By Demoskinos 34 Comments
2014 for games has been a weird year! There have been a ton of great games but none at have really been the obvious media darling choice that games like Bioshock or Gone Home were last year. Its also been a weird year personally for me gaming wise. I'm....back into a MMO again having logged at least 1000 hours into Final Fantasy XIV since its PS4 launch in April. I've actually adjusted my work schedule to better accommodate my raiding schedule. Thats how into it I am. I've also played other things though believe it or not! The beginning of the year and the end of the year were nicely footnoted with excellent reasons to keep my PS4 and now PS Vita on. My list is below of my top 5!
5. Hatsune Miku Project Diva F 2nd
I'm guessing most people expected this to be on my list. I mean, its no secret that I'm a vocaloid fan of the regulars that still frequent the forums I'm probably the most outspoken about my enjoyment and adoration of the project diva games. What I didn't expect is that it would be only here at my 5th spot. The english release of Project Diva f 2nd was just a few months ago. I however imported the game back during its original release in March in japan.
Its structurally a better created game. Much more thought put into every aspect. The Diva Room actually has more substance to it. There are secret unlockables tied to specific objectives on each song. The song mechanics themselves have even been improved. Its track listing is pretty solid as well pulling in a ton of new tracks and also taking older tracks from the PSP project diva games like the famous "World is Mine" or "The Intense song of Hatsune Miku" and giving them a HD coat of paint to their MV's. I even had a ton of fun using the included picture mode to create fun scenes such as this.If you're a fan of the previous game or rhythm games in general I'd highly suggest you give Project Diva F 2nd a try.
4. Dragon Age: Inquisition
The first game in the Dragon Age series is pretty much one of my favorite games of all time. Period. The only thing that beats it out in my mind is Ninja Gaiden Black. So, I was supremely hopeful over the last few years as I saw Bioware meticulously collecting surveys from fans and taking feedback on the forums. It seemed like they were listening. It seemed like well... that they might do it again they might get close to the apex that Origins ascended to. The harsh reality is we'll never get another Origins. Back when DA:O released Bioware was still independent and not under EA's thumb.
EA's influence on the game is apparent. Multiplayer is here and there are micro-transactions and some systems have been stream lined. Yet, I feel like there is passion behind this game. I imagine the team fighting for every inch they got. The fans spoke and the developers responded back to the fans and the way they responded didn't sound like people parroting PR speak. It sounded like people who knew that they got their asses handed to them with Dragon Age 2 that they wanted to do better. And hey, turns out Inqusition is a pretty damn amazing game. I'd say without a doubt the best thing Bioware has released since being picked up by EA.
Now lets be clear there are flaws and there are plenty of them the tactics system has been pretty much lobotomized allowing you to only select a few basic behaviors. The game in general is pretty easy requiring players who want a real challenge to be required to bump it up to Hard or Nightmare. Yet, I've had a ton of fun with it. The characters are great the overarching story while meandering and mostly empty calories gives you enough reason to explore amazing open areas full of elfroot to harvest and demons to vanquish. Even the combat which while dumbed down in some areas is still plenty fun with plenty of fun skills to play with. As a dagger rogue I teleported behind enemies plunging my daggers into their flank for extra damage while using the menacing Iron Bull to tank all the enemies keeping them distracted while I move behind them. Its not the Dragon Age I quite knew but its a Dragon Age I accept. Its fun and its peppered with enough call backs and even bringing in events and characters from the extended fiction like the novels and comics that if you're a serious Dragon Age fan I think you'll have fun. Full disclosure, I haven't finished the game yet so I honestly don't know what my final opinion will be but seeing as I've put 100 hours into it I felt I've seen enough to make a judgement call on the game.
3. Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus
Oh, boy. So this is where everyone looks at my list and laughs right? I don't blame you but if you'll entertain me please read on. Senran Kagura Shinovi Versus is a game that took me completely by surprise. Lets be frank I buy a lot of weird or niche japanese titles that get localized simply and solely for the reason that I like to support these sort of games getting localized. I just think its cool that in america were getting this kind of stuff and companies are taking fair financial risks. Especially doing a pretty extensive physical print of Shinovi Versus.
