By Liontard 1 Comments
2019 wasn't an amazing year for games, but it somehow managed to still churn out some of my favorite of all-time, and while I'd like to spend this time parsing the quantitative value of "Why" that is I'd rather just talk to you about some of these pretty rad games that I might have not beat, try to guess which ones.
It's the bottom half of the list, I mean I didn't even play one of those games. Like, what kind of game journalist am I?
Also I didn't put it in any of these paragraphs but just assume that at some point in any of these I said the music was good.
Ok, so I maybe didn't actually play the Shadowkeep content this year, but I don't personally think that actually matters all that much because this is probably the year that I've played Destiny the most. A game that always at best frustrated me with it's wasted potential and at worst bored me with it's confusing progression systems, lackluster writing and piss poor loot rewards finally managed to get its' hooks into me.
I played it for a few months on Xbox during a particularly dry period and a weird need to get way into something and it was in getting to the two DLC storylines that I had missed out on previously (which funnily enough is probably some of the worst content in the game) that it all clicked.
I finally understood what this game was and was instantly reminded that Bungie still knows how to make a motherfucking gun shoot so damn good. I'd become driven to collecting as much armor and weapons as I could, feeling the rush of an Exotic dropping in the overworld and participating in weekly bounties and events to further this goal. This is the game that made me finally get MMOs after a life-long distant obsession fueled by misunderstanding, making running the same level 100 times just to get one thing make sense to me for once.
Adding Cross-Save might as well have been as integral as adding space travel because finally getting to hang out with my friends inside the game truly made this game shine, really bringing out the sheer hang-outitude of the game's world. If there's any one game I'd like to make me die of starvation in an internet cafe, I'd probably like it to be Destiny instead of some dumb mobile game like Granblue Fantasy or something.
Continuing the theme of just now Getting Into Stuff, here's Pokemon Sword which is, with no uncertainty, the first Pokemon game I've actually played. I was always the kind of kid that hated JRPGs and First-Person Shooters, thankfully Halo was there to stomp the latter out quick but it wasn't until a curious discovering of an opening video for Persona 3 Portable that made me go "Ok, I don't care if it's turn-based, this is the coolest thing ever and I have to play it" and it wasn't until finally beating Persona 5 after two years earlier this year that the gameplay style of JRPGs was elevated from a thing I have to bear with to something I genuinely really enjoy.
Fast-forward to November of this year when my brother, who was always much bigger-brained than me when it came to games that didn't induce instant gratification who's been a Pokemon fan for as long as I can remember, of course bought a second Switch just to play Pokemon for maybe 5 hours and then stop. But whatever it all worked out because thanks to him I finally get Pokemon now, I can't really say I fully get it, but I get it.
Most of the current appeal to me at this point is just walking around and seeing a Garbodor or something and going "Holy shit, look at that guy" and capturing them. I'm also super fond of the gym leaders, they're all completely adorable and the little subplot involving Marnie and Piers is one of my favorite experiences this year. While the game might flounder in many ways (especially technically) Game Freak still manages to craft a tiny perfect world where you're the coolest person in the world and everyone is nice and I just wanna live there, it can't fail to make me happy.
So I'm gonna be honest here, I didn't actually play this game, however despite this I already know the legacy of this game and I already know this is one of the greatest games ever made. It's a premise that sounds like one out of an intentionally gonzo sidescrolling indie game trying to mimic the absurd Japanese action games the developer grew up playing, except it's actually real and is emblematic of everything I love about them.
Mad dashing across the battlefield, your giant metal pods opening up, revealing an entire Walmart hunting section of firearms, switching out your giant mech deagal for a giant mech pump-action shotgun and boosting forward to liberate POWs. It's certainly much more fun than real-life politics and is absolutely a game I would recommend anyone experience in any way possible.
This is one that I never actually beat and every day that I don't keep playing it I kick myself because I already know how excellent and short it is. I'm already a giant fan of Dennaton Games' cult masterpiece Hotline Miami and this game manages to strike that perfect mix of weird psychedelic storytelling and immaculately designed gameplay.
The thing that managed to stick out to me after my time was the world and just how great the writing was, it really feels human to me. In particular the mobster character you encounter, someone so repugnant that even our hardened serial killer protagonist can't stand him. Truly just a game that speaks to me on every level and I might just go back and actually finish this stupid thing once I'm done writing this.
