We continue to be in the worst timeline, yet the games still come.
But first, some housekeeping:
Old Game of the Year:
Best Game I Put On My List Last Year:
Best Game I'm Waiting To Leave Early Access:
Best Game I Wish I Had Other People To Play With:
Best Game I Don't Know How To Play:
Best Premise That Wasn't That Great Of A Game:
Best Use of Hatsune Miku:
Best "Boy Y'All Sure Do Love This Game For A Reason I'm Not Seeing" Game:
Best "Hey, I Finally Started (But Haven't Finished) Playing Steins;Gate!" Game:
2019's Unofficial Eleventh Best Game Of The Year:
Best Games I Didn't / Barely(*) Played:
- AI: The Somnium Files(*)
- Apex Legends
- Disco Elysium(*)
- Outer Wilds(*)
- The Outer Worlds(*)
- Pokémon Sword/Shield
- Remnant: From the Ashes
- Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
- Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Runners Up (Unranked):
- Baba Is You
- Devil May Cry 5
- Dota Underlords
- Muse Dash
- Ring Fit Adventure
- SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech
- Steins;Gate Elite
- Telling Lies
- Untitled Goose Game
Game Of The Year:
While there are many games I wish I could have finished, there are two in particular I really wish I did. I liked them so much as is I'm including them on this list, but I have a hunch those games will be closer towards the top of my list when I'm finally done with them.
#10) Just Dance Now / Just Dance 2020:
I know it's too early to be saying this, but no, this isn't a goof. It turns out I really like Just Dance. The reason why I started playing these games is because I wanted to have an aerobic exercise I could do without thinking too much about "working out". I learned pretty fast that, 1) Moving around like a dork to pop music can be pretty fun, and 2) When you do like 5 to 10 songs in a row, you get a decent workout before you realize it.
Now I know exactly what you're thinking: "Hey, Just Dance has been around forever. Maybe you would have always liked these games. Why put it on your list of 2019 games?" Well, I'm glad you asked. Thankfully the answer is quite simple. One word, two colors:
As an occasional listener of the K-pop, I know at least three things about BLACKPINK:
- They are in your area.
- They are the revolution.
- Their songs slap.
Just Dance 2020 features the song "Kill This Love", which I consider to be a banger. This is my list, therefore I can make any argument I want, including that adding this one song alone is a significant contribution to the series, making Just Dance 2020 a noteworthy release in the Just Dance franchise, therefore it's on this list.
#9) Judgment [Work in Progress]
I started playing Judgment at the exact wrong time. I got about 10 hours into it and then life happened and then it ended up being so long since I last played it I'm thinking that I should probably just restart the whole game. In 2020 I most definitely will replay and finish Judgment, because I loved what I saw of this game so far. Without a doubt it is adjacent to the Yakuza series, but that's alright by me. I honestly don't have a ton to say about this, besides how this game is hitting a lot of the marks that made me like Yakuza 0 so much.
As promised, we have left the K-pop zone behind us. Now let us enter the synth-pop kingdom. Sayonara Wild Hearts is part concept album, part runner. When I first picked this up on Apple Arcade and tried playing it on my iPhone, it didn't immediately click with me. A few days later, I tried it out again on my Apple TV. While you can play this with a touchscreen, having this on a TV with surround sound pumping out those cool songs really sold me on the experience. Beyond that, the more I got into the game, the more impressed I was. At the beginning, you're just skateboarding and it's pretty straight forward. But over time you start riding mystic forest deer, flying through the air, surfing on hoverboards, and get trapped in a VR headset. This is a game you could easily beat in about 90 minutes, but it is a rad 90 minutes filled to the brim with styyyyyyyyyyle. Below I'm linking a video to the ending of the game, which is one of my favorite sequences in a game all year and shows how ridiculously gorgeous and crazy this game gets.
Super Mario Maker 2 is easily a better game than the original Super Mario Maker, but it is unfortunately on a lesser platform for this incredibly specific type of game. I definitely lost weeks making okay-ish levels and fumbling around with some concepts I never finalized and the community seems to be surfacing cooler stuff this time around. The main disappointment I have is it's significantly more difficult to watch other people both create and play levels. The first Super Mario Maker was on my 2015 GOTY list largely because of the Giant Bomb Makes Mario streams. I missed seeing people like Dan and Jeff create some bullshit. I miss stuff like the Goomba Pit. Between that and how the creation tools are laid out on the Switch, my time with Super Mario Maker 2 was both incredibly fulfilling, but ultimately short-lived.
#6) Control [Work in Progress]
Currently I'm about at the halfway point in Control. I know a lot of what this game has to offer, but I'm also aware there's still so much more to explore. I still don't know what's up with the Hiss, or what happened to Darling, or where's that refrigerator everybody keeps talking about. I don't have all of the powers yet, but the current unlocks I do have are a blast to use. It's so satisfying to pick up a fire extinguisher and throw it at a guy to see how that dude is just gone now. The balance between the amount you can use the service weapon and your telekinesis powers feels just right. The combat has a a great flow between shooting enemies and using your abilities, all while prioritizing enemies and going to different pieces of cover.
