatch," already have an established franchise they can draw from to build and improve their previous entries. So, it says a lot to me that the entire world of Hollow Knight -- its art direction, characters, music, lore - is conceptualized, fully realized, and implemented to an impeccable degree. You'd expect to see this high level of world creation from seasoned vets, not necessarily from a developer with only a couple previous releases on Newgrounds.

The very best part of "Hollow Knight" to me is its consistent habit of unexpectedly giving you something you needed. It's the equivalent to the feeling of opening up every Christmas present ever gifted to you, until someone points out there is still one gift in the back you overlooked, and when you excitedly retrieve and open it up, it's the best gift you've ever received.

Rainiac: The shock twist at the end of Chapter 1 ripped my still-beating heart out of its chest and the following five took turns stomping it into a bloody pancake. The ending has divided critics on whether it needlessly destroyed everything the franchise had built previously or was an ingenious commentary on the nature of our relationship with fiction: I personally very much fall into the second camp. This game awakened feelings in me I didn't know I had before, no other game released this past decade can claim that accolade.

Polly: The final chapter of the Danganronpa saga goes appropriately hard as it trots into the room with the biggest balls imaginable, dropping the series' classiest and most over-the-top finale. Danganronpa is a series that's always dealt with escaling levels of absurd, and it's more on display in the climax of V3 than any other entry in the series. Its meta commentary on the nature of how we look at the media we consume makes for fitting subject matter given the message V3 is trying to impart onto its audience.

Rhete: How many times can a game break your heart? Play Danganronpa V3 to find out! This game has the most absolutely crazy ending in anything ever and I LOVED it.

Ghosty: So I have been thinking about this game off and on for some time. I felt this game did several things extremely well and that the devs had a lot of guts in making the series ending they did. While I felt that it was a game worth playing, it failed to really click with me. I felt I didn't really 'get' this game. The ending - to me - felt like a swing and a miss. I tried talking about this game with Polly. I've heard others talk about this game. I have read reviews of this game. I still don't get it. As I've started to understand WHY I didn't get it, I also felt the game didn't get me - I wasn't the intended audience. So while still a very good game, I can't place it higher than this.

TenguGemini: An excellent end to an excellent series.

FreezingInferno: So personally resonant that it almost hurts. This game has even more mystery and intrigue than the others before it, and from the word go it pulls a hell of a shocker. Talking about this game in vagueries does it no favors, so let me just say that its final chapter and its main endgame twist are incredibly inspiring to me as a creator. It is a series definitively determined that this is its ending, and it goes out with a commentary on the nature of narrative itself that personally speaks to me as a creative type. For that, it's not only the best Dangan Ronpa game I've ever played, but one of the best games of this decade.

Pauncho Smith: And then it all came to an end. Fans will be debating for years if the twists and turns present in Danganronpa's (apparent) swan song were a shocking, yet brilliant way to wrap up the series, or the most ostentatious way of telling an audience to royally fuck off. At least we'll always have those trials, and if you still miss all your favorite guys and gals, V3 has a substantial amount of post-game content to ease your despair.

Atamine: Danganronpa is about breaking you down and building you up, but V3 does something most stories don't. It's a game that wants to not just inspire us, but radicalize us to change. Its social commentary is the heaviest the series has been and of course THIS was the one where they'd tackle religion and the psychological safety net it is. My love for V3 is gushing and I adore every facet of it for hitting me so personally. Danganronpa V3 is the kindest thing a multimedia franchise entity has ever done for its fanbase. A Pop Art Masterpiece.

jetstorm4: The most Danganronpa, it's middle section is unfortunately quite weak, but it's all in service to the fantastic opening and the incredible ending this game provides. A fantastic closing to this strange, wonderful series.

DoorCurtain: I don't actually think this game is better than Danganronpa 2, because this game had a couple of comparatively unmemorable chapters. But I think the message of the finale is incredibly powerful. I won't spoil what it is, and I can't guarantee everyone will jive with it, but I thought it was very inspiring. When it comes to the final huge twist, I also fucking *called it*!!! My experience posting about the game with Frezno in Discord DMs made the game for me, and felt awesome enough to rank it above Danganronpa 2.

FreezingInferno: A nightmare in hard game form, but a compelling one. Trying to make your way through Dark Souls initially is horrific, a hellish world that wants you dead but refuses to kill you for good. An infinite purgatory of attempting to overcome hard bosses. Then you do it, and things open up further. Though it may lead to relief at first when you finish it, going back only makes you realize just how damn good this thing is. It may kick your face in at first, but "gitting gud", as they say, makes the whole thing worth it.

