It's that time of year again. I present another ordered list of games I have beaten this year. As with previous years this includes game not released this year. You can check out my 2017 and 2018 lists. In this list you will find a lot of my continuing thoughts on the FFXIV, DQ, Yakuza, KH, and Character Action. Thanks to having already wrote those thoughts down I have managed to go on as many long rants about my entire history with a series. You were not spared this for Pokemon or Fire Emblem. If you like that stuff but all means go to those old lists and enjoy?
12. Pokemon Shield
I guess it is important to begin with my history with pokemon. I am a pokemon lifer. I have never lapsed on the games since generation 1. Only came close once in Gen 3 due to the Hoenn region games having the worst "region" design.
I use that region term because I found a lot of what turned me off of Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald still persisted in the much later Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire remakes. It also explains why I still like Leaf Green and Fire Red with the same engine as my hate RSE. It is all those subtle things like gyms, new pokemon, pokemon distribution, type distribution, leveling curve, route design, etc. Warning a about to go on a very long rant about very small details of Gen3 to better context to how I read pokemon games in the next paragraph. You can skip but it helps with context.
An example from Gen 3 that is the common criticism of too much water. Which most people take to mean you have too travel on too much water routes. Which is true. But the real problem is some of the most common pokemon you encounter for the entire game not even on the water routes are the Wingull line and Lotad line. They have the typing of water/flying and water/grass respectively. These both negate water's weakness to grass. So choosing the grass starter to be your answer to water type pokemon is completely wrong. They also don't share a single weakness between each other. These would not be a problem if they were fairly rare to encounter all the time but they are everywhere. Lotad is only weak to poison, bug, and flying. At this point of the series bug and poison types are still generally very weak pokemon. Wingull weaknesses on the other hand are rock and electric. Rock types are weak to water so that's a wash. Leaving electric as the answer. Which this gen only introduced three new electric types with Plusle, Minun, and Electrike line. Plusle and Minun being gimmick pokemon that leaves Electrike one of the most uninteresting mono types pokemon around. This gets to one of my specific pet peeves with pokemon games. I really dislike it when solution to a problem is use an old pokemon over the new introduced ones. It is these things that every fan made pokemon game are out there trying to make in the very real sense this is what separates a good pokemon game from a bad one.
Now we get into my expectations for Sword and Shield. I have completed the national dex in Gen 1, 4, 5, 6, and 7. So yes I am exactly the person the dexit hurts. Completing my national dex is one of the activities I spend a good chunk of my pokemon time on. Definitely a big bummer for me. Still I wasn't exactly 100% with the pre release internet rage over the game. Which was less born out of the dexit itself and more born from decades of lofty expectations of what a console main entry pokemon game could be. I really wasn't looking for any change between the handhelds to console. I solely just wanted that good 'region' design that set Black and White and Gold and Silver above the rest of the pack.
Pokemon Shield doesn't have bad region design like the Hoenn games. It's totally fine. But that complicates my thoughts on this game because that is how I judge these games. Yet I my gut tells me that this my least favorite entry in the series so far. Sword and Shield are a sort of compounding of the problems the series had since Gen 5.
Sun and Moon was the next big attempt at doing story focus since Gen5. The problem they ran into was that unlike Gen5 they spent at least half of their story telling on shoving regional flavor down the players throat. That stuff is better kept to player's exploration of the space because it just leads to really dull and boring storytelling. This came back to bite the games hard with Ultra SM which instead of being sequels like B2W2 was instead a retelling in which most of it was having to sit through the same introductions to this region you have already been. It really just sucks the enjoyment out of those games. With Sword and Shield they have doubled down on that path. The story is practically 100% forced regional flavor. When plot even does an npc will show up and tell you not to worry about that instead focus on how we are all about sports here in the Galar region.
