By TheNesta 0 Comments
Man, has it been a year already? Time sure does fly by for me anymore. 2014 had it's ups and downs for both the video game industry, and me personally. We've seen some gross trends in gaming this year, that hopefully we can move past in 2015. And to be honest, this year was also kind of a let down for most of its big games. It seems like the general consensus has been muddled at best when trying to come up with this year's best games. With that said, I've still managed to pull together another list of 10 games that I'm sure I'll rattle on about for entirely too long.
Before we jump into it, a few things I thought I should mention. Shaking things up a bit this year by doing my list in order of favorite to least favorite. At a glance, this seems to be drastically different than how I usually do my lists, but it's not that big of a change. When I write these lists, I usually start writing them from best to worst anyway, and then just post them in the opposite order. Why? I guess I wanted to create some sense of anticipation by doing the list in a countdown fashion. I think I'm past that idea though, and I feel like my list will just flow, and read better if I drop that pretense.
Another reason for the change was that I wanted to award some of the games with little accolades, like “Best Story”. I feel like I'd rather just come out up front, handing out those accolades as I go. Rather than vaguely eluding to them “later on in the list”. So again, seems like it will just make things flow a little better.
Finally, I've decided to toy with the idea of using quotation blocks during the blog post to write little side pieces. This will mostly be used for handing out the minor awards, but there are also a few games on the list where I wanted to give out honorable mentions and what not. It should all make sense when you're reading the list, but just thought I'd throw it out there anyway.
So, without any further delay. Here's the list!
A note about Super Smash Bros. 4: Technically Smash 4 is two different games. One for the 3DS, and one for the Wii U. Both games have their differences, but they're mostly similar. As it stands, I'm saying that both of these games are tied for the number one spot on my list. But if I had to make an official decision, I'd say that the Wii U game edges out in the end. I'll discuss this in more detail later on.
Wow. Who could have guessed that a new Smash Bros game would be my number one game of the year? If you're unsure of how to answer that, all you would need to do is take a look at my Twitter feed over the past year plus. Of particular note were the times I actually, legit cried in excitement at character reveal trailers. The ones for Palutena, and Lucina & Robin. Yes, Smash 4 has been near, or at the top of my (sadly neglected) most anticipated games list ever since its announcement. And let me tell you, it didn't disappoint.
My history with Smash is such: I bought the original Nintendo 64 game on a whim. Probably because it had Pikachu in it, because Pokemon was my life back then. What I found was one of the most entertaining games of all time. It didn't take me long to fall in love with the frantic nature of the all-star brawler. The game played on my love for some Nintendo franchises, while introducing me to new ones. I played the game for hundreds of hours. A good many of those hours with friends and siblings, and many more by myself.
Needless to say, I was hooked from the beginning. And my love for the series only grew more with each iteration. Melee was a revelation. It brought the series to a whole new level. And it helped introduce me to Fire Emblem, one of my all time favorite game series at this point. For every hour I played the original Smash, I played Melee four times as much. And while I never got too heavily invested in the competitive scene, I still acknowledge the game as one of the all time greats. And I even loved Brawl, which is a controversial one. The mechanics might not have been as solid, but the introductions they made with an even bigger roster, more stages, and expanded features helped make that game a classic for me too.
Now we've got Smash 4, and it lives up to the series pedigree. With an even bigger roster than ever before. A huge amount of amazing stages. One of the greatest collection of video game songs ever. An embarrassing amount of features. And rock solid mechanics to help distinguish it from the much maligned Brawl. Yes, Smash 4 is the game in the Smash Bros series to beat now. And I'm here to tell you why it's my game of the year for 2014.
Best Looking Game of 2014 (Super Smash Bros. 4): My first award of the year goes to Smash 4 for being the best looking game of 2014. It's fucking insane that Smash Wii U looks as good as it does. The Wii U hardware is clearly lacking when compared to the newer consoles, but somehow Nintendo's art is so good that it hardly matters. Throughout the year Nintendo has proven time and time again that its games are no slouch in the visual department. And for me, Smash 4 is the best example of that. From the beautiful landscapes of each stage, to the wonderfully realized character models. Smash might be one of the prettiest game I've ever seen. It helps that Smash has always been a flashy series. The effects on each hit, and item type are simply gorgeous And some of the Final Smashes are awe inspiring. Smash also supports a roster of over 50 beloved characters (if you count each type of Mii Fighter) and in most cases they've never looked better.
Super Smash Brothers for 3DS and Wii U, or Smash 4 as it's called in the community seems like the perfect blend of what makes the series so special. It has all the fundamental gameplay mechanics that people have come to love. Backed up by the fan service nature of the game. I think it's entirely possible to enjoy these games without being attached to any of these characters, but I think it helps a lot if you're at least somewhat invested. For me, it's a real treat. I've always been a Nintendo fan, going all the way back to playing my NES when I was four years old. So I have at least some attachment to most of these characters. Though I get more excited by, say, another blue haired swordsman joining the mix, than say, another Mario character.
And that to me is one of Smash's greatest strengths. That with these 50 some characters, there's a good chance there will be something for you. For me, as I've said – I actually teared up when characters like Kid Icarus' iconic goddess Palutena was revealed. And I screamed in excitement when not only was Lucina, my favorite character from my game of the year last year, Fire Emblem Awakening, was announced, but so was Robin, the player created character from the same game. And for some people, these characters don't matter. And that's fine (It's not really, what's wrong with you!?), but for each obscure character, there's another Mario character thrown into the mix.
And the fan service doesn't stop there. Literally every pore of this game is seeping Nintendo goodness (Ew). Whether it be one of the 30+ stages in the game, the iconic trophies, assist trophies that fight along side you in battle, dozens of Pokemon, and many other little things like items, enemies in Smash Run, and so on. The people who worked on this game clearly “got it” and poured everything they could into it. And it shows.
Soundtrack of The Year 2014 (Super Smash Bros. 4): Speaking of paying homage to all those Nintendo classics. Smash 4 is also the winner of best music of the year for me. The soundtrack for Smash Wii U is absolutely mind blowing We're talking quality and quantity There are over 400 songs in the game from the various Nintendo (and third party) franchises. There's a good mix of old stuff, as well as newly arranged stuff. Many of which come from some of Japan's most revered composers from around the industry. It's hard to point to any one song, there are just too many good ones. But much like the base game, there's a little something here for everyone. I cannot tell you how thrilling it is to do 8 Player Smash battles on stages like Fire Emblem's Castle Siege and have The Black Knight's theme blaring over the speakers. This is a soundtrack that I'd love to put on and just lose myself in nostalgia. Another thing of note, is that sometimes the soundtrack may surprise you by throwing in more obscure tracks. Like a song from Soma Bringer. Does anyone in the west even know what Soma Bringer is? That's crazy! Finally, I just can't get enough of playing Windy Hill Zone with “Open Your Heart” turned all the way up, and every other song turned all the way down. It's fucking awful, and amazing at the same time. Just ask Drew Scanlon.
On top of all my affection for the source material at play here, the game itself is actually pretty outstanding. You can sit around and debate whether Smash is actually a fighting game, based simply off the fact that it doesn't fit perfectly into the mold that is typically considered a fighting game, but make no mistake this is more than “just a party game.” The mechanics at play here are rock solid. There's a simplicity to it, but if you're playing on a higher level you'll see the game holds true depth. One of the best things about Smash is that it can play very differently depending on what “level” you're playing at.
At times it can be “just a party game”. You can sit around with seven other friends, with all the items on, and just watch the chaos unfold. You can reel it back a bit and play a casual match of four fighters, with or without items and get some pretty intense matches. Or you can go the total “pro” route and do one v one, no items, Final Destination, Fox only. It's really up to you. For my money, I like to do a little bit of everything. I've had just as much fun playing super serious matches in For Glory mode, using my best character – Lucina. As I've had playing a totally balls out crazy match as Captain Falcon where it looks like a Michael Bay movie with the number of explosions taking place on screen.
It's this variety that really separates this series from the rest. Again, just like a mantra, I think there's something for everyone here. You just need to find your fit.
Best Multiplayer of 2014 (Super Smash Bros. 4): Yes, I'm actually giving Smash 4 three different awards. Hey – there's a reason it's my number one game of the year! Anyway, as if there was ever any doubt about this, Smash 4 is easily the most fun I've had with multiplayer this year. I've played a fair amount of it online against complete strangers and have had a blast with it. But where it really shines is with friends. I've had some white knuckled matches against my friend who I've played Smash with for years. And I've put a couple dozen hours of time into the 3DS with my friend that I went to visit in October. A good portion of my visit to see her, both of us were hunched over our 3DSes as we played every mode in the game Co-op. We knocked off a ton of challenges on the board together. And had a blast doing it. There were particular moments during our playtime that I would count among my favorite moments of my 10 day trip. I won't lie, Smash is a much better game when you're playing with other people.
What else is there to say really? I think Smash 4 is an amazing fucking accomplishment for Nintendo. Aside from everything I've said there are many other factors about the two games that put it at the top of my list. The challenges in both games add a much needed incentive to try and see everything in the game, mainly for all that single player content. It creates a checklist, and a guideline on how or what you should be doing in the game. It's ridiculously addicting trying to uncover everything.
The core of Smash has, and probably always will be the “Smash” mode, but Smash 4 brings plenty of variety. The Stadium games are all fun tests of skill that have you using the game's fighting mechanics in interesting ways. Wii U's “Event” mode creates another addicting mode where you are tossed into unique scenarios where you're challenged to meet certain objectives with the games huge roster of characters. The Wii U game also has the super tough Master and Crazy Orders modes which let you gamble for a chance to earn rewards by completing increasingly demanding tasks.
As I've said, if I had to pick one of these games, I'd give the nod to the Wii U version. It's gorgeous, has a much bigger soundtrack, more interesting modes, and the absurdly fun 8 Player Smash mode, as well as tons of options that just aren't available in the 3DS counterpart. Though there is one exception to that rule. The Smash Run mode in the 3DS game, while not my favorite, is a hell of a lot better than the poorly executed Smash Tour mode in the Wii U version. Both of these modes are kind of a dark spot on the game to begin with, but Smash Run is a little more appealing as a fun mini-game, then the nightmare that is the Smash Tour mode. Though I will say Smash Tour probably serves its purpose as a fun party mode by being absolutely insane, unpredictable, and completely unfair. Make sure to turn Custom Fighters “ON” for the best experience
2014 might have been a year where the smaller games outshone the bigger ones for the most part, but Smash 4 is definitely one of those big titles that lived up to the hype. As of February I will have bought the game twice on 3DS, as well as twice on Wii U, in addition to actually buying two Wii Us, all in service of making it so my best friend can play with me. I'm happy to pay the additional prices, because much like Fire Emblem last year, I made her a true believer in this series, and nothing could make me happier. I also love supporting the work that Sakurai, Sora, and the team at Bandai Namco put into these games. If Sakurai is serious, and this is his last Smash Brothers game, then we may never see another game on this level. But at least we'll have gone out with a bang.
You'll have to allow me the usual tangent of explaining my history that lead to Dark Souls II being my second favorite game of the year. I know, it's old hat at this point, but I always feel like there's magic in explaining how these infatuations happen.
So, not entirely unlike half of Giant Bomb's staff, I got invested in the Souls series late. I remember back in 2009 when Demon's Souls came out I tried. I bought whatever special edition of the game there was, the one that actually came with a strategy guide. And I attempted to pierce the depths of From Software's beast. It... didn't go well. At all. I had very little patience for its brutal game design, and the lack of information surrounding the game at the time didn't help. I probably bumped my head up against the first level for six or seven hours before I finally said “fuck it”, and gave up. I traded the game in for something else, and didn't look back.
Flash forward to 2011. From Software is getting ready to release the spiritual successor to Demon's Souls in Dark Souls. I was hesitant to even give the game the time of day, but eventually the hype building up around the game broke me. I ended up renting Dark Souls for Xbox 360 and once again I tried my best to get a handle on it. To my credit, I think I made it a little further into Dark Souls than I had in Demon's. Getting up to the Gargoyle fight at least. And then I said “fuck it”, and gave up.