Polly: Dark Souls, the first one. While it may lack the quality of life changes that would come with later entries, the first game is still head and shoulders above the rest due to how steeped in its dark atmosphere and lore that it is. It's literally the most "The Legend of Zelda 1" game I've probably played SINCE the original Legend of Zelda. Exploring and failing was suddenly fun again, even if the penalty could sometimes turn one hollow.

Rhete: The mood and atmosphere of this game is unmatched. It's a world that does not revolve around you the player, and you have to fight tooth and nail for every inch of progress. The lack of fast travel in the first half makes you think a lot about how you progress though the world, and the ascent to Anor Londo is a great triumph for the player. The back third of the game relies a lot more on gimmicks, but I thought things like the invisible platforms were a fun throwback to the "NES hard" games Dark Souls feels inspired by to begin with. Cap it off with a great final boss and you've got one of the best games ever made.

John: From Software makes some of the best, most well-considered dungeon crawlers out there... but Dark Souls is the only one where you can rest at the bonfire at the bottom of Blighttown and know that you are STUCK there until you find your own way out. In the other From games I've played, you're only ever one death away from being safe at the hub. In Dark Souls, you're on your own. And when you finally do reach your hub after an endless stretch of time spent away, you find that its light has gone out.

Zeloz: I love Demons' Souls. It's likely my favorite PS3 game. But I can't deny the improvements the follow-up brought to the table, as well as the massive impact the game had on opening up dark, gothic RPGs into the mainstream.

Pauncho Smith: The word I most associate with this game? Accomplishment. That'll be the prevailing feeling you'll get for each and every little bit of progress you made in Dark Souls. It's beyond satisfying, provided you have the patience to learn the best way forward through every trap, every enemy wave and every boss fight.

lieronet: It's fucking Dark Souls.

Atamine: It might be undercooked compared to its successors, Souls 1 still resonates the most for me because of the unique sense of 'journey' that came from the first Dark Souls being the only one brave enough to limit fast-travel until the mid-point of the game. This brutal relationship made with the bulk of Lordran at the start of your adventure is some of the fondest gaming memories of the last decade for a lot of people and it's certainly true for me. The lore drew me in for its compelling mythology around tragic, fatalistic thematics and while trying to piece together the puzzle that is Dark Souls' lore is fun, Dark Souls' greatest accomplishment with its implementation of lore is its empathetic worldbuilding. Sorrow and sympathy are meant to be the feelings you take away from Dark Souls and FromSoft has done good keeping that compelling edge to its games, but the first Dark Souls gave me a sense of adventure and wonder that none of its successors have.

Beepner: The game that launched a thousand cliches. While my time with Dark Souls was marred by false starts and near-ragequits, I can't think of another game of the 2010s that gave me the sense of exploring a fleshed-out world like it did.

Remnant: As a counterpoint to the broad expansiveness that was in the overworld of the original Zelda, re-captured in spirit in Breath of the Wild, Dark Souls captured the original Zelda's ruthlessness: figuring out where to go and what to do and how to handle difficult enemy encounters within the limited moveset and toolset at your disposal. It also brought a new style of video game storytelling to the table. All of that makes this game excellent from a more objective perspective, but a big part of what makes Dark Souls my #1 GOTD is a very personal factor, which I don't mind sharing. Consider the following:

You find yourself in a world that you don't fully understand. Just about everything seems dangerous and hostile. The few moments of respite are few and far between compared to the challenges and obstacles that are constantly before you. It can be tempting to just give up on it all. But...if you keep trying, you listen to the advice of those who genuinely want you to succeed, you reach out for help when you need it, and you never give up...you can surpass any obstacle that is placed before you, you can gain some understanding of the world around you (at least enough to make peace with it) and you can overcome the world. Maybe, just maybe--if you really dig through the depths and gain deep insight--you can possibly change the world.

This is a summation of the gameplay experience of Dark Souls. This is also a summation of the story of the "Chosen Undead."

It's also a summation of the experience of living with clinical depression.

This was a decade of the most intense lows and profound highs that I've ever gone through. I'm glad to say that I'm currently living my best life, but it hasn't been easy getting here. The process of getting the help I needed illuminated the fact that I've actually been struggling with high-functioning depression since my late teens; and this high-functioning depressed state was getting worse into my thirties before obstacles like a child's cancer diagnosis and the threat of family dissolution became a part of my reality.

