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GOTY 2014

This year will be my third year in producing a Games of the Year list, and it has been the hardest year to cobble together a GOTY list to date. I struggled to get in ample gaming time this year (especially on the consoles), my sessions mostly limited to long sessions over the weekends and holidays. Many of the games that landed on my list were released from Summer onward, and it has not been easy to squeeze in so many games in the last two months of the year that coincided with my busy working schedule. I hate to admit that playing games have felt more like a chore that needed to be taken care of.

As I finally have a little time to breathe, I found the rush of deliberating which games landed at their respective spot to be a short, fun excursion. I was able to quickly pluck which games that I though made a strong impression of me out of the total games that I felt like I had gathered enough information to formulate an opinion on. (It helped that there wasn’t an overwhelming amount of games I had to choose from.)

However, ranking the shortlist of games proved to be an unexpected challenge. I knew these ten games stood out, but what makes one game stand out to me more than the other. It was a challenge to judge each game “equally”, as there are games that I spent more time than others, as well as discounting how “successful” I was between each game. I did not want to penalize a game where I things haven’t quite gone my way, and games that I only spent 10 hours against others where I spent much more time on. There were numerous clashes with games from one genre going up against another in another genre, but also games that were competing within the same genre.

After hours of deliberation, I settled on the list. There was something that the higher ranked game had a little more than the game before it, and it was tough slotting the games ranked three through eight. The top two games I felt had a culmination of things that really stood out from the rest and I easily pushed those two at the top. It was equally hard to choose one over the other, but in the end, the game at number one had an element that number two did not have.

Now I present to you, my top ten games of two thousand and fourteen.

[Other Games Considered]

  • BlazBlue Chrono Phantasma
  • Child of Light
  • Demon Gaze
  • Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F 2nd
  • Mario Golf: World Tour
  • Picross e4 & e5

[Games Acquired But Not Played/Played Enough]

  • Arcana Heart 3 LOVE MAX!!!!!
  • Dengenki Bunko Fighting Climax
  • Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster
  • Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII
  • Magical Beat
  • Tales of Xillia 2
  • Tears to Tiara II: Heir to the Overlord
  • Ultra Street Fighter IV
  • Valiant Hearts: The Great War

List items

  • -TEN-

    It wasn’t looking good for Xrd at the start. It didn’t help that it released so late in the year, whereas I was not going to get in a ton of time with the game before I started to compile this list. Even worse, Xrd was not making a great initial impression on me. I was flustered on how much it felt so different from GGXXAC+R in so many aspects, with speed, timing of combos, the number of mechanics, and unable to feel comfortable with the playable characters of the game. I feared that I would exclude a game I was very excited for ever since they blew everyone’s mind with how well the game looked from the first trailer. Luckily, through continuous perseverance and having a fun first online session with Kuutochi, I am starting to scratch the enjoyment surface of Xrd that I was looking for.

    Xrd is one of those frustrating games where the player has to meet the game, where they need to invest and grind through the imposing harsh difficulty of the game’s numerous challenges (tutorial, character, combos, training missions, etc.) until the player finally gains enough knowledge of the game and begins to see what it truly offers. Once I finally found a character that I felt the most comfortable with, along with a decent grasp of the gameplay, Xrd finally clicked for me once I held my first online bouts with Kuutochi. It felt like an athlete who finally has a chance to play in a game after being stuck off to the sidelines so long, aimlessly learning the team’s playbook. Though I didn’t win a ton of matches against him, it felt like a relief to finally get out to the open and feel excited fighting in Xrd, as well as learning new things on the fly over the course of our online session.