The following years were interesting to say the least. Every few months these games would be brought up again, and I'd get the itch to try them again. I think a year after my foray into Dark Souls, I picked up Demon's Souls again on a whim. Once again, I played it for a bit, but ultimately gave in when the game proved too difficult for me. And on and on it went. I would keep performing some sort of joust with this series. Where I would ride out with lance raised, ready to unseat my opponent. But each time I was bested. I must have rented Dark Souls several other times, and each time ended in abject failure
Eventually we reached a boiling point in 2013. During the early parts of 2013 I got super interested in Dark Souls speedruns. What with it being featured at both Awesome Games Done Quick, and Summer Games Done Quick. And then, as I'm sure many of you know, in late September, Vinny started what would become my favorite Giant Bomb video series: Load Our Last Souls. I think it was the combination of seeing this game torn apart by pros, and then seeing it tackled by someone with relatively low experience that finally pushed me over the edge.
During a Steam sale I picked up Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition, and set out once again to do battle with the forces of Lordran. This time I had something I didn't have before. Knowledge. Between watching multiple speedruns and playthroughs. As well as extensive research, and looking at video guides on Youtube I was finally able to penetrate the mysteries of Dark Souls. And it was fucking glorious.
So glorious was my time with Dark Souls, that I now consider that game in my top 25 games of all time list. Yes, that glorious. So glorious that it's the first game that has ever made me cry from sheer gameplay. I've cried plenty of times playing games (we'll talk more about this later), but that's always been from the story. No, I was so overwhelmed by emotions when I finally beat the giant wolf boss Sif that I dropped the controller and shed tears. And yes, I know Sif isn't a very hard boss for most people, but it was for me. To my credit I absolutely stomped Smough & Ornstein, and Lord Gwyn without any problems. So different strokes and all that, ya know?
Finally I understood what all the fuss was about. I was able to overcome what seemed like an impossible obstacle, and enjoy a super challenging game so immensely that it became one of my all time favorites. That's powerful stuff right there.
I wrapped all this up by the end of 2013, and by that point I was already chomping at the bit for Dark Souls II. In just a few short months, I'd be whisked away by another brutally challenging, grimdark adventure that was sure to test the limits of my patience. And I couldn't wait.
So fast forward once again to Dark Souls II release. There was a lot going on for this game for me. I had become so invested in the first game that I had gone to great lengths to dissect every part of it. I watched a ton of Youtube videos on lore, and watched various playthroughs and speedruns. My favorite videos are from Youtube user EpicNameBro, who has become a personal favorite of mine. Marcus seems like an extremely cool guy, who clicked with me right away. Not only were his interest and gaming background so similar to mine, but the man has an unrivaled passion for this series. So much so that Bandai Namco, and Future Press had ENB on board to work on the official guide for Dark Souls II. It's a beautiful guide by the way that I highly recommend to any Souls fan.
So there I was. I had the Collector's Edition of the guide pre-ordered. And was waiting for my rental copy of Dark Souls II for PS3. (I waited to actually buy the superior PC version of the game when it came out a couple months later. But I almost double dipped and picked up the Collector's Edition for PS3. Alas, money!) Armed with as much knowledge as I could muster I set out into the world of Drangleic.
What followed was easily one of my gaming highlights of the year. After experimenting with a similar build that I followed for the first Dark Souls (Strength + Two-hander) I gave up and rerolled as a Mage. There were a number of reasons for this. Chief among them was that the best video walkthrough I could find was using a caster, so I found that I could adapt easier to following that guide. Secondly I just wasn't having much luck with my current build (though a later character of mine has had much more luck after the fact). And finally, why the hell not? It was a completely different way to play the game then what I was used to.
Well, it ended up working out in the end. Because after 80 or so excruciating (but rewarding!) hours I finally put a cap on Dark Souls II.
Best Gameplay Design & Mechanics of 2014 (Dark Souls II): Of course my runner-up for game of the year would have its own award too! One could argue that Smash has the best gameplay of the year, but the whole reason that Dark Souls II made it so high on the list is because of its challenging, yet extremely rewarding gameplay. Much like the first game, I was pushed to the limit of my abilities throughout the entire game. Even with all the information I had built up, seeing and doing are two entirely different things. Exploring the world of Drangleic took a lot out of me. Every night when I'd go to play Dark Souls II I had to brace myself. The game is not always enjoyable, in fact it's usually quite stressful. But it's moments like finally beating The Smelter Demon after 20+ tries that make it all worth it. Much like with the first Dark Souls, there are moments of pure adrenalin in this game that cause you to ride an emotional roller coaster. As much as I love everything about these games, it's definitely that pure, distilled rush you get from actually accomplishing stuff in the game that make From Software's action RPG series one of the most exhilarating things out there.
If I'm being completely honest, like many people, I didn't find Dark Souls II to be the best game in the series. No, that honor still sits with the first Dark Souls. Unlike someone like Patrick though, I still really, really enjoyed the game. And I think there are certain qualities to the game that elevate it in certain areas over its predecessors
Chief among them is the online play in Dark Souls II. Would that I could hand out another excellence in mutliplayer award, because god damn if that isn't a key part of this game. The multiplayer mechanics of Dark Souls II aren't all that different than from previous games. You're roaming around a world where sometimes you will randomly encounter other players. This may be as simple as seeing a “shadow” of them. Be it a glimpse of what their character is doing, or a bloodstain the tells the tale of their untimely demise. But in addition to that you also have the invasion and co-op mechanics.
Admittedly I didn't mess around with invasions too much. You can argue if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but during my first playthrough I barely encountered any invasions into my world from hostile players looking to make my life even more miserable. I don't know if this was intended, but it's certainly a welcome change from wandering into the second level of Demon's Souls and having all your gear broken by a Scraping Spear. Ouch.
However, on the other hand, I made liberal use of summoning players, and putting down my summon sign. There are a ton of boss fights in this game, and many of them, for me at least, required support from other players to do. There's a balancing act to that too. On the one hand, the more players to help, the better, right? On the other hand, each time you throw another player into the mix, a boss' health increases, which can actually make the fights more arduous than they may be otherwise
But there was no way in hell I was going to beat the Smelter Demon by myself. And through these interactions you form unspoken camaraderie with these strangers you're playing with. I can't count the number of times where I pulled through a tough fight thanks to a friendly “Sunbro” both of us paying our respects at the end of the brawl through simple gestures. While other times I was just ecstatic to help someone overcome a speed bump like the Pursuer or the Ruin Sentinels.
This simple mechanic for multiplayer that From seemingly pioneered is one of the greatest innovations in gaming. It makes me believe in a future where you can freely enjoy games with strangers without having to suffer some foul mouthed fourteen year old's homophobic and racial slurs. It's the kind of innovation in game design that I think should be applauded, loudly.
I even messed around a bit with PVP, though taking care not to invade someone's game and make their trek through the world of Dark Souls II any more harrowing than mine was. But I've done a dozen or so duels, and have participated in Bell Tower PVP. Usually doing pretty poorly, but sometimes finding myself surprised with my abilities.
That is, at its core what makes me love Dark Souls II. It was the first game of the year that really clicked with me, and made a strong impression. Hell, it was my number one game on my list until October 3rd when Smash came out (but let's be honest, it was just keeping Smash's seat warm). And it kind of bums me out that so many people seem down on the game.
In addition to those strong mechanics, Dark Souls II continues to shine with its presentation. Once again, the story, and the world within are conveyed in the subtle way that From is want to do. Drangelic is an extraordinarily atmospheric set piece for this daunting journey. Throughout the game you're left to piece together what exactly is going on in this world. There are threads tying the two games together that are far from obvious, in some cases requiring a lore video to point them out to you.
The game's characters and bosses might not make as strong as an impression as its predecessor But it's hard not to like characters like The Emerald Herald, who are not only mysterious, but strangely attractive in this otherwise grotesque world. The game also boast another bone chilling soundtrack from Motoi Sakuraba that sets the stage for the striking art direction. I know some folks like ENB have said that they don't care for the Majula town music, but I personally find it to be a beautiful, stirring piece of music that put my mind at ease every time I returned to that safe haven.
It's no Dark Souls, it may not even be Demon's Souls. And maybe that's a direct result of the people in charge of this entry in the series. One can only hope that Miyazaki goes on to blow us all out of the water with Bloodborne. But, for 2014 I feel like Dark Souls II was more than adequate.
Now is around the time where you'd see my “surprise” game of the year on the list. Usually in second or third place. Sorry, but that actually didn't happen this year. Instead we have Steins;Gate, a game that I was interested in from the start.
My prior history with Steins;Gate is brief. I watched the first 20 episodes of the anime back when it was new. I enjoyed the show quite a bit, but I didn't fall in love with it. Still, around the time I was watching it, it was revealed that Steins;Gate would be getting an official English translations thanks to JAST-USA. It was at that time that I thought: “You know what, I'm going to hold off on this ending until I can actually play this game.” And boy, I'm glad that I did.
In recent years I've been feeling my gaming preferences change. In the past JRPGs were my bread and butter. And while that is still definitely one of my favorite genres, I have found myself leaning in a different direction. You see, and I may have even brought this up before, so forgive me, but – I realized somewhere along the way that a key part of why I liked JRPGs was because of the stories. Some of my all time favorite JRPGs boast stories that I'd argue make the game more than the gameplay. And sadly, somewhere along the way, modern JRPGs stopped having good stories. They stopped being good games for that matter too, but that's besides the point.
Anyway, in recent years I've found myself drawn to games with a strong focus on narrative. In particular, given my background, the Japanese visual novel games were becoming more my forte. It's great that this genre has started to see some success in the west, with the advent of games like the Phoenix Wright series paving the way for chunkier titles.
Enter Steins;Gate. A tried and true visual novel. There are no puzzles, or tacked on gameplay to be found here. This is purely a story that is being told to you. Sure, your decisions have some outcome on the story. Quite a bit in fact, as the ending you'll get is based solely off your choices. Still, this is a story through and through. If you don't like reading/hearing a story, then chances are this isn't the game for you.
However – if you're like me, and you value a good story anywhere you can find it, then please, please consider playing Steins;Gate. Whether you decide to pick it up for PC now, or wait for the PS3 and Vita versions coming next year.
Best Story of 2014 (Steins;Gate): Believe it or not, this was a tough choice. There were not one, but three visual novels released this year that struck a chord with me, and a handful of other games besides that sported a strong narrative worth considering. But ultimately Steins;Gate shone above the rest. It's hard to talk about the game's story without spoiling it, but trust me, by the end of the game I had been put through the wringer. At times the game is extremely lighthearted and hilarious in nature. At other times it grips onto your heart and threatens to break it. And if you're the kind of person that loves a good “mindfuck” look no further than Steins;Gate.
Steins;Gate follows the story of Rintaro Okabe. A self proclaimed mad scientist who has wasted a spectacular amount of time coming up with useless inventions in his Future Gadget Lab with his partner Daru, and his willing hostage Mayuri. The story starts up with Okabe going to a presentation about time travel. After the presentation, Okabe finds the dead body of a girl he ran into on his way to the talk. Unable to do anything else, Okabe ends up emailing his friend Daru about the murder, and suddenly the world changes around him. Soon Okabe and his fellow lab members find themselves in over their heads when they discover one of their inventions might actually be a time machine. And it only gets crazier from there.
There's only so much I can say about Steins;Gate before going into full spoiler mode. I feel like I can't do this game justice unless I speak freely about its story, and completely spoil some of its major points. But before I get into that, if you haven't played this game, and are interested in it, please, please stop reading this section until you play it. I would hate to spoil it for you. Should you be interested in Steins;Gate? Well. Do you like Sci-fi stories? This is a game about time travel. As such you should go in knowing that it comes with all the baggage that time travel brings with it. That may or may not be your thing. But, hey, if you're someone that grew up with Back to The Future, or Chrono Trigger, or any other equivalent and you really loved it, then I would strongly suggest playing this game. It takes the concept to a whole other level.
Similarly if you found that you liked stuff like The Zero Escape series, or Christine Love's A Hate Story series which I've gushed about at length, then I feel like this game would also be up your alley. Also you should know that the game's presentation is beautiful for what it is. The character art has a totally unique feel to it that's unlike most of the moe anime tripe that is so common these days. And the game has a pretty great soundtrack that helps set the mood for each scene.