Dark Souls was not only intensely cathartic to play, but it spoke to the sort of internal struggle I was dealing with at a deeply unconscious level. I didn't even consciously realize that there was an intense parallel between the game experience and my battles with depression until I was well into Dark Souls III and far along in the process of recovery.

This is not to say that Dark Souls is specifically about depression. Let's not, as Tolkien would say, "confuse applicability with allegory." While I've read others' stories about this same parallel with depression, I've also read the story of a former U.S. soldier who used the game to help him cope with his recovery from addiction and PTSD; I've read about someone who applied the Dark Souls metaphor to coping with social anxiety. This doesn't diminish my personal interpretation at all. It enhances it. That Dark Souls can be great game AND a powerful metaphor for the very nature of human struggle against extraordinary circumstances makes Dark Souls nothing less than an extraordinary game.

Atamine: "Grounded" is probably a confusing word to explain why SDR2's cast and narrative felt more relatable and impactful than the first game for me, but Danganronpa is always about exaggeration. Compared to D1's cast, 2's Ultimates feel less like elites and more like regular kids who just happen to be REALLY good at something. The continued examination of self-confidence is focused around a more compelling "nobody" protagonist and a foil whose role and archetype are something I wonder why I haven't seen more of in fiction. The first Danganronpa is a great game with a message I deeply appreciated, but Danganronpa 2 gave the message of Hope vs Despair the weight that I needed for it to really affect me. Danganronpa 1 was a story I wish I had in high school, Danganronpa 2 was a story that made me want to live.

Polly: I will always vividly remember my time with this game being binging the last twelve hours of it on Election Night 2016. Needless to say the next day was the weirdest mix of emotions I've had in a long time. Danganronpa 2 is simply a masterpiece. It brilliantly takes your expectations and gives into them, but twists them in such a way that every new twist is still somehow completely out of left field and at the same time believable. The last two chapters of this game alone had me screaming at my monitor in disbelief at what I was seeing, and I goddamn loved every minute of it, even the parts that hurt a whole lot.

Rhete: The Metal Gear Solid 2 of the Danganronpa franchise. A game that assumes you've played the first one (which you should have!) and then perfectly fucks with your expectations start to finish.

John: Nagito is my favorite Danganronpa character -- maybe most people's favorite. SDR2 could've been a standard unnecessary videogame sequel, but the crazed nightmare energy Nagito brings to the story elevates it into something more. The explosive finale capitalizes on that energy beautifully, subverting and upholding everything the first game stood for in equal measure.

TenguGemini: The best Danganronpa. My favorite VN. Chiaki must be protected.

FreezingInferno: At first Dangan Ronpa 2 seems like business as usual, compared to its predecessor. Then everything changes. It's far more than just "another one of those", however. Its end game is filled with twists and turns and shockers, but above all else it's a game about staying true to your own ideals; a game about hope prevailing over despair. Inspiring stuff, and a contender for best game in the Dangan Ronpa series.

Ghosty: So you're on a happy summer school trip! With a talking animatronic bunny. And... You are doing... Well? Let me just say the writers really knew what they were doing here, and they really outdid themselves. The cast and character writing is the best in the series, the twists are the best, and- Oh Cod, how can it keep escalating like this!?

I mean the first game was great but this is even better!

Pauncho Smith: Sometimes, you just need to get the hell out of the classroom. The tropical setting provides some relief, but it's not long before the murder resumes and it's back to business as usual. I still wait for the day the Danganronpa Spoilercast happens, cos the riffing on Teruteru will be nothing short of epic.

Rainiac: DanganRonpa 2 takes a long hard look at the first game and then loudly proclaims "Hold my beer". Chapter 5 is unforgettable, as are several of the classmates thanks to a combination of superb writing, brilliant voice acting and fantastic character design. For years I thought the series couldn't get any better than this: I was mistaken.

jetstorm4: Of the Danganronpas, this is probably the best of them. It's the one that I think takes from the first game the most and expands it enough to be saying its own thing. Nagito Komaeda is still life.

DoorCurtain: The first Danganronpa game was great, there's no way the sequel is just as good, right? That's where you're wrong, *bucko*. The game somehow takes all the expectations you had from the first game, which was already about constantly breaking your expectations, and shatters them into a million pieces. The characters, writing, themes, *everything* is way better. Bravo to the team for successfully following up one of the coolest mystery games to debut in the 2010s.

