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Top 10 Personal Games of the Year 2019

It's the end of year and the end of the decade and while I feel largely numb to what happened most of this decade, I had a relatively eventful year. Be warned, this list is going to get weirdly personal, because a lot of good things happened to me this year, but some bad things also happened... Stuff I haven't really talked to anyone about, but I figure might help process, if I put it in writing in a relatively semi-anonymous environment.

Before all that, though, let's get some of the games out of the way that I haven't gotten around to playing yet, but would probably make the list if my instincts about them are correct:

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. As a bit of a Castlevania fan, I was on board from day 1 of the Kickstarter, but my one misstep was backing the Switch version which came out horribly, so now I'm sorta stuck with that. I do have the Xbox version on Gamepass though, so I might play it there. Gotta give big ups to my boy Koji Igarashi for the amount of moxy he displayed. So rare to see a developer take legitimate criticism to heart and try and fix things, instead of dismissing gamers as being ”toxic” or whatever kinda buzzwords people use these days to avoid blame. Good show!

Shenmue III Another Kickstarter I was eager to jump on has finally come out and judging from the Quicklook it's more of the same! Fantastic! This is definitely a series that I feel deserves to be coherent, so this is the perfect outcome. I still need to finish 1 and 2 though. Played a lot of 1 back in 2008 and was very impressed with how ambitious and detailed it was. Sometimes you really gotta consider the times when a game was released and hold it up to a reasonable standard for the era and Shenmue is, honestly, mind blowing in that aspect. Just details like how every NPC has voiced dialogue and different lines depending on where you are in the story? Not even Yakuza does that!

Devil May Cry 5. Everything I've heard and seen about this game has me excited to play it. It's real up high in my backlog stack and I expect to get to it in the early dry months of 2020.

Blood & Truth. It's been a great year for quality VR games. I don't know if people expected VR to be the biggest thing ever, but I've always seen it as a peripheral... Like a fightstick or a racing wheel. Ever since I got a 4k TV, my gen 1 PSVR headset has been a hassle to set up, so I haven't tried this game for myself yet. Really holding out for a next gen PSVR headset with outer cameras. Pretty sure they are gonna do a backcompat one for PlayStation 5, right?

Anyway, on to the list!

List items

  • On the 25th of January, I became a certified professional truck driver. I had been working at an office for 18 years and was facing layoffs because of downsizing, so a few months earlier I discovered that my job paid for different kinds of training and certifications and since it was a power company, that included ”Truck driver”. It was kind of a spur of the moment thing, egged on by a looming midlife crisis and the dreadful thoughts of doing another office job for 40 more years that made me aim for something completely different. Having successfully finished my exam, I called up my longtime friend (and crush) to ask her out on a spontaneous dinner. We had some great, all-you-can-eat sushi and Chinese and I remember that she looked beautiful in a red sweater. On the way to pick her up, I drove past Gamestop to pick up my copy of Resident Evil 2 Collectors Edition and after our dinner evening I went home and played it 'till 3 in the morning. What a great game! I never did play the original for myself, as I wasn’t really on board with the Resi series until 4, so I mostly only know of this game through the lens of Umbrella Chronicles on the Wii, but Capcom really shows that they still are masters of creating gameplay that is just ON POINT. There's a certain craft and thought put behind animations and actions that Capcom just nails every time and it turns the gameplay into a feeling of personal mastery as you replay this compact title multiple times and unlock new weapons and skins. If this standard is kept, it makes me incredibly excited for the remake of Resident Evil 3. A solid game that everyone should experience

