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Obligatory 2019 GOTY Blog

This has been a hectic year for me. It’s been the second year of me in my private mental health practice and though the workload and schedule are better overall, the hours I work can sometimes interfere with playing games. So too can adopting two pets. And trying to re-establish a social life. As well as dating. And doing more active self-care things like hikes. Games have become less and less of a focus for me and when I can engage with them, I’m either exhausted or don’t have a lot of time. All of which means the games that I do like will probably reflect where I am in my life. Which is a good thing, as I’m glad I’m developing and changing. But it’s weird seeing how much games have fallen as a priority for me and how differently I engage with them now that I’m getting older. But I did play some amazing games. And here’s a list of them. And some other games.

Game I May Have Liked if My PS4 Hadn’t Died

Jedi: Fallen Order

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So, I bought Jedi: Fallen Order at just the wrong time. Apparently, my PS4 Pro, which I’d bought about 6 months prior, had some type of a hard drive fault that ultimately led it to bricking on me. Before that, though, I was playing this game which, for good reason, played like garbage. But the problems I experienced were emblematic of some of the issues people have had with the game in working consoles; data streaming issues. Textures wouldn’t load. Geometry wouldn’t load. Characters wouldn’t load. Music and sound wouldn’t load. It was a mess and I assumed that it was the game’s fault. Then my PS4 stopped working. So never mind, not the game’s fault. Of what I did play of the game, it seemed ok. Maybe I’ll have a better impression when I try it again on an operating console.

A Game I Kinda Like But Can’t But on My Top 10 Because I Also Dislike It A Lot – Award

Death Stranding

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What I was able to play before my PS4 died was Death Stranding. I have a lot of complicated feelings about this game but really it can be summed up as this: had the game been just a pretty delivery game where delivery people would help each other out along the way the game probably would have made my top 10 list. But all the other stuff, the story, the writing, the characters, the combat, the exposition, the lore. It all exists, and all of it drags the game down for me. When I was just delivering goods, it was a very relaxing game. It was mindless, sure, but it was also peaceful. It was great as a cooldown game from a day of work. But I can’t really put the game in my top 10 because a huge amount of it I don’t like at all. But I’m still happy I played it.

Most Disappointing

Life is Strange 2

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The original Life is Strange was my game of the year when it came out. It had problems, for sure, but it was really affecting and memorable. They did a great job setting scenes, selling characters, and making your impact on the game feel like it mattered. Life is Strange 2 started out, in episode one, feeling like it had taken the lessons of the first game and improved upon them. The writing felt sharper, the characters felt more real, the scenario was more interesting.

Then episode two happened. Episode two is fine, overall, but it’s the start of a decline for the game overall. Episode two feels like the story was in limbo. By episode three I started to dislike the main characters and really dislike the side characters, particularly the two the audience was supposed to engage with. By episode four, a feeling I had of the game overall since episode two sort of came to its fruition; the story felt like a patchwork of ideas and the ‘moments’ that were memorable in the first game, if a bit emotionally manipulative of its audience, felt forced and contrived in the second game. I stopped playing episode four when the story took the playable character to a church where his younger super-powered brother, who he was separated from, was being touted as a miracle child. I just didn’t have the trust the writers had the chops to pull off the nuance of something like that situation, let alone any of the other situations they may put the characters in. So, I stopped playing altogether. Quite a jump from the first being my GOTY to not even beating this game.

10 Ring Fit Adventure

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So, I just bought this so adding it to my top 10 is a little weird. But, whatever, it’s my list. As I mentioned in the intro, my life has been going through some changes as of late and some of my old routines have been compromised. One of those routines was regularly attending a local gym. I just can’t seem to find the time and when I do have the time that time is either short or I’m exhausted. That’s where Ring Fit comes in. This game is easy to implement into my day, it works well, and the best part is that I’m feeling a benefit already. My old routine involved weightlifting and cardio, which I hadn’t done regularly for about a year up to getting Ring Fit. Ring Fit works the muscles I was working in a different way. I’m not well versed enough to explain the mechanics of all of this but essentially, I had emphasized raw strength training and distance cardio whereas Ring Fit emphasizes movement, flexibility, and body weight routines. It’s a way for me to get a solid workout in a different way, but in a way that fits my lifestyle as well. I highly recommend it.

9 Mario Maker 2

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I never owned a Wii U so I never played the original Mario Maker. Mario Maker 2, then, was my first experience with the Maker series and I really enjoyed it. I have less experience with, and less love for, 2D Mario as opposed to the 3D games but Mario Maker really served as a good jumping off point for learning the deeper mechanics of 2D Mario for us novices. And, of course, you can go all the way down the rabbit hole and get into the intense created works. Which I did, and suck at. But I also created my own levels and had a blast doing it. It was simply a fun, breezy, and nice experience.

8 Zelda: Link’s Awakening

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I owned this on my original, green tinted Gameboy when it first released but never got very far. With this remake I got the chance to try it again. I’ll admit, it was a bit slow to grab me, but eventually it did, and it was very fun. I like that it took the basic stylings of Link to the Past but boiled it down to a smaller, more digestible size, likely to match the original portable hardware. It’s another fun, breezy, and nice experience that looked good (minus the hitching) and sounded amazing.

