USG's Top 100 Games of the Decade: The Honorable Mentions

USG's Top 100 Games of the Decade: The Honorable Mentions

These are the overlooked games that are still winners in our hearts.

We here at USG put our heads together to come up with The Top 100 Games of the Decade, and the debate nearly came to blows at certain points. Despite the sometimes-heated discourse (and the dried puddles of blood on the floor), we're quite proud of our list.

Sadly, not every deserving game can stand in the winner's circle, but that's why "Honorable Mentions" lists were invented. Each of us picked one excluded game to lavish our love upon. If one of your favorites was left out in the cold, perhaps you'll find it here.

Step on up to the plate. | Atlus

Kat - Persona 4 Golden

We left Persona 4 Golden off this list in part because it's basically a really nice update of a game that came out in 2008. But still, what an update. There's a strong argument to be made for Persona 4 Golden being the very best game on the PlayStation Vita, which some might take as an insult to the Vita, but is really a compliment to Persona. Atlus really did an incredible job with this version.

Before Persona 4 Golden, Atlus' supernatural murder mystery was broadly overshadowed by Persona 3. "Too yellow" went a common complaint. Too derivative. Boring dungeons. After Persona 4 Golden though, Chie, Yukiko, and the rest of Persona 4's colorful band of scoobies rocketed to the top of the fan polls. Their rise was aided by a top-notch HD remaster; clever additions like the ability to see what other players were doing on a given day, and several new story scenes.

It was enough to convince us to give Persona 4 Golden (an extremely narrow) edge over Persona 5 when choosing our list of the Top 25 RPGs of All Time. It's rare that a remastered update manages to completely alter a single game's legacy, but Persona 4 Golden was ultimately a game that managed just that.

Caty - Project Diva F 2nd

To me, Sega's Project Diva games are some of the best rhythm games ever made. Nowhere are they better than in Project Diva F 2nd, a game I played so much on my PlayStation Vita that the buttons got a little busted.

Most know the series as that Hatsune Miku game. Which, yes, that's fair. But it's also the most satisfyingly designed rhythm game of the past decade. It's brutally difficult, but not the type that's nonsensical. It's a rhythm game that prizes knowing rhythm-actual rhythm-greatly. Its UI is clean and easy to read and follow along to, and underrated trait that's necessary for a truly great rhythm game. Its soundtrack bounces between genres wildly thanks to the diversity of its producers, even though they all have the same computerized Vocaloids singing their songs.

The Project Diva games, in practice, are a zen-sorta rhythm game. You find yourself trapped by its fast melodies, and as button prompts zip around the screen, you tap them in perfect rhythm. It helps that in the early 2010s, I was low-key obsessed with J-Pop and Vocaloids. I barely listen to the genre nowadays, but the songs of F 2nd's soundtrack remain absolute bops that I can hum fondly. The jazzy piano of "Blackjack," the bubble pop of "Clover Club," the all-time classic that is "The World Is Mine." I love them all.

If there's any major oversight in our Top 100 Games of the Decade list, it's that somehow, I wasn't able to argue Project Diva's inclusion (nor any rhythm game, somehow). I'm sorry Miku. Please forgive me.

"I can fly. Will that help?" "No." | Capcom

Eric - (Ultra) Street Fighter 4

When we put together our list for best of the decade, Street Fighter 4 was top of my list for fighting games. Sadly, it was cut short by a technicality—its console version arrived in 2009, with Super following in 2010 and Ultra in 2014. So while my entry here will be about the final version of the game as we experienced it, it's really about Street Fighter 4 as a whole: how it resuscitated a genre, and a community with it.

The "death" of fighting games has been greatly exaggerated several times throughout the years, but there's little denying that the medium was in a rut. It had been eight years since Street Fighter 3: 3rd Strike, and while some excellent games existed, there wasn't a banner to rally under until Street Fighter 4. Rather than Street Fighter 3's dissolution of the old guard, the fourth numbered game looked back on Street Fighter 2 for inspiration. It reintroduced the Super Combo, added Focus Attacks, Ultra Combos, and reinvigorated an entire scene in the process.

