GOTY 2016

Hello and thank you for taking some of your time to read my favorite games of 2016. This year has been a trying year for many of us, whether it’s by the numerous unsatisfactory events that has been peppered constantly throughout the year or pesky personal issues everyone has to deal with. As usual, it has been challenge to both to find the time and be in the mood to play video games. Unlike the past years where I felt my passion for gaming wane, I found some newfound perspective on how much gaming has been a big part of my life and thus lessened the stressful emotions I had more often while playing games in recent years. It also helped that I focused most of my gaming time on games released in this current year and feel it has been a more varied and stronger set of games that I played over last year. While the collective ten is not quite as impactfully strong to me compared to collective ten of previous years, I can still confidently say the games that landed on my list this year are still great and impactful in their own ways. I have not played all of what the year has offered in gaming, but I am glad to hear that a lot of folks enjoying their time with gaming with a number of great titles that were released to play this year. In a year where most things in life sucked, it’s great that gaming was there to be a helping hand and provide us with great experiences to distract and delve into.

NOTE 1: While I was easily able to rank games 10 through 6, games 5 through 1 are virtually interchangeable as I really had a hard time to rank my top five this year.

NOTE 2: This will be my final year employing my three to four paragraph summary format as I had a ton of trouble writing what I wanted to say for my GOTY this year compared to the past two years. I’ll find something to make the format unique yet easier for me to draft up in 2017.

List items

  • --NUMBER 10--

    Although Bravely Second absolves Default’s biggest problem with its extremely annoying (and for many, unnecessary) second-half and includes a ton of small but smart inclusions, it does not quite elevate itself as a much richer experience by it. That’s not to say I had a terrible time with the game, I enjoyed my time with it. The main crux from what I loved from Default (job system) still rang true to me in Second. I was hoping Second would do more to be a more invigorating experience and that’s where my disappointment with the game lie.

    While there’s nothing as outrageous as Default’s second-half in Second, Second is a very long endeavor. Like in Default, the dungeons have many levels to go through before you get to the important point of interest and there are many worlds to venture through for story purposes. The side stories, while not overly important or pertinent to Second’s main story, are essentially required as they lock in Default’s main job classes as side stories and some of them being very important to include in your selection of jobs to choose from. But I stuck with the game because I loved the battles and experimenting with the number of jobs and seeing the synergies between different jobs within my party.

    Along with its solid job class foundation, they worked in a lot of small tinks into Second that amounts to a better player experience. I love the many options available to quicken or double check your commands in battle, the levels upon arriving a new dungeon is welcome barometer to note the player where they need to be, the options to increase and decrease the frequency of battle encounters, and the quick travel between towns and the overworld are all welcome additions to the game. Overall, Bravely Second was mostly a second helping of Bravely Default. There’s nothing wrong in being more of the same, I just wish it did a little bit more to make my time with it more engaging.

  • --NUMBER 09--

    I never would have expected a ferocious take on music rhythm games to be my favorite rhythm game of this year. It ranks high up on my list on the presentation department with its sleek, hazy, psychedelic look all-around, whether it’s the shiny silver beetle to the warping color look of the background which oddly meshes with its aggressive musical direction. I also love the game’s music and how it creates that violent emotion it marketed with its continuous thunderous percussion heavy instrumentation that drives that point down. It where I got in to play where I did enjoy playing the game, but had a big caveat on some subtle things about its rhythm gameplay.

    I’ll note my grievances with the rhythm gameplay first to get those out of the way. While I love the aesthetic it was going for, at many times I had a hard time reading the notes coming in before it was too late. I also love the formlessness of every song in every stage, but I found that working against it in a normal rhythm game format where even with repeated plays, I could not prepare myself of the sequence to come compared to a structured song where you can tell what’s to come. My final minor complaint is the closeness and with the controls in simply moving left and right on the highway and shifting left and right during the turns. There are numerous instances toward the latter and more difficult stages where you had to quickly shift from one lane to another and then quickly command to shift turn for the wall turns. I had a couple of instances where I thought I hit the X for the wall turn in the small window and it did not register and vice versa to move to another lane coming out of a wall turn.