  • This game has so many weird ideas put together, which I honestly wouldn't have given a chance if it wasn't a Hideo Kojima Game™. I guess I'm not the only one, but unlike a lot of people, Death Stranding had me hooked! The story and universe is something I've never seen before, but I've always been in love with the gameplay loop of building up stuff and running goods. I think it's the fact that I myself became certified as a transport truck driver earlier in the year, that has made me think a lot about the infrastructure of transport. Transportation of goods and services is truly the foundation of civilization and it just comes together in a very literal sense in Death Stranding. Now, I could have just as easily cast my love on something like Euro Truck Simulator, but then I wouldn't get to shoot ghosts or meet weird preppers or try to strangle Mads Mikkelsen, because I wanted to figure out if something happened if you did a non-lethal take-down of the bosses, like in Metal Gear Solid 4 (which doesn't seem to be the case). There's going to be a lot of people who don't like this game because they don't ”get it”... not the story, mind you, but the compelling nature of the gameplay loop. If you think about it, it's really not that different from every other game: You move the sticks about and push left trigger and right trigger, but I guess that it doesn't yell HEADSHOT or EPIC VICTORY ROYALE at you every 5 seconds, so it might be for the gamer with a more refined pallet and a more mature deposition. Give it a shot!

  • If you wanna play a game that's ”political”, do I have the game for you. This one is ACTUALLY political, as in every faction has perfectly logical reasons for their actions and adversaries that might come off as evil at first, but once you replay the game from their perspective, you start seeing and understanding their personal drive and motivations... Not necessarily agreeing with them, but definitely understanding them and that's something that I feel has been lost in the modern social media shouting match of ”us vs them”. The gameplay is great too. It's the tried and true Fire Emblem formula, adding some spice here and there with a bunch of compelling scenarios and interesting ways that you can specialize your companions. The dating sim/visual novel aspects are also really strong and compelling and doesn't hang it's hat on too many typical Japanese cliches. It also reminds me of the hot summer and would have been the perfect game to enjoy outside, if you could actually see anything on the Switch screen. Seriously! That glare is horrible! With it's easy to understand gameplay and that Nintendo polish, it's a perfect starting point for anyone who is interested in getting into strategy RPGs.

  • This game has been kind of a blur for me, as I've played it at a bad time. In December, a week before starting it, I finally told my crush (and longtime friend) how I felt... Didn't really muster the courage for it as much as just kinda blurted it out and it backfired horribly. Now she wants to ”take some distance”, because she just thought of me as a friend... Which I'm strangely fine with. She has been a long time friend and I can totally respect that she isn't interested in me in that way, but I'm absolutely heartbroken at the prospect of losing her as a friend. I wake up thinking about her, my mouth is constantly dry, I feel the tears kinda welling up at random times and even as I'm typing this. Did tell her that it was perfectly okay and that I always wanted to be her friend, but I don't know what to do now other than waiting and hoping she will give me another chance at her friendship. It's my absolute biggest regret this year... Anyway, the game! When all else fails, you gotta fall back on something to comfort you and one of those things for me is definitely Star Wars. Despite everything that's happened with that over the past 20 years, there is still a nostalgic part of me that is deeply attached to the brand, so it was nice to be able to distract myself with a game as good as Fallen Order. I've never been a ”Souls guy”. I've given almost all of those games a fair shake and they just didn't work for me, but Fallen Order is just casual enough for me to get really invested in it. Biggest fault is probably the technical issues and the fact that it's a Western developed game, because it kinda hitches a lot and there's just not the same idea of animation priority in a gameplay sense, that they have in Japan. Western games cares more about being flashy in a way that can be distracting and doesn't ”feel” quite as right. Fallen Order does make it up for it with it's great story though. It's kind of a quality Uncharted romp, pacing wise, topped off with some great Metroidvania aspects. I'd actually liken this a lot to the Tomb Raider reboot, where the first game had a perfect balance, that they messed up with trying too hard to innovate in the sequels, but that is for another blog. This is definitely one of the better and more interesting Star Wars stories that has been told in a while and it helped me stop thinking so much about her for a little while.