Final thing I'll say about it before spoilers is that, consider the first two games on my list. Okay. It's no joke when I say I seriously had to think about Steins;Gate placement on this list. As in, I wasn't sure if it should be higher on the list. Yeah, so, seriously, go check out this game.
El Psy Congroo: God. Where do I even begin? I'm going to forgo any of the normal formalities of explaining stuff, because I'm assuming if you're reading this you either A) Have already played the game and know what I'm talking about. Or B) Have no interest in playing it, and thus don't care if anything is spoiled and/or explained to you. In which case, shame on you! But yeah, this is just some from the heart shit that I've been meaning to put into words since I finally finished the game in August.
Okabe is maybe one of my favorite characters ever. I think he's the perfect catalyst to tell this story with. Right away the nature of the character was appealing. Mad scientist wanting to rule the world. But really he's just an eccentric chunibyo (aren't they all?). Not sure why I'm explaining this, but chunibyoism if you don't know is a trope among anime characters and a thing in Japanese culture, roughly eighth-grader syndrome Have you ever had a point in your life where you pretended to be something you weren't? Pretending things like magic existed? It may not be as common of a thing in western culture, but speaking from experience, I definitely had a time in my life where I'd consider myself a chunibyo.
In essence, Okabe is a young man who hasn't been able to let go of his childhood delusions. Despite being a college student, he still plays at being this mad scientist out to conquer the world. When you're introduced to him, he seems like such a goofball Hard to believe where the story goes after those first few hours, huh?
That all said, I'm an absolute sucker for good character arcs, and Okabe has that in spades. Over the course of the game, the cruel events that he is forced to bear witness to take their toll on him. He gradually loses his innocence, and soon his every waking thought it trying to protect his childhood friend from an untimely death. But of course because time travel is not something to be fucked with, it's never that easy. No, Okabe spends the majority of the game caught in an endless cycle where Mayuri dies over and over again, and nothing he can do will change that.
Suddenly this goofy character becomes a real tragic figure. He's the only one that retains his awareness of these horrible events. And they're slowly warping him into something else entirely. Soon he's forcing himself to put on his chunibyo act to protect Mayrui from learning the grizzly details of her demise. In a lot of cases he's bearing the full weight of this whole ordeal on his own shoulders, only calling out to his friends for help when he had no other options.
Being that this is a NitroPlus game, there's actually a point where the game gets extremely fucking dark. It's during Suzuha's ending. In this ending, Okabe is forced to repeat the same two days over and over again infinitely. At first he's content that he was able to build this sanctuary where everyone could be happy. But after reliving those same two days over and over again ad nauseam he starts to become twisted. At first he starts wondering if his best friend Daru would die if he just refused to save him from being hit by a truck. And eventually it gets bad enough that in one dark moment, Okabe is actually contemplating raping Suzuha, because after all, she wouldn't remember it when the cycle started over again.
That ending shook me up. It's not that I was offended that the idea of rape would even be brought up. No, I know this is a work of fiction, and I realize that no matter how cruel of a plot point that is, that it's still part of a story. No, I was just so surprised that Okabe had fallen to that level. It's unlike any of the other endings. None of them get as dark as that, but it was a clear example of how much this character had changed.
Aside from Okabe, the rest of the cast are worth mentioning too. Aside from Kurisu who I'll end my discussion on. The other characters all bring a piece to the story. Mayuri is obviously the initial love interest, and a majority of the game revolves around saving her. I'll be honest that Mayuri is not one of my favorite characters, but she makes for a tragic heroine, and plus she can be funny and cute at times. Daru is hilarious and the revelations about him throughout the story are shocking to say the least. Moeka. I fucking hate Moeka, but I guess that makes her a good villain. I will say that her time to shine is during her chapter near the end of the game where Okabe finally confronts her. The scene in her apartment is fucking intense and I think it redeems her in my eyes.
Faris might have the weakest contribution to the overall story, but that doesn't stop me from loving her. She's adorable, and while she may not play a vital role in the endgame, I found the events dealing with her father to be heartbreaking. Suzuha is obviously a major player in the story, and I liked her from the outset, but she doesn't really shine until the true ending. At least as far as the overall narrative is concerned.
Ruka is another one of my favorite characters in the game. I'll admit to having... a fascination with the otokonoko archetype (you're going to have to look this one up if you really want to know) but Ruka is more than just that. I think his story is another one of the tragic ones in this game. While it's apparent that none of the other endings outside of the Mayuri and Kurisu ones are really “canon”, the fact that this one isn't hurts me the most. Not saying I would choose this ending, but the fact that Okabe is forced to shun Ruka's feelings somehow feels crueler to me than even having Faris' dad die. It might be in part to Ruka's nature which is very timid, and it makes me feel seriously awful when anything bad happens to him. Poor Ruka.
But all of that is small potatoes compared to Kurisu. It's not just the character, though I will admit to loving Kurisu. If we're being “real” here for a moment, as in totally ridiculous and embarrassing, Kurisu is my waifu of the year. She also has an amazing character arc that conveniently entwines with Okabe's. At a glance she's an adorable tsundere (basically she acts like she doesn't like Okabe, even though she does, until finally you see that side of her) character who is afraid to wear her heart on her sleeve. I usually stay as far away from tsunderes as possible, but there's something about Kurisu that is much more appealing to me than the typical Kugimiya tsundere queen character.
For one, she's a genius who just so happens to have a penchant for 2chan. That is to say, she's like a 4chan troll (though a little more meme', and a lot less vile). Throughout the game she'll casually slip Japanese memes into her speech to the point where Okabe and Daru finally call her out on being a closet 2channer. In addition to that, her character also has a habit of speaking in English, and since this is a game with Japanese voice over, her voice actress Asami Imai does an absolutely adorable job of speaking broken English. Something I always find endearing. Conversely there is a point in the game where Kurisu says “motherfucker” (it's actually a very serious moment) and it's so fucking powerful that I had to listen to it again, and again, and again..
Anyway. So the majority of the game revolves around Okabe trying to rescue Mayuri from dying, but when it finally looks like Okabe can save her, a shocking revelation throws a wrench into his plans. In order to save Mayuri, Okabe had to navigate back to the original worldline in which Mayrui lives, however this is the same worldline that Kurisu dies on. Furthermore it's a worldline where Okabe and Kurisu don't even get to know each other.
Throughout this entire ordeal, Kurisu has been the anchor that has helped steady Okabe. And after all this he literally finds himself in a situation where he has to decide which girl to save. In the normal ending of the game, you follow through with the plan. Going back to the original worldline. Mayuri lives, but Kurisu dies. And the only one who remembers her is Okabe.
It is at this point where Steins;Gate really opens up. In order to get the Kurisu endings you have to make a series of choices throughout the game. If there's one problem I have with Steins;Gate it's that the way you make choices seems so minor that it's hard to tell without a guide that you're even affecting anything. However, I will say that while the execution might be flawed, the concept behind unlocking these endings is genuine.
Basically, you're building up a closer relationship with Kurisu throughout the game. So by the end of it, it actually makes sense that Okabe would seriously think twice about not saving Mayuri. And this is where Steins;Gate kills me.
Out of all the endings, the two I like the most are the Kurisu ending, and the True Ending. I'll talk about the True Ending in the bit, but needless to say, it should be the true canonical ending to this story, and anyone who disagrees with that is a bad person. However I have to say my favorite ending is the Kurisu centric one.
In this ending, as you approach the end of the game, Okabe and Kurisu develop a romance between the two of them. They both realize what needs to be done. Okabe is determined not to go through with it, but Kurisu insists it's the only way. Ultimately the ending gets to a point where the two of them are in the lab together sharing a moment.
This moment... God. So, Okabe and Kurisu both agree on what needs to be done. But they both love each other, and don't want to “erase” the time they spent together. At this point they kiss, and cry, and say goodbye. This fucking moment. Hit me so fucking hard. I have never cried this hard at any piece of fiction before. I was literally sitting here sobbing. Really, actually sobbing as all this took place. Not just tearing up, or getting the sniffles, but full on just bawling.
And after this Kurisu decides to fly back to America before the end. Okabe ends up telling Mayuri and the three of them say goodbye knowing what needs to be done. Okabe goes back to the lab with Mayuri and Daru, and they finish the hack, and proceed to rewrite history. But just as Okabe is about to hit the enter button, Kurisu bursts through the door and says one last goodbye. Cue the waterworks again.
When I started playing this game, or watching the anime, I had no idea it would affect me the way it did. And I guess in a way, it might actually be my surprise of the year. It's certainly a moment that is going to stay with me forever. And I'm so glad I waited to play the game, because it impacted me so much more than I think the anime would have.
Finally there's the True Ending. Which I don't want to undersell. It's fucking incredible too. Basically the Kurisu ending happens again, but after the credits roll, Okabe gets a mysterious call from Suzuha. Everything comes full circle at this point. Suzuha from the future comes back and reveals half truths to Okabe. That he can save Kurisu in this timeline. The two of them go back in time to try and save her, but they fail. And it's ultimately revealed that Okabe was the one who killed her in the original timeline by interfering with the past.
At this point the game is busted wide open, and a future Okabe reveals his master plan of saving Kurisu. After all the bullshit, all the trials and tribulations that Okabe went through, he finally has this one last shot to save the girl that he loves. And, as you might imagine, he does it. And the game ends on the highest note it could, evoking another series of tears (thought not nearly as strong, more tears of joy.) And then that puts a bow on Steins;Gate.
It may, or may not be my favorite visual novel game. I'd have to think about it some more. But it's certainly one of the best.
No, that isn't a tie. I actually like Danganronpa 2 more than the first game, but only by a little bit. Still, it's hard to separate these games even if they weren't back to back on my list. Especially when they both came out within the same year in the west. It's still insane to me that, that happened. But man, was it awesome finishing up the first game and knowing the sequel was only months away (I finally got a Vita a few months after Danganronpa came out, so it was even less of a wait for me).
So yeah, visual novels, huh? This was really the year for them. And while Steins;Gate might reign supreme for me, it should be noted that I'm in love with the Danganronpa series now. And more than anything, when I look at these other game of the year lists, it's Danganronpa I'm cheering for. Sure, Smash is my personal game of the year, but it's going to get its dues. Similarly with Dark Souls II. But Danganronpa? It's just getting shafted. It's hard to swallow the fact that sites are awarding best story to other games, when clearly the best story is here! Well, unless you count Steins;Gate, which really is the best story of the year, but... Hah. Nah. Don't imagine we're going to see anyone even mention Steins;Gate in the same breath as “game of the year”. Oh well.
My first experience with Danganronpa was similar to Steins;Gate. In that I knew it was extremely popular among a certain crowd who had read or played a fan translation (Tumblr) and that I started watching the anime. Unlike Steins;Gate, however. I gave up on the anime after the first episode. Not that it was bad (it wasn't necessarily “good” either) but I knew that I would want to play it instead of watching the anime. And aside from Persona 4 Golden, and to a lesser extent a few other games, Danganronpa was one of the main reasons I got a Vita.
Was it worth it? Yes. Oh God, Yes.
Like Steins;Gate, there's not much I can say about the game without going into spoilers. Though I think I have a little more room to talk about it generally.
Firstly the appeal of this series was immediate It seemed to combine Phoenix Wright with Zero Escape in the best way possible. The idea behind the games being that you're a group of extremely eccentric students who wind up in a situation where they're forced to kill each other, and each time someone is killed there is a trial to see who the killer was. If they can figure out who the killer was, the killer will be punished, and the rest of the group can go on living. If they fail to find the killer, the killer gets away scot-free (usually with the enticement of an added incentive) and the rest of the group is punished, by death of course.
At it's core, that's just a really interesting concept for a game. As I said it combines other popular games in the genre, as well as things like cult classic Japanese flick Battle Royale, and... uhg... The Hunger Games I guess? Whatever.
To sweeten the pot, Danganronpa is a game oozing with style. At a glance some of the more “extreme” character designs may be off putting (they certainly were to me at first), but it's never boring. And once you're playing the game, and interacting with these characters, you'd be surprised which ones you find yourself getting attached to. In much the same way as Steins;Gate, Danganronpa's art style is far from the norm. It's a very vibrant, weird style that only helps to accentuate how special the games are.