    Despite of my complaints, there was a lot of interesting and unique things I found in Thumper that I felt it was enough for me to award it as one of my top ten favorites of the year. I love the little quip that every stage’s music was written in that particular musical number signature. I love how they meshed in the rhythm notes (blue dots, red barriers, wall turns) along with a scary sensation of speed that puts a lot of racing games to shame with the heavy-industrial music to evoke its violent vibes. It just did not come quite fully together in my eyes as I hoped it would.

  • --NUMBER 08--

    There is a place for an artful game in my gaming soul as long as it’s pleasantful to play, beautiful to look at, and endearing for what it set out to do. Upon first viewing of the trailer during E3, I was immediately hooked on the main character’s movements being dance based along with the beautiful art behind it. Bound further surprised me with its floaty, ambient soundtrack and the story it told once I got to play it. Despite lacking the punch compared to full-retail games, it made a strong impression with me by delivering on its presentation with small surprises in its full package.

    On a game standpoint, Bound is passable as a decent platformer. There’s nothing you’ll see here that you have not seen before in numerous other platformers. While I found the levels to be enjoyable, that’s not the focal focus of the game. However, I adore how the levels animate in and out as you progress through the level. That is an awesome ploy that I cannot recall many other platformers ever do before. The controls are solid and it’s fun to use and see the dance moves in play over the course of the stage. Having a speed-run mode unlocked after finishing the game the first time is a novel idea instill a bit of replayability, but I found it to be a nice small afterthought.

    The art and presentation is what Bound was supposed to deliver and it did it with flying colors. There’s so many things I can point out as being cool: the blocky, solid colors of the level’s platformers, the light, paint on the canvas-esque background level art, some neat level designs such as the transporting stairs to doorway derived from a famous painting, etc. I was more enamoured by its ambient soundtrack, which I found more palatable to digest against the more, play-by-the-books orchestral score to enhance its presentation. I also loved how the notebook pages denoted a certain childhood events that composed of the game’s story and tearing them upon completing the level to signify something. All of that together is a game with a ton of nice small things combined into one nice thing to experience.

  • --NUMBER 07--

    I was nervous after I committed myself to Titanfall 2 after hearing positive word-of-mouth mentions and watching Jeff’s Quick Look (with his high regards of the game) as I am not well versed in first-person shooters. I did not perform well while playing through the campaign at certain spots and certainly got worked in my few excursions into online multiplayer. In spite of my first-person amateurish play, I was impressed on what Titanfall 2 delivered as a whole game package even if I was not quite as enamoured on this game compared to many others this year. In the end, the game won out as I had fun running and gunning on the ground and in a titan combined with the excellent production was convincing enough for me to give it a place on my list.

    Single-player campaigns in many first-person shooters mainly serve as afterthought in most cases. Titanfall 2 manages to buck that trend in making its campaign substantial, but not the way I personally expected it to be so in my eyes. I felt its story to be adequate as it told a small scale battle inside a larger conflict in the universe and the buddy-buddy relationship between the pilot and titan as nice touch on how those two came through to make a quick rappoport and to succeed a frailing mission. Instead, I found the campaign a nice appetizer on how to get accustomed to the game’s controls, mechanics, and dealing with various action scenarios. For experienced FPS players, the campaign may not be worth the hours to see the story and action sequences, but serves as a great introduction for those who are not well-versed in the genre.

    The meat of Titanfall 2’s package lies on its online multiplayer, and it largely succeeds in both the game mode and online connectivity areas. The mode that I enjoyed and had the most success in was the main team deathmatch mode Attrition. It may be a simple mode pitting one group of six against another, but the action of running around gunning down enemy pilots and titans (along with AI grunts) highlights Titanfall 2’s exciting online multiplayer the best. Other modes such as Bounty and Hardpoint, are as exciting with their variant takes on the team competition. On the technical front, I was plenty surprised that I encountered no hint of significant lag and match disruptions during my time playing online thus far. Fun and smooth online multiplayer, not many games can boast that feat.

