By TheNesta 1 Comments
Game of The Year 2012
Ah man. Here we are again. Another year, another list of 10 amazing games. Overall, I felt this was a very strong year for games, even if we are approaching the death throes of this console generation. Looking back on the past couple years, I feel more strongly about at least the first 7 games on this list than I have about many games in recent years. There are a few things I want to address in this opening first however.
Firstly, I'm going to sound like a broken record ironically enough) with some of these games when it comes to soundtracks. I have found in recent years that I am very passionate about video game soundtracks, and that they can completely alter my enjoyment of a game. A middling game with an amazing soundtrack will make that game much more appealing to me. An amazing game with an amazing soundtrack will almost move me to tears. That said, a lot of these games ressonate with me super strongly because of their breathtaking or otherwise catchy soundtracks. And with THAT said, I'd like to make a special mention to Hotline Miami, a game that sadly did not make the cut for Game of The Year, but it is a game that features what is probably my favorite overall soundtrack of the year. I cannot stop listening to it, particularly the tracks by M.O.O.N including Hydrogen which is currently smashing records on my iTunes most played stats. I should also mention Fez, another game that narrowly missed the list, but in Fez's case I think the music actually transcends the game.
I'd also like to give a quick nod to World of Warcraft: Mist of Pandaria, which is easily my most played game of the year. I've probably put 700 hours into it since it was released in late September, and it doesn't look like it's going to slow down anytime soon. The thing with WoW expansions though is that they're expansions to an eight year old game. WoW has had it's due, I don't think I need to honor it any furthuer in a Game of The Year list. But for what it's worth, it's a pretty awesome expansion, one of the best they've done.
With all that said, onto the list...
Game of The Year 2012
|1. Kid Icarus: Uprising|
Oh my god. Kid Icarus: Uprising. Where do I even begin? Well, first it's a shame that it seems like this game is getting the shaft in terms of Game of The Year list. For whatever reason, though I'm guessing it's the controls, this game doesn't seem to have made as strong as an impression on people as it did for me. But that's fine, because I'm totally here to heap on my undying affection for what is now one of my all time favorite games.
Aside from Fire Emblem: Awakening, Kid Icarus was the reason I decided to buy a 3DS. I've been interested in it since it was revealed however many E3s ago, because it looked like a real neat game, a reason to own a 3DS. Furthermore being developed by Sora which did an amazing job on Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and having beautiful character designs and art, I was instantly sold on it.
I didn't end up getting a 3DS until after the game was released though, so I was left just wanting it for a while. Eventually I was able to try the game when my friend brought over his 3DS and a copy of the game, and I think that's when I fell in love with it. Sure, the first thing I think anyone notices with the game is that it has an "interesting" control scheme, and that's putting it nicely. But what I noticed was just the amount of charm the game had, the amount of love that was put into it.
The game features two different play modes, and I found myself enjoying both of them. I think everyone can agree that the Space Harrier type levels of flying through the air and shooting stuff down is basic enough and works with the controls with little fuss. But I also found that the on-foot battles were engaging in just the interesting way the game handles it. In all honesty, and this might sound like a cop-out, but I feel that this makes the game stand out a little more, as it is more than just a basic beat'em (shoot'em) up.
But that's not the real reason I enjoy Uprising. As I mentioned there's a ton of charm in the game, and the entire time I played through the single player story (and it is a long story!) I was constantly smiling, just basking in the warmth of the game's characters, the wonderfully written dialog, and the voice actors who helped bring these characters to life.
It was honestly a treat every time I picked up the 3DS to play Kid Icarus: Uprising for a couple chapters every day. The banter between the various characters, especially Pit and Palutena filled me with such joy. And the slow roll-out of the supporting characters made everything all the better. I can't remember a game that I've ever played that made me laugh out loud so much, or produce the most SPM (smiles-per-minute) on a regular basis.
And as I've mentioned previously, the game just looks gorgeous, a true testament to what the 3DS can do, and with the lovely artistic style of the game that made every level, character, and enemy pop out. Accompanying all that is a beautiful soundtrack put together by some of Nintendo's best. It's not always the catchiest soundtrack, but almost every song evokes some sort of emotion that blends perfectly with what's going on in the game at the time.
Aside from the wonderful presentation, Sora is up to it's old tricks including hours upon hours of content in the game. An engaging loot system, with a fusion system similar to the Shin Megami Tensei series. Hundreds if not thousands of unlockables. A truly groundbreaking difficulty system that allows you more control over the ease or challenge of the game. And a fully robust multiplayer mode that is only hampered by the lack of popularity, because it's a fucking blast.
Fuck man, I could just go on about the game for hours. Unfortunately I have nine other games to discuss though. Seriously though, this game effected me in such a strong way, and has achieved a colossal feat in not only overcoming several other fantastic games to top this list, but it's earned a permanent spot on my Top 25 Games of All Time list. It's beautiful, and I wish more people could experience it, and be able to translate that experience into the pure unadulterated enjoyment I felt while playing it. And as I have said many times over this past year: "If I only bought the 3DS to enjoy this one game. It was worth it."
|2. Asura's Wrath|
Pretty early on in the year, before many games on this list I played Asura's Wrath. And also, previously before I played Kid Icarus: Uprising, this was easily my Game of The Year. Now, those who know me, or who have read my previous Game of The Year list know that I usually find a game in a year that took me by total surprise. In past years it has been Nier, and Space Marine. This year, it was Asura's Wrath, though I'm happy to report now that this year was actually full of games like that, so that is very cool, in my opinion.
