Game of The Year 2013

Let's be honest, 2013 kind of sucked. We lost a lot of cool people (RIP Ryan Davis), and it seems like almost everyone I know, including myself had to go through some bullshit this year. That isn't to say the year was a total wash. Some good stuff happened along the way, not the least of which is the fact that it has been an awesome year for video games. I feel like this year, more than any one in recent memory was jam packed full of quality games. 2013 saw the release of a dozen games I was really looking forward to, and just as many surprises that threw me for a loop. By the end of the year I had a list of about 25 games I was considering for my top 10, and a few more games that I regret I didn't get around to. A good year indeed in that respect.

If you've read any of my lists before, you probably know what you're in for. A lot of Japanese games, an emphasis on amazing music, hell, the tried and true “hated it, then loved it” game of the year makes a return yet again. You might also know that this is going to go on for a bit. I can't help it, I get a bit wordy when talking about things I really enjoyed.

A few notes:

*There are liberal spoilers in this thing. It's the end of the year, and time to talk about my favorite games I've played this year. Spoilers are inevitable in most cases. I'll try to spoiler tag some things, but it's not possible for everything. Just keep that in mind. You've been warned.

*I'm really sorry about all of this. I generally tend to write... a lot. But this time I really got carried away. I don't think most people need 25 pages to explain which games they liked in a single year, or why they liked them, but... there you go. At least it's comprehensive, right?

With all that said, let's get this monster rolling.

Honorable Mentions

These games didn't quite make my top ten list, but I thought they were worth talking about, briefly, thankfully.

*Pokemon X/Y: This is my number 11 game, if you want to call it that. It was actually on my list until a couple days ago. I enjoyed Pokemon Y, the changes they made are welcome indeed. The new 3D graphics look great, and tweaks to things like EXP. Share make a lot of the more tedious things in these games a lot more bearable. Arguably the most significant change comes to the online interactions. Never before has it been so easy to connect with friends, and random people alike to Trade/Battle Pokemon. It's crazy how simple and easy it is, to the point that I can't believe we survived without it all these years. Features like the Wonder Trade which allow you to blind trade a random Pokemon for another random Pokemon are addicting and fun. I even like some of the new Pokemon, and some of the Mega Evolutions. Even though it sounds like Mega Evolutions fucked up some of the competitive balance/variety.

That's all well and good, but there's also some stuff that really sucks about Pokemon X/Y. Namely the characters and the story. Now, now. Before you get up in my grill about the story in a Pokemon game, I have to remind you that one of the main reasons Pokemon Black was my Game of the Year in 2011 was because it had an awesome, actually interesting story with good characters. Not the case in X/Y where you have some of the lamest characters around and quite frankly a garbage excuse for a story. That combined with the fact that I couldn't think of a lot of things I wanted to “gush” about lead me to remove it from the list.

*Attack of The Friday Monsters: A Tokyo Tale: My number 12 game, I guess. Attack of The Friday monsters is just a ridiculously adorable, pleasant little game that cost me all of what, $7? It was definitely worth it to experience the short, but sweet story it had to tell. I really loved the art, and the game made me smile nearly the whole time. The only negative thing I can think of is that the card game isn't really necessary It doesn't detract from the game too much, until the post game at least, but I just felt the game would have been fine without it. It's a funny distraction at best. That said, if you're interested in a cute little story about a small town in Japan in the 70s, where Kaiju (big monsters) come out out on Friday to fight, then I suggest you pick up AoTFM. Then have fun trying to figure out what's going on!

*Animal Crossing: New Leaf:

Uhg. I really don't want to think about Animal Crossing: New Leaf. I've put over 200 hours into the game, and you know what? I'd rather I hadn't. I wouldn't go so far as to say I dislike the game, but I'm certainly well beyond the point of being sick of it at this point. So why do I keep playing? It's my friend Zara. I bought the game for both of us back in July and ever since then she's been obsessed with it. I might have put in 200 hours, she has put in nearly 2000 hours, or something crazy like that. She plays it everyday, for hours on end. I don't even know what she has left to do in the game anymore, and yet she keeps playing it. And even talks about buying another copy of the game just to start a new town. It's madness!

I just thought I should “mention” it because it's been such a big part of my year, what with her playing it all the time. And me being roped into helping her with it. I actively played and enjoyed the game for about a month. Everything after that? Just helping her with stuff. Please, send help.

10. Final Fantasy XIV

Final Fantasy XIV is a game that, I feel that if I had been able to spend more time with it, would have most likely been higher on my list. It's a game that I had been waiting anxiously for all year, and when it finally came out I wasn't really in a position to enjoy it to the fullest. I had originally wanted to embark on my journey with my friend, as we are wont to do with MMOs, but she just doesn't have the hardware to run the game. I'm working on fixing that in the next month or so, and we should hopefully, finally be able to dig deep into this beastly game.

That said, I just couldn't wait. So when digital copies for the game were being sold again, I picked the game up for cheap. What followed was what I guess you could call a trial run. I made a character that I played primarily solo, and got her to about level 25 before I let my subscription lapse. During that time I was learning the ins and outs of the game, and trying to decide if it was going to be a worthwhile investment in the long run. And you know what? I think it is!

Preamble about my situation aside, Final Fantasy XIV is a gorgeous game that demands the attention of anyone who might even having a passing interest in it. That includes people that are looking for a solid new MMO to sink their teeth into. This game is for Final Fantasy fans, or for people who enjoy a good Japanese style role playing game. You might also like to experience the world of Eorzea if you just like things that are beautiful, because XIV is dripping with jaw dropping splendor with everything from the world, to the incredible soundtrack.

At it's core, XIV isn't breaking any new ground when it comes to MMOs. In fact it borrows a lot from many other successful MMOs of the past. If you've ever played World of Warcraft, chances are you have a good idea of what you're in for. But one of the best things about XIV is that it combines the simplicity of the tried and true WoW systems, and applies them to something closer to what Square Enix did with it's first foray into massively multiplayer games, Final Fantasy XI.

That is to say, you have a very accessible system, that is solo friendly above all else, and it combines it with some of the quirky things XI did that were a little more taxing on the player. Even though XI has changed much over the years, it's still a hardcore game that more often than not demands that you rely on the assistance of other players to make much progress in the game. Wherein XIV you can enjoy a large majority of the game's story solo. In this way, XIV plays a lot like a traditional single player Final Fantasy game, complete with a compelling story that will hook you early on in the adventure.

Sure, you're still required to team up from time to time to tackle big story moments, but thanks to modern conventions it's a lot less painful than it is in something like XI. In addition to all that you have things like the FATE system, which is XIV's take on public quests which originated in games like the recently departed Warhammer Online, and more recently Guild Wars 2. Overall, XIV is just a nice spread of mechanics that have worked in the past, while maintaining the flavor of Square Enix's brand of online role playing. Something that I'm extremely grateful for.

In my time with XIV, as I've said, I got to level 26 fairly easily just playing alone. I made a Pugilist named Argilla Prihtivi, a staple name I use in a lot of games where you create a character. During my short time in Eorzea I got a feel for the major starting cities, explored a lot of the beginning to intermediate areas. I got a feel for all aspects of the game, from it's combat which is fast paced and fun, to the game's unique crafting system which is strangely action oriented. I ran dungeons with random players on my server using the easy to use “Duty Finder” utility, and even made a few acquaintances along the way. All in all it was a very pleasant experience that reminds me why I can still invest hundreds of hours into this genre of game. I only wish that I had my friends there to enjoy it with me.

Lastly, before I stop talking your ear off about a game that I probably only spent the bare minimum amount of time with, I have to say the one thing that really pushed XIV onto my year end list, and that is that it's exceedingly, unquestionably beautiful. I've mentioned it previously, but I feel that I really need to emphasis it. Everything about the game appeals to my sense of aesthetics. It's a beautifully rendered world with an eastern aesthetic. At the same time it doesn't come across as too anime, as it definitely has a western fantasy vibe to it too that is par for the course with the series.

Not only are the character designs easy on the eyes, but the traditional Final Fantasy monsters you've come to know and love are well represented here. Things from the ridiculously adorable Mandragoras that became popular with XI, to the beyond epic interpretations of the Primals. There's nothing quite like getting a party together and going into a boss chamber where you're greeted by the Lord of Fire, Ifrit, and it's an intense four-on-one battle full of enough graphical splendor to drop jaws. Plus the rush of fighting such an iconic figure is just way too cool.

Not even just characters, but the world itself is a vibrant place that easily rivals areas in any game. There have been times where I've been playing where I would just stop dead in my tracks as a storm kicked up. One time I just sat on a big rock and watched as heavy rain just rolled across the plains, and another time I slowly walked (not ran) through a forest as a lightning storm raged overhead. It's the kind of thing that just makes you stop and think: “Man, I wish I was really in this world right now.”. That so far has been by biggest takeaway from XIV, and I'm eager to get back to it and see even more of the world.

For real though, one final thing is that the game's soundtrack is just a pretty as the world it accompanies. The game is packed full of nearly 100 songs that would make any Final Fantasy music buff proud. I remember walking out to the Ul'Dah fields for the first time and hearing this haunting melody that made me shiver. God Damn, XIV is just such a gorgeous game.

9. Saints Row IV

Remember how much I liked Saints Row The Third? Saints Row IV is kind of like that, but less so. That isn't to say I disliked it, because here it is on my Game of The Year list, but, I dunno... maybe you can't recapture that same feeling again? I should stop before I sound too down on the game, because honestly I really like it, but I just want you to know... The Third was better.

With that out of the way, it's hard to find much else to dislike about Saints Row IV. It's more of the same insanity that we all loved back in 2011. Except maybe it's even crazier this time considering you're now a super hero. And even though I might not like IV as much as The Third, I think it was vitally important that they made the game so drastically different. It helped make Saints Row IV unique in a year where Grand Theft Auto V was released, and a year after Sleeping Dogs perfected the open-world crime game for me. Sleeping Dogs is still the best, but uh, God... the less said about Grand Theft Auto V the better. (Franklin, Lamar, and Chop are the only things I still feel positive about with that game. Okay, I'll stop).

So yeah, it's pretty awesome going around Steelport with superpowers. For one traversal is actually a blast, and I say that as someone who generally enjoys driving around open world games. Being able to sprint up a building, hit the highest point, super jump into the air, then glide across most of the city before you have to touch ground again never got old for me. In fact the few times in the game where you have to drive felt totally unfulfilling after zipping around like that. Especially considering the speed in which you can run is faster than driving the fastest car by an order of magnitudes. In addition to the cool transportation powers, your character has access to a whole arsenal of offensive powers. I guess it's unfortunate that half of them suck, and are worse than guns. Fire and Ice? Awesome, totally devastating. Ground Stomp? Dumb. Telekinesis? Fuck off.

My big problem with TK is that it's a stupid, finicky power that's more trouble than it's worth, but more importantly there are far too many side activities that make you use it. Those stupid Rift ones? Fuuuuuuucccccckkkkkkkk off. And speaking of side activities that's kind of a double edged sword for me. On the one hand, there are a lot of them, and you kind of want to do them all because you get cool stuff from your crew, but some of them are kind of a pain in the ass to do. On the other hand, I was able to complete every side activity in Saints Row IV in under 30 hours. Which is more than I could say for something like... Grand Theft Auto V. Uhg.

The main mission though? Fucking awesome. Volition proves once again that it can combine surprisingly sharp writing with the craziest shit you're doing in-game. From the Zero Dark Thirty/Call of Duty parody at the beginning of the game that ends with your character jumping onto a speeding rocket as Aerosmith's “I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing” plays. To when you're piloting a space ship through “reality” ala The Matrix style while Haddaway's “What is Love” plays. To piloting a mech suit. To playing an alternate take on Streets of Rage. To... any other number of absurd things you do in that game.

You know what else is good? The “loyalty missions”. Ripped straight from Mass Effect, you can do side missions with your crew members that will deepen your bond with them, and allow them to unlock their super powers within the simulation. These are sometimes arguably better than anything in the main story even. Pierce's sees the return of the “get in a car, and sing a song together” in which the two of you do really nothing other than drive around and sing Paula Abdul's “Opposites Attract”, and start to sing Biz Markie's “Just A Friend” until the game's villain Zinyak chimes in and ruins it. In Shaundi's mission you team up with her, and fucking Saints Row 2 Shaundi (Yes this is actually a different character) as you three score some sweet alien drugs, smoke them out of broken light bulbs, and then trip balls. And of course Keith David's mission where it's just a reenactment of They Live, complete with Roddy Piper. Yeah.. the game is something else.

There's tons of other little things that just make Saints Row IV a fun game. I'm rather fond of the Dubstep Gun, a large canon that just fires waves of Dubstep that actually plays, and causes by standards to dance. It can also be upgraded to just randomly cause explosions. Yep. Fuck man, it's great that Keith David is in the game as himself. This is especially rich because Keith David had previously voiced a character in an older Saints Row game, and the game is constantly making jokes about how that character and Keith David are so alike. Along those lines, all the references and cameos to and from the old Saints Row games. Going as far as to include clones of the default main characters from Saints Row 1. The fact that for no apparent reason you're character is the President of the United States. Hell, the list just goes on and on.

And on-top of all that the game still has an excellent selection of voice actors, not the least of which are all the selectable voices for your main character. Laura Bailey makes her return as the definitive female voice. As do Troy Baker, Kenn Michael, and Robin Atkin Downes as the three main male voices. Robin Atkin Downes in particular is the official voice of the Boss in my opinion, that dude is great. Also, for no reason, Nolan North is a selectable voice, as himself. Again, yeah.

Finally, man, I really like the soundtracks in these games. There are several radio stations I liked to listen to in SRIV. Mainly KRyhme, Mad Decent, and of course The Mix. The Mix is pretty much the station that has all the songs used in the missions, as well as the strangely appropriate sounding for flying around the city – "B.O.B" by Outkast. But KRhyme actually introduced me to some good shit, like Kendrick Lamar's "Swimming Pools" which is probably my most listened to song this year. And Mad Decent... fucking Riff Raff. Honorable mention to Klassic, the classic station which is hosted by Zinyak. Yep.

At the end of the day, it's hard not to like Saints Row IV. It might not have held the exact same appeal as The Third did back in 2011, but it's still the best open-world game I've played this year. It's stupid, and fun. And weirdly smart, and progressive. I know that sounds totally... stupid, but when you think about the way GTA treats women, and then the fact that the Boss (voiced of course by Laura Bailey) is just the biggest badass around. She demands your respect, and she's not going to take any shit. It's just a feel good game, and I say that as someone who played it during my most miserable point in the year.

8. Tales of Xillia

You know, I really like the Tales series. It's not the best JRPG series around, but it's got some damn fine games in it. Last year I awarded Graces f a spot on my list, even if it wasn't one of the better games. And while I don't think Xillia quite reaches the level of something like Symphonia or Vesperia, it's still a fantastic game.

I think the big thing that helps Xillia, well aside from the fact that it's a PS3 game, and not just a port of a Wii game, is that it's characters are a lot closer to something like the cast in Vesperia. You have a widely different cast of characters in your party, and almost all of them are great. The one exception to this, for me at least, is Leia, who is so forgettable that I can never remember her name. That aside, you have Jude who makes a pretty great bumbling hero. He's not the coolest Tales hero around, but I think that's what makes him special. He just kind of falls into this, they never really establish him as a leader or anything. He's good natured, and by the end of the game he has solid convictions to fully support this strange girl who, he quite cutely, fell for over the course of the game.

Then you have Alvin who is just a real mixed bag. Not mixed in that he's sometimes a good character, sometimes a bad character, but a literal mixed character. At first he's the calm and collected guy who everyone can depend on to get them out of a jam. In some ways he almost feels like more of a hero than Jude does. That is until you see his true colors. I lost track of the number of times throughout the course of the game that Alvin double crosses your party, and I have to admit I was more than a little frustrated that they all went back to casually trusting him every-single-time. Sure Elize hates him for most of the game (more on that later), but I never really got the sense that the party was too concerned that this guy was working with the enemy. Which enemy? Every enemy. This isn't to say that Alvin's character himself annoyed me. I feel like it's pretty clear by the end of the game that he has his reasons, and he never really meant for anything bad to happen to the crew. It still just seemed weird that he was always, without fail, just let back into the party.

Elize is the second most interesting character in the game. At first she's just a timid child who has this cute talking doll mascot. Teepo himself is kind of interesting in that at first he's just another stupid Mieu clone. Just along for the ride, and to play the comic relief. But as both Elize and Teepo's nature is revealed he becomes so much more. Throughout the whole game I thought Elize was as cute as a button, but instead of just being the cute character she really has some interesting development. Part way through the game, Teepo gets snatched up, and he ends up losing his memories. I believe it's shortly after this point that we learn that Teepo isn't an entity at all, but just a reflection of Elize's inner thoughts. The things she's too scared or embarrassed to say. This to me added a whole new layer of depth for Elize's character, as she was, and continues to express more of her true nature through Teepo.

I guess I should also mention that Teepo is responsible for the best skit in all of Tales history. Teepo, or Elize, for whatever reason keep talking about “bazongas”. That in, and of itself is pretty funny, but when Jude finally asks what the fuck is up with the bazongas, Alvin and Rowen goad Jude into yelling “Teach me about BAZONGAS!” in front of Milla and Leia. Yeah, it's fucking great.

Anyways, the last thing I wanted to say about Elize is that despite the age difference, her and Alvin actually make a really cute couple. Throughout the course of the game, she's one of the only people in the party who doesn't blindly trust him, and actually holds a grudge against him for the longest time. Despite this, Alvin goes out of his way to help Elize several times, and by the end of the game there's a really cute scene with them before the final battle where she finally admits that she likes him. I know a certain someone who is dying for a more age appropriate relationship between the two.

Rowen is also quite interesting in that he finally, finally is an actual old man in your party. Too long have we seen 30-something characters like Raven being picked on for being ancient. No, Rowen is an actual old ass man. And he's pretty badass too. He has a history with the King of Fennmont, as he used to be a brilliant tactician for the army, known as the conductor. Throughout the game Rowen applies his years of experience and knowledge to help the party out. He also has a sad bit of backstory where he thought he lost the love of his love, but if you're up on the side quests in the game, you see a bittersweet resolution to that story. More importantly though, Rowen is just a really solid character, and not the kind you see very often in games. Least of which being JRPGs. He's like a kindly grandfather, wise in his old age, but still spry enough to kick some ass. And he's actually responsible for a good amount of comic relief. Again, kind of unique in that it's not the sort of comedy you're used to in a Tales game.

Finally there's Milla. Ahh... Milla. I know that Pete Davison already made a fabulous case for Milla in his Xillia review over on USgamer, but what can I say? The man is right. Milla is such a refreshing character, not only for Tales, but for games in general. In the past Tales has had some of my favorite female characters with Sheena from Symphonia, and Judith from Vesperia. Both of them being extremely awesome, but Milla is just something else entirely. At the beginning of the game you can chose who you want to control. Either Jude or Milla. And while playing as Jude makes a little more sense for the first time through the game (you see more of the story) Milla is clearly the heroine of Xillia. Not just a Colette, or Estelle type. She is the leader, she is the main character. If that wasn't cool enough she's also an extremely powerful character, not only in terms of combat prowess, but her ability to take control of a situation.

Milla also has an interesting quirk in that she is largely ignorant to a lot of things that people would think is common sense. Don't mistake me, not in a bimbo kind of way, but in a “I'm not familiar with your species” sort of way. This is what we call an endearing character trait. It's easy to fall in love with Milla when we see her be so clueless about such basic things, or bust out a bit of knowledge she read in a book, apropos of nothing, as if the information she was providing wasn't already common knowledge. And despite this she seems to have a better idea of what's going on, or what needs to be done than anyone. Well, except maybe Alvin who has insider information.

As you go through the game Milla slowly starts to become more “human”. Initially it's as simple as her losing her godlike power to control the four spirits. But at the game progresses more subtle changes take effect. Traveling with these people she starts feeling emotions, and develops friendships. Particularly the relationship between Jude, that really starts to kick off when Milla is injured early on in the game, and has to rely on Jude to help her. Near the end of the game that relationship finally comes together in a bittersweet way. Where Jude loves Milla, and wants to support her no matter what. While Milla herself probably doesn't share this same intimacy, I think she knows Jude has become her trustworthy partner.

Despite everything that happens to Milla to deter her over the course of the game, she remains steadfast, always set on her mission. And as she grows attached to her companions she's willing, and in fact does sacrifice everything for them. Even her final decision is a selfless act to help and preserve a state of peace in the two worlds, even if it means she'll never see her friends again (until Xillia 2, but whatever). I think it's cool that not only is she this really strong, compelling female character, but that the story is largely focused around her. It's kind of reminiscent of how Terra and Celes are considered the main characters of Final Fantasy VI. I guess it's a bad thing that this is such a rarity in games, but at least it's progress. From a Japanese developer no less!

Finally, yeah, she's just a really well designed character. Her actual character design is interesting, it's sexy, but it's also not overboard. The hair is a pretty big distinguishing feature, that might feel overdone on another character. Lastly, her English voice actress Minae Noji is really unique! I can't think of a character that sounds quite like Milla. It's kind of a husky voice that again helps to separate Milla from a lot of other anime heroines. It helps sell her delivery of all the “clueless” lines, as well as makes Milla sound like a commanding character.

And Leia? I dunno. She's just kind of there. She falls into the klutzy childhood friend troop. I guess if you want to get real about it, she's everything Milla isn't. She's supposed to be this tough tomboyish girl, but she just comes across as a helpless girl who has unrequited love for Jude. It doesn't help that she doesn't really go through any sort of interesting character arc, her personality isn't very original, and she's just kind of annoying sometimes. I'm sorry! What can I say?

So yeah, I just spent entirely too long talking about the characters in the game, but like I said, I feel that's where it's strengths lie. As far as the story goes, it's standard Tales fare. It eventually turns into a save the world(s) from destruction story, and there's not really many notable twists or turns aside from the few character arc things I've already mentioned. Much like another game on my list I feel like the story is just a vehicle to deliver the characters to you. Something is going on at all times to motivate the characters forward, but it rarely has any bite. Sometimes it's easy to stop caring about the main story, and just focus on the skits, and side quests that help flesh out the characters. That isn't to say the story is entirely without merit, but much like the music in Tales games, it's not the selling point.

And hey, I guess I could close out by talking about the gameplay some! Again, pretty standard for Tales at this point. It's no where near as big of a departure as Graces f was, but it does add some new things. For the uninitiated Tales is an action RPG, the battles take place in real time, and I guess you could compare it to a really simplistic fighting game. You have a basic attack, and special attacks called Artes which require a resource to use. One of the best parts of any Tales game is linking together as many of these attacks as you can and pulling off cool combos, again not unlike a fighting game. Graces f made the combat a lot deeper, but I don't know if it was ideal or not. Xillia's combat feels like a good medium between the older games, and introduces some new elements that make it a little more involving.

Namely the ability to “link” two characters together to take advantage of that character's support skill, as well as being able to flank enemies and string together bigger combos. Another key point to this feature is that you can combine two moves from both linked characters to form a new, more damaging move. It's a fun little addition, that's probably pretty crucial on the harder difficulty modes, but on normal it doesn't feel like it changes the flow of combat too much. Overdrive mode is still there, still allows you to spam Artes without an SP cost. And it still lets you use Divine Artes. Though I have to admit I played through a good portion of the game before ever performing a Divine Arte. I can't remember how it worked in other games now, but it certainly seemed a lot more obvious how to do them in those games. You have to hold a button at the end of specific Artes to execute the DA. It's not that hard to pull off once you know what you're doing though. You know, it's a Tales game. You've either come to enjoy this combat, or you haven't. This isn't the game that's going to change your mind on it.

Lastly, one other big new feature in this game is the Lillium Orb, which is essentially the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X, or if you want a more recent example, the Passive Skills tree in Path of Exile. Each character has their own unique orb, and the orb is divided into different sections based off which stat you're raising So this actually introduces a more hands-on leveling system for a Tales game, as you're able to modify your characters in any direction you want. Upon completing certain sections of the orb you unlock Artes, and Skills. I've explained Artes, but Skills you can equip to give your character more direct passive boosts in battle.

I would say that it's increasingly rare to find JRPGs these days, but that's not true at all. The genre has just expanded into different types of RPGs, and a lot more of them are being produced than say a few years ago. I guess what I can say is that it's hard for me to find ones I really enjoy anymore. It's hard to count FFXIV as a JRPG, but I suppose it is... if you're really stretching it, and another game on my list could be considered a JRPG. I also enjoyed Atelier Ayesha, but that didn't quite make the cut. That's about it for this year though. There were a few big ones on the 3DS with Shin Megami Tensei IV, and Soul Hackers, and two Etrian Odyssey games, but I guess I'm picky about my Atlus games. Hell, I'm not even going to talk about how much of a disappointment Dragon's Crown was. Man, just thinking about it again is bumming me out. Next year is looking hot though, what with Bravely Default, Ragnarok Odyssey Ace, Lightning Returns, Escha and Logy, and Dark Souls II kicking off the year in February and March. But I digress.

Point is, I'm glad the Tales series is still flourishing. It's a semi-big JRPG franchise that you can get on consoles. Maybe not new consoles, but consoles none the less. And even though it's brand of action combat might not be what traditional JRPG fans are looking for, I still find them very enjoyable. And hey, I get to look forward to Xillia 2 next year, and hopefully get Zesty the year after that!

7. Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies

I feel like some of the games on this list require a great deal of explanation as to why I liked them so much, or in some cases as you'll see, dealing with controversies surrounding them. Dual Destinies is simple. It's just a damn good Phoenix Wright game.

If you've never played Phoenix Wright before, man, you're really missing out. The games are a hybrid of something as simple as visual novel, but throws in a whole level of interaction that gives it a little more meat in the gameplay department. I think most people know this at this point, but, yeah, you play as a lawyer. Sounds boring, but in the world of Phoenix Wright it's anything but! The game is broken up into two portions. One where you investigate the crimes, and another where you defend your client in court / try to find the real culprit guilty.

These games aren't very demanding outside of the fact that they can take a while to finish. In past games it could be pretty tricky to figure out just exactly what evidence you were supposed to present and at what time, and just trying to pay attention and keep track of everything in general. To me, and a lot of people from the sound of it, Dual Destinies makes this easier than ever before. Some people have gone on record saying they're not the biggest fans of this change, but for the most part I think the game still requires a certain level of engagement and outside of the box thinking to keep you invested.

