MajorMitch

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GOTY 2019

2019 was an interesting year for me and video games. Following some (positive) personal changes this year, I had substantially less time for games than ever before. That means I had to adapt, and really think about my gaming priorities. What’s interesting is that, despite playing noticeably fewer games, I don’t feel like I missed out on too much. As I was going through the exercise to make this list, I realized that I still spent roughly the same amount of time on games that really connected with me; only the time spent on games that didn't noticeably dipped. So while I may not have played everything, I still played most of the games that matter to me. It’s a trajectory I’ve been on for a couple years now, and in 2019 I managed to focus more on fewer games, and was happier for it.

Fortunately, 2019 had plenty of wonderful games worth focusing on; the consensus seems to be otherwise, but I personally think this was a very strong year for video games. I certainly played more than 10 games I would have liked to showcase on this list, and all of my picks are games I genuinely wanted to spend my valuable, limited time on. That’s always a good sign, and that’s especially true for the top half of this list. I think they represent five incredible and diverse games executed at the peak of their craft, and if we were to look solely at annual top five lists, this quintet would put 2019 in the conversation for my favorite year. While it trails off a little from there, the rest of this list is still a collection of varied, quality games that I highly enjoyed playing. I had fun stuff to play all year, which is all I can ask for.

And with that, here are my 10 favorite video games of 2019. Thanks for reading, and I hope you have an awesome day!

EDIT (September 2021): See a revised version of this list here!

List items

  • Three Houses feels like the single biggest step towards fully realizing Fire Emblem’s potential since its western debut. At its core, the series has always been (to me) about its blend of exciting tactical battles with an ensemble cast of endearing characters. And by casting you as their instructor at a military academy, Three Houses connects those two sides more holistically than ever before. You have more space to get to know (and get attached to) the characters under your command, more freedom to choose how they train and grow on a daily basis, and more opportunities to see that growth directly on the battlefield. Simulating it all is an exciting process that has clear, rewarding implications on both mechanical and narrative fronts, and I found the whole process to be mesmerizing. Oh, and the tactics are still excellent too.

    And yet, even that broader design, as mesmerizing as it is, may not be worth it if Three Houses’ artistic side wasn’t so strong. Its fantastic characters are all highly fleshed out people, with all sorts of hopes and fears. Fodlan serves as a compelling backdrop, with a rich history of complex geopolitical drama. The writing is surprisingly sharp, the story has lots of memorable moments, and the music is absolutely killer; easily my favorite soundtrack of the year. If great art serves to mirror our own world back to us, flaws and all, then Three Houses’ biggest success is how it portrays the inevitability of conflict between diverse people trying to live together. It may not be the most well-made game of the year in every detail, but it’s the one I still can’t stop thinking about. And that's why it’s my favorite video game of 2019.

  • Sekiro’s final boss is my favorite gameplay sequence of the year. There are no tricks, no gimmicks, nothing unusual; you simply have to execute on everything you’ve spent dozens of hours practicing in one final, demanding test. That purity of focus is one of Sekiro’s biggest strengths, and it wouldn’t work if its combat wasn’t legitimately incredible. I don’t say this lightly, but Sekiro might have my favorite melee combat in any game I’ve played. It’s fast, it’s precise, it’s responsive, and it’s immensely fun. The world is also a joy to explore, the art and sound design are striking, and the story and characters are both thoughtful and memorable. From Software has now been making stellar, influential games for a decade, yet in its focus and execution, Sekiro may be their best, most competent title yet.

  • Who could have guessed that Supergiant Games, known primarily for story-driven adventures, would be the first studio to hook me on a roguelike? But that’s a big part of what makes Hades so great: despite its run-based nature, it still manages to boast a compelling throughline narrative. The writing is excellent, the characters are full of personality, and even your constant deaths are accounted for in clever ways. The art, music, and combat are all equally exceptional, and the thoughtful customization that positively rewards experimentation and variety is a Supergiant staple that works as well here as ever. Hades may still be in early access, but after a year of steady major updates, it already feels like a complete, high quality game. Hades has the makings of something special, and I can’t wait to see how it shapes up in 2020.

  • I hold no reverence for the 1998 original, but Resident Evil 2 presents a convincing case for remaking old and clunky games. It rebuilds everything from the ground up, from the controls to the visuals to the camera perspective, and the result feels like a brand new, modern, extremely polished game. I had an absolute blast mapping out the Raccoon City police station, scrounging for items while avoiding zombies, and soaking in the pure camp of it all. I also really enjoyed optimizing my route across a myriad of ways to play. Between two playable characters with separate arsenals, A and B routes, hardcore mode, and unlockable weapons via speedruns, I played through Resident Evil 2 five times this year. I almost never play a game more than once these days, which speaks volumes to how much this one grabbed me.

