Personal Reflections and Persona 5 Royal.

I just spent the last month and a week or so of my life playing this game. 151 hours of in game time, at least according to the game itself. I suspect it might not count some of the time spent in menus, but I'm not entirely sure. And maybe it feels a little weird to open this with the time spent, but in so many ways this series is all about time, how we spend it, and amongst the myriad of jumbled feelings this game has running through me, there's kind of one that has been at the forefront since the credits rolled.

Sadness, that even after all this time, the game ended.

My blogs here are always messy, and sorting through both all the feelings it gave me, and me wanting to say some things about the game's systems/etc; this one's squarely on the messier side. So please bear with me.

Before I started playing P5R, more than anything else I was feeling trepidation. I'd never played one of these, but like a lot of long time Giant Bomb viewers, I'd seen the Persona 4 Endurance Run. More than once, honestly, and most recently I rewatched the whole thing last year (one of the reasons I felt inclined to play Royal). Never having played one of these games, by this point I had a decade of nostalgia for that game to an extent, but really to those videos. So actually playing one, especially when the reception to the original Persona 5 was...mixed to say the least, it was a bit intimidating.

Of course when I actually played it, it was just another video game, and one that I quickly fell into a rhythm with. Over the last month or so, it became another part of my daily routine. I'd spend my afternoons working my way through Persona 5, and once that routine really sunk in, it felt like it became a part of my life. I enjoyed spending time in that world, with those characters, and knowing it would eventually end, like all things do, I tried to not think about that, and just focus on the story.

Moving to the big city feels intimidating.
Moving to the big city feels intimidating.

There isn't much going on in my life these days. You probably think this is something related to Covid-19, lockdowns, etc, and it sort of is, but it's not just that. This has been my life for years. Ever since I graduated college back in 2013, for one reason or another, often health related, I've been stuck at home, still living with my dad. With nothing to do but goof around online, play games, hopefully spend time with friends (though that has gone entirely online since my local friends all moved away), and when I feel up to it, write. Write in the hopes that people will read it, and have enjoyed their time too.

This isn't just me going off on a depressing tangent, this ties directly into one of the biggest feelings Persona 5 gave me.

Nostalgia.

The set up for the Persona games, or at least 3 through 5 (not that I've played 3 either), is that a student has transferred into a new school, in a new city/town, and has to balance teenage life with the typical story of using supernatural powers to achieve whatever the game's overarching goal is. But it's not balance that life in an abstract sense, it's literal. They move day by day over the course of a single year, and managing that time is a core component of the series.

Go to school, which sometimes involves answering a question to gain more knowledge, and then after school, you decide how you want to spend time. Hang out with a friend? Work a part time job for some quick cash and a small boost to a social stat? Try to eat a giant burger? Go fishing? Delve into the dungeon and fight monsters to advance the story? Do shady drug trials for a back alley doctor? Then, figure out how to spend the evening. Study? Read a book? Go out to do some laundry? Watch a DVD with my talking cat friend? Hang out with someone from a different group of night friends? And once the night is spent, sleep, and go through the routine again the next day.

If there is a core loop to the series, this is that. But it's not just time management, there's also an element of learning, getting to know the areas, and really feeling like I was inhabiting this space. Sure, there's plenty of fast travel, but I wanted to really get to know the spaces in this game, so I tried to traverse them as close to realistically as possible. Eventually, these spaces that had been new and intimidating felt like old haunts. Felt like home.

Some good dialog options in this game.
Some good dialog options in this game.

Moving someplace new, where you don't know anyone, but having to just find your place, find your way through, and keep up at school... Despite the main character being a high school student, as it went along, as I got more engrossed into the game, I felt so much nostalgia for my time at college. Being in an exciting new place, on my own, more or less (dorm roommates notwithstanding), and having to find my routine, find my rhythm with that new life, in so many ways, after all these years, I miss it.

Or rather, I miss the idealized version of it that exists in my memory.

Because I don't necessarily miss all the schoolwork, and when I think logically, think clearly about the specifics of my life then, I was miserable through a lot of that too. I was lonely, sad, depressed, no idea what to do with my life, and just forcing myself through on the hope that it'd all turn out well in the end.