    It was a long road to get to the breakthrough point and it was getting close for me to discount Xrd and write another game in this spot. In spite of being a fan of fighting games and enjoying the living daylights out of GGXXAC+R, Xrd is a completely different beast. I was expecting to find some similarities with +R in Xrd, but that never came. Xrd did not wow me from the start that I thought it would, a component that many of my favorite fighting games of the past did even if I was ass in those games. It did not help that it excluded my favorite character from +R (JAM!) and I was not enjoying testing out the entire cast before settling on a character that I felt semi-comfortable in running with. It’s a shame in Xrd which looks so good (even on the PS3) with GG being a recognizable franchise that it ends up being a tough, unenjoyable endeavor for so long before it clicked for me. Many folks would have ditched a game that just wasn’t clicking with them from the start, even if there’s a nice payoff at the end.

    Xrd scrapes into my top ten list of this year in part because the other games under consideration just did not do it for me even after some significant time into them. It also makes it on my list on the potential that I may enjoy the game a lot more once I continue to progress through the game and if my enjoyment of the game sustains after the initial breakthrough moment. I am banking that if I was looking at this list next year, Xrd would place higher in this list. Expect to see Xrd a lot in upcoming fighting game tournaments as the anime FG community will place its full support behind it for an EVO 2015 appearance, and I hope to ride the coattails of the Xrd train with them, as long as Xrd proves to be exciting for me in the long run.

  • -NINE-

    Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze was a game I wanted to like a lot. Retro Studios did a great job capturing the spirit of the classic Super Nintendo trilogy. There’s beautiful artwork found everywhere in the game, wonderful remixes of the SNES DKC songs, as well as the punishing difficulty. The original trilogy games did a great job making the game enjoyable despite its difficulty and having a ton of charm. DKC: TF doesn’t quite match the fun/challenge balance as well as I hoped, or captures quite the lovable charm.

    Though traversing through DKC: TF’s landscapes were constantly beautiful to view; traversing through DKC: TF’s stages, especially toward the end of the game, were ugly to experience. I recognize the creativity of each level and the uses of the assist characters in some levels, and the solution to the numerous stage puzzles are apparent to see, but some puzzles are excruciating to pass through numerous enemies, moving platforms, and the exact timing required to get through a lot of tricky sections. At moments when they get the right balance of challenge and creativity is where DKC: TF is at its best. It’s too bad that many creative sequences peppered throughout the game are ruined by its sheer difficulty.

    A personal complaint that bothered my enjoyment of DKC: TF was its odd button layout. I was flustered to see that grabbing items was a separate button and that I needed to use the grab buttons to grab onto ledges and vines. Though I eventually got used to the button scheme, I felt that in some stages, the constant button dance I had to use on the Wii U Gamepad resulted in many deaths on the game’s numerous tricky encounters. I probably would have likened DKC: TF a bit more if it retained the same button scheme that I was used to playing not only on the original DKC games, but also similarly used in other challenging platforming games.

    I wasn’t totally enamored with DKC: TF, its strong presentation and occasional moments of excitement did more than the other games under consideration for its spot. It has many nice moments, but it doesn’t quite live up to its SNES counterparts or other top games in the platformer genre in greatness.

  • -EIGHT-

    On paper, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax should have matched the same joyous experience I had with its predecessor. There are more characters, Shadow versions of most of the playable cast with its own unique gameplay mechanics, a refined story mode, additional single player modes, online arcade lobbies along with the usual online rooms, and numerous changes to the current cast (modified normals/specials, new normals/specials, etc.) Despite all of the new additions, P4AU does not quite deliver the same sensation that P4A did.

    The combination of the new cast of characters, along with the changes made to the original P4A characters, and the new Shadow variant elements was supposed to elevate the well-balanced and exciting battles built from P4A to new heights in P4AU, but I feel a lot of those new elements fell flat. The viability of uses of the changes made to the original P4A cast have end up being wildly uneven, with some proven to have suffered worse than others. The new characters (especially the DLC characters) did add a bit of new excitement, but not as much as I thought it would. But the new shadow character variant was the biggest clunker out of all of the new additions. In spite of shadow characters having their own unique advantages and disadvantages compared to their normal versions, it has failed to produce the new wrinkle that I thought it would. Not to mention that only a handful of shadow variants are even considered worthy (Chie, Mitsuru, Naoto, Yu) to play in high-level completion. [ASW is currently developing P4AU version 2.0 to address the shadow characters, the notable change being that shadow characters now have a burst, along with a number of other changes across to board to “level the playing field.”]

