Thanks for reading the conclusion to my Top 25 Most Anticipated Games of 2013. It took much longer than I wanted it to take, but I hope that you at least enjoyed reading my blogs or learned about a new title or two coming out very soon. Thanks!
For the past decade, western gamers have turned to the Shin Megami Tensei series (and its offshoots) for a consistent source of quality titles year after year. From fantastic JRPGs releases like the crushingly difficult Digital Devil Saga to experimentation with RPG sub genres like Devil Survivor and Devil Summoner to the much beloved and critically acclaimed Persona series, the Shin Megami Tensei name is on the box of some of the best games to come out of Japan.
This is all largely due to the influence of Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, the third game in the main series. Not only was it one of the earliest SMT games to come out in North America, it established and refined much of the tone, style, and, most importantly, gameplay mechanics that persist throughout the SMT series. The biggest change? Transferring the series away from the traditional first person dungeon crawler into the standard third person JRPG. Honestly, I think the series is much better for it, as it is now focused on the mechanics that matter, letting one-offs like Strange Journey return to and explore the roots occasionally.
Now, I don’t expect Shin Megami Tensei IV to have a huge revolutionary impact on everything MegaTen for the next decade, but anything that is attempting to be Nocturne’s successor is no doubt going to be important for the series going forward. If you have any interest in the eventual new Persona, new Devil Summoner, or new SMT subseries that comes out 3-5 years from now, play this game. It’ll give you a glimpse at the changes, and quality, to come.
#4 - Ace Attorney 5
While we’re still waiting for that magical Professor Layton crossover to come over here, we at least have early confirmation that the long awaited fifth game in the Ace Attorney series will make it to international shores. Which is great, since the last game in the series, the often hated for no reason Apollo Justice, was released just shy of 5 years ago. Yeah, there has been an okay live action adaptation, a manga series that never interested me (because manga), and those boring Miles Edgeworth spinoffs stuffed full of fanservice and little else, but there hasn’t really been a true return to the roots of these somehow amazing courtroom adventure/visual novels in quite some time.
Enter Ace Attorney 5, Phoenix Wright’s return to the spotlight after a brief stint of piano playing and tuque wearing in Apollo Justice. He has a lovely new sidekick, ready to be embarrassed by Wright’s stints of incompetency in all of his cases. The visuals have been moved to 3D, but perfectly convert the expression and animation of the original trilogy. Heck, there’s even a new magical special ability to suss out the truth for witnesses and suspects.
But are any of those really what makes Ace Attorney work? Nah. The mechanics and visuals have always been second to the gripping storylines full of colourful characters, mysteries to unravel, and some truly amazing plot twists. Do they have the best or most mature writing and storytelling in the medium? Hardly. Yet, the series has never failed to produce fun and suspenseful tales that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Or bed. Or bus seat. Or wherever you play 3DS games.
Anyway, these are all elements of the Ace Attorney series that we can’t really identify the quality of until it sits in our hands. So regardless of the new screenshots, trailers, import previews, and convention demos, I’ll remain stoked to just finally be able to play this on my own terms.
I like to think that Animal Crossing in the same boat as Katamari Damacy, Pokemon, or Harvest Moon: each series has a magical and approachable game design that has gone through very few changes and only minor improvements across multiple titles. Yet, no matter which game hooks you into those series, you’ll find a wonderful, memorable title unlike anything else out there. Try to play any more of the series though, and you’ll find that you’ve quickly had your fill. Animal Crossing especially, as it just doesn’t have the room to expand on its original concept nor the depth in its gameplay to keep you coming back with each new game.
Yet, there is a solid reason why New Leaf is so high on my list and a reason that, despite what I said above, I am willing to jump into another title: Time. Simply put, it’s been a decade since I really got hooked on Animal Crossing for the Gamecube. And I mean hooked. I enjoyed the hell out of Animal Crossing back in the day. Jumping on at any and all hours of the day to see all of the cool events, helping out my best buds around town, checking Tom Nook’s stock before school every morning, and making sure that I hopped on every Saturday night to grab a new K.K. Slider song.
But my excitement for New Leaf is not exactly based on me trusting that the series has evolved and overhauled enough in the past 10 years to warrant revisiting. From what I’ve heard of the game, it’s still the same core experience. Instead, I feel that I have had a long enough vacation away that I can appreciate it again.
