By StarvingGamer 10 Comments
Let me preface this by saying Fuck. This. Year. As my first full year as a proud parent of two, many late nights were spent watching the gaming community and an entire country implode under the weight of oppression and social injustice while trying to shush one of my spawn back to sleep. I learned that hashtags are even more the-fucking-worst than I previously imagined and nothing retweeted after 11PM is anything good.
Thankfully, it wasn't all doom-and-gloom, as 2014 was another amazing year for games to distract me from the ever-looming maw of oblivion. The early year saw my gaming habits largely unchanged, with an infant son spending half the day asleep and a daughter in preschool. (Un)fortunately, children inevitably become more and more upwardly mobile and, as time passed, I found myself relying more and more on portable devices, be they my Vita, 3DS, iPad or iPhone, to fulfill my gaming needs.
While many games I would have loved to invest dozens-if-not-hundreds of hours into (including a handful of games I may have Kickstarted for way too much) ended up falling by the wayside, several more rose to the surface as standout experiences. So without further ado, this was my 2014 in video games:
2014's Old Game of the Year
Much like the GB staff in 2013, this year I wanted to expand the category beyond games released in the previous year so I could mention the 2012 banger, Final Fantasy XIII-2. As one of the most vehement supporters of FFXIII, largely on the strength of its battle system, it's criminal that I didn't get around to playing XIII-2 until just-before the release of Lightning Returns. While I simultaneously loved and hated what the Pokémonlike system for the third party member did to my min-maxer brain, the entire game was fantastically fun from start to finish. That said, the actual winner of this category is...
The handful of you that read my GotY blog from last year may remember me saying something along the lines of
...once I get an iPhone I'll be sure to spend thousands more [hours playing SolForge] in 2014, probably while driving.
Well, I got an iPhone. And I definitely spent thousands of hours playing SolForge. And at least a few-hundred of those were while driving. OK I HAVE A PROBLEM.
As a person who craves, nay, needs to be multitasking everywhere at all times, SolForge has been a godsend. The incredibly lenient turn-timer and clear UI allow me to asses any board-state at-a-glance, then devote the rest of me to other tasks while my brain works on figuring out my next move. I can play while cooking. I can play while changing diapers. I can play while shopping. I can play while taking a shower (by propping my iPad up on the towel rack). And yes, I can even play while driving (NOT RECOMMENDED).
SolForge promotes creativity and freedom of expression in the way all great CCGs do while providing more than enough mechanical depth to keep my mind engaged in-between turns. Unlike Hearthstone, the variance is significantly more manageable and losses rarely, if ever, put me on tilt, meaning even a bad (luck) day is a good day to play SolForge. While the most recent card release (just a few weeks old) has introduced the swingiest deck to the metagame since the beta and has managed to scare me off of constructed for the time being, I am still having no shortage of fun playing unranked games and I have no doubt that with the next update, the developers will start steering the game back to where victories are decided by the play instead of the draw.
Everyone who described this game as "sort of like Animal Crossing" and left it at that has done Fantasy Life a massive disservice. Animal Crossing is a job. You do a bunch of menial repetitive tasks day after day, beholden to a limited window for productivity, with NPC's that get pissy when you forget to have lunch with them at 1PM or, god forbid, don't have time to play the game on their birthday. Don't get me wrong, I'll still probably pick up whatever the next iteration ends up being and I'll have "fun" with it for a handful of weeks before resenting the franchise all over again, but it's that comparison that almost caused me to write off Fantasy Life entirely were it not for a few key tweets from people whose opinions I trust.
Guys. Fantasy Life is really good. It's insta GOTY material.— Kaiju Tanuki (@Franpaccio) October 15, 2014
Seriously, though, Fantasy Life came from out of nowhere to become one of my top three or four games so far this year. Really great stuff.— J. Parish (@gamespite) October 24, 2014
fantasy life seems to be the perfect example of a game people will really enjoy playing but reviewers who apathetically rush will punish.— christian nutt (@ferricide) October 27, 2014
So what is Fantasy Life? Well, you talk with NPCs and do stuff for them and there's a bunch of menial repetitive tasks you can perform every day like collecting shells and shaking/chopping down trees and you have this house where you can buy furniture and you can dress up your character or get your hair styled or... OK, so the comparison isn't completely off the mark. But while there may be some parallels in the systems for interaction, at its core Fantasy Life is more a mash-up between a tight RPG job-system and a single-player MMORPG.
At the onset, I was asked to choose one of twelves lives (jobs, classes, whatever) including four for combat, three for gathering, and five(!) for crafting. Shortly thereafter, I was free to take on as many or as few of those lives as I wanted, and I easily transitioned between them to take advantage of the myriad ways they complimented one another. This eventually lead to a sort of cascading playstyle where a simple task transformed into an hours-long play session.
Ok, I finally killed that dinosaur but now I'm having trouble mining the ore it was protecting so I probably need new pickaxe. If I'm going to make one I should probably make a better blacksmithing hammer first so I have a higher chance of my pickaxe coming out with a high quality modifier. The best hammer I can make needs master-rank beams and I'm only an expert carpenter right now. Well, I'm going to want to rank-up carpentry eventually anyways so I might as well do that now so I can make the beams myself instead of paying a ton of money to buy them from the vendor. I have almost all the materials I need to complete my carpenter challenges and rank-up, but I'm still missing a scale from that one really tough dragon that's a component for the bed I'm making for whatever reason. I need to kill that dragon for a paladin challenge as well so I can kill two birds with one stone by doing that. But actually I'm doing almost no damage to it with my current sword so I should probably smith myself a stronger one. Actually, I can make a sword that would be perfect for fighting the dragon, but it needs ore from that vein I haven't been able to mine yet. I probably need a better pickaxe.
