Saturday Summaries 2018-11-24: Game of the Yesteryear Edition

I've been a little out of it this week due to illness - my head feels like a bowling ball full of green soup where nobody bothered to plug up the holes - but that doesn't get in the way of my regular blogging. Fortunately, my writing has been carefully cultivated over time in such a way that it becomes indistinguishable from the rantings of a guy hopped up on cold medicine, so it should still be business as usual for this edition of Saturday Summaries.

With GOTY season fast approaching, I've been considering just how much my gaming tastes have changed since A) I started writing for this site, and B) since the site itself launched. To that effect, I was curious to see how much my GOTYs of previous years may have shifted in that time. For the unaware, I have a few "GOTY (Adjusted)" lists which see incremental changes around each subsequent year based on how I retroactively feel about the games on those lists and whatever games from that particular year I've only just gotten around to.

To that effect, I've made a little chart below that covers my then-GOTY for 2008 to 2017, my present-GOTY for those years, and the site's own official GOTYs for those years. (I'll hopefully also remember to go back and add 2018's when the site's GOTY content goes out sometime in late December.)

YearMy Then-GOTYMy Current GOTYGiant Bomb's GOTY
2008Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4Grand Theft Auto IV
2009Demon's SoulsDemon's SoulsUncharted 2: Among Thieves
2010Mass Effect 2Mass Effect 2Mass Effect 2
2011SkyrimDark SoulsSkyrim
2012Sleeping DogsSpelunkyXCOM: Enemy Unknown
2013The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between WorldsThe Legend of Zelda: A Link Between WorldsThe Last of Us
2014Super Smash Bros. for 3DSDragon Age: InquisitionMiddle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
2015Pillars of EternityPillars of EternitySuper Mario Maker
2016Stardew ValleyStardew ValleyHitman
2017NieR: AutomataNieR: AutomataPlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds

Now, just for fun, I've put together a second table full of GOTY trivia. This includes games I love that GB ignored, vice versa, and how much of our respective top tens overlapped. For those years with asterisks, that's back when the site didn't have top tens, so I've gone with the top ten created by the aggregation of individual top tens from the staff (which this Reddit thread helpfully curated):

YearMy Highest Ranked Game Not on GB's GOTY Top TenGiant Bomb's Highest Ranked Game I've Not Played (as of 2018)% of GOTY Top Ten in Common
2008Persona 4 (1st)Gears of War 2 (3rd)20%*
2009Demon's Souls (1st)N/A50%*
2010Just Cause 2 (2nd)Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2nd)20%*
2011Dark Souls (1st)Gears of War 3 (8th)40%
2012Spelunky HD (1st)Telltale's The Walking Dead (2nd)20%
2013Tales of Xillia (2nd)DOTA 2 (7th)20%
2014Dragon Age: Inquisition (1st)Bayonetta 2 (2nd)30%
2015Pillars of Eternity (1st)Rocket League (3rd)40%
2016Dark Souls III (3rd)Overwatch (3rd)40%
2017Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (3rd)PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (1st)30%

And one more for specific Giant Bomb crewmembers, though only those with three or more lists (I made an exception for Jan, Abby and Ben, since they're current staff). Each measures how many shared games we had on our respective GOTY lists. Whose video game tastes do I identify with most at Giant Bomb?

YearJeffBradVinnyDrewRyanAlexScoopsDanJasonAustinBenAbbyJan
20080%10%10%N/A10%N/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A
200940%40%50%20%30%N/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A
201020%10%20%10%30%10%N/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A
201140%20%30%20%40%40%40%N/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A
201210%20%30%20%20%30%20%N/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A
201340%30%20%20%N/A30%20%N/AN/AN/AN/AN/AN/A
201410%20%20%20%N/A30%40%40%N/A0%N/AN/AN/A
201520%40%40%20%N/A40%60%40%40%10%N/AN/AN/A
201620%40%50%30%N/A30%30%30%20%20%N/AN/AN/A
201720%30%30%30%N/A30%30%20%30%20%30%20%40%
Avg.22%26%30% 21%26%30%
34%
33%
30%13%30%20%40%

(If you want to try this at home, I recommend this resource for all your site GOTY needs. It also helps if you have all your top ten GOTY lists from the past ten years somewhere accessible, which most normal people probably don't.)

We're not quite into this year's GOTY deliberations, but I'm building up to my own. Back in the present, here's what I've been up to:

  • The Indie Game of the Week was the short but sweet investigative adventure game Subsurface Circular from Mike Bithell, a game that is counterintuitively about talking to strangers on the subway. Bithell's always had a dab hand at both creating puzzles and writing some drily amusing stories about the near-future and transhumanism, and Subsurface Circular focuses more on the latter as a narratively-focused standalone that could (along with its "sequel" Quarantine Circular) be the foundation for something far greater he has planned further down the road. As interstitial games go, however, it was still compelling to play and he managed to squeeze in a few good dialogue tree puzzles when so many adventure games have stopping playing in that space almost all together.
  • My more laid-back revolving alternate Tuesday slot went towards the excellent Jazztronauts; a game that sometimes feels built for me with its emphasis on grand larceny, highly amusing cat people, and a clear affection for the many custom maps created by owners of its host program, Garry's Mod. I put up an episode on both Monday ("Heist the First") and Tuesday ("Heist the Second", and maybe a few more). I may continue to put up mini-sodes of what I find across Gmod's user-made multiverse and in the process learn more about my kitty accomplices by completing fetch quests for them. It feels like the kind of game that will keep me entertained for a very long time, albeit in short sessions.