The Street Fighter 4 years were the years of growing Evo numbers and the Excellent Adventures. It was the gateway for so many new fighting game fans, myself included. And it proved that 2D fighting games weren't outdated; nowadays, the fighting game scene is thriving with two-dimensional games. There have been many good fighting games in the last decade, and many of them owe a good deal to Street Fighter 4 paving the way for them.

Rock Band 3 made us all rock stars for a hot minute. | Harmonix

Mat - Rock Band 3

Rock Band 3 was too big for its own good. As band kits accumulated on the shelves of GameStop and Toys "R" Us shelves, Harmonix continued to pursue a vision of Rock Band not just as a simple rhythm game, or a collaborative party phenomenon, but as a platform for music appreciation. It had more songs and more ways to play them than nearly any other game on the market, and through an expanded Rock Band Network it became much easier for smaller musicians to make their own mark on the game.

Unfortunately, while some folks were eager to pick up the keytar or to start drilling real instrument skills in Pro modes, those additions clearly didn't do much to grow Rock Band's audience. Rock Band was grounded in real appreciation for music, something that can now feel totally at-odds with the algorithm-influenced hellscapes of Spotify and YouTube. You may not have ever really come to Rock Band to play a song, but you were definitely there to engage with the music, to move with it and be moved by it. Rock Band 3 was far-and-away the best in the series by virtue of all the options it provided for doing just that.

Also (and this counts for a lot), Rock Band 3 simply had the best song list on disc. Bob Marley, Tears for Fears, Amy Winehouse-even "Portions for Foxes" by Rilo Kiley? What a blessing.

Death from above. That's the way of the assassin. | Ubisoft

Mike - Assassin's Creed Odyssey

Yes, one of the Assassin's Creed games did end up on our best games of the decade list, but the series was one that defined the entire decade for better or worse. Assassin's Creed 2 came at the end of 2009, after which it had nine full entries, not counting the spin-offs. The Ubisoft formula rose to prominence on the back of Assassin's Creed. More importantly, while Black Flag is the peak of one version of the franchise, Assassin's Creed Odyssey is the current summit of the other.

In 2017, Assassin's Creed Origins rethought what Assassin's Creed was, recasting the series as something closer to an RPG. Odyssey leans fully into that transition, offering more role-playing options. Players could select either Alexios or Kassandra, and then send them on a sprawling journey across Greece during the Peloponnesian War.

What makes Odyssey works is allowing the player to more actively roleplay their version of each character. Unbound by the Creed, you could be the callous murderer, the pragmatic pirate, or the upstanding soldier. You could also romance your way across the Aegean Sea, leaving behind satisfied bodies, broken hearts, and likely a number of STDs.

Odyssey feels like a proper adventure, like the classic work by Homer that the game takes its title from. It's a long-spanning collection of stories, some fun, some crass, some touching, and other heartbreaking. It's about this connection to people from a different time, and one that surprisingly works most of the time. The writing isn't as sharp as The Witcher 3, the standard-bearer for the decade, but it's still quite good.

Odyssey trips up in being slightly too big for even my liking, with a leveling system that sometimes gets in the way of being a proper assassin, but it's still a fantastic game in the series, standing is my honorable mention for the decade.

Dragon Age: Inquisition has its fans. | Bioware

Hirun - Dragon Age: Inquisition

Yes, I'm the person that actually likes Dragon Age: Inquisition. No, noted Dragon Age superfan Eric Van Allen does not have a gun to my head as I type this. It remains the only Dragon Age game that I've ever played, and I loved every minute spent with the motley crew trying to establish peace between relentless warring factions.

It's the characters that made me love Inquisition. From the minute I met Cassandra, Leliana, Varric and co., I latched onto them immediately, completely oblivious to their storied history. Getting to know them all, and navigating a world of deceit and treachery over a hundred hours was one hell of a special journey to share.

The Trespasser DLC cemented Dragon Age: Inquisition as one of the best character-driven RPGs in years for me. Sometimes you don't know how much you miss something until it's gone, as was the case with the Inquisition cast of characters. Seeing them all years after the events of the main game closed the book on their saga in the best way (except for Solas). Dragon Age: Inquisition deserves to be remembered better than it is.