This is another one I didn't actually beat, but unlike Katana Zero I put a good maybe 18 hours into this one and am honestly pretty satisfied with my time on it. This year, due to Richter and Simon's inclusion in Super Smash Brothers, I also went back and played up until the final boss of Rondo of Blood on an emulator and tried penetrating Symphony of The Night after years of trying to get into it.
Nonetheless, that attempt failed and I still failed to really get the appeal of Symphony of The Night. Trust me, I've played metroidvanias before but this was one that just felt so antiquated and cryptic at some point that I couldn't find the hook personally. Then Bloodstained comes around and does every single thing I was constantly thinking Symphony needed to do. All of the unique weapons, all the accessories you can put on, the shards you can use, the sheer customization of it all. It really feels like the ultimate Castlevania game in a lot of ways.
Ok now these are all games I actually finished, some even multiple times! Starting with Jedi: Fallen Order. I've been a Star Wars fan for as long as I can remember and the last few years of content has sure been, to put it lightly, turbulent.
So here comes Fallen Order, a game that was probably strategically released a month before the new movie and in tandem with the excellent Mandalorian, it's clear this was an attempt at rekindling the public's interest in Star Wars, and it sure as fuck accomplishes that. This is maybe the singular best piece of media released since Disney bought the property.
While the mobility wasn't quite what I was hoping out of Respawn, the pure swordplay and navigation really work to sell the feeling of going on a cool space fantasy adventure. I also found the writing to be quite good, not spectacular but I don't expect that out of AAA licensed games.
Despite that it still managed to put together a story that came off genuinely heartfelt and had some great character moments and reveals. It's just the good shit from Star Wars that the franchise really needs right now and Respawn has laid down a spectacular framework to work off of in a sequel.
God where do I even start with this game. Devil May Cry is one of my favorite series, DMC3 is probably my favorite game of all time. It's a unique brand of cool shit and absurdist anime bullshit that manages to stand out from other things that might fall under these labels, and while this is a really good entry into this series, I personally felt it fell just short of what I needed out of it, and that's the reason it's not #1.
But I don't want to make this section overly negative so let me just skirt around that stuff and talk about what I like. The new mechanics added to Nero's arsenal are insane game-changers. V, while not very versatile, still manages to bring a very unique playstyle and different pace entirely to the series. The sheer customizability of Dante is unprecedented. It's also nice to play these characters in levels that I can actually stomach for more than 30 minutes for once.
The game has some problems that really bother me but I still beat it like 4 times on all the difficulties so it must be doing something right I guess.
So up front, I've never been a Resident Evil guy, I always thought the tank controls were dumb and the horror element wasn't nearly as interesting or significant as Silent Hill. However after Capcom decided to put out a demo for this new entry into this funny little backwards franchise I was completely hooked. I was immediately brought back to one of my favorite games of all time, Dead Space 2, which now makes me respect Resident Evil a hell of a lot more for laying down the fantastic foundation that those games work off of.
The sheer atmosphere and tense gunplay of the game are absolutely marvelous and finding new attachments that make you shoot just that much better is infinitely more satisfying than any million year long floating number shlooter can even try to be. Satisfaction really is The Word to use for this game to me.
The satisfaction of climbing these tiny obstacles, finding the perfect route, just narrowly skirting past that hallway with two zombies with a perfectly placed bullet. It's a game entirely about strategizing on the fly and tactical thinking and I love it. My only regret is that I never managed to find the motivation to go through the second run, sorry Claire but you're just not as good as my main man Leon.
I went into this game expecting a pretty good Platinum action game that would be great in the moment but wouldn't manage to stick with me very much overall. Instead I got a meticulously crafted action RPG that more than made up for the shortcomings of this year's Kingdom Hearts III.
Everything just feels so god damn cool, as soon as you finally have the final legion is when the game truly shows you it's full hand and manages to stand out as an insanely unique and a brilliantly fun action game. Switching between legions on the fly to get the perfect setup before going in and chaining together chain jumps to get as close as you can to flight is emphatically satisfying, as well the post-game content of this game is stunning. I didn't think I was going to play a game in 2019 that had a secret boss.
My gripes are pretty strong, the story being borderline nonsense, some inconsistent visuals and some really bizarre upgrade trees, however none of this is enough to keep me from getting pumped any time I hear Dark Hero start playing. The art design is incredible, the combat is stellar and the narrative, while flawed, still makes me excited to see wherever they go next.