I thought I would buy the game and play it and lets be honest chuckle at some anime boobs and then be done with it two weeks later. I was wrong. Boy, was I wrong. So lets get the obvious out of the way. This game has fan-service and tons of it. Its a pretty lewd and filthy game. Panty shots and exposed jiggling breasts are everywhere and in your face. Its a game made for a specific audience and it very well knows who it is going after. Here is where I probably lose some people. Its actually really good. Well written and fun to play with memorable characters. I know a lot of people won't believe me and i know that to many they are going to see the anime aesthetic and the boobs and automatically dismiss the game. The game basically plays like a mashup of Dynasty Warriors and Dissidia Final Fantasy. Story sequences play and then you typically are loaded into the stage and fight the trash enemies which is the Dynasty Warrior part smashing dozens of enemies with your flashy array of attacks. The last part usually culminates with a boss fight which is one of the girls on the roster.
I'm not going to try to sell the combat as being deep or complex like a Bayonetta or a Devil May Cry but I'll be damned if i wasn't impressed that there is some actual skill needed to beat some of the stages especially on Hard mode. Parries, guard crushes, air juggles there are a lot of mechanics going on in a game that could have gotten by by just flashing tits on the screen and making you mash the square button. The characters themselves are all also very different playing none really being a copy of the others. Their stats are different their attacks are different and they also all have their own flashy Ninpo attacks. The combat is fun without being too complex but also gives you plenty of options to explore for the people who want to dig more out of the combat.
The writing is where the game surprised me the most. Again, a lot of awful anime tropes do rear their head obviously pandering to the audience its trying to appease. Then on the other hand you've got these stories of these 20 girls from 4 different schools and their stories and personalities range. Almost all of them though are pretty compelling. Stories of loss, regret, revenge, friendship. Maybe I'm just a big sucker but I got pulled in to the stories of the girls. Eagerly awaiting the next chapter. I obviously can't say too much without spoiling things but if you're remotely interested in the game play portion of it I'd say to give it a shot. This really seems like a game stuck between worlds almost. Its a game series that I don't ever think will be taken seriously by mainstream audiences because of how sexually pandering it is. Yet at the same time the game could hold its own without that stuff but at the risk of losing its already established audience.
2. Final Fantasy XIV
Yeah, okay. I know. Technically FFXIV came out last year. I however didn't jump in until the 2014 release of the PS4 version along side the 2.2 content patch. I really don't know where to begin with this. Do I talk about how for the first time in a MMO I care about the story and the characters? How much of a handcrafted love letter this is to Final Fantasy fans with constant fan service everywhere? Do I talk about the combat system and how each of the classes has its unique and fun hook and how its really well designed for a controller? Because all of these things are true.
I honestly had no plans to check this game out. Square's obvious marketing decision worked out for them. They made the first beta testing phase on PS4 free for everyone to join. You just had to download the client and sign up for an account. It was February I believe and there wasn't a whole lot to play and boy did this game come at just the right time. A MMO filled with content arriving just before the spring/summer drought of games? Brilliant move on Square's part for positioning. The thing that initially jumped out at me was just how beautiful the game was. Running at 1080p and ~60fps on the PS4 its one of the best looking MMO's on the market today. Really, it makes World of Warcraft even with its new update look like an ancient relic. Its not just a beauty queen though. Its got some bite to it. Its a game that obviously was designed from the ground up to work on a controller for one. Its also really fun to play. You're first 50 or so hours will be most likely spent grinding through the story. Which, is an indirect continuation of the events of the 1.0 version of the game.
It plays on a lot of themes found in final fantasy games and rpgs in general. You're a chosen one and there are a lot of references to fate and crystals and well you know... final fantasy shit. The thing is though it manages to make this pretty engaging. There are obviously a number of fetch and filler quests that pad out the more interesting quests that move the beats of the story along but I mean its a MMO you have to expect some grinding going in. The real meat comes after you've gotten to level 50 though. As of patch 2.45 right now there is a ton of end game content to dive into. Its a buffet of content allowing you to tackle as much or as little of it as you want at any given time.