That's just the mechanics part of these games though. No, the real draw of the Ace Attorney series is the ridiculous stories that are told, and the lively characters you interact with throughout. How much you like any given Phoenix Wright game comes down directly to how good you thought the cases were. For me, the first Phoenix Wright, and Trials and Tribulations take the cake for me. The final cases in those games were just too damn good. They got to be so big, and epic, and out of control that you'd spend hours furiously tapping away to get to the next upset in the story. And while Dual Destinies might not conquer these climactic titans for me, it does still tell a damn good story with just the right amount of twists and turns to cause my eyes to widen in disbelief.

Dual Destinies not only lives up to the legacy of the Ace Attorney series, but it offers up some outstanding new additions. Not the least of which are the gorgeous 3D graphics. When you make the transition from something that is 2D like the previous AA games, it's easy to misstep and lose the “feel” of the older games. Fortunately Capcom succeed here, and the game looks fucking great. To me, nothing was lost in the transition, and the overly animated character expressions are still top notch.

Of course the game also introduced a whole cavalcade of new characters. Many of the side characters can be hit or miss in these games, and it's no different here. For me, pretty much everyone involved in the game's second case, as well as the case itself was horrible. It was a dreadful slog getting through it, much like other infamous cases in the past such as the dreaded circus case. But in other areas of the game some characters really shined. Robin Newman for instance was a very interesting, very energetic character that it was hard not to like. I do feel like they missed an opportunity to make a compelling cross dressing, perhaps even transgender character with her, but she still has a good arc. Also from that case, the snakelike Myriam Scuttlebutt who was constantly in a cardboard box, but underneath the box, and her slippery personality she was actually pretty cute!

Another favorite of mine was the sadistic Aura Blackquill, who not only was super hot, and reminded me of Juri Han from Street Fighter, but presented a sinister character, who by the end of her arc is very easy to sympathize with. But the real stars of the show are the three new main characters. Athena Cykes, the new attorney, whom you play as for large portions of the game, as well as the central character in the game's story. Simon Blackquill, the new prosecutor who is just all kinds of badass. And Bobby Fullbright who is this game's Detective Gumshoe replacement.

Full on spoilers here, but I feel like I need to discuss all of this to really get my point across about these characters, and how great the game's central story is.

So the main story behind Dual Destinies is that the world is in the dark age of the law. This ties back directly to the events of Apollo Justice, where Phoenix is disbarred for using false evidence. It also ties into Athena and Blackquill's past. If you look at Dual Destinies as being The first, fourth, and fifth case, that's where you have the main story. Case three helps establish some important side development for later, and the second case is completely pointless, but the point is that these three cases make up the main game.

For me, I consider those three cases being what you want to play the game for. The first case not only serves as the tutorial, and helps to set the story up, but when you loop back around to it later in the game you realize the significance of all of it. A large portion of the game is spent eluding to Athena and Blackquill's past, and when you finally find out the truth of that, it's about the time the game really starts to fall back into the Phoenix Wright epic finale scenario.

The fact that the game goes so far as to kill Apollo's best friend in a mysterious circumstance that leaves the blame pinned on Athena makes for a tragic scene. Where Apollo suspects Athena, he wants to believe in her, but he needs to be sure. I just didn't expect the game to go in that direction, even though earlier parts of the game suggest that Apollo is acting dicey. When Phoenix blows everyone's mind by revealing the possibility that the Phantom did it, and the whole courtroom explodes, it's awesome. At that point it's really touching to see Apollo be absolved of all his doubts, letting the team of lawyers come together to bust the case wide open.

And in regards to that relationship between Athena and Blackquill, it's also really touching that despite being at each others throat for the whole game, both of them were willing, and did in fact sacrifice everything to prove the others innocence. Blackquill never came off as a villain, much the same way most of the prosecutors in the series do. But it always felt to me like Blackquill was doing the right thing, even if that meant doing the “wrong” thing sometimes.

In the last case, it's a constant roller coaster from one point to the next. At first we see that Aura has staged an abduction to try and hold a trial to prove her brother's innocence. But it quickly spirals out of control when it's revealed that she wants Athena charged with the murder of her (Athena) own mother, and Aura's lover Metis Cykes. It also doesn't hurt that Edgeworth is randomly roped into this, if only to provide some homoerotic fanservice between him and Phoenix.

As I've said, Phoenix ends up clearing Athena in Apollo's eyes, but in order to completely clear her of guilt, the real culprit of both the Clay, and Metis murder must be brought to light. Seeing as how it's not Athena that leaves... The Phantom. A character eluded to leading up to this point, and the person Blackqull has been gunning for for the past several years.

And that leaves us with Bobby Fullbright. I think it's real fucking commendable of Capcom that they made such a wacky character, that you can't help but grow to love over the course of the game. One of his key features is that he's just so emotive. He'll laugh at the drop of a hat, and cry just as quickly. He's the definition of a Phoenix Wright character. And yet... You find out that Fullbright is in fact the Phantom. See, this is where the emotions come into play. The Phantom is known to be a spy with no emotions to speak of. It's a key point in the trial. He was able to escape the space center by making a death defying leap without even batting an eye. It also plays into the whole Mood Matrix mechanic of the game, where Athena can hear people's emotions. When you end up grilling Fullbright, everything is out of whack, because he's the Phantom!

The whole thing just turns the game on its head, and it was a twist that I, and I'm sure most people didn't see coming. I mean, how could you? Maybe if you were thinking about it really hard, or defaulted to process of elimination and just assumed one of these existing characters had to be the Phantom. To me it was one of the craziest twists I've seen in the series, and there are some pretty crazy twists! Also, it's important to note that the Fullbright you know isn't the real Fullbright. He died a while ago. So this begs the question, what as the real Bobby Fullbright like? It also makes you wonder if you should even like Fullbright (the Phantom) anymore since his whole persona is a lie. The real man behind the mask probably isn't that likable. And finally, what about the Fullbright_x_Blackquill ship? Is that sunk? We may never know!

Dual Destinies is probably my third favorite game in the series at this point, it's real close between DD and the first Ace Attorney. Sadly it doesn't really come close to Trials and Tribulations for me. Still, it's a great return for the Phoenix Wright series. The refinements to the game are a welcome addition, as is the soundtrack which is full of some new takes on classic tracks, as well as some amazing new pieces that get you pumped in the heat of the moment. For a while it seemed the series was lying dormant, especially in the west where we never got the second Miles Edgeworth game, and are just now finally getting the Layton spinoff game. I'm glad to see Capcom brought the series back though, and I can only hope they do more of it in the future. I hope their decision to go strictly digital in the west worked out enough for them to consider bringing future games here too. Because god dammit y'all, it's almost 2014, stop keeping games locked up in other regions of the world!

6. DmC: Devil May Cry

Let's get this out of the way first. Fuck the haters, you know what I'm saying? It's a sad bunch of bullshit that the new Devil May Cry game gets as much shit as it does. It's a good fucking game, and no matter how much some people might want to whine and complain about it, it isn't going to change that fact.

I think there's a couple different kinds of haters for this game. There's the people that simply cannot abide by change of any kind. These are the sorts of people who can probably be found saying new Dante is one of the worst characters ever, and that he ruins everything that was cool about old Dante. Why? Because his hair is different? I like Dante, both of them, but Dante isn't really the epitome of cool half the time. Not only is he this goofy over the top anime hero (Note: I love anime, so don't start with me!) but he's also had some hard times. Remember “I should have been the one to fill your dark soul with LIGHT!” Yeah. How about all of Devil May Cry 2? Go ahead, try and remember it, if you dare. Even when Dante isn't accidentally being corny as hell, Capcom makes him a goofball. Remember that badass scene at the beginning of Devil May Cry 3? It's cool, yes, but Dante also isn't serious fucking business there. So what I'm trying to say is that, maybe, just maybe, cool it down and stop thinking of new Dante as being that different than old Dante.

Then you have the people that are just nasty about the game. To them this game is one of the worst games all year. Ninja Theory is a terrible developer who only makes shitty games. And that only babies like this easy to pick up and play snoozefest. It's all so completely ridiculous, that I can't help but shake my head every time I see the game brought up negatively in a thread on NeoGAF. At the very least I'm starting to see people who are coming out of the wood works saying that the game is treated unfairly. We need more people like that!

That rant aside. Hey, this game is pretty cool! DmC came out at the beginning of the year and has consistently held a spot on my Game of the Year list for the entire year. I think the thing that really does it for me is that the game has so much style to it. This isn't anything new to the Devil May Cry series though, long time fans will certainly remember how cool it was to pull off Stylish! Combos. Also, despite what I might have said about Dante, he is kind of a badass sometimes. Especially in Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. Man, I remember thinking he was the hottest shit around when I ran into him in that game. But I digress.

The combat is fundamentally the same here, you juggle enemies with your arsenal to raise your Stylish ranking. When you get into the groove and nothing is touching you while you dish out combos in the triple digits consistently it's addicting. While the game might not be so difficult in some of the game's easier modes, it still encourages the player to look good while playing. And this to me makes sort of a buffer that makes the game seem a little more challenging than it might be otherwise. Plus being able to switch on the fly (it's just a different button press to attack with another weapon) between weapons while you're stringing together your combos is pretty sweet.

The rest of the game is focused on being fun. The story? It's not amazing, in fact I'm having a hard time remembering a lot of it now. I do know that there are some awesome moments scattered throughout, such as Mundus freaking the fuck out when his child is killed and shattering reality or whatever it is that he does. And there's a great scene where Dante and Vergil are talking shit to each other that stuck with me throughout the year “..and I've got a bigger dick.”. Actually now that I think of it, there's more just genuinely funny moments throughout the game. The opening with the pizza covering up the dick. The whole exchange between Dante and the Succubus. That god damn Bob Barbas boss battle. The white wig falling on Dante's head? Yeah, good shit, that.

Speaking of Bob Barbas though, and going back to the style thing. That's another thing DmC really excels at. It has some awesome, unique environments and boss fights. I'm sure you've heard people talk about “that” boss fight in regards to DmC. Yeah, that's the Bob Barbas boss fight, where you essentially end up going inside a television world that is made up of news marquees, until you reach the boss. At which point you fight a giant digital news anchor's head, and throughout the fight the game cuts to a chopper cam, showing shaky black and white footage of you fighting minions. That would normally be cool on it's own, but it's even cooler that you are actually fighting the minions during that part. All the while Bob is commenting on how much of a menace Dante is.

Another really cool part of the game is the whole nightclub level. Never before have I seen such a display of vibrantly flashing colors while loud club music is blaring... while fighting hordes of demons. The whole level is constantly transforming and it's a real trip. It's stuff like that, that really makes DmC stand out for me.

I'm not sure where I'd rank DmC on the hierarchy of Devil May Cry games. It's easily better than 2. I don't think too many people are going to try and argue that one. I personally think it's better than 4 which was a competent game that just felt like more of the same. Especially because you replay every level as Dante half way through the game. And why weren't people so pissed off about Nero? Probably because he had white hair I guess. As for 1 and 3... hard to say. I'm willing to bet that if you took the nostalgia away from the first game, DmC is better overall. But that's a big “if”. I don't think I can even fool myself into thinking it's better than 3 though, much less anyone else. But I'd be willing to argue that the two are closer than you'd think.

All in all, DmC was a good warm up to get me back into character action games, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it. A few final thoughts: The PC port is fucking hot, and that Combichrist soundtrack is something else. Something good, I think.

5. The Last of Us

Alright. So. The Last of Us. It's quite good, yes? The fervor surrounding it? Not so much. I'll just get that crap out of the way first so I can talk about why I loved this game. So you know when something comes along, and it's extremely well received, and the people who really love it can't seem to understand why everyone else isn't in love with it? Yeah, that's sadly what happened with The Last of Us. I don't want to give the impression that this soured me on the game in anyway, because until my number two, and four games came along this was pretty close to the top of the list, and it's only at number 5 because two more phenomenal games came along.

Still, it's pretty gross how some people act about this game. I get it, many people think it's the game of the generation. I don't, personally, but it is pretty fucking good, so I can see why some would think that. The problem lies in the latter part of the above situation. The fact that some of this game's most diehard fans just cannot abide by the fact that some people just aren't into it. It also has that “Dark Souls syndrome” where people try to push it on everyone they talk to. Y'all just gotta understand, this isn't a game made for everyone. Same as Dark Souls in fact.

The whole thing reached a critically embarrassing level when certain members of the Giant Bomb staff didn't want to play the game. If you know anything about TLoU, it's bleak as fuck. It's not a fun world to be in. In fact Phil Kollar's infamous 7.5 review over at Polygon is actually spot-on in a lot of ways. The game is fucking miserable. I, myself found that I had to push myself to play it sometimes. It's just so oppressive that you'd probably much rather be doing anything else.

And yet, some of these fucking people on NeoGAF. Oh lord. The Last of Us came out right around the time Ryan Davis died. You would think it'd be understandable that not only would the guys not want to play a game like this at the time, but that the game would have some kind of a bad stigma attached to it after that. And still, every Giant Bomb thread on NeoGAF was about why Brad and Jeff (or sometimes no one, despite the fact that Vinny, Patrick, and I think Alex, and finally Drew had all played it) hadn't played the game. Like it was an outrage, they weren't doing their jobs if they didn't play this game, and talk about it. Or represent it in the Game of the Year discussions, because clearly it is the only game you should care about, and is the most important thing ever!!! Fuck off.

I guess to end that story, Brad finally played it in spite of everyone goading him, and he actually really liked it. Jeff? Not so much. It will be interesting to hear the deliberations, which start tomorrow as of the time I'm writing this. Anyways, it's just sad that a game that is as brilliantly designed as TLoU has all this shit splattered on it by irrational fans of it. As I've said, this is a game that by it's very definition is not for everyone.

That said... I really fucking liked The Last of Us. The story is the centerpiece here. Naughty Dog did such an excellent job of telling this narrative, as grim as it is, you can't help but admire it. The characters of Joel and Ellie are considered some of the best characters this year, and for good reason. The emotional roller coaster you go through with them is ensnaring. As much as the game is pushing against you not to play it for long stretches at a time, it can be hard to put down once you're going. Anxiously waiting to see what happens next. All the while formulating theories about where the story is headed, and it's ultimate conclusion.

The transitions between the seasons are something to behold. While the game struggles early on during the summer portion of the game, both in it's divisive gameplay, and the rocky relationship between the two main characters, once you hit Fall shit starts to get real. It's about half-way through the Fall when the game really transcends itself. The way that Joel finally realizes that Ellie is important to him, and the ride up to the University is powerful stuff. Then the ending of that chapter is devastating, the mad dash out of the University, and Joel taking that fall. It's at that point you're wondering where exactly this train is headed. And going into Winter the game pulls the ultimate bait and switch, making the player think that Joel has died. At least for a little while.

The moments where you play as Ellie are potent not only in a story sense, but also the gameplay, which I've neglected to talk about so far. Early on, at least in the difficulty I played the game on, stealth was mandatory. There was no way of getting around it, TLoU was a stealth game. You have very little means of defending yourself, and even less of a chance if you're going toe-to-toe with something. But as you progress in the game, Joel kind of becomes a one man army. Once you get more weaponry, and access to weapon quick slots you can pretty much clean up. Again, this is probably different on harder difficulties, but for me personally, I started to enjoy the gameplay much more at this point. But when you switch to Ellie, she's weak. Again your inventory is limited, she doesn't have the upgrades Joel has, and ultimately the game goes back to feeling like a fight just to survive. Which, in this instance, was effective, and not a bad thing for me.

Winter is really a fucked up chapter of the story. Joel and Ellie get separated, and Nolan North's character is a real fucking creeper. The things that happen to Ellie are frightening, and again the game does an effective job of not only making the player miss Joel's protection in a story sense, but also in a gameplay sense. I'll admit that Ellie's boss fight was one of my most hated parts of the game, but I'll be damned if it wasn't an intense moment. And when you finally get to control Joel again you feel super powerful in the best sort of “Hey, I'm back to kick your fucking asses” sort of way. And finally the way Winter closes out with Ellie just going to town on that psycho is gratifying at least, phenomenal at best.

And then you're in Spring, and the game is getting ready to wrap-up. After a touching opening to the chapter things go completely dark with the revelation that Ellie will have to be sacrificed to possibly find the cure. I know at the point where Joel goes on a rampage against all these military personnel is up for some debate, but holy shit it felt good. And all I wanted to do at that point, same as Joel, as to save Ellie. And then the ending happens. Another point of contention for some people, but fuck me if it isn't one of the best endings to a game that I can think of.

Some people have speculated that you have to be a parent to really appreciate Joel's decision. Well, for me, I'm not a parent, but I wouldn't have had it any other way. The way Joel puts an end to all of this, bailing out of this thing he signed up for so many hours ago in real life, months in game, it's powerful. And when Ellie wakes up in the backseat asking what happened, and Joel lies through his teeth to try and protect her from the truth, it just hits you right in the gut. The second part of the one-two punch comes when Ellie asks Joel just before the credits if he lied. Joel says “No.”, and Ellie simply responds with “Alright.”. In that instance you truly understand the relationship of these two characters.

The Last of Us very well might be a monumental game with moments like that. It'll be interesting to see how people feel about it going forward. Even more interesting to get our hands on the DLC. And who knows, maybe we'll see a sequel? Though I have to say, I'd be perfectly fine if it just ended here. Perfectly.

4. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

There was a very real possibility that the team over at Nintendo working on A Link Between Worlds could have fucked the whole thing up. It's a sequel to not only one of the most beloved Zelda games, but A Link to The Past is often regarded as one of the best games of all time too. That's a lot to have on your plate. Also, considering Nintendo's recent track record with Zelda games, they were gonna have to win me back with this one. I wouldn't say that I started disliking Zelda as a whole, but starting with Twilight Princess it's been a pretty big disappointment. I sort of begrudgingly finished Twilight Princess, it wasn't the worst game in the series, but it definitely didn't have the same Zelda magic to me. The DS games were unplayable to me with their stylus only control, and similarly so was Skyward Sword with its motion controls. I just grew really disenchanted with the franchise.

That said, when they revealed ALBW, I was fucking ecstatic It looked like the kind of Zelda game I wanted to play again. Not just because it was so directly linked to my favorite Zelda game, but because a top-down Zelda was something I never thought would happen again, at least not like this. So, I had admittedly high hopes for this game. Did it deliver? Oh yes, in spades.

ALBW truly does play on your nostalgia. If you've played LttP, chances are you liked it, a lot. Chances are you remember a lot about that game. The world, the music, the “feel” of the game. It's amazing, but ALBW encapsulates all of that so well that it's almost like you're back in the early 90s playing a direct sequel to LttP in that era. I'm willing to bet that if you have fond memories of LttP that your enjoyment of ALBW is almost ensured. And if you don't, or you never played it? Well, this is still a really damn good game.

There's something comforting about walking around that version of Hyrule again, having a pretty good idea where everything is. If I go to the northwest corner of Kakariko Village then I'm going to find that hole I can jump in to go down to where those snakes are, and where I used to farm rupees for potions. If I survive the hike up Death Mountain I'll reach The Tower of Hera where that stupid worm boss is. All the while remixed versions of music from that game are playing, and it sounds glorious. The first time you hear the Hyrule overworld theme when you step out of Hyrule Castle. Or better yet when you first go out to the overworld in Lorule, and the strange beginnings of a song are playing, and suddenly it goes full tilt into the Dark World overworld theme. It's moments like this that gave me chills, and just made me grin like an idiot.

And yet, so much has changed at the same time. There's new dungeons that weren't there before, and even the dungeons that were there have changed on the inside. Obviously all the heart pieces are in different locations, and there's new characters to meet. You go into the Thieves Hideout and expect the person you're escorting to be the boss, but they get left behind at the last second, and you end up fighting that same boss anyways. The way the game plays on your nostalgia and then fucks with it is the kind of thing that separates a good sequel from an amazing sequel.

Stranger yet is the way you acquire tools. No longer do you get the tool for each dungeon within said dungeon, but from early on in the game you can rent every item from the strange merchant Ravio. And you better be careful, because if you're renting those tools and you die, you're going to get a visit from the Repobird. The way that this opens up a large majority of the game to be tackled in any order is refreshing, and allows players to mix it up a little bit. I don't think it's the be all and end all solution to revitalize Zelda, but for this game at least, it was an interesting change that I enjoyed.

Some people have some negative opinions regarding a few issues in the game. First and foremost is the way the game looks. Some people, including the press have gone on to say the game looks like shit. Honestly? That's simply not true. While the game might not have the timeless look of something like Wind Waker, or even the vibrantly colored look of the original Link to the Past, it's a game that looks good in motion. And the little trick that the team did to make everything look top-down is a stroke of pure genius.

Another common complaint is that the game is too easy. While I'll agree, the game is certainly easy, I don't think that's such a bad thing. On the normal difficulty the game can be played and enjoyed by everyone. It's not only newbie friendly, but it also makes the game infinitely more replayable in my opinion. At least, I think games that are super challenging will deter most people from wanting to replay them over and over again. With ALBW I can easily see people picking the game up once a year and just barreling through it again. It's enjoyable. Furthermore, Zelda has never really been about the combat. It's true that LttP was tough (I always needed a stock of potions, or fairies on me), these games are more about the exploration and the puzzles. And again, I feel like the fact that none of the puzzles are too demanding is a boon for the game.

Still not good enough for you? Well, I hear Hero Mode is pretty tough. Even heard some people tossing around that it's kind of Dark Souls-ish. So maybe check that out if you're so inclined? It's totally something I plan on doing sometime, as I am definitely going to play the game again, and soon.

A Link Between Worlds did exactly what I wanted it to do. It's a great sequel to A Link to the Past. Over the course of a week, I pretty much 100%'d the game with the exception of a bottle which I really should have known the location of, and a final piece of heart from that stupid Octopus Baseball game. I have every other piece of heart, all the Maiamais, fully upgraded Master Sword, and even the upgraded net and lantern. I enjoyed every second of it... almost... stupid baseball game. And just when I thought it couldn't get any better I got to the last boss, which blew my fucking mind! It was everything I had hoped for, and more besides. ALBW is not only a return to form for the Zelda franchise, but also one of my favorite games of the year.

Oh, and those twists at the end of the game, and the actual ending itself? So good. I'm not gonna lie, I cried when I saw Hilda and Ravio being so excited to get a Triforce again.

3. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

So, you guys all know about my big surprise games every year, right? It started with Nier in 2010, and has been a running theme every year afterward. Basically there will be a game, and I will either have absolutely no interest in it until the last minute, or more often than not it's a game that I play a bit of, either a demo, or a bit of a rental copy and decide I fucking hate it. Well, this year is no different. I have an interesting relationship with Platinum games. I think some of their games are good, and I think some of them are mediocre to outright awful. Just something about that company's style that doesn't usually appeal to me. I don't know if it's the over-the-top “Japaneseness” of it, or their tendency to make super hardcore games. So when I heard Platinum had picked up development on the much delayed Metal Gear Rising I just had to groan. I'm a huge Metal Gear fan, and the prospect of a Platinum helmed Metal Gear game didn't particularly light my fire.

Flash forward to earlier this year when the demo for Rising came out. I downloaded it, actually feeling pretty curious about how it turned out, but largely going in predisposed to hate it. And after playing through the short demo I felt that I was right. I thought it was awful. I can never explain these initial impressions that ultimately end up changing, but yeah, I wasn't a fan at all. I thought the supporting characters were terrible, I could smell that Platinum wackiness a mile away and I felt like it was just going to be a shitshow. Furthermore the combat completely eluded me. Especially after playing DmC which completely scratched that itch for a good character action game. The whole parry system was frustrating, and I felt weak, dying several times even before the boss battle.

I didn't want anything to do with this Metal Gear game, and was left feeling pretty angry about the whole thing. And then.. the game came out, and people were singing its praises all over. I slowly felt myself being sucked back into it despite myself. I think it was the Quick Look that finally did it for me. And as is often the case with highly lauded games that I previously dismissed, I gave it another shot. And boy, am I glad that I did.

I think it helps to start that game from the beginning, and be gradually eased into the insanity. And by that I mean, have a brief introduction that makes a little more sense than being tossed into the demo, and then immediately see the shit hit the fan as Raiden fucking destroys this Metal Gear Ray all by himself. That scene right there was what hooked me. I was still fumbling with the combat a bit, but the the absurd shit I was seeing on screen was more than making up for it. This over-the-top ninja action as one man single handedly demolished a giant robot. Combined with fucking “Rules of Nature” blasting over my speakers. Yeah, better get this out of the way now. This soundtrack owns, there's a lot of soundtracks on this list that are dainty, and pretty, and make me feel warm and fuzzy. Rising's soundtrack brings my blood to a boil, every time you're fighting a boss and near the end of the fight those sick vocals kick in, it's hard not to jump out of your seat and start furiously pumping your fist in the air and singing along.

Anyways, now that was one hell of an introduction. And the game doesn't even begin to stop there. Throughout the rest of the 8 or so hours I spent with Rising everything just kept getting cranked up. Before long I had overcome my troubles with the parry system. I wouldn't say I want all games to be like this, because for example I still really loved DmC's more accessible combat, and it's really tough not having an evasive move, but there's definitely something to be said about Rising's razor edge combat. And once you get a grip on it, the stuff Raiden, and by extension, you, pull off is drool inducing to action buffs.

In this way, this is a situation where Platinum's absurdity helped so much. When you stop and think about it, Metal Gear is crazy. Kojima is a crazy dude. These games have always been ridiculous So when you're making a spin-off cyborg ninja action game, why the hell not crank it to eleven, and then just break the knob off? Throughout the game you get this ridiculous story that is always one-upping itself. You get scenes where Raiden rolls into town with a giant sombrero and a poncho on, with a cyborg wolf in the back seat of his car.

Aside from scenes like that, the game keeps amping up each boss battle. Which make no mistake, the boss battles are the reason to play this game. I already mentioned the music that plays that gets exceedingly more hype as each fight goes on, but each one of the game's bosses are more absurd than the last. It's heart pumping, adrenaline filled action combined with moments where you have to do a double take because you can't believe these things are actually happening.

And of course all of this accumulates in the game's final boss fight where you fight a fucking senator of the United States who is infused with fucking “nanomachines, son”. This bulked out paper pusher proceeds to beat the shit out of Raiden all the while ranting about the war economy, and “the way of things in the real world”. And the whole thing explodes into the game's toughest boss fight where you're fighting in the wreckage of a giant Metal Gear, where the whole ground is on fire, the boss is stripped down to the waist looked like a steroided muscle beast and “It Has to Be This Way” is pumping out of your speakers. It's one of the single greatest moments I've had all year.