And so here we are, in a list where I praise some incredibly mechanically complex and intricate games that intertwine their gameplay and narrative into a beautiful yarn that makes all the squishy parts of your brain feel really nice, here sits a game where the gameplay is only okay.
It's really nothing to write home about, you hold the light attack button and press the heavy attack button and combine these situationally with your chosen loadout of powers to mow down waves of weird looking baddies. It's honestly too easy for it's own good, I had to play on bitter just to make the thing feel like it was attempting to push back at me, and somehow with all of this it's probably still one of the most mechanically solid games Grasshopper has ever put out.
So I know the question you're asking, "Why is this middling spin-off title in a franchise no one cares about this guy's Game of The Year? Like, what the fuck is this guy smoking?" and to be honest, I don't have a good answer for you, but I'll try to elaborate.
Suda51 in my personal opinion, is one of the few true visionaries in this industry. The guy has a solid sense of style and an approach to storytelling that makes sure you're never bored by what's happening. He's also the only great Japanese video game guy that still has yet to get his big break. Yoko Taro had Nier Automata, Swery65 had Deadly Premonition, Hideaki Itsuno had Devil May Cry 3 and Hideo Kojima has been coasting on the original Metal Gear Solid to this day. The closest Mr. Goichi Suda has come in all this time to breaking into the mainstream is the original No More Heroes game.
Since then he has, either by corporate agenda or by his own desire to build up new great developers to succeed him, been put on the bench so to speak. His studio went on to release games that failed to meet sales expectations and were either collaborations or compromised versions of his original visions. It has been 12 years since this man has been let loose.
Now here we are, the first game in a long time that Grasshopper has made free from a demanding publisher and right after a fairly gnarly split from one GungHo Online Entertainment. Grasshoppper at this point needs to put something out to keep the lights on, and a low-budget affair in the companies' most famous franchise seems like just the ticket.
It was with this knowledge that I went into Travis Strikes Again, not expecting to hate it but not expecting to love it, I figured it would be a simple middle of the road affair that would show us our favorite whacky otaku serial killer going and jumping inside the video games! You know, those ones! Suda then takes this opportunity to show us what truly makes these games special. Travis Strikes Again is shockingly introspective and rich in character depth.
It turns out our favorite guy who watches anime in between spouting purple prose at women he's about to slaughter has a lot more going on in his skull. At this point in the story this man is a father, he's at the top of the world, has a mansion, a wife and seemingly more money than he knows what to do with. But in response to all of this he becomes overwhelmed and runs away into the middle of a forest in Texas, seemingly set to live out the rest of his days in a trailer playing video games, reviewing ramen on his blog and buying really rad but definitely too expensive t-shirts.
That is, until someone called "Bad Man" comes knocking on his door for revenge after Travis killed his daughter some 12 years ago. After a short squabble the two unlikely heroes get sucked into Travis' Death Drive Mk. 2, where the two learn that by collecting the legendary "Death Balls" they can wish for Bad Girl's life back. Travis agrees to help, if only to get Bad Man off his back. However, in embarking on this journey Travis learns about the story of a visionary game developer who was behind some of his favorite games as a kid named Dr. Juvenile.
It's with this setup that Suda crafts a beautifully put together rumination on his time as both a video game fan and as a developer, as well as an incredibly reverent send up to all the games he's worked on in the past. It includes commentary on the culture of video game development, cheeky criticisms of his own games, and tons of references to games you probably haven't played before. This game made me play a series of visual novels that I never thought I would've dipped into before.
At the end of it all Travis has learned a lot about Dr. Juvenile and comes out of this game with the same strong respect for game developers that I imagine Suda carries in real life, successfully combining these two aspects of his personality into one vector. In the game's final moments Travis is given an opportunity to truly run away from it all and be content on Mars with one John Winter, but instead decides he has to keep living and moving forward, even if it hurts like hell.
I truly believe this arc for Travis Touchdown is meant to mirror Suda's own thoughts and feelings when it comes to game development. Choosing to continue making games and writing stories, even though he'll probably never be as successful as he maybe could be. To Suda, there's no perfect ending in the games industry for him.
It's an intricate and moving exploration of the games industry and Travis' character, giving him ample development to be paid off in the upcoming No More Heroes III. It's a rare look into the soul of a man who has been working his ass off since the 90s and still has yet to have major AAA success. It's everything I want out of a work of art and it's The Best God Damn Game I Played All Year.