Outside of the character designs, the rest of the game is similarly stylish. From the way the game transitions through its visuals, to the decision to color the blood a beautiful shade of neon pink. The game definitely has its own identity. And to accompany that is a radical soundtrack that much like everything else feels new and fresh. From the incredible title track, to the blood pumping music that plays during the class trials, and cybernetic funktacular songs that all help set the stage for each part of the game.
What I'm saying is, the game's presentation is spot on. And helps spice up what many would consider a boring gameplay “loop”. Make no mistake, the reason you would want to play these games is for the story, even if there are some middling to decent mini games tossed in the mix. Once again, it really comes down to if that's what you're looking for. But I think with Danganronpa it's a lot more digestible than Steins;Gate is. It also doesn't hurt that these games are usually running on high energy, and are so crazy that there's little time to sit there and realize you're just paging through dialogue.
And while it might not be the best story of the year, both Danganronpa games form together to make one hell of a story that is full of just the right amount of mystery and mindfuckery to keep you glued to the screen. I know that in the later parts of both games, I would go on day-long binges in an attempt to reach the ending, and figure out what the fuck was going on.
But, no. I think the real draw of Danganronpa lies in its characters. One could be forgiven for looking at something like Steins;Gate and the characters not having quite the same impact as they did on me, but there's something wrong with you if Danganronpa's cast of mistfits doesn't make a lasting impression. Each one of the students in the two games has something to them. Initially they're interesting by the very nature of the setup. It's a collection of students who are called “Ultimates”. Basically each student excels at one thing in particular, and they are the best at that one thing.
So this creates a nice introductory point for a lot of the characters. Mondo from the first game is The Ultimate Biker Gang Leader, so he's like a souped up “bancho” or Japanese gang leader, who's vulgar as all hell, and has the ridiculous pompadour hairstyle commonly associated with those types to back it up. On the other hand you have Ibuki from the second game who is the Ultimate Musician, who is an extremely successful guitarist that maybe has some issues? Um, yeah.
Each character is colorful and larger than life, and that's only the beginning. As you go through the game many of the characters go through arcs. As you uncover bits about their past and form relationships with them they become even more appealing. And you never know where you're going to end up with them. There were some characters who initially I thought would be cool, based solely off their design, but after getting to know them, I didn't really care for them. Similarly, and more importantly, there are characters who I wanted to hate right off the bat because of their design. But throughout the course of the game they won me over. Some of my favorite characters started off on the wrong foot!
Best New Character of 2014 – Chiaki Nanami (Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair): And now that we've reached the end of my top 5, the upper echelon of my game of the year list, it's time for me to hand out my final award. As I've been saying, Danganronpa's characters make those games. So it's really hard to pick just one of them. But if I had to, I'd pick Chiaki. I liked Chiaki from the beginning. Her design... well. Without getting too creepy here, I think she's a very attractive character. She's the Ultimate Gamer, so she's kind of pasty, and a little thick (think “anime thick”). It makes sense for her character. And I guess I find those traits appealing? I dunno, I just think she has a very distinct look to her that I don't remember seeing much in anime. But, yeah, sorry. But aside from that she's a really cute character. She sort of fills the Kyoko role in two (my other favorite character) by being the helpful partner character. But she does it in a totally different way than Kyoko. She'll often apply her skills as a gamer to solving puzzles and piecing together the clues. Her tendency to start napping while standing up is another endearing trait of hers. And... well, I can't really talk about the rest without spoiling it. But needless to say, her story is an interesting one.
Both games stand out as a triumph for this genre. And I hope the series can continue to see success in the west. I had heard the second game didn't do too well in sales, but it's hard to say if that met NISA's expectations or not for what they went to do with this series. I know that the series has a very dedicated fandom though, I just wish that would translate into more sales. (Hey, I did my part. I bought two copies of each game). I can only hope we see Another Episode over here sometime soon, because God do I need that.
Anyway, I need to at least spoil some stuff right? At least to explain why I like the second game a little more. So..
Puhuhuhu...: Honestly I don't feel like I need to go into too many details with this. But there are just a few things I'd like to mention.
Firstly the main deciding factor about which game I liked more came down to two different things. One, I liked a lot of the characters in 2 more than some of the characters in the first game. Not that many of them actually survive. In the first game I basically fell in love with everyone who survived, except Hina who I was okay with, and Hiro who is kind of awful. In addition to that I really, really love Celeste, and she maybe has the best line of dialogue in either game. As well as loving the whole Chihiro, Mondo, Kiyotaka combo.
Whereas in Danganronpa 2 I either loved, or at least really liked everyone except for Sonia, Mahiru, and Hiyoko. Highlights being Fuyuhiko who I started off hating, and he became one of my favorite characters. As well as Peko because she's beautiful, and her story with Fuyuhiko kills me. Akane who is like a way better Hina. And Nekomaru and Gundham who are probably the best characters in the game that aren't pasty white gamer girls. Ahem.
But to really explain why Danganronpa 2 takes it for me, involves talking about the ending. Don't get me wrong, the first game's ending is fantastic. In some ways it was more special because you didn't know what to expect. When you get to Chapter 5 and start putting the pieces together that there was a 16th student, everything starts to come together. And then the final confrontation with Junko, who was not only not dead, but was secretly the mastermind behind the whole thing. Ahh! It's too fucking good. Also Junko is definitely my second or third favorite character in the series. Her quirk is fascinating, and she's just so fucked up. Man... so good!
With that said, you might have been prepared for some killer twist at the end of the sequel too, but I don't think anyone saw that coming. I feel like maybe the first game is a more well rounded game. The entire game is solid start to finish. Danganronpa 2 however... kind of starts dragging ass in the middle of the game. You'd be forgiven if you played it and thought “Man, this game kind of isn't as good as the first one.” But none of that matters once you get to Chapter 5.
Chapter 5 is when the game really opens up, and everything starts coming together. It begins the ramp up to the endgame where the real revelations are made. But in the meantime, it's just a really solid fucking chapter. Never would I have guessed that Nagito was going to die. I thought he was a shoe in for surviving. Speaking of Nagito for a moment. Man, I hated this guy for so long. I still kind of hate him. But I acknowledge that he's one of the best, most important characters in the game. This game wouldn't be the same without him.
So, cementing my final (positive) opinion on Nagito, he orchestrates his own death in such a way that he ends up getting “the traitor” killed. Who just so happens to be Chiaki. I'm not even going to try and explain how that all plays out, but it's fucking insane. Not to mention the fact that he wasn't even trying to kill her, and in actuality he was trying to get everyone killed. Anyway. So then Chiaki fucking dies, and it's the most heartbreaking thing in the series aside from Peko's death earlier in the game. Again, Chiaki was another character I thought for sure was going to survive.
And then the game loses it's mind. The lead-in to the last chapter is easily the most unsettling thing I've seen in a game all year. From the moment you wake up and the game starts to glitch out, to the video of Nagito talking and the game making very loud, upsetting voice modulation. Right up to the point where everything fades to black. And then it resumes on this creaky ship which is also terrifying. And you see that Nagito has a woman's hand attached to his arm. And finally to the point where you realize that this whole game has been a simulation.
A small note about why this all upset me so much. I have some weird aversion to things like subliminal messaging, sudden loud drawn out noises, and when things suddenly run astray. Basically what happens at the end of Chapter 5. Or if you're familiar with the Max Headroom highjack incident, yeah, that sort of thing fucks me up for some reason. I think that I feel more uncomfortable when I'm playing/watching/listening/reading something that isn't scary in the least otherwise, and then the tone changes so suddenly to something unsettling. I dunno, hard to explain. But it's always made me break out into a cold sweat.
Anyway, after they drop the bomb about it being a simulation, it's easy to get worked up. Just how are they going to explain all this? Is it a Matrix type situation? Are they going to go full Star Ocean 3 and say that the entire series has just been a video game? It's a scary proposition given your investment thus far. Man, that Star Ocean thing still pisses me off... Anyway, at least for me, it all ends up working out in the end.
The final area of the game is equal parts cool, and disturbing. You're going around a glitched out version of the school from the first game. Getting info dumps about stuff that happened in the background of the first game, while tying both games together. You're also finding out more about the larger world of this series, and start getting a clue about the tragic event that forever changed the outside world. And then you start seeing familiar faces.
Soon Alter Ego is telling you about the simulation, and you find out that Chiaki and Monomi were actually AI. And that's just the beginning of the revelations. The game just hits you over the head non-stop for the remainder of the game. The final trial really goes places. We finally get to see characters from the first game. The whole thing is a whirlwind of excitement, and confusion. Again, if you want to have your mind fucked with, then play this game, because god damn.
Finally, the whole final confrontation. It was amazing in the first game when Makoto gets everyone out of their funk, and the group comes together to stop Junko. But the finale of 2 is even better. I got so pumped up when Hinata fought through his despair. And basically goes fucking Super Sayain in order to stop Junko, and save everyone. The final Panic Talk Action sequence where Hinata and Chiaki both yell out “No! That's wrong!” made me tear eye just because my emotions were running so high.
In closing. I just think that Danganronpa 2 bets it all on the end of that game. The entire story is in service of building up to those final chapters, and I think that bet pays off. It's a close call, but ultimately that ending is so powerful that I have to give the nod to 2. Even if, as I said, 1 might be the more well rounded game.
In any case, both of these games are worth owning a Vita for. Even if it's the only two games you ever buy for the system.
Hey, it's Half Minute Hero 2! Wait, what? That actually came out here? Why, yes. Even I have a hard time believing it at this point. I'll admit a couple things about HMH2 right up front. One, I don't think it's as good as the first game. Two, It's placement on this list is kind of weird. Out of all the games I played on this list, this one is one I haven't touched since early this year. So, you know, it might be hard to drum up some of the fire I had for it before. With those two things said though. Yo, Half Minute Hero 2 is a good ass game.
You may recall that the first game was actually my game of the year for 2009. Since then I've written about the game several times. It was the perfect embodiment of a game that came out of nowhere and surprised the hell out of me. And I'm willing to bet you'd be hard pressed to find someone else who thought that was their game of the year in the same year that gave us Uncharted 2, and Dragon Age Origins. What can I say? The little gem made a big impression on me.
Half Minute Hero 2 retains that same basic gameplay that made the first game so appealing. In short, it's a micro JRPG. You take control of a small sprite based character, and then are put into levels where you only have 30 seconds (in real, actual Earth time) to complete the mission. Of course there are ways around that limitation that are essential to progressing. Namely the ability to pay the Time Goddess a sum of gold to reset the clock. Even with this ability, most levels end up taking only a couple minutes to complete. During your rush to finish, you'll find that you go through the motions of a typical JRPG. You level up (at super fast speed, getting anywhere from one to a dozen level ups per battle that take less than 5 seconds to complete), and you complete major quests that would span a dozen hours in any other game.
In reality it's more of a puzzle game than an actual RPG, but it has all the trappings of an old school JRPG, so I can't help but find it incredibly charming.
The difference between HMH2 and HMH becomes apparent once you see how the two games play out. In the original the main game is 30 stages worth of those micro RPGs. Then you start unlocking different modes that are quite frankly a little too weird, and not nearly as fun. But they include a bare bones RTS, a very basic side scrolling shooter, and a... uh... a weird thing. Each one of these modes is set in a different era, and you have to complete them all to get the whole story, and get to the endgame.
In the sequel however, it does away with all of those side modes. Instead opting to make the entire game those micro RPG stages. You would think this is a good thing, and it is to be honest, but... Hm... like there's maybe... too much of it? The whole experience doesn't feel as tight as the original game. And in some ways the game kind of bites itself in the ass by making you go through this lengthy (and I do mean lengthy!) quest to get to the end. That's fine in it's own right, but when the game is actively parodying and poking fun at those concepts while actually doing the same thing it's mocking... yeah.
Another weird thing that is relatively minor in the grand scheme of things is that even though the game has a much more fleshed out, expanded story. It never even reaches the highs of the first game. In the first game there's a stage where your hero helps a girl named Sasha. After going around on a journey with her (again, one that only takes a couple minutes) she reveals that she is not what she appears to be, and asks that if you should ever see her again to think of her as a friend.