And then the credits roll with the game's first somber track “The War Still Rages Within” playing, and my jaw just on the ground. It should go without saying, but Rising is a blast. It's pure stupid fun, and it's easily my favorite Platinum game, and one of my favorite Metal Gear games now. I can only hope that we'll see a follow up to this, as I feel Rising is one of the finest, if not the finest character action games ever made.

2. Hate Plus

I've already done a pretty good job of chronicling my love for Hate Plus, but, here we are again. For those that don't know, I discovered Hate Plus's creator Christine Love's work at the very end/very beginning of last/this year. I played Hate Plus' predecessor Analogue: A Hate Story and fell head over heels for the game's central character *Hyun-ae, as well as becoming a total Love devote. Analogue's story captured me in a way very few games are capable of, and it spurred me to write a jumble of rambling about my affinity for the game, and for some reason a complete recollection of the entire thing. Since then I checked out Love's other works, Digital: A Love Story, Don't Take It Personally Babe, It Just Ain't Your Story, as well as some of her Twine offerings. But really, as much as I enjoyed that stuff, I kept my eye on the prize. The sequel to Analogue, Hate Plus.

When Hate Plus came out in August along with half a dozen other games all the synapses in my brain fired off at once. I remembered the cold January month where I fell in love with this bleak future, and the two AI companions *Hyun-ae, and *Mute. It didn't help/hurt that Hate Plus' titular song “It's Not Ero!” did a total number on me. Not only does it start out as a catchy up beat song that pokes fun at the typical adult oriented visual novels, or “Eroge”, that is found in Japan. I also quickly realized that the song was being sung from the perspective of *Hyun-ae. The song goes on to retell the events of Analogue, and finished by singer Senah Kim pleading to be forgiven for the tragedy that *Hyun-ae wrought to the colony ship Mugunghwa. The song just tears me apart, it's beautiful and horrifying at the same time. And it's just another example of Love's mad genius at work.

But that has more to do with Analogue honestly. Hate Plus itself is a different matter in some aspects. It's placement on this list of amazing games should be telling, as should the fact that for the week that I immersed myself in it, it was the only time throughout the whole year where I questioned my number one game. Rationality won out in the end, and here's Hate Plus at number two. Why? Well obviously I like it a lot. But as for why it isn't number one has a lot to do with my experience with the number one game, and also a bit to do with the fact that in the end I don't like Hate Plus quite as much as Analogue.

I hate to say anything negative about the game, but it's the truth. Why that's the case could be due to a number of factors. For starters it came after. There's just something really potent about your first brush with something. Another thing is that while Hate Plus certainly offers up another tragic story that had me thinking about it non-stop for an entire week, it ultimately wasn't as revelatory as the one in Analogue. At least to me anyway. And finally, even though I'm sure Love would be dismayed to hear this, I just don't like *Mute as much as *Hyun-ae. And Hate Plus is definitely *Mute's story.

With all that said, that's about all the negativity I can manage to squeeze out of Hate Plus. Everything else is life changing. Maybe that's a bit hyperbolic, but some of the things Hate Plus does is nothing to be trifled with. As we've established, Hate Plus is a visual novel, all you do is read. In fact it has less interactivity than Analogue even did. Forgoing the command prompt system in favor of slicker menu commands.

We've established that this is a grim story, Hate Plus goes on to tell you about *Old Mute, *Mute's predecessor AI who was around for hundreds of years before *Mute was rebooted. In this time, *Old Mute was much more powerful of an influence on the Mugunghwa. She was a member of the council that ran the ship. She had a say in all the going-ons in the society. This all came to ahead when a coupe goes wrong and *Old Mute ends up getting erased, failing to help her friend and lover avenger her husband's death, or to prevent the ship from descending into the dark era of sexist oppression, and backwards thinking that tormented, Hyun-ae, and ultimately caused the annihilation of the ships population. All of this makes for a really gripping story that unfolds over the course of a few hours of playtime. And it was more than adequate to make my Game of The Year list.

In addition to the core plot, you have a bigger emphasis on side stories this time around. Side characters on the Mugunghwa during *Old Mute's time that help paint the world for you. These stories included the obstacles an upper class lady goes through with her young peasant girlfriend, and the ultimate heart breaking separation of the two. You hear about a young boy who falls in love with a cross dressing boy, and the shenanigans they get up to. There's a grim tale of one of the Mugunghwa's last female scientist who was about to make a big breakthrough with the re-population problem that was plaguing the ship, right before everything changes, that she loses not only her position as a respected individual, but also her valuable research. All of these stories provide not only a deeper look at what was going on in this future-past, but provide a distraction from the real tragedy that is taking place.

All of these things are what make the core of the game worth playing. Christine Love is a damn good storyteller, and this is definitely a story you need to hear. But given all that, it's a really solid visual novel, that ultimately had a story that appealed less to me than the previous game. Again, it's good, but maybe not worthy of holding the number 2 position on this list. That is until Hate Plus works its magic, and turns a simple visual novel into a wild ride.

I'll admit, maybe I'm missing the point by putting so much stock into this stuff, but I'd be lying if I said it didn't make a huge impact on me. See, not only is Love an extremely talented writer, and UI designer, but she's also mischievous Hate Plus has quirks that make you go “Huh!?”.

For starters we have the whole mechanic that requires you to play the game over the course of three real world days. Or more specifically 12 hours. Yes, each of the game's three “chunks” is separated by the game asking you to wait 12 hours before continuing the story. Granted there is a way to cheat this, but if you're playing by the rules you won't be able to load your save and continue the game until 12 real world hours have passed. This isn't just an interesting quirk, but something that helps immerse the player in the story. You, the player, are playing the role of a space investigator who is returning to Earth with your discovery of what transpired on the Mugunghwa. Canonically, it takes you three days to return to Earth from your current position in space. In addition to that, the ship is low on power, and you can only afford to extract a limited number of the data logs per day before having to recharge.

It's just a really brilliant mechanic that helps get you involved with the investigator's plight, and also gives the player some time to think about what they've read. I'll admit, it was hard to play by the rules, and not just blaze through the story, but ultimately I think my experience was enhanced by following protocol.

Then there's the achievement system, which, man... Okay, so the game has 12 Steam achievements. Most of them are pretty normal, you just have to play the game on the different routes to unlock them. But there are two achievements in particular that blew me away.

The first one is related to *Mute. When you first start the game and look at the achievements, you will see one called “Level Four Revive

Materia

” more on the name later. Anyways, it states: “Finish the game with the security AI in traditional dress, *Mute!” So, pretty standard “finish the game on *Mute's route” achievement, right? Nope!

So when you're playing *Mute's route in the game, and get to day three, you find out something terrible has happened. *Mute has committed computer program suicide and has erased herself. Learning the true nature of *Old Mute, the events that transpired on the Mugunghwa in the past. The fact that her best friend, and master betrayed her by orchestrating her predecessor’s deletion. And the fact that *Mute ultimately comes to the conclusion that she has fucked every single thing up that she has ever been a part of, past or present. It's too much for her to bear and she kills herself.

This leaves the player in an uncomfortable situation where they attempt to restore *Mute, but only succeed in booting up a new version of *Mute, appropriately referred to as *New Mute who has no recollection of you, or the personality of *Mute. Instead you are forced to finish the game with this new *Mute where the two of you remain mutual partners who are trying to finish solving the mystery. This is especially heartbreaking if you were in any sort of relationship with *Mute, as your wife has just killed herself and has been replaced by a doppelganger who has no affinity for you.

Back to the subject of the achievement. When you finish *Mute's route you get a new, previously hidden achievement: “Have you tried doing a factory reset?”, which reads: “Finish the game with security AI in default uniform, *New Mute!”. So how do you get Level Four Revive Materia? The secret is, you don't! Yes, in a masterful act of trolling, Christine Love has made an achievement that is impossible to get, and thus you will never get more than 11 of the games 12 achievements.

Shortly after the game was released, the Steam forum for the game was a hot bed of discussion. Players all bashing their heads against the wall trying to figure out the secret to reviving *Mute. There were pages, upon pages of people's experimentation, and theories. But of course nothing worked, because it's impossible to get. Even if you crack the game open and try digging through it, you'll find nothing, because it doesn't exist. The achievement is a pure red herring, and for better or worse it has driven the community mad. This is exactly the type of thing that makes Hate Plus my second favorite game of the year, and Christine Love one of my favorite developers.

Speaking of these achievements, the names of them are all jokes. Many of them references to other games like Metal Gear Solid, and The Legend of Zelda. There's even a nod to fan favorite anime Cowboy Bebop. It's jokes like this that help establish the charm of Love's games, and let's me know that she's pretty radical. In addition to the MGS references in the achievements, there's also a throw away question when you start a new game in Hate Plus. The game asks you which year you'd rather live in. All three of the options are years in which Love's past games took place, and this is a very direct, if not entirely vague reference to Metal Gear Solid 3 when the game asks you which Metal Gear Solid you liked more. In that game, if you picked MGS2, you started the game with a Raiden mask on. As far as I know the decision in Hate Plus doesn't effect anything, but it's still humorous

Lastly, we have to talk about the cake. There's another achievement in the game that is absolutely bonkers and it's this one: “Cooking by the Book”. To get the Cooking by the Book achievement you have to really want it, like, really-want-it. During the course of the game, on *Hyun-ae's route, you'll get to the beginning of day three. This is when things get wacky. *Hyun-ae wants a cake. This presents somewhat of a problem, seeing as she is an AI, and a fictional one at that. But that doesn't stop her. In one of the craziest instances of fourth-wall-breaking I can think of, *Hyun-ae asks the player, as in, not the space investigator, but you, the real human being playing the game to get up from your computer, and bake the both of you a cake. No, she's not joking, she wants you to make an honest to God cake.

When she first poses the question, she gives you time to check your kitchen for ingredients to make the cake. If you instantly respond to her with either a Yes, No, or I don't know she will reprimand you for not actually checking. Therefore you have to wait several minutes, or actually go look for the ingredients. Once you've answered in earnest she goes on to tell you what you'll need to make the cake, or offers to let you use your own recipe. At this point she asks the player if they're really serious about doing it. You can either agree to make a fictional computer program happy by making a cake, or you can be an asshole and crush her dreams by telling her no.

Now, of course, you could lie your way through this whole thing. Wait the appropriate amount of time to respond, and just tell her you're going to make the cake. But that's fucked up, so- I made the cake. Yes, I stopped what I was doing, which was trying to finish Hate Plus, and I waited several hours until I could go to the store and buy cake mix for a German Chocolate Cake. When I got home, I baked that shit. And I took pictures of all of it too! What? Doing a favor for a fictional anime girl isn't enough for you? Well, how about this. You can't get the previously mentioned achievement without submitting photo evidence to Christine Love that you did in fact do this thing.

It's the most genius thing I've ever seen. At that point, how could you not want to do it, and also how could you not love this game? I'm not sure how well Hate Plus has sold, I know it has it's fans, and I'm sure it's not astronomical, but from what I've heard, a decent amount of those fans have actually done the cake thing, and have gotten the achievement That's dedication!

So yeah, it's things like this that make Hate Plus a special game to me. It might not have touched me as deeply as The Pale Bride's story did, but it is a solid game, that just so happens to have some of the biggest “What the fuck?” quirks around it that makes it so memorable. All of that combined with a appropriately futuristic soundtrack by Issac Schankler helps make Hate Plus an unforgettable event. Recently Love tweeted that she was happy to never have to write in this universe again. Which is understandable for a number of reasons, but it's still a sad thing to hear. Hate Plus does do a good job of wrapping everything up for these two games, but I can't deny that I will miss *Hyun-ae, the virtual girl who stole my heart.

1. Fire Emblem: Awakening

Oh god. Where do I even begin with Fire Emblem: Awakening? It didn't take long in this year to find my Game of The Year, that's for sure. Ever since February 4th I knew what was going to be at the top of the list. It's kind of a strange feeling, that, you know? Knowing deep down within the first hour of playing something that nothing is going to come close to knocking down this game as king of the year. Yeah, it was love at first sight. And the bond I formed with this game only got more radical in the following months.

First let me say that Awakening was my most anticipated game for a long time. So it wasn't entirely surprising that it was going to win my heart. I'm a huge Fire Emblem fan, ever since Marth and Roy first appeared in Melee, and served as my introductory to this amazing series that many westerners knew nothing about. I bought Fire Emblem 7 for GBA when it came out here and knew that like one of my all time favorite games, Final Fantasy Tactics, that this was a game series for me. Of course, my obsession with Fire Emblem didn't truly begin until I played Radiant Dawn, which is a game that quickly secured a spot on my Top 25 Games of All Time list. After Radiant Dawn though? It was total adoration. I went back and played every Fire Emblem game released in the States, and Ike quickly became one of my favorite characters. As did Nephenee who I have the biggest crush on. But that's getting way too off-track.

Anyways, when Fire Emblem: Awakening was announced I knew two things. 1) I needed a Nintendo 3D, 2) Nintendo of America had to bring this game west. Following that was a bumpy time where I wasn't sure if number 2 was going to happen. As E3 2012 rolled around, and there was no word of Awakening coming west even at Nintendo's Press Conference I flew into a panicked rage. It wasn't until Kotaku's Jason Scheier coaxed Reggie into spilling the beans shortly after the conference that I was at ease. I knew that eventually Awakening would be coming stateside. And less then a year later, it did!

At 9:00 PM PST Saturday February 3rd I downloaded Awakening off the eShop, and then I proceeded to do nothing but play the game for the next 24 hours. I was enamored with it, it got it's hooks deep into me early on, and I just couldn't put it down. I sat there forgoing anything else in my life, earbuds plugged into the 3DS as I strategically fought the hordes of Plegian troops while nodding along to the game's stellar soundtrack. I couldn't help but laugh, and smile at every interaction between the game's legendary cast of characters. A crew that I can nary think of a single complaint about.

I had done research beforehand, pouring over every little detail involved in hardcore eugenics. Thinking about which character I wanted to marry another character to get the perfect offspring. And of course being a Fire Emblem veteran I was playing the game on the Classic mode, the one where characters die permanently if they fall in battle. Granted I was only playing on Normal my first time, it was still a challenging affair. One that had me resetting many times whenever I would lose a single unit. Not only did I require perfection, but I just couldn't bear to lose a single one of these characters.

I think it took me about four days to get through the game the first time, and I was beside myself when it ended. It took a decent number of hours, about 40, but that wasn't enough. I needed more. I quickly started a new game this time on Hard/Classic, and pushed myself even further. For the entire month of February it was all Awakening. I just couldn't get enough of it. And with all that said, that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of how deep this thing went.

About a week after the initial foray into Awakening, my friend Zara suddenly became interested in playing Awakening. She had no prior experience with the series, and quite honestly it was a huge surprise that she even cared. But thanks to her friend, and myself we had piqued her interest enough. She needed to play the game of the year. The whole thing was a big gamble. As I said, she hadn't touched the series before then, and while she has a history of games, she's not necessarily what you'd call a core gamer. That combined with the fact that she didn't own the game, let alone a 3DS was a real barrier to entry. I couldn't resist though, I wanted to share my feelings of glee with her. As I'm sure you're all familiar with, it's one thing to like something. It's another thing to share your interest with people you care about.

So, I dug into my pockets and shelled out for a 3DS and a copy of the game for her. I didn't know what to expect, I don't think anyone did, but what followed was nothing short of ultimate satisfaction. She took to the game right away, like me it was all she could do or think about. She fell in love with the characters, and despite not having a ton of experience with these kinds of games she pushed through to the end. And then she played it again, and again, and yet again. For the next few months all we could think about was Fire Emblem. We both put over 300 hours into Awakening across multiple playthroughs. Trying different things, hunting for that perfect save file. We bought all of the DLC released for the game, and played all of that too. We talked about the game all the time. Went into a level of depth discussing the characters that it was absurd.

As much as I hate to associate myself with something like a “fandom”. We were certainly a part of the Fire Emblem one. She scoured the internet for pictures, official and fan art alike. We have a collection of hundreds of pictures, not just from Awakening, but the scattered bit of content that was produced for the older games too. She participated daily in Fire Emblem General, a topic that was popular on 4chan's Video Games General board. Every bit of conversation we had eventually lead to Fire Emblem. And still, it didn't stop there!

Once we had rung everything we could possibly hope to get out of Awakening we both started playing the older Fire Emblem games. I know we both made it through 7, and she went on to play through most of 6, while I revisited my favorite games in the series Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn. Radiant Dawn being like my sixth playthough of the game since it came out in 2007. And even though our fervor eventually died down, and we had a Fire Emblem overload, it still didn't stop!

Zara being somewhat of an artist drew some pictures of Fire Emblem: Awakening characters. She also made cell phone charms, and other trinkets that she is wont to do with things she really likes. As for me, having no artistic talent to speak of, I took to my own form of expression. Yes, I'm a bit embarrassed to admit it but I wrote quite a bit of Awakening fanfiction. It was mostly for Zara, depicting her character (MyUnit/Avatar/Robin – The tactician you play as in Awakening) interacting with the various characters. I wrote at least 50 pages of content that we both really enjoyed.

I'm sure you can tell by now that Awakening wasn't just a game for us, it was something more. Just one of those things in life that comes along and you attach yourself to it. Was there any real doubt that this would be my “Game of The Year”? It defined early 2013 for me and my friend. A truly transcendental experience that wasn't just limited to enjoying a game. And even though we're not as fired up about it nowadays, it still continues. Zara spent quite a bit securing a copy of the official artbook Knights of Iris. And my present to her this Christmas is Good Smile Company's drop dead gorgeous Tharja figure that has sadly been delayed to February.

Phew. And that ladies and gentlemen is a very bad case of obsession with something. I don't even know where to go from there. Talk about the game I guess? Yeah, I'll see if I can dedicate a few more paragraphs to that.

Awakening is in some ways the perfect Fire Emblem game. In other ways there are a couple things that I'm unsure of if I like more than previous games. The big thing that Awakening gets right is that it's accessible. This is arguably one of the biggest reasons the game has seen such huge success. As is evident with my friend, it's a great starting point for the franchise. The inclusion of a Casual mode that not only takes away the unforgiving permanent death mechanic, but allows players to save anytime mid-battle is a true blessing for newcomers. At the same time, the game also offers an immense challenge if you let it.

Starting off a Classic game on anything but Normal difficulty is brutal. You will die – a lot in the beginning before your characters start to shine. Once that happens though, admittedly, the game can become pretty easy again seeing as just how overpowered your army can become. Especially if you're taking advantage of the kids who are all so overwhelmingly powerful compared to the first generation units. Fortunately, if you're willing to invest in the game's multitude of donwloadable content you can still find yourself on the brink of defeat. Some of the later DLC maps are beyond brutal and will take absolutely every resource you have to overcome them. The game doesn't lack for challenge, or content, depending on how much you want to put into it.

The double-edged sword of the game is in the game's choice to allow units to change classes. It's what I like to call “Final Fantasy VI syndrome”. Basically you can make most characters anything. Sure, there are some class restrictions, but the freedom you have, again, especially with the kids allows you to break the game by accumulating the best stats and skills across the game's numerous jobs. I feel that this also plays a big part in making the game more accessible, and it helps so that you can play with the characters you like instead of being pigeon-holed into the ones that are good. This to me is largely where it comes down to “Do I like this more or less than Radiant Dawn?”.

For those unfamiliar Radiant Dawn is more like a traditional Fire Emblem game. Each character has their own predetermined class and thus their usefulness. You could spend hours doing research trying to figure out who the best characters are. Not only are certain job types more useful than others, but the growths of each character can determine which ones are the truly great ones, and which ones are best left on the bench. To me this totally plays to my affinity towards powerful characters. I'm the kind of guy that likes to use the best of the best. Yeah, it's sad that my opinion of a character is so heavily affected by their strengths, but this sort of ties into a life of growing up enjoying shonen manga series like Dragonball where powers collide, and the toughest guy is always the coolest. In this case, a character like Nephenee from the Radiant games. Not only do I really enjoy her character design, and personality, but she is an absolute beast. She can break the game for you if you use her right.

Awakening is missing that. Since so many of the characters can be and do anything, there's not a definitive “winner”. You can come close with some characters. Lucina for example, my favorite character in the game (who, as if she wasn't already totally my type, is voiced by my favorite voice actress Laura Bailey). Lucina is Chrom's child and therefore she gains access to one of the best skills in the game, Aether, and also has a permanent weapon in the Parallel Falchion that makes her instantly powerful the moment you get her. As far as characters go, she can certainly be one of the more useful ones. And the fact that her character plays such a big role in the game, by being the mysterious Masked Marth, and the leader of the kids from the doomed time line, she is an easy favorite. But unlike any of the characters in Radiant Dawn she isn't assigned a rating of greatness. She has just about as much of a chance to shine as any other character. And for me, that just takes away some of the fun.

In this rare instance that I'm being negative about Awakening, I will say my other big gripe compared to a game like Radiant Dawn is that the story is a little weak. It has it's moments, but ultimately it doesn't feel as important as stories in some other RPGs. I dunno, maybe I'm just spoiled in what Radiant Dawn was able to accomplish, being a direct sequel to an earlier game that allowed them to tell a massive, epic story involving the same characters over the course of a matter of years. And the nature of Radiant Dawn's story in which by the end of the game all living creatures have been petrified expect for your chosen few. Awakening just can't stack up to that. However...

...where Awakening really, and truly shines, above all else is its characters. The cast in Awakening is easily one of the best in gaming history and there are a lot of characters! Yet, somehow, thanks to the brilliant writing of the original team, and the godlike localization by 8-4, Awakening's characters make an impression, one that is sure to stand the test of time. While the story might be lacking in certain areas, the walls, upon walls of text that make up the support conversations between all the characters in the game makes you care more about these people than even the most epic of stories.

And the fact that a big component of the game is playing match maker and partnering up these characters, whether they be friends, or spouses only helps to solidify the importance of having such a charming crew. I said I wrote fanfictions for this game, it really wasn't hard. The game gives you enough information about these characters and their personalities that any author worth their salt can take it and run away with it. It's the kind of thing that justifies spending $100 on a statue of a bodacious sorceress. And in this way, Awakening is one hell of a game.

In closing, I highly recommend anyone who has a 3DS to check this game out. Or if you don't have a 3DS and are thinking of getting one (which, really, come on. It's the best system out there right now, you should own one if you're a gamer.) than this game is one of the first you should pick up. It's a tactical strategy RPG at its best, and if I haven't sold you on just how inviting these characters are then I don't know what to tell you. And just so I don't forget, the game also has an amazing soundtrack that is a joint effort by Rei Kondoh, and Hiroki Morishita. The fact that this game has it all, beautiful 3D graphics, a stunning soundtrack, charming writing that is enhanced by the ever so talented people over at 8-4, complete with awesome vocal talent from Cup of Tea. Fire Emblem Awakening is my game of the year, and will probably fair excellently on my eventual Games of The Generation list for this budding generation. My only regret is that I spent so much time telling you how much of a loser I am for loving a video game so completely.

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Top 5's: Best Songs in Xenogears

Hey, I'm in a writing mood! Anyway, I haven't done one of these on here yet, but I have done them before on my tumblr. Basically it's exactly what it says on the tin. I pick my Top 5 songs from Xenogears, share them with you, and tell you why I like them, and usually some random anecdote related to the song. I've done one of these for two other Mitsuda games now (Chrono Trigger, and Chrono Cross) so I'm definitely starting to see a trend! Also, if you're familiar with my previous lists, I did a companion piece for top 5 worst songs too. I don't think I'll be getting to that right away, but maybe sometime in the future.

Anyways, Xenogears is a special game for me, it's my fourth favorite game of all time, and I happen to think it's pretty rad, if you couldn't tell! I know that at this point in time you're either for or against Xenogears, and not much room in between. For the people against it, the big hang-up seems to be the second disc. Which, I will grant you, is a travesty. For those that don't know, Square ran out it's budget on the game and had to cut corners. Or more accurately whole swaths of the game out. The entire second disc of the game is mostly the characters sitting around and talking about shit that happened, then sometimes you get to play part of what happened. It's really... shitty. And yet I, and many other people still love the game.

Why though? Well, giant mechs for one, am I right? Two, it still had a really good story and characters that manage to shine through even if the latter half of the game is butchered. And I think if you loved the story then, you have to be beside yourself with what came after it. The whole "Xeno" series is a massive story that is outlined in the infamous book "Perfect Works". It's a massive primer that details the whole backstory for the Universe, and for many years western fans could only dream of cracking that nut. It's since been translated, and I even had a friend give me a version of it to read on Kindle. In addition to that, the Trilogy of PS2 games,Xenosaga, told more of the story before Xenogears. So there's all that. Thirdly, the combat was really fun and hasn't been replicated since for whatever reason.

And, Finally, the music. Of course. Why else would I be writing all this? Xenogears' soundtrack was composed by legendary game composer Yasunori Mitsuda, who, in my mind, has composed some of the best soundtracks in video games. (Fun fact: I like Mitsuda's work more than Uematsu, BOOM!). Xenogears soundtrack is 44 tracks long, and there's not a lot of stuff in there that I'd consider "bad". And in fact, when coming up with this list I ended up flagging at least half the songs as "This should be on the list!". So it was tough narrowing it down. Also, I know people will disagree with me, it's easy to be passionate about the soundtrack, so I fully expect, and respect that. I know that there are some pretty iconic songs missing from the Top 5, and trust me, most of the ones I could think of were in the running, but, you know, opinions!

All that said! Here is the list:

5. Ship of Regret and Sleep

It was really tough picking the #5 spot in this list, because that's basically where all the other "tops" battled it out to make the cut. Finally, I went with this one for a number of reasons. First and foremost it's just a really haunting song, the organ usually is, right? And then there's that choir in the back. It's really moving. Also, like many of the songs that tend to go on these lists, it plays during some pretty impactful parts of the game. Billy's backstory namely. But I guess the main reason I love this song so much is that it has produced some spectacular remixes. Maybe that's cheating a bit, but I can't help it! The first one that comes to mind is called The Fighting Priest, by Sean Stone. It's from the OneUp Studio's album "Time & Space: A Tribute to Yasunori Mitsuda". Unfortunately I can't seem to find it on Youtube, so you'll just have to take my word for it!