    I admire Atlus and ASW for revamping and including additional modes and features in P4AU, especially on the single player front, many of the new/revamped modes don’t hold much attention after a few spins. The revamped Score Attack and the new Golden Arena modes quickly wear out their welcome, and the remodeled story mode still suffers the same sluggish pace and retelling on the same story that P4A had. It doesn’t help that P4AU’s story isn’t anything to write home about either. The only additions/changes I liked was on the online multiplayer front, where the free-for-all rooms and the arcade lobbies (taken and improved upon from BlazBlue Chrono Phantasma), which allows the player to verse other players more frequently. P4AU’s netcode is solid for the most part, through I have experienced slightly more lag and disconnects with P4AU than I did with P4A.

    That’s not to say P4AU was a complete wash. I still was able to experience a ton of fun bouts online that at times, matched the sheet excitement I had with P4A. P4AU’s accessible gameplay to beginner players is a distinct advantage that it has against other fighting games with its surmounting difficulty from the get-go. Yet, it just doesn’t build or even maintain the excitement level I had from P4A, which was my top game back when it was released two years ago. There were a lot of neat ideas added onto the P4A pot to produce P4AU, it just came out a lot messier than it did.

  • -SEVEN-

    Bravely Default could… no, SHOULD… have landed higher on my list. It had a lot going for me from the start, beautiful presentation, wonderful art and fantastic soundtrack (I’m glad I bought the limited edition for the soundtrack, IT’S SO GOOD), and most of all, for its excellent battle and job systems. Unfortunately, Bravely Default’s severe fault lies within its story, with its infamous second half. I can excuse a severe flaw, but what BD employed in that stretch was so bad that it had to be a flaw that needs to be mentioned for why it prevented the game from reaching what could have been a top game of the year contender.

    There’s no problem in making players repeat the same sequence again if it is done right, and many games really thrive on its repetition. What Bravely Default did is an example of overcooking it. Once was fine enough, twice was already at its limit, but by the time it prompted me to DO THE SAME PROCEDURES AGAIN by the third time, it really made me consider stopping the game at the point. I toughed it out and finished the game, but it’s a severe sort spot that I cannot shake off whenever I think of BD.

    In spite of that severe sore spot, I largely enjoyed BD due to its well-developed battle and job systems. While the battle system is your standard JRPG turn-based affair, the Brave and Default elements are excellent mechanics that pits the player to think both short and long term as the battle unfolds. The battle system flourishes in boss fights, where the Brave/Default mechanic truly shines. The battles are long, but provide the right amount of difficulty that makes it an engaging experience. Tied in with the battle system is its equally excellent job system, where the player mixes their party with different jobs, attaching traits from other jobs, and selecting the right set of weapons, armor, and accessories to optimize your party’s potential in battle. It’s a JRPG blueprint that I can definitely get behind.

    I would still recommend Bravely Default to others because its battle and job systems are well-developed and are the meat of the game. I hope folks enjoy Bravely Default in spite of its second half shenanigans. There’s a lot that Bravely Default does right. It stinks where BD goes wrong; it almost brings in the entire building down.

  • -SIX-

    It looked like a tough challenge for Nintendo. What could they do to make Mario Kart exciting again? They stumbled on their last two Mario Kart offerings (6 on the Wii, 7 on the 3DS) and already set significant highlights in Super Mario Kart, Mario Kart 64, Double Dash, and DS. Whatever devil’s magic Nintendo had, they somehow delivered another exciting Mario Kart game with 8. It hits on many of the items I look for in a kart racing game.