  • This is an absolutely brilliant adventure game, written by Kotaro Uchikoshi, mostly known as Zero Escape guy. I'm not sure what got in the way of this overlooked gem in late September, because nobody seems to be talking about it, but it's funny, interesting and very well produced. Like your typical Visual Novel, it's a game with many paths, many of them Bad Ends, but all key in solving the overarching mystery. Some of those Bad Ends are brutal to a degree that actually shocked me for a while, but as far as I understand it, it's not uncommon for Kotaro-sans games. I still haven't gotten all the way through as some of the paths seem to retread a lot of the same grounds, but it's easy to enjoy as every line of dialogue is fully voiced, making it easy to enjoy for people who don't like subtitles so much. Me personally, I don't really like straight-up visual novels so much, but this one has some very interesting interactive puzzle elements to it, that keeps it fresh and surprising. Despite looking like a game that could rely on typical, easy-to-see-through anime tropes, it does not. The people you interact with in the game will constantly surprise you in new ways, adding to the mystery.

  • This is one that had been out for a while before I got to play it. Since I opted for the physical version via Strictly Limited Games, it took a while for them to get around to producing and shipping it, while every other smart collector had gotten the Japanese import and played that for months. Anyway, it arrived in October for me. I had just started a new job as a receptionist (yes, I haven't actually ended up using my truck driver certifications yet) and was deep into weeks of learning stuff, which made it hard to muster any energy to play video games. Days like that are great for arcade games like this remake of the classic Ninja Warriors Again. Also, it's not too difficult, especially with the new extra moves that all the characters seem to have and the new additional characters play in some incredibly fun and interesting ways that force you to rethink positioning and strategies... Really livens up the game on multiple playthroughs and makes you feel like a bad-ass robot ninja when you wanna unwind from a long day at your (new) job.

  • Platinum is back in their A-game with the stylish Astral Chain. It's so great to finally play a great Police game again... Something I feel has been horribly underrepresented for many years, since it's easier to make gameplay elements around being a criminal and since it's en vogue to say POLICE = BAD, completely ignoring the fundamental ideal of what the police force is supposed to represent: Everyday heroes that serves and protects the public. Don't worry too much about it though, because Astral Chain is secretly a pretty typical tokusatsu story about a super powered individual working (directly in this case) with law enforcement to take down monsters. Pretty easy to see if you cool it on the ethnocentrism for just two seconds. As usual the combat is stellar and it's broken up by some nice investigation bits. The whole astral chain mechanic is pretty neat as well as it makes you feel like an old west sheriff, lassoing criminals and rowdy troublemakers.

  • There is common thread with Tom Clancy games: They often have interesting gameplay loops, but the story is a boring mess of tacticool conspiracy babble that is hard to stay awake for. The Division 2 a prime example of both aspects. Running around the ruined DC, looking at all the details, fighting smart enemies that actually use tactics and strategies to outflank you, collecting and upgrading yourself with tons of loot: Fun that had me hooked for well over 100 hours, but I barely remember anything that went on in the story, which mostly consisted of people telling you stuff over the radio. This is one of those current releases that kinda aimed to be a “live service” game, but without a massive income, like what subscription games used to have, the roll-out of new content feels kinda slow. Maybe I just played too much of it, since it came out right around the time I got laid off and just spent the early months of severance working out, playing Division 2 and making YouTube videos (a venture which didn't take off, unfortunately). At least I've gotten in slightly better shape and had a lot of fun with this game. Man, if I won the lottery it would just be G&G from here on out: Gym and Gaming!

  • Being the latest Remedy game, their legacy is deeply felt. Control is a fantastic experience with a massively interesting world, intriguing paranormal ideas and a weird guy from Finland, but it just didn't hit me in the same way Max Payne or Alan Wake did. Pondering what was missing from it for a while, I think I've finally come to the conclusion that it's the Metroidvania aspects I don't like about it. Retreading same ground in the facility over and over again makes the combat encounters feel less meaningful when it's just enemies spawning in on you, rather than being carefully hand-crafted combat puzzles. Control does have aspects of that in the many boss encounters, but the things going on outside of that feels kind of like padding. That library sequence towards the end is kinda what I would have liked to see the whole game be, because it reminded me more of how Max Payne 1 and 2 were designed.

  • It's just not the same without Kiryu.... but it's still pretty good!