On top all that, Control has incredible world building filled with unsettling orders from The Board, slick voice over work from Max Payne himself, FMV, audio recordings, and memos. This is my number one game I wish I finished in December, but I just don't think I'll be able to see the rest of it over the next few days. If the second half is just as good as the first, then there's a high probability Control would have been even higher on this list.
#5) Resident Evil 2
I never played the original Resident Evil 2, but this remake feels like a warm blanket. With how so much of the AAA industry slapping games-as-a-service stuff onto everything, a straight forward horror game that's terrifying and campy (while being just grounded enough) feels nice. The small touches to the shooting, camera controls, and inventory modernizes this game so much. Capcom found a wonderful balance between a well playing game that still feels like a survival horror game. On the scale between "This is a horror game and it has to control like shit, because it will make it more tense" to "This has to be the embodiment of a Michael Bay action movie, because that's what sells nowadays", Resident Evil 2 falls right in the middle. I was so happy to play a game like this in 2019, and I can't wait to do it again with the remake of Resident Evil 3.
Based on the general vibe I got with DONTNOD's sequel to Life Is Strange, it sure doesn't seem like a lot of people played this game, which is a damn shame. Life Is Strange 2 is an incredibly impactful road trip game taking two brothers through Washington all the way down through Arizona. Unlike the first Life Is Strange which takes place in one town over the course of five days with a handful of key characters, Life Is Strange 2 takes place over the course of a year, through numerous locales, with a dozen or so truly well developed people the brothers meet throughout their journey. The game does have some heavy hitting moments, but it also equally nails the quiet ones. Stuff like Sean talking with his father, chatting with Lyla, meeting some strangers on the open road, and....certain other characters I'm not going to mention due to spoilers. (Sean and Daniel's mom and, wait what, David Madsen is in this game?!). Basically every side character has their moment to shine.
While I sincerely adore the first Life Is Strange, there's no doubt some stuff felt a little off about it. There are lines that human teenagers in the United States probably wouldn't say. One of the most impressive things about Life Is Strange 2 is how authentic and sincere everything is. It is one of the most grounded games I've played in recent memory.
Finally, having the story impacted by both Sean—the player character's—decisions and Daniel—who is influenced and receives guidance from his older brother—is a well done advancement of this type of adventure game. While you have full agency over Sean, there are times where Daniel acts based on how you helped raise him. This can range from minor things like if he curses when he shouldn't to larger decisions like how will he use his powers in a tight situation. Seeing how the game plays out differently based on how you raise your brother adds some more color to the typical binary, good / bad choices in a lot of these type of games.
Yo, this game is so much fun! It's also so god damn stupid in the best ways. It's a game that encourages you to break it apart just 'cus. It's a game that feels like they said "Yes" to every idea. Should there be like a hundred different weapons? Yes. Should some of those weapons have fighting game style input commands? Yeah. Should you fight Solid Snake welding a samurai sword, Dracula, a dragon, a slot machine, ninjas, and a giant cat? Hell yeah!! Putting aside how silly this game gets, I was legitimately surprised by how much fun I had traversing that castle, building out my character, and killing fools with the biggest sword I could get my hands on. Seeing this game in development and even watching the trailer that boasted about how they were fixing stuff like their "poop" art style, it sure looked like this game was going to bomb. Turns out, it ended up being my favorite playing game this year.
The reason why Fire Emblem is one of my favorite games of the year is for its story and characters. Playing through the Black Eagle House and seeing the places Edelgard and Company go is one of the most captivating experiences I've had all year. The game took characters who at first glance look two dimensional—the sleepy guy, the shy girl, the creepy guy, etc.—and fleshed them out to an amazing degree. One of the things that helps develop these characters is how in addition to your interactions with the students of Garreg Mach, they also talk amongst themselves. Want to know why two characters seemingly don't like each other? If their relationship develops you can hear them talk about it. Even pairing two people who at first glance may not have much to talk about can be revealing. For example, with one of these random pairings, a classmate discovered another student's hidden secret you would normally find out about until much later at the beginning of their relationship, almost by accident. All of the relationships either provide insight into the world, reveals something about a character's personality and backstory, or just turns out to be a funny story. It is so well done, it makes me want this type of system in the next Persona game.
So far I've only been talking about the social elements of Fire Emblem: Three Houses. In terms of the strategy elements I did enjoy them, but it also wasn't my favorite tactics gameplay in recent years (those honors go to XCOM 2 and Valkyria Chronicles 4). The stuff around the edges, like instructing your students and how they unlock new classes, is absolutely fantastic and rewarding. The battles themselves handle scale and drama remarkably well. That said, I also felt like I was overpowered for the vast majority of the game. At a certain point, my professor was impossible to kill, and many of my students somehow ended up 5 to 10 levels higher than most of the enemies, which is pretty significant since that means they essentially can't be killed in battle. It's fun to play out those battles, but there were times I didn't feel like anybody was in any real danger. Maybe I would have felt differently if I played on a higher difficulty or if I turned on perma-death. I didn't want to mess with reloading saves whenever somebody died. However, I also didn't realize I could end up rewinding time like 13 times per battle, which makes that possibility effectively zero later in the game.
