By Hailinel 28 Comments
With 2008 almost over, I figure that now is as good a time as any to summarize my thoughts on the year in games by rolling out my own "Best & Worst of" list for the year. Keep in mind that I'm only going by what I played this year, but if you don't agree, you can always write your own. Now, on with the show.
Biggest Disappointment of the Year (Hardware): The Xbox 360
Yeah...lets just get this big one out of the way first. The Xbox 360 had a lot of high quality games on it this year. The problem was that the vast majority of them were games I'm not interested in, and those that I was interested I could have played on the PS3. One thing to note is that I am a JRPG fan at heart, but even with titles like Lost Odyssey and Infinite Undiscovery, I still ended up gravitating toward RPGs available for other platforms. (More on those later.)
Perhaps it's part of my paranoia regarding the 360. I've already sent it in for repairs to Microsoft once in 2007, a mere month after I had bought it. Even if there is a game I want to play, I'm nervous that the thing is going to give me the RROD the next time I turn it on, and I'm pretty much at the point where I've decided to get the PS3 version of any multiplatform release from here on out. Whatever the case, I can count the number of 360 games I've purchased this year on one hand without using all of the fingers:
Yep, just those three. I mean, between all of the great games on the PS3, Wii, DS, PSP, and even the PS2, my 360 has pretty much sat on the shelf collecting dust when I haven't been using it as my personal Koei Hack n' Slash Machine. I guess one more thing to note is that my 360 is not hooked up to Live. One reason being that I'm not really willing to shell out for the 360 wireless adaptor when the other consoles have Wi-Fi built in, and for all of its benefits, I'm not shelling money out for XBL Gold. Sorry, not happening.
Biggest Disappointment of the Year (Software): Operation Darkness (Xbox 360)
Operation Darkness sounded like a sure thing in concept. I have in general come to loathe games set in World War II, but I love strategy RPGs, and hearing about a strategy RPG set in WWII that involves vampires, werewolves, and zombies in addition to Nazis sounded like just the sort of World War II game that I would like.
Oh god, was I ever wrong.
Operation Darkness fails miserably at one basic, but crucial aspect that even the most mediocre of strategy RPGs are able to do at least moderately well. The camera is, in short, garbage. During the player's turn, it's zoomed in too close to the active unit to be of use, so the player has to manually pull it out and rotate it to look around the battlefield. Only the maps are in general far, far too large, so good luck trying to find any enemies within range. When it's the enemy's turn, the camera cuts to a more cinematic viewpoint, which might look nice, but it fails to convey which enemy unit is moving, where they're moving to, or even which generic Nazi grunt out of the quartet clustered together is the one shooting at your unit. Combine this with other more general gameplay failures, like the inability to take a move back if you send a unit to the wrong space, and you have yourself Just Another Shitty World War II Game.
Thankfully, Valkyria Chronicles has made all right with the world.
Best Hardware of the Year: Nintendo DS
To sum up my thoughts on the DS this year: Yes. Yes! YES! YES!!! OH GOD YES!!!!
The DS is where a lot of my RPG time has gone this year. Although some of my favorite games on the platform this year were actually remakes, that shouldn't be held against it as those remakes (Final Fantasy IV and Chrono Trigger) were of the highest quality and delivered exactly what I wanted out of each. Add in a collection of new original titles that have just as much quality behind them, and suddenly the DS has quite possibly the single-best line up of new titles for any platform this year.
Funniest Game of 2008: No More Heroes (Wii)
No More Heroes comes out of the gate with an incredible amount of style, mixing satire, toilet humor, and a general sense of goofiness all into an entertaining action game that's also fun to play. It mixes a Metal Gear Solid sense of self-aware goofiness with eccentric characters, ridiculous situations, even more ridiculous plot twists, and never once does it feel like the developers were trying to force it. And since the game is such a blast to play, the humor remains fresh from start to finish.
Best Soundtrack (Original and Compilation): Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii)
Man, this one isn't even a contest. Super Smash Bros. Brawl easily has the best soundtrack of the year, mixing well-done original pieces with songs from throughout Nintendo's past. Some were remixed, some were taken direct from their original games, but the sheer size and quality of the soundtrack is the game's best audio feature.