No Man's Sky is one of gaming's best comeback stories. | Hello Games

Jake - No Man's Sky

Let's address the extraterrestrial elephant in the room: No Man's Sky had a disastrous launch. Misleading marketing, a colossal amount of over-hype, and a good dollop of mixed messaging from developer Hello Games led to many gamers writing off the ambitious space exploration game for good. What makes No Man's Sky notable though, and what cements it as one of this decade's most important games, is how it changed post-launch. The 2010s were, after all, when the games as a service model came into the mainstream, and No Man's Sky managed to do the impossible and right the ship.

With a little distance from launch, and with some extra development time, the promise of No Man's Sky's seemingly impossible universe came to fruition. There are few games that attempt to capture the sheer vastness of the universe we live in, even fewer that actually pull it off. Climbing into your ship, blasting off into skies above from a planet's surface and hurling seamlessly into the cosmos will never get old, and the visuals have gone from inspiring to downright transcendent. Smart multiplayer, community missions and a refined planetary rendering engine have turned No Man's Sky into a great idea executed poorly to one of the best representations of space-faring adventure that money can buy. It serves as direct proof that games can indeed have a second life, and what a wonderful one at that.

"Darkness. No parents." | Rocksteady Games

Joel - Batman: Arkham City

I could never decide whether Arkham City or Arkham Asylum was the superior game, but it hardly matters, because both are phenomenal regardless. Arkham City carried the franchise torch magnificently into the 2010s and became an early pioneer for the kind of sandbox that would go on to define the decade. Arkham City really is one of the most creative, yet loyal, adaptations of the Batman mythos ever put to... well, anything really, building on the first game and constructing an atmospheric world that's equal parts comic camp, looming horror, and fireworks blockbuster. It's a rolling ghost train of a game that ends in one of the most famously unexpected twists in modern gaming.

And then there's the gameplay, which excels in catharsis and power fantasy without ever losing the meat of challenge. Arkham Asylum developed the now-iconic counter-combat that so many games have emulated, but City took it in a new direction, adding enemies who needed their protection stripped away from them with the right gadgets and techniques, encouraging a certain amount of thought when you leapt into a melee. The stealth was as seamless as ever, culminating in the Mister Freeze battle, for my money one of the best boss fights ever. And after the poor showing of Arkham Asylum's boss fights, that's a hell of an improvement.

Rumors are flying about the next Batman game and what to expect from it, but to me the series reached its peak almost a decade ago, and it likely won't be topped any time soon. At least, probably not by any superhero game.

"Not really feelin' it. Ask me later." | Nintendo/Monolithsoft

Nadia - Xenoblade Chronicles

I love RPGs-obviously-but the Xenoblade Chronicles series inspires a unique sense of whimsy I don't get from any other RPG series. Monolithsoft's strange but wonderful games are unforgettable thanks to their innovative battle systems, their beautiful soundtracks, and their fantastic landscapes.

The first Xenoblade Chronicles was a hard-won release; we might never have seen it in North America if not for petitions and movements like Operation Rainfall. I was never a huge fan of previous "Xeno" games, so I didn't expect to fall in love with Xenoblade Chronicles as thoroughly as I did. Something about adventuring on the backs of enormous bio-mechanical beasts still captures my imagination, though. I've travelled across countless RPG maps, and I'll never forget Xenoblade Chronicles' challenge to scale the Bionis.

I admittedly found Xenoblade Chronicles' battle system a touch strange at first; there's clearly some MMO inspirations at work, since MMO's were the big hotness through the 2000s. I eventually warmed up to the system and even started to welcome each fight. I think all the ultra-British banter helped get me pumped up. Hey, if you can't get jazzed up for Reyn Time, you're probably boring or dead.

I adore Xenoblade Chronicles 2 as well, but Xenoblade Chronicles was first, so it earns this shout-out. Bring on the Remaster. I'm ready to witness the Monado's power in high definition!

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