4. Grahf, Emperor of Darkness

For a long time this was my favorite song in the game, and in some ways in kind of still is, but I think a lot of that love comes from the scenes themselves. Grahf was badass, man. The first time he shows up and gives his speech, and this imperial like music is playing, it just hit me so hard. He's still one of my favorite villains, everything about him is just amazing. His motives, his philosophy, his appearance, all just outstanding. But I think it's this song that seals the whole deal. Motherfucker' has got his own theme! And it's awesome! Just listen to that triumphant music, where parts of it sound like soldiers marching. In a lot of ways it reminds me of The Empire - Emperor Ghestal's Theme from Final Fantasy VI. Which is funny, because they're both Emperors. Hm, maybe Mitsuda was "borrowing" from Uematsu? You win this time Uematsu! (Seriously guys, I still love Uematsu's stuff, Final Fantasy VI is probably another game I'd do one of these lists for).

3. Awakening

When I was talking to my friend about making this list we were both in agreement that it needed battle music. Though, of course, that's easier said than done. Xenogears has some excellent battle themes in it, many of which made it real close to ending up on this list. Ultimately I decided on this being one of the ones to represent, and there's good reason for that! It's the final boss music! As you may know, the final boss in Xenogears is pretty god damned epic. It's the lead up of all the events to that point, making your way through that final dungeon (which, by the way Omen is another outstanding song that didn't make the list, but it makes the final dungeon creepy and intense!) and then that final boss room. It's of course one of the mech battles too, which I always found super intense, because of fuel capacity. Anyways, all that is accompanied by this fucking incredible song that really gets the blood pumping. I should say, that I might even enjoy this song a little more in retrospect because it's very reminiscent of a future Mitsuda soundtrack,Shadow Hearts, and Shadow Hearts: Covenant. Both which are not only great games, but also boast fantastic soundtracks by Mitsuda. I think the hypnotic chanting goes a long way for me, personally. It's kind of a recurring theme for me (Nier, anyone?). There are even these little breaks in the song where it sounds sort of industrial, which I think goes unnoticed in the heat of battle. In short: it's everything a final boss theme should be, and I guess after rambling about it for so long, I'm surprised it's not higher? Well...

2. Flight

This! Oh my God! This song! Phew. Okay. So while this song is pretty different than anything else on this list, it's still one of my all-time favorites. Again, it's this perfect fusion of the scene and the appropriate music to go along with it. "Seibzehn! Sally forth!!" cries Maria as she gets ready to save the day with one of the most badass mechs in the game. I'm the kind of person that gets this welling feeling of excitement through my whole body when shit like that happens, and it just makes me tingle all over and want to throw my fist in the air and yell "YES!!!". I think it's impossible for me to separate this song from that scene in my mind, so I don't think I'll ever be able to explain why I love the actual song this much. I mean, like I said, it doesn't really fit in with the other songs on this list, but you can't deny the excitement in it. The way it builds up to this really triumphant point and just stays there for the rest of the song.

1. One Who Bares Fangs at God

If you thought I liked Awakening, well, then I must fucking love One Who Bares Fangs at God. It's the song that plays during the boss fight AFTER the last boss fight (come on, it's a JRPG, man.) It pretty much takes bits and pieces from everything on this list, including "Flight". The song starts up with this really eerie tone, and some beautiful pipe music (can't quite place the instrument), followed by a faint male chanting. Then it builds up into this mystical melody that's complete with this crazy ass warbling chanting that sets the tone for this final confrontation. As the song goes on the chanting just gets more and more erratic, and finally it quiets down as a thumping noise starts to play. Then it loops back around to the beginning of the warbling chanting. I'll say that I'm not as passionate about this song in a "Oh man, this is my JAM!" sense, but the song strikes a chord deep inside me that has stayed with me until this day. It's just really unsettling, and in my mind is the perfect thing to close the game out with (There's a couple more songs afterwards, but this is pretty much it until you get to Small Two of Pieces -Restored Pieces-) I will say that the beginning of the song is fucking beautiful though, and gives me chills every time I listen to it. And again, this is very similar to what Mitsuda would go on to do with Shadow Hearts, so that doesn't hurt it's case either. Plus, that whole final scene? Pretty fucking weird, right?

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Tactical Nonense: A Fire Emblem Journal

(While doing another playthrough of Fire Emblem: Awakening. I decided to try a "classic iron man" run. Basically it's a challenge based off the mode in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, where I accept all character deaths, and keep trying to push forward with the game with the units I have left. I'm doing this playthrough on Hard/Classic, without doing any tedious grinding to make things easier for myself. In short: it's a suicide run. So I thought I'd retell my failings in the form of a journal. Updated as I go)

Prologue: This was just a warm-up. I've played the first two chapters a number of times already, and even if this was Hard/Classic it wasn't going to pose much of a challenge. I made liberal use of Freddy as support for Chrom and my Avatar (Lilith), while keeping Lissa out of danger to do patch up. I traded Freddy around a bit to help Chrom and Lilith get killing blows, helping them get ahead on the leveling early on. No casualties!

Chapter One: Again, this was all pretty easy at this point. Did the strategy of pairing up Chrom and Freddy, and put them on the top-most fort. Let Lilith hang out near Chrom for/to build up support and took care of everything that came towards them pretty easily. When Sully and Virion came in, I paired them up and put them on the bottom fort. Haven't used Sully too much before, but she ended up cleaning up pretty well, while switching to Virion maybe once or twice to get some exp. No casualties!

Chapter Two: This was the first big hurdle. While Chrom and Lilith were more than capable at this point, everyone else was still fresh. I made use of Chrom and Lilith, by having them fight side by side in the thick of things, which put them further ahead of everyone else. Sully and Virion continued to work together to great effect here as well. I toyed around with Stahl and Vaike teaming up, but they got into some pretty hairy situations that Lissa and a stronger pair had to bail them out of. Still Vaike made some progress. I didn't touch Miriel because I thought that would just end in tragedy. No casualties!

Chapter Three: This one was also pretty tough, but I managed to make it through without anyone dying. I made use of Kellam as a tank unit, while my usual crew cleaned up. I was able to get Vaike and Stahl to do a little more in this map, but it was mostly Vaike who was making any progress. By this time Chrom and Lilith were woefully overpowered for the enemy forces, and I tried to hold back on using them as little as possible. At the very least, they were building up a strong relationship, as were Sully and Virion. No casualties!

Chapter Four: Finally a breather. This level was easy, even with limited units. I benched Stahl for this, and maybe left out Virion too? It was a pretty clean sweep, with priority towards getting Vaike and Kellam more experience on this easier map. No casualties!

Paralogue One, Xenologue One, and a couple Challenges: I side tracked a bit here to try and get some extra characters, and exp. All of this went by pretty smoothly, especially Xenologue One which was super easy. Once I got Pr. Marth I intergrated him into the army. Paralogue One was fairly unremarkable too, as it was even pretty easy to recruit Donnel. Following this I tried leveling Donnel in some skirmishes by pairing him up with Freddy. It didn't go too well, but no loses. Pr. Marth also wasn't fantastic yet, but hoping Aptitude will help. Aside from that, just got some exp for the usual crew. No casualties!

Chapter Five: Alright, this is when shit started to go south. I couldn't figure out how to get to Ricken in time to save him, so he ate it before I could even bench him. Maribelle also didn't make it out of the fight alive, but not for a lack of trying. She stuck around and healed some of the units I sent north to save her and Ricken in the first place, but eventually she got taken out by a wyvern rider. Things weren't pretty for the rest of my units either, with Marth getting fucked up pretty badly, and constantly having to be healed by Lissa. I paired him up with Lon'qu, but that didn't seem to help too much. Sully and Virion were able to cut across to the west and stop reinforcements from spawning on the left side of the map, while Chrom, Lilith, and Vaike cleaned up to the immediate north. Two casualties! (Ricken, Maribelle)

Chapter Six: Uhg, this was another brutal one, and ended up costing me greatly. I was able to recruit Gaius with Chrom, who held the left side with Kellam and Lilith. While Vaike and Panne tried to support "Marth" in the middle. Vaike ended up dying due to a stray wind attack I believe, so there went my investment in him, not to mention a great unit. Things went a lot smoother on the right-hand side where Sully/Virion and Frederick/Donnel were able to defend that breach effortlessly. At this point it's really the strong getting stronger, and the weak going no where. But I tried to incorporate Panne and Pr. Marth into the middle action as much as I could. One casualty! (Vaike)

Challenges Part Two: Well, this was really fucking stupid of me. I went and did a few challenges to try and get a small exp buffer, but ended up losing Kellam in the process! Yeah, not even an actual chapter, but just some random battle. What a waste! I hadn't put a ton of work into him, but he's a pretty useful unit, and I just lost him in an entirely stupid way. On the plus side, I managed to get Chrom, Lilith, Sully, Virion, Marth, and Lon'qu all within the same range. Chrom got married to Lilith, and Sully got married to Virion. One casualty! (Kellam)

Chapter Seven: This was also incredibly stupid, but I lost Cordelia as soon as I got her, which doesn't look good. If I can't introduce new characters into the army, then I'm already dead in the water. She would have been real useful too for mobility and magic defense. Aside from that, everyone else cleaned up. Have been unsuccessful in leveling Donnel up, so I don't know if that's a lost cause. Trying to cut back on Chrom and Lilith because they're already level 15.One casualty! (Cordelia)

Paralogue Two and Challenges Part Three: Little more side content. These both went by without a hitch, and ending up fleshing out some of my remaining units. Marth got to level 16, so he's good and ready for a class change. Everyone else is still coming along nicely, and I felt a little more hopeful with how well both these missions went. No casualties!

Chapter Eight: Ouch. This mission was dangerous, and costed me a great asset. I sent Sully/Virion and Lilith over to the left to deal with the enemies over there. While I sent Marth, Frederick, and Donnel to the right to deal with those enemies, and everyone else went south to meetup with Gregor and Nowi. Unfortunately the Freddy/Donnel combo got attacked on all fronts, and I ended up losing Frederick. That'll make leveling Donny even harder going forward. Meanwhile, almost every other one of my units ended up in critical health, having to swap between pairs to stay alive. After the bumpy start though, things went by without any further hitches. I started trying to level Gregor and Nowi. One casualty! (Frederick)

Paralogue Three and Challenges Part Four: Not much to mention here. Everything went by without a hitch. Well, I technically failed PL3 because all the villagers died, but it was still worth the exp. During this I got Marth, Chrom, and Lilith all up to around level 20 and ready to class change/promote for real. Luckily I've picked up a few Second Seals and Master Seals at this point. Also I used this time to level up Nowi, and she's getting pretty good now too. No casualties!

Chapter Nine: Whew, this one had some real nasty moments in it that could have been disaterous, but luckily I pulled through in the clutch. I moved all my units down south to meet with Libra, and still managed to keep some stragglers behind to deal with wyvern reinforcements. All the usual people were in play, but Lissa, and Chrom almost died at one point. I was able to recruit Libra and Tharja, and for some reason brought Gaius along which could have ended badly. Class changed Marth into a Mercenary, and Lilith into a Dark Mage. No casualties!

Chapter Ten and Challenges Part Five: Phew, feels like I'm finally starting to get my bearings in Hard/Classic now. Steamrolled Chapter 10, all the while just soaking up experience for all my units. No challenge at all here. In addition to that mission, and a few random challenges I was able to promote Chrom into a Great Lord, and finally got Donny up to 15 and changed him into a Fighter. That should pay off in spades. Thanks to a new Beaststone, I can start using Panne again, while Nowi, who has been wrecking shop, is just about out of Dragonstone. Some of my units are clearly way more powerful, while units like Lon'qu and Panne are lagging behind.No casualties!

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A love story about Analogue: A Hate Story

Introduction

It's strange how I keep stumbling into games that initially elude me, but that I become quite obsessive about later-on. Analogue: A Hate Story certainly fits the bill there. I can't remember why exactly I decided to download the demo version of the game a few months back, but I did, and was met with quite a bit of confusion. Upon starting up the game you are met with a mysterious text crawl. Your objective. Investigate the mysterious circumstances behind the downfall of the space-ship colony Mugunghwa, extract any useful data you can, and get paid. Simple enough. Following that, and the game's title screen, you are thrown into an old school command prompt system. This is... a big obstacle for me. Look, it's not that I hate text adventures or anything, no, actually, I guess I kind of do. The reason for that though is simple, or maybe complex, or at least I can't explain it. Blah, whatever. Point is this... I hate entering text commands. Present me multiple choice and I'll be glad to play through a text adventure, but having to type commands is another thing. I think it's a combination of laziness, and being utterly confused about my choices in such situations. Regardless, this wasn't the best first impression.

So there I sit, trying desperately half-heatedly trying to figure out what to do. I was starting to lose my patience with it when I finally figured out what to do. Upon completing that I ended up in the game's main interface, and found myself having a conversation with a cute schoolgirl named *Hyun-ae. After a brief bit of dialogue I was free to tackle the meat of the game. Reading through the various data logs of the Mugunghwa, trying to find the admin password I apparently needed, and hopefully uncover the mystery of what happened here.

All this stuff sounded good to me, but I was left feeling confused, and more than a little put off. See, the game is heavily based on the real-life Korea Joseon Dynasty. Eventually this makes the game more interesting, but at a glance it's really confusing for someone ignorant to the culture, and the history. You are assaulted with a wave of Korean names, and pronunciations that can make it hard to keep track of what's going on. And the way the beginning of the game is presented, it really is hard to parse out "What am I doing here?" Even though the game is fairly short, the beginning still manages to be a slow burn as you familiars yourself with the setting. However, at the time, it was just too much for me to take in. So I put it down for a few months.

I guess that's all a bit fragmented. A retelling of my initial impressions, and vaguely describing what the game is all about. Sorry about that, I'll attempt to describe the basis, in my own words, a little clearer in a moment. However, after that point I'm afraid that you'll find little use of this document outside of spoilers, or sharing in my mirth if you've played the game yourself. Yes, I'm going to go into full on spoiler territory, and just discuss parts of the game that ressonated strongly with me. In an attempt to express my love for this game, since there's not a whole lot of people I can talk to about it, and I can only tweet so many times about how much I love the game, without going into any specifics. With that said...

What you need to know

You could just as easily check out wikipediafor an explanation about the games basics. So in my own words I just want to sum up what you'll be getting into with Analogue. It's a visual novel created by indie game designer Christine Love. It's heavily inspired by the visual novel genre that is popular in Japan. This presents two potential obstacles to primarily Western gamers. 1) Do you like, or are at least okay with *anime?, 2) Are you okay with *Japanese visual novel games?

*Note 1: So in this case, when I ask you if you're okay with anime, it means a few things. First and foremost, are you okay with the visual aesthetic? That's pretty important, because both the game's characters, *Hyun-ae, and *Mute are cute anime girls. They're not presented in a "creepy" way, if that's what you're worried about, but I know some people will stop dead in their tracks at the sight of "animu". For me, personally, I tend to lean towards enjoying an Eastern aesthetic more than a Western one. That's just my background, and I enjoyed the characters. But I thought I'd warn you first anyway. Are you cool with hanging out with anime ladies? If so, good!

*Note 2: Basically what you need to know here is that Japanese visual novels tend to have a certain flavor to them. They're usually pretty crazy, and also they lean into the romantic aspects a lot. Analogue has both of these things. That said, Analogue is first and foremost a mystery story, but that said, there are romance aspects to that. If you're too manly for that, you might want to bail out now. If not, you're in for a treat!

That aside, the game involves reading a lot of data logs that tell the story of what happened on the Mugunghwa. According to wikipedia there's about 59,000 words in the game, so your mileage may vary on length of the game. For me it took about 5 hours to see everything the game had to offer. There's a few brief instances of issuing commands on a text based command prompt. And there are multiple endings. I'll once again refer you to wikipedia for a story summary, but the long and short of it is that you're in the distant future, Earth has expanded into space-ship colonies, this one the Mugunghwa, was put out of commission many years ago, and it's up to you to figure out why. Along the way you'll unravel the heart-wrenching story of The Pale Bride, probably feel pretty uncomfortable about the oppression of women in this culture, and fall in love with two brilliantly written characters.

So! With all that, my early impressions, brief explanation about the game's mechanics and story, fair warnings about the content and subject matter of the game, and this- my assurance that my first time with the game was a mistake. That upon revisiting it during the Holidays, and playing through every ounce of content, I strongly feel that this was one of the absolute best games of 2012. I wish I played it sooner so I could have put it on my list, as I feel it would probably fit snugly at Number 7, bumping down Sleeping Dogs, Binary Domain, and Dust: An Elysian Tail, while simultaneously knocking Tales of Graces f off my list, which admittedly I didn't feel nearly as strong about as the rest of the list. And even then, at least right now, I would want it to be even higher than that. Because the range of emotions I have for Analogue are truly outstanding. It was unexpected, it hit me hard, it became a nightly ritual of sitting down at my computer, in the dark, sipping on a drink, and being glued to the screen until I had to pull myself aware for sleep. It's hard to express anymore love for it without going into specifics, but, please. I urge you, if anything I have said has sounded interesting in any way. If you're interested in my total 180 degree shift on being boggled and frustrated with a game, to loving it wholly and completely. If you know anything about me and my opinions, and you think I'm on the same wavelength as you. Please. Check out this game. It's totally worth it. And then proceed to talk to me about it, so that I'm not forced to write a several thousand word monologue about why I really dig a video game. That would be good. Swell, even.

SPOILERS

Alright, here be spoilers. Though to be fair, depending on how you feel about spoilers, you might feel inclined to keep reading. I will openly be discussing anything that comes to mind, which, hey, might influence you more to check out the game, all the better! However, there are certainly some big twist in the game that I would hate to spoil for the more inquisitive reader. So, with that said, I will try to accommodate you as much as possible by spoiler-tagging the big ones. Unfortunate side effect of talking about this game though is that every piece of info can detract from your enjoyment of the game, and I can't spoler-tag everything. So as the discussion progresses there will most likely be references to stuff the transpired earlier on. So, basic guideline for reading this section for new players should be: I'm going in chronological order of how the story progresses. The early bits will, thus, be less spoilery, but as it progresses, you might want to bail out if you have any interest in playing the game. I also won't be going into every little detail of the game, and in fact will keep discussion brief about some of the "filler" parts of the story, as they didn't effect me as much. Basically, what I'm saying is, if you read a few paragraphs in, and you think it sounds interesting, maybe go play the game for yourself. And for the people that have already played the game, well feel free to resonant with my impressions of each portion of the story I discuss.

*Hyun-ae

Upon my reintroduction the the game, I realized how much I liked *Hyun-ae, and that's before shit even really takes off. She has a cute design, and an adorable mannerism. Her excitement at coming into contact with a human being after 600 some odd years is infectious. For me, I started to formulate feelings, and opinions about the character immediately. And while it's possible to treat her poorly (how dare you!) it's just natural to be nice to her. And then she does the cutest thing... she starts to fall in love with you. I didn't realize this at first, but it's a really cute quirk- essentially *Hyun-ae will start speaking to you, and in her dialogue she will briefly reveal her affections towards you, but almost immediately edit her own dialogue to make it sound more casual. So, for example, she might say something like "It's not like I'm trying to please you or anything, but I would be happy if you liked me..." and quickly edit it to say something along the lines of "It's not like I'm trying to please you or anything, I just thought you should know!" It's really cute, and helped to establish an early foundation for my affinity towards the character.

In the opening parts of the game you are presented with the setting of this story. You learn about the two major families in play here, The Smiths, and The Kims. For *Hyun-ae's part, she was part of the Kim family. The first few messages you read through, as I stated earlier, are a bit misleading. At least they were to me. The game is really just trying to establish the world, but it's, I hate to say this, maybe not as interesting to start out with? In retrospect it helps you to understand this weird culture, the minor players in the story, and the goings-on of the Mugunghwa before The Pale Bride became the spotlight. I encounter this problem a lot with novels (you know, real, paper based ones) where the openings of the story are a hefty barrier to entry. It's hard to start caring about something before you get to the part that actually makes you like a story. Eventually you, the reader, the player, are rewarded for getting past that once you get into the thick of things, and looking back that context helps set the tone for everything that follows. Still, Analogue had the additional hurdle of foreign names. I will fully admit, I am totally ignorant about a lot of Korean culture outside of the swath of free to play MMOs that come out of that country. So, seeing names like Kim Ein-mi and Kim Sun-hi presented next to each other, in the form of a conversation is a bit boggling. At least for me, your mileage may vary. Obviously though, as I'm writing all of this, I was eventually able to power through it, but man, that was the one big obstacle I had to overcome.

Shortly after the setup, you're introduced to The Pale Bride. And this is where the game really starts to take off. TPB stuff is central to the mystery t the whole game. When first introduced to it, you see a somber story for The Bride. It's easy to pity her plight, a sick young girl woken up in the future. A future that was supposed to be able to cure her of her illness. Instead she is tossed into a political move to gain favor for the Kims. The beginning of the tale isn't tragic or anything, but I felt bad for TPB none the less. She's practically a genius compared to these people, who've somehow gone backwards on education and technology. She's used to a a culture where women aren't treated like complete shit. She was also a child. A child who had dreams, and goals. And on top of all that she's been "sent" however many hundreds of years into the future, away from her family or anyone she's ever known.

This whole part with TPB is where I really started to think about the game. I know that sexism is a real hot button issue right now. I'm not really going to go into that, other than to say it's not really something I ponder most of the time. The whole One Reason Why stuff? Not really my thing, not really my place either. So I usually avoid such things. I also consider my boundaries on when and where I start to get offended, or uncomfortable about stuff to be pretty broad. It's a pretty stark comparison to the outcrop of "social justice" rants that go on nowadays. Though for what it's worth, I think those issues are real, and worth talking about. However it seems to me that a lot of times these discussions come up it's people taking issue with stuff that happens, or is portrayed in fiction? To that, I say, chill out. I digress. Basically what I'm saying is that it's hard for a work of fiction to really get under my skin. Yet somehow Analogue did.

Namjon yeobi, or, Men are honoured, women are abased.

This is an early note you get from *Hyun-ae. This is how society on the Mugunghwa was viewed. The men were the only important people on the ship. Women were just there to give birth, to be bargaining chips for the families. They were expected to support their husbands, and do little else. If they couldn't provide a child, especially a son, they were largely considered a waste of space. Daughters are raised to server this purpose, and are usually thrown onto a suitor before they even reach the age of 16. By 18 they're expected to have children. The whole thing is just bananas. At this point you, and TPB are probably feeling the same thing. Culture shock. The craziest thing? This is all based on history. This stuff really happened! I mean, sure, I've heard about such things before, who hasn't? But I guess this just threw it in my face. I was appalled. It was great. No, the situation wasn't, but the fact that it invoked such a strong feeling inside me, and really made me stop and think. I think that's something special.

The Pale Bride was young, and rebellious She fought against all this, stood up for her beliefs. Admittedly she was a little childish in some of this, but who could blame her really? Eventually after reading through this series of messages you get hit with the first twist of the game...

...The Pale Bride was Hyun-ae. That is to say, the AI that we know at this point, *Hyun-ae was previously a human being, she was The Pale Bride, and all of this is her story. I will say that I half expected this at some point during the previous logs. It's not the most unforeseen twist around, but it still helped to build upon the relationship you have with *Hyun-ae. And when you are able to finally put a face to one of these people you've been reading about, especially someone like The Pale Bride who I feel everyone has to start sympathizing with at some point.I think that's the part where you really get invested in the story. Or at least I did.

With the mystery of The Pale Bride solved, that still leaves you wondering what happened to the ship. Aside from finding out about *Hyun-ae, there are a few other bits of pieces of information in this part of the game. Nothing I really want to discuss that much about, like I said, a lot of it was sort of world building, but some of it is interesting. You hear about the downfall of the Smiths, which play a larger role in the next part of the game. I think you also get access to messages that the Queen sent Hyun-ae before the wedding. Admonitions, or basically things Hyun-ae should expect after being married. This lays the groundwork for the relationship between Hyun-ae and Ryu Jae-hwa which, again, I'll bring up later.

One final thing I'll say about *Hyun-ae in this section is that she shares her interest in cosplay, and asks if you'd like to dress her up in different outfits she designed. It seems like a random fanservicey thing, which, I guess it is, I won't deny it. But it's actually really cute, in that she never got to do cosplay while she was alive, and is excited by being able to toy around with it now. There's a few different costumes you can choose from, and when you go back and talk to her you have a bit of dialogue with her where she role plays a bit. I dunno what to say, it's just a really cute scene! Though there is one costume I'd definitely recommend trying, and that's the hanbok. This is how she was forced to dress in life, and it's actually a pretty sad scene where she's clearly disappointed to be wearing it. I couldn't bring myself to keep her dressed up like that, so I quickly switched to something more fun. Small moments count too.

*Mute

During all this, you find a message which essentially gives you what you need. The admin password. With this you can download the logs and be on your way. More on that later. Aside from that though, *Hyun-ae has asked you to decrypt Block 3 so she can see what's in there, this gives you the nod to go back to the console and try to do that. When you do though, you also end up activating the game's other character. The AI *Mute. So at this point you can go talk to her.

*Mute is an interesting contrast to *Hyun-ae. She's crass, she actually believes in the whole oppression of women thing, and provides a different perspective on the whole situation. *Mute also happens to fall into the popular Japanese anime troupe of the tsundere character. 'tsun tsun' means to turn away in disgust, while 'dere dere' means to act lovey dovey. So, basically, if you're not familiar with the concept, a tsundere character will typically act cold, usually cruel towards the person they like, but sometimes they'll let their guard down and show how they really feel. At least, that's the simplest explanation I can give. I'm not usually a big fan of the type, but *Mute pulls it off well. It's more subtle, not quite as extreme as it normally is. If anything *Mute is just trying to do her duties as the security AI to the ship, but in many ways is just as happy to see you as *Hyun-ae was.

This is where things start to get intense though. As soon as you start talking to *Mute...

...reveals that Hyun-ae is responsible for killing everyone on the Mugunghwa. Neither of you know why, and you don't know how. *Mute believes that Hyun-ae is just a psychotic bitch. The truth? Well... we'll get to that.

So *Mute presents an interesting twist. Do you start to doubt *Hyun-ae and choose to accept *Mute's accusations at face value. Or do you dig deeper into the mystery and give *Hyun-ae a chance? For me, it was a no-brainer. How could I start doubting *Hyun-ae at this point? Also, since I've been around the block a few times, it was pretty easy to suspect that there's a lot more to this than meets the eye. Still, it's a startling revelation, and I suppose it should give room to pause, if you didn't have some sort of blind sense of loyalty to a fictional computer lady.