Enough about that though, Asura's Wrath - a bit of a backstory. The game was shown off at one of these trade shows and it looked insane. A game by Cyberconnect2 who I was already a fan of due to their previous work on the .hack series. And an over-the-top Shonen anime looking game. The first trailer really turned heads for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the main character Asura was angry, really angry. He was also fighting a god that's hand was bigger than the planet he was standing on. Another big thing was people wondering just exactly what kind of game Asura's Wrath was. Early rumblings seemed to suggest that the game was going to be one massive QTE segment. That's not far off from the truth, but you'd be forgiven if you were put off by that. I know I was.
The plot thickens though, as a little bit before the game's release, I played the demo of it. Again, this story might sound copy & pasted from Space Marine, but, hated the demo. Didn't see the appeal, and was turned off to the whole idea of the game pretty quickly. Then, similar to the Space Marine situation from last year, I started hearing people talking about it. Again (sorry, the situation is just so similar!) I think it was the Giant Bomb guys who were discussing just how fucking batshit insane the game was. So I decided to rent it from Gamefly.
What followed was one of the most entertaining experiences I've had with a game. Or was it the most entertaining experience I've had with an anime? Maybe it's both! The bit about it being a huge QTE is accurate enough, there are in fact quite a bit of them. But they are handled well for what it's worth (more on that later). There's also a fairly basic character action game embedded in there that's nothing really to write home about. I think I've documented my feeling on character action games before though. I appreciate simplicity, I don't like the game to be overly challenging, but still feel engaging. It's probably why I prefer games like Enslaved: Odyssey to The West over something like Bayonetta. One game had simple combat, and instead focused on a rich story. While the other focused so much on an over-the-top combat system that I think it lost the thread on where the story was going.
Anyways! While Asura's Wrath might not have the most engaging combat in the world, and the rest of the game basically boils down to a glorified version of "Simon Says" while watching the insanity unfold, I think it's still an amazing example of how we can do interesting stuff with video games.
As I mentioned, everything else about the game is insane. It also happens to be immensely enjoyable. The story is a revenge tale, and it follows a certain Shonen anime style archtype. Except here you getting this entire narrative in a much easier to digest format of about 6 hours of game, instead of hundreds of episodes, spread out through several years of your typical Shonen anime. Shonen anime typically consist of a main character who overcomes all obstacles to be the ultimate badass, and you can bet your ass Asura does that in spades. The shit he goes through, the battles, and the action that takes place is enough to get you pumping your first in the air, or maybe yelling out "BURST!" whenever the need arises.
I mentioned that they handle the QTEs in a really fantastic way. What I mean by that is that the button prompts actually get you involved in the action. When shit hits the fan, and Asura is on the ropes. And a screen that is just plastered full of "B" buttons hits you directly in the face, it's fucking amazing. You will hammer on the B button for all it's worth, until your finger is a ruin, and your eyes are bulging out of your head. Just so that the angry, robotic anime man can save his daughter.
The story is great, even if you're not typically into that sort of thing. I've heard from plenty of people this year, including members of the Bombcast who got caught up in it. You go along for the ride in this game, and it's hard to put it down once you've started. There are absolutely insane twists and turns in the plot which will almost certainly have you yelling out "HOLY SHIT!", and amazingly enough the game also manages to be touching at times. Probably thanks in no small part to another beautiful soundtrack this year. The soundtrack features plenty of blood pumping beats like Orphan Wolf Legend which set the mood for some of the game's coolest moments. And then you have hauntingly stirring pieces like the game's titular Furuer Kokoro which tug at the heart strings. Either way, Chikayo Fukuda probably produced the most memorable, worthwhile anime soundtrack in existence.
Furthermore, after I had finished the game, I sent it back to Gamefly. But promptly purchased a copy when the DLC for the game started coming out. If anything, that's the one major disadvantage that the game has going for it, and it's that you have to pay extra in order to truly finish the story. And make no mistake about it, if you're invested enough to have gotten through the main game, there's no question about it. The additional ending chapters DLC is required viewing. The other DLC? Not so much, but they definetly did some interesting stuff with it.
|3. Ys Origin|
As I previously mentioned, there were several games this year that took me by total surprise. Ys Origin was another one of them. Previously I had dabbled in the Ys games, and found that they were enjoyable to a point. And in fact I think I would really love most of them if it wasn't for one fatal flaw: platforming. I'm really terrible at platforming in games, and for the better part of my life I've actually avoided games which feature heavy platforming because not only am I atrocious at it, but it really shoots my nerves. Thanks to my fear of heights in real life, which has somehow managed to effect me in games as well. My stomach pretty much bottoms out when I fall from a great distance in games. It's sad.
Fortunately, Ys Origin at least doesn't feature any difficult platforming. There is still light platforming, but out of my three (!) playthroughs of the game I've never encountered a frustrating instance of platforming. And I think it's really as simple as that, because if the other Ys games are like Origin, then it's a safe bet I'd fall in love with them too.
I already wrote an entire blog about Ys Origin earlier this year, which you can find here. So I won't spend too much time gushing over the game, but wow, is it fantastic. As I mention in my blog post above, I think it takes elements from Zelda and does them in a way that's more appealing to me, nowadays anyway. The game also reminds me a lot of Recettear, with it's dungeon crawling, and obvious anime influences, but done- better I guess? And I say that as someone who really loved Recettear. It's also a lot more "actiony" and again, as I expressed in the blog post, it's eye-opening to see the Japanese side of action RPGs.
