The Xbox Series X and Playstation 5 launched this week ushering in the next generation of gaming, and bringing to a close an incredible era in video game history. So many games that have come out over the last 8 years have earned the title of “instant classic,” and I thought as a way to look back over the last generation, I’d count down my 5 favorite games of this era.
So before I start, I feel like I need to preface this with a couple of things. First of all, I picked a really bad console generation to go on my “retro only” kick. I was so lukewarm on the 360/PS3 generation that it took me until recently to really get into some of the amazing games this generation has to offer.
So with that said, I haven’t played dozens of incredible games, so when you start asking yourself why is X on this list instead of Y? The answer is pretty simple, I probably haven’t played it. So you may be asking yourself, are you really qualified to be writing this? Absolutely not, but I’m gonna do it anyway, so mind ya business!
One last caveat. I will not include any Switch exclusives on here since the Switch is technically the current-gen console for Nintendo for the foreseeable future; with that out of the way, let’s get into it.
Memes aside, Fortnite was a great game. I say “was” because it got completely out of control and hasn’t really been even halfway decent for about a year and a half now. There have been better selling games; there have been more critically acclaimed games, but never has there been a game that completely captured the world’s attention quite like Fortnite. Never has there been a game that has infiltrated culture quite like Fortnite.
I admit I was heavily addicted to this game for a while, it wasn’t the first BR game, but it was the first to truly streamline that experience and simplify it to make it accessible to everyone. In the beginning, there was the perfect balance of strategic decision making and stick skills so that you couldn’t just Rambo your way through the game, but you also couldn’t just camp til the final circle and hope to win a one on one fight.
#4 Genshin Impact
When I first saw Genshin Impact, my first thought was, “Ugh, here’s another incomplete RPG that they’re gonna put half the game behind a paywall and bleed me dry with microtransactions.” While that is a direction you can go with the game, you can still have an absolutely phenomenal open-world experience completely F2P.
At first glance, the game looks like enough of a Breath of the Wild (BOTW) clone to warrant the “Breath of the Waifu” jokes, but to fixate on that point alone is to miss out on a phenomenal game in its own right. Besides, even if it was just a straight-up BOTW ripoff, is that in any way a bad thing? There are some major differences in the way the game plays that I’m going to let you discover on your own (I mean, it is free to play) but suffice it to say the core concept is very similar to BOTW but how it goes about that aim is unique. With 40+ hours of gameplay wrapped into a free to play game, I’d say you certainly get your money’s worth on this one.
#3 Stardew Valley
I loved Stardew Valley. It was the first game I bought for my Switch while I waited for my local store to get a restock of Breath of the Wild and Mario Odyssey, and even after I got both of those games, I found myself fixated on this one. The simple farming simulation gameplay may be a turn off to some, but the game keeps things just lively enough to get you to say the dreaded “Oh, I’ll just do one more run in the cave” or “I’ll just harvest my crops and be done” that inevitably leads to staying up 6 hours past when you were planning on going to bed without even realizing it.
Is Stardew Valley a perfect game? Far from it. Is it even the best game of this sub-genre? I have no idea because I’ve never played games like Harvest Moon or Rune Factory. So why is it so high on my list? Simple. Stardew Valley got my wife into gaming. She got so addicted to it she bought her own Switch so she wouldn’t have to wait until I wasn’t using mine. Her enjoyment of this game led her to be willing to try a bunch of other types of games, and since then, she’s finished classics like Dragon Quest VIII, Pokemon Red, and Breath of the Wild.
So again, Stardew Valley isn’t perfect, but if it made it so I could share those games and experiences with my wife, it has to make this list for me.
#2 Dragon Quest XI
Anyone who has talked to me about gaming knows I absolutely love traditional JRPGs, and that’s what I love about Dragon Quest XI. Where other RPGs zigged, Dragon Quest zagged. Other RPGs have gravitated towards action-based combat, complex systems, hyper-realistic graphics, and severely melodramatic stories, but not Dragon Quest. At its core, Dragon Quest XI is a 90s RPG, and that’s some of the highest praise I can give it. It’s the same formula as those all-time classics, just updated for a modern console.
The graphics, while not realistic, are absolutely stunning. The world is incredibly expansive, with enough side content and branching paths to keep you occupied for hours. The story, in my opinion, is far and away the best in the series, and the characters are super loveable (love me some Sylvando)
The combat is simple, traditional turn-based JRPG fare done right, and that is a breath of fresh air for me in this era of gaming. Dragon Quest XI is the game I can most easily see myself replaying years from now because games in this style age so much better than games that go for realistic graphics, and that isn’t a knock on those games at all, but there’s something to be said for the timelessness of games of this style. They prove that you don’t always have to innovate or do something new, sometimes you can just execute brilliantly on something that’s already been done a million times over, and it turns out beautifully.
#1 Final Fantasy VII Remake
So all that stuff I just got done saying about Dragon Quest XI, yeah, forget all of that because holy crap, this game is amazing. I don’t have the deep emotional attachment that some do to the original; I didn’t even finish it until I was in my 20s. The original isn’t even my favorite Final Fantasy game; that honor goes to VI or IX. But good lord, when I saw that opening cinematic, I got choked up.
I still remember the announcement that this game was only going to go through the end of the Midgar story arc and wondering how on earth they would make a whole game out of that, but damn if they didn’t execute that perfectly. I found myself growing emotionally attached to characters that get maybe a couple of minutes of screen time in the original. The way they took such an incredible story like the original FFVII and added so much depth to it was just an unreal experience for me. Seeing characters like Barrett, Tifa, Aerith, and Cloud come to life with gorgeous visuals and surprisingly great voice acting was such a treat, and the depth they add to each of the dwarfs that of the original.
The combat system was so intuitive and got me to enjoy a style of game I would’ve previously turned my nose up at as somewhat of a “traditionalist” when it comes to RPGs. It took some of the elements of the game I was familiar with, like the “Materia” system, and innovated on them in a way that they still felt familiar but also fresh and modern.
When this was announced, I was disappointed that it was going to be divided up amongst so many entries, but after finishing it, I can confidently say I’m actually pleased with that decision as it provided a much deeper experience that I can’t wait to see how they execute in future entries.
This generation has some games that rank among some of the all-time greats. Though you may read this list and see so many games that should be on here, in my view, that is just a testament to the depth of quality that exists in this era of gaming. I know where these games consistently rank amongst the current crop of games on other lists, and to know that there are so many games that I haven’t played that people have ranked as highly as these makes me excited to try them all.
If there’s one thing I learned from writing this, it’s how much I missed out on an incredible generation of gaming, and I hope the next generation brings just as much to the table. Hopefully, ten years from now, I’ll be writing this same article about the Series X and the PS5 with a much longer list and a more extensive experience with the games. But for now, I’m going to spend all of my time going back through games I missed while I wait for a bigger library to come out for the next-gen consoles!