Jazz

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The Game of the Year duology - 2019 edition.

So,

This year will be slightly different.

I'm going to be doing two lists of five game each.

First list is made up of game released this year, second is games that I played this year.

If I didn't do it that way, only one game released this year would be on the list so.....

No ps4. No gaming PC.

I have gamepass.

Oh, and this is purely my subjective opinion. As is all opinion...if you don't agree with me, congratulations. You are your own individual person.

2019 Games of the Year

Number 5

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A game that rides on it's aesthetic as much as it's gameplay. I really enjoyed my time working out the most efficient ways to get through a level - kinda like a 2d Hitman game but with more swords and less brick throwing. Actually I guess there is lots of throwing. Anyway I enjoyed the game for what it was and it never asked too much of me - even in that mine level.

Number 4

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The big Platinum game of the year - wonderful music, great combat, nice environments - atrocious story. Serious garbage level Eva ripoff that goes nowhere. Game would have been higher on the list if not for the story and the waste of space mini games. The combat, though it starts slow, eventually morphs into what a friend of mine refers to as 'beastmaster' gameplay and it's really fun, though I found the jumping mechanics occasionally frustrating. I'd be really interested to see a sequel with a competent writer - and yes, I'm aware that Platinum games aren't really about the story but at least the others have been fairly unobnoxious bar perhaps Vanquish with their tired Russians!!!!! plot.

Number 3

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Someone once asked me, "What would be your dream job?" After thinking about it, I came up with the reply - "Well you know Star Trek Enterprise?" and I'd lost them right away. My dream job would be to compile and translate alien languages on a first contact starship...that had a lot of trees on it. I don't like being away from trees. Anyway, Heaven's Vault is almost the perfect game for me - yeah there's some issues with the way translations work and there's some other niggles but the idea..oh, the idea. It helps that the world is an interesting, vibrant creation that eschews the general Western stereotypes: thus making it interesting to explore and learn about. The characters are great to - especially your long suffering robot companion. I have yet to finish the game as I'm taking my time with it - but it gets on the list nevertheless.

Number 2

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Like Heaven's Vault, Control is a game of ideas that doesn't always come together as well as you'd like it to - but you can't deny the sheer ambition of the game. Draw deep on the SCP concept along with elements of Alan Wake and that other game that I'd rather not remember Control tries to do something different. At it's base it's essentially a third person shooter with extra powers but what Remedy manage to do with the environments, visual effects and background storytelling is a very impressive feat. Yeah, the main plot isn't great but that's just there to provide the framework for the experience, and unlike Astral Chain, is not mind-numbingly offensive to anyone who has watched anime at least once in their life. There's also a drop in momentum leading into the climax - essentially everything before the maze. Then there's the maze and the soundtrack and...well, as long as you don't have to play that section over and over again - it's golden.

Number 1

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What is love? Baby don't hurt me, don't hurt me..no more.

AI: The Somnium Files is a visual novel style game with adventure game (think Telltale) elements as well as some, thankfully, sparingly used QTEs. It's from the writer of the Zero Escape series - so if you've read those, you have somewhat of an idea of what you might be getting into. Yes, there are multiple endings but....well...

I'm not going to go into the storyline but I will note some of the themes that I picked up on. The main one is, unsurprisingly, love. AI is A.I. but it also means 'love' in Japanese and that really comes through in the game. The love of a mother for her son, son for his sick mother, daughter for her parents and so on. Unlike most VNs there isn't really any 'Romance' route as there isn't really a love interest - it's more about families and relationships, which really is a nice change to the usual bullshit. There's also a surprisingly well portrayed trans character, as well as some gay characters. It's not perfect by any means, but it's a far step beyond Persona and Catherine. There's also the usual questions about identity and how people deal with death and tragedy. There are some really horrific scenes in the game that aren't gratuitous but are there to underline how horrific these events actually are. There's one scene of someone being stabbed that became too much for me, and the characters who had to watch it.