    I have to give Respawn a ton of credit with their tremendous work done on Titanfall 2. They produced a solid single-player campaign that serves as a great introduction to its gameplay mechanics and functions to the casual and inexperienced to the FPS genre and those new to Titanfall. The game’s online multiplayer functions exceptionally well and is very exciting to play on a number of different modes. Titanfall 2 did not hit me on a deeper, personal level compared to the games higher up on my list did, but it did the impossible in making me enjoy an online-centric FPS shooter. For that accomplishment alone, it was easy for me to include it on my GOTY list.

  • --NUMBER 06--

    There’s something about a well developed and produced shoot-em-up that always manages to pack in so much in so little time. The on-going endeavor of getting as far as you can with limited lives with the knowledge of stages previously ventured and the wonder of going farther into unknown territory. The shoot-em-ups that stand out to me always had a neat little mechanical twist that adds a crucial strategic element outside of mainly dodging and shooting. DoDonPachi Resurrection provides a lot more mechanical gameplay twists than what meets the eye, along with the various different versions packaged in Degica’s NA Steam release that tweaks enemies and mechanics. Despite its high price point ($30), the game packs in a surprising amount of content and replayability that made it a worthwhile purchase.

    One of the game’s many mechanical sleeves starts even before you get the play, as there are three ship types and three styles. Each ship and style has their own strengths and weaknesses that the player has to choose from that suits their play style the most. Each ship has different bullet spread patterns while the styles has you go with bombs that save a life if you get hit, strong style without bombs, or a combination of the two. Once the game starts, that’s where the game’s other mechanics flexes its muscles. There are two types of shots that changes the ship’s characteristics when deployed. The regular “shot” is a concentrated laser shot that slows the ship’s movement but is able to repel enemy laser shots. The “turbo shot” is the standard spread shot that is significantly weaker than the laser but allows the ship to move more freely. The trick that makes the game exciting for me is the interplay between the two shots to navigate through stage puzzles and boss patterns adds an exciting dimension that many other shoot-em-ups lack.

    I probably would not have placed DoDonPachi Resurrection if Degica’s Steam release did not include all different versions of the game packed in. It packs in the following, each version having their own caveats: novice 1.5, normal 1.5, 1.51, version B, version L, Black Label novice, normal, and arranged. The changes from each version is not easily apparent to the naked eye, but are significant when you actually play through the different versions. It’s nice from a curiosity point-of-view to experience how the small differences between each version have a resounding effect. That was very fun to feel the subtle difference of each version and offers up their own unique challenges and adds more essential content on what could have been a very sparse re-release.

    DoDonPachi Resurrection in summary is a well-crafted shoot-em-up game that fans of the genre should definitely give a chance. It may not be as thematically strong compared to Cave other offerings (Mushihime-sama, Deathsmiles), but I feel it’s their most realized game of their library that I have played/seen to date. The game has its limitations as being many years ago with sparse content outside of the numerous revisions and the price point of the NA Steam release may be high. Pushing those flaws aside, there’s a great feeling whenever you can tell a game has been worked on with time and care. DoDonPachi Resurrection is the game where Cave truly sharpened their craft to a tee.

  • --NUMBER 05--

    Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE may not be the game anyone wanted upon its initial conception as a strict cross-franchise game of Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem, but ultimately proved itself worthy of its own existence by leaving in what made each franchise’s core elements great in the first place and intelligently tweaking other elements that surprisingly improves what was established as tried and true. My skepticisms quickly faded away as I immediately got comfortable for what the game presented. I was glad to see and feel the mix of what was kept in and what was tweaked mostly for the better that stood consistent throughout the entire game’s length. TMS#FE does not quite hit the immense highs set by a number of games from the franchises it was borne from as it falters in a few areas, but excels in the areas where it matters most that totals out to an excellent game overall.

