By ArbitraryWater 14 Comments
Video games! They came out this year! Honestly, I could probably switch some of these around and still be totally fine! Screw the preamble, descending order, let’s GOOOOOOOOOOO!
10. Most Surprisingly Good Game from a franchise I had all but written off: Resident Evil 7 Biohazard
I make no secret that I’m a Resident Evil 6 apologist. Oh, don’t get me wrong, that game is a damn trainwreck, but like a trainwreck I cannot help but be fascinated by it. The aggressively bad, QTE-filled set pieces, the ridiculous, self-serious story that cannot help but have an explosion every 5 minutes, the surprisingly alright shooting that doesn’t know if it wants to be a Japanese action game or a straight clone of its western counterparts, all of it is an amazing test case of everything wrong with big-budget AAA video games circa 2012. That said, I would be lying if I thought that the series would ever recover from it. Revelations 2’s low budget Last of Us imitation didn’t exactly put my hopes up.
And yet, Resident Evil 7 exists, and somehow manages to nail the essence of what a Resident Evil game used to be before it got all shooty shoot. Ammo conservation! Inventory management! Dumb, esoteric puzzles! Honestly, I think my biggest problem with the game is that it doesn’t go far enough in that direction for my liking (as a lunatic who will swear up and down that tank controls and fixed camera angles are just fine.) The puzzles are brain-dead, the Baker estate is quite small, and the game itself is actually super short (It took me about 7 hours to beat it my first time around, and the current speedrun world record is at about 90 minutes, including cutscenes.) Throw in a fairly underwhelming last area and RE7 moves from “Exactly what I wanted” to “Excellent foundation.” But what a foundation it is! They made a new Resident Evil game y’all, and it was actually good.
9. Best Comfort Food: Etrian Odyssey V Beyond the Myth
Etrian Odyssey V is more Etrian Odyssey, no more and no less. As a fan of Atlus’ old-school dungeon crawling franchise, I was just happy that they finally made a completely new installment after two remakes, a Mystery Dungeon spinoff, and a middling Persona crossover. I will be frank: I don’t think Etrian Odyssey V is as good as IV, which had an overworld map and somewhat more flexible character development, but V’s race skills and forced specialization allow for plenty of its own weird and crazy party compositions, backed up by some neat quality-of-life changes and maps that manage to be challenging without being frustrating slogs. I don’t really know what else to say; it’s a good, well-made “one of those” and that’s all I really wanted.
8. The anime hell award: Doki Doki Literature Club
I’m often not one for short, concise “experiences” as part of my end-of-year video game lists, and I’m also someone who thinks that most visual novels (even ones that I like) are only *barely* definiable as video games in the first place. Doki Doki Literature Club managed to overcome both of those prejudices by being one of the most batshit crazy things I’ve seen in a long time and got to me in a way that I did not expect. I cannot speak to your own reaction, but I highly recommend you give it a look if you have the inclination. It’s not for everyone, and the warnings at the beginning are NOT A JOKE, but even if you haven’t gone down both the VN and Anime nightmare holes this year like I did, it still might be worth the 2-3 hours of your time it takes to reach the conclusion.
On a related note, I was thinking about writing an anime blog in the next week because I need to vent somewhere about that. Is that a bad idea? I think that’s a bad idea. Maybe look forward to that.
7. The “Obligatory Fire Emblem Game” award for being a game in the Fire Emblem series, but not that shit mobile game or that okay Musou one: Fire Emblem Echoes Shadows of Valentia
Fire Emblem Echoes benefits greatly from keeping most of the original Fire Emblem Gaiden’s weird mechanics intact, with only a slight amount of modernization and quality-of-life improvements to fill the 25 year gap. It’s a weirdly refreshing change of pace from the waifu-pairing, stat-optimizing emphases of Awakening and Fates, even if the map design doesn’t quite hold up as well and the post-game dungeon seems designed to persuade you to buy the $45 season pass.
However, the thing that surprisingly got me the most about Shadows of Valentia was its quality of its presentation. As you can tell from my avatar, I think the art style is fantastic, and the addition of full, surprisingly good voice acting adds a lot to what is otherwise a fairly standard Fire Emblem JRPG plot. That might be relative in the face of Fire Emblem Fates’ absolutely DIRE storytelling, but it’s also a good example of the way high production values and a quality localization (courtesy of “friends of the site” 8-4) can elevate what is otherwise straightforward material.
6. Best Styyyyyle. If it doesn’t win on Giant Bomb, at least let it win here: Persona 5
I think I'm increasingly realizing that what I want out of the modern JRPG genre is mostly just "Shin Megami Tensei spinoffs", "Etrian Odyssey", and "The ideas behind Bravely Default put into a better game." As something that meets one of those criteria, I enjoyed the hell out of Persona 5. It’s a stylish, bombastic game with an amazing soundtrack, some clear mechanical improvements over its forebears and arguably the best social links in the entire series. Its story isn’t without problems, and it definitely feels like some of the lines could’ve used another localization pass, but a lot of that was acceptable in the face of what is otherwise an excellent installment in the series. Makoto best girl.