    The best kart racing games combines excellent course design, numerous but balanced set of offensive and defensive items, while still producing the right amount of chaos and awarding players who play well racing the course and dealing with the calamity. Mario Kart 8 doesn’t quite receive A+ marks on all three items, but it’s still strong all across the board. I’m not a fan of a couple of the MK8 tracks and some of the selected tracks from previous MK games, but a majority of them are still well designed and fun to race on. I’m glad to see not many blue shells frequently make their appearance in races, though it does change the course of those battling in front in some races. The items and weapons are well balanced and give the player a fighting chance to regain lost positions with smart use of the items. Lastly, MK8 does tend to favor players who can best navigate the course and intelligently using the items. In races I have won, I can contribute to a combination of clean navigation of the course with timely uses of particular items.

    What gives Mario Kart 8 an added boost is its excellent online multiplayer. Very rarely have I encountered significant lag or numerous disconnects with my time on MK8’s online. Most of the time, it seems to run as smooth as it does offline, even against players from other continents. Online could have been ugly, but instead become a strength, being challenged by other humans adds the excitement and yet it still maintains a fair race for all participants.

    Mario Kart 8 is an excellent game that I had a lot of fun with. It delivers a frantic yet fair kart racing touched up with Nintendo’s usual excellent presentation (lovely graphics and soundtrack). The online mode delivering the goods yet still being fair was a pleasant surprise. In a year where there’s a severe lack of quality racing games, Nintendo delivered the only one that really matters. And it can stay relevant going into the next year, if it delivers another well done DLC set.

  • -FIVE-

    Super Smash Brothers always provided the lackadaisical yet deeply engaging experiences with friends in the past. I played a ton of Super Smash Brothers N64 with my brother, cousins, and a few friends back in high school, and likewise with Melee with a few friends I met freshmen year in college. I skipped over Brawl as I didn’t have a Wii at the time of its release. I haven’t put in as much time in playing the number of different play mode options available, the online sessions that I’ve been able to play with a new set of friends recaptured that feeling of that lackadaisical and engaging experience here with Smash Wii U.

    Smash Wii U feels like a mixture of what made the past Smash games so much fun, yet having its own features to stamp its own identity in the franchise. The staples of previous Smash games are reproduced nicely here on the Wii U version, large cast of characters with their own identifiable attacks/move sets, ever changing battle stages, items that make battles more chaotic, and numerous modes on both the single player and multiplayer fronts. Even if you haven’t played Smash in a while, and not played any of the previous versions of the franchise, part of Smash is to provide constant non-sense fun (especially on the offline multiplayer front) for those who aren’t so much into gaming.

    Smash Wii U also does a marvelous job to those who want to play the game seriously. The game has options to disable items and has stages with minimal to no stage changes or interactive, and pits the skill of the players with the character of choice on a mono e mono match. There’s a lot that Smash Wii U has underneath the surface that equates to how much more there is in fighting games outside of the goal of defeating your opponent. Each character’s move sets has their own unique set of characters that can gain them the upper hand, along with weakness the player must be mindful of in the middle of battle. Universal techniques such as blocking, dashing, precise time of jumps and attacks, and even recovery after an attack are critical tools for players to learn and incorporate if they wish to take their game to a higher level.

    If there items to nitpick with Smash Wii U, I’d say through there are numerous single player options to play, most of them are merely fun curiosity games to play for a few times before the modes quickly become tiresome. Its online netcode, while solid for the most part, has its issues, particularly with severe lag during portions of the match. Despite that, Smash Wii U delivers the offline/online multiplayer experience, whether it’s for silly fun or for serious business.

  • -FOUR-

    The first Theatrhythm Final Fantasy game was an interesting take of the long-running and prestigious Final Fantasy franchise, developing a musical rhythm game from Final Fantasy’s storied soundtrack throughout its history. It ended up being the perfect game that both served to play as a nice game to cool off from playing an intense session and a game to sink significant time to. TFF carried on the torch of what Rock Band previous did when that game will still relevant at the time. I was skeptical on how Curtain Call would improve upon an already strong product with the first game, but Square Enix did it.