If I have complaints about AI - it would be that I could do without the 'main character is a perv' stereotype that anime characters lean into to give them some sort of, I dunno, fault? It's not relatable and just annoying. There's also some weird loading issues on the Switch card version I have where it'll hitch when loading scenes - especially for the image within an image thing.

AI isn't a game I can suggest to everyone, but for me it was the best game I played that came out this year by a long long way. If you like visual novels or going through a gamut of emotions, please give it a look.

Best Games I played this year (non 2019 release)

Number 5

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I know I've just a ton of people, but I truly love this game.

From the cold arctic wasteland, to the stunning soundtrack, to the characters who were not over written or super mysterious, to the combat that took the best elements of Chrono Trigger and made it more impactful and involved with the addition of minor QTE aspects. Yes, it's a more dour, budget version of FFX story - but I prefer it over FFX any day of the week. Every game does not need to be a big budget, graphical powerhouse. If the theme (death and sacrifice) and aesthetic connect with you, that can be enough.

Number 4

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Oooooooooooooh boy. So, there I was - straight off a boat with two of my friends. We were asked to go deal with some monsters in some nearby caves. While dealing with that I came across this sword that started talking to me and kept asking for more ore - so after dealing with the monsters I went off to go find this ore. Before long I was dealing with some bandits in this sea side town, and then there was this slaver.....

This game is nuts. I finally understand people who gush over Skyrim - this game is my Skyrim. You just never know what you'll find around the next corner. Yes I picked up Scarlet Ambitions already - I don't like it as much as this game though.

Number 3

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All RPGs, all the time. That's be me most of the year.

Koudelka is a really odd game. Cross Resident Evil with a barely functional RPG and you might have some idea of what this is. It's similar to Parasite Eve in trying to mold Survival horror and RPG together. It's also the 'prequel' in a sense of the Shadow Hearts series. Is this a good game? Well....I loved my 8hrs or so with it enough to make this list. The combat system is slow and can be broken easily - the save system is esoteric beyond belief and the game can be either easy as pie or hard as hell. What keeps the whole thing together though is the atmosphere, story and characters. The VO of Koudelka especially is god tier. It sounds like they recorded the VO in the style of a 1930s old time radio programme and that just makes it even better.

Number 2

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After playing through Xenoblade 2 last year and finding it to be, I'll be polite and say underwhelming, I thought I'd go back and play the Xenosaga series to see if my memory of the first game accurate.

The fact it's here on my list should tell you that, yes, my memory was accurate.

Xenosaga, to me, is everything that the 'blade series wishes it was. Interesting characters that have actual goddamn story arcs? Check. Interesting plot that, while it snorts desiccated Eva flesh, is still strong enough in the early stage to stand alone - check. Good combat system, despite the fact that each animation takes a year to finish, check. Female characters that actually have depth to them that aren't fridged immediately or have z sized cups? check. Don't get me wrong, there's a ton of stuff in Xenosaga - such as Momo and some later redesigns of Shion that start to edge into 'eyeroll' territory but it's not to 'Blade 2 levels yet. It's also very much a game of its time - though they could have cut back on the cutscenes, it's not like it's a Kojima game.

I really enjoyed my time with the game and went into 2 hoping that it would keep that ball rolling. Nope. I managed about 1/2 of the second game before getting fed up with the combat encounters and the dungeon designs - also the story just doesn't go anywhere. I'll try 3 at some point but I have other series to finish first such as.....

Number 1

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I played the Vita Evo version with the English patch. So, voiced lines and other tweaks.

The first Trails game is one of the best RPGs I have ever had the pleasure to play, and I'm rather sad that it took me so long to get around to playing the game since I've had it since its Western release.