Pauncho Smith: By itself, the original Shovel Knight (Shovel of Hope as it's now known as), would've easily made my top 10 under different circumstances. But having to take into account every additional campaign and extra, there's no way couldn't top my list. There's just so much stellar Shovel Knight content that's been released since 2014. The Plague Knight and Specter Knight campaigns are worthy games in their own right, and I guess people who like card games have the King Knight quest (one which I have yet to complete as of this posting) to satiate them. Far more than simple homages to the 8-bit era, these are games that will stand the test of time.

TenguGemini: Just a very good 2d platformer, and quite a treasure trove of content.

lieronet: Great action-platformer. Idk I played and enjoyed this game, which I apparently can only say for about four games a year, what do you want from me?

Remnant: The "Captain Planet" of excellent NES games. "With your powers combined..."

Polly: Shovel Knight is easily one of the biggest successes of the last ten years. Yacht Club's dedication to finishing out the project they promised, continually adding more and more content, is nothing short of admirable. This package earns a spot on my list for Plague of Shadows alone, but Shovel of Hope and Spectre of Torment aren't any kinda slouches, either.

Durante Pierpaoli: This review pertains to the vanilla Shovel Knight as I did not play any of the expansion content for this: the original Shovel Knight is one of the finest platformers ever made. It's well designed, it's colorful, the aesthetic gets into your head in a way that similar Retro Ripoffs simply haven't, and maybe the biggest credit to give there is to composer Jake Kauffman who, I think it's fair to say, has completely and totally mastered chiptunes as an aesthetic. As well, the game seems to see and understand the narrativistic elements of something like Castlevania 1 and how this style of game makes an emotional connecting to the player by finding ways to remind them what they're fighting for. In Castlevania, you can always see Drac's tower off in the distance. In Shovel Knight you can constantly relive a metaphor for whatever your greatest failure is as the game asks you to catch Shield Knight and yet again refuses to assuage your guilt, as it always does. Did I mention that the soundtrack slaps the taste out of your mouth?

Beepner: The retro platformer that keeps on giving, literally. Like shoveling gems out of a pile of dirt, Yacht Club kept giving us new expansions and their flagship character showed up as a guest in every game known to man. The base game is still fun and satisfying to play at its core, however.

Carmichael Micaalus: It's Shovel Knight! It's fun!

Rhete: Shovel of Hope was a cute NES throwback with modern sensibilities. But where this package truly shined for me, was the Plague of Shadows campaign. What's funny about Plague of Shadows is that of the three boss knight campaigns, it changes the least. Going through levels not originally designed for Plague Knight, but still being able to get through them due to his strange and awkward move set was incredibly fun to me. The clever changes to ancillary things like the town were also great, and worked towards the idea that Plague of Shadows and Shovel of Hope were happening at the same time. Basically, Plague Knight completely rewrote the book of "Playing through the same game as another character" for me. Oh AND it's a super cute love story!

Carmichael Micaalus: Plague Knight was really hard for me to control! Even after I got used to it, it still gave me trouble up to the end. That said, it was still fun, and had a very cute story.

Zeloz: One of the most technically polished videogames to have come out of this decade, Shovel Knight does an incredible job of communicating the NES action-platformer aesthetic while adding just enough modernity to keep frustration at bay.

Playing this and Plague of Shadows during a particularly stressful holiday season and a despair-inducing election cycle kept me hopeful; its catchy music and clever level design often gave me something to look forward to in the time between gruelling work shifts with bigoted coworkers.

Ghosty: I love Shovel Knight. The original Shovel Knight, now referred to as 'Shovel of Hope'. I just liked the whimsical vibe, the simple yet effective way the story was told, the simple but fun controls, the excellently designed stages that consider where you entered the room from.

Plague of Shadows was... A great, fun and quirky story that is oh so adorable. I felt like I could never get to grips with the controls, though. Maybe I'm just bad at videogames.

Specter of Torment I liked a good bit. Strangely, my favourite part was Horace's Challenge, and the spoopy denizens of the Tower of Fate. The wall run and slash dash felt real slick.

The rest is nice to have, though I don't care to mention much about it. The sheer amount of quality content you got out of that one purchase was amazing! Many thanks to Yacht Club Games.

Carmichael Micaalus: While Plague Knight had the better story, Specter Knight's controls were far easier for me to handle. It was (understandably) the more melancholic of the Shovel Knight games, both in setting and writing, but the humor you've come to expect from the game still shines through.