7 Outer Worlds

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Outer Worlds is another in the ‘fun, breezy, and nice’ experiences I had this year. There’s no escaping the similarities of this game to Bethesda’s RPGs, which I have liked in the past. I enjoyed Morrowind, Oblivion, Flallout 3, New Vegas, and Skyrim. But with each successive game after Oblivion, I liked them less and less. It felt like the formula had started to wear out its welcome by the time Skyrim came around. Fallout 4 had done nothing for me and, paired with the technical problems of that game, I wasn’t sure how much more of this style of RPG I wanted anymore. Outer Worlds, then, came along and it was really refreshing. But it refreshed the formula in ways that I wasn’t expecting. I appreciated the art style and use of color. And that it ran at a good framerate and that there was a good amount of variety in the level design. I also really liked the writing and the shooting was a nice improvement over the Bethesda games. But what really made that game work was its relative brevity, smaller scope, brisker pace, and more focused design. Whether because budget constraints or not, the pint-sized Bethesda experience was apparently what I needed to get back into a Bethesda style RPG. Now let’s see if Bethesda can do it themselves with their next few games.

6 Fire Emblem

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This was the first Fire Emblem I put much time into and really liked it. It has problems, for sure. It’s not the best-looking game in any regard and yet it still runs poorly. The difficulty is lacking, until the final chapter where for me it suddenly got very hard. But despite those issues, the loop of the game had me. Pairing a JRPG style strategy game with the social components of a Persona game was a great idea and makes for a very satisfying gameplay loop. It was, as I’ve mentioned multiple times in this list, a nice, breezy, and fun experience.

5 Heaven’s Vault

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Heaven’s Vault is an interesting game. It’s not ‘fun’ in the classic sense of a video game. There aren’t big and satisfying gameplay moments. It is very slow paced. The only thing you truly ‘acquire’ as such is knowledge. In a lot of ways, it’s a more interactive visual novel with extremely light adventure game components. But what it has in spades is atmosphere and quality writing, which I personally feel is the most important part of an adventure game. And though the gameplay is sparse, translating the ancient language was quite fun and satisfying. I love that games like this can be made and widely released and I’m very happy I got to experience it.

4 Outer Wilds

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The Outer Wilds is awesome. If this was a list of most impressive games of the year, this game would win. The puzzle design is so clever and the variety in those designs, despite the limited ways you as a player can interact with the world, is mind boggling. And I love the way the game looks. It may not be the most technically impressive looking game (though moving between worlds is impressive to me) but the art design, and its use of light and shadows, is very striking. But yeah, the design itself is what makes this game stand out for me. It is just so damn cool. I only wished I liked playing it as much as I appreciated the design. I both love and hate the 22-minute time loop. I love the puzzles that design affords the creators, but I don’t like that it puts the player on a time crunch. There were multiple points in the game where I looked up solutions because I didn’t want to go through the time loop again. All that said, though, the game is mighty impressive, and I’m thrilled it was made and that I played through it.

3 Control

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Control is just fun. I mean, it’s more than ‘just fun’ but that’s my overriding feeling when I look back on my experience with the game. Minus a few frustrations here and there (like the bosses) the game itself is just, well, fun. It looks great, it runs well, it sounds good, its dripping with atmosphere, and though I could take or leave the main plot the writing is very well done. But more than anything else, moving, shooting, using the powers, exploring the environments, leveling up. All that shit is very fun.

2 Resident Evil 2

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Take everything, well most of the things, I said about Control and apply them to RE 2, and then some. This game is massively fun in so many ways. I love the controls, the shooting, the level design, exploring, the overall gameplay loop, the atmosphere, some of the writing (some), and it all looks and sounds amazing. I did everything in this game, four times. It’s bizarre. I played RE 2 originally on the PSX and, though I enjoyed it, I didn’t feel the need to experience the game again as another character. But I was all about doing everything in the remake. It is a phenomenal game and I was sure it would be my GOTY. Until I played the next game.

1 Judgment

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Judgment is like a warm blanket. A very well-made warm blanket. And the blanket punches dudes and solves crimes. For those that don’t know, Judgment is a spin-off of the Yakuza series wherein the lead character is a defendant lawyer turned private detective. I love just about everything about this game, but I’ll start with the writing. Though not perfect, the quality of the writing from the moment to moment dialogue to the pacing of the main plot, character development, world building and all of the other components was very high and that it kept that quality throughout the course of a 40-50 hour game is kind of mind blowing. I’m not one for hyperbole and I truly feel like the writing in this game can stand up alongside games like Red Dead 2 and The Last of Us. And best of all it sticks the landing. Top to bottom the writing in this game is phenomenal. Then there’s the gameplay. It is so varied. I love Yakuza, and as varied as those games were able to get at times, they don’t hold a candle to the variety in Judgment. Other than the ‘follow this person’ missions, I really liked each aspect of the gameplay. It is so well-paced and well-done. And even though we’ve been to Kamurocho before it takes on a different feeling in Judgment. It feels more alive now. In Yakuza, Kamurocho looked and sounded like a real city. In Judgment, it feels like a real city too. I was so enthralled with this game that I did just about everything you can do in the game and once or twice booted it up again just because I wanted to run around the city once more. I don’t have the time to have that sort of commitment to a game anymore, but I made time for Judgment. It’s far and away the best experience I had this year and easily my personal GOTY.