That isn't to say I'm new to that genre either. The Mana series for example is a favorite of mine, but it's just been so long since I've been able to experience something like this, that I think it connected with me on a special level that says "Hey, remember this? You need more of this in your life." With that said, I would adore it if XSEED were to continue it's effort in bringing Falcom games over here. The PC seems like a perfect platform for this, as I believe both Ys games released on Steam this year did quite well. Whether it's the right price point that is allowed via this distribution platform, or just that it's more likely people have PCs that can these system resource friendly games, I just think it makes sense, and can work. i know that I'm not alone in this, as many North American games would like to see the sequels to Trails in the Sky. Personally, I think Nayuta no Kiseki sounds like my dream game.
All that said, I guess a few comments about Origin itself would be appropriate. It's a fun game, really fun. Fun enough that I almost played through it completely three times in rapid succession. The different abilities you get are dished out at just the right pace that the game always feels like something new and exciting is happening, waiting to be played around with. The bosses are a delight for any action RPG fan, many of them with their own little puzzle to solve to beat them, and on harder difficulties you will be required to get down some pattern recognition. If that's your thing. The story is decent, as I'm lead to believe most Ys games aren't really about the story so much. I like the characters, and there's a few moments that had me tear up. Particularly I think the relationship between Hugo and Epona is especially heart warming. (Man, really no wiki entires for those characters? Might be a project I can do). And of course, the soundtrack is spectacular. Again, something I have been told Falcom does very well. Beyond The Beginning is probably the single most epic piece of music I've heard in a game this year.
|4. The Walking Dead|
Guys, I feel kind of strongly about The Walking Dead. Again, I could say that this is another one of those games that came out of nowhere, especially considering the tragedy of Telltale's Jurassic Park. But... I think the writing was on the wall with how The Walking Dead would shake out pretty shortly after people got their hands on it.
If nothing else, The Walking Dead is a shining example of what can be achieved in video games outside of engaging gameplay. The Walking Dead shows the merit of being able to interact, and influence how a story plays out. Sure, player choice has been a part of games for quite some time, but not like this. For example, In Mass Effect, you, as Shepard make decisions like exterminating the last of a dying species. In The Walking Dead you decide if you want to give a hungry kid a package of breadsticks and cheese. Obviously one choice seems way, way more important. Like by magnitudes right? But in this instance, not giving the kid a snack presents instant repercussions that feel more personal and immediate than an extra bit of dialog in a sequel several years later.
If nothing else, The Walking Dead is an interesting social experiment where player choice is recording on a stat page at the end of a episode, that shows you how other players reacted. This has several profound effects. For example, it makes you think "Did I do the right thing", or maybe it makes you feel very passionately about your choices: "How can these people be so stupid? This was obviously the right choice!" It also provides interesting "water cooler" discussions: "Wasn't it crazy when this character died?" "Wait, what? That person didn't die in my game!". Again, not a totally unique situation for gamers, but that's usually reserved for open world games where at any given moment something unpredictable can happen. Not a fairly linear narrative.
If nothing else, The Walking Dead shows us that games can tackle mature subject matter in a tasteful way. Granted it's full of grizzly violence, and foul language, but that's just something that comes along with the territory. Instead of being gratuitous and over-the-top for the sake of shock value, The Walking Dead presents horrific situations, and imagery which leave a lasting impression on the player. The game provides moments where you'd be forgiven if you had to put down the controller and walk away for a bit, just to stew over the terrible thing you just witnessed.
But you know what? The Walking Dead isn't just that, or that, or that. It's also a wonderfully told story, written by insanely talented individuals that were able to make you weigh every decision. Love, or hate the characters you will certainly feel something for them. They were able to make a child in a video game lovable, not even just likable, but influence players in such a way that you felt responsible for her, that you would do anything to protect her from this tragic world. The game has a wonderful presentation to it, and Telltale has certainly honed their craft with this game, but it's the writing more than anything that makes this game shine out like a beacon in the dark. I suppose it doesn't hurt that Telltale managed to round-up some incredible voice talent that made the characters feel real. More real than the AMC television series has managed to accomplish even if what I've been lead to believe is accurate.
Personally, I played the first two episodes of The Walking Dead and fell in love with it. It inspired me to read the entire current run of the comics between episode 2 and 3, and introduced me to the wonderful, if not completely horrendous world of Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead. I'll no doubt check out the TV series at some point, and probably even end up playing the-what will most likely be an inferior romp that completely misses the point- first person shooter. My whole time with this universe has been a highlight of my year.
|5. Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward|
If I had one regret about my 2010 Game of The Year list it would be that I didn't include 999 on it. I didn't get full swing into playing it by the time I had wrote the list, and sadly it was missing from a list where it otherwise would have done exceptionally well. I ended up really loving that game, it's crazy story, and the jaw-dropping revelations that come along with it. So, as not to make that same mistake again, I made sure to play 999's sequel, Virtue's Last Reward as soon as possible. Good thing too, because the game ultimately took me over 40 hours to see everything.
In much the same way 999 was great, VLR is even better. Sure, it took me a little while to warm up to this new cast of characters, and for a while there I thought that the twist weren't nearly as mind-blowing as those in it's predecessor That soon changed though, in a big way.
The success of games like 999/VLR is pretty amazing. These type of Visual Novel games are pretty common in Japan, but sadly we don't see many of them here. Outstandingly enough 999 seemed to hit in a big way, at least guaranteeing a stateside release of the sequel, but I think it's also paving the way for more games of it's ilk to come out here. Corpse Party is another recent example. This is great news, because these games tend to contain very worthwhile stories, along with the batshit insanity that comes out of Japan.