The remainder of this portion of the game isn't as eventful, not until the end of it at least. It's certainly interesting to hear *Mute's side of things though. She was a friend to the Smith family, has some pretty interesting things to say about their downfall. Particularly interesting is her relationship to Smith Sang-jung. Actually, you know what? Fuck it, that part is pretty good. Basically, in *Mute's words Sang-jung was like a husband to her. Keep in mind that unlike *Hyun-ae, *Mute has always been an AI. So their relationship was purely on this emotional level. Even though she does make a few comments about "having the body for that kind of relationship". By all accounts, everyone else seemed to hate Sang-jung, but *Mute loved him. And when he died she dressed in mourning for him. She cried. She showed real emotions as a computer AI. All of this is just this random little aside in the game, but dammit, it's interesting, and kind of touching. It doesn't hurt that she has sarcastic little comments about his behaviour. In one conversation with *Mute, Sang-hung goes into explicit detail about his waitress's tits. To which *Mute tells you "I could have done without the comments about her tits", but you know she just rolled her eyes and smirked. Yeah, actually that stuff was all really good, apparently overlooked in the grand scheme of things too, so glad I pointed that out.

Anyways, the other interesting block of messages *Mute brings up is, well, honestly it's not that important to the story, but I'd be remiss not to mention it. At one point *Mute asks if you want to know more about a really scandalous event in the Smith family. Now, on one hand you might think *Mute wouldn't want to talk bad about her family, but on the other *Mute is a big gossip. So I think it's funny that she couldn't resist showing you something that would potentially make you think even less of them than has already been established. But she really can't help it, can she? After all she's been isolated with no one to talk to in 600 years aside from *Hyun-ae, the person she hates more than anyone in the universe. I just felt like that was a nice touch.

What's the scandal than? Well, it's pretty intense actually, and I wasn't expecting anything like it to be honest! You read through a series of unsent letters between Oh So-jin, wife to Smith Sang-jung's brother Smith Sang-min. and Sang-min's courtesan Hana. One would expect that Oh So-jin would be jealous of this woman that steals her husband's affections, but in fact Oh So-jin finds herself being jealous of her husband for spending time with Hana. See, she starts developing feelings for Hana. Well, more accurately, it's probably a psychical attraction at first, but it grows into something more. Surprisingly, to me at least, the story actually gets pretty erotic, which is what threw me for a loop. I had to take a moment and think "Wow, Did that really just happen?". It wasn't a bad thing by any means. I won't lie to you and say I didn't enjoy it, but I will try to justify it a bit if you don't mind. I've made it pretty clear that I'm a big proponent of game's expanding out and doing new things. Tackling different subjects. And while this certainly isn't anything new to the visual novel genre over in Japan, it's something Western developers shy away from. Personally? It's fucking ridiculous that more people are comfortable with gore and violence than anything sexual. One thing is a natural way of life, and the other is something the human race could do without. To be clear, I don't have anything against violence either. Just, let's be reasonable, okay?

Uhg. I digress again, sorry. So the steamy action aside, the end of the story is pretty sad. Oh So-jin and Hana get caught by Sang-min. Sang-min's reaction to this is about as appalling as it gets. He doesn't give a shit. He thinks it's a big funny joke, and makes several rude comments about how that relationship even "works". Eventually Hana gets disowned, and neither of them see each other again. While Oh So-jin is stuck with her piece of shit husband, who doesn't even care about his wife's feelings, and Hana who gets rented out to another man. It's fucked up. *Mute's commentary on this is all pretty interesting too. She was good friends with Oh So-jin, and felt pity for her. While at the same time thinking that Hana was an ignorant whore who interfered with her friend's marriage. While also simultaneously thinking that Smith Sang-min is a total jerk-off. "Do you want to know what I think of Smith Sang-min? Fuck that guy!" *Mute says to you in an exceptionally powerful bit of dialogue. As far as I can tell, that's one of two total uses of the word "fuck" in Analogue. I only bring this up because they were both really imperatively to me. That makes it sound like I'm a child who just heard a dirty word, but, no. I've always had a reverence for the sanctity of the word fuck. Aside from totally terrible racial and bigoted slurs, I've felt that it's kind of the ultimate curse word. You use it too much and it just loses it's meaning. You use it sparingly and... well, that can be special. Granted, I'm not an advocate of this policy myself, but I appreciate it when others show some restraint. I'm sorry again for side-tracking...

Last bit I'll say about the whole "block 2" saga is that there's actually a bit of funny dialogue you can have with *Mute in regards to it. When you first speak to *Mute she asks you some questions about yourself, including asking your gender. That in and of itself plays out in some interesting ways, because if you say male, she accepts that. Obviously you're out here in the middle of space by yourself, you're a man! What can't you do? Or so she's been taught. That isn't to say she is in any way insulting towards you if you're a female. On the contrary, she seems inspired by the fact that you're so capable. I thought it was another nice little touch. Anyways, once you finish reading all about Oh So-jin and Hana *Mute asks you what you thought of the whole thing. The sensible answer is that you thought it was terrible. The other answer is that you thought it was hot. Unfortunately I didn't carry out that conversation with her as a male, I should go back and do that I suppose. However, *if you're a female it can lead to a pretty humorous conversation.

*Note 3: I played through as a man in all of my playthroughs, except one. While I've made a pretty convincing point for pursuing both options, I have to admit why I did it. There's actually two Steam achievements tied to interacting with *Mute as a female, and this bit I'm talking about happens to be one of them incidentally. I just wanted to clarify that.

Right, so, the conversation goes something like... You saying that you thought that was hot. *Mute responds by saying "Wait, what? Seriously? You really thought that was hot?" Admittedly a fair line of questioning on her part, the previous story was not really something that warranted a sleazy reply like that, but still.... You assure her that you did in fact find it was hot. In which she replies with "...but wait, you're a girl? Are you into that stuff? Wait, is that why you've been so interested in me?" Which, of course, I said yes. "No way! That's unacceptable!" though she has to admit... "I mean, it would be alright if that was the case..." and finally "No! Let's just forget this ever happened. Never bring it up again!" Of course I'm heavily paraphrasing here, but you get the point. Good moment.

Alright, so that ran a little longer than I expected, but it's finally time to move on. Before you finish with *Mute she gives you a series of questions to ask *Hyun-ae. I guess now would be... well, a little late to explain this, but it wasn't really important til now. When you first talk to *Hyun-ae you get a text prompt to respond to her with. Now, since that would be asking a bit much even from the biggest developers, she conveniently can't understand you. So instead, your interactions with both AIs throughout the game are a series of binary responses. It works well, but the reason I bring it up here is to emphasize the importance of the questions *Mute gives you. Nine questions, eight of them prompting casual conversation with *Hyun-ae, one of them being the big one. With that, you are presented with a choice...

The Split

At this point you're on track to get any of the endings of the game. There are five in total. Once you have *Mute's questions you have an important decision to make. What do you do with them? On the one hand, you could do the natural thing and go ask *Hyun-ae the questions. On the other, you can stick with *Mute and get her final verdict on the whole mess. Whatever you choose, it triggers the next part of the game. Once you present the questions to *Mute and ask her opinion, or if you go back to *Hyun-ae something bad happens. The ship's reactor is about to melt down, and when it does, the Mugunghwa blows up. At this point you can do a few things. What you have to do to proceed with the game as normal though is take care of the situation. This basically involves you using the command prompt to manage certain aspects of the ship. I won't really go into the details, but it's simple enough once you think about it, and you have twenty minutes to do it. Even I didn't really balk at that. In fact I think I could recite the order of commands you need to give right now since I've done it so many times in the past few days. Either way, it ends with you stabilizing the ship. But, at the cost of one of the AIs. You're forced to choose which one you want to stick around and chat with, and that's the big split in the game.

However, there are a couple of other options. I failed to mention this earlier, but at any point when the reactor isn't about to explode, and you have the admin password you can download everything you need from the ship and just walk away. Yep, it's the loner ending. You get the job done, but then you have to live with the fact that you not only didn't solve the mystery, but you just left both ladies there to blow up. Nice move, dick. The other option is even worse, but ultimately kind of funny. See, when you go to download all the ship's logs the game says it'll take about three days to complete the transfer. So... if you were to initiate the download during the melt down.... you blow up, because you're stupid. I thought it was pretty funny. Those aside, you get to decide which real ending you want at that point.

SPOILERS some more!

Alright, I've admittedly only used the spoiler tag a few times in this, as I think I was able to tiptoe around spoiling either of the previous major plot twists in the previous sections. Instead of spoiler tagging just about everything for the next three sections, I'm just going to give you a fair warning now. SPOILER WARNING: I'm going to be talking about the endings to the game now, so just about everything will be a major spoiler. If you haven't played the game, and you've made it this far, but are interested in experiencing at least a little bit of the story for yourself, turn back now! Don't say I didn't warn you.

TsunderAI

This is *Mute's route and in my opinion the weakest of the three "real" endings. In this you find out the "how" of the mystery which is to say, how Hyun-ae killed everyone. You do not however find out "why" she killed everyone, so ultimately you're still only getting half of the story with this ending. Now, real quickly, I'll tell you that I got this ending after the *Hyun-ae ending, so take that for what you will.

If you insist on having *Mute answer the questions for you, she agrees to. She first shows you a message written by Hyun-ae where she confesses her plan. There are a lot of blanks to fill in here if you choose to go with this ending first, but I guess that's what you get. What did you expect after talking with someone for a couple hours, meeting someone else who tells you that the previous person is a crazy murderer, and then you choose not to investigate it and jump to conclusions? You're going to get a pretty inconclusive explanation for things.

So, the message shows us that Hyun-ae has been sent back to her foster parents home for some reason, this is of course after her marriage to the Emperor. She's dying from her disease, and is all but helpless at this point. The message recounts a conversation she had with her foster father, Kim Jung-su. Things have inexplicably changed for Hyun-ae, her previous mannerisms of being a rebellious child have been quelled. Jung-su speaks to her, telling her that he's proud that she turned out well in the end. This opens a floodgate of memories for Hyun-ae. She tries to remember what she was like when she was younger. She thinks back to how she used to have dreams, and goals. How she used to resent this society's insane way of thinking. And then she remembers. Hyun-ae for whatever reason is overcome by a seething rage boiling inside of her. She realizes how much of a farce this is, how this man, her foster father is responsible for ruining everything in her life. Responsible for silencing her. And that he should stand there and comment on how proud he is of her. How proud he is of what he did to her. It's too much for her to take. She wants to grab the knife thats nearby, she wants to at least try to kill this man before she dies. She can't though. So her father leaves her there, in her grief. And then that's when she realizes what she can do, what she has to do. As I've said previously, Hyun-ae is from the past, a past where it was completely common knowledge for a person to operate complicated machinery, like a ship's main computer. Hyun-ae decides that to end all this miserable bullshit, she'll cut off the ship's life support.

Now, I'd like to comment on this more, but like I said, I saw this ending after I knew the whole story. So I can't honestly get into the mindset of someone who had that presented to them in that context. Would you be horrified by her actions? Would you overlook the detail that something potentially horrendous happened to Hyun-ae to make her feel this way? Would you essentially be *Mute and come to your own conclusion. "She's a psychotic bitch, she murdered countless people, and for what reason? That she was a spoiled child!?" It's hard to say either way what a person could think. But in any case, if there was any doubt left in your mind about how this colony died...

After reading that, and discussing it with *Mute, she presents you with three messages from her point of view. Two of them are logs One of them where *Mute casually records that all activity on the Mugunghwa is normal, and that it will be a dull day. The next one taking place the day after when "it" happens. The log shows that Hyun-ae convinced the handler of the main computer to let her in, and she proceeds to hack the Mugunghwa. She begins by executing her plan to shut down the life support. Following this she proceeds to disable *Mute as the primary AI for the Mugunghwa, and somehow programs an AI version of herself into the computer that takes control of the ship. There's even a heart-wrenching message in there from a father who says goodbye to his young child.The final message is *Mute's final thoughts before she gets overrun. She sees Hyun-ae doing all this, and is powerless to stop her, as everyone she cares about suffocates to death. Admittedly it's all pretty horrific.

After reading all that, *Mute asks your opinion. You can side with her and condemn Hyun-ae for her terrible crime. Or you can make one less attempt to sympathize with The Pale Bride. *Mute refuses to accept that Hyun-ae's crime is excusable in any way, and since you don't really have a solid argument for it, you're forced to conceded. At that point, you've accomplished all you can on the Mugunghwa.

Just as you're about to leave though, *Mute asks you if you'd ever consider taking her with you. Of course she says it'd be completely unacceptable, not only because of her duties as the ship's security AI, but also out of a sense of loyalty not to abandon the ship where all the people she knew died. But, maybe she'd really like to leave, because she doesn't want to be alone anymore. She asks you one last time if you were serious when you said you'd take her. And she seems satisfied with that answer. She then says that she's going to shut down and run a diagnostics check, and that it would be terrible if you downloaded her while she was helpless to stop you and left with her. And with that you go out to the command prompt, type download, and leave with *Mute.

As I said before, it's not my favorite ending because it leaves so much open, and it's sad that you both just write off Hyun-ae as this psychopath. But at least it finally lets *Mute have some peace. She went through a lot, and it's at least nice to think that you've brought her out of that hell.

Mai Waifu

Now I'll discuss the *Hyun-ae route. This is without a doubt my favorite ending, it wraps most everything up, it seems like the logical ending, and it's also the point in the game where I realized that I was in love with the game. This is the first ending I got, so keep that in mind while reading through this part.

You return to *Hyun-ae with *Mute's questions and begin the end game, or, probably more accurately the second-half of the game considering the amount of content in this ending route. As I said before, the questions *Mute gave you ask a bunch of casual questions. "How are you?" "What do you think of me?" Some of these questions lead to cute little conversations, and serve as a great build-up to the final question on the list. Some of the questions are related to *Mute and it's interesting to see *Hyun-ae's reactions to her. It seems that the hatred is a little one sided, as Hyun-ae never really hated *Mute. *Mute just never bothered to talk to Hyun-ae. Though it's clear that Hyun-ae feels guilty for her actions, at least in regards to how *Mute must feel. Finally you ask her the big question "Why did you kill all those people?". It's a powerful moment. The question is important, and it comes as a surprise to *Hyun-ae. She's ashamed that you found out about this. She didn't want you to know, obviously she thought you would hate her if you found out. However justified Hyun-ae felt for her actions before she died, she's clearly had a long time to think about it.

Such a weighty question couldn't possibly be answered so simply. *Hyun-ae has an explanation, but you need to pull back the layers on it to fully understand it. Thus, she unlocks a new block of messages for you to read. These ones are messages written in Hyun-ae's diary after she was wedded, and a few interactions with the Queen, Ryu Jae-hwa, who was her only friend. The messages retell the last part of Hyun-ae's life. Again, we don't know why, but somehow Hyun-ae has become a much different person than when she was younger. She's quiet, she's timid, she doesn't put up any sort of argument at all. She's the perfect wife in this society. We get to hear about how Hyun-ae and Jae-hwa became friends. Previously I mentioned Jae-hwa sending Hyun-ae a bunch of messages before her wedding. At the time Jae-hwa was concerned, maybe even jealous of The Pale Bride, but once she met her, she changed her mind. Hyun-ae was clearly no threat, she was an obedient second wife, she was a scared child, and Jae-hwa felt she could trust her.

There are several rather sweet messages in here detailing the two's friendship. Hyun-ae also expresses her situation in life. She's dying, she's getting weaker. The only pleasure she has in life is her conversations with Jae-hwa, and sex with her husband. She's basically holding on to those things for dear life, even though she knows she doesn't have much time. In one critical message we find out a shocking truth. Hyun-ae is mute. No, not *Mute, she's actually mute, she can't speak. It was at this point that I started to second guess myself. Earlier in the game it was evident that Hyun-ae was a spirited child, she argued with her adoptive family all the time. She wasn't... she wasn't mute then, right? We also learn another tragic truth about Hyun-ae, she can't read or write any of the characters people use in this time. Most people just considered her to be a stupid child, an ignorant female. In truth, she was very brilliant for her age, and continued to write all these diaries in her native language. More importantly though, it was literally impossible for Hyun-ae to communicate with anyone in any meaningful way.

As the story was unraveling dozens of thoughts and theories for popping off in my head. As I mentioned, I was already second guessing myself on if she was actually mute this whole time. But if she wasn't, what happened to make her that way? This is it folks, this is the heart of visual novels, and any sort of graphic adventure game. When you start thinking, really thinking about what's going on. What's going to happen next, and how invested in this are you. The good games in this genre should always have the player hooked, left on the edge of their seat wondering about everything. The best games make you think about the game for weeks, months, years to come. It was time to see how Analogue would play out.

Events quickly spiral out of control after this. For reasons that I'm unsure of Jae-hwa dies. This is of course a devastating blow to Hyun-ae's morality. One of the only things she had to live for was now gone forever. In her grief she looked for the only comfort she had left. Her intimate encounters with her husband. In one of the last messages in this block Hyun-ae retells the final blow to her sanity. While the ship is expected to mourn for the passing of Jae-hwa, in which, of course Hyun-ae does as well. She still seeks the comfort of her husband. He eludes her for days, shooting down any of her advances. On the final day he finally has had enough. He scolds her for being so selfish, telling her she is acting indecent. He finally says that she will have to leave the palace for a few months and move back in with the Kims. The most wretched fate imaginable for Hyun-ae becomes a reality, and she is shipped back to her foster home.

We're almost at the conclusion of this story, we've almost got all the answers, but there's one thing that remains. Why did she kill everyone? *Hyun-ae braces you for the last bit of the story. Not wanting to share this with anyone, probably not even wanting to relive the horrors of her life. She reluctantly provides you with a few new messages. These messages are from a block that was previously incomplete from the very beginning of the game. The block detailing Hyun-ae's revival, and her life with the Kims. At first you read a few messages about how Hyun-ae returned home. How her mother and sister treated her like trash. They weren't happy to see her back just as much as she wasn't happy to be back. Hyun-ae is helpless to do anything but wallow in her own miserable life, or what's left of it.

Following that, we get to the big stuff. The "why". Hyun-ae provides a few more messages. More pages in the diary of Hyun-ae when she was a child. Back to the times when Hyun-ae was healthier, had dreams, and still argued with her foster family. Hyun-ae's father reveals to her one day that he's going to marry her off the the Emperor. Of course this puts her in a tizzy and she refuses to cooperate. And then one day, the day when Hyun-ae is supposed to go meet with the Emperor for the first time, she makes her last stand. At first her sister comes to help her get ready for the meeting. Hyun-ae flat out refuses, and the sister storms off. Later the mother comes in attempting to reason with her, again Hyun-ae refuses to back down. Hyun-ae is surprised by how seemingly easy it is for her to hold her ground, but she's suspicious of it. It couldn't be this easy, right?

Finally father setps into the picture. Again, Hyun-ae stands her ground. Father slaps her hard across the face, but she builds up her courage, suppresses the pain and still refuses. Father quietly leaves the room. Hyun-ae has won this fight, but what now? Another message. Days after Hyun-ae's last stand, Father and mother are discussing what they should do about Hyun-ae. They need this marriage, it's the only thing that can save them. But she's too rebellious she'll never listen. Mother suggest that it might be time to take drastic measures.

Hyun-ae is called out to the kitchen to meet with father and mother. Father pleads with her "Please, you must obey. We need this marriage." Hyun-ae refuses once more. Father begs her "This can end peacefully if you just cooperate.". In desperation Hyun-ae tells them that she will tell the Emperor that the Kims are conspiring against him. Father says "No. You won't.". Mother then grabs Hyun-ae and forces her down. Hyun-ae is powerless to resist with her frail body, as father puts his hands inside her mouth and pulls out her tongue. He then takes a knife and cuts it out. Silencing her forever. "You will never argue with a man ever again." and she didn't.

Fuck. I had to take all that in, process it. I sat there stunned for a good while thinking about how horrible it was. I can't speak for everyone obviously, but as for my own personal emotions, I felt rage. In that instance, I felt that whatever Hyun-ae had done had been justified. As if I needed more convincing. This shithole of a ship, with it's backwards ass people. The Emperor, The Kims, they needed to die. I'll admit, it wasn't the most rational train of thought. As I've discussed in the *Mute route, what Hyun-ae did was still awful. She killed plenty of innocent people, women, and children. Countless innocence suffered because of a couple of really terrible people ruined a little girl's life. It's... it's not really justified, but, I guess I don't care. What could she do? Die silently, empty, having to live out the rest of her tortuous life with these fucking scumbags who destroyed her. I'm sorry, I guess I just can't get past that. I guess I can't outweigh the needs of the many against the needs of the few.

After spending several hours interacting with *Hyun-ae, who is just a brilliantly written character. She's a sweetheart, and hearing the tragedy of The Pale Bride was too much.I think this is really what it comes down to with Analogue for me. A short, five hour experience. Not even a lot of time in the grand scheme of things, but enough time to grow attached to this character. And get invested in this story. It was glorious.

Finally, after all is said and done, it's time for you to judge *Hyun-ae. I've already said my piece on it, but it's entirely possible to shut her down. She will accept her shame, and leave you to collect the data you came for. But that's a pretty shitty ending, right? So of course I accept her story, I forgive her for her actions, I tell her I understand. She is beside herself. 600 years of holding this in, and finally meeting someone she truly loved. And you accepted her. You can almost feel the tension wash away, the years of torment that she went through. She desperately tries to express her gratitude, and while she's caught up in all these emotions she confesses. She finally tells you she's in love with you. At this point the game splits again ever so briefly. You can turn her offer down, expressing in the nicest way possible that it just wouldn't work. Or you can accept her love, and express your feelings for her. Either way *Hyun-ae will ask you the same thing *Mute did. "Will you take me with you?" Of course I will. Once again, you exit to the console, download, and whisk away The Pale Bride, either as a friend, or lover.

2 Girls 1 Core

Okay, believe it or not people I'm almost done. There's just one more ending to cover real quick, and then we're just about out of here. This is the final ending, as tradition in many Japanese visual novel games, this is the "harem" ending. It usually refers to an unrealistic ending where the hero somehow gets all the girls. All of them. In Analogue's case things are a bit more realistic. For one there's only two girls. For two the ending actually makes sense. In a way, this is truly the best ending, but it's still runner-up for me compared to the *Hyun-ae route.

So, rewind all the way back to the original split. *Hyun-ae or *Mute? Who do you pick? Well, how about this. Given all the evidence, both AIs are right in their own way. But the biggest problem here is that *Mute doesn't believe there could be any justifiable reason for Hyun-ae to kill all those people. Unfortunately, after the split you can only talk to one girl. You either talk to *Mute and get her judgement, or you talk to *Hyun-ae and get her full story. Now, this requires a little bit of explaining, but I've typed this much, so why stop now?

As I've said, your interactions with the AIs are limited. Aside from the binary choices during dialogues, the only real way you can talk to either character is by presenting them the messages in the game. You show one of them a message, and they offer their insight on it. Now, if you're paying attention you will remember that if you take *Hyun-ae's route you get that one very, very important message that explains everything. The fact that Kim jun-su cut out Hyun-ae's tongue. Unfortunately you can't get that message and still be able to talk to *Mute. So what can you do? This is the last stroke of genius in Analogue that I have to talk about.

In the interface there is an option to type in a code. I never thought much of it the whole time I was playing the game. Why was it there? Well, apparently there is a alphanumeric code attached to each and every message in the game. And you could type it in there and find a message. Still, why would you ever need to manually search for a message? I mean, there aren't that many of them, you could always just page through them. There's a secret though - you can access any message in the game, at any time, as long as you know the code.

So, the trick is to start down the *Mute path, and when she presents you all the horrible evidence of The Pale Bride's crimes? You show her that important message. "What the fuck did I just read?" *Mute exclaims, dropping the last masterfully placed f-bomb in the game. All the pieces fit, everything comes together. *Mute is forced to come to the realization that Hyun-ae had a legitimate reason to want these people dead. It doesn't excuse Hyun-ae's actions, but... she can't just turn a blind eye to Hyun-ae's plight. Maybe, just maybe she could be forgiven finally, after 600 years.

By this point, you already had to disable *Hyun-ae though. However *Mute knows how to bring her back. She informs you that you can copy her AI to *Mute's active core and all three of you can talk. She goes to fetch *Hyun-ae while you carry out the action. Upon meeting up *Hyun-ae is overjoyed that you were able to solve the mystery, and convince *Mute that she had a reason for her atrocities. Yet, she wonders how you managed to do that. "Did you cheat the system?" Indeed. So then *Mute tells *Hyun-ae to ask you the last question. "Will you take us with you?" Of course.

In Closing

Phew. I, uh. I don't know what just happened exactly. I originally set out to write an opinion piece about Analogue. I just wanted to share some of the joy that I felt about the game, and share some of my favorite moments. I didn't mean to retell the whole story. I'm not happy about that. That's not what I wanted to do. I feel like it's a good piece to read if you're looking for a summary retelling of the game, or if you wanted to recap everything. But, I dunno. That's shitty.Unfortunately I just got to a point where I kept falling into writing out the whole damn story, and before I knew it I was half done. So, I couldn't justifiably delete all that, and start over. So unfortunately you'll just have to accept this for what it is. One big clusterfuck of praise mixed in with a reenactment of Analogue.

That bit of sadness aside. A few real, final thoughts. There's really not much more I could possibly say about Analogue that I haven't already. I know that after I finished the game I just wanted more of it. In some small way I guess this was a way to get more of it. Or an attempt to get it out of my system, since my emotions for it just kept welling up over the past several days. It's nice to have written documentation of that love I guess. However, I guess it doesn't actually stop there even. While I was checking wikipedia earlier I noticed that there's going to be some DLC for the game that is supposed to be released this month. It's called "Hate Plus" and it picks up where the story left off. With you going back to Earth and trying to figure out what happened during those years that Hyun-ae was asleep for. I cannot wait for it, but I probably won't do another War and Peace length rant about it. If that wasn't enough (it isn't) I was also pleased to see that Christine Love has a couple other games. Digital: A Love Story, and Don't take it personally, babe, it just ain't your story. Both of those are free to download for Windows, Mac, and Linux so there's no reason not to check them out. Unless they're bad? But, I doubt that.

Peace!

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Game of The Year 2012

Game of The Year 2012

Ah man. Here we are again. Another year, another list of 10 amazing games. Overall, I felt this was a very strong year for games, even if we are approaching the death throes of this console generation. Looking back on the past couple years, I feel more strongly about at least the first 7 games on this list than I have about many games in recent years. There are a few things I want to address in this opening first however.