Well, about a minute later when you're making your way to the end of the stage. You're thrown into a fight. Half Minute Hero battles play out as such: your character automatically runs from the left side of the screen, to the right side of the screen. When you touch an enemy you both take damage until one of you is dead. Most battles play out with the hero rushing towards the enemy, cutting through them in seconds, then moving on with the game.
In this particular battle though, there's a single enemy. Now at this point you can remember what Sasha said, and if you hold in the triggers to run away from the battle, you won't fight the monster. If you do this long enough, a scene happens where it's revealed that the monster is Sasha, and if you spared her she thanks you for keeping your promise. And you earn the title of True Hero. Or you can just barrel through her, break your promise, and kill her. Either way, this one simple moment is strangely affecting. And I think it's a shame that throughout the entirety of HMH2's story it never once reaches that point.
Gosh, I'm being really negative about this game, aren't I? Well then, let me tell you why it rates on my GOTY list.
Nitpicks aside, HMH2 is a very solid game that if you're a fan of the original then you should still really enjoy this game. Quite frankly it's a miracle that it even came out here. Despite multiple rereleases, Half Minute Hero never really made it big. I think it was thanks to Steam where it finally established a foothold big enough to justify having an extremely small group of people to come together and localize it. And I'm really glad that they did. Being such a huge fan of the original (I've bought the game on each platform it was released on) I waited years and years hoping it would come out here.
And while it may not reach the same highs as the first game, I'm far from disappointed with it. For the few things that HMH2 falters on, it makes up for with innovations on the previous game.
For instance the game fully fleshes out the good parts of the original. By making the micro RPGS the one and only focus of the game, you're able to get a much larger bite of the thing that makes this series. Not only are there way, way more stages. But they've added a whole overworld portion of the game. Instead of just selecting stages on a board, your hero now travels around the overworld like an actual JRPG. In between missions your character has a persistent level, and equipment that you can take with you into battles on the overworld. As well as bonus dungeons that pop-up throughout the story. As an added benefit, for each “Global Level” you get, your characters will start at that level during the missions.
This additional layer of gameplay serves as the connecting tissue between the core gameplay moments. Not only that, but the mantra of “expanding” carried over into the way the story progresses. Once again you're playing as different heroes in each age. And while, as I said, the story never peaks. It still goes a long way to make the game feel more like a comprehensive story. And that's not to say the game's own highs aren't bad. There's some funny stuff in there, and a good deal of the characters are actually really endearing.
Again though, discussion about the story is relatively minor in comparison to the main draw of the game. And hey, every game doesn't need to be a Steins;Gate or a Danganronpa.
I honestly had a hard time putting the game down when I was playing it. The micro RPGs are as addicting as ever. And the incentive to try and do everything in a map helps make it so that you end up playing a lot of them multiple times. It's a shame the leaderboards aren't more pronounced, because this is one of the few competitive score games where I feel I can hold my own, and I actually find it to be quite enjoyable.
There are a number of other additions to the game. You occasionally fought alongside other characters in the first game, but this game actually has a full on party system. Complete with customizable formations, and a bunch of characters to recruit. There's also the goofy mobile fortress. Essentially a giant walking castle with arms and legs. You use it in some of the missions to fight massive foes. It's a fun little extra thing to do, but maybe nothing to write home about.
All in all, Half Minute Hero: The Second Coming is a sweet little game, much like the original. It has its flaws, but ultimately it's an addicting little puzzle game. The game has a cute retro pixel aesthetic that harkens back to the days of old, and some of the unlockable character and boss artwork is actually really gorgeous. I always loved looking at the artwork and comparing it to the sprite, and often times being amazed by what they were going for. The game also actually has a really great soundtrack with some big names attached to it including my main man Yasunori Mitsuda. Definitely worth a look if you're looking for something quirky and fun.
7. Drakengard 3
Okay. Shoot. It's been a while since I've played Drakengard 3 as well. But, uh... I think it made a stronger impression on me, for better or worse.
I'll get the history lesson out of the way real quick. Nier was my surprise hit for 2010. Ranking in at Number 3 on my game of the year list. In retrospect, it's actually my favorite game released that year (Yes, higher than Mass Effect 2, which, trust me, is still another one of my all time favorite games), but seeing as how Nier is now maybe in my... top ten games of all time? Yeah. I really like that game.
So when it was announced that Drakengard 3 would be coming along (to the shock and disbelief of practically everyone on the internet) I was excited. Just a little bit. You know? In actuality I hungered for the game. Every time they'd show off the game or talk about it I was convinced it was the second coming of Nier that shouldn't even exist. For those unfamiliar, Nier takes place in the same universe as the Drakengard games. And for those wondering, no I haven't really played much Drakengard 1 or 2. The things I've heard about them fascinate me, but it's very clear that they're not the same games as Nier.
The things I really loved about Nier were as such: The story is absolutely fucking incredible. Maybe one of the best stories I've ever experienced. Two, the characters are almost as incredible. Not just the character designs (which are much, much better than the early Drakengard games), but the way they're written into the story. Combine that with a stellar localization effort by 8-4 and you've got a masterpiece. Kaine is still one of my all time favorite, favorite, favorite characters in a game. Third, the game's soundtrack is also almost as incredible as the story! That's three things that I'm extremely passionate about in games that I like. And finally, eh, you know, it was a fun character action game that suffered from unpolished controls, and some horrible side quests.
Then you have Drakengard 3, that not only looks similar to Nier. I mean, for Christ's sake, Zero is basically Kaine. But you have all the right people from Nier working on this game as well. What could possibly go wrong!?
Now, don't get me wrong. I still enjoyed Drakengard 3. It definitely has its highs, which I'm going to get into in a minute. But god damn, does it ever have its lows. For starters, they didn't fix the gameplay at all. In some ways it's worse than Nier. A large part of that has to do with the added Dragon mechanics. A staple part of the Drakengard series before Nier was that your character would often ride around on a dragon, turning the game into a (really bad) shooter. While I want to say the dragon mode plays a little better in this game, from what I've played of the first one. It's still bad, and every time they take you out of the standard character action to do a dragon sequence, it's always a bummer. It's never not a bummer, even when cool shit is happening. Because that cool shit could be happening with Zero running around beating the shit out of her sisters.
Secondly, and this one hurts. The game's story leaves something to be desired. That's not to say it's entirely without its merits, because I will bring it up again in the positive section, but man, as a follow-up to Nier? It is fucking piss poor. Talk about never reaching the highs of the previous game, Drakengard 3 is content to flounder in an area that is maybe on the same level as the “okay” parts of Nier's story. It's maybe the most damning thing I can say about the game.
But somehow it gets worse. Remember how I said Nier suffered from bad side quests? Well Drakengard 3 is here to say “Fuck that!” and really lay on a level of bullshit. Instead of having an open world to run around in, instead you pick missions to play from a menu in Drakengard 3. So when you're doing a story mission, that's all you're doing is that mission. That part is fine. However there are also side quests, and that's where I start to swing towards hating the game at times.
See, the side quests are basically challenge modes where you have to complete a certain objective with each kind of weapon in the game. Some of these challenges are okay, but none of them ever actually feel rewarding. But then some of the challenges are complete dogshit. Off the top of my head, I can think of a few missions in particular that had me shutting the game off and going to rant about them on Twitter.
In one mission type you're forced to fight a horde of enemies, while collecting items they drop. Not only can these items take a while to drop, but you're being bombarded on all sides by everything that fucking moves. And keep in mind, the combat in this game isn't even that great to begin with, so the idea of doing these arena based modes is kind of bullshit already. Anyway, to add onto the level of frustration you have a time limit as well as having to stay alive. And In addition to that! There are bombs that will totally fuck up your day. And the knockdown/knockback in this game is so severe that it can cost you valuables seconds getting back into the fight. And ALSO! Some of the weapons just aren't designed for this kind of challenge and it sucks. It fucking SUCKS. Man it sucks sooooo bad. Uhg!
But it doesn't stop there! Nope! You might be thinking to yourself: “Man, these side missions sure do sound shitty. Why don't you just skip them?” Well the answer to that is you can't. That's right, one way or another you're going to have to do these side missions if you want to beat the game. For one, there are a few side missions which reward weapons. And you need to get all the weapons in the game if you want to unlock the last part of the game. Also, though not as important is that these side missions are the best way to make money. And you will need at least some money as you make your way towards the end game.
But it can't be as simple as just playing the side mission that gives you the most money over and over again. No! The side missions that give you the most money are ones that you unlock once you've done a number of other side missions in each “area”. So most of the time, you're grinding through the easiest side mission you can, three times. It gets real tedious, real fast. And then once you unlock the gold making side mission, you have one chance to go in there and make as much money as you can before time runs out. If you fuck up, and don't get much gold, you have to wait and replay three missions again to unlock the money making side mission again. IT SUCKS!
Okay, okay. One last thing, and I promise. I swear to you I will tell you why this game is on my game of the year list. You want to know maybe the most fucked up thing about all this? Even though I've done all this shit, and claim to “really like this game”. I still haven't beaten it. You want to know why? Because the last boss fight in the game is fucking impossible.
No, it's not really hard in the traditional sense. Zero isn't running around fighting a giant beast, or all five of her sisters at once. You aren't even doing the standard shitty dragon segment. No, the last boss is entirely different from everything else in the game. The final boss fight in Drakengard 3 is... a rhythm game. Yes, a fucking rhythm game.
Now, I'm not going to go off on a tangent how it's really, really fucked up that in order to see the end of your game, you force the player to utilize a completely different skill set that has nothing to do with either the genre of the game, or the rest of the entire game they've been playing for hours and hours. But yeah, it's totally fucked. But on top of that, it isn't even an easy rhythm game. It isn't a moderately challenging rhythm game. It isn't even a hard rhythm game. It is an impossible rhythm game.
To this day, the best anyone has guessed to clear this monstrous piece of shit is to somehow sink up you playing the game, and a Youtube video playing at the same time. Why do you need to do that? Because the stupid fucking game doesn't play fair. It doesn't make it very apparent when you have to hit the button. Instead the game just has the camera fly around wildly and expects you to be able to keep rhythm with the song while simultaneously looking really hard for the cues on when to hit the buttons. So people have made Youtube videos where they clearly show when you have to hit the button.
BUT- That's not all! At the very end of the song the screen goes black, and you still have to hit one more note. One more note that you practically have to guess when to hit, because it doesn't show up in the game AT ALL. Oh yeah, and the song is SEVEN MINUTES AND FIFTY SIX SECONDS LONG and if you miss ONCE you have to play the ENTIRE thing again.
Oh my GOD. I'm sorry. I just couldn't hold all that in anymore. What I'm saying to you people is simple: FUCK DRAKENGARD 3. Fuck this game! It's awful! Or is it...?
Okay, so all of that aside. Believe it or not Drakengard 3 is actually a pretty good game, or at least one well worth playing for it is very unqiue. As I said it might not reach the same level as Nier, and it sure as shit has some serious problems. But there's actually a lot to like here too.
For starters, while the story may be a big disappointment to me, it's still pretty damn interesting. Basically you play as Zero, and the whole story is a tale of revenge against your five sisters: One, Two, Three, Four, Five. Yes, that's their names. As you make your way through the story “the first time” you'll see Zero go along and kill these sisters one by one. Along the way she picks up each sister's disciple Always a male character, and the sisters were always romantically involved with them... or maybe more accurately sexually involved if nothing else.
Yeah, Drakengard 3 is a bonafide Rated “M” for Mature game. When Zero isn't covered in hot gore from her enemies, she's probably talking about fucking. This game feeds on its sex and violence. And honestly it's pretty damn refreshing. Sure, there are plenty of mature games out there in the market today. But none of them really hit the same notes Drakengard 3 does. It's a Japanese game that actually handles its sexuality with an actual sense of maturity. It isn't just masturbation fodder, even though, make no bones about it, Zero and her sisters are definitely a sexy bunch. It's the artful merging of typical Japanese fan service character designs (albeit, very striking and gorgeous ones) with the weight of real life adult depravity. You could look at that and disagree with me, but I've been around the internet enough to know that a lot people aren't just into romantic vanilla “lovemaking”.