Sorry, again, for the rambling. About VLR though... the game is broken up into two parts. The primary mode of "play" is the Novel sections where you just read, and make some decisions. More on that in a bit. The other portion of the game is "Escape" and involves solving a series of puzzles. Now, the puzzles are kind of take it or leave it. They're probably not up to par with something out of a real puzzle game, but I actually really enjoy them! I found them stimulating in the way that makes you feel super intelligent once you figure them out. I know a point early on in the game where I was trying to figure out a puzzle and had made liberal use of the game's built in note pad. I was writing shit down, and cross referencing it with in-game documents trying to piece things together. It was fantastic! And when I solved it I did a fist pump and let out a silent "Hell Yeah!". Not often that I get that sort of feeling. To be fair though, I'm probably in the minority of people who even give two shits about the puzzles in these games. And even though I enjoyed them for the most part, I definitely found myself thinking at times "Fuck, I don't want to do puzzles now, I want to see what happens next!".
Make no mistake about it, it's the novel sections that really sell the whole thing. The story in VLR is fantastic, as you'd probably expect, or at least hope from a game that's primairy goal is to tell a story. You are introduced to a colorful cast of characters that are thrown into a decidedly less colorful situation. Things are grim for these people, and a large portion of the game's appeal lies in finding out who these people are, and more importantly, how they're going to get out of this situation. As I mentioned previously, this game lays on the craziness, the twist in the story are something I like to refer to as "mindfucks" and I devour each juicy morsel of each brain-shattering development. Seriously though, it's been a thing in the Giant Bomb community to get Patrick Klepekk to get the true ending in 999 because the pay-off is so huge, and again, sorry to use the term again, mind-blowing! The same holds true for VLR, and boy what a mindfuck it is! After I finished VLR I put the 3DS down and just starred at the wall in silence for a good half an hour. occasionally uttering "...what?", "....why?", "...but how?" as I mulled over the previous 43 hours I spent on the game in my head. And then I continued to think about it for the next week. Hell, I'm starting to think about it all again now.
And I'll tell you, I couldn't be happier knowing that Kotaro Uchikoshi is going to be making a third game in the series. It should be noted that you could totally pick up VLR and play it as a standalone experience, but if you've played 999...man, MAN! Some of the revelations in this game will floor you. And the ending already lays the groundwork for another game, leaving me, and countless other fans to ponder on theories and speculation for the next however many years.
Aside from what I've already talked about, the rest of the game is solid as well. It has a fitting soundtrack, though not one I'm necessarily happy to sit down and listen to, if anything, it gives me anxiety attacks when I hear it. The character designs by Kinu Nishimura are wonderful. I will say that the CG can look a bit awkward, especially when seeing screengrabs in random news stories around the web, but I think while playing the game it clicks. Another thing to note is the voice over, while I can't speak to the Japanese side of things, I will say that Aksys did a wonderful job here as well. Employing some of the localized Japanese game communities best, including my personal favorite lady, Laura Bailey, as Luna, and a fucking outstanding performance by Cindy Robinson as Zero III. As a side note, Cindy also did the voice for Labyrs in this year's Persona 4 Arena, which sadly did not make the list, but still worth noting as she's clearly a very talented individual who knows her craft well.
|6. XCOM: Enemy Unknown|
Alright, so, probably tired of hearing this by now, but XCOM was another one of those games that just came out of no where for me this year. The funny thing about this one is, if I had known what X-COM was all about, I would have been eagerly awaiting this game with baited breath. Regardless of what the original PC games were like, which from the sounds of it, were probably a little too hardcore for my taste, just the concept of XCOM is enough to wet my appetite.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a tactical turn-based strategy RPG
...so sayeth the Giant Bomb page for XCOM. Which to me basically equates to: "Yo, this shit is like Fire Emblem, but with aliens and guns instead of swords and magic." Again, You'll have to forgive my ignorance for not realizing that X-COM was this from the start, and thus acknowledging, it's reputation as a juggernaut in this genre space. With that said, I do love me some Fire Emblem.
So, step one out of the way, "Find out what XCOM is all about." Step two was to "be extremely excited by this revelation and furiously download the demo." Kinda nice that the revelation lined up perfectly with the release date of the demo, huh? So I tried the demo, and am pleased to finally say that it was fucking awesome! As rote as my usual experience with anticipated demos is, it was a nice change of pace to be rewarded with one that made me even hungrier for the final product. And hungry I was, for if you'll recall back a few months when this was coming out, XCOM and Dishonored were releasing on the same day. Previously I had been fuck-all excited about Dishonored, but after the demo of XCOM I couldn't be assed to think about Dishonored. That trend would continue upon my acquiring both games, my playing way, way, way more XCOM than Dishonored, and finally deciding that XCOM was one of my games of the year, while I felt Dishonored was a bit disappointing.
I digress though. On to talking about the god damn game! XCOM is, in a way, kind of the polar opposite of most the games on this list. XCOM has a story. I don't give a shit about XCOM's story. Like, at all. The gameplay though.... hooooooly crap. XCOM is a delicate balancing act of the tactical strategy battles, and the RPG-like management of everything that goes on. Very good news for a Fire Emblem fan, I assure you. Each battle requires caution, careful placement of units, using your units together to overcome obstacles, where in a lot of cases the odds are stacked against you. Eventually my squad was pretty fucking incredible, but even then it is HARD to look down a wave of bloodthirsty Mutons, and god forbid you see more than one Sectopod. Oh man, and that last room in the game? Shit is whack!