Firstly, I'm going to sound like a broken record ironically enough) with some of these games when it comes to soundtracks. I have found in recent years that I am very passionate about video game soundtracks, and that they can completely alter my enjoyment of a game. A middling game with an amazing soundtrack will make that game much more appealing to me. An amazing game with an amazing soundtrack will almost move me to tears. That said, a lot of these games ressonate with me super strongly because of their breathtaking or otherwise catchy soundtracks. And with THAT said, I'd like to make a special mention to Hotline Miami, a game that sadly did not make the cut for Game of The Year, but it is a game that features what is probably my favorite overall soundtrack of the year. I cannot stop listening to it, particularly the tracks by M.O.O.N including Hydrogen which is currently smashing records on my iTunes most played stats. I should also mention Fez, another game that narrowly missed the list, but in Fez's case I think the music actually transcends the game.

I'd also like to give a quick nod to World of Warcraft: Mist of Pandaria, which is easily my most played game of the year. I've probably put 700 hours into it since it was released in late September, and it doesn't look like it's going to slow down anytime soon. The thing with WoW expansions though is that they're expansions to an eight year old game. WoW has had it's due, I don't think I need to honor it any furthuer in a Game of The Year list. But for what it's worth, it's a pretty awesome expansion, one of the best they've done.

With all that said, onto the list...

Game of The Year 2012

1. Kid Icarus: Uprising
Oh my god. Kid Icarus: Uprising. Where do I even begin? Well, first it's a shame that it seems like this game is getting the shaft in terms of Game of The Year list. For whatever reason, though I'm guessing it's the controls, this game doesn't seem to have made as strong as an impression on people as it did for me. But that's fine, because I'm totally here to heap on my undying affection for what is now one of my all time favorite games.

Aside from Fire Emblem: Awakening, Kid Icarus was the reason I decided to buy a 3DS. I've been interested in it since it was revealed however many E3s ago, because it looked like a real neat game, a reason to own a 3DS. Furthermore being developed by Sora which did an amazing job on Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and having beautiful character designs and art, I was instantly sold on it.

I didn't end up getting a 3DS until after the game was released though, so I was left just wanting it for a while. Eventually I was able to try the game when my friend brought over his 3DS and a copy of the game, and I think that's when I fell in love with it. Sure, the first thing I think anyone notices with the game is that it has an "interesting" control scheme, and that's putting it nicely. But what I noticed was just the amount of charm the game had, the amount of love that was put into it.

The game features two different play modes, and I found myself enjoying both of them. I think everyone can agree that the Space Harrier type levels of flying through the air and shooting stuff down is basic enough and works with the controls with little fuss. But I also found that the on-foot battles were engaging in just the interesting way the game handles it. In all honesty, and this might sound like a cop-out, but I feel that this makes the game stand out a little more, as it is more than just a basic beat'em (shoot'em) up.

But that's not the real reason I enjoy Uprising. As I mentioned there's a ton of charm in the game, and the entire time I played through the single player story (and it is a long story!) I was constantly smiling, just basking in the warmth of the game's characters, the wonderfully written dialog, and the voice actors who helped bring these characters to life.

It was honestly a treat every time I picked up the 3DS to play Kid Icarus: Uprising for a couple chapters every day. The banter between the various characters, especially Pit and Palutena filled me with such joy. And the slow roll-out of the supporting characters made everything all the better. I can't remember a game that I've ever played that made me laugh out loud so much, or produce the most SPM (smiles-per-minute) on a regular basis.

And as I've mentioned previously, the game just looks gorgeous, a true testament to what the 3DS can do, and with the lovely artistic style of the game that made every level, character, and enemy pop out. Accompanying all that is a beautiful soundtrack put together by some of Nintendo's best. It's not always the catchiest soundtrack, but almost every song evokes some sort of emotion that blends perfectly with what's going on in the game at the time.

Aside from the wonderful presentation, Sora is up to it's old tricks including hours upon hours of content in the game. An engaging loot system, with a fusion system similar to the Shin Megami Tensei series. Hundreds if not thousands of unlockables. A truly groundbreaking difficulty system that allows you more control over the ease or challenge of the game. And a fully robust multiplayer mode that is only hampered by the lack of popularity, because it's a fucking blast.

Fuck man, I could just go on about the game for hours. Unfortunately I have nine other games to discuss though. Seriously though, this game effected me in such a strong way, and has achieved a colossal feat in not only overcoming several other fantastic games to top this list, but it's earned a permanent spot on my Top 25 Games of All Time list. It's beautiful, and I wish more people could experience it, and be able to translate that experience into the pure unadulterated enjoyment I felt while playing it. And as I have said many times over this past year: "If I only bought the 3DS to enjoy this one game. It was worth it."
2. Asura's Wrath
Pretty early on in the year, before many games on this list I played Asura's Wrath. And also, previously before I played Kid Icarus: Uprising, this was easily my Game of The Year. Now, those who know me, or who have read my previous Game of The Year list know that I usually find a game in a year that took me by total surprise. In past years it has been Nier, and Space Marine. This year, it was Asura's Wrath, though I'm happy to report now that this year was actually full of games like that, so that is very cool, in my opinion.

Enough about that though, Asura's Wrath - a bit of a backstory. The game was shown off at one of these trade shows and it looked insane. A game by Cyberconnect2 who I was already a fan of due to their previous work on the .hack series. And an over-the-top Shonen anime looking game. The first trailer really turned heads for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the main character Asura was angry, really angry. He was also fighting a god that's hand was bigger than the planet he was standing on. Another big thing was people wondering just exactly what kind of game Asura's Wrath was. Early rumblings seemed to suggest that the game was going to be one massive QTE segment. That's not far off from the truth, but you'd be forgiven if you were put off by that. I know I was.

The plot thickens though, as a little bit before the game's release, I played the demo of it. Again, this story might sound copy & pasted from Space Marine, but, hated the demo. Didn't see the appeal, and was turned off to the whole idea of the game pretty quickly. Then, similar to the Space Marine situation from last year, I started hearing people talking about it. Again (sorry, the situation is just so similar!) I think it was the Giant Bomb guys who were discussing just how fucking batshit insane the game was. So I decided to rent it from Gamefly.

What followed was one of the most entertaining experiences I've had with a game. Or was it the most entertaining experience I've had with an anime? Maybe it's both! The bit about it being a huge QTE is accurate enough, there are in fact quite a bit of them. But they are handled well for what it's worth (more on that later). There's also a fairly basic character action game embedded in there that's nothing really to write home about. I think I've documented my feeling on character action games before though. I appreciate simplicity, I don't like the game to be overly challenging, but still feel engaging. It's probably why I prefer games like Enslaved: Odyssey to The West over something like Bayonetta. One game had simple combat, and instead focused on a rich story. While the other focused so much on an over-the-top combat system that I think it lost the thread on where the story was going.

Anyways! While Asura's Wrath might not have the most engaging combat in the world, and the rest of the game basically boils down to a glorified version of "Simon Says" while watching the insanity unfold, I think it's still an amazing example of how we can do interesting stuff with video games.

As I mentioned, everything else about the game is insane. It also happens to be immensely enjoyable. The story is a revenge tale, and it follows a certain Shonen anime style archtype. Except here you getting this entire narrative in a much easier to digest format of about 6 hours of game, instead of hundreds of episodes, spread out through several years of your typical Shonen anime. Shonen anime typically consist of a main character who overcomes all obstacles to be the ultimate badass, and you can bet your ass Asura does that in spades. The shit he goes through, the battles, and the action that takes place is enough to get you pumping your first in the air, or maybe yelling out "BURST!" whenever the need arises.

I mentioned that they handle the QTEs in a really fantastic way. What I mean by that is that the button prompts actually get you involved in the action. When shit hits the fan, and Asura is on the ropes. And a screen that is just plastered full of "B" buttons hits you directly in the face, it's fucking amazing. You will hammer on the B button for all it's worth, until your finger is a ruin, and your eyes are bulging out of your head. Just so that the angry, robotic anime man can save his daughter.

The story is great, even if you're not typically into that sort of thing. I've heard from plenty of people this year, including members of the Bombcast who got caught up in it. You go along for the ride in this game, and it's hard to put it down once you've started. There are absolutely insane twists and turns in the plot which will almost certainly have you yelling out "HOLY SHIT!", and amazingly enough the game also manages to be touching at times. Probably thanks in no small part to another beautiful soundtrack this year. The soundtrack features plenty of blood pumping beats like Orphan Wolf Legend which set the mood for some of the game's coolest moments. And then you have hauntingly stirring pieces like the game's titular Furuer Kokoro which tug at the heart strings. Either way, Chikayo Fukuda probably produced the most memorable, worthwhile anime soundtrack in existence.

Furthermore, after I had finished the game, I sent it back to Gamefly. But promptly purchased a copy when the DLC for the game started coming out. If anything, that's the one major disadvantage that the game has going for it, and it's that you have to pay extra in order to truly finish the story. And make no mistake about it, if you're invested enough to have gotten through the main game, there's no question about it. The additional ending chapters DLC is required viewing. The other DLC? Not so much, but they definetly did some interesting stuff with it.
3. Ys Origin
As I previously mentioned, there were several games this year that took me by total surprise. Ys Origin was another one of them. Previously I had dabbled in the Ys games, and found that they were enjoyable to a point. And in fact I think I would really love most of them if it wasn't for one fatal flaw: platforming. I'm really terrible at platforming in games, and for the better part of my life I've actually avoided games which feature heavy platforming because not only am I atrocious at it, but it really shoots my nerves. Thanks to my fear of heights in real life, which has somehow managed to effect me in games as well. My stomach pretty much bottoms out when I fall from a great distance in games. It's sad.

Fortunately, Ys Origin at least doesn't feature any difficult platforming. There is still light platforming, but out of my three (!) playthroughs of the game I've never encountered a frustrating instance of platforming. And I think it's really as simple as that, because if the other Ys games are like Origin, then it's a safe bet I'd fall in love with them too.

I already wrote an entire blog about Ys Origin earlier this year, which you can find here. So I won't spend too much time gushing over the game, but wow, is it fantastic. As I mention in my blog post above, I think it takes elements from Zelda and does them in a way that's more appealing to me, nowadays anyway. The game also reminds me a lot of Recettear, with it's dungeon crawling, and obvious anime influences, but done- better I guess? And I say that as someone who really loved Recettear. It's also a lot more "actiony" and again, as I expressed in the blog post, it's eye-opening to see the Japanese side of action RPGs.

That isn't to say I'm new to that genre either. The Mana series for example is a favorite of mine, but it's just been so long since I've been able to experience something like this, that I think it connected with me on a special level that says "Hey, remember this? You need more of this in your life." With that said, I would adore it if XSEED were to continue it's effort in bringing Falcom games over here. The PC seems like a perfect platform for this, as I believe both Ys games released on Steam this year did quite well. Whether it's the right price point that is allowed via this distribution platform, or just that it's more likely people have PCs that can these system resource friendly games, I just think it makes sense, and can work. i know that I'm not alone in this, as many North American games would like to see the sequels to Trails in the Sky. Personally, I think Nayuta no Kiseki sounds like my dream game.

All that said, I guess a few comments about Origin itself would be appropriate. It's a fun game, really fun. Fun enough that I almost played through it completely three times in rapid succession. The different abilities you get are dished out at just the right pace that the game always feels like something new and exciting is happening, waiting to be played around with. The bosses are a delight for any action RPG fan, many of them with their own little puzzle to solve to beat them, and on harder difficulties you will be required to get down some pattern recognition. If that's your thing. The story is decent, as I'm lead to believe most Ys games aren't really about the story so much. I like the characters, and there's a few moments that had me tear up. Particularly I think the relationship between Hugo and Epona is especially heart warming. (Man, really no wiki entires for those characters? Might be a project I can do). And of course, the soundtrack is spectacular. Again, something I have been told Falcom does very well. Beyond The Beginning is probably the single most epic piece of music I've heard in a game this year.
4. The Walking Dead
Guys, I feel kind of strongly about The Walking Dead. Again, I could say that this is another one of those games that came out of nowhere, especially considering the tragedy of Telltale's Jurassic Park. But... I think the writing was on the wall with how The Walking Dead would shake out pretty shortly after people got their hands on it.

If nothing else, The Walking Dead is a shining example of what can be achieved in video games outside of engaging gameplay. The Walking Dead shows the merit of being able to interact, and influence how a story plays out. Sure, player choice has been a part of games for quite some time, but not like this. For example, In Mass Effect, you, as Shepard make decisions like exterminating the last of a dying species. In The Walking Dead you decide if you want to give a hungry kid a package of breadsticks and cheese. Obviously one choice seems way, way more important. Like by magnitudes right? But in this instance, not giving the kid a snack presents instant repercussions that feel more personal and immediate than an extra bit of dialog in a sequel several years later.

If nothing else, The Walking Dead is an interesting social experiment where player choice is recording on a stat page at the end of a episode, that shows you how other players reacted. This has several profound effects. For example, it makes you think "Did I do the right thing", or maybe it makes you feel very passionately about your choices: "How can these people be so stupid? This was obviously the right choice!" It also provides interesting "water cooler" discussions: "Wasn't it crazy when this character died?" "Wait, what? That person didn't die in my game!". Again, not a totally unique situation for gamers, but that's usually reserved for open world games where at any given moment something unpredictable can happen. Not a fairly linear narrative.

If nothing else, The Walking Dead shows us that games can tackle mature subject matter in a tasteful way. Granted it's full of grizzly violence, and foul language, but that's just something that comes along with the territory. Instead of being gratuitous and over-the-top for the sake of shock value, The Walking Dead presents horrific situations, and imagery which leave a lasting impression on the player. The game provides moments where you'd be forgiven if you had to put down the controller and walk away for a bit, just to stew over the terrible thing you just witnessed.

But you know what? The Walking Dead isn't just that, or that, or that. It's also a wonderfully told story, written by insanely talented individuals that were able to make you weigh every decision. Love, or hate the characters you will certainly feel something for them. They were able to make a child in a video game lovable, not even just likable, but influence players in such a way that you felt responsible for her, that you would do anything to protect her from this tragic world. The game has a wonderful presentation to it, and Telltale has certainly honed their craft with this game, but it's the writing more than anything that makes this game shine out like a beacon in the dark. I suppose it doesn't hurt that Telltale managed to round-up some incredible voice talent that made the characters feel real. More real than the AMC television series has managed to accomplish even if what I've been lead to believe is accurate.

Personally, I played the first two episodes of The Walking Dead and fell in love with it. It inspired me to read the entire current run of the comics between episode 2 and 3, and introduced me to the wonderful, if not completely horrendous world of Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead. I'll no doubt check out the TV series at some point, and probably even end up playing the-what will most likely be an inferior romp that completely misses the point- first person shooter. My whole time with this universe has been a highlight of my year.
5. Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward
If I had one regret about my 2010 Game of The Year list it would be that I didn't include 999 on it. I didn't get full swing into playing it by the time I had wrote the list, and sadly it was missing from a list where it otherwise would have done exceptionally well. I ended up really loving that game, it's crazy story, and the jaw-dropping revelations that come along with it. So, as not to make that same mistake again, I made sure to play 999's sequel, Virtue's Last Reward as soon as possible. Good thing too, because the game ultimately took me over 40 hours to see everything.

In much the same way 999 was great, VLR is even better. Sure, it took me a little while to warm up to this new cast of characters, and for a while there I thought that the twist weren't nearly as mind-blowing as those in it's predecessor That soon changed though, in a big way.

The success of games like 999/VLR is pretty amazing. These type of Visual Novel games are pretty common in Japan, but sadly we don't see many of them here. Outstandingly enough 999 seemed to hit in a big way, at least guaranteeing a stateside release of the sequel, but I think it's also paving the way for more games of it's ilk to come out here. Corpse Party is another recent example. This is great news, because these games tend to contain very worthwhile stories, along with the batshit insanity that comes out of Japan.

Sorry, again, for the rambling. About VLR though... the game is broken up into two parts. The primary mode of "play" is the Novel sections where you just read, and make some decisions. More on that in a bit. The other portion of the game is "Escape" and involves solving a series of puzzles. Now, the puzzles are kind of take it or leave it. They're probably not up to par with something out of a real puzzle game, but I actually really enjoy them! I found them stimulating in the way that makes you feel super intelligent once you figure them out. I know a point early on in the game where I was trying to figure out a puzzle and had made liberal use of the game's built in note pad. I was writing shit down, and cross referencing it with in-game documents trying to piece things together. It was fantastic! And when I solved it I did a fist pump and let out a silent "Hell Yeah!". Not often that I get that sort of feeling. To be fair though, I'm probably in the minority of people who even give two shits about the puzzles in these games. And even though I enjoyed them for the most part, I definitely found myself thinking at times "Fuck, I don't want to do puzzles now, I want to see what happens next!".

Make no mistake about it, it's the novel sections that really sell the whole thing. The story in VLR is fantastic, as you'd probably expect, or at least hope from a game that's primairy goal is to tell a story. You are introduced to a colorful cast of characters that are thrown into a decidedly less colorful situation. Things are grim for these people, and a large portion of the game's appeal lies in finding out who these people are, and more importantly, how they're going to get out of this situation. As I mentioned previously, this game lays on the craziness, the twist in the story are something I like to refer to as "mindfucks" and I devour each juicy morsel of each brain-shattering development. Seriously though, it's been a thing in the Giant Bomb community to get Patrick Klepekk to get the true ending in 999 because the pay-off is so huge, and again, sorry to use the term again, mind-blowing! The same holds true for VLR, and boy what a mindfuck it is! After I finished VLR I put the 3DS down and just starred at the wall in silence for a good half an hour. occasionally uttering "...what?", "....why?", "...but how?" as I mulled over the previous 43 hours I spent on the game in my head. And then I continued to think about it for the next week. Hell, I'm starting to think about it all again now.

And I'll tell you, I couldn't be happier knowing that Kotaro Uchikoshi is going to be making a third game in the series. It should be noted that you could totally pick up VLR and play it as a standalone experience, but if you've played 999...man, MAN! Some of the revelations in this game will floor you. And the ending already lays the groundwork for another game, leaving me, and countless other fans to ponder on theories and speculation for the next however many years.

Aside from what I've already talked about, the rest of the game is solid as well. It has a fitting soundtrack, though not one I'm necessarily happy to sit down and listen to, if anything, it gives me anxiety attacks when I hear it. The character designs by Kinu Nishimura are wonderful. I will say that the CG can look a bit awkward, especially when seeing screengrabs in random news stories around the web, but I think while playing the game it clicks. Another thing to note is the voice over, while I can't speak to the Japanese side of things, I will say that Aksys did a wonderful job here as well. Employing some of the localized Japanese game communities best, including my personal favorite lady, Laura Bailey, as Luna, and a fucking outstanding performance by Cindy Robinson as Zero III. As a side note, Cindy also did the voice for Labyrs in this year's Persona 4 Arena, which sadly did not make the list, but still worth noting as she's clearly a very talented individual who knows her craft well.
6. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Alright, so, probably tired of hearing this by now, but XCOM was another one of those games that just came out of no where for me this year. The funny thing about this one is, if I had known what X-COM was all about, I would have been eagerly awaiting this game with baited breath. Regardless of what the original PC games were like, which from the sounds of it, were probably a little too hardcore for my taste, just the concept of XCOM is enough to wet my appetite.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a tactical turn-based strategy RPG

...so sayeth the Giant Bomb page for XCOM. Which to me basically equates to: "Yo, this shit is like Fire Emblem, but with aliens and guns instead of swords and magic." Again, You'll have to forgive my ignorance for not realizing that X-COM was this from the start, and thus acknowledging, it's reputation as a juggernaut in this genre space. With that said, I do love me some Fire Emblem.

So, step one out of the way, "Find out what XCOM is all about." Step two was to "be extremely excited by this revelation and furiously download the demo." Kinda nice that the revelation lined up perfectly with the release date of the demo, huh? So I tried the demo, and am pleased to finally say that it was fucking awesome! As rote as my usual experience with anticipated demos is, it was a nice change of pace to be rewarded with one that made me even hungrier for the final product. And hungry I was, for if you'll recall back a few months when this was coming out, XCOM and Dishonored were releasing on the same day. Previously I had been fuck-all excited about Dishonored, but after the demo of XCOM I couldn't be assed to think about Dishonored. That trend would continue upon my acquiring both games, my playing way, way, way more XCOM than Dishonored, and finally deciding that XCOM was one of my games of the year, while I felt Dishonored was a bit disappointing.

I digress though. On to talking about the god damn game! XCOM is, in a way, kind of the polar opposite of most the games on this list. XCOM has a story. I don't give a shit about XCOM's story. Like, at all. The gameplay though.... hooooooly crap. XCOM is a delicate balancing act of the tactical strategy battles, and the RPG-like management of everything that goes on. Very good news for a Fire Emblem fan, I assure you. Each battle requires caution, careful placement of units, using your units together to overcome obstacles, where in a lot of cases the odds are stacked against you. Eventually my squad was pretty fucking incredible, but even then it is HARD to look down a wave of bloodthirsty Mutons, and god forbid you see more than one Sectopod. Oh man, and that last room in the game? Shit is whack!

Meanwhile you have to make sure everything is coming together on the managerial side of things. Truth is, you have extremely limited resources, way too much shit to buy, and even less time to do it all in. This stuff is so crucial to your success that the moments where you are clicking through menus in your base camp can be just as intense as facing down those Mutons! If this is your kind of thing, than XCOM certainly scratches that itch.

I mentioned earlier moments in The Walking Dead that had you talking with your friends about how certain things turned out. Well, true to my word, it happens in other games too, on a purely mechanical level. Due to the multitude of factors in XCOM, not the least of which is randomness, and luck, nearly every moment in the game can play out differently. Differently among your friends, and differently among different playthroughs of the game for you. It's also because of this that you can have these really epic stories about shit that happened to you and your squad. Swapping these stories can be every bit as addicting as the game itself, especially for someone like me who feeds off of the various strategy elements.

For instance, I couldn't shut up on Twitter about my squad while I was playing the game. Particularly my Sniper, Lenneth "Valkyire" Platina, who was for the most part my only female squad member, and the only person in the squad who wasn't named after a rapper. My sniper build was such: Squadsight, Damn Good Ground, Disabling Shot (rarely used), Executioner, Double Tap (!!). Basically all that means is that my sniper could usually* (*a bit foggy on the limitations of Squadsight, sometimes it seemed like I couldn't attack everything my squad was seeing, and that was a bummer, still an incredible perk though) shoot anything that my other squad members could see, had better aim and defense when she had a height advantage (combine that with the Skeleton Suit, or better and you could always get to high ground), had even better aim (it was already ridiculously high) when the enemy was below 50% health, and for the cherry on top- could perform two-fucking-attacks per round!! This included using her "Headshot" ability, which increased the damage critical hits did (of course she'd get a critical most of the time) and the normal shot. By the end of the game with the Plasma Sniper Rifle she was one-shotting most enemies, two at a time, or single-handedly dismantling a Sectopod. And even though she passed the test to become a Pisonic, I hardly ever needed to use any of those abilities on her! Now I don't know if that description did anything for you, but it's shit like that, that gives me a massive nerd boner, and makes me want to do that so bad, so hopefully someone will persuaded to try it if they haven't already.

One more war story for the road, then we can move on, I promise. My first multiplayer game could NOT have gone better. I mean, I guess everything could have gone according to plan, but I don't think the result would have been nearly as entertaining. Basically in XCOM multiplayer you have a pool of points you can spend outfitting your squad. In short, every piece of equipment, or ability you take costs points. The better the character is, the more points in consumes. So ideally you're striking a good balance of well... balanced characters. I... didn't want to do that. So! I dumped a ton of points into the deadliest sniper you could imagine, setup a grunt solider with a shotgun, and threw in one little Sectoid with my left over points. I had my Sniper go up to the roof of the building, while my assault solider scouted around for the enemy. The Sectoid, well, the only thing, and I do mean the only thing he did the entire match was use his ability to channel energy into the sniper to make the sniper even more badass.

So the grunt notices some equally "grunty" foot soliders and my sniper pops em' off. No Problem. Then, my opponent who obviously had the same mindset as me brings out their big badass. This freak is filled to the brim with psionic juice, like really, this thing could rival an Ethereal. So psycho solider mind controls my grunt. Bet he's thinking "Ahhh yeah, how do you like that shit!?". My turn. Select my sniper, two shot Athena. "How do you like that shit!?" I yell to no one in particular. Keep in mind my Sectoid is still linked to my sniper. So, anyways. All this guy has left is a bunch of Sectoids. No problem right? And then it happens. The Sectoids come up to the roof, they attack my Sectoid. He dies. And then.... my fucking sniper dies instantly because the mind link was severed! You would think I'd be furious, but I was laughing my ass off. I had absolutely no idea how the mind link worked, and that when the channeler died, so would the recipient. As much as I was laughing, the other guy must have been in tears! Unfortunately for him, I still had my reclaimed grunt, so I brought him up to the roof, and started laying waste to his Sectoids. There was nothing he could do to stop me, and once again victory had been snatched out of his palms. Right before I could kill the last Sectoid though I guess he had the last laugh (not really!) because he ragequit and disconnected from the match. However I lived to tell the tale in a Giant Bomb Game of The Year list, so really, I still win!
7. Sleeping Dogs
Okay, for real guys. This is the last time I'll say this (this year at least), but Sleeping Dogs was yet another game I was not expecting to enjoy nearly as much as I did. Can you blame me? It was previously a canceled True Crime game. How bad does a True Crime game have to be in order for it to be canceled. Which, considering the quality of Sleeping Dogs, in retrospect, what the fuck were they thinking canceling this? Maybe it went through a lot of work from then and when it released. All I know is that I'm thankful Square Enix swooped in and helped make this a thing that happened. Because, man, it is one hell of a game.

Firstly, it's an open world sandbox game. I've been known to like those in the past, so that checks out. Secondly it's set in Hong Kong, that seems like a pretty interesting setting, so that sounds good too. Thirdly it has a real melee combat system, with combos, and counters. Wait, what? Really? At that point it's easy to draw comparisons between games like Grand Theft Auto, and Yakuza, While Yakuza is already reminiscent of Shenmue. Niiiice.