Another thing that personally has bugged me is pokemon padding. This was most apparent in X and Y. Black and White had given us the incredible experience of where only the new Kalos pokemon appeared until post game. You were 100% guaranteed always see something new with every encounter. Which is always the most exciting thing with new pokemon games. XY introduced so few new pokemon they compensated for it by just stuffing more and often old pokemon on to every route. You could go multiple routes without seeing a new pokemon. Sword and Shield does not have that problem as they introduced enough new pokemon to make that not happen. But they made the problem worse with the introduction of on the map encounter table and random encounter. This doubles the amount of pokemon on the already bloated routes. The entire wild area is this concept taken up to 11. Dexit some how results in having to sift through way more old pokemon than before in your game. They doubled down on the disadvantage of having all those old pokemon around while not taking advantage of removing old pokemon can bring. I would except a hard no old pokemon at all for the BW experience back. My final Dexit thoughts can be summed up in the famous Matrix quote "Not like this... Not like this.."
Now it is time to talk about this game's gimmick. Good news is I don't like Dynamax or Max Raid battles. So I won't have to miss them when they are thrown out like the trash they are for the next generation games. Sure it dumb that Dynamax can only best used in like 1% of your play time in game. I guess this is the best place to talk about the war crime they committed by reversing the best thing pokemon has ever done in making all TMs unlimited use for the sole purpose of making you have to grind out raid battles for single use copies of the good stuff.
This game is competing very hard for the spot of the worst mainline pokemon game. I personally give it the bottom spot as Gamefreak have shown they are capable of doing way better.
I got a Switch this year. I chose Fire Emblem to be my Switch game this year. After my 90 hours I regret that choice.
On a positive note, I made it that 90 hours through the game so it must have had something good. The characters, story, and concept of the game all very good. They just flounder in the execution. I played it on Hard Classic. Which lead to the problem of I felt I had to play the game trying to min max it's systems to the best I could. Min-maxing the professor systems is a massive uninteresting time sink. Those first of the month explore sessions to try and get maximum professor exp. Talking to everyone, searching every nook for items, returning lost items, and fishing for an hour and half once you secure a steady supply of bait. I felt like those sessions could easily extend into the 3-4 hour marks. The reward for getting the professor level is now you get to do more stuff per period. Now it time to do 6 random encounter battles a month in Fire Emblems slow and plodding combat or else not feel like I being efficient.
Which brings me to my next point Fire Emblem's base mechanics are not good they are just tolerable. Characters never really get any interesting abilities outside of fliers, mages that learn meteor or warp, and archers. Everyone else gets the same range footsies and one on one stats versus stats roll. Everyone lamenting their choice for choosing normal and the game being too easy don't worry you probably had the better experience. All playing on hard mode does it reveal how bad the random stats on level up system is. Your character who was a walking death machines a couple levels ago got a couple bad stat rolls and is just kind of mediocre to bad for a while. Instead of having a class full of cool badasses you get in normal, you end up with basically crew of serviceable combatants except that one character you dumped your stat up items who has become death, the destroyer of worlds, and trivializes the game anyways just taking more turns doing it.
I also went with Blue Lions and it was a bummer that my route seemingly completely lacked any additional world building. The game has some good ideas. It's a way too long for its own good. There could be about 4 more games on this list in place of this game.
10. Dragon Quest VI
If you read my previous years list you will see I have been on a quest through the Dragon Quest games. You can get most of my thoughts on DQ over there. This game is more on the lower ranks of DQ games.
This game brings back a class system like seen in DQ3. It is more fleshed out into something that resembles an FFV job system but I personally preferred DQ3 system. Part of that is they wrongly hold over the part from DQIII where the ability to switch classes comes in about a 1/3 through the game. This works in DQ3 because you assemble a party of classes at the beginning of the game. Where in VI your characters are base classes that are not classes because you don't even earn class experience until they take on a real class. It just weird to not have any access to the core systems for so long. I have played some DQVII this year and not far enough to really put it on this list. It does the same thing there but they make it feel better there by oddly enough making the game way longer. When dealing with such a long game it comes off a nice breath of fresh air getting access to the system to help you keep moving forward. That could have been the intention here as well but it just didn't land in a shorter game.