There are continuing side stories of a bumbling detective Hildebrand. There are the new main story beats that usually introduce new bosses based on characters from final fantasy past like Ifrit or Shiva or even the giant Sea Serpent Leviathan. There are opportunies for crafters and hardcore raiders or even just a bunch of fun casual and social quests. And with a free trial on PC and now PS4 for PS+ members there is no reason why everyone can't jump in and get a taste of the game. If you ever want to hit the Giantbomb Free Company (ie Guild) up join the "Ultros" server on the Primal Data Center. I'm Musubi Azeyma and I'm usually down to help with things.
1. Lightning Returns :Final Fantasy XIII
I've basically waited for this for 4 years. 4 years ago Square released Final Fantasy XIII in 2010 to a much polarized reception. Some hated it some loved it. I was in the latter camp. Being a fan I was excited when Final Fantasy XIII-2 was announced for a 2012 release. What I didn't expect was that the story would become way way more complicated. So it was with Lightning Returns that everything was to conclude. Lightning now basically a demi-goddess is tasked with not only saving the world but well... existence of the world. Time itself is warping and bending with a literal doomsday clock ticking down.
Lightning is by far the coolest female protag ever in my opinion. She is beautiful, strong willed lady who will stop at nothing to rescue her sister and save the world. Now I get that the whole "save the world" setting and having a literal christ-like chosen one is on the first page of RPG tropes yet LR:FFXIII makes it compelling. Its a balancing act and It can be extremely fun once you figure out how the whole thing works. The more you help people the more people you save the more time you buy yourself. You're constantly on the clock with limited time each day and only 12 days to solve the problems of the world and get to the bottom of how this time bending calamity can be put to rest. This sounds daunting at first but then once you figure out the tricks once you figure out how to bend and manipulate the game to you're very whims then it becomes a ton of fun. The general principles of the XIII series combat are still at play with the only difference being the mechanics being tuned for a single character party. You're your own backup. Switching to your own custom made classes.
And that is what is most fun about this game. The combat and the systems surrounding it. The freedom to figure out how to exploit and bend the combat. Around the time of the games release I talked to several other Giantbomb members that I follow on twitter about their progress. The conversations I had were amazing. They told me of strategies I hadn't even thought of. We tackled a few of the same bosses with very different setups exposing and exploiting weaknesses in the enemy that were most suited for our builds. The Garment system is a blast to play with. Half virtual dress up simulator and half war room planning there are literal thousands of combinations of garments, weapons and accessories to try out. The other thing that kept me glued was the story itself. The conclusion to all of this was really fun to see play out. I had four years of investment in these characters. Seeing everything pay off in this final game was extremely satisfying.
Honestly, I don't think I've ever felt more satisfied with a ending to a game story arc other than possibly Metal Gear Solid 4's wrapping up of the Metal Gear Solid storyline. All of my questions answered all loose ends wrapped up. Its not without its flaws to be sure. Its a rather technical mess. Its sort of blurry and awful looking in several spots with a clunky frame rate at times. Yet I don't think I felt more compelled to squeeze every last drop out of a game like I did LR:FFXIII this year. At the end of the day I had fun and whats more its a game that made me satisfied and happy. So I can look past a lot of its faults because of this. It accomplished its goal regardless of it it drunkenly stumbled there along the way at times. And that is all that matters right? Games are supposed to be fun. And this is by far the one that I had the most fun with this year warts and all. I'm sort of sad on one hand to know I'll most likely never get another adventure with Lightning proper although I'm also glad that they gave this story its proper arc and conclusion and didn't set up for any more spin-offs or side stories.
So, I only did a list of 5 this year because honestly the top 5 are the ones I had the most to say things about. However, did want to call out a few other games I really enjoyed that didn't quite make the cut this year.
- Call of Duty :Advanced Warfare
- Dark Souls II
- InFAMOUS Second Son
- Senran Kagura Bon Appetit
- Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
- Conception II
Well, there you have it. My long rambling list of dumb electronic entertainment that I played this year that I enjoyed the most. I look forward to 2015 as the expansion for Final Fantasy XIV hits as well as several other major games. If you read this far then I thank you! I'd be happy to answer any questions in the comments below. :)