5.The “I like turn-based combat and grids ‘n shit” award: XCOM 2 War of the Chosen
War of the Chosen is a marked improvement over XCOM 2, which was itself a marked improvement over Enemy Within, which was a marked improvement over Enemy Unknown (which was a marked improvement over not having a good modern XCOM). It does this by… mostly just adding a bunch of shit. Almost like it’s an expansion, or something. The 3 new classes are a lot of fun, as are the abandoned city missions and the interference of the Chosen themselves, who like to teleport in to cock up whatever mission you have running at the time. It’s honestly a little much to juggle at times, but once I got a handle on everything it became my favorite strategy experience of the year.
4. Best Sad Existential Robots: Nier Automata
It’s actually kind of heartening to see this game has gotten big enough to facilitate a backlash. You didn’t see any of that shit when the first Nier was coming out, and that game somehow seems way crazier and way less fun to play than this one!
Nier is, like a large chunk of the games on this list, not for everyone. It’s bonkers crazy existential anime storytelling that plays with the format in a way that few other games do, and it doesn’t bother showing its full hand until actual tens of hours into the story. Along the way, there’s some fun but repetitive combat, weird bullet hell portions, and a very, very good soundtrack. I get why some of those things wouldn’t resonate with people, but they absolutely did for me.
3. Most Looking Glass: Prey
Even moreso than most of the stuff on my list (which I think adequately reflects my eclectic weirdo tastes) I think Prey is the kind of game that works for a very specific audience. I can’t imagine anyone coming in expecting a shooter, or even a successor to Bioshock (which is a shooter wrapped up in a philosophy 101 lecture on Objectivism) would necessarily have a great time with it. I don’t mean that to sound elitist, rather I’m saying that Prey is weirdly niche for a big budget AAA video game and I kind of love that. In other words, it’s probably the closest thing you’re going to see to a new System Shock game until Night Dive releases their remake of System Shock 1 (or Otherside releases System Shock 3. Whichever one happens first)
The combat might be a bit messy, the story’s meta-meta conceits might be a turn-off (I kinda loved that too), but in terms of “giant, cohesive location for you to scrounge around, picking up every piece of garbage and sometimes an audio log” I cannot think of a game that does it better than Prey, including Arkane’s own Dishonored series. There was clearly an obsessive amount of thought put into the design and layout of Talos 1, and the game benefits greatly from its relative mundanity in a way that Rapture and Columbia’s amusement park designs never could. Also you can navigate areas by turning into a stupid coffee cup and then slipping through small gaps. It’s great.
2. Alright, you should’ve expected this: Super Mario Odyssey
Honestly, how much do I really need to say about Super Mario Odyssey? It’s a joyful, gleeful example of Nintendo’s first party development putting on their A-Game and making a fine-tuned gameplay loop of quality platforming, exploration, and possessing the bodies of your enemies. No, seriously, it's a new Mario game and it's amazing.
1. My Game of the Year: Nioh
At this point, I think you can probably notice a trend in my Game of the Year picks in that they are either: A. Dense RPGs/Strategy Games or B. High Intensity Action Games. Nioh falls into the latter category with ease, and is probably one of the most satisfying action games I’ve played in a long time. While it owes plenty to Dark Souls, there’s also a lot of Ninja Gaiden DNA in Nioh, and both of those things together work incredibly well once you get a handle on mechanics like stance changing and the ki pulse. Adding to an already impressive skill ceiling, there’s a lot of variety between the 7 different weapon types (two of which were added in DLC!) and two different forms of magic that I really appreciate. It’s not quite Dark Souls II levels of crazy build variety, but I’d imagine there’s enough out there for anyone to find what works for them. Much like DOOM last year, I enjoyed the mechanics in Nioh enough to power through and earn the Platinum trophy, which is something I’ve only attempted to do with one other Souls-ish game (I’d totally have gotten the Bloodborne platinum if not for the stupid chalice dungeon where your health is cut in half.)
If the game has a noteworthy flaw, it’s that the main story is probably a tad too long and the late-game is a tad grindy. The additional DLC chapters are all pretty great and meaningful, but the way they’re scaled means that you either have to fight stronger, more durable versions of the same enemies from the last 20 hours, or play through early game chapters on Way of the Strong (the New Game + equivalent) until your numbers are high enough to not lose large chunks of your health on an errant hit. These are ultimately drops in the bucket though, because I still ended up playing Nioh for a good 80+ hours and will probably play a little bit more before I’m totally done. It’s an impressive start to a series that I hope will continue onward into the future.