Best New Character: Travis Touchdown
Travis Touchdown may have a name that sounds absurd, but in the world of No More Heroes, it's par for the course. This twenty-seven-year-old anime otaku and Mexican wrestling fanatic lives in a dingy hotel room, is chronically late returning his video rentals, and dreams of scoring with a hot chick. He also won a functional beam katana in an online auction, aspires to be the #1 assassin in the world, has a sweet motorcycle, and takes shit from absolutely no one. No other new character debuted with as much style or personality this year.
Best Downloadable Game: Mega Man 9 (WiiWare, PSN, XBLA)
The NES Mega Man titles were a part of my childhood. Mega Man II and Mega Man III in particular were my favorites, so I was intrigued when Capcom announced that they were working on Mega Man 9, a brand new original series Mega Man game that would not only use the art style of the 8-bit titles, but emulate the experience of playing the game on an NES, right down to the flickering sprites. What we got was exactly what I wanted. The way the game looks and plays matches the style of the old games perfectly, right down to that wonderfully simple story where Dr. Light is framed (because it doesn't take a genius to realize it's Dr. Wily up to his good old tricks again).
Thank you, Capcom, for giving me a piece of my childhood back.
Best Guilty Pleasure: Castlevania Judgment (Wii)
Am I supposed to not like this game for some reason? Because the thing is, I actually think it's fun. It's not a SUPER AWESOME AAA FIVE STAR BRUCKHEIMER EXPLOSION OF SWEETNESS +1, but I've grown tired of the all-or-nothing mentality where a game is either worth playing because it's one of the best games of the year, or it's a piece of shit.
This is not a defense of Castlevania Judgment's quality. The game definitely has issues, chiefly among them a wonky camera, but I've seen much worse (see: Operation Darkness). I never went in to it expecting a quote-unquote "great fighting game." What I was looking for, and what I received, was an okay brawler that is basically the Castlevania team's way of cutting loose and having some fun with the characters. Takeshi Obata's character designs seem to be a love-it-or-hate-it affair, but I actually like them, and they've spawned some entertaining conversations with a more fashion conscious friend of mine who gave some hilarious commentary. The game also supports a pretty well-done online mode for a Wii title. Would I recommend this game to just anyone? No, but for $50, I've played far worse titles. For me, the game is fun. Simple as that.
Best Good Game That I Didn't Like: Fallout 3 (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)
On the flipside, there's Fallout 3. I can recognize why the game has gotten all of the accolades that it has, but after playing about thirty hours or so of the PS3 version, I just couldn't bring myself to care any longer. I love the character creation system, and I love some of the choices that the game presents, but at the end of the day, I pretty much don't like the game for some of the reasons that turned me off toward Oblivion. I like RPGs with a greater sense of narrative and linearity. The main narrative of Fallout 3 just couldn't keep me hooked, and the open nature of the world felt stringent and artificial. It didn't help that the PS3 version I played launched as the redheaded stepchild of the multiplatform release, with a freezing bug during the G.O.A.T. and several other annoyances. Technical issues aside, the game is an achievement certainly, but it's also a reminder of why I'm not a fan of western RPGs.
Best Rerelease: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES (PS2)
The original version of Persona 3 released in 2007 was my favorite game of the year. A dungeon crawler intertwined with a fresh, touching relationship simulation aspect and surprisingly real teenagers that actually behave like teenagers, Persona 3 hit every note perfectly. An expansion disc dubbed FES was released for the game in Japan, but rather than release the expansion in the U.S., Atlus went ahead and rereleased Persona 3 with all of the FES content included, ranging from new events, Personae, and bonus costumes in the main game to an all-new story that takes place after the conclusion of the original game. Persona 3 FES is the definitive version of an already excellent game.
Best PSP Game: Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
If there's one piece of hardware I've bought fewer games for than the 360 this year, it's the PSP. Then again, my expectations for the PSP this year weren't exactly that great because, well, the DS pretty much just exploded with quality this year, so in a straight-up competition between just the handhelds, it would lose regardless. That being said, Crisis Core is a quality game despite it being yet another example of Square Enix milking Final Fantasy VII for all it's worth. The combat system is basic, but fun, and the storyline does a great job of fleshing out a character that we only knew in Final Fantasy VII through Cloud's garbled memories.
