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  • Writer's pictureMichael Sapiro

25 Games That Changed My Life

This list is close, but not exactly the same as my top 25 games of all time. I’m giving heavy weight to games that changed me in some way, whether that be as a creative, an industry professional, or as a person.

Video games are impactful (duh - that’s the premise of our company) and it’s hard for me to overstate just how important some of these have been in my life. This is also not a ranked list as it is hard to quantify that sort of impact. Rather, here are 25 games that have had a profound impact on me.

1. Alan Wake

This is a “writer’s” game in the most literal sense. No one does narrative like Remedy and this is their highmark. And the vibes! Nothing can match it. It inspired me to write an entire novella while also making me unreasonably conscious of streetlight placement while on evening walks.

PC screen showing a scene from the video game Alan Wake. A man with brown hair and a goatee is talking on a mobile phone  surrounded by a fenced-in junkyard that happens to have lots of greenery.
Photo credit: Michael Sapiro

2. Super Mario Bros 3

No other piece of art shows unbridled creativity and freedom like the Mario series. Particularly the NES/SNES gems of the era. They are truly singular games and for me, Mario 3 is the best of the bunch.

3. Yakuza: Like a Dragon

This game taught me that it is possible to go from absurd comedy to high melodrama at the drop of a hat - and do it well. The same could be said for any Yakuza game, but the characters in this game are second to none - even in the Yakuza cannon. I’ve yet to find a “party” of characters that has felt so complex, intriguing, and interconnected to me. I actually find myself missing them from time to time, like cousins I haven’t for a few Thanksgivings.

PC screen of the video game Yakuza. It's displaying a few characters in a crosswalk between two tall buildings in the midst of a construction zone.
Photo credit: Michael Sapiro

4. Chrono Trigger

The absolute gold standard for “golden era” JRPGs. I rented this game when I was 11 and it captivated me like nothing else before. Revisiting it today, it reminds me that masterful game design is timeless.

5. Gris

Gris is the type of game where the actual art design and vision leaves you breathless. Despite its short length, this game stays with you for a long time.

6. Earthbound

I played this game as a child and then also as an adult with my children. No matter which decade I played it in, this game is as weird, joyful, and compelling as ever. I’ll never get sick of beating up the New Age Retro Hippy!

7. Pentiment

A living medieval manuscript murder mystery that has heavy doses of protestant theology and occult intrigue. (Do I need to say more?) The writing here is some of Obsidian’s finest. Truly a “swing for the fences” creative effort that paid off in spades.

8. Plague Tale: Innocence

While Requiem may be technically better, the original Plague Tale was such a pure, earnest, and heart wrenching story that I had to place it here. Guiding a small band of children as they join together to stare down a cruel and self-serving world is unlike anything I’ve experienced in a game and at times feels like it's ripped from a Dostoyevsky novel.

PC screen from the video game Plague Tale featuring a sad, pensive young Caucasian woman with a snowy background.
Photo credit: Michael Sapiro

9. Metal Gear Solid 2

Kojima showed a tremendous amount of bravery by pulling the rug out from everyone with the main character. However, his trademark extended cinema scenes, near prophetic social commentary, and ability to push the game into absurdity without going off rails is the reason why he is considered a master to this very day. I think this is his best work.

10. Legend of Zelda (NES)

As a child, no other game held as much mystery for me as the original Zelda. Essentially my first “open world” game, just wandering around the world looking for secrets captured my imagination in a way nothing else had before.

The Legend of Zelda SNES cartridge, Gameboy cartridge, and Nintendo Switch cartridge
Photo credit: SHYCITYNikon

11. Xcom 2

This game has my favorite “second to second” gameplay of all time. I’ve beaten it 3 times and could beat it again 300 times. It taught me of the importance of a strong gameplay loop, progression incentives, and making every action as compelling as possible.

12. Evil Dead 2

This game is such a curiosity. The way it blends traditional survival horror with limited open world design was a revelation to me. Making a wide open city as scary as a tight mansion corridor, this game successfully blended two genres that should not go together.

13. Octopath Traveler

Octopath Traveler 2 is a better game. However, I played this game with my children and that colors my perception of it. I’ve had no bigger rush than battling the insanely tough secret final boss with our finely tuned team of adventurers. We were screaming, hugging, crying, and then my wife made us a cake. Video games are the best.

14. Tetris Effect Connected

If ever a game could be described as a “spiritual experience”, Tetris Effect Connected is the one. Doubt me? Put on some headphones, turn off the lights, and give it a try for 15 minutes. I guarantee you that something will happen to you.

15. Dragon Quest XI

Just a pure, wholesome, colorful JRPG that will warm your heart for its 80 hour+ duration. An astonishing achievement in carefully transposing something classic into something modern without losing even a shred of what made it beloved in the first place.

16. Stardew Valley

Comfort food in video game form. During my college years, I remember hiding under piles of blankets in my frigid Minneapolis apartment (seriously, I had no heat) and playing Harvest Moon on the GameBoy Advanced. Stardew Valley does everything Harvest Moon did, but better. It is the warm blanket.

A player holds a Nintendo Switch console in front of her with Stardew Valley's main menu screen displayed.
Photo credit: Vanessa Lane

17. The Messenger

A few hours into the Messenger you might note that it’s a nearly perfect retro action platformer with a dazzling soundtrack. You’ll also note how the switch between 8-bit and 16-bit aesthetics is a fun novelty. BUT just when you think you’ve seen it all - the game becomes something completely different. Brilliant.

18. Flame in the Flood

Featuring a soundtrack that is essentially one of the finest americana albums of the last decade and a simplified roguelike version of a survival game, Flame in the Flood just works for me. It’s the ultimate “one more turn” game and if I don’t watch myself it’ll have me up way past my bedtime.

19. The Wild at Heart

When an indie dev can make a better Pikmin game than the inventors of Pikmin, you know they have serious talent. This game showed me that, when it comes to making video games, creativity and talent trumps unlimited resources every time.

20. Halo CE

During college, nothing created “community” more than Halo. Not events thrown by our RA. Not sports. Not music. Not complaining about the crappy pizza in our dining hall. Connected by hundreds of feet of LAN lines woven across our dormitory, lifelong friendships were forged in the waters of Battle Creek.

21. Super Street Fighter 2

One of the few games that almost anyone can pick up and enjoy, a few can master, and anyone can win. My wife, who never plays video games, consistently kicks my butt when we play together. This is a game for everyone.

22. Fallout New Vegas

While the graphics have not aged well, New Vegas is still a masterclass on world building. The dystopian take on American decadence and survival in the wake of a cataclysm is peerless across games, television and cinema.

23. Command and Conquer Red Alert

I never owned this game, but would go over to a friend’s house and practically beg him to give me a turn on his gaming PC. I never dreamed you could control an entire army in realtime in a video game. It felt like the apotheosis of a trajectory I was set on starting with plastic green army men.

24. SimCity

As a nerdy middle schooler, I remember blasting REM’s “Monster” or The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Melancholie and the Infinite Sadness” while playing SimCity. I would always play in my coolests outfit as I thought that at any moment a pretty girl could show up at my door and then I’d have to go out on a date. Well, the girls never showed up (and I quickly learned that was not how dating worked), but it didn’t matter. I was having the time of my life. Thanks, Will Wright!

25. Resident Evil 1 Remake

It is amazing how a remake that came out 20 years ago can look so beautiful, be so compelling, and create such a strong sense of atmosphere. It is still the creepiest game I’ve played and likely won’t be beaten in the near future.


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