Zero feels like a real woman. Er, maybe that's a poor choice of words. But no, really, she's a great female character, not unlike her predecessor Kaine. She's a woman that isn't afraid to get dirty, she knows what she wants and she takes it. She's not a frilly girl who's forced into the role of maiden in distress. Hell, she's not even the bad ass female warrior archetype that shows up in some games. She is the main character and her feelings and desires aren't perverted in a way to simply appeal to the otaku crowd.
What I'm saying is, she's a real human (eh... maybe not human) character who is maybe a little more psychotic than your average person, but hey, you probably would be too after the things she's been through. And each one of the disciples helps accentuate that fact. Each one of the four represent some aspect of sexuality. Be it sadism, or masochism These not only make for interesting character types, but helps give life to each interaction in the game.
See, most of the game's narrative actually takes place as you're playing through the levels. As you gather more followers, they will each start chiming in with their own opinions. I guess the result is kind of a double edged sword. On the one hand it makes for some pretty fucking funny dialogue, but on the other hand the game really does devolve into a one track mind. They're either talking about fucking or killing, and there's little room for anything else in between.
That aspect is part of the reason I actually like the game as much as I do, because it's something different. And the dialogue is really well written, and localized by 8-4 again, so the voice actors are delivering these lines perfectly. But then again, when you compare it to what Nier was... it's a fun story about sex and violence. But not an emotional story that will resonate with me for the rest of my life. And I still think that's the biggest bummer about the game.
Still, it certainly makes Drakengard 3 a unique experience. Add onto that the fact that the game goes in some really strange directions with its plot and I think it's easy to see why someone could sit there, play what is otherwise a middling game, and come away from it feeling like “Huh? Well that was sure something... I think I kind of liked that?”
On top of that, I already mentioned the localization which is top notch. Zero is voiced by Tara Platt who is an old pre-Bailey favorite of mine, most notable for her role as Mitsuru from Persona 3 (another all time favorite character of mine). Her foul mouthed performance here reminds me of Laura Bailey's role as Kaine. And what can I say? I like vulgar ladies.
I would be remiss not to mention the games soundtrack which is once again composed by Keiichi Okabe who was responsible for the Nier soundtrack, aka, one of the best video game soundtracks of all time. And you know, sorry to say, but once again it falls short of that same level of greatness. But make no mistake about it, this is another gorgeous composition by Okabe. In particular, the game's main theme The Silence is Mine rivals anything in the Nier soundtrack.
Also of note is that fucking seven minute and fifty six second long track that plays during the final boss fight. It's actually really fucking beautiful. Which just makes the situation that much worse. If you're at all curious go ahead and Google the final boss fight in Drakengard 3. If it wasn't such an impossible piece of shit, it would actually be one of the coolest moments in a game this year. In addition to the pretty music, the visual splendor taking place on the screen is jaw dropping
So yeah. I mean. Drakengard 3: It has some problems. But at the end of the day I think there's enough Nier in it to scratch that itch for me. And while I might not prefer its aggressively mature nature of story telling. I certainly feel it's a refreshing approach to games of that type. And please, let Taro Yoko make more games. Come on Square Enix, you got my back on this don't you?
I'm honestly surprised there's even a wiki page for Mogeko Castle on Giant Bomb, even though there isn't any content in it. So this will be fun, I get to pitch a game most people haven't even heard of to pretty much anyone reading this list. And uh... oh yeah, I have to explain why I like it while avoiding various landmines labeled “rape.”
So, Mogeko Castle is... a Japanese indie game made in RPG Maker by someone known as Deep Sea Prisoner, otherwise known as Mogeko. Mogeko, who is presumed to be a female indie developer certainly has a penchant for some... controversial subjects. Out of the three games that have been fan translated by someone known as vgperson, who hosts all these games, among other free Japanese indie games on their site. (Click here to download Mogeko Castle and the other games, completely free.) But yeah, anyway. Out of the three games, Mogeko Castle is easily the most “offensive” of the bunch, and also the weirdest. Like, really, really weird.
Mogeko Games: Before I continue I would like to take a brief moment to talk about the other Mogeko games. You can find them all on vgperson's site linked above. Anyway, I first heard about the Mogeko games earlier this year when Wadanohara made a... splash... on Tumblr. Out of the three games I would recommend playing Wadanohara the most. It's a whimsical old school JRPG (very, very little challenge involved. Play it more for the story) that is maybe a little more deceptive than you think from the outset. While I do think it's probably the best game of the three I decided to go with Mogeko Castle instead. One because it was the only one actually released this year, and two because well, it's my personal favorite of the bunch. Anyway, aside from Wadanohara, there's also The Gray Garden, which is the oldest, and in my opinion weakest of the three. It plays exactly like Wadanohara, again another JRPG lite that is almost impossible to lose. But it takes a while to get going, in the end it's still pretty enjoyable though. I should mention that all three of these games take very little time to finish. Wadanohara maybe being the longest one at like five hours. Mogeko Castle itself is easily the shortest by a country mile.
Alright. So with that out of the way. I should also briefly mention that some of the jokes in Mogeko Castle are in-jokes between Mogeko and her games. So when you see multiple references to things like hay fever. Just know that it's a long running joke. The most prominent one among them is the fucking obsession with prosciutto. I'm telling you again, this is a weird game.
Anyway, the story is pretty much as follows: You play as a young girl named Yonaka Kurai who gets lost on her way home from school. She finds herself getting off a train at a mysterious station that leads to Mogeko Castle. A castle inhabited solely by Mogekos. Mogekos (the cats) are Mogeko's (the person)
mascot who have appeared in the other Mogeko games. They're essentially big yellow cats with humorous faces. Before long Yonaka finds herself running through the castle in terror, trying to flee from that Mogekos who... want to “have fun” with her.
Yes, I'll not beat around the bush with this. This game depicts (or at the very least implies) scenes of sexual violence against Yonaka by the Mogekos. I completely understand if that's an immediate turn-off to you, and you might even think me crass for including such a game on my list. And that's totally up to you. But at least in my defense I think that the subject shouldn't be a taboo for any piece of fiction. And the way it is depicted here is... I mean, this sort of thing is never not serious. But maybe I mean to say it isn't handled in an entirely poor way. Given that it is a Japanese indie game, I can see where you'd start to formulate an opinion about the nature of such things. But again, I'll just say in my defense, I think Mogeko manages to use it in a way where it feels like they're really giving the proper weight to the situation. And at it's core, Mogeko Castle is a horror game that when it isn't being absolutely bonkers, goes for shock value with the typical “Bad End” scenarios. So decide for yourself if that's okay with you or not.
Anyway, moving on... As you make your way through the game Yonaka encounters a number of special Mogekos in the castle who actually want to help her escape. Each one of these special Mogeko have some sort of quirk to them that makes them interesting in their own right. And as you make your way higher and higher up the castle, Yonaka faces the possibility of meeting her end in a variety of increasingly cruel and unusual ways.
Mogeko Castle is at its core, an RPG Maker game, thus it has cute little sprite artwork for all the characters in the game. I feel this goes a long way in softening the blow of some of the horrific things you're seeing on screen. Also, as an RPG Maker game you can kind of understand how it plays. Unlike the other two Mogeko games, Mogeko Castle is purely an interactive story. The most “gameplay” thing you'll have to do is run away during parts where you're being chased. These chase scenes can be frustrating sometimes, but after doing them a couple times you'll easily see the pattern and figure out where to go. Again, these games aren't really about challenging you.
By the end of the game, Mogeko Castle goes to some surprising places. Within the course of a couple hours you'll have seen some shit. A bunch of weird shit mostly, with some grizzly violence thrown in there to remind you that this is supposed to be a horror game, but some shit all the same. I think one of the things that really resonated with me about this game was that I just was not expecting it to throw some of those curve balls in there. Despite all it's violence, and weirdness, I actually felt myself getting attached to some of the characters. For better or worse. And I was legitimately sad when bad things would happen to them.
Another aspect of this is the special Mogekos. One of the requirements for the “True Ending” is to kill at least one of those special Mogeko. But you have the option of killing any and all of them. And this, oddly enough, proved challenging. Because I wanted the true ending, but I could never decide which one I would feel okay about sacrificing. Though spoilers: there's actually one that you can probably feel at least less bad about “killing” later on in the game.
Aside from just playing through the game, there are many secret “Bad Endings” you can see. There's one on each floor, and a lot of them are actually pretty obvious. But if you're like me, and you want to see them all, refer to the Mogeko Castle page on vgperson's site for how to get all of them. There are some minor spoilers, but nothing that should ruin the game for you.
And well, I guess the only thing left for me to say is to stop beating around the bush and talk about why it's so fucking weird. Well, for starters the Mogekos are just really weird, inherently creepy characters. They've been creepy since I played Wadanohara, where their only part in that game was to peek out of treasure boxes from time to time. Most of the non-special Mogekos have the same personality type. They're extremely violent, and horny. But the way they conduct themselves is almost comical, they're only purpose is to chase you, and occasionally make off comments when they don't think you're looking.
Another thing about the Mogekos is that they worship prosciutto. Like, their god, their lord and savior is literally the god of prosciutto. And they will do anything for it. There's also a good number of them that suffer from hay fever which not only seems to be their kryptonite, but also something Mogeko herself jokes about frequently because she has a lot of problems with it in real life.
If you look around the various bedrooms in the castle you can often find copious amounts of pornography (not actually shown, just mentioned) and journals where the Mogeko make records of their masturbation sessions. There's several points in the game where one of the accompanying characters, Mr. Defect Mogeko, makes reference to other hostile special Mogeko. Such as mogeko the founder of the castle. And Moge-ko a female humanoid Mogeko who is a sadist. Yeah, it's those kinds of jokes about “And the worst one of all is mogeko.” “What's different about this Mogeko?” “The m is lowercase” sort of deal that you can come to expect from this game.
There are other noteworthy moments I could bring up, like how one of the floors in the castle is infected with zombie Mogekos. There's also the peaceful Russian (for no apparent reason) Mogekos who live on one of the floors. Also the fact that there's some horrifying music and sound effects in this game. But my favorite ones being when the Mogekos talk and they either say “Mogekek.” or “Minnnnnnaaaaa” (“Everybody” in Japanese) in a real low fidelity audio clip. But it'd be better to just play the game and see a lot of that stuff for yourself.
As you near the end of the game, the true nature of the story presents itself, and, well, it's fucked up. And if you get the True Ending, it's really fucked up. Like nightmare fuel type stuff.
In the end, it's hard for me to properly express why I liked Mogeko Castle so much. It's equal parts that it's both supremely weird, and deceptively grotesque. It's also because it's so weird, and that weirdness was right up my alley. It played to my sense of humor and I just couldn't help but appreciate how fucked up it all was. And finally I guess it just surprised me so much. I had played Wadanohara before it and thought that would surely be the best of the Mogeko games. But my friend played Mogeko Castle on Skype with me and she couldn't properly convey what exactly it was, so I decided to check it out for myself. And honestly, it kind of floored me.
Okay. Almost in the home stretch. Only two more games to go. There's a reason I only do like one Giant Bomb blog post a year, you know?
So, here's an interesting one. I'm actually breaking one of my rules for the first time. You may recall, in years past, when there has been a World of Warcraft expansion I've always decided not to include it because it's just an expansion to a (at this point) ten year old game. Well, Warlords of Draenor is so god damn good that I just couldn't not put it on the list.
Honorable Mention: Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls: And you know, for a while there the Diablo 3 expansion Reaper of Souls was also on my game of the year list. Ultimately, at the last minute I rearranged the list bumping it down to tenth place, and then I realized that there was another game I wanted to put on the list instead. But! Reaper of Souls is still a really damn good expansion and I wanted to give it some short props. I, unlike many people, I guess, enjoyed Diablo 3. It had its fair share of problems. Namely the loot system was absolute garbage. But fundamentally the game was sound. It doesn't quite match up to Diablo 2, but honestly, what can? I felt like Diablo 3 was an evolution of that loot based dungeon crawler formula. It shook things up by making it easy to play around with and feasibly use a dozen different character builds on the same character. The new classes were neat, and the game just felt like the next step for that genre. While simultaneously retaining the addictive gameplay of the originals.