As a complete package, I like just about everything in Three Houses, especially the social elements and where Edelgard's story goes. Throughout 2020, I know I am going to play through the Golden Deer and the Blue Lion houses to get the full experience. I can't wait to see the other sides of that conflict and to learn more about the 15 or so characters I still know very little about.
I'm just going to get right to it: Devotion is a masterpiece. There's a lot to unpack with Red Candle Games's second release and I don't want to list off too many bullet points. At the same time, there's a lot to talk about with this game and why it's such an achievement.
First and foremost, Devotion is a psychological horror game in a similar vein of previous horror games like Silent Hill 2. While it is a horror game that has the occasional jump scare and a few other things one would expect from this type of game, there is so much more to uncover.
It's a tragedy that breaks my heart. It's a complicated story about a dysfunctional family that treats its characters like they are actual people without relying on stereotypes or caricatures that are often seen in these type of stories. While Devotion is a bleak game that goes to some really dark places, there are also some sincerely heartfelt moments. When these scenes play out, I forgot about how I was in a terrible place and the built up tension washes away, at least for a moment. When it takes the time to explore these quiet scenes, I never felt itching to get back to the dread or the scares as I was so engrossed by the game's story. That said, when the unsettling imagery resurfaces and the scares do come back they are super effective, because of those moments that allows you to catch your breath.
While Devotion covers similar ground found in other media, not just video games, it still feels refreshing. Red Candle Games, which is based out of Taiwan, had a similar vibe with their previous game, Detention. Their games explore some universal themes and issues from the perspective Taiwanese people. For example, some of the many things Devotion tackles include gender issues and patriarchal family structures in both a relatable way, but also unique for the time and place this story takes place. At the same time, there's so much stuff to uncover between learning about different customs, pieces of folklore, or the random objects in the locations you are exploring.
The cultural touches are also highlighted through the intricate level design and the attention to detail the developers put into the game. While the game at times plays out with dream-like logic where things happen in a fantastical way, the spaces you explore also feel real and lived in. In addition to how the environment looks, this is also seen in the various notes and storytelling elements scattered throughout the game. The use of collectible notes is one of the best implementations of this type of system I have seen in a game. On top of all that, parts of Devotion's story is told through a shocking amount of FMV. For a three to four hour game made by a small indie studio making their first 3D game, the amount of detail layered throughout the entire game is incredible.
In terms of actually playing this video game, it has some similarities to games like P.T. Or at least it seems that way at first. Without saying specifically what happens or what some of the unique tricks play out as you explore the environment, Devotion continued to surprise me. About every ten to fifteen minutes, I would stop and think, "Oh man, that's so cool!" Generally speaking, when I play through a game I'll take a few screenshots. Usually it's for me to document something funny or for the purposes of gathering images for this here GOTY blog. On average, I'll walk away with anywhere from three to ten screenshots. With Devotion, I have 138. Between a well written note to a beautiful / horrifically designed room to something unexpected the game ended up doing, Devotion has probably broke my record for the number of screenshots I have taken while playing a game, because there was so much I wanted to capture.
At the time of this writing, Devotion has been pulled from Steam and is unavailable to for purchase. There are plenty of articles out there talking about what went down and its aftermath, but here's one story from Eurogamer I enjoyed reading at the time if you want to read more about it. Red Candle Games has given a few statements and interviews talking about Devotion's development and have responded to the controversy that unfortunately plagued the narrative around this game. They have indicated that they would like to see Devotion return to storefronts. Unfortunately, the game is still not available anywhere. The people who are able to play it today bought the game when it launched. One of the reasons I'm spending so much time talking about this game and including multiple screenshots is because many people will likely never play this game or know what it is. While I am hopeful Devotion sees the light of day again, there is a real possibility that may never happen.
If you have no way to play Devotion, I highly encourage you to seek out a play through on YouTube or Twitch. After I finished playing through the game, I wanted to immediately experience the game again, so I watched this stream where friends of the site Nina Freeman and Mary Kish play through Devotion in its entirety.
In terms of the games I've played this year, Bloodstained is probably the most fun I had playing something. Meanwhile, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is probably the most rewarding game I've played, especially in terms of the sheer volume of character interactions and with how I spent 80+ hours in a single play through. That said, my favorite overall game of the year is Devotion. Year-to-year the types of games I pick as my GOTY and the reasons behind it keep changing. Sometimes it's based on the writing alone or solely based on how fun it is or what the overall experience was like. In the past, one Brad Shoemaker has said that his definition of a perfect game is based on how closely he thinks a developer executes on their vision. This year, Devotion is the closest game to hit that milestone. While there are games I've had more "fun" with in 2019, Devotion is an exceptional achievement that hit it out of the park.