Addenda

Movie: Fletch (1985)

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I gotta say, even though I picked this movie because it's a broad 1980s comedy and I feel too much like death warmed over to attempt anything more cerebral, I did fear the worst. Chevy Chase's reputation was always a little iffy when it came to punching down (though in his defense, when you're 6'3 you don't have many other options) and I was worried his schtick of being a master of disguise in a movie made in the 1980s when we still believed the Chinese were clay goblins who could speak with the sand might lead to a lot of cringe-worthy ethnic humor. Thankfully, barring a comedy afro or two, that did not come to pass.

Fletch is a comedy vehicle for the erstwhile Cornelius Chase, riding high off his SNL kudos, in which he plays an undercover newsreporter hunting for the source of a nasty bit of drug trafficking on the local LA beaches. From there, he finds himself embroiled in an unrelated (though is it?) plot to assassinate a man at his behest. As he juggles both these cases with deadlines looming, he naturally finds a lot of outlets for physical comedy and deadpan one-liners. For what it is, Fletch is entertaining enough, finding the same kind of energy as Beverly Hills Cop where its protagonist is always down for goofing on the armed bad guys in his midst but is occasionally capable of taking things seriously enough when someone waves a gun in his face. It can be a little disjointed: you sort of know what Fletch is up to with his information-gathering, but each scene brings with it a different alias (a running joke is that Fletch always has the worst, least thought-out sobriquets and almost everyone buys them anyway) and a different direction for the humor to go. It makes the story a little awkward to follow at times, but at least it serves Chase's strengths as a comedic actor.

Personally, my favorite part of watching an 80s movie for the first time is seeing how many people I recognize in bit roles. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air's James Avery as a relatively svelte crooked cop, for instance, or a pre-stardom Geena Davis as Fletch's lovelorn assistant Larry (and presumably someone who was chosen as a potential romantic interest because she can see eye-to-eye with Chevy without a soapbox). I feel like I'd probably have loved this movie if I'd watched it closer to release; my friends and I would have sleepovers where we'd eat snacks and watch comedies from the 70s and 80s all night, and yet Fletch never popped up in that rotation. This movie affirmed my aspiration to be a deadpan wiseacre, perhaps in my later years when I can get away with it. Then again, seeing how Chevy Chase alienated everyone around him when working on Community, maybe there's a limit to just how sassy an old man can afford to be.

Game: Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom

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2018 GOTY season is rapidly approaching, so I was quick to dig into one of the few major releases from this year I presently have access to. Ni no Kuni II is outstanding not only as a standalone game, but in how effectively it makes up for the shortcomings of its predecessor. Whatever complaints you may have levied against the first are addressed here to some extent, and the added component of having your own kingdom to manage - which also includes going out into the world and finding new citizens to populate it - creates a side-activity that frequently monopolizes your time.

When the first Ni no Kuni came out, it had several major points going for it and a few going against it. The pros were the incredibly high production values: the animation and character models were provided by the prestigious Studio Ghibli, while the music came courtesy of composer Joe Hisaishi backed by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. It also sported one of the best localizations for a JRPG I've ever seen, filled with brilliant puns and wordplay and somehow recreating a manzai comedy routine with two Welsh-speaking fairies that was still hilarious. With Ghibli's deft hand, Ni no Kuni made each of its quirky territories and characters that much more memorable. All of this is still true for Ni no Kuni II, its developers clearly understanding where the franchise's core appeal was situated. Where Ni no Kuni fell apart a little was the frequent unengaging combat and Byzantine system of raising your Pokemon-esque underlings, which is why Ni no Kuni II more or less started over with a more traditional character-based combat engine where your followers - once recruitable monsters that fought on your behalf - instead provided support by way of healing and the occasional powerful one-off attack depending on the Higgeldies (elemental spirits, more or less) you brought with you.

The new combat system relies on a weapon-switching feature where normal attacks builds a "Zing" gauge, and then activating a special attack when this Zing gauge is maxed causes a much more powerful version of it to happen. Doing this causes the current weapon to revert back to zero Zing, necessitating that you swap to the next max-powered weapon for any follow-up specials. The game goes several steps beyond this new and improved combat system however, throwing boons like the Tactics Tweaker - an adjustable tool in which you can tinker with combat bonuses, say damage boosts against specific monster types or boosted resistance to specific types of elemental magic, ideally those matching the foe you're about to face - and an elaborate equipment crafting system back home. There are also Skirmishes, which are RTS battles that operate on a rock-paper-scissors troop system and requires that you use your finite amount of "military might" to its greatest advantage. The game has no shortage of objectives to follow, whether that's recruiting new citizens for your kingdom, researching new passive boosts and constructing new buildings in your kingdom, pursuing the powerful "tainted monsters" sub-bosses, acquiring new recipes for your kingdom's cook, taking on the game's randomized "dreamer's door" dungeons, attempting optional skirmishes, ducking into side-areas on the world map to see what they contain, or - heaven forfend - actually following the main story progression. Many RPGs are capable of pulling off the "Buridan's Ass" trick, but it's always both astonishing and mildly embarrassing to be so fully captivated by a game that's constantly pulling you in multiple directions.

I'll have more to say next week, but the game has already left a strong impression on me and I've scarcely stopped playing it since starting last weekend. My regular blog content next week will bogart a lot of my attention - the SNES Classic is looking at a pair of sizable RPGs, and I suspect I might struggle with the upcoming Indie Game of the Week - but I hope to find the time to keep playing Ni no Kuni II. It's making a compelling case for my #1 spot this year.

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