Alright, with that out of the way, Special Acheivement Awards:
Game Number Eleven: Wolfenstein II The New Colossus
Wolfenstein II was on an early draft of this list, but after some consideration it got bumped off for the simple reason that I don’t think I ever really enjoyed the act of *playing* it. Oh, don’t get me wrong, Wolfenstien II’s story goes for insane pulpiness in a way that needs to be seen to be believed. However, the parts in-between the cutscenes, when I was attempting to use bad, rudimentary stealth to sneak my way through a bunch of grey Nazi bases before getting discovered and immediately losing half my health, were not so great. It also ends on a fairly muted cliffhanger, one that screams “Come back in 2-3 years!” which underwhelmed me a bit. Still absolutely worth your time if you’re interested.
Honorable Mentions: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider.
Like a lot of people on the internet, I was pretty hot on PUBG for a decent period of time, with its ultra-tense shooting and looting offering some of the highest highs I’ve ever had playing a multiplayer game. Buuuuuuuuuuuut I also got my fill after a little more than 30 hours. I think a lot of it for me comes down to how much of those 30+ hours was spent wandering around for 20 minutes before getting shot in the back by someone I never saw. I’m sure the solution to that issue would be to “git gud” but I have enough other things on my plate that I’m fine with leaving things then and there.
Honestly, if I wasn’t absolutely sick to death of the modern open-world action-adventure game format, I’d probably have loved Horizon. As it stands for me, it’s an incredibly well-made “one of those” that makes up in execution what it loses in originality. But yeah, after a certain point I decided to start beelining my way through the main quest because I could not give less of a shit about any of the side activities. Robot dinosaurs are cool and all, but cleaning out bandit camps sure isn’t.
Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is more Dishonored, even if it’s pretty middle-of-the-road Dishonored. Aside from a pretty great bank heist mission with a lot of different possible approaches and opportunities, most of the maps are only so-so, made a bit less exciting by Billie Lurk’s powerful but boring ability set. That didn’t stop me from happily sneaking through the game, mashing F5 and surgically choking out every guard I came upon, but it did do a really good job of reminding me how much I liked Dishonored 2.
Guiltiest Backlog Additions: The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild and Divinity Original Sin 2
I’ve played a fair amount of both games, but not enough to have felt comfortable putting them on the final list. In Zelda’s case, I’m not entirely sure it’d make it onto the list in the first place (I really like the shrines, but I find the actual overworld exploration to be… a little dull) but Divinity Original Sin 2 is absolutely something that could’ve made it if it kept up a similar level of quality to the initial 30 hours I spent with it (before being distracted by other things.) I’ll probably give both more time during this holiday break, but I didn’t want to put off making this list until then.
Worst Game I Played to Completion This Year: Mass Effect Andromeda
I don’t think it’s fair to call Mass Effect Andromeda “Most Disappointing” because I had adjusted my expectations well before I started playing it. That didn’t stop it from being a depressing wreck, mind you, but more that I more-or-less knew exactly what I was getting into and still managed to be underwhelmed. You can read the blog I wrote if you want details, but Andromeda’s hackish, C-tier sci-fi writing and uninspired open world design were the last straw for me and Bioware, and I think I’m probably done with them for good.
Most Disappointing Game: Torment Tides of Numenera
Unlike Mass Effect Andromeda, I don’t think Tides of Numenera is a bad game, but I do think it’s not anywhere near as good as its cited influence, Planescape Torment. I don’t envy any developer trying to recapture something as singular and iconic, but that doesn’t stop ToN from feeling like a manufactured simulacrum of Planescape, with a lot of dense prose, an alienating world, and attempts at deep philosophical questions. I could get really granular in explaining why it doesn’t work as well, but I’ll suffice by saying that the prose is a little too purple for my tastes, the world is so alien that it’s hard to feel grounded at all, and the actual philosophical underpinnings behind “What does one life matter?” aren’t nearly as interesting or relevant as Planescape’s “What can change the nature of a man?” It has its share of good bits too, but among the pantheon of recent old-school RPG revivals, I think it falls short of both its modern counterparts and its classic influences.
Old Game of the Year: Ninja Gaiden Black
I’m not doing an old games list, for various reasons (i.e. I didn’t play enough of them this year, probably because I was too busy watching anime.) but of the few old games I played through to completion this year, Ninja Gaiden Black stands out as a fantastic, exceptionally cruel action game that was immensely satisfying to complete. Its difficulty was even more pronounced after I played through Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 and kinda breezed through it. While still mechanically tight and a lot of fun to play, I almost felt like I was cheating by comparison. I think I’m still probably on the Devil May Cry side of the Japanese Character Action Game fence, but given how few of those are actually coming out anymore, I’m more than willing to take Ninja Gaiden along for a ride.
And I think this is it for me this year. I don’t need an outro either, thanks for reading!