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10 favorite video games from the Obama years

by Ron Duwell | February 19, 2017February 19, 2017 10:00 am PDT

Eight years of President Barack Obama have come to a close, and they already seem like an eternity ago. The 44th President oversaw an era of gaming that saw the industry increase tenfold in popularity. Gaming expanded from a hobby for kids and man-children who couldn’t search their souls and grew up to a culturally accepted pastime that could be enjoyed even by your grandma.

Press-conferences for video game reveals changed into massive rallies that overpowered political rallies, and at the same time, the everyman learned that they could make money off their own creations. Indie games and AAA giants defined the Obama years in video gaming.

Capcom, THQ, Konami and middle sized publishers struggled to keep up with the assault on both sides.

And yes, besides theses transformations, we had some great video games come out over these eight years. While my personal heaven will forever be gaming in the Clinton years, Obama’s years produced a few future classics I’ll remember for years to come.

Here are my ten favorites chronologically.

Demon’s Souls – Oct. 6, 2009

Eagle-eyed gamers of Japanese exclusives, who had long seen FromSoftware as a C-level, dark horse copycat developer at that point, picked up the unknown game Demon’s Souls in 2009 and discovered that… wow, this is really good.

We mean, REALLY good.

Atlus noticed this naturally spreading hype, and published the game later in October. Critics and gamers pointed out how this game served as a solid reminder that video games could be both challenging and fun. Years of AAA games holding us by the hand and giving us instant gratification had us forget the centralt pillar of game design, but all it took was Demon’s Souls to show us differently.

The rest is history. Demon’s Souls spawned Dark Souls under Bandai Namco’s banner, and while I think Dark Souls is certainly a grander game, I’ve never considered myself a bigger fan of it than this original.

Mass Effect 2 – Jan. 26, 2010

We’re going chronologically here, but if I had to pick a number 1 game from the list, this is an easy pick. Mass Effect 2 delivered on far more promises than it made, ultimately becoming the peak of all gaming trends that had been forming at that point.

Non-linear progress through a storyline, moral decisions, cinematic storytelling, world-building, optional quests, consequences for your decision. Mass Effect 2 might have scaled back from the vision that the original set, but it was a necessary change to make it an immortal franchise.

Yes, Mass Effect 2’s streamlining into a more direct game is one example where gutting a video game has actually helped. EA’s influence and BioWare’s access to action game developers put this series over the edge in the ultimate middle-entry of a gaming trilogy. I only hope Andromeda is half this good.

Just Cause 2 – March 23, 2010

I don’t often get along with the open-world formula that Rockstar established with Grand Theft Auto. Some might notice an absence of anything by Rockstar from this list, and that’s not an accident. It’s just not for me.

Just Cause 2, though, is the ultimate incarnation of this open-world design. Developer Avalanche Studios shifts the focus away from cinematic scenes that often give players a linear focus through open worlds and instead grants progress through true freedom. Every soldier wasted, every building and structure damaged, everything done by the player in this game plays into obtaining the final goal. Roughly five percent of the game is scripted missions, and that’s all I want to see in a series that promotes freedom.

Grand Theft Auto lets you waste time by causing chaos, but Just Cause 2 rewards you for it by making it the game’s main focus.

That parachute/grappling hook mechanic too? Genius! Turned an average series into an all-time great.

Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies – July 11, 2010

I had been a casual fan of Dragon Quest up until this point, dabbling in the DS remakes and trying to see what so many Japanese loved about. I lacked the nostalgia that those who played it in the Famicom and Super Famicom years possessed, so I found myself coming up a bit short of the pure, unbridled love that they held in their hearts and memories.

That didn’t stop me from fully embracing this game.

120 hours sunk into this title easily has Dragon Quest IX as my most played game of these eight years. It’s just a naturally charming game, using your nameless avatars to explore a world loaded with fun mythology and different regions with problems, playing perfectly into Dragon Quest’s “short story” formula.

I played it a little too late to take advantage of the online post-game content, but that might be for the best. I can’t even think about how many hours I would lose of my life into that. Instead, it opened up the doors and finally allowed me to embrace the Dragon Quest series in a big way. I’m a bit late to the party, but most of us in North America had very little choice in the matter.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Nov. 11, 2011

Skyrim is eternal. Many games have come and gone since 2011, but this is a game that can still make headlines six years after its initial release.