But that loot system was a real problem. Once you had leveled a character all the way up, there wasn't much point to stick around. The game wasn't fun to grind. It basically boiled down to grinding for gold so you could go on the auction house and try to buy better gear. The loot treadmill wasn't there at all. And honestly a loot game where you're never actually finding any cool loot is kind of shitty. Even after they added the Paragon system, why bother? And that auction house was some hot bullshit.
Enter Reaper of Souls. Before the expansion had even actually come out Blizzard had drastically changed the game. The year before they released Diablo 3 for consoles, and surprise, surprise – they actually fixed the loot problem. Those versions of the game had no auction house, thus cutting out the need to grind gold. Instead opting to just make it so that more, and better, and cooler loot dropped a lot more frequently (as in, it dropped at all). I only flirted around with this console version of the game, because I didn't feel like playing the whole game over again (I had already gotten a Wizard to 60 on PC after all) but the changes were readily apparent. And I thought “Man, I wish the PC version was like this.”
Again, Enter Reaper of Souls. A little bit before the expansion launched Blizzard put through a patch that brought those same drastic changes to the loot system to the PC version of the game. In an instant Diablo 3 became fun again. I pre-ordered Reaper of Souls proper, and started playing the game post-patch. I mainly just got Paragon levels for my Wizard, and much better gear. But I did it while randomly joining people's games. It was a hell of a lot of fun, and it almost felt like Diablo 2.
Then the expansion actually came out, and it brought with it a ton of new content. 10 more levels, a new class in the Crusader, a new act, and Adventure Mode. Now, getting a new act, and 10 more levels is kind of standard fair at this point, but for what it's worth, it's good content. Similarly the Crusader is an incredibly fun class that at the time almost felt overpowered. I hope that Blizzard stuck with the Jeff Gerstmann school of balancing things and decided to just make every class more bad ass instead of nerfing them, but I haven't played in quite a few months at this point.
But where the expansion really shines is the Adventure Mode. For those that don't know, it's basically a mode that strips out all the story from Diablo 3. No cutscenes, no quests, just kill, kill, kill. You can pick any act to go to (essentially picking your tileset, and enemies you want to encounter) and you can complete these objectives, all of which just involve killing everything you see, to unlock Rift Shards, and when you complete a “circuit” you get a loot cache, which is essentially a big old loot pinata.
With the rift shards you can open up rifts, which are basically mega dungeons where your objective is to once again kill anything and everything that moves. This randomly generated dungeon will be filled with powerful foes that drop even more great loot. And at the end of it, you fight a super boss which drops – you guessed it – more phat, phat loot.
This mode is a real game changer because it's something you can just dive into and grind for hours. And it's surprisingly fun too. It's a chance to show off your build, and all your sweet gear. And with the game's fantastic drop-in, drop-out co-op it's easy to get in and out of games with friends or strangers.
I guess I should also mention they totally overhauled the difficulty system too. And while most people would agree the game skews a little too easy now on most but the hardest difficulties, the more important thing is that it made the game more fun. And I'll take that over stubbornly throwing myself at a wall over and over again for minimal payback.
Sorry, I know this got long, but the last thing I wanted to say about my time with Reaper of Souls is that I played the game with two friends. My one best friend who I played the original game with. Unfortunately he didn't seem too hot on the expansion, but it was still fun stomping around with him. And then I also played the game with a friend of mine who I met on Twitter several years ago. I rolled a brand new Crusader on the European servers and together the two of us would make play dates where we'd play for a few hours at a time, and we eventually hit the base level cap.
This experience alone was previously what put this game on the list. It was a blast just hanging out, and chatting with someone I only knew through Twitter for however many years, and all the while we melted faces. We were both playing Crusaders with two totally different builds, so it was a blast. He also had the benefit of about 100 or more Paragon levels, and access to a bunch of overpowered gems, while I had to start from scratch, but hey, all the better!
Okay! So! World of Warcraft, you might have heard of it? I may have covered this before, so I'll make it brief (or try to at least). Starting with Warcraft 3 I became a big Warcraft fan. Loved the shit out of those games. So when Blizzard announced they were doing an MMO (Hey, like Ragnarok Online and Final Fantasy XI, right?) I was hype as shit for it. I remember visiting the WoW website daily, craving updates about this beast of a game. Any little thing, character models, scraps of information, tidbits of lore. Anything I could get my hands on. There was one point where the game entered closed beta and I was seriously considering buying a beta key for some absurd amount of money.
I should also mention that I went on some weird bootleg WoW early Alpha server, which was basically all the races running around an even more desolate Barrens, and you could get on a Hippogryph, but aside from that, not much else. It was enough though. (I still have screenshots from this thing by the way)
Finally the day came when WoW entered Open Beta. I think it was for about a week, maybe more? But I downloaded the shit out of that thing. I made a female Night Elf Druid (admit it, you rolled Night Elf too) and started my journey in Azeroth. It was fucking mind blowing. All those stories you hear WoW veterans talk about, about how crazy that game was for the time. They're all true. If you weren't there, I feel bad for you, because the sheer scope of this game was something to marvel at.
Anyway, I met a few people during the beta, and we agreed to start on a server together when the game actually launched. Alliance side, of course (Feh!). Then on launch day I opened up my Collector's Edition (I still have those three pets, and the box and all the stuff that came with it) and started the game again anew. I made a (female again, of course) Night Elf Hunter and played the game for about... a month maybe? Man, after all that and I managed to do was get to level 26. My interest fell off after that point and I moved onto something else.
I think it was a year later that a group of friends of mine were starting Horde characters on one of the newer servers, Kirin Tor. I remember sheepishly renewing my account because my roommate at the time was staunchly anti-WoW (I think he has like every job in the game leveled up to 90 at this point. Multiples of some of the same jobs at 90 too). But eventually I coaxed him into joining up with us. And we started our rolling crew.
I made a male Tauren Shaman named Serloin, and from there, well the rest is history.
Flash forward to last month when Warlords of Draenor came out. At this point my WoW career was pretty well established. I've almost logged a year's worth of actual playtime in the game. Yes, like 300 some odd days of time logged into that game. I have two level 100s, and three 90s. As well as a whole slew of other characters ranging from 27-85. I'm strictly a Horde player for life now, and I think Goblins are the best thing in that entire game. I would say I've done a majority of the content in the game over the years. Falling out of raiding hard in BC, catching up in Wrath, and skipping it again in Cataclysm. I stopped doing PVP seriously after Vanilla. But other than that I've dipped my toe into just about everything that game has to offer.
And in all that time playing this damn game, I don't think I've ever liked an expansion nearly as much as I like Draenor. To be clear here, I have some pretty big gaps in the content I've done for this expansion so far. I've only done a couple dungeons, none of them heroic, and I haven't even touched raiding, LFR or otherwise. (Heh, as if I'd ever do “Normal” raiding again). And yet somehow I've still managed to sink the better part of a month and a half seriously playing the game.
Right off the bat, Warlords is a fucking breath of fresh air. Don't get me wrong, Mists of Pandaria was a fine expansion. I really enjoyed it for the majority of its life cycle. I even liked the setting, and entertained the thought of actually liking the Pandaren as a playable race. At this point though? Oh my fucking god. Just thinking about any of that shit makes me sick. The whole eastern aesthetic, the fucking Mogu, and those god damn fucking bears. Every time I see a player go around whose a Pandaren it makes my skin crawl.
It's hard to say why I've had such a violent backlash to that expansion. It might have to do with the fact that it was around for the longest amount of time in between expansions since WoW launched. And went a full year without updating any new content into the game. I played a lot of MoP, and I just think it was too much.
So here comes Draenor. Well, it's going back to Draenor, ie Outlands from the past.... so, my single most hated area in the entire game. Check. It's all about Orcs. I mean, orcs are cool I guess, but not really huge on them. Check. The first major raid, and end game content has to do with Cho'gall and a bunch of Ogres. I fucking hate all of those things. So, check. And oh yeah – Blizzard decided it straight up didn't want people to fly in the expansion content. Wonderful. So, again, check.
But despite that, I don't know... the expansion is fucking incredible. Right away, out the gate I was getting excited about seeing all these famous orc NPCs from the lore. The new content looked beautiful, not the least of which are the brand new character models for most of the old races. A change that was sorely needed. The first introductory area has you running around with Thrall and Khadgar and just fucking shit up as you go. And then shortly after that you're thrust out into the expansion proper.
Things just kept getting better and better from here. Soon we were chilling with Durotan, Thrall's Dad. (Keep in mind, this whole expansion is about traveling back to the past. That's why all these influential characters are around, and Draenor is actually beautiful and doesn't look like a freshly picked scab.) And then shortly after that you get the Garrison, which I'll talk more about later. But the game just kept going, and going with all this cool stuff.
I was casually playing Serloin, my Shaman who I kind of wanted to level as a secondary character. Because my friend was so busy playing the Fire Emblem Radiant games that she couldn't join me on my Hunter for a couple weeks. But yeah, I was just playing him off and on, and I noticed that the leveling curve was super quick. It's been a while since a full ten level increase, so I was dreading the worst. But in fact it's actually a very smooth, and fun process.
Each new quest hub offered increasingly cooler quests. In typical Blizzard fashion there were a lot of cool lore moments, and jokes along the way. It seemed like every day I logged in, talking to my friend over Skype and saying “Man! This crazy thing just happened and it was awesome!” And before I knew it, I was max level.
Since then I fully leveled my hunter to 100 along with my friend's mage, and we've done a pretty good amount of all the non-endgame PVE content. Aside from dungeons, as I said before. And it's just been a blast.
One of the key factors in our enjoyment has definitely been the previously mentioned garrison. It's a home base for your character, that's instanced only for you, but you can invite your friends over to visit. The garrison plays an integral part in progressing in this expansion. Through the use of recruitable followers, and customizable buildings, the player is able to build their garrison to suit their needs.
The whole follower system is practically lifted out of a lot of free to play games, sans the whole monetization thing. While you're exploring Draenor you'll meet unique characters that can be recruited into your garrison. You can build up a fairly sizable following just by doing the quests in each area, but there are other followers rewarded for exploration, achievements, and some can even be recruited weekly from one of the buildings you can make.
Each follower has their own level, item level, and skills. The main function of the followers is to send them out on missions. This is the F2P part I was talking about. Essentially you'll be presented with multiple missions you can send any given follower out on. The success of the mission depends on the follower's level, skills, and later gear. Once you send a follower out, you have to wait a set amount of real time for them to return. Most of the missions require you to spend a renewable resource simply called “garrison resources” to send your followers out, and, yeah I'm sure you see the F2P model there. If you're not too familiar with these throwaway F2P games, then think of the similar mini games that were in Assassin' Creed IV, and Dragon Age: Inquisition. It's the same basic concept.
For your efforts, or more accurately your follower's efforts – if the mission is successful you'll be rewarded with a variety of goodies. Ranging from gold, to more garrison resources. The missions become much more important later on when you can actually get decent gear for your own character, as well as such things as Warforged Seals, which is a highly coveted item that allows you to roll twice on loot in raids.
You're encouraged to improve your followers because eventually the missions get more demanding. To the point where they require max level followers with a specific skill set, and a high item level. And you know what? Surprisingly this is all kind of fun. I think the problem with F2P games like this is that that's all there is to the game, no massive MMO built around it. And obviously the scummy microtransactions that you get slapped in the face with all the time. Fundamentally it's not the worst concept around. And being able to login every day and check on your followers becomes a kind of ritual.
The other main feature of the garrison is the buildings you can make. Each building has a different benefit, and there are way more buildings than you have plots for, even at the max garrison level. So it's up to you to decide which buildings you want. In general the breakdown is like this:
There's a small garrison building associated with each crafting profession in the game, as well as the option for a bank, or salvage yard that will allow you to open random crates you earn on missions. There are three gathering buildings that everyone has, that can be utilized to earn crafting materials regardless of your profession. At max level there's also an unlockable battle pet menagerie that allows you to do stuff with the game's collectible battle pets. There are a series of medium buildings that allow you to do a variety of things. Whether it be harvest lumber around Draenor for more garrison resources. Or the tavern which allows you not only to recruit more followers, and take special dungeon quests from (in)famous characters that have been around throughout the game's history.
