Most Disappointing Game: Asura's Wrath
I thoroughly enjoyed most of Asura's Wrath, and the hype surrounding the game wasn't altogether undeserved, but the combination of the way the ending worked and a stupid error on my part left a very bad taste in my mouth. I know that these days we tend to try and not think so much in terms of gameplay hours = value, but most of Asura's wrath's value for money comes from wanting to replay levels to obtain higher scores. Since I've never been the type of person to care much about scores and am far more concerned with enjoying the story, the fact that Capcom forced players to pay extra for the ending was ridiculous. Locking out the last 30 seconds of transition between the disc ending and the DLC ending behind S-ranking 5 levels took the ridiculousness to a level that, for me, was a dealbreaker.
Best Music: Sound Shapes
I am generally not a huge fan of platformers, but the combination of music creation and platforming in Sound Shapes is excellent. If you own either a Vita or a PS3 and are in to music at all, you must pick up this game. The whole soundtrack is incredible, but it contains the first new solo material that Beck has released since 2008, which is definitely the most exciting part for me.
I should probably make it clear here that I did not play Hotline Miami or Fez, but I have listened to their respective soundtracks. While I loved them, I think it's best to stick to soundtracks of games I've actually played. I'm thinking about picking up both games in the new year, but the backlog, it is huge.
Best 2011 Game I Played in 2012: Skyrim
I traded in my PS3 copy of Skyrim late in 2011, when I knew I could still get a good amount of money back for it and wound up getting a 360 copy for my birthday in February. I logged something like 80 hours on the 360 version and still am only about halfway through the main quest line and am still a good bit away from being finished with my personal Skyrim bucket list. Skyrim is definitely one of the two games I had the most fun with in 2012, the other will be in my top 5 below. Eventually I'll finish the things I want to accomplish in it, but I don't see myself being finished with that world for quite some time. I think only the release of the next Elder Scrolls game will stop me from picking this up and doing some adventuring from time to time.
Top 5 Games of 2012
I focused a great deal on playing games in my backlog in 2012, and there weren't a large number of titles released that I was interested in playing, so a top 5 is probably better for me this year than a top 10.
Christine Love's visual novel projects have been a little hit or miss for me. I generally cite Digital: A Love Story as one of the most interesting games I've ever played. The project in between Digital and Analogue, Don't Take it Personally, in comparison was a tremendous disappointment. She has completely redeemed herself in my eyes, however, with her latest effort. In Analogue, the player takes on the role as a sort of space archaeologist who has discovered a seemingly abandoned ship floating in the middle of space. Upon accessing the records of the ship, the player meets two separate A.I.s who tell an amazing story of the development and eventually decline of the ship's society and culture. If you enjoy visual novels at all or, like me, are an archivist who loves reading old personal letters and diaries, this game is pretty well a must play.
As a huge fan of shoujo manga and anime, I was thrilled when I heard that Aksys was planning to localize the main title in the Hakuoki series of Otome games. I am not fond of many of the themes in Hakuoki (its story focuses on the Shinsengumi's struggle against the Imperial forces in Japan and makes them vampires or demons or something), but it was a terrific example to me of how much better Otome games are than their anime adaptations. These days, likely due to the slumping economy and the temptation of cross-marketing, many shoujo anime titles are being adapted from Otome games, and these anime series are generally not particularly good. They are typically general to a fault, involving the protagonist in every drama possible in order to introduce as many of the romantic options as can be fit in to 12 episodes so as to entice viewers to purchase the game for further details. As a Western fan without access to the games, this is extremely frustrating. Hakuoki, whose anime adaptation is probably one of the best examples of exactly how crappy these anime adaptations can be, however, has several engaging stories to tell, some of which have a lot more emotional depth than I'm used to seeing in typical japanese pop fiction. I didn't finish all ofthe character routes in the game, but I thoroughly enjoyed those that I did, and will definitely pick this up again in the future when I want this style of gameplay.
Probably my most pleasant surprise of 2012, Style Savvy: Trendsetters is probably the best game for girls I've ever played. While I often say that I'm not a big fan of games for girls, this generally has more to do with what games for girls actually wind up being than my having trouble with the concept itself. Trendsetters is a fairly simple management sim: the player manages a fashion boutique, provides customers with items in the style they want, chooses which fashions to sell in their boutique and competes in taste-based fashion contests. While it's simple, if you have any interest in fashion, you should get a good deal of play time out of it. It's addictive, the clothes in the game look great, the character models are cute, and it's full of female characters who are working hard and succeeding in their respective careers. While some have complained that all of the character models and clothes are the same size (ie small and skinny), this is more of a mechanical limitation than anything else as having all the models and clothes be the same size makes the game a lot easier to fit on to one cartridge. Other than Skyrim, playing Trendsetters is probably the most fun I had with games all year.
I loved 999. I would probably put that game in my personal top 10 games of all time. As a sequel to 999, Virtue's Last Reward definitely did not disappoint, though I did not like it quite as much as the original. VLR took many of the principles introduced in 999 and amped them up to the next level in ways that were exquisitely crafted and well-thought out, and the changes to the flow chart system enabling the player to jump between nodes as in Radiant Historia is probably one of the best gameplay refinements I've ever seen in a sequel. That said, I felt like the sheer number of paths and endings in VLR divvied up all of the game's information in a way that I wasn't too fond of. I found that many of the character endings were totally unsatisfying, because the writers wanted to save all the best revelations for the True Ending. As there was a much smaller number of endings 999, I felt like each playthrough gave me just enough information to keep going and see what another start might bring me the next time around. VLR was a little too spread out for my taste to the point where a few times I really had to force myself to keep playing it. Also, in my opinion, only Luna's path in VLR came close to delivering the creepy atmosphere that I felt was present pretty well all the time in 999.
I don't think a game has ever taken me on such an emotional journey in such a short amount of time as Journey did. Beautiful art style and graphics, amazing atmosphere, and gorgeous music combine here to make one of the most incredible experiences that games, for me, have ever had to offer. In the roughly 2-3 hours that it took me on my first playthrough, I felt curious, puzzled, elated, horrified, miserable, and elated all over again. All of this occurred without actual characters or dialog or really anything aside from gameplay and atmosphere. Journey is one of the best examples that games have so much more to offer than violence.