There’s just simply so much to do, and while plenty of games have surpassed it in terms of sheer size, none have ever seemed that large. Bethesda had always wanted to drop players into a genuine kingdom built entirely to scale, and I’m not sure if they can ever come this close to doing so again.

It’s also not held back by a strong central pillar, meaning you’ll never feel anchored to one single objective when getting out there and seeing what’s in this brilliant world has to offer.

Crimson Shroud – Oct. 25, 2012

Crimson Shroud is a micro JRPG that can be beaten in a mere four hours if you know what you’re doing, but it’s still the absolute best-designed JRPG of the last ten years. You can read my extensive review on this game, but if that’s tldr, this might be Yasumi Matsuno’s most complete game he’s ever made. High praise for the man who made Final Fantasy Tactics.

The game also brilliantly uses dice and actual game pieces to tell its story, using classic camera angles on still figures to create an unbelievable sense of drama. For all that animation sunk into modern day cinematic games, Crimson Shroud outclasses all of them by using the basic rules of actual cinema.

In short, this is the best $8 you can spend on the 3DS. It’s even better if you get it on sale!

Shovel Knight – June 26, 2014

Retro homages are a dime a dozen these days, but what sets the great ones apart from the forgettable ones is hitting a sweet spot where passion meets genuine talent for game design. No game hit this narrow point more precisely than Shovel Knight.

As a throwback to classic Mega Man games, Shovel Knight nailed the 8-bit aesthetic better than the rest of its competition, delivering expressive sprites and a soundtrack that gets better and better every time you hear it.

However, Yacht Club Games also did away with their pride and decided to scrap the brutal difficulty curve of the classics. Shovel Knight is challenging to a point, but not enough to turn off people who were not raised on classics.

And what’s best of all about Shovel Knight? It’s not finished yet! We still have an entire chapter to go, and if it’s a success, maybe Yacht Club Games will just work on Shovel Knight forever… just like Mega Man’s original developers.

Terra Battle – Oct. 9, 2014

I thought about squeezing another favorite of mine like Bravely Default or Super Mario Land 3D in here, but truth be told, I would be horribly mistaken if I didn’t mention this free-to-play mobile game. Some might sneer, but the pedigree behind Terra Battle is sky high, giving it a bit more credence than most free-to-play games.

Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi isn’t the only main name to be recognized here. Plenty of JRPG heavy hitters contributed to this game’s stunning presentation, whether it’s the art, the music, or the writing. Some would say such talent is wasted on a free-to-play game, but I think it helps break the mold of these “gacha” games into new territories. Seeing the character art and reading the backstories, you’d think you were playing a genuine JRPG.

Again, I’ve written about it extensively, but 250+ days of playing haven’t been enough. Still going strong on a daily basis.

Stardew Valley – Feb. 26, 2016

 

Nothing really new to write about here. It’s just a perfect indie game that speaks to all of my tastes. Great music, a pleasing 16-bit aesthetic and construction choices that are limited enough to not be intimidating.

Plus, the appeal of settling down in the countryside is becoming stronger and stronger each and every day. I’ll be living out my fantasies forever when this game becomes portable on the Switch.

This sleeper hit towered over the competition last year, beating out plenty of highly anticipated indie games, and it landed developer Eric Barone on the Forbes 30 under 30 list.

Final Fantasy XV – Nov. 29, 2016

Oh… I just love this game. I played around with the Moogle Carnival just recently, and I had a great time mindlessly collecting stupid charms and medallions, all for no reason. Noctis and the boys are the most charming group of dudes in recent video gaming memory, and Director Hajime Tabata created an adventure that makes you feel proud to be a Final Fantasy fan after all these years.

It’s far from perfect, but again, one of my all-time favorites games of all time is SaGa Frontier. Perfection is overrated. Sometimes, you just have to go with your gut, and I would take Final Fantasy XV, the quirky charms, horrible chapters, and all, over the most “polished” and “balanced” critical darlings on the market.

They are mere buzzwords that translate into “boring” for me. I’ll take a game with heart over those any day of the week, and that is where Final Fantasy XV truly succeeds.


So Obama’s eight years of video games were pretty great, and we have as many as four years ahead of us for Trump to establish his video game legacy…

I’m sure plenty of you have lists out there that are totally different. Please share your lists below.


Ron Duwell

Ron has been living it up in Japan for the last decade, and he has no intention of leaving this technical wonderland any time soon. When he's not...

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