So yeah, the game is a hell of a lot of fun. The melee combat holds up, and it doesn't hurt that a lot of the moves, including environmental kills are fucking brutal. Okay, well I guess it hurts them. Eventually you get a gun, and at that point certain parts of the game aren't quite as entertaining, but the shooting is totally competent, and there's some slow-mo John Woo type shit, kind of like Stranglehold, but in a better game. I also liked the driving, but then again I always like driving around in these games just listening to the radio stations, and speeding around. But there's something special to be had there too with the hijack-move that have your character leaping from your current vehicle onto one your chasing, and commandeering it.

It's stuff like that, that separate this game from other sandbox games. A lot of the crazier shit would actually fit right in with Saint's Row, but I think there's an important difference here. Sleeping Dogs straddles the line between absurdity (Saint's Row) and seriousness (Grand Theft Auto). That is to say, a lot of the action in the game is more on the absurd side, but the tone of the game, particularly the story is on the serious side. I find that this is a pretty nice balance between the two, and might in fact actually enjoy this one game more than either of those series.

Speaking of the story, it's surprisingly good. I mean, I guess you wouldn't think that at a glance, but if you dig in you see that there's a lot going on here. There's some great character development along the way, and by the end of the game I felt like I was closer to Wei Shen, more so than any other open world protagonist at least.

Aside from that, it really is about just being as ridiculous as possible. Including the soundtrack which is just off-the-fucking-wall. I found myself laughing out loud at stuff that happened in the game, and it all looks pretty cool at the same time. I remember one time in particular where I was racing to a mission objective in a really fast sports car. I must have been doing 120 mph or something, slammed into a railing, flew out, over the quest objective, overshooting it by several yards, as I flew right into the ocean... and survived. Then I had to swim back to the shore and activate the objective. That's just good fun man.

If nothing else though, even if this wasn't one of my games of the year, we at least got these two videos out of it. I swear, those two Quick-Looks are two of my all-time favorite videos on Giant Bomb now.
8. Binary Domain
Alright, Homestretch! Here we go! Binary Domain! It's a game! A game made by Toshihiro Nagoshi to be exact. Now, if you know me, you know I love me some Yakuza games. Love em! So when Sega announced a new game from Nagoshi, I was... cautiously optimistic. On the one hand, it was a Nagoshi game, so chances were pretty high that I was going to like it, or at least some parts of it. On the other hand, Binary Domain was looking like another "Oh hey, this will appeal to a western audience" cash in. We've seen it before, it's not pretty. On the other, other hand, Vanquish was preeeety cool.

So, it could have gone either way with Binary Domain. And in fact, at first I thought it wasn't a very good game. God, let's see how this process went again... I rented Binary Domain shortly after it came out, and I played a bit of it. I wasn't thrilled with it. I don't know what the reasoning for that opinion was, if it just wasn't clicking with me right away. Or maybe I wasn't in the mood for it at the time. I think another thing that wasn't helping it was that I was currently playing Mass Effect 3 at the time, which by all accounts is a better shooter (oddly enough). So, it just didn't click with me. I sent it back. Then, shortly after that I rented Yakuza: Dead Souls.

Now, to understand the importance of this next bit, you just need to know that Yakzua: Dead Souls actually came out in Japan way before Binary Domain. So, my theory is that Nagoshi was just really itching to make a third person shooter game. His first attempt was with Yakuza: Dead Souls, and when that didn't quite work out. He said "fuck it" and decided to try again with a new IP. Anyways... yeah. Yakuza: Dead Souls is a fucking terrible game man. Like, I wanted to like it, I really did. As I mentioned, I love the Yakuza series, and by all accounts the story in the game, as ridiculous as it was (even for a Yakuza game) would have probably been something I enjoyed. But the gameplay was so god damn bad, it was unbearable really. That combined with the typical length of a Yakuza game, complete with a lot of side quests... just, Nah. I couldn't do it man.

So it was around this time that I started hearing people talking favorable about Binary Domain. They were saying things like how crazy the story was, and how great the characters were. It started to sound like this was Yakuza: Dead Souls done right. To add onto that, Big Bo kind of became a "thing" for me after the Giant Bomb Quick Look. So, I did what any sane person would do in this situation. I rented the game again from Gamefly.

For whatever reason, that is still beyond me, the game suddenly clicked with me. Surprisingly so. The shooting still isn't great, but there's charm in it. Being able to dismember the robots is entertaining enough, and the game doesn't have bad shooting by any stretch of the imagination. Perhaps out of the shadow of Mass Effect's varied combat, Binary Domain was able to shine a little more for what it was. Plus it's kind of cool how it has very light RPG elements with upgrading your primary guns, and equipping these nodes that give you little bonuses.

That's not really why Binary Domain is a Game of The Year though. There's plenty of good games I played this year that had even better mechanics to back it up. No, for Binary Domain, unsurprisingly considering this list, and the developer, it's the story, and the characters that make Binary Domain memorable. For one, the story is deceptively good. I know, Yakuza has built up an entire series of games that have rich stories and characters. But looking at Binary Domain it's hard to shake off that feeling of "Man, this is a third person shooter. Better yet, it's a weird Japanese third person shooter. Remember how we were just talking about Vanquish and how cool that game was? The story sure as shit wasn't! So why would this be any different?" That inner monologue aside, I was very impressed with the places Binary Domain went.

It's not Shakespeare- or maybe more accurately something I actually like, that is modern, relevant, and not just a turn of phrase, but that will do- but it's a surprisingly deep story that tackles some interesting, possible 9hopefully?) future issues of robots, and humanity. Probably something about racism in there too (lol at the games cast of characters) but it's been a while, so forgive me. And, as a trend on this list, it has some pretty sharp turns in the narrative that will Blow You Away™ - IGN.com. It also doesn't hurt that Binary Domain has a colorful cast of characters that have a hidden depth to them. As funny as Big Bo is, he really has some, I can't believe I'm going to say this, heartfelt moments in the game.

It was this story, and these characters that made me want to keep playing the game, that is to say I had a hard time putting the controller down when I was on a roll. And it was also because of this that my opinion started increasing more, and more gradually as the game went on. I basically went from being unimpressed with the game, to liking it, to really liking it, and finally after everything was said and done thinking "Damn, That was a good fucking game." Honestly, I've been thinking about Binary Domain all year. It's always been on the tail end of the list, always threatened to be replaced by what are essentially "better" games. But, I couldn't do it! I couldn't replace Binary Domain. Like, I have a txt file I keep on my computer documented my Game of The Year process. I start at the beginning of the year and I add games to the list. Every game I play. I assign a "review" score to each game. 1-5. Binary Domain was a 4. I have about 10 other games that are 5s. I kept an updated list of my Top 10. Binary Domain never left the list! I always thought stuff like "Man, you know Borderlands 2 probably is better than Binary Domain, but..." and yet here it sits! Even crazier is that while I've been writing this list Binary Domain was locked in at tenth. Now I think I want to move it higher? It's weird! My friend asked me game recommendations for her two teenage cousin's Christmas present. At first she joked "What about Binary Domain?" we laughed, said "Big Bo!" a few times, and then I was like "...actually maybe you should get them Binary Domain." And she did. Weird!

Anyways, sorry for that uh... whatever that was. Me discovering my true feelings for Binary Domain I guess. Anyways, to wrap this up. Binary Domain is a good game, but a better story, a memorable one. It has some oddities, like the poorly implemented voice commands, and the weird multiplayer that I guess I honestly don't know anything about. But in the end, it's pretty dang cool. What up Big Bo!?
9. Dust: An Elysian Tail
Dust is my obligatory indie game of the list, this year. And that's saying something, because there were quite a few really awesome indie games this year. I've actually been interested in Dust for quite a while now, dating back to whenever the first trailer was revealed, and was kind of dreading for a while there that it would never come out. Thankfully it did, and Dean Dodrill did an amazing job. If you don't know the story of Dust development, Dean pretty much made this epic game by himself. It's the main reason it took so long to come out, and when you play the finished product, feel free to lift your jaw up off the floor at what one man was able to put together.

I guess I should mention the fact that Dust (stupidly) is a controversial game. Why? Because it has anthropomorphic creatures in it, and thus appeals to the "furry"crowd. Now, I'm not saying that it doesn't, because it certainly does that. I'm also not the biggest fan of that kind of character, but I'm certainly not against it either. In fact there are some great character designs in this game. Some characters I would even consider calling "cute." So what if they're furry? It's a dumb thing to get hung up on. Still can't enjoy the aesthetic? That's fine too. But there are some (ignorant) people who won't even try the game, let alone enjoy it because it features "furries" I'm sorry, but that's fucking retarded. Being an open minded person myself, and priding myself on that fact, I'll say that I've no interest in people who can be so narrow-minded about things. Especially this, like, really? It's not like you're going to get cooties if you play as a fox-man. And as many people have pointed out, by rallying against this design, you're pretty much saying you don't like things like Looney Toons, Disney's Robin Hood, Ducktails, or Space Jam. How the fuck you not gonna like Space Jam?

But, whatever. Wanna be that way? Fine. Meanwhile I'm going to tell all the cool people out there about this game (finally). So firstly, Dust is very similar in style, and gameplay to some other favorite games of mine. Namely Odin Sphere, and Muramasa: The Demon Blade. Both of these are Vanillaware games that feature side scrolling exploration, and combat, with light RPG elements (more so in Odin Sphre, but whatever). So when I saw the trailer for Dust way back when, I was instantly on board. Like, hey, this game looks gorgeous, it looks fun, and it's a downloadable game that will probably cost me $15. All of those things are true about Dust.

Oddly enough, I went through a "phase" with Dust in the early goings. When I first tried to play it, I was playing it on Normal. Which, in retrospect probably isn't too hard, once you get the hang of it. Especially later on when Dust is overpowered as hell. But at first I was getting pretty frustrated with the difficulty. I know I'm not the only one though, as my friend had the same problem with the game to start. And for him he had actually completely 100%'d Muramasa on the harder difficulty, so I knew there was some weight in that concern. So it put me off to the game at first, I put it down for a couple weeks while I played other stuff, probably other stuff that wasn't as good, I can't remember. Regardless...

I'm glad I picked it up again, because what followed was, well, obviously, one of the best game experiences I had this year. The combat is definitely fun, and like I said, in retrospect, probably not that bad. I actually started up a new game, and got half way through it with little to no problems on Normal. So I just think it takes some practice, and some knowledge about the games. (Protips: Be careful about using your Aerial Dust Storm in areas with "bomb" enemies. That'll fuck you up real good. Make sure to make liberal use of the counterattack ability. Some bosses might seem like they take forever to kill, but counterattack them and they go down like a bag of rocks. Finally, for the love of god, stack health regen. I cannot stress this enough. You will go from having to constantly pig out on restorative food, to basically being an unstoppable killing machine that is fairly hard to kill.)

All that said, there's more! You might have heard Patrick or Brad talking about this on the Bombcast, but if not, know this. This game has a dark story. I know, it might not look like that from the outset, but make no mistake about it. Shit is grim. It's amazing the depth that Dean went through while telling this story. Like I said, it looks pretty fun and family friendly from the outset, but things go south for Dust fast. And, as I'm sure I have well and good established by now, I love a good twist. And this game has a few of them, some are pretty violent twist that hit you like whiplash, and that's the kind of thing I'm looking for in a good story.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the music in this game either. HyperDuck SoundWorks handled all the music in Dust, and it is a very beautiful soundtrack indeed. Feel free to head over to their BandCamp page to listen to the soundtrack for free, or buy it if you feel so inclined. I sadly haven't purchased it yet myself but it seems totally worth it.

Finally, I have to talk about my absolute favorite thing in the game. I feel bad about saying this is my favorite thing, given all the other incredible stuff I've talked about, but I really couldn't forgive myself if I didn't make mention of it here. So, there's 12 collectible "friends" you can get in the game. Two of them are HypderDuck SoundWorks mascots, which is cool and all, but the real treat comes in the form of the other 10 characters, who are all cameos from other X-Box Live Indie Games. Firstly, I'm a sucker for cameos. Not big on full on crossovers, but I do really get a kick out of it when you see a nod to something else you enjoy. So for example, I think the first one you find is Meat Boy, who sadly isn't that entertaining to get. Most of the other ones are just as awesome to get as they are to just be cameos (does that make sense?)

So in most cases you'll have to figure out how to reach the spots where the friends are located. You can usually tell which friend it's going to be if you have some knowledge about previous popular XBLA titles, because the area surrounding the case will feature something familiar to that character's game. So for example, if you were to see Dust himself in another game that aped this same Easter egg technique, you might wander into an air that looks like a watercolor painting, and has Fidget hanging out in the background. In some cases this is easy, in other cases it's the only thing in the game I ever had to look up because I had no fucking clue how to get it. And in one very special case...

...this is spoiler tagged and all, but I just had to share this because my thought process once I saw this Easter egg was "Oh man, Dust just got a spot on my GOTY list." So, you're in this snowy mountain area of the game, and as your climbing this mountain you might find a spot on a cliff face where there's an hourglass. So you should already know that Tim from Braid is going to be there. What isn't abundantly clear is how to actually do anything at the cliff face. At least, not at first it isn't. A little later on you find a mysterious red orb. The description on the orb is: "An opaque crystalline orb. What purpose does it serve?" Know where I'm going with this? So anyways, I'll admit, it was a little trial and error of figuring out what items I had, and what spots of the map I hadn't cleared yet. But one time when I went back to visit that cliff face I was like "HOLY SHIT! NO WAY!". So if you really don't know what I'm getting at, I'll explain. In the NES game Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, there is a ridiculously obscure part in the game. Okay, I guess it wasn't that ridiculous considering the rest of that game was shrouded by a fog of nonsensical bullshit. But this was really pushing it. Anyways, what you had to do in that game was equip the Red Orb, crouch next to the cliff face for like... I dunno 3 seconds or some shit? And then a mysterious tornado comes and whisk you away to your destination. That exact thing happens exactly the same way in Dust. To top it off, once you get into the Braid area Dust (or Fidget, I can't remember, probably Fidget) comments: "Well that was completely pointless." It was fucking perfect, and if you don't like that because you're afraid of a walking, talking fox-man, then fuck you!
10. Tales of Graces F
Tales of Graces f is kind of an anomaly on this particular list. One, it's a JRPG. Two, It's a game I was looking forward to. That's pretty crazy, all things considering. I love JRPGs, and I think I'd generally like to at least like games I'm looking forward to. Not a lot of that this year, sadly... yikes. Anyway...

Graces f is about what you'd expect from a Tales game. You either love them, or you hate them. They're very anime in both the visuals, but the storytelling as well. They're lengthy JRPGs with a lot of dialog and cutscenes. And theres about 60 hours at least of the same combat over and over again. I love it! Seriously though, like I said, you probably know if this is your cup of tea by now or not. Don't think I'm going to be able to sell you on it if not.

What I can say though is that it is very good at doing what it does. It's a beautiful looking game, I love the art style, and I love the character designs. Sophie and Cheria are both adorable, the latter being voice by Laura Bailey. The story has it's high points, but the main draw is the development of your party members through the numerous cutscenes, and "Skit Events" made famous by the Tales series. As usual with the Tales games, 8-4 did a wonderful job on the localization, while Cup of Tea Productions handled the voice cast. It's quality work if you're into this stuff, you know these writers, you know these voice actors. It all feels like coming back to a warm, and fuzzy home.

The combat in this game deserved a special nod, because it mixes up the usual format a bit. The combat in Graces f is kind of comparable to a fighting game. Where instead of just mashing the X button, and spamming your skills, you have to input button commands, and build up combos to unleash your devastating moves. I don't know which system I prefer, but this one is pretty damn cool all the same.

It was refreshing to finally have another good, solid JRPG, since they're exceedingly rare nowadays. This year also saw the release of Atelier Meruru, which I enjoyed, but maybe not as much as the previous game for it to make this list. And it certainly was a refresher after Final Fantasy XIII-2 at the beginning of the year... sheesh. It's sad because JRPGs are, or at least were my favorite genre, but it doesn't seem like they can keep up with the times.

Oh well, that bit of rambling aside, there's one last minor thing that I really enjoyed in Graces f that I wanted to note. It actually has a bit of fanservice in it for fans of the Tales series. First is a collectible card game. Each card features a character from past Tales games, accompanied by a quote from that character. Ultimately the cards are only used in a small side quest, and the card game itself is just a match game, so it's not that interesting, but I still appreciated it. The other thing was that the ultimate weapons in the game (there are two sets of them oddly enough) are all named after different games in the Tales series. Another nice little touch I thought.
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Robert Boyd's Decent into madness

It's 9:30 AM, PST. I've been up for a while, I should probably go to bed, but I'm afraid I can't pass up an opportunity to chronicle one man's decent into madness. Last night, after Spike TV's Video Game Award ceremony, indie developer Robert Boyd lost his shit. The problem? That The Walking Dead had won the award for Game of The Year, not to mention several other awards, and Telltale itself receiving an award. Boyd states in a few of his Tweets:

Robert Boyd ‏werezompire

Generally disappointed with the majority of the VGA decisions so hey, at least they're consistent from year to year. :)
What really bothers me about the VGA is how it really emphasizes the fact that the blockbuster game industry is going places I can't follow.
Extreme violence, horrendous language, and more! Gotta be edgy to the max! It just makes me sick.
I'm sad we live in a society where moral ambiguity and shock values are considered art. Instead of, you know, trying to uplift.
Ban this sick filth!

Now, obviously Boyd is entitled to his opinion that The Walking Dead is a shitty game, and make no mistake about it, that's exactly what he thinks. As Boyd has stated in other Tweets last night that he felt the writing was unimpressive, the vulgar language was offensive and even going as far as to make a joke saying that: The Walking Dead is a "choose your own adventure game" that won the VGAs, while his zombie themed game Molly The Were-Zompire did not win a VGA in 2009. Sure, it's a joke, but the fact remains, Boyd is tearing down a game he has no respect for. This maybe wouldn't come as such offensive behavior if it wasn't little more than a childish tantrum that a grown man threw right after Telltale won big at the VGAs. A mainstream event, held on live televsion, where an adventure game developer extraordinarily enough bested juggernauts like Assassin's Creed III and Mass Effect 3. And maybe I'm overreacting a bit myself, but it just seems petty for developer to insult his peers in their moment of triumph. Your mileage may vary.

Obviously that isn't the bigger issue here though. It's the fact that Boyd somehow feels that The Walking Dead is part of a bigger problem in the industry. As made clear by the above statements, and the response I got from Boyd when I confronted him about his soreness over The Walking Dead winning:

TWD winning is symbolic of a greater problem
Super Mario Bros. Franchise - 262 Million sold worldwide.

Boyd clearly feels that the games industry is corrupted by a market that is overrun by violent video games. He's not totally wrong there though, many of the most popular blockbuster games are in fact violent, or otherwise mature video games. But it's ignorant to focus on that one aspect of the market, while at the same time plenty of family friendly, or at the very least, games devoid of any mature content are more than successful on the market. While Call of Duty, Halo, Gears of War, and Grand Theft Auto might lead the charge in the violent side of things, just about every Nintendo franchise is a top-seller, you also have franchises like Gran Turismo, Final Fantasy, and various Sports games which also do ridiculously well. And that's just counting the multi-million dollar franchises. So, yes, only violent video games are selling well if you turn a blind-eye to the rest of the the industry. Not to mention the fact that nothing is stopping developers from making games of any subject matter, regardless of how well they sell.

Granted, this could have all been the frustrations of a man who got caught up in the moment of a game he didn't like winning a Game of The Year award. Wouldn't be the first time that's happened to someone, certainly not me either. However... it was the comments this morning that really lead me to believe that Boyd is a little fanatical in his belief about mature rated games.

Boyd picked up the torch from where he left off last night, and continued his ranting about the VGAs and violent video games, which you can see in the following Tweets:

You know my whole VGA ranting wasn't really about the VGAs at all or even the games that were nominated.
I'm just getting frustrated that stuff like Uncharted->Last of Us and Tomb Raider are turning into things I can't in good conscious play.
The new Tomb Raider sounds like something that could be an all-time favorite of mine but it sounds like they're ruining it with violence.

Again, Boyd is entitled to think whatever he wants, and if he truly can't enjoy what are looking to be some of 2013's biggest games, than that truly is a shame. However saying things like "ruining it with violence" is a bit extreme, not to mention entirely subjective. But it doesn't stop there...

And we can't even lay the blame solely on the developers. If people weren't buying these kinds of games, publishers would stop making them.

Whoa, what? While the statement isn't entirely false, I think it's a bit of a stretch to say that developers only craft games in a mature setting to cash in on a blood-thirsty audience. Let's not bullshit, the money helps, but even if that wasn't the case, developers wouldn't just altogether avoid mature subject matters. In much the same way a developer might not think a turn based strategy game would sell as much as a first person shooter, but does it anyway. If we were to take this into the realm of films, then I supposed David Fincher wouldn't have made an English adaptation of a Sweidsh film, and book series about a girl being raped. He'd just make a shitty kids' CGI movie and call it a day.

Speaking of movies, Boyd has something to say about those too! When someone on Twitter asked Boyd if games should be treated differentially than other forms of media, Boyd had this to say:

No, but movies are kind of a lost cause at this point.

So even movies are beyond redemption in Boyd's eyes! Despite the fact that most of the top grossing movies in the world are in fact NOT R Rated. I suppose at least you can take some small comfort in the fact that Boyd at least considers all forms of violent media equally worthless.

Finally, to top everything off, Boyd had one final outrageous thing to say in regards to violent media:

Anyone who thinks this kind of stuff doesn't affect them is fooling themselves. It may be gradual & subtle but it has an effect.

WOW! Alright, so we shouldn't be any stranger to this argument at this point right? For years games have been treated as a punching bag by the media. Video Games have been setup as some sort of grand scapegoat that can explain away all the flaws and mental illnesses a person might have had before committing a violent crime.

Remember this guy?

Gee, you know what this is reminding me a lot of? Jack Thompson. A man who spent years of his life, fighting a ridiculous battle to try and restrict, or out right ban the selling of violent video games in the United States. Thankfully the lunatic was finally disbarred to much rejoicing. Furthermore, as of last year the Supreme Court ruled that video games are protected by the First Amendment. Making it perfectly legal, not to mention acceptable to produce and sell violent video games in this Country.

With that said, it should just be common sense that creators are going to tackle mature subjects. Why wouldn't they? Otherwise we'd just be moving backwards, and not expand on the amount of subjects that can be conveyed effectively in this form of media.

Clearly I'm overreacting at this point, and the simple fact of the matter is that Robert Boyd is just a narrow-minded individual who has a very zealous belief on whether violent media should even exist or not. And that's especially weird considering his current project, which is Penny Arcade Adventures Episode 3, and it's sequel. Considering the original subject matter of Penny Arcade, it's pretty baffling that Boyd is in charge of making these games. Only now do I see the stark contrast between the original games by Hothead, in which it featured gibs, and a hobo scientist who pissed on things for research. And a much more mild, if not neutered story.

In closing. I dunno, I guess I was just put off by Boyd's opinions. And I say that as someone who has enjoyed his games, and frequently enjoys his commentary on JRPGs, and Kickstarter. I've seen Boyd complain about violent video games, and vulgar language in the past, and it has always put me off, as someone who is open minded and able to enjoy different forms of expression. But I guess this time it was just too much, in rapid succession and at a very bad time, where I thought Telltale should be celebrated for a great achievement. Not shunned for making something Robert Boyd didn't like.

I'm out! *drops the mic*

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A Trip To Ys: A Love Letter to Ys Origin

During the Steam Summer Sale I picked up Ys Origin on Steam for $8. It wasn't my first attempt at getting into the long running series from Nihon Falcom Corp. but it would eventually prove to be the most fruitful effort.

When I first launched Ys Origin I was treated to a little harmonica jingle that accompanied the Falcom's logo, following that I watched an intro where pretty typical JRPG stuff happened, and then finally I was able to start the game. At the outset you're able to pick one of two characters, Yunica Tovah who is a melee fighter, and Hugo Fact who is a mage. Considering my preference, I started with Yunica.

From the get go, I felt that Origin was going to be a special kind of game. The sprite based graphics looked gorgeous turned on the highest settings, and it already sparked a nostalgic feeling for me. It also doesn't hurt that the game has an incredible soundtrack to boot. So even though I had only spent time going through a series of text prompts, and admiring the games presentation it had made a positive impression.

What would follow, would be my total adoration for how brilliantly designed the game is. In brief, Ys Origin is an action role playing game. Combat takes place in real time, you advance your character, and there's even a little bit of platforming thrown in there to spice things up. On it's own, these mechanics are enjoyable, and should bring back fond memories of games like Soul Blazer, or my most accurate comparison of Brave Fencer Musashi , or hey, maybe if you haven't been living under a rock like I have, other Ys games.

So, what Falcom did was they took a simple combat system, and they built brilliant things around it. Most encounters in the game are simple enough, especially on easier difficulty levels, but as you advance through the game and collect new abilities, you'll find that certain abilities, or weapons work better on different kinds of enemies. At once point I was pretty reliant on a fire sword that Yunica got midway through the game, and generally tended to stick to using it, but there were some situations where I found certain kinds of enemies particularly annoying to fight with it. A quick one button press swapped to another weapon and I was taking them out much easier.

But the real meat and potatoes of the combat system comes into play when you fight the game's truly epic boss battles. For most of the game you're fighting these gigantic monsters who all require you to find out the trick to beating them. Figuring out what you have to do to defeat a boss is about as rewarding as any puzzle, and is usually pretty badass. In one example you had to jump onto the back of a giant centipede type monster and break apart it's weak points as you made your way from the tail to the head. Also, seeing as how there are no restorative items in the game, you pretty much have one pool of health to make this work, so you're going to have to learn the ins and outs of the boss if you want to succeed.

I found myself getting really excited every time I got to a boss door. The prospect of having an entirely new, screen-filling boss that I would have to puzzle out became very addictive. To the point where I'd have to force myself to stop playing after a boss to take a break, lest I wander too close to another boss door and keep the process going. It also helps that the game is very forgiven about the trial and error of these fights. Before every boss is a save point, and if you should die to a boss the game will allow you to retry the fight from the beginning again. Considering you don't have to worry about too many preparations for the boss fight, it always feels like retrying is a viable option, and that you stand an equal chance of winning the next time regardless.

Outside of the boss fights, you are making your way up this tower, which is broken up into each sections which make up a different themed dungeon leading up to each boss encounter. Now, as cool as the boss fights are, I have to say that the exploration of these areas is easily what sold me so hard on the game. Here's where I feel there's an apt comparison to The Legend of Zelda series. Many of the dungeon sections in the game give you an item or ability that help you specifically in that section of the dungeon, much like the dungeons in Zelda.