And yet...the nostalgia. The longing wistful feelings for not just what I had, but the ideal of what I could have had if I'd done things differently. If only, like my character Joker, or as I named him MOOSE Lupin3rd (also if only there had been one more character slot in the naming), I made stronger friendships with people, had done more to get involved in things...

So here I am now, trying to explain these jumbled feelings this anime-ass game about teens using their Stands Personas to fight monsters made me depressed about my current lot in life.

But please, don't get me wrong. I love this game, and that day by day routine is part of what drew me into it. As much as it left with me with a lot of melancholy, it gave me so, so much joy. All the time spent hanging out with the characters, whether as part of the main story, or individual side stories, I got really attached to them. It'd be kinda hard not to, unless you disliked the game so much that you probably shouldn't be spending enough time to finish it in the first place.

Friendship.

It's pretty clear from all the blogs I've written over all these many years (been a decade, just about, huh?) here, but characters are always one of the things that impacts me the most with games. It's why I love Mass Effect so much, it's why Final Fantasy XV hit me so hard last year, and it's why Persona 5 shined so bright for me.

Persona 5, and especially the Royal version, just has so many of them, but I'd feel bad if I didn't give a quick shout out to all my digital friends from this game.

Ryuji, you goofy dumbass. The first one to give Joker a chance after he'd been shunned by society, always there for him. Maybe you didn't always have the best ideas, maybe you were a little too focused on girls some of the time, but your heart never faltered, and that's not a strength many people have. One day you'll get back on the track again, and leave everyone else in your dust.

Ann, you went through so much shit, suffered things you shouldn't have had to, but managed to come out a stronger person for it. I know Joker, and all the rest helped you through your tough spots, but you helped them all too. He'd be grateful for it, and rooting for you, no matter where life takes you. I know you'll take the world by storm, someday.

Ryuji, Ann, Joker, and a certain feline friend out at lunch.
Ryuji, Ann, Joker, and a certain feline friend out at lunch.

Mishima, you might not have ever officially joined the Phantom Thieves, but you were just as important as anyone else. Both to the Thieves' ongoing mission to make the world a better place, and to me. Your heart may not have always been in the right place, but I was more than happy to gently prod you back onto the right path. And, of course I always empathize with a fellow struggling writer, but I know you'll get it done.

He's such a goofball.
He's such a goofball.

Yusuke, you oddball. You total enigma of a human being wrapped in an artsy, queer-coded teenager. I tried to play this game, as much as I could, roleplaying Joker having a crush on Yusuke, and just being gay in general. Not that the game was really built for it, but that's for another part of this write up. For this, Yusuke, you and Joker may not have gotten off on the right foot, but you probably ended up my favorite, all things said and done. And all your peculiarities and eccentricities made you the favorite in (my) Joker's heart too. Just please try to eat better, or at all! You can't paint on an empty stomach!!

Her Persona is a MOTORCYCLE.
Her Persona is a MOTORCYCLE.

Makoto, I may have some concerns with your stated life goals at the end of your Confidant storyline, but you truly were an invaluable part of the team. Your strength, your knowledge, and your will helped get us through so much. Never mind your help in the fights, being about the only person with any common sense in the Phantom Thieves for most of the game. Just...maybe please reconsider the police commissioner thing. Get into motorcycle racing, illegal back alley prize fights, something respectable.

Futaba, the quirky hacker who I certainly see a lot of myself in. Specifically in her hermit-esque ways. But, with your being sort of a little sister to Joker (at least how I played), you made me think about my own younger siblings, and how I regret not spending more time with them than I have. Knowing full well that when I try to these days, we always just drift apart again...

Sojiro, the surrogate coffee dad. Another case of not getting along at first, but you were always a good guy, you just needed to lower your defenses a little bit. Glad you did, and even if I don't care for coffee in real life, it'll always make me think of you. And I gotta try some actual curry sometime, just for you.

Futaba and Sojira spending an evening with Joker and the cat.
Futaba and Sojira spending an evening with Joker and the cat.
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Haru, the heiress to an astronomical burger empire with so much money that I found myself wondering why I had to foot the bill for all our equipment. Not that I wasn't rolling in Yen by the end of the game, but still. Jokes aside, you were a solid part of the team too, and I only wish you'd been able to spend more time on the team.