Best 360 Game: Dynasty Warriors 6
Wait, you say, this is a multiplatform Dynasty Warriors game. How can this be the best 360 game of the year? Well, yeah, the number of 360 games I've played this year was staggeringly minimal. However, I am a die-hard fan of the Warriors franchise, and Dynasty Warriors 6 is a nice fresh reboot with a brand new engine and redesigned characters. The more powerful hardware also makes the swarms of enemies that much larger, providing that much more fodder to cut through. Just what the doctor ordered.
Best PS3 Game: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
Metal Gear Solid 4 is the game that sold me on finally getting a PS3. I picked up the MGS4 console bundle about halfway through the year, and I am glad I did, because it gave me the chance to play one of the best games of the year. Although I was, and still am, a fan of the classic Metal Gear top-down view, the gameplay tweaks made for MGS4 work in the game's favor. It's a blast to play, with multiple difficulty levels for people of all skill levels, a high degree of customization with the number of available weapons, and boss fights that make callbacks to some of the best bosses of the series while still providing fresh, interesting challenges. And for what faults the storyline stumbles over in wrapping things up, Kojima and company have to be given credit for doing an otherwise incredible job of tying up every single loose end to give Snake's story true closure. No post-credits twists. No surprises that will leave you wondering about the next sequel. Snake is given the send-off that he deserves, which is quite possibly the game's greatest achievement of all.
Best PS2 Game: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4
This may be the final year that any truly worthwhile games are released on the PS2 for the holiday season, but if that's the case, Atlus is sending the console off with a bang. Persona 4 improves upon every aspect of gameplay introduced in Persona 3 on both the dungeon exploration/combat side and on the school/relationship simulation side. Once again, the storyline and characters are top notch, with an excellent soundtrack and a fun world, or in this case, small town, to explore. This game is the reason my PS2 is still hooked up the the TV, just as Persona 3 was the reason I ran out and bought a slim PS2 the moment my original-model console finally gave out last year.
Best Wii Game: No More Heroes
In a year when titles like Wii Fit and Wii Music were making headlines, Nintendo's console still had plenty of quality core games to choose from. A number of them were first-party titles like Mario Kart Wii and Super Smash Bros. Brawl, but when it comes down to it, the best Wii title this year is Suda 51's No More Heroes. Though the game isn't without its faults, and is very much a case of style over substance, the substance that is there is a fun experience. No More Heroes does a better job than any Wii action title of mixing motion controls and button inputs to create an entertaining combat system, while every aspect of the game, no matter how minor or innocuous, is filled with an absurd sense of style that matches the game's over-the-top aesthetic that only gets more entertaining right up until the end. I can't wait for No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle.
Best DS Game: The World Ends With You
The World Ends With You is simultaneously one of the oddest and most addictive games to hit the DS this past year. The gameplay is remarkably open-ended, offering a level of customization that allows the player to make it as easy or as challenging as desired. The dual-screen combat featuring stylus input on the bottom screen and button input for the top is challenging to learn, but at the same time it's forgiving enough that it works, and there's really no other game that plays like it. And though the characters suffer from Tetsuya Nomura's lack of design originality, the game's colorful design of Shibuya and varied soundtrack are some of the most creative on the platform. People might bemoan Square Enix's lack of originality and their endless willingness to squeeze every last dollar, yen, and euro out of the Final Fantasy franchise, but TWEWY proves that when they make an effort, they can still make games that are every bit as original, creative, and entertaining as their best efforts of the past.
Best Game of 2008: The World Ends With You
Yep. For my money, The World Ends With You is the best game to come out this year. Though Persona 4 comes close, I have to give the nod to TWEWY for its inventive play mechanics, creative reimagining of Shibuya, and its excellent story. What starts off as just another tale of an amnesiac teenager suffering from severe emo angst quickly blossoms as the protagonist Neku spends three weeks trapped in an alternate Shibuya and encounters a range of characters ranging from the the intriguing and complex to the out-and-out bizarre. In the process, the story discusses a range of topics, including a surprising argument on what it means to follow trends versus a chilling true conformity. With its high customizable gameplay, entertaining combat, and surprising storyline, The World Ends With You is the best game this year.