Meanwhile you have to make sure everything is coming together on the managerial side of things. Truth is, you have extremely limited resources, way too much shit to buy, and even less time to do it all in. This stuff is so crucial to your success that the moments where you are clicking through menus in your base camp can be just as intense as facing down those Mutons! If this is your kind of thing, than XCOM certainly scratches that itch.
I mentioned earlier moments in The Walking Dead that had you talking with your friends about how certain things turned out. Well, true to my word, it happens in other games too, on a purely mechanical level. Due to the multitude of factors in XCOM, not the least of which is randomness, and luck, nearly every moment in the game can play out differently. Differently among your friends, and differently among different playthroughs of the game for you. It's also because of this that you can have these really epic stories about shit that happened to you and your squad. Swapping these stories can be every bit as addicting as the game itself, especially for someone like me who feeds off of the various strategy elements.
For instance, I couldn't shut up on Twitter about my squad while I was playing the game. Particularly my Sniper, Lenneth "Valkyire" Platina, who was for the most part my only female squad member, and the only person in the squad who wasn't named after a rapper. My sniper build was such: Squadsight, Damn Good Ground, Disabling Shot (rarely used), Executioner, Double Tap (!!). Basically all that means is that my sniper could usually* (*a bit foggy on the limitations of Squadsight, sometimes it seemed like I couldn't attack everything my squad was seeing, and that was a bummer, still an incredible perk though) shoot anything that my other squad members could see, had better aim and defense when she had a height advantage (combine that with the Skeleton Suit, or better and you could always get to high ground), had even better aim (it was already ridiculously high) when the enemy was below 50% health, and for the cherry on top- could perform two-fucking-attacks per round!! This included using her "Headshot" ability, which increased the damage critical hits did (of course she'd get a critical most of the time) and the normal shot. By the end of the game with the Plasma Sniper Rifle she was one-shotting most enemies, two at a time, or single-handedly dismantling a Sectopod. And even though she passed the test to become a Pisonic, I hardly ever needed to use any of those abilities on her! Now I don't know if that description did anything for you, but it's shit like that, that gives me a massive nerd boner, and makes me want to do that so bad, so hopefully someone will persuaded to try it if they haven't already.
One more war story for the road, then we can move on, I promise. My first multiplayer game could NOT have gone better. I mean, I guess everything could have gone according to plan, but I don't think the result would have been nearly as entertaining. Basically in XCOM multiplayer you have a pool of points you can spend outfitting your squad. In short, every piece of equipment, or ability you take costs points. The better the character is, the more points in consumes. So ideally you're striking a good balance of well... balanced characters. I... didn't want to do that. So! I dumped a ton of points into the deadliest sniper you could imagine, setup a grunt solider with a shotgun, and threw in one little Sectoid with my left over points. I had my Sniper go up to the roof of the building, while my assault solider scouted around for the enemy. The Sectoid, well, the only thing, and I do mean the only thing he did the entire match was use his ability to channel energy into the sniper to make the sniper even more badass.
So the grunt notices some equally "grunty" foot soliders and my sniper pops em' off. No Problem. Then, my opponent who obviously had the same mindset as me brings out their big badass. This freak is filled to the brim with psionic juice, like really, this thing could rival an Ethereal. So psycho solider mind controls my grunt. Bet he's thinking "Ahhh yeah, how do you like that shit!?". My turn. Select my sniper, two shot Athena. "How do you like that shit!?" I yell to no one in particular. Keep in mind my Sectoid is still linked to my sniper. So, anyways. All this guy has left is a bunch of Sectoids. No problem right? And then it happens. The Sectoids come up to the roof, they attack my Sectoid. He dies. And then.... my fucking sniper dies instantly because the mind link was severed! You would think I'd be furious, but I was laughing my ass off. I had absolutely no idea how the mind link worked, and that when the channeler died, so would the recipient. As much as I was laughing, the other guy must have been in tears! Unfortunately for him, I still had my reclaimed grunt, so I brought him up to the roof, and started laying waste to his Sectoids. There was nothing he could do to stop me, and once again victory had been snatched out of his palms. Right before I could kill the last Sectoid though I guess he had the last laugh (not really!) because he ragequit and disconnected from the match. However I lived to tell the tale in a Giant Bomb Game of The Year list, so really, I still win!
|7. Sleeping Dogs|
Okay, for real guys. This is the last time I'll say this (this year at least), but Sleeping Dogs was yet another game I was not expecting to enjoy nearly as much as I did. Can you blame me? It was previously a canceled True Crime game. How bad does a True Crime game have to be in order for it to be canceled. Which, considering the quality of Sleeping Dogs, in retrospect, what the fuck were they thinking canceling this? Maybe it went through a lot of work from then and when it released. All I know is that I'm thankful Square Enix swooped in and helped make this a thing that happened. Because, man, it is one hell of a game.
Firstly, it's an open world sandbox game. I've been known to like those in the past, so that checks out. Secondly it's set in Hong Kong, that seems like a pretty interesting setting, so that sounds good too. Thirdly it has a real melee combat system, with combos, and counters. Wait, what? Really? At that point it's easy to draw comparisons between games like Grand Theft Auto, and Yakuza, While Yakuza is already reminiscent of Shenmue. Niiiice.
So yeah, the game is a hell of a lot of fun. The melee combat holds up, and it doesn't hurt that a lot of the moves, including environmental kills are fucking brutal. Okay, well I guess it hurts them. Eventually you get a gun, and at that point certain parts of the game aren't quite as entertaining, but the shooting is totally competent, and there's some slow-mo John Woo type shit, kind of like Stranglehold, but in a better game. I also liked the driving, but then again I always like driving around in these games just listening to the radio stations, and speeding around. But there's something special to be had there too with the hijack-move that have your character leaping from your current vehicle onto one your chasing, and commandeering it.