  • Outer Wilds crafts a wondrous universe replete with fascinating mysteries to unravel, and immediately gives you the freedom to set out in whatever direction your curiosity takes you. It all occurs within a cleverly implemented time loop too, and countless smart details around the edges bring the adventure to life in compelling ways. What follows is a story of immense cosmic struggle, touching moments of success and failure, and the absolutely wild scientific experiments of a species hellbent on preventing the utter collapse of the universe. The joy of Outer Wilds is in the meaningful knowledge you naturally gain from your discoveries, and the holistic picture it paints once you put it all together. It frequently surprised and delighted me in ways that only games can, and thinking about it now gets me a little wistful.

  • It’s been over a decade since Advance Wars suffered its unceremonious death, and while a few games have attempted its formula since, none have nailed it quite like Wargroove. It has a few new touches of its own too, my favorite among them being the critical hit system that rewards thoughtful unit positioning. But most of what I like about Wargroove is what made Advance Wars so special to begin with: the easy to learn, hard to master tactics. The fun and varied campaign. The engaging multiplayer. The incredibly robust map creator. The colorful cast of characters, catchy music, and playful personality. Wargroove may be a new version of an old game, but it’s executed so well that it’s really nice to just have it back.

  • One could be forgiven for thinking that good Star Wars games were a thing of the past, so it sure is nice to see one as solid as Jedi: Fallen Order again. Sure, you could argue its mechanics are all executed better elsewhere: its combat, platforming, and world design clearly pull from quality existing material. But those common parts still work, and they are also tied together with great pacing and a heartfelt story. I felt invested in these characters and their journey, which was punctuated with memorable, cinematic moments. It pulls on all the right strings to create a worthwhile Star Wars story, and made me feel like a badass Jedi too; deflecting blaster bolts back at stormtroopers never gets old.

  • Every time a new SteamWorld game comes out I debate if it’s something I should play… and then I play it anyway and wonder why I ever held any doubt. Quest is another highly polished entry that combines the strategic customization of a deck-builder with the character progression of an RPG, and the mashup works better than it should. I had a lot of fun constantly experimenting with my deck in search of powerful combos and cool interactions, and puzzling my way through its toughest bosses over the course of a lengthy, satisfying campaign. I love that every SteamWorld game takes a stab at a completely different genre, and Quest’s distinct blend turned out to be another winner.

  • As a mix of roguelike and deck-building elements, Dicey Dungeons feels like a game I should not like at all. But it drew me in with its playful aesthetic and simple-but-effective mechanics, and then kept me hooked as it expanded its scope in fun and interesting ways. I especially like how each class feels distinct from the others, and how the rules are constantly remixed across numerous episodes per class. Dicey Dungeons builds out a surprising amount of variability and depth that forced me to puzzle through a wide variety of scenarios, and the snappy pace of play made it easy to continuously jump back in for more. This was my “pick-up-and-play” game of the year, and one I could happily return to at any time.

  • Super Mario Maker 2 is, for better or worse, “more Super Mario Maker.” While a sequel could never be as magical or as impactful as the original, Super Mario Maker 2 is still a wonderful creation engine unlike anything else out there. It iterates in a few areas too, with a solid story mode and some worthwhile new tools enhancing an already robust package; the on/off switches in particular open up an amazingly deep well of potential. But the real joy here is what it always was: sculpting your own Mario levels remains a fun game unto itself, and seeing what the endlessly creative community cooks up is positively infectious. There’s magic here still, and I thoroughly enjoyed diving back in for seconds.

6 Comments

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ronindrummer200

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Way to go on putting together an excellently well written list. I too greatly enjoy that Fire Emblem soundtrack. I may check out Dicey Dungeons as I kinda forgot about it. Thanks for the reminder!

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GunstarRed

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I'm probably in some minority on this one, but I found Three Houses music to be pretty underwhelming, especially after loving so many of the tracks in Echoes. I ended up buying some of those fake Amiibo cards just so I could have a couple of those tracks in the game. There was a couple of pieces I really liked during the attack on the monastery and the bass-y tune that plays whenever you're about to murder your old friends in the back half of the game.