I'm going to quote myself, as it's been a while since I finished the game:

"FC (and the FC/SC subseries as a whole) is a coming of age story - as many of these games tend to be. What sets this game apart is the quality of the writing and how much time the characters are given to grow. Estelle and Joshua, the two main characters - are great. Estelle is tomboyish and a bit dense but sweet, Joshua is quick witted, kind and..well...mysterious. Both characters develop enough throughout this first game that you come to care for each of them, Estelle especially. She has (as the main character) an actual, gosh darn it, character arc - which is very very rare in this day and age. By the end of FC you can see how far she has come, and how much further she has left to go. Then there's Olivier (best guy), Agate, Tita and best girl Kloe..and then there's....look I could go on. Even side characters you meet for 5 mins have enough character to actually be 'present' and not just wallpaper.

The next thing of note is how side missions work within the game - as part of the Bracer guild you are given optional side missions that reward you with Bracer points, money and occasionally items/quartz. We'll get to Quartz in a minute. Side mission do a fantastic job fleshing out the world around you - you'll hear about the past of the area you're in and how they relate to other states in the area - you'll learn more about character's backstories - or you'll just help deliver a love letter to a girl in the factory. It's the little things that make the world feel alive, and FC has them in spades. The occasional problem rears its head, however. There are hidden quests that go towards your completion and that can be annoying, as well as hard time limits on when you can take certain quests. The game could be more forthcoming on those matters - but it;s hardly game breaking.

Next is the battle system - it's a turn based system, on an isometric grid that allows for free movement. Turns are based on character speed and there are bonuses that apply to certain turns - like in Xenosaga. These can range from free magic or skills to extra items and money. It's a good system that can drag out at times - I played on easy which made the game ridiculously easy but kept the pace that I wanted for the story. I play RPGs for the story, not gameplay. Possibly the most interesting part of the battle system is Quartz. It's essentially a modified/upgraded materia system that also acts as the money system in this game. Essentially you have a small grid of about 8? slots that you can open during the course of the game. Into these slots you place Quartz which, like materia, allow you to cast spells. However, unlike materia that determines exactly what spells you can cast (like cure or fire) Quartz works on a numbered system. Each Quartz has a certain amount of sepith (element points for lack of a better description) tied to it. When you slot the Quartz into your grid, those points transfer to the character and then you can cast the spell that corresponds to that amount of elemental points. Take a fire spell - slot in attack 1 which has 1 red elemental point and you can cast fire. HP (blue) allows for healing spells...etc. What makes this interesting is that there are 10? different elemental sepith and mixing and matching them can get you all sorts of different spells ranging from speed boosts and buffs to AOE damage skills and revives. It's an experimental system - and that's cool.

I do have complaints - the first I've covered; that being the side quest system is a wee bit obtuse at first. The other is the lack of map in dungeons - I can understand not showing where you haven't been but it really should show places where you have been. It's not game breaking given how small dungeons generally are but annoying - especially given that enemies respawn upon moving areas. At least its not a random encounter type game.

In all FC is one of the best JRPGs I've ever played - easily. I'd put it up there with XII and Xenosaga. I highly recommend this game to anyone who remembers how JRPGs used to be and misses that time."

I have played through SC and, while I didn't think it was as good as the first game it was still a good time. I'm currently working on the third game in the series, though I may have OD'd a bit on the series so I needed a bit of a rest.

The game is currently on sale on GoG (13/12/19) so, if you're even slightly interested - take a look. You can just play the three Trails in the Sky games and leave Cold Steel - but they are there if you enjoy the series. Hopefully the Crossbell games (Zero and Ao) will be translated sometime soon...they're far better than the Cold Steel series.

Addendum:

Honourable 2019 game mentions: Outer Wilds, Generation Zero

Honourable ???? game mentions: Breath of the Wild, Ever 17, Shining Force (GBA) and Inquisitor: Martyr

Favourite comics - Animosity, Wicked + Divine, Die and Immortal Hulk

Favourite Movie - Spiderverse? I saw it this year and it's pretty much the only 'new' movie I watched.

Favourite Album - Opeth - In Cauda Venenum or Stray kids - Cle 1: Miroh

And that's all folks

I'll probably do a decade list at some point

Hopefully 2020 will treat everyone better than the last decade.

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