It's stuff like that, that separate this game from other sandbox games. A lot of the crazier shit would actually fit right in with Saint's Row, but I think there's an important difference here. Sleeping Dogs straddles the line between absurdity (Saint's Row) and seriousness (Grand Theft Auto). That is to say, a lot of the action in the game is more on the absurd side, but the tone of the game, particularly the story is on the serious side. I find that this is a pretty nice balance between the two, and might in fact actually enjoy this one game more than either of those series.
Speaking of the story, it's surprisingly good. I mean, I guess you wouldn't think that at a glance, but if you dig in you see that there's a lot going on here. There's some great character development along the way, and by the end of the game I felt like I was closer to Wei Shen, more so than any other open world protagonist at least.
Aside from that, it really is about just being as ridiculous as possible. Including the soundtrack which is just off-the-fucking-wall. I found myself laughing out loud at stuff that happened in the game, and it all looks pretty cool at the same time. I remember one time in particular where I was racing to a mission objective in a really fast sports car. I must have been doing 120 mph or something, slammed into a railing, flew out, over the quest objective, overshooting it by several yards, as I flew right into the ocean... and survived. Then I had to swim back to the shore and activate the objective. That's just good fun man.
If nothing else though, even if this wasn't one of my games of the year, we at least got these two videos out of it. I swear, those two Quick-Looks are two of my all-time favorite videos on Giant Bomb now.
|8. Binary Domain|
Alright, Homestretch! Here we go! Binary Domain! It's a game! A game made by Toshihiro Nagoshi to be exact. Now, if you know me, you know I love me some Yakuza games. Love em! So when Sega announced a new game from Nagoshi, I was... cautiously optimistic. On the one hand, it was a Nagoshi game, so chances were pretty high that I was going to like it, or at least some parts of it. On the other hand, Binary Domain was looking like another "Oh hey, this will appeal to a western audience" cash in. We've seen it before, it's not pretty. On the other, other hand, Vanquish was preeeety cool.
So, it could have gone either way with Binary Domain. And in fact, at first I thought it wasn't a very good game. God, let's see how this process went again... I rented Binary Domain shortly after it came out, and I played a bit of it. I wasn't thrilled with it. I don't know what the reasoning for that opinion was, if it just wasn't clicking with me right away. Or maybe I wasn't in the mood for it at the time. I think another thing that wasn't helping it was that I was currently playing Mass Effect 3 at the time, which by all accounts is a better shooter (oddly enough). So, it just didn't click with me. I sent it back. Then, shortly after that I rented Yakuza: Dead Souls.
Now, to understand the importance of this next bit, you just need to know that Yakzua: Dead Souls actually came out in Japan way before Binary Domain. So, my theory is that Nagoshi was just really itching to make a third person shooter game. His first attempt was with Yakuza: Dead Souls, and when that didn't quite work out. He said "fuck it" and decided to try again with a new IP. Anyways... yeah. Yakuza: Dead Souls is a fucking terrible game man. Like, I wanted to like it, I really did. As I mentioned, I love the Yakuza series, and by all accounts the story in the game, as ridiculous as it was (even for a Yakuza game) would have probably been something I enjoyed. But the gameplay was so god damn bad, it was unbearable really. That combined with the typical length of a Yakuza game, complete with a lot of side quests... just, Nah. I couldn't do it man.
So it was around this time that I started hearing people talking favorable about Binary Domain. They were saying things like how crazy the story was, and how great the characters were. It started to sound like this was Yakuza: Dead Souls done right. To add onto that, Big Bo kind of became a "thing" for me after the Giant Bomb Quick Look. So, I did what any sane person would do in this situation. I rented the game again from Gamefly.
For whatever reason, that is still beyond me, the game suddenly clicked with me. Surprisingly so. The shooting still isn't great, but there's charm in it. Being able to dismember the robots is entertaining enough, and the game doesn't have bad shooting by any stretch of the imagination. Perhaps out of the shadow of Mass Effect's varied combat, Binary Domain was able to shine a little more for what it was. Plus it's kind of cool how it has very light RPG elements with upgrading your primary guns, and equipping these nodes that give you little bonuses.
That's not really why Binary Domain is a Game of The Year though. There's plenty of good games I played this year that had even better mechanics to back it up. No, for Binary Domain, unsurprisingly considering this list, and the developer, it's the story, and the characters that make Binary Domain memorable. For one, the story is deceptively good. I know, Yakuza has built up an entire series of games that have rich stories and characters. But looking at Binary Domain it's hard to shake off that feeling of "Man, this is a third person shooter. Better yet, it's a weird Japanese third person shooter. Remember how we were just talking about Vanquish and how cool that game was? The story sure as shit wasn't! So why would this be any different?" That inner monologue aside, I was very impressed with the places Binary Domain went.
It's not Shakespeare- or maybe more accurately something I actually like, that is modern, relevant, and not just a turn of phrase, but that will do- but it's a surprisingly deep story that tackles some interesting, possible 9hopefully?) future issues of robots, and humanity. Probably something about racism in there too (lol at the games cast of characters) but it's been a while, so forgive me. And, as a trend on this list, it has some pretty sharp turns in the narrative that will Blow You Away™ - IGN.com. It also doesn't hurt that Binary Domain has a colorful cast of characters that have a hidden depth to them. As funny as Big Bo is, he really has some, I can't believe I'm going to say this, heartfelt moments in the game.