    CC blows the first game out of the water through many additions and changes. First off, it offers all the songs available to play from the start, without having to unlock them one by one through a “story mode”. SE also included songs from a number of its spin-off games, such as Crisis Core, Type-0, FF X-2, etc., which balloons the number of available songs to play to over 100, not even counting DLC if the player so chooses to purchase and add onto their library. The new battle mode is nice new inclusion where successfully chaining a number of notes results in the player hitting their opponent with a power-up designed to screw up the other player. On the gameplay front, players who were frustrated in being limited to use the stylus in the first game now can play CC with the 3DS buttons and d-pad/circle pad if they prefer to play the game on that layout.

    The mode that Curtain Call earns it place as a top game of year is its Quest mode. Quest mode is essentially a mini-adventure Chaos mode, where the player plays through a number of battle and scenic songs to earn items. What makes Quest mode so fun is not only playing through a number of songs in a row (though that a strong reason in itself), but being able to choose which path to take, using items to your advantage, and defeated designated bosses in the battle songs, all in one Quest. CC has a TON of quests, all varying in length and difficulty. Even though you may have already played through the songs in the quest, a new quest feels like a new game to venture through.

    The jump from the first Theatrhythm game to Curtain Call reminds me of the jump from Rock Band 1 to Rock Band 2. The base musical rhythm gameplay remains untouched for the most part, but surrounding the game with new game modes that better represents the fun gameplay. My only major complaint is the wide difficulty chasms between the three difficulty modes, but at least you can play the game to your liking. All-in-all, it’s a fun little pocket rocket music rhythm game that excels in both short spurts and long sessions.

  • -THREE-

    I played through the first Bayonetta game earlier this year and while I found the game enjoyable, I didn’t think it was quite the unheralded action classic that many fans and critics hailed it to be. My biggest complaints against Bayonetta was the sluggish pace of the game by long walking and annoying platforming areas, and untimely instant quick time events in certain battles that detracts what Bayonetta does best, the frantic battles. Thank goodness with someone else at the controls, Bayonetta 2 delivered what I thought Bayonetta 1 would be, a game that delivers the in your face frantic action battles at many turns.

    It’s great that Platinum went in and cut the fat that made Bayonetta 1 sluggish to play at times. Long gone are the instant quick time prompts and annoying long platforming areas that hurt the first game so much. Bayonetta 2 is friendlier in giving players enough time to prompt for a timed event once it appears, and players don’t have to mash their hearts out to earn maximum halos. There are still platforming areas, but they are well placed in proving a bit of a breather in between the numerous battles of varying intensity. Those changes results in a game that runs at a brisk pace, thanks to the excess fat being worked out.

    Bayonetta 2 doesn’t mess around much when it comes to its bread and butter, the intense action gameplay. You still attack by a combination of punches, kicks, aerial attacks, and weapons either bought to equip or dropped by enemies. The importance of dodging and getting into Witch Time is still there too. The nice new addition is Umbran Climax, where Bayonetta unleashed powered up normal attacks with the consumption of magic gathered. It’s a nice addition that adds many benefits: allows the player the option to continue the combo (and potentially higher scores) in lieu of a finishing torture attack, and able to finish off enemies quicker whereas it may have taken longer without it. The battles come in often at each chapter, so you won’t have to wait long for the itchy fingers to go off again. I’d also like to add that it plays well on the Wii Classic Controller once you get the hang on the button layout.

    The only letdowns that Bayonetta 2 has from the first is that its story and kid character isn’t as memorable and mysterious from the first game and Jeanne had little representation, but those small downgrades are easily brushed off to what Bayonetta 2 does best, bring the all-thrills, few-fills, all-out action game that Platinum Games excels at. A little editing here and there can make a great game even better.