Rainiac: Five games in one, and all of them are great (except for Showdown, but we don't talk about Showdown round these parts). A loving tribute to retro games of days gone by that also feels entirely fresh and original. All of the playable characters handle really well, especially Spectre Knight. A must-have for any platform game fan.

jetstorm4: Shovel Knight got AROUND this decade huh? Not only into every indie game, but onto almost every console too! Hell I think every console this decade! Not a bad thing though because Shovel Knight is a solid piece of work from start to finish and the updates and extra content only added to the full package as time went on. As far as indie games go for the decade, I can't help but think of this as one of the most important in the larger sphere of indie games.

DoorCurtain: I don't love this game as much as the rest of the internet does, but there's nothing really wrong with the game, either. It's a fun call-back to old NES action games with modern sensibilities. I liked the tools you could get that gave Shovel Knight more abilities like fishing or stabbing horizontally through the air. I never checked out all the free expansions, but kudos to the team for working real hard on all those extra single player campaigns.

FreezingInferno: An absolute revelation of a game. A master class in spinning gold fron the nostalgia of NES games of yesteryear. Shovel Knight feels like the natural progression of that style of game, so finely crafted but also able to stand on its own legs without loudly shouting at you to remind you of a specific old game beyond some inspired mechanics. Its expansions only added to the variety of the experience overall (okay so maybe we didn't need that card game, but ignore that.) and made the final package stronger. Absolute brilliance.

Zeloz: I can hardly think of another game with a wit so sharp and a style so ridiculously tailored to my JRPG/Anime/Queer/Cartoon/Touhou-loving self. Even though my love for the game has cooled as the game has gone through the memetic life cycle over the years, I can't deny that every layer of this veritable emotional onion, even when it's at its absolute nastiest, is beautifully designed.

Jesus, and to think this would come from the same person that made fucking Arn's Winter Quest.

Rhete: Undertale is a game I legitimately consider to be perfect. I've never seen a story and world so immaculately constructed. The cast of characters is fantastic, the soundtrack is genius, and the writing is incredibly good. Undertale has a lot to say about the human condition, and the way we engage with violence, both fictional and real, that still sticks with me today. There was a moment for me during the night I finished the normal AND pacifist endings, that I realized "oh, this is just my favorite thing ever now huh" and that feeling hasn't left me.

Polly: I mean...I literally don't know what I can say about this game that wasn't already said in a freaking five-hour spoilercast edition of the Sockscast shortly after the game was released. Undertale left a HUGE mark on games as a whole and its impact is going to be felt for years to come. There is no one thing that makes Undertale the incredible piece of work that it is. Between the inventive approach to combat, the incredible sense of humor and jovial tone the game's voice has at most times, the warmth its cast of characters exudes, and the layer of ridiculous meta nonsense that gets piled on (I mean this in a good way), there's just a lot of reasons for Undertale's deserved success.

Ghosty: So a certain someone gifted me a game called 'Undertale'. I'd heard the title uttered before, but I had no notion of what it was. I started it up, and... It threw me off. What was this thing?? I was expecting an RPG from all the signals it was giving me, but it just seemed... Odd. Also, is this a MOTHER reference?

Going in blind like this set me up for one of the strongest gaming experiences I've had in an awful, awful, AWFUL long time! It was like being a kid again, not understanding how the game works.

Peaches the Rayven: I thought I knew what I was getting into, playing this game about making friends with monsters.

I didn't know what I was getting into.

The central mechanic of this RPG is that you must use a bullet hell to dodge enemy attacks. Which seems so simple, it's actually kind of genius - even if they have to abstract it as somehow protecting your Soul from things like drops of water or a parade of bones.

Beyond that, what's surprising is how the game achives its aims with rather basic means. The graphics aren't what I'd call retro - they're just simple and low-resoultion, not trying to imitate the RPGs of yesteryear but instead, perhaps, becoming an offshot into something else instead of a remake.

Carmichael Micaalus: I think this is one of those games that just struck a chord with a lot of people deep inside. It was a story that needed to be told, and was done so beautifully.

TenguGemini: The music, characters, story, and meta narrative are all done expertly. Undertale is one of the most charming games I have ever played.

FreezingInferno: GameFAQs's official Greatest Game Ever Made is a masterful little game. Subversive, hilarious, and self-aware. There's a real heart to the craft of this one, even if it's short. Alternatively you can be heartless and create a goddamned nightmare for the denizens of the game and yourself. It has something to say about the way we play games, and it's an impressive enough message to make you sit up and take notice. It also helps that the game itself is pretty fun, no matter how you choose to play it.