It was this story, and these characters that made me want to keep playing the game, that is to say I had a hard time putting the controller down when I was on a roll. And it was also because of this that my opinion started increasing more, and more gradually as the game went on. I basically went from being unimpressed with the game, to liking it, to really liking it, and finally after everything was said and done thinking "Damn, That was a good fucking game." Honestly, I've been thinking about Binary Domain all year. It's always been on the tail end of the list, always threatened to be replaced by what are essentially "better" games. But, I couldn't do it! I couldn't replace Binary Domain. Like, I have a txt file I keep on my computer documented my Game of The Year process. I start at the beginning of the year and I add games to the list. Every game I play. I assign a "review" score to each game. 1-5. Binary Domain was a 4. I have about 10 other games that are 5s. I kept an updated list of my Top 10. Binary Domain never left the list! I always thought stuff like "Man, you know Borderlands 2 probably is better than Binary Domain, but..." and yet here it sits! Even crazier is that while I've been writing this list Binary Domain was locked in at tenth. Now I think I want to move it higher? It's weird! My friend asked me game recommendations for her two teenage cousin's Christmas present. At first she joked "What about Binary Domain?" we laughed, said "Big Bo!" a few times, and then I was like "...actually maybe you should get them Binary Domain." And she did. Weird!
Anyways, sorry for that uh... whatever that was. Me discovering my true feelings for Binary Domain I guess. Anyways, to wrap this up. Binary Domain is a good game, but a better story, a memorable one. It has some oddities, like the poorly implemented voice commands, and the weird multiplayer that I guess I honestly don't know anything about. But in the end, it's pretty dang cool. What up Big Bo!?
|9. Dust: An Elysian Tail|
Dust is my obligatory indie game of the list, this year. And that's saying something, because there were quite a few really awesome indie games this year. I've actually been interested in Dust for quite a while now, dating back to whenever the first trailer was revealed, and was kind of dreading for a while there that it would never come out. Thankfully it did, and Dean Dodrill did an amazing job. If you don't know the story of Dust development, Dean pretty much made this epic game by himself. It's the main reason it took so long to come out, and when you play the finished product, feel free to lift your jaw up off the floor at what one man was able to put together.
I guess I should mention the fact that Dust (stupidly) is a controversial game. Why? Because it has anthropomorphic creatures in it, and thus appeals to the "furry"crowd. Now, I'm not saying that it doesn't, because it certainly does that. I'm also not the biggest fan of that kind of character, but I'm certainly not against it either. In fact there are some great character designs in this game. Some characters I would even consider calling "cute." So what if they're furry? It's a dumb thing to get hung up on. Still can't enjoy the aesthetic? That's fine too. But there are some (ignorant) people who won't even try the game, let alone enjoy it because it features "furries" I'm sorry, but that's fucking retarded. Being an open minded person myself, and priding myself on that fact, I'll say that I've no interest in people who can be so narrow-minded about things. Especially this, like, really? It's not like you're going to get cooties if you play as a fox-man. And as many people have pointed out, by rallying against this design, you're pretty much saying you don't like things like Looney Toons, Disney's Robin Hood, Ducktails, or Space Jam. How the fuck you not gonna like Space Jam?
But, whatever. Wanna be that way? Fine. Meanwhile I'm going to tell all the cool people out there about this game (finally). So firstly, Dust is very similar in style, and gameplay to some other favorite games of mine. Namely Odin Sphere, and Muramasa: The Demon Blade. Both of these are Vanillaware games that feature side scrolling exploration, and combat, with light RPG elements (more so in Odin Sphre, but whatever). So when I saw the trailer for Dust way back when, I was instantly on board. Like, hey, this game looks gorgeous, it looks fun, and it's a downloadable game that will probably cost me $15. All of those things are true about Dust.
Oddly enough, I went through a "phase" with Dust in the early goings. When I first tried to play it, I was playing it on Normal. Which, in retrospect probably isn't too hard, once you get the hang of it. Especially later on when Dust is overpowered as hell. But at first I was getting pretty frustrated with the difficulty. I know I'm not the only one though, as my friend had the same problem with the game to start. And for him he had actually completely 100%'d Muramasa on the harder difficulty, so I knew there was some weight in that concern. So it put me off to the game at first, I put it down for a couple weeks while I played other stuff, probably other stuff that wasn't as good, I can't remember. Regardless...
I'm glad I picked it up again, because what followed was, well, obviously, one of the best game experiences I had this year. The combat is definitely fun, and like I said, in retrospect, probably not that bad. I actually started up a new game, and got half way through it with little to no problems on Normal. So I just think it takes some practice, and some knowledge about the games. (Protips: Be careful about using your Aerial Dust Storm in areas with "bomb" enemies. That'll fuck you up real good. Make sure to make liberal use of the counterattack ability. Some bosses might seem like they take forever to kill, but counterattack them and they go down like a bag of rocks. Finally, for the love of god, stack health regen. I cannot stress this enough. You will go from having to constantly pig out on restorative food, to basically being an unstoppable killing machine that is fairly hard to kill.)