    The biggest surprise and the area that attracted and kept me glued to the game was its excellent battle system. It managed to maintain the thought provoking strategy by blending in battle system elements from SMT and FE with a few new, neat wrinkles. I would have been satisfied enough if the battle system was an exact cut-copy of SMT’s press turn and affinity system with FE’s weapon triangle tacked on, but here’s where TMS#FE’s added tweaks made it enjoyable and stand out. On top of having the already excellent SMT press-turn with FE’s weapons triangle in place, the ability to sub in your party members in battle (and not losing that turn in the process) and the combo system adds in more interesting options the player can choose to play and be mindful of in battle. TMS#FE’s battle system could have been a complete mess with a lot of elements combined; instead, it manages to streamline and improve upon an already excellent base SMT system and maintaining its strategic integrity.

    In line with its excellent battle system is the player’s ability to choose their skills equipped for every party member and the method utilized to pick and choose said skills through equipment and use of a specific weapon. That leads to another nice mechanic where each weapon has a number of unique skills attached to it, giving the player the choice which weapons to craft in order to attain the skills they want for each member. I also loved how presentable every dungeon looked, its puzzles easy and fun to solve, fairly easy to navigate, and never boring to revisit for backtracking and side quests. Not to mention the nice intermissions in between every chapter for the player to knock out a healthy number of side quests/stories without the worries of getting mixed-up with main missions concurrently. TMS#FE is a game that delivers on all gameplay departments.

    As much TMS#FE was very engaging to play, its other facets surrounding the gameplay were a mixed quality-wise. I admired how clean and beautiful the game’s presentation with beautiful colors bursting all over the place along with a slick looking user interface. The areas where TMS#FE suffered the most was its story and characters, as neither did nothing for me and is a far cry from the great stories and/or characters that were a frequent occurrence in SMT, FE, and Persona, they were there to give the game substance to work the gameplay parts onto. TMS#FE may not fulfill all the check marks to become a masterpiece, it did a lot of things right to be in the discussion of a great game. I likened playing TMS#FE to a well-executed action movie, you won’t get a great story or a set of characters, but it delivers on what matters most that made it a great experience.

  • --NUMBER 04--

    It’s weird how dried up the racing genre has gone this decade with fewer racing games being developed and the games released thus far were mildly exciting at best. Forza Horizon 3 did more than fulfill my racing drought, it overstuffed it by both expanding and refining what it did from Forza Horizon. (NOTE: I did not purchase nor played any of Forza Horizon 2.) I was overwhelmed at first with the amount of play options available once you got a festival going, but was glad to have more events coming soon after I was quickly hooked by both the racing and open-world aspects of the game. All of the content was welcome, but it would not have mattered if FH3’s racing was as exciting to play in the first place. It definitely checks out all the essential hallmarks that a great racing game should have in my book, then elevates itself as a game of the year contender for its unique festival theme and overstuffed with content.

    The most important area that Forza Horizon 3 quickly got down right is nailing the excitement of racing competition. It captures a nice sensation of speed (even if it’s at 30 FPS on the XB1 version), excellent road/track designs around the faux Australia landscape, excellent car control feel, and solid grinding competition despite being derived from the Drivatar system. The variety of racing events and open-world items accentuates the racing by just having a so many things you can do in the game. After going through a series of intense races, it’s nice to cool down and have the ability to simply roam around the game’s impressive open-world aspect. Driving down every single road, driving around to find that needle in the haystack barn car, running over bonus boards was a nice filler to do in-game before revving back up to actual racing again.

    What got FH3 over the top in my view was how well it took its festival racing concept to cater and truly complement its excellent racing. I enjoyed how they vary every racing event restricting it to a select group of cars to break the monotony of using the same car and how well the developers crafted the tracks around the four thematic landscapes. I particularly enjoy the point A to point B races as they encompass through a good portion of FH3’s overall map. I also love the casual atmosphere in this game where there’s less importance of winning and more emphasis on just having fun, even if that took a strange focal shift of the player’s character and narrative where the player is the boss of the festival operation driving around to promote and grow it.

    If there was anything to nitpick on FH3, its biggest flaw is the lack of overall variety with its race events despite its best to spice it up by restricting each race to a subset of cars. I did feel a bit weary in continually racing the same old circuit and point to point racing even though I loved their use of the roads and environment to produce their racing events. The flaw is miniscule compared to what FH3 does so well everywhere else. I can still sink in a good session of driving around and racing for time to time. The most important thing FH3 did was bring back that exciting sensation of racing that was sorely lacking in the current gaming landscape. It’s been awhile since I last felt hooked and excited to play a racing game and I am grateful FH3 stepped up to the plate and delivered a home run.