Finally there's the large buildings, some of which are really incredibly useful and meaningful. Like the stables which lets you tame a bunch of mounts. And then there's the Spirit Lodge which lets you use Ogre Waystones... I still don't know why anyone would pick this stupid thing.
Regardless, the garrison is kind of a game changer. It becomes a part of your character. Fundamentally changing the way crafting works in the game, for better or worse. It allows players to try and gear up for raiding by earning loot, or getting those warforged seals I was talking about. If you're interested in PVP there's a whole building dedicated to that which has some fabulous rewards associated with it. And if you just care about the simpler things in World of Warcraft. Like toys, mounts, and battle pets, then you can totally build your garrison towards just doing that.
This is the first time I fully realized that there's more than one way to play World of Warcraft. For me I always thought of the endgame PVE content, like raiding to be the be all and end all. Gotta get that loot! But for my friend, she cares much more about the cosmetic stuff then actually doing any sort of intense content. And of course there's going to be people that don't give a shit about any of that stuff, and they just want to fight against other players. It's moments like that realization where I just sit back and marvel at how much content WoW has in it. There's no wonder I've been playing it for 10 years.
And then there's the downside. Interacting with other players. Now this doesn't always have to be a bad thing, and in a lot of cases, depending on the content you're doing it isn't. You'd be surprised how friendly and helpful people can be when you're riding around Draenor, all working together to complete the same objectives. That's another great innovation with Draenor that started at the end of Mists, but Blizzard has made it so that a large portion of the content is shareable by any player. Found a rare monster? Anyone can join in the fight, and then loot it. Gathering quest items? They're phased so that only you can see them. Sometimes you can even kill some of the same mobs with other players and work towards the same goal. It's a long overdue change, that I suspect we'll see improved upon going forward.
But then... then you get into a dungeon with some random players. And they value their time more than having any actual manners, or just not being complete pieces of shit. It's not even a full month after the expansion has been out, and you're trying to do one of the new dungeons. Don't instantly know absolutely everything about the dungeon? Tough shit. “You fucking suck.” “How did you get carried this far?” Maybe you're not a “pro” player, but you want to do some of this endgame content to complete a quest to get a pet or a toy. “Man, your damage sucks. Fucking kill yourself.” “Vote to kick: Uninstall your life.”
The community is fucking TOXIC. It might not be as bad as something like League of Legends, or Dota 2. Or even the old standby of Call of Duty. But it fucking sucks. I'm a person who suffers from some terrible social anxiety. When I go into a dungeon and people immediately start being rude and flying off the handle. It causes anxiety attacks, and stress. To the point where I just have trouble breathing at times. And of course that just starts making me play like shit. My Hunter is pretty geared for pre-raiding content, and I know how to play my class. But I'm the kind of person that learns these fights and dungeons by doing, not just reading. There's only so much prep I can do before I need to do a trial by fire. And if assholes are unwilling to cooperate, it just makes it a miserable time for all involved.
That kind of shit always bums me out about this game. Here I've been gushing about how cool this expansion is for quite a while now, but then I just think about this shit, and it gets to me. It makes me not interested in doing any of that content. Even though my main draw to WoW has always been seeing as much of the content as I could. It's nice that Blizzard has developed these tools that make it easy to jump into a random group and try to get something done. But ultimately it just makes me wish I had a whole crew of friends who I could play the game with instead of relying on randoms. But that's the rub I guess.
That aside, before I finally stopped talking about the ninth game on my list for so long, I just wanted to share a few of my friend and I's favorite moments from the expansion so far. It's hard remembering all of them now, and I know there were ones she specifically wanted me to bring up, so I'll try.
There's an event out in Taladar where you see a quest explanation point in the distance. If you've played the game for as long as I have, you've had it encoded in your DNA to seek out that quest. Upon approaching the quest giver, who was a female Draenei in a small camp of other Draenei, a meteor suddenly fell from the sky and blew up the whole camp. All that was left were the quest giver's smoldering boots which are a toy you can pickup.
One of the random garrison followers you can recruit from the tavern is a male human paladin named Soulare of Andorhal. Obviously based off of the fan favorite Dark Souls character Solaire of Astora. Don't believe me? Well how about when you /praise him he shouts “Praise the light!” and throws his hands up in the air, and bathes you in a warm glow. You also get a portable Bonfire toy from here, that has a sword sticking out of it. You can use the bonfire to kindle it, and get a buff that says you've gained a brief respite from the darkness. This easter egg following directly on the heels of a special boss monster in MoP that was a giant wolf with a sword in its mouth.
The Image of Archmage Vargoth is a personal favorite of mine. Back during The Burning Crusade there was a quest line in Netherstorm where you could interact with Archmage Vargoth. A level 70 male human mage. At some point during the quests, he gives you his staff. An item you'd keep in your inventory, and could be used at any time, or any place to summon him. As long as you never finish the quests, you can keep the staff. I kept this staff readily available in my druid's bags for four years, always willing to bust out The Image of Archmage Vargoth at a moment's notice. Well apparently I wasn't the only one. Not only did Blizzard put in a rare toy you can get from a follower mission that just is The Staff of Archmage Vargoth, which summoned the same level 70 Image of Archmage Vargoth COMPLETE with the original quest if your character hasn't completed it. But they also included a quest line where you go around Draenor collecting Vargoth's staff and clothing. At the end of it you get a unique garrison follower: Image of Archmage Vargoth. Yes, still not even Vargoth himself, but the fucking Image of him.
If you pick the Gladiator Arena as your building in Grongord and complete the quest line in that zone you get a follower named Spirit of Bony Xuk. It's the ghost of an orc tribesman you fought with during the quest line in Grongord. If you keep him around your garrison he'll gladly wander around haunting it for you. Making bad puns on his name like: “Xuk them.”
There's a baby treant in Grongord that we randomly encounter one day named Sappy. The only thing you could do with him was to “Feed Sappy”. Upon doing this the treant got up and ran off. At the time I was so baffled by this and I joked that he was going to show up at the end of days. Having burrowed himself into the core of the planet and causing it to explode from within. Later that day I was at my herbal garden in the garrison and I saw Sappy just chilling there. And I excitedly told my friend about it over Skype.
There's a mysterious goblin NPC named Jozzle The Neat who may or may not be specifically associated with the Inscription building in the garrison. His function is to fill work orders, but there's another NPC at that building who can do the same thing. For whatever reason he always shows up at my friend's garrison, and all he does is walk up this ramp and start harassing the other NPCs in the garrison. He also has the voice of a gnome for some reason. For whatever reason, even though I have the same Inscription building in my garrison, Jozzle The Neat is usually nowhere to be found. Every once in a while, if I'm really lucky, he shows up. We also always call him Jozzle The Meat, and have started casually using that term as a means to say masturbation.
There's a human NPC named Benjamin Brode who visits level 3 garrisons. He's named after Ben Brode the Senior Game Designer on Blizzard's card game Hearthstone. The only purpose of this NPC is that he sells two fairly expensive toys. A Hearthstone game board, and another toy called Winning Hand. If you use the Hearthstone Board, your character plops down one of the game tables from Hearthstone and it plays the game's titular theme song. The Winning Hand however causes a bunch of fireworks to shoot off, and plays the jingle that plays when you win a match of Hearthstone. Similarly there's a rare follower mission where you can send a follower to a Hearthstone tournament. You can send any follower, and it's impossible to fail. Upon completion you get another toy called the Autographed Hearthstone Card that's description reads: “Signed by Trump and Reckful. Not too shabby.” If you use the toy, your character does a custom emote where they flip the card over and see what quality it is. Also you get another item for this mission called the Hearthstone Strategy Guide. It's purpose is to teach your follower the Hearthstone skill. It's a generic skill you can get elsewhere, but it's pretty cool none the less.
Similarly there's a reference to the previously scrapped and constantly teased Dance Studio in one of the follower missions. Your follower goes to the Dance Studio and learns the Dancing skill. Unfortunately this does not actually make your follower dance, and instead they just get another generic skill, but it's still cool.
And that's about all I can come up with. Pretty sure this somehow ended up being the longest entry on the list. And I thought I was going to be done hours ago. Sigh.
Alright, let's make this quick. I won't bother explaining my history with Pokemon. Well, okay, maybe just for a second. When I was 13 years old, Pokemon was first coming out in North America, and thanks to a successful Nintendo Power campaign I was excited as shit for that game. I was even more excited when I woke up one morning and realized that the Pokemon anime had started airing on WB. What followed was a real fucking obsession, and a young teenage boy who's whole life revolved around Pokemon. I played the shit out of Red, Blue, and Yellow. Imported a copy of Silver, then bought a US copy of Silver. Played through that twice. I was deep into the card game. I was importing Japanese Pokemon cards, and the second movie which was entirely in Japanese with no subtitles. It was my life.
Then it died down for a good many years, and I didn't get back into it until Diamond and Pearl which was previously the best generation of Pokemon in my opinion. Then quickly fell out of love with it again when I realized I didn't really want to play Pokemon Silver again – after I spent a hundred hours beating Soul Silver. Then I thought I was just done with Pokemon for good, but then Black and White came out, and it was my game of the year for 2011. Yes, I loved it that much. It's still far and away the best Pokemon game. Skipped out on B&W2 even though I own a copy and have been meaning to play it. Got really excited, then ultimately disappointed with Pokemon X/Y. And now we're here at ORAS.
So it's important to note I skipped the entire Ruby / Sapphire / Emerald generation. Like, didn't play it at all. I was so disinterested in Pokemon during the GBA era that it just didn't happen. So this is my first time seeing these games. I've heard from many people, my friend included that this was one of the best gens back in the day. It seems to me that if you liked an older Pokemon gen, it was either going to be G/S/C or R/S/E. And then I think there are people like me who get really impressed every time Pokemon makes a meaningful step forward. Which, to be fair, X/Y has basically changed the game with some of its features, but I just did not like those games outside of that.
Anyway. Coming from X/Y last year, I really wasn't excited about playing ORAS. Like, right up to, and even after the point where the game came out. I was mainly buying it for my friend and I so we could play together like we've been doing the past several years. I wasn't able to buy them until this month though, because, money. But by the time I got my game, I was admittedly pretty interested in playing it. So how is it?
Well. While I wouldn't say Alpha Sapphire has blown me away, I will say that I'm enjoying it a whole hell of a lot. Way more than I expected I would. I think the combination of the advances made in X/Y inserted into the world and the narrative of R/S/E makes for a much better game. The story still isn't quite on that Pokemon Black level, but it's surprisingly enjoyable.
I haven't finished the game yet, but I'm near the end. The part I'm at right now is pretty awesome though with the Primal Legendaries. And I don't know, it's cool to be somewhat interested in what's going on in the game again, as opposed to X/Y where I just rolled my eyes at how incredibly stupid it was.
It also doesn't hurt that a lot of the character and Pokemon designs in this generation are some of the best in the series. I've been a fan of Flannery, and Gardevoir for years, but never actually played the games they came from. Honestly, looking at this “roster”, I'd have to say R/S/E is responsible for some of the best Pokemon in the entire series. And to think, I just skipped it originally.
I think a lot of the redesigns are great too. A lot of the NPCs in the game have been overhauled from what they looked like originally. There are some great random trainer designs in there like the Battle Girl, and the Ace Trainers. But I think the real stars of the show are the redesigned Team Magma and Team Aqua. Maxie and Archie look so much better than they used to, and similarly so do the team admins. Courtney in particular from Team Magma, who I sadly don't get to see in my version of the game is, in my opinion, one of the hottest girls in the series... literally.
Again, you take this solid foundation, and you throw in all the advancements made in the last decade and you have one solid game. The online features are incredible, I can't believe we didn't even have anything remotely close to this before X/Y. The 3D graphics are looking a bit better in this game, and the performance has been amped up so there's not so much slowdown during combat. And of course there's the revamped EXP Share, which makes me never want to play an older Pokemon game ever again.
So yeah. I dunno. It's a late addition to my list for the year, but I'm enjoying it a lot. It's kind of revitalized my interest in Pokemon once again. I'm anxious to see what they do next. Probably a whole new Gen, which would be cool, but I think at this point I'm ready for that Diamond and Pearl remake.
Also, there's not that much water.