Rainiac: Truly groundbreaking. The various NPCs you encounter on your journey are all charming in their own ways and I defy you to play this and not take a shine to at least one of them. As a self-proclaimed completionist, I'm not ashamed to admit that I chickened out of the Genocide Run because the guilt I felt slaughtering the creatures I'd previously befriended became too much to bear: that's the raw power of Undertale.

Iffy: For all the hype surrounding this game, I just didn't get it for the most part. I feel like people should talk about how good the music is more, and appreciate that this is actually a Mario Paint love letter.

lieronet: Hey, you got your savage deconstruction of JRPGs in my heartwarming, funny videogame about the power of friendship!

jetstorm4: This was probably the biggest indie experience I can think of that happened this year (besides Shovel Knight) that was also quite a bit of a surprise that came out of nowhere. An incredible RPG that uses the base mechanics of an RPG to tell an incredible story with a fantastic journey and a wonderful twist to rend your heart in half. Wonderful game.

DoorCurtain: I don't think I've loved a game as hard as I loved Undertale when I played it completely blind. Everyone has said their piece on the game, so I'll just say, Deltarune has a lot to live up to, because I consider Undertale to be basically perfect in every way. I was really thinking about if maybe another game could be #1 on the list, but even if it's an obvious choice, it's still the correct choice for me. It got me more driven to seek out other story-focused games that don't focus on the player committing violence, so I can always thank Undertale for getting me into, say, the Ace Attorney games, for example. Hey, there's a back-of-the-box quote: "Undertale gives you taste!"

Atamine: Undertale is a multi-faceted game meant to be seen from different angles and perspectives and something that can mean different things to different people. I hadn't experienced anything like Undertale when I first played it and fell in love with its humor, characters, charm, and thematically precise game mechanics, but tear away its smiling fa├žade and what you have is a game about suicidal children who are at risk for sociopathy. I believe Undertale is a hopeful and optimistic game that wants you to follow the pacifist route, but Undertale is made with the cynical expectation that this sentimentality will erode and the player will follow the Path of Flowey. There's a nihilism and doubt at the core of Undertale that's impossible to overlook that's brims out when you experience the Genocide route, the one part of the game that felt Yume Nikki-ish in its isolation and unnerving, distorted musical score. Undertale's use of discomfort is one of its greatest strengths, but the Genocide route is particularly special and not an experience you can get by just watching a Let's Play. Undertale's mechanical identity communicates the importance of communication and connection, but it also has the dark flipside of allowing you to cause more hurt with that knowledge. There's this idea I keep seeing that Undertale is about unconditional love in the face of all adversity, but I don't believe that's true. The Genocide route is the counterargument to this that balances out the game's sincere hopefulness by making the monster who can't be reasoned with you. The horror of Undertale's Genocide route is that it's made with the idea that once a person has been stripped of all capacities for joy and satisfaction they'll do whatever it takes to find it elsewhere. Undertale is made with the assumption that it will be abused. Undertale wants to love you, but it will crush your nuts if you push it too far. Undertale's message is at once about the importance of communication and communal love just as much as it's about the existential threat of going numb. It's one of the best RPGs ever made because Undertale is about exploring what a person is capable of, from all the good intentions in the world to perfectly imaginable cruelty. Undertale took its RPG variable, killing people, and took it as far as it could to a place of self-reflection. I only find it more impressive and impactful that its exploration of empathy, killing, and the power dynamics involved in violence revolves around the psychology of children. One of the most apt descriptions I've heard of Undertale is that it's not a happy game, it's a sad game filled with happy people who just want life to work out. Few works of fiction have gotten under my skin and touched my soul than Undertale.

John: Undertale cares very deeply for its characters and their story. Every part of the game spirals back into them. It wants us to know who they really are; what they want, what they need, what their hopes and dreams are.

There are many wonderful things about Undertale. But none of them would land the way they do now without the strength of its cast. The game puts them all into hard situations where they're forced to reveal who they really are deep down. To their friends, to us, and to themselves. It inspires them to grow, and we get to watch and experience that growth. Maybe doing so gives us a few tools to help grow ourselves down the line, when things gets hard, because they always do at some point.

The strength of Undertale is that it embodies the power of storytelling. It's really that simple. And that's a freeing idea if you're an artist that really loves Undertale, because that's a power we all have access to.

It's a game of the decade, sure. But while it's unbelievably special, you have the capacity to make something just as wonderful. Maybe you already have, like the friends I've mentioned on my list. Maybe you're going to, and we'll include your work on the next list ten years from now.

You can make it happen, if you want. You just need a little determination.

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