  • -TWO-

    Persona Q had big expectations to fill, but not from the franchise you think I’d hold it against the high bar set from the Persona franchise, particularly Persona 3 and 4. That is true to an extent, but I was more interested to see how well the Etrian Odyssey IV portion of the game would be developed in a run of Persona 3 and 4 spin-off games. I’m glad to report that Persona Q did a great job of carrying over what made me love EO4 so much, but include many subtle improvements over the EO4 user interface along with wonderful synergy with the Persona gameplay components that results in a surprisingly excellent game.

    The majority of Persona Q’s gameplay is weighted from the Etrian Odyssey side, and much of the EO elements that made EO4 so fun are carried over with incremental improvements to PQ. Players fill out the map they’re navigating using the numerous icons/tools offered on the 3DS’s touch screen. The additional icons and well-designed consolidated toolbox are welcome improvements that make EO4’s toolbox obsolete in comparison. [I also hope the EO development team carries over PQ’s user interface and toolbox over to future EO games.] The sub-Persona element compliments the Persona battle system by allowing player to add an additional Persona to their liking, whether it’s covering a weakness, or complimenting the user with additional skills based on their characteristics.

    Another nice touch, up to a certain point, are the new puzzle elements thrown in PQ’s dungeons that I never executed in EO4. On the Alice in Wonderland labyrinth, the player had to water out a rose bed at the correct time or location to drag an FOE out of its designated route in order to progress. The Haunted House/Hospital dungeon had a great sequence where the FOE continues to chase after you into the next room, which typically is a common save haven tactic to escape an FOE chase. It was all fun and games, navigating through the floors with numerous FOEs and puzzles to solve, but I started to feel weary of the constant barrage of FOE/puzzles by the time I was progressing through the Festival dungeon. In spite of that minor complaint, Persona Q’s dungeons are well designed and fun to navigate through.

    Persona Q doesn’t skim on the Persona elements. Finding what elements the enemies are weak to is crucial, as finding those weaknesses to gain “Boost”, which gives that character free use of a skill for the next turn, if they do not get damaged on the turn they gain the boost. Exploiting boosts are essential in quickly finishing common enemy battles, and conserving SP in tougher bouts. The underlying important Persona function in Persona Q is selection and management of sub-Personas. As the each Persona character only has a few skills attached with their main personas, it’s critical for the player to find sub-Personas attached to their party that suits their play style. However, sub-personas can serve a person for a certain amount of time until a change is needed; hence the importance of carefully rotating your sub-persona roster through the Velvet Room Persona functions. I find it an intense side-venture to upgrade and trip my sub-persona roster in choosing the between fusing two or three personas to carry over a desired skill, sacrificing personas to level up another persona, or sacrifice a persona to attain a skill to add onto the a main persona skill set.

    Running back to my point on how the numerous puzzles get tiresome toward the end, I feel due to that, Persona Q’s pacing suffers toward the run up to its conclusion, which is the only serious knock I have against the game. The other knock are the guardian bosses of each labyrinth, despite having creative elements and melding with the theme of each dungeon, are simply longer common battles with little challenge. Lastly, due to the story and setting of the game, I did not get a great sense of a grand sense of adventure in PQ. I was probably hoping too much of recapturing that sense of exploration adventure that EO4 provided.

    It’s an excellent game that somehow melds and compliments numerous recognizable gameplay elements from both franchises. I can recommend and encourage fans of either franchise to give this game a shot because PQ works on showing how well both sides work individually and together in this package. Plus, you’ll have a better story, character clashes, and chemistry between the Persona 3 and 4 casts here over the other Persona spin-off game.

  • -ONE-

    UNIEL was not the game I spent the most time with and have not played in recent weeks (before a long and enjoyable session over Christmas), a game that I consider to be highly unsuccessful in, and mired in a genre where I grew more frustrated and weary over the year. But as I stated in my introduction to my list, there was something that UNIEL had that none of the other games had. Many of the games on my list were sequels or spin-offs of games of franchises that were facing high expectations. The games that landed on my list delivered on those high expectations. On the flipside, there are games that end up being so endearing because you did not expect the game to be as great as it should. This year, that game was Under Night In-Birth: Exe-Late.