  • --NUMBER 03--

    Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth is my first foray into the long-running Digimon franchise and boy was it quite the game to dive head first into. Eschewing the original monster collecting and management concept, DS:CS placed more of its emphasis on telling a great story and mostly succeeding. It was the only game where I was enthralled with its story and is a big factor on implanting itself on my list this year. The story is the main crux that carried most of my enthusiasm of it, but it would not have got to this point if the gameplay was not adequately exciting to play through for me to stick with it for its conclusion. DS:CS did a lot of things well that really impacted me, but its flaws also impacted me so much that it bummed me out on how much higher potential the game could have reached without them.

    Though DS:CS’s story is not a masterpiece by a fair measure, it still told an intriguing story that started off small and insignificant and built so much momentum from that. I was close on writing off on what they were doing with the story until the halfway point, where they took it in a direction I did not expect them to do. They did mostly a great job of tying it all back as the game and story approached its climax and subsequent end. My thoughts of the main characters vary, but none of them are egregious to a point where they detract from my positive experience with the game’s story and gameplay. The biggest indictment around the game’s story is Bandai Namco’s terrible localization effort, adding in unnecessary memes, awkward/incomplete sentences, and misspellings/typos found constantly in the story and character’s dialogue that is unacceptable.

    DS:CS’s gameplay streamlines the monster collection and management system well enough to retain the excitement of having a main set of Digimon for battle, attaining new Digimon to fill out the overall Digimon database, and expanding, training, and truncating them without making it feel too heavy-handed like in a mainline Digimon or Pokemon game. It encourages the player to continually experiment around Digimon for both finding a collection of Digimon to carry for battle and to unlock new Digimon through collection, evolution, and de-evolution with statistical requirements. I also loved the simple battle system where the main focus is the data/virus/vaccine triangle with elemental attributes being a plus/minus damage multiplier that makes DS:CS’s battles quick and exciting. My only major complaint with the gameplay is the major dissonance in difficulty with its boss battles, as some battles turn more into a grindy affair of keeping your set of Digimon alive against some aggressive boss attacks and attributes while whittling down the bosses health.

    I really wanted to reward DS:CS higher for telling an excellent story in a year where I played a lot of games where story was not a focal point. I loved how much it continually built up the stakes yet keeping a sliver of intrigue as it went along and mostly stuck the landing upon its climax. The gameplay was fast, slick, and mostly enjoyable all around in Digimon management, battles, city and dungeon layout. I just cannot ignore the lazy localization job and the overly tough boss battles that had great potential to ruin the game. Luckily the positives I have with this game far outnumber the few nagging negatives and I am glad that I played this game with the limited time allotted for JRPGs.

  • --NUMBER 02--

    Arc System Works already had a nice base to build upon with their excellent release of -SIGN-’s console version two years ago; it’s what they did to expand upon that base is where ASW both showcased how to make the right changes and tweaks that results the sequel being an logical extension and improvement upon the predecessor AND set the tone of what a fighting game release should entail in the current gaming landscape. That’s what impressed me so much with Revelator on how impressive it is as a casual fighting game enthusiast and a video game consumer. Not to mention it was the fighting game that I felt most comfortable in playing this year and just excels in every aspect anyone is looking for in a full-retail video game release nowadays.

    Revelator continues for the technical and presentation excellence from SIGN and then some. The game still looks equally great and mind-blowing in looks alone, both stationary and in motion. It’s still a wonder how ASW was able to make each fighter looks so great in 3D models yet maintaining their 2D fighting characteristics. There’s all the modes you expect to see in a fighting game and all working as advertised: an arcade mode (that serves as a character’s story preceding the events of the main cinematic story), a cinematic story, a well-thought out, improved, and extensive tutorials, and a neat and functional online multiplayer. ASW also does not skim over any part of their presentation efforts: the menus are easy looking and navigate around, all fighting stages look amazing, and a rocking soundtrack.