With an abundance of widely varied progression tracks to make sure I never felt bored and an almost incessantly positive storyline of hope and kindness (you can beat the game without killing anything!), Fantasy Life was exactly the psychic salve I needed to deal with the darker parts of this year. If you have a 3DS you owe it to yourself to buy a copy of this game and let it put a smile on your face. Unless you can't appreciate dad jokes. Almost every joke in the game is more-or-less a dad joke. AND I LOVE IT.
Local Multiplayer Game that Makes Me Wish I Wasn't a Busy-ass Adult
What smart design. Even with the desync issue that seems to hit at least one player every other game, the fact that anyone with an internet browser can participate in a game of Fibbage or Drawful is one of the best gaming developments of 2014. I bought the game twice and played the game twice and already have gotten more than my money's worth of fun out of it. Unfortunately I'll be moving across the country soon to an area where I have no friends meaning my local multiplayer experience will likely be restricted to my Beyoncé and kids, and a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old aren't properly equipped to appreciate the comedic genius that is xxcloud420xx. Though our time was short it was ever so sweet, The Jackbox, and while we may be apart, know that every time I see Clippy what I'll really be thinking about is a sad penis and you.
Following a similar vein to my biggest disappointment from last year, SimCity, Beyond Earth is a game that I have played and enjoyed for dozens of hours already and will likely continue to do so into 2015.
BUT IT'S JUST CIV V WITH A SPACE SKIN. Sure, some interesting tweaks were made to the underpinnings with a build-your-own-Civ sort of approach and a fancy new tech-web, but I felt like I had explored both of those addition to their fullest extent within a handful of games. Now I'm basically just playing Civ V with less annoying military and much more annoying miasma. I guess from the start they made it known that they were going to be making Civ V in space, I just wish they had leaned more on the "in space" side and less on the "Civ V" side.
Whatever, it's still alright, and maybe they'll be able to differentiate it even more whenever the first expansion drops. Maybe they'll add religion!
The Game to Pay Full-Price For but Not Play Because of Dragon Age: Inquisition of the Year
Look, I like Assassin's Creed, alright? Even III was great. The series appeals to my gotta-collect-'em-all map-scouring sensibilities and I consistently derive hours upon hours of enjoyment out of every entry. So it was a given that I would be buying either Unity or Rogue and I figured what's the point of having this sleek current-gen box if I can't shove some games inside of it. Besides, if I waited I could probably just pick up the inevitable HD update for Rogue somewhere further down the line like I did with Black Flag.
My copy arrived in the mail and, sure, there was some weird business going on with embargoes and completely busted framerates or somesuch nonsense, but I wasn't concerned about that. However, my extremely limited sit-down time with console games meant I was still flailing away at the tail-end of Bayonetta 2 and I knew I had to get that done before Inquisition came out.
I beat Bayonetta 2. Then Inquisition came out. Inquisition is still out. 120 hours later and it's still out. And not done. So I'll get to Unity some time during the January doldrums while my kids are with their grandparents and I'm supposed to be doing something like packing up for our big move. The fact that the game will be significantly more playable by then is a fantastic bonus and, honestly, I can't wait.
Thanks, Dragon Age!
Game of the Year
I love fighting games, which should be abundantly clear from a majority of my activity on this site. If I were going to be stranded on a desert island with one genre (and an internet connection), I would want it to be fighting games. In fact, three-fourths of my blog posts from this year had something to do with fighting games. So when Capcom updated the most recent version of their storied franchise for 2014, it was an obvious lock for my GotY.
And so it is, but not simply because of some sense of nostalgia or genre loyalty. Ultra Street Fighter IV is, beyond question, the most balanced modern fighting game on the market. With a massive roster of 44 characters and a wide variety of system mechanics, it's an accomplishment that is nothing short of miraculous. There is no clearer proof of this than the remarkable character diversity that has been showcased at every tournament top-8 since the game's release. The competitive-scene has never been more exciting, and 2015 promises to push things even further with a massive $500,000 prize-pool for the Capcom pro-tour courtesy of Sony.
Some characters may have been left out in the cold (sorry Dee Jay), but Capcom continues to fine-tune the game with free balance updates to try and shrink the already minuscule tier gap. The experimental playground of the newly-released Omega mode seems to be pointing at a possible direction for SFV, but until that game comes out (in 2016?), I'll continue having a blast losing repeatedly with Rose in USFIV. I can't wait to buy the game for a fourth time on PS4.
I just hope they adopt the driver Cowboy cooked up for the guys at Lab Zero so I don't have to buy another joystick. Even though I kinda want to buy another joystick. Man I want another joystick. JOYSTICK!
Runners-up: 2. Dragon Age: Inquisition 3. Bravely Default 4. Bayonetta 2 5. Fantasy Life 6. Super Smash Bros. for 3DS 7. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call 8. Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII 9. The Banner Saga 10. The Last of Us (Left Behind DLC)
P.S. If you're looking to get into fighting games a little bit more, be it as a player or a spectator, I'd like to wholeheartedly recommend the Tuesday Show on UltraChenTV. Hosted by David "ultradavid" Graham and James "jchensor" Chen, the show is a sort of catch-all for everything fighting games, including game news, tournament results, scene drama, and anything in between. You can catch it most Tuesdays at around 8:30PM Pacific time, but your best bet is to follow @UltraChenTV on twitter to find out when they're going to be streaming.