    I didn’t know much of UNIEL when I agreed to join in with Mike, Max, and John to gameshare the game upon its Japanese console release. All I knew that UNIEL’s developer, Soft Circle French Bread, were responsible in developing a well-regarded under-the-radar anime fighting game Melty Blood, which I had no experience of. I agreed to the gameshare on the lone thought that it was a game that probably would not be localized for North America. The moment where I saw how unique and exciting UNIEL was to play and observe, I knew it was a game I wanted to immediately acknowledge. Hence I wrote a dedicated blog post in August on how impressed I was with UNIEL, despite being completely shit in the game.

    I partially loved UNIEL that though it’s presented as anime fighting game, it does not play like its brethren. It carries some of the gameplay elements and mechanics from it, such as long blockstrings and combos, roman cancels, guard cancels, burst, etc., but its importance on having a strong ground game and solid defense makes UNIEL sound like its gameplay aligns more closely with Street Fighter. In the end, I found UNIEL to be a wonderful compound of taking the best fighting elements of Street Fighter and anime fighter gameplay and mechanics, yet stamping its own fighting identity.

    There are so many juicy talking points that I could write about UNIEL. (Well, I already did on my UNIEL blog post.) The mechanic I found that really affects matches and is UNIEL’s personal stamp is its Grind Grid mechanic. The fighter who accumulates the most GRD blocks at the end of the Grind Grid cycle (every 15 seconds) is awarded by going into Vorpal State, which gives the fighter increased damage on his attacks, side benefits, and opens other gameplay options in the middle of the battle. Generally the aggressive fighter will earn more GRD blocks to go into vorpal state, but I love the fact that fighters can alternatively win vorpal state by putting up a strong defense. UNIEL awards fighters who play great defense, and then in turn, can retaliate to mount an offense at the right time. Not many fighting games actually reward players who can play great defense for a period in a match.

    UNIEL rails against other fighters in that its grappler character is considered one of the best in the game, with overall roster balance being mostly fair, and probably has the best online fighting game netcode I’ve experienced to date. It garnered great reception upon its release not only within the anime fighting game community, but other fighting game communities took notice of it as well. It hooked my friend Foo, who’s not big into anime fighting games, into dedicating a lot of time into it as well as participating in UNIEL tournaments in the two recent Philadelphia fighting game major tournaments, Summer Jam and Northeast Championships. It’s still maintaining solid support offline in local and major tournaments, though it lost a lot of momentum online due to numerous other anime fighting games being released soon after UNIEL did.

    Many other fighting games look a lot prettier and contain many more gameplay options, but a lot of those games don’t deliver the identity and excitement that UNIEL does. I still found a lot to like in UNIEL’s sparse package outside of its excellent fighting gameplay. I appreciate the sparse backgrounds, as I think the minimal backgrounds look nice and probably minimizes whatever lag may possibly pop up in matches. It’s up there with Guilty Gear on having a crazy set of memorable and fun characters itself (MERKAVA!). In accordance with the other games on my list, UNIEL also features an excellent soundtrack. (Yuzuriha, Byakuya, and Eltnum are my favorite themes, but don’t mention Nanase.)

    The best things sometimes spring from things you don’t expect it to. UNIEL was a game I came in with much lower expectations than all of the other games on this list, yet came out to be the most unexpected game that I really enjoyed. It beat out games within its own genre that were no slouches in their own right and games from other genres that were very strong themselves. UNIEL is number one in my heart because it’s weird, an outlier, different than what the cover suggests, and most of all, made the strongest personal impact on me out of all the games I played this year. My parting wish is to see UNIEL somehow make it as a featured game in the upcoming Evolution fighting game tournament in July 2015.