    ASW included many welcome additions and tweaks from SIGN to make Revelator more slightly more balanced but maintaining what made GG Xrd fun to play. On the game mechanic front: the return of throw breaks was a much welcome gameplay element needed back in, the additional variant of the blitz shield mechanic adds more strategy for the player, along with smaller touches that GG aficionados can appreciate. The bigger and more celebrated additions came with the new characters into the foray, all of them with their strong, quirky personalities and unique strengths and gameplay. I was glad to see Jam return as a playable character in Revelator and having her character suit my fighting playstyle to a tee had profound impact on how much more I enjoyed fighting in Revelator than in SIGN. As a result, I was able to fight better and gained a brand new appreciation of what makes Guilty Gear Xrd work with its unique brand of bells and whistles.

    It’s always hard to pit my fondness for fighting games against other genres because of the additional hurdles one must undergo to fully realize what makes a certain FG work. Revelator also had the challenge of personal time and attention against the other games, but still managed to a quick and worthy impression that surpassed many other games I have played in the year. For me to pick up so many little things on it with my limited time was impressive enough; those details were further enhanced with a character that plays to my liking. While my time and overall fondness with Revelator falls short compared to my favorite fighting games of years past, it was the standout fighting game that I appreciated in many facets from the gameplay down to the nailing down what a full-retail video game product should be.

  • --NUMBER 01--

    Sometimes reaching the end of something is the worst thing to happen. That’s what I strongly felt as I completed the final puzzle in this amazing game. I had my doubts how the sequel could improve upon the already excellent Picross 3D with its new dual-color puzzle element. It took me some time to understand the small clues to look for with the dual-color clues, but saw how big it was the clues finally clicked in with me. I would have been content if Round 2 was more puzzles from Picross 3D, but Round 2’s dual-color clue is a big inclusion that adds a refreshing new dimension to what was already a well-developed puzzle game. I had tons of fun solving puzzles as they came by… until there was no more.

    The most revelatory moment during my playtime with P3D:R2 was going back to one specific tutorial in taking out specific squares where both color coded clues clashed. I had trouble getting my head around that clue on a couple of puzzles that included it. Once I understood what that lesson taught, I saw how much the dual-colored clues expanded upon the original 3D so much. It made a ton of the puzzles after that tutorial enjoyable to parse through. I was also pleased on how well developed and implemented the dual-colored clues as a natural extension to each puzzle without over-complicating the user as they look at every clue offered. There were many puzzles that gave me pause, but not because the clues did not make sense. It gave me a pause to carefully pinpoint which clues to start that will flow over to the other clues to solve the puzzle.

    HAL Labs deserves a ton of credit in keeping every puzzle even-keeled. I love the addition of different difficulty levels that folks can choose and change at any point to match their comfort level. I played the entire game on hard (I found medium too easy) and I felt it earned its difficulty level of being sparse yet giving you enough clues to see how the puzzle reveals itself through process. I also loved the new scoring system implemented after solving each puzzle based on time and mistakes, which could convince some players to revisit those puzzles to earn a better result. The culmination of solving puzzles well unlocks more puzzles and the vicious cycle continues. I was continually shocked as I was mowing down puzzles that a lot more puzzles were awaiting in the shadows. Even as the latter puzzles got larger and more elaborate, they remained restrained yet remaining challenging and engaging to play.

    The biggest bummer and my only significant knock against this game is there’s no replayability after you solved through all of its puzzles. There were a few puzzles I redid to get a higher score and to see if I could see how the puzzle should have been drawn out the first-run, but there is not any additional incentive to go back and revisit any puzzle for your leisure. There was no point where I felt any overly frustrated or fatigued during my time with the game. I continually wanted to play the game even if I set my sights on playing something else and welcomed more puzzles the game continually awarded me for solving a number of puzzles along the way. It’s an impeccable feat for a non-AAA game to really capture more of what presents itself as. I still have a hankering for more Picross 3D: Round 2 puzzles, that’s how much I really liked this game.