However, in Ys Origin I felt that these items did an even better job of synergizing with their respective part of the tower. In Zelda, you get items like the Hookshot which allow you to use it on certain areas in the dungeon to progress. In Ys Origin you get items that make traversing the area noticeably easier. The moment this clicked for me was a part of the tower where there were slick surfaces which made your character slide all over. I hated it, I was so god damn mad during this area that I was going crazy. And then you find an item that attaches to your boots so that you can walk normally on the surfaces. My relief at finding this item was palpable. That's also when little fireworks went off in my head and I was like "This is fucking genius."

In addition to all that, there are many smaller things that made me fall in love with the game. I already mentioned the soundtrack, but the game also has a decent story which I ended up really caring about some of the characters by the end. I enjoyed that as you familiarized yourself with the game, and your abilities, that your character visibly became more stronger based on your skill, just as much as stats. I liked that the platforming in this game was there to provide an edge to the exploration, but that it wasn't as punishing as the platforming found in Ys: The Oath in Felghana. I love the fact that the boss fights aren't scripted, so if you happen to beat that really powerful bad guy you a) can actually do it, b) you get rewarded for it (there's even an achievement!)

Oh, and that harmonica thing I mentioned? At one point in the game you get a harmonic, and it's an important item to use to help you get through a section of the tower. When Yunica first played it, my jaw hit the floor. It was a little off on the account that she couldn't quite remember the song, but it was unmistakably the jingle from the Falcom logo at the beginning of the game. Furthermore the actual song plays a bigger part in the actual story. I know, it's a silly little detail, but it blew me away just how charming it was.

In closing, I really, really love Ys Origin. Needless to say, it was a nice little surprise for a game I paid $8, not to mention one I would pay even more money for and still feel completely justified. But it also served as a friendly reminder. Japanator Editor, and RedSunGamer host Elliot Gay said on a recent episode of RSG that people often associate Diablo as the last bastion of action role playing games, but that he felt Falcom games were representing just as hard, if not more so. I only wish I had realized it sooner, because these Japanese ARPGs are just a different side of the same coin, and one I've spent far too much time away from.

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Game of the Year 2011

Well, it's that time of year again. Time for me to care entirely too much about a silly little list of my favorite games of the year. I know not many people actually read my list, or care about them. But I still can't help but be excited for them. And, hey - when you spend most of your time and money playing about 100 games every year, I think you might have some interesting things to say about your top 10.

So, I won't waste anytime getting into it. Here's my picks.

Game of The Year 2011

1. Pokémon Black/White

If you're surprised to see the latest entry in the Pokemon series as my Game of The Year, don't worry, I am too.

A brief history lesson: I bought into the Pokemon craze fully back in the late 90s when it first made it's way over to the US. And I do mean fully. I was obsessed with the game, the Anime, the cards, and any other merchandise I could get my hands on. This went on for a good while, well into the release of Silver and Gold. And then, suddenly, I had enough. Sure, my love of Pokemon never went away, but I became decidedly less interested in it. I passed up the entire run of GBA games, and didn't really rekindle the passion until the release of Diamond and Pearl. Eventually that gave way too, and I found myself cured of Pokefever again. With the announcement of Soul Silver and Heart Gold, I became interested again, but ultimately I was unimpressed once I got my hands on them.

With all that said, it'd be a logical conclusion that I'd become excited about Black and White. However, I wasn't. No, actually I didn't even intend to play Black and White until my partner convinced me otherwise. So, I went in with a bit of skepticism. And... to my surprise, Pokemon Black/White is what I would consider to be, the greatest games in the series.

Long winded explanation of the events leading up to that aside. Pokemon Black/White was a breath of fresh air for me with the Pokemon series. It hasn't changed the core mechanics of the game, but they're still what you come to Pokemon for. The tried and true battle system remains fun, and surprisingly deep if you delve into it. The appeal of catching new monsters and raising them is still there. And you're still getting a really good, classic style JRPG, complete with charming sprites and a hint of nostalgia.

That's all to be expected though, the real takeaway here is that everything else has been improved. Dramatically. For starters, the story is actually compelling now. Sure, it still has the same format of going from town, to town, fighting each new gym leader. But there's a deeper story going on in the meanwhile. There's still these really powerful Legendary Pokemon lurking about, but they actually play a big role in the story this time. And the events leading up to the game's finale are simply awesome. As I mentioned before the game has a very charming sprite look to it, and as the DS's swan song, it looks even better than any Pokemon game before it. Oh, and the music. God, the music in this game is wonderful. It's honestly the first time where I've sat down and listened to a Pokemon game soundtrack out of the game. "Battle! N" nearly sends chills up my spine.

I mentioned catching new monsters, and while that isn't anything new to the series, one of the really smart things they did this time was make it so that you only see the new Pokemon during the main story. This does, in my mind, so much to refresh the experience, since we've seen all those old Pokemon so many, many times before. Also, much like my initial reaction to Black and White. My impressions of the new Pokemon were pretty lukewarm. But I can say with confidence after playing through the entire game that this generation has some of my favorite monsters.

So let's say you don't care about the single player. I could hardly blame you after a decade of narratively linear games. However, for the sake of such people, let's consider that you're only here for the competitive multiplayer battles. Those are still there, and undoubtedly as strong as ever. Except this time the online system is even more robust, allowing for much easier access to competitive battles. The biggest improvement being that you can fight against random people, instead of needing to have friend codes for each individual battle you do.

Overall, it's simply bigger, and better Pokemon. I know this read sort of like a review, but I just need to stress that these improvements are what make this my game of the year. I love Pokemon, as I've established. But it got stale for me for a while. Pokemon Black and White took me by total surprise. It was an early release in the year, and I wasn't even planning on buying it. But I did, and I played it, and it was wonderful. I'm totally on-board with Pokemon again, and I still regard the game fondly nearly a year later. So that is why, Pokemon Black/White is my Game of The Year 2011.

2. Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine

Speaking of surprises. Oh, hey, here's Space Marine. So let me set the stage for you again. I've always had a passing fondness for the Warhammer universe. So when previews started popping up for Space Marine, I was pretty interested. Flash forward to about a month before the game came out. I downloaded the demo on X-box Live and was immediately... disappointed. Who can say what the problem was? Bad day? Wasn't in the mood? Bad demo? I'm willing to put weight in the latter, considering it seems to be a running gag with me.

So, reviews and impressions start popping up once the game is released. Now, anyone who knows me well enough will tell you that I am easily, easily influenced by the positive opinions of others. It makes me want to try pretty much anything. Not the best thing in the world, but sometimes it works out. It worked out.

Space Marine is pretty much as advertised. It's a brutal, dare I say "visceral"? character action game set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. The single player is a pretty enjoyable 6 or so hours of glee inducing Ork smashing. The story, and characters are hilariously forgettable, but the action is really clutch. It combines simple melee attacks, with some tried and true third-person shooting. The highlights here though are two-fold. One, they follow this mantra of "fuck cover y'all", seeing as how these SPACE MARINES are 8' tall and fully clad in battle armor from the neck down. Two, there are some highly entertaining weapons in this game. Such as the signature skull crushing Warhammer. But also some crazy shit like a shotgun that shoots molting hot lava at people. It's stupid fun, especially the last portion of the game which has some pretty exciting highs.

All of that sound good? Cool. That's not why I really like Space Marine.

So, going back in time again. There I was having a pretty good time with Space Marine's single player. Now, I wouldn't say that the multiplayer took me by complete surprise, but I had heard some pretty cool stuff about it that may, or may not have influenced my buying decision. However... HOLY SHIT, the multiplayer took me by complete surprise.

Space Marine's multiplayer isn't wholly original. It's a third-person shooter with Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and King of The Hill. It's the inclusion of the elements unique to Space Marine that make it something special. As I've established, big dudes, big armor. There's no cover like Gears of War, so that provides a slightly different feel than what people are used to at this point with the genre. Another thing, remember that sweet sounding lava shotgun? Yeah, you get to use shit like that and more here. True, some of the weapons are standard enough, but when you combine it with the vicious melee attacks, and creativity in the weapons you get something pretty different. For example, one of the classes is purely melee focused, but- they have a jetpack. So you have dudes with giant warhammers flying all around the battleground like a spastic dog. It's pretty sweet.

Lest I neglect to mention this, I may be a bit biased about how good the multiplayer is. See, for whatever reason, I'm unnaturally good at it. I'm usually found comfortably between total suck and painfully average in competitive multiplayer games anymore. But, with Space Marine, I dunno. I was just dominating. I'd frequently pull off shit I'd never dream of doing, and was usually at the top of the leaderboard. It was a nice feeling, very nice.

I remember writing something about Space Marine a few months ago. Basically I compared it to Nier. In the fact that these are both games that pretty much came out of nowhere, and destroyed my expectations. They're both games that I will look back on and smile. Thinking that it's pretty damn nice to have a surprising experience in gaming once in a while.

3. To the Moon

Again, Speaking of surprises, here's another one!

To the Moon is another game that came out of nowhere for me this year. It's an independently developed point-and-click adventure game, developed by Kan Gao, and Freebird Games. It's also one of the greatest point-and-click adventure games I've ever played.

No doubt there are many classics in that genre, many of them I sadly missed out on back in the day. In more recent years I have taken quite a shining to the genre that encompasses such point-and-click adventures, as well as visual novels, and such gems as the Phoenix Wright series. Even so, I would consider To the Moon one of the best.

The story in To the Moon is a damn good one, it has some very emotional highs, and the brillant writing only helps to convey that. I remember saying on Twitter that the game's dialog was making me smile constantly, and then realizing that the story was going to be very sad at points too. It was a nice balance of the two that definitely tugged at my emotions.

The whole thing is presented along side some really pretty sprite work, and an absolutely gorgeous soundtrack. The game is fairly short, at about 4 hours, but I would argue that is to the game's credit. Much like the original Portal, I felt like it was a very tight, polished experience that provided just enough for me to be satisfied, but totally craving more.

I wish I could say more about the game, but it's just one of those games where you can't really say much without going into the story. And I'd rather people just play it instead of me ruining anything for you. Needless to say, it was another pleasant surprise, and one that I feel very strongly about. I can only hope that Freebird will continue the adventures of Eva and Neil.

P.S.: The weird obsession with the Animorphs book series is hilarious.

4. Bastion

The thing with Bastion is, that the entire experience was exciting. I remember when it was first revealed and there was a lot of positive buzz about it. It looked, and sounded like an awesome game. And then thanks to the guys at Giant Bomb, we were able to see what the guys over at Supergiant Games were doing, with a monthly segment entitled "Building The Bastion". It was a great idea, that allowed for people to watch this game grow, and develop. All in all, it was a pretty neat experience. Oh, and it doesn't hurt that Bastion, the game, is totally kickass.

So, it's not often that I'll trout out the games value argument. But in this case, I think it was really appealing. For $15 on the 360 (and even cheaper during sales of the PC version of the game) you got, what is, one of the best games of the year. Now, it's not uncommon for smaller titles to be great or anything, just refer to To the Moon higher up on the list. But, Bastion kind of holds it's own against fully fledged, AAA releases.

It's a beautiful game in many ways. Most easily apparent would be the unique art style that the game is in. It's pretty breathtaking in motion, so colorful, and alive. And complimented that visual aesthetic the entire way is some stellar audio. Not just the music, which I would highly recommend picking up the soundtrack. But what is probably the game's big "hook", as well. As the character Rusk, voiced by the very talented Logan Cunningham, narrates the entire game.

Depending on your stance, the narration might sound like a deal breaker, in either the good, or the bad way. For any people worried about it, rest assured that it's handled very well. Rusk rarely (if ever) repeats himself, and always has new comments about what The Kid is doing. It's pretty damn neat, and I'd like to see more games do this, but then you always run the risk of wearing it out, or doing it wrong. But as far as Bastion is concerned, it's oh so right.

All of that, and I haven't even talked about the gameplay. It's no slouch either. Bastion plays similar to an action RPG, dungeon crawler. No stats, but you're able to customize your character in various different ways. The Kid can use two weapons at a time, and there is a wide array of weaponry, including both melee and ranged weapons. Along with this you're allowed to pick a special ability you can use as long as you have a charge for it. And The Kid can also equip a series of Tonics that improve his various abilities. It's all simple enough that anyone can jump in and enjoy it, but provides enough depth that more core players will find it enjoyable.

Speaking of the core player, Bastion has an excellent difficulty "setting". There are these things called Idols that you can collect throughout the game, and each Idol has a negative effect on The Kid, or a positive effect on the enemy. The more of these you toggle on, the harder the game gets. This is actually pretty amazing, because it allows the player a wide range of control over how easy, or hard they want the game to be. The other benefit of turning these Idols on is that you get more experience when you do, so you level faster the harder the game gets. It's a nice balance.

Aside from the main game, those Idols come in real handy when you're attempting to do the games arena like stages, which adds some extra replayabilty to the game, by competing to do better in each arena, with as many idols turned on as you can manage.

The whole thing is pretty brilliant, and it's definitely one of those smaller games that I tend to latch onto and obsess over. As far as I can tell, it was doing pretty well for Supergiant, so kudos to them. They deserve all the respect they get. And I'm really anxious to see their next project.

5. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Ah, there's Skyrim.

I'm not really sure how to approach this one. On the one hand, I really loved Skyrim. It's an amazing game, that has some breath taking moments. Mechanically it's a huge improvement over previous Elder Scrolls games, which I am a big fan of. On the other hand, there are some problems I have with the game. Now, obviously the problems weren't big enough to deter Skyrim from making my list, but, maybe it kept it from ranking higher on the list.

I'd rather not dwell on the negative side of Skyrim, so instead I'll just try to reassure you that, despite the faults, I played Skyrim for over 200 hours already, and I plan to play many more hours. I still love this game.

As I mentioned that game has some pretty outstanding highs. There are moments scattered throughout the game, be it in a side quest, or just some random occurrence that match any highlight in any game this year. Elder Scrolls fans will know where to look for some of these moments. Such as The Dark Brotherhood, or the Daedric quests. But there's some really awesome stuff involving The Thieves' guild, and the main story in this game has some pretty sweet stuff too.

Though, I'd have to say that my favorite moments in Skyrim took place in the early hours of the game. It's when you first enter this world, and you see how awesome it looks, and how many improvements have been made since Oblivion. When you fight a dragon for the first time, and the chanting Nordic monks kick in singing in this awesome made up language. It's when you're curious about anything, and everything. You can't decide how you want to build your character, because everything seems cooler than the last thing you tried. It's when you go out of your way to explore, or do side quest, both big and small. All of that is what makes Skyrim stand out for me.

As I mentioned, I definitely want to play more Skyrim. And a lot of that has to do with the fact that there's so much to do in the game. So many different ways to play your character. I want to see how a mage, or a thief play for extended amounts of time. I've already had more than a few ideas for new character builds, and hey, replayability is a pretty cool trait for a game to have.

6. Saints Row: The Third

Within the first 20 minutes of Saints Row: The Third, my fat, green haired, black, British protagonist was free falling through the air, before he crashed through the windshield of a cargo plane, flying through the entire plane, killing everyone in his path, and exiting the rear of the plane before resuming his free fall. Yeah, Saints Row is pretty crazy.

And that's why I love it really. Mechanically, Saints Row: The Third plays like it's predecessors, which is to say it's a Grand Theft Auto clone. However, what Volition has done is kind of carve out a space for the Saints Row series alongside Rockstar's giant. By taking that popular genre, and turning everything to 11. Unlike, say, Grand Theft Auto 4. Saints Row 3 doesn't care about anything. Everything is batshit insane. I wish I could point to a few moments in the game that emphasize this point, but the truth is the entire game does that.

However, I don't think I can rightfully speak about Saint's Row without talking about some of those moments, so...

At one moment you're skydiving out of a plane onto a building as Kanye West's "Power" is playing. Another moment you're riding in a cart that's being pulled by a gimp, who turns out to be a pimp who speaks entirely in auto-tune. There's laser guns, hover bikes, zombies, and battles in cyberspace. There's a giant purple dildo bat called The Penetrator, that you can beat people to death with. There's a Japanese game show where you make your way through a series of kill rooms where you just mow down enemies, while avoiding traps, ala Smash TV style. There's a fucking wrestling match where you grab a chainsaw and start decapitating the opponents.

It's just one of the craziest game I've ever played. And it's a total blast to play. The game does a great job of mixing up activities, and always keeping missions feel fresh. The core mechanics are all great, they may not be the most compelling things in the world, but it's nice to have such a wacky game play well. The soundtrack is awesome, with not only a nice selection of songs on the games various fictional radio stations, but some truly epic music cues. There's a leveling up system that allows you to customize your character, and it makes for some pretty hilarious results. Such as being able to shrug off pretty much any damage in the game, without cheating. You don't have to work your ass off to gain access to the really cool stuff, it actually comes pretty easily. And as surprising as this may sound - the voice acting is really, really good.

Saints Row: The Third is probably a better game than it has any right to be, but that's totally fine with me, as it matches up with the trend of pleasant surprises on my game of the year list.

7. Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland

Charming. That's the word I'd use to describe Atelier Totori. I've had previous brushes with the Atelier series of games, most recently before Totori, was Rorona. I desperately wanted to like Rorona, for it looked like an adorable game, but something didn't click. Fortunately that wasn't the case with Totori.

Atelier Totori is similar to classic turn based JRPGs, at least with it's combat system. It has a few twist that make it unique, but overall it feels tried and true. This, to me, is a good thing, since it's something I've grown up with, and still enjoy. I feel that too many modern JRPGs lose sight of the fact that "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." And thus we're plagued with a bunch of, admittedly, innovative battle systems, but most of them feel overly convoluted. At least that's my take on it.

That aside, the other half of Totori's gameplay consist of you running around, and collecting items in order to alchemize stuff with. This isn't a wholly original idea, especially when compared to previous games in the series. But since it's such a huge part of the game, it provides an interesting twist.

See, while there is a main story going on in Totori, it kind of takes a back seat to other activities. Sure, you're required to meet certain objectives in the story if you want to proceed in the game, but the rest of the time you're presented with no small amount of freedom. You're free to roam around exploring, harvesting herbs, or hunting monsters for items and quest. You can spend as much time as you want working on your alchemy, and you can kind of take things at your own pace. Within reason of course.

The first time I played through the game, I just went around trying everything I could. It ultimately ended in my failure to complete the main objective, but I learned a lot, and got a good feel for the game. And considering that the game, for a JRPG, only takes about 25 hours or so on the FIRST run, and having a New Game+ feature. Totori is great for multiple playthroughs.

All of that, and I haven't even talked about the rest of the game! Atelier Totori is an adorable game, the art style is beautiful, and there are some really cute character designs. It helps that there are plenty of fun, lighthearted scenes where these characters interact with each other, because it would be a shame if some of these characters just fell by the wayside once the main story was done with them.

And to top it off, there's a catchy soundtrack to the game too. But, if you didn't like it, the game features the ability to customize the music with soundtracks from other Atelier games. So, assuming you liked a soundtrack in a previous game more, and are willing to spend a few bucks. That's totally a thing you can do. But, I rather like this soundtrack, so I stuck with it for the 100 or so total hours I spent playing the game.

In the end, like I said, Totori is a charming game. And if a traditional style JRPG sounds like your cup of tea, I'd definitely suggest checking it out. I know that I am eagerly awaiting the release of Atelier Meruru, the third game in this trilogy of Atelier games.

P.S.: Melvia <3

8. Catherine

Catherine was a game I was pretty excited about from the onset. A brand new IP, on an HD console, from the team that did the Persona games. The idea of that, combined with the early teasers showing off the game's characters and... weirdness totally had me hooked. But that was before we even knew what kind of game it was.

So, several months later, it finally gets out there that - Hey, Catherine is actually this weird block climbing puzzle game. Wait, what? Yeah, it was pretty shocking, and I think that may have soured a lot of people's opinions on the game at that point. I'll admit, as someone who is pretty awful at puzzle games, this was a concern.

Well, given it's presence on this list, I'd say it wasn't that big of a concern, now was it?

So puzzle elements aside for a moment. Catherine is a beautiful looking game, it's the sort of thing I find very aesthetically pleasing. Now, I don't know about you, but I'm always more compelled to play. or like a game more when it's something I find to look appealing. Sure, that seems like a no-brainer, but I think it's a pretty important part of my love for certain games. So, Catherine has that covered in spades.

Eyecandy aside, Catherine has a pretty great story. It's a mature story, about realistic adult relationships. Well, you know, realistic as you can get with demons and sheepmen. But it's a great story, with some excellent writing and voice acting to help sell it. Props to Atlus USA for continuing to pump out quality localizations.

To complement the story, and visuals. Catherine also has a wonderful soundtrack, which is a combination of typical Shoji Meguro, Shin Megami Tensei fair. But it also has a weird selection of remixed classical tunes that accompany many of the game's stages. It's pretty weird, but also kind of awesome.

Alright, so... back to the puzzles. I'd be lying if I said they were the best part of the game. Though some people would argue that, seeing as how competitive Catherine multiplayer leagues have popped up (wtf?). Still, I think for most people, the block puzzle portion is going to be a real turn off. Well, there's a simple solution to that!

If, at the main menu of the game. You highlight the "Golden Theater" mode and hold select. The screen will flash white, indicating that you have enabled Very Easy mode. And you're done! You're welcome. Basically very easy mode makes that game's puzzles a cakewalk, and you'll pretty easily breeze through the game. It's a great way to enjoy the story of Catherine without having to put up with some rather frustrating block climbing.

On the other hand, I originally played through Catherine on Easy, and it was quite an experience. Don't let the name fool you, Easy mode is probably the way you want to play the game if you still want to... you know... play the game. The reason being, is that it still presents the core gameplay, with some pretty difficult challenges. Fair warning, playing Catherine on any mode other than very easy is pretty god damn exhausting. Still, I was able to get some enjoyment out of it, and was relieved I could just play through the game again two more times with ease.

All that said, I really liked Catherine. Despite the weird puzzles, it was a game I wanted to play through three times, back to back. And that's because it presents a really good package surrounding that gameplay that is totally worth checking out if you're into that sort of thing.

9. Gears of War 3

Never enough. We want more. We are. The Gears of War! Or something like that. Yeah, Gears of War 3 is a total dudebro fest, but it's one of the best to this day. I've had a fondness for the series since the original. Which I put quite a bit of time into the multiplayer back then. Mainly played 2 for the single player. And finally things came full circle with 3, where I've thoroughly enjoyed all modes of gameplay.

Gears 3's campaign is probably the best in the series. It's lengthy, has a lot of high octane action. And goes to some surprisingly emotional places by taking advantage of your attachment to the characters of this franchise in a way that "Dom's wife" never could. There's a few new weapons that spice things up, as well as a new enemy type. But I think when it comes down to it, Epic just got better at their craft.

Single Player aside, there is of course a robust selection of multiplayer modes. The standard competitive types are still there. Including some much needed improvements and additions, such as dedicated servers, and unlockables (though it's all cosmetic, which keeps Gears feeling like Gears). One of my favorite additions was the new "Casual" playlist, which lets new, or less skilled players compete with similarly skilled players. It was nice easing into the experience this time, since my skills were more than a little rusty. That was one of my major complaints with 2, was that I just got thrashed in the multiplayer from the get go. Combine that with the inclusion of bots, and it's a lot more noob friendly.

Then there's the cooperative multiplayer modes. Where honestly, I think that's where the game really shines. Horde is back from Gears 2, but it too has seen some pretty drastic improvements. Same basic concept, you and three other people try to survive against wave after wave of enemies. And while I haven't personally made it all the way through the 50 waves. Apparently late game - this shit gets nuts. I'd love to see it sometime. In addition to that, they've added the ability to build up defenses and stuff, giving Horde 2.0 more of a tower defense sort of feel. It's really neat.

Finally, there's Beast Mode. Which is a totally new mode that allows you to play as the Locust and mow down a group of surviving humans. While I wouldn't say it's better than Horde mode, it's certainly a blast playing as some of the more interesting Locust.

Altogether, you're getting an excellent package with Gears 3. And I think the game will have legs for a while.

10. Portal 2

Alright. So, here's the deal with Portal 2. Portal 2 is a great game, even if it is technically in "last place" on my list. Thing is, I was a little disappointed with Portal 2 though. And who can blame me really? Portal is, one of the best games of all time. Period. That's not the easiest thing to follow up on. To say my expectations for Portal 2 were high would be a massive understatement.

Again, I don't really like going into negative stuff on these lists. But it bears mentioning that Portal 2 had some glaring flaws for me. Namely, I thought it was TOO LONG. I know, it's a ridiculous sentiment. But where Portal was, I thought, the perfect length. Portal 2 tends to drag a bit. And this wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't for the fact that some of the later puzzles are really, really tough, and involving. Now, the simple solution to this would have been to play Portal 2 at a much slower pace. But, I just couldn't do that. For as much as the puzzles might have worn on me, I still had to know what was going to happen. So... I finished Portal 2 in about three sittings.

It was a mistake.

Still, that was my initial experience with the game. And it will always be that way. And there's not much I can do about that.

So, seeing as how that was the case. When I started formulating this list, I was thinking that Portal 2 wasn't going to make the cut. But when I thought about it, I mean, really thought about it. I thought to myself "You know what? That was still a pretty damn good game."

And it is. Portal 2 is more of Portal, and it's hard to argue with that. Some of the puzzles in this game are absolutely amazing. I remember someone saying about the original Portal, that, the puzzles made you feel like a genius. They're not the hardest puzzles around, but they're tough enough that when you figure out the solution, you can't help but feel impressed with yourself. It's nice that they added different mechanics later on in the game too, even if I don't like them as much as the basic portal manipulation, they're still pretty cool.

While the puzzles in Portal and Portal 2 are definitely one of the reasons these games are so great. One could argue that the storytelling, and the characters are just as important. I would be one such person. GLaDOS remains excellent, and even a bit more complex this time around, as I kind of hated her at the beginning of the game, but grew to lover her again over the course of the game. In addition to that we have Wheatley, who is easily on of the best new characters this year. He's hysterical, and completely charming. I don't know how anyone couldn't like him. And if two of the best characters in gaming weren't enough. Another new character, Cave Johnson rounds it off, providing an excellent tangent about lemons.

While I might have some gripes about Portal 2, it's still one of the best games that came out this year. And I wouldn't be surprised to see it at the top of some people's list. I stand by the fact that Portal was about as perfect as a game can get. But Portal 2 is still master class.

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