I mentioned Pokemon in that list above for a reason, as it is a series that I have similar feelings towards, but have managed to find a renewed interest in it regardless. I was part of that generation of kids who got struck hard by the Pokemon craze, but I personally stopped before the second generation even ended. I just had no drive to play those games anymore. Yet a decade later, I jumped back into Pokemon when White launched and was rewarded with hundreds of new Pokemon to catch, dozens of interface improvements, faster gameplay, and a boatload of new features added to a series I last played on a good ol’ brick Gameboy.
But more important than the details, Pokemon White got me to enjoy the core of the Pokemon experience again and ended up being one of the most enjoyable times I had with games that year.
And that is what I’m hoping New Leaf can achieve: restoring a long lost passion for a series I once loved. Maybe that’s putting too high of expectations on New Leaf, but I eagerly await my life to be taken over by talking animals and interior decorating if it succeeds.
#2 - Disgaea Dimension 2
Moving from Animal Crossing to Disgaea is a harsh jump, as they are opposites in almost every conceivable way. Disgaea is not approachable, incredibly complex, can be punishingly difficult, and has more gameplay systems than it is possible to keep track of in your head at one time. It is a series that has somehow survived on an incredibly small audience, as you won’t really get much out of it unless you are really, really into Strategy RPGs. It is the pinnacle of complexity in the genre, with very few SRPGs managing to top its breadth, depth, and insanity.
But to make an odd comparison between Disgaea and Animal Crossing, both series do suffer from the same stagnation. Each game comes with only mild improvements, the series having changed very little over the past decade beyond UI changes, some streamlining here and there, graphical upgrades, and some new gameplay mechanics attached to that stubborn core experience.
The difference is that it doesn’t matter to me with Disgaea. I love to advocate games to try new things, to push new IPs, and to genuinely expand the capabilities and experiences within the medium, but there will always be titles out there that we will want more of. Disgaea could feature the same core experience for many, many years to come and I’ll still buy and play every single one of them. Unlike Animal Crossing, Disgaea does have that fundamental depth within the core experience that allows its appeal to persist.
So what is this, the fifth Disgaea game in ten years? And it’s the first direct sequel in the series, forsaking even creating new casts and storylines? Bring it. Judging by all the new mild changes and the consistency of this series so far, I will happily squeeze hundreds of hours of strategic goodness out of Dimension 2.
So here’s where I almost fucked up and released this list after one of the games had come out. But I made it…. barely.
Disgaea might be a series I praise for its consistency, but its always exciting to see a series that has so much potential finally getting everything right. Fire Emblem has had such a rocky and inconsistent path ever since it’s debut in North America on the GBA. Simply titled “Fire Emblem”, that seventh game in the series was pretty much a perfect, albeit fairly simple, representation of everything Fire Emblem had to offer.
Subsequent games, however, have failed to live up to the expectations put forth by that first taste. The problems have been numerous and varied, ranging form a lackluster jump from crisp pixel animation to underwhelming 3D, terrible voice acting, failed overhauls of the conversation system, slowing the pacing of combat to a crawl, imbalance brought upon by removing the rigidness of the progression, making the recruitment of characters needlessly obtuse, a large pool of characters that are near useless, outrageous difficulties being excused by less rigid saving structures…. yadda yadda yadda. The list goes on and on. While I will defend Path of Radiance and Sacred Stones as at least enjoyable games, the series hasn’t exactly produced an amazing title since that first non-Japanese release.
But perhaps now, my faith in the series will be rewarded. Awakening has had unbelievable praise in Japan, well beyond the expectations of one of Nintendo’s most niche and least approachable series. Even from diehard fans of the series, near universal acclaim for Awakening has been echoing out from Japan for the last year.
From what I’ve seen/heard, Awakening is the game where Fire Emblem finally overcomes those problems and hurdles. And it is doing so at a perfect time. When I was made this list, I thought that with all of the love for X-Com: Enemy Unknown from the gaming community, winning numerous awards and creating thousands of new X-Com fans, there would be a willingness for more players to jump into games like Fire Emblem. But I could not imagine the overwhelmingly positive reviews already pouring out for Awakening from sources you’d never expect to cover this fairly niche title.
I have always thought that Fire Emblem: Awakening had the potential to be one of the best games of the 2013, but now I see that it also could become one of the biggest.
If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go boot up my GBA to pass the time until Monday, whilst crying softly that I missed my chance to pick it up when it was leaked early across Canada.
- - - - -
This blog is a crosspost of a series of posts on my personal blog: Yeti Sized Games. It's a blog about my thoughts on gaming, whether it be reviews, opinions, podcasts, game design, and, sometimes, my time with indie game development while working towards getting my degree. Check it out if you want.