That gets into the rest of the game. This game is seemingly Yuji Horii's swing at doing what the rest of the industry had been doing while he had been off doing his own thing. It's the closest to you'll get to Yuji Horii's Final Fantasy. The game revolves around two world maps that you travel between. One is the real world while the other is the dream world. You get all sorts of dreams selves and real selves. Doing this in the dream world to have this happen in the real world, vice versa, etc. It gets real convoluted at times. Charting the course through the two world maps when playing through the game would give you the most ridiculous Gordian knot. It all works out well in the end but it is certainly one of those games you cannot step away from because you will be lost when you come back.
They made a Star Wars game and it was good. Probably something to be said how they most fun I had with the game was mowing down base storm troopers. How I made sure to push every Purge Trooper into a pit rather than fighting them. Engaging with the fight mechanics was not always the most enjoyable thing. Game could have used some fast travel. They still made a good Star Wars game.
I played another Yakuza game this year. It good like those other ones. You can read my Yakuza thoughts in previous years lists. The story of Yakuza 2 is a golden example of how to tell a sequel story. So good at being a completely different story that somehow finds it way to completely tie back into the story of 1 while completely reframing that story. It's good stuff,
I'm a big fan of the DS Castlevania games. This is a great one of those. They totally delivered. I think they only gripe I had was wishing they had just boosted the drop rate a bunch starting at the beginning. Would have helped to just more easily just get to see all cool stuff they had made.
This game came out on Switch this year which reminded me I still needed to beat it on PC. The folks at Waypoint introduced me to Into Free -Dagan- the title song to the original Dragon's Dogma. I immediately modded that back into my PC version of Dark Arisen. Turns out launching that game into that amazing track was just enough propulsion to get me through the game. Man what a game it is. The end game to that game is super smart. Not to mention the Dark Arisen content is maybe the best dlc I have ever seen. Semi-random dungeon you can run for random loot drops. It completely changes the structure of that game in a great and positive way. The design of the game from top to bottom is just genius. If the monkey paw came to me with the wish that the game industry picked up on Dragon's Dogma's design at the cost of the Souls games being forever ignored. I might take that wish.
The Devil May Cry game I have been waiting for since DMC4 is here and it is all I could have asked for. This entry is both somehow too high on this list and too low on this list. I did not really put much time into the game. I played through it the once. It was enough to tell me that this was exactly what I was looking for. When I need my character action game fix I can finally put away my DMC3SE and DMC4SE. This has got what I need that I couldn't find in DmC or Bayonetta.
Speaking of things I waited a long time for Kingdom Hearts 3. I was satisfied with Kingdom Hearts 3 after the long wait. Which is basically the highest praise possible.
It has problems. The game feels very half baked. The combat in this game is actually good and the best in the series but no one could possibly know that without having played all the others. Because the thing is this game has no fights in it that are designed to make use of it's systems. Kingdom Hearts series has had some of the best designed boss encounters of all time. Having played those I can just imagine what those type of fights would be like in this game's systems. It just that here are none of those fights in the game really. The Final boss maybe gives you a bit of a taste of that.
There are other problems like how they forgot to put the Final Fantasy in it. The varying quality by which the Disney Worlds are handled. Some have great integration into Kingdom Hearts Toy Story, Monsters Inc., and Big Hero 6. Others like Frozen and Tangled just are wastes of time.
In the end, they do basically jam in all the plot you were waiting for at the 11th hour of the game. But that stuff is so good and satisfying. By the end of the game I was happy where all these characters I had spent 15 years with have ended up. That's how it ended up here on my list. Also the trailers for the ReMind DLC looks like they might be going a long way to address the problems with the game.
Spoilers for the next entry. I am putting DQIV above DQV on this list. That is a controversial DQ opinion. DQV is the best elevator pitch for a JRPG there as ever been. DQV is a game about family. You will follow your hero's life from a child to an adult to becoming a parent. In this game you are not the Hero character from previous Dragon Quests. You are not the chosen one. Instead the quest you inherited from your father is to find the hero as they are the only one who can help you to defeat the demon lord and to free your mother who was kidnapped on the night of your birth. You also can recruit monsters into your party meaning you have a playable cast of nearly 100 characters.