I have an insane amount of things to say about that game. I don't love it, but I liked it a lot, enough to see through the story of each house. (I skipped the church route) I generally though the Persona-esque stuff added very little and I found myself doing the bare minimum of actions to max characters happiness out. I just found myself going through the motions of plant stuff>buy items>have meals, and do any side missions/conversations. It was a little tiresome by the end, especially on the second and third playthroughs. I generally liked the conversation stuff if a little limited. Many characters have almost no progression, with many having the exact same fears or quirks as they had five years earlier. I expected Bernadetta to be a confident badass after the time skip, but she's still stuck in her room scared at everything. There are two noticeable character changes though in Edelgard and Dimitri, who might be the best character in the entire game, if a little one note. But for about 90% of the cast there's almost no change in anyone, and some of those conversations go over the same ground over and over again. The one thing everyone should agree on though is that Hilda is the best. HILDA! HILDA!

I'm sure there are a lot of people that adore the social aspects of the game, but I think I'd prefer it if they scale it back next time. I just hated running around that monastery, even with the super fast teleport.

I've somehow made it sound like I don't like a game I've put the most hours into this year. I like it a lot... honest.

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ArbitraryWater

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Great list Mitch! Three Houses' OST is definitely one of the unsung best parts of that game. When the Dubstep drops, you know shit gets real.

Of the games on your list I haven't yet played a significant amount of, I really do need to put more time into Wargroove. In theory, I still have a lot of love for Advance Wars, but something about having to re-learn that game's tactical philosophies had some weird wire crossing going on with Fire Emblem. It's hard to remember to play offensively when that grid map looks so similar, sometimes.

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MajorMitch

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Edited By MajorMitch

@ronindrummer200: Thank you so much! It took a lot of time to write, haha, thanks for reading! Dicey Dungeons is a really solid game, maybe not the most complex game of its type, but I think it's really fun in what it focuses on and totally worth checking out!

@gunstarred: Three Houses is definitely not a perfect game, and I have my own gripes with it too. I do agree that there are many parts of the social simulation that don't work out well, like the planting and lost items. I definitely would like some of that to be scaled back, it could absolutely be tighter. But what I think the game gains from the simulation side is that you have to choose how to spend your time. Maybe the balance isn't quite right, but you can't always do the tournament and get Byleth some training and eat meals with everyone and have tea time and so on every time you're at the monastery. You have to be at least a little selective, and that makes you focus on what you care about most, which makes for interesting decisions and trade-offs to me. Then also what activities to do each week: monastery, battles, seminars, etc. Even with its flaws, I think that overall idea of the simulation is worth it. Also, I like the feel of the monastery as a "home base" so to speak, and get everyone's reactions between missions. It's like a Normandy or something, and I just like that feeling.

I do contend that most characters go through growth as you max out their supports though. Not in the "I'm a completely different person" type of growth. But as you come to understand them better, and they come to understand both themselves and others better, many of them gain various levels of a new perspective or a new confidence. I've only done the golden deer route, and in maxing out all the supports (including between each other), Lorenz stopped being such an ass, especially towards women. Ignatz decided after the war he will be an artist, and found the confidence in himself to follow his dreams. Marianne stopped being so afraid of herself and more eager to step up to use her powers to help others. And so on. It doesn't affect everything, like where they stay in the monastery (Bernadetta stays in her room like you say). But it does change how they view their life, and how I view them (and sometimes manifests in their end game summaries too). Anyway, that's enough rambling from me, but I for one really like these characters and the arcs they go through.

Sounds like we can agree that Hilda is awesome at least ;)

@arbitrarywater: Thanks! I actually played Wargroove when it first came out, before FE. Then there were a couple months in between, so I think my brain was able to reset so to speak. Wargroove, from what I remember, does generally reward offensive play. I enjoy that in contrast to a lot of other slower paced tactics games, like FE- it's nice to have both. Good luck if you go back to it! :)

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amlabella

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Great list and write-ups as always! I really need to get back to Fire Emblem, I enjoyed what I played of it but then life got in the way and I ended up moving on to other games. I should have more use for portable Switch games in the near future though. And I imagine Hades will be on my 2020 list, it's already pretty great and I'm excited to see what they add in the new year. Supergiant has been awesome with the regularity and quality of their updates, they're a fantastic example of Early Access done right.

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MajorMitch

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@amlabella: Thanks! It's kind of crazy how fully featured Hades already feels. I first played it for Extra Life and haven't been able to stop, haha. Definitely a prime example of early access. I'm really excited to see where it goes in 2020.