Yoshida, you may have been "No Good Taro" to most of Japan, but you'll always be "Yes Good Taro" to me. Maybe I occasionally forgot your name and just referred to you as "Japanese Bernie Sanders," but my support for you never faltered, and I know you'll never falter in your job.

Doc Takemi, perhaps I lied to try to get shady drugs from you, but you're the one who turned it around by running shadier drug tests on a teen, so let's just call it even. Glad to have helped you, truly, and I'm glad your work turned out well.

Hifumi, I have a confession to make: I don't know any of the rules of Shogi, and I probably never will. But what I do know...is that friendship is the greatest strategy of all. It's a shame you didn't get to be a full member of the Phantom Thieves like a (real life) friend told me you were planned to be at one point. Regardless, everything you taught me I just used for fighting monsters, and it truly was invaluable.

Justine and Caroline: You were kinda complete a-holes to me for most of the game, but in a very memorable, funny way, so I appreciate that.

Sae, I'm not really sure that I'd call you a friend, given most of the game is framed in flashback as you interrogated Joker, but you came around in the end. Plus, I can appreciate you changing your career from prosecutor to defense attorney, that shows some real understanding of the problems with the system. Unlike your sister who wants to be the head cop.

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Yoshizawa, the new gal (at least to Royal). Another bit of an odd one, in various ways, but I'm very glad to have helped you along your journey, and had you to help me on mine. Even if so much of the time you felt like you were just being tacked on, or inserted into days that used to have nothing, for that I just blame the way they re-release these games, not you. A fictional character.

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Maruki, I certainly have mixed feelings about your research, but I still enjoyed all the time we spent together. Certainly more so than any time I've tried spending with counselors in real life, but that's been very small, and unlucky on my part.

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Akechi, you slimeball, you absolute garbage pile of a human being. I know you said you hated Joker, I know you meant it, but I still enjoyed the time spent with you. Mostly. A case of reminding me of my own rival from my high school days, who I haven't heard from since, and I'm sure he'd only rub my nose in it with his successes and my failures. Just like I know you would, if your path ever crosses Joker's again...

That said, Akechi, Joker's still got your dueling glove...

And to the Confidants I wasn't able to get to Rank 10, I'm sorry. Iwai the airsoft shop owner, and Chihaya the fortune teller, I swear I would have made the time if the game let me. I was at like Rank 8 or 9 for both of you! Gamer kid whose name I forgot, reporter lady whose name I also forgot, less of an apology for not having the time, but also a bit of one.

And Kawakami, I sympathize with the plight of the underpaid teacher, and truly would have wanted to know more about your life's story, and seen it sooner...but I found the maid thing kinda creepy.

And to all the NPCs that didn't get named, I remember you too. The little girl and her mom with the dog named Kotaro...my heart goes out to you, losing pets is never easy. To the homeless man living in Shibuya Station, I know life is hard, and society doesn't seem to want to help, but hopefully someday it will. Girl who works on the school newspaper, creepy kid obsessed with the Phantom Thieves, drunk old man down the street, foreign guy who liked to talk to that cat, and all the others, I'll miss you.

But, the last, and maybe closest friend of all, Morgana. Be you cat, wayward human, van, or aircraft, you'll always be in my heart, and at Joker's side. You had some arguments, a brief falling out, but in the end, I stuck by you, you stuck by me, and if that's not true friendship, then I don't know what is.

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I've managed to write pages about this game without even discussing what the story is about. Just caught up in old feelings, and new friends... So, just what is Persona 5 about?

Rebellion.

Sometimes something just feels right for the moment you play it in. In this moment, something about a game fighting against corruption, against systems twisted by those in power to their nefarious ways, systems that were always unjust, fighting to help right the wrongs of society...

It just felt right.

Again, short by a single character.
Again, short by a single character.

Is it perfect? No. But it resonated with me, kind of in the same ways that the anti-mega-corp plotline of Final Fantasy VII Remake did earlier this year. They're in the same ballpark, let's say.

What starts with a kid who tried to help someone, but ends up framed for a crime he didn't commit, grows into a story of lifting up those wronged by people in power, by society itself, rebelling against it all, and doing what they can to better society. One changed heart at a time.

If only it was so easy to change hearts in the real world, huh?

Whether that's going through elaborate Palaces for the story, or traversing the more procedurally created Mementos to tackle side missions