The game is every bit as good as that pitch implies. It's a 5/5. A timeless masterpiece. But in it execution of it's lofty ambition it lack some of the exquisite attention to the craft that sets DQ apart. One example is that this story spans over a long period of time and they don't really capitalize on that potential for story telling. You can have a decade pass between last time you've been to a certain town and there being nothing there to really comment on that. If you read my entry about DQXI from last year you would know that is exactly what that game excels at. That game will not lead any potential for story to go uncommented on. They left some good meat on the bones.
Another example of this is while the monster recruitment is a pure stroke of genius for their goals for this game there is a little stumbling because of it. Since this game was focused on family they did not want to clutter up your party with bunch of non family members until plotwise the family unit is formed. So the monster recruitment is a great way to gameplay wise to temporarily fill those slots with non plot entities. The problem comes when that family party finally comes together the way they have chopped up and divided out the abilities across the monsters leaves the family unit you are so attached to and want to use end up having gaps in their abilities that we regulated to the monster units. It just doesn't come out as clean a most DQ parties end up.
Those are my relatively minor gripes with the game overall an all time great.
Dragon Quest IV also has a good pitch as well it's 5 quests in one game. What that actually amounts to is how the game introduces each member of the party in their own micro campaign before they join together for the normal DQ campaign. They do these brilliantly and it is fantastic.
They way they split of the party ends up giving each chapter a good and unique feeling play style. They almost do each feel like their own game. The start you out with the knight Ragnar. His is very simple level up get some gear. Hit the enemies harder than they hit you. They introduce a healing companion part way through. Next they give your the martial artist princess Alena with her trusty paladin healer and black mage. It's your nice traditional party setup.
Next up is the absolutely wild merchant Toreneko chapter. You start by playing shop keep simulator until you earn enough money to buy strong enough gear so you can actually travel two step without dying. Then you travel to get more drop you can sell to earn more money for better equipment to travel forward. Eventually you are gated by money checks. Where you need to spend money to build bridges or a tunnel that also important for later connect the areas you have been with the other characters. You open your own shop to get better resale value on your drops. It's a completely different game basically. You are playing Recettear in your Dragon Quest.
The next chapter is the two twin mages Meena and Maya. One is of the white magic variety and the other black magic. It makes for an interesting chapter only have squishy mages as your party. They stories of all of these are good little vignettes. They all end up ending in problems usually involving the same force of monsters doing bad thing. All these people need a Hero.
Thus enters the Hero and the final chapter of the game. You are the Hero you end up picking up your party members along the way. You do the Dragon Quest thing. It is good. It is greatly enhanced by the fact that you have covered most of the map in the other chapters. So you already know the lay of the land, who the players are, and what is going on. It really cool having that road map of things in your head as you play. Truly a master class in game structure. I adored it. I now know where DQXI got it from.
Total Play Time: 156 days, 18 hours, 24 minutes. That is my /playtime from FFXIV at the time of writing this. I have been in it since the launch of a Realm Reborn. You either already know why this is here on this spot of the list or I really can't help you understand because wouldn't take me 156 days to explain it but certainly a percentage of that time. So I'll try my brief vaguest way to impart what it is like when you are on the other side of this line.
Shadowbringers certainly takes XIV above and beyond any FF games story telling. For me the high watermark was FFX, It a manages this by truly leveraging the absolutely massive long form story telling that FFXIV uniquely as a MMO as over basically any medium. You would need some decades long running novel series to even being to compete. To take one minor but atomic bomb of a lore reveal. A character tells you that magical scientists had gotten the poles on the elemental chart wrong and light actually represented the forces of stagnation and dark represented the forces of activity. My mind was literally reeling from that. That only works because I have spent so much time over these 6 years with this game that I have completely internalized it's entire magical physics systems. It wouldn't land if this was a reveal about information I received 60 hours earlier in another normal rpg. It works because this was information I had learned years ago that is being turned on its head.
FFXIV is also just hands down the best MMO on the market currently. It is also the best games as a service game on the market. Why are you out there wasting your time on all these games as a service games that are just worse than this one? Why force yourself to commit weekly and dailies on some other game's battle pass? Do your weeklies and dailies here. You get rewarded with an incredible story here that will likely be wholly unique in the way it as been delivered that will most likely never be replicated.