All that said, there's more! You might have heard Patrick or Brad talking about this on the Bombcast, but if not, know this. This game has a dark story. I know, it might not look like that from the outset, but make no mistake about it. Shit is grim. It's amazing the depth that Dean went through while telling this story. Like I said, it looks pretty fun and family friendly from the outset, but things go south for Dust fast. And, as I'm sure I have well and good established by now, I love a good twist. And this game has a few of them, some are pretty violent twist that hit you like whiplash, and that's the kind of thing I'm looking for in a good story.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the music in this game either. HyperDuck SoundWorks handled all the music in Dust, and it is a very beautiful soundtrack indeed. Feel free to head over to their BandCamp page to listen to the soundtrack for free, or buy it if you feel so inclined. I sadly haven't purchased it yet myself but it seems totally worth it.
Finally, I have to talk about my absolute favorite thing in the game. I feel bad about saying this is my favorite thing, given all the other incredible stuff I've talked about, but I really couldn't forgive myself if I didn't make mention of it here. So, there's 12 collectible "friends" you can get in the game. Two of them are HypderDuck SoundWorks mascots, which is cool and all, but the real treat comes in the form of the other 10 characters, who are all cameos from other X-Box Live Indie Games. Firstly, I'm a sucker for cameos. Not big on full on crossovers, but I do really get a kick out of it when you see a nod to something else you enjoy. So for example, I think the first one you find is Meat Boy, who sadly isn't that entertaining to get. Most of the other ones are just as awesome to get as they are to just be cameos (does that make sense?)
So in most cases you'll have to figure out how to reach the spots where the friends are located. You can usually tell which friend it's going to be if you have some knowledge about previous popular XBLA titles, because the area surrounding the case will feature something familiar to that character's game. So for example, if you were to see Dust himself in another game that aped this same Easter egg technique, you might wander into an air that looks like a watercolor painting, and has Fidget hanging out in the background. In some cases this is easy, in other cases it's the only thing in the game I ever had to look up because I had no fucking clue how to get it. And in one very special case...
...this is spoiler tagged and all, but I just had to share this because my thought process once I saw this Easter egg was "Oh man, Dust just got a spot on my GOTY list." So, you're in this snowy mountain area of the game, and as your climbing this mountain you might find a spot on a cliff face where there's an hourglass. So you should already know that Tim from Braid is going to be there. What isn't abundantly clear is how to actually do anything at the cliff face. At least, not at first it isn't. A little later on you find a mysterious red orb. The description on the orb is: "An opaque crystalline orb. What purpose does it serve?" Know where I'm going with this? So anyways, I'll admit, it was a little trial and error of figuring out what items I had, and what spots of the map I hadn't cleared yet. But one time when I went back to visit that cliff face I was like "HOLY SHIT! NO WAY!". So if you really don't know what I'm getting at, I'll explain. In the NES game Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, there is a ridiculously obscure part in the game. Okay, I guess it wasn't that ridiculous considering the rest of that game was shrouded by a fog of nonsensical bullshit. But this was really pushing it. Anyways, what you had to do in that game was equip the Red Orb, crouch next to the cliff face for like... I dunno 3 seconds or some shit? And then a mysterious tornado comes and whisk you away to your destination. That exact thing happens exactly the same way in Dust. To top it off, once you get into the Braid area Dust (or Fidget, I can't remember, probably Fidget) comments: "Well that was completely pointless." It was fucking perfect, and if you don't like that because you're afraid of a walking, talking fox-man, then fuck you!
|10. Tales of Graces F|
Tales of Graces f is kind of an anomaly on this particular list. One, it's a JRPG. Two, It's a game I was looking forward to. That's pretty crazy, all things considering. I love JRPGs, and I think I'd generally like to at least like games I'm looking forward to. Not a lot of that this year, sadly... yikes. Anyway...
Graces f is about what you'd expect from a Tales game. You either love them, or you hate them. They're very anime in both the visuals, but the storytelling as well. They're lengthy JRPGs with a lot of dialog and cutscenes. And theres about 60 hours at least of the same combat over and over again. I love it! Seriously though, like I said, you probably know if this is your cup of tea by now or not. Don't think I'm going to be able to sell you on it if not.
What I can say though is that it is very good at doing what it does. It's a beautiful looking game, I love the art style, and I love the character designs. Sophie and Cheria are both adorable, the latter being voice by Laura Bailey. The story has it's high points, but the main draw is the development of your party members through the numerous cutscenes, and "Skit Events" made famous by the Tales series. As usual with the Tales games, 8-4 did a wonderful job on the localization, while Cup of Tea Productions handled the voice cast. It's quality work if you're into this stuff, you know these writers, you know these voice actors. It all feels like coming back to a warm, and fuzzy home.
The combat in this game deserved a special nod, because it mixes up the usual format a bit. The combat in Graces f is kind of comparable to a fighting game. Where instead of just mashing the X button, and spamming your skills, you have to input button commands, and build up combos to unleash your devastating moves. I don't know which system I prefer, but this one is pretty damn cool all the same.
It was refreshing to finally have another good, solid JRPG, since they're exceedingly rare nowadays. This year also saw the release of Atelier Meruru, which I enjoyed, but maybe not as much as the previous game for it to make this list. And it certainly was a refresher after Final Fantasy XIII-2 at the beginning of the year... sheesh. It's sad because JRPGs are, or at least were my favorite genre, but it doesn't seem like they can keep up with the times.
Oh well, that bit of rambling aside, there's one last minor thing that I really enjoyed in Graces f that I wanted to note. It actually has a bit of fanservice in it for fans of the Tales series. First is a collectible card game. Each card features a character from past Tales games, accompanied by a quote from that character. Ultimately the cards are only used in a small side quest, and the card game itself is just a match game, so it's not that interesting, but I still appreciated it. The other thing was that the ultimate weapons in the game (there are two sets of them oddly enough) are all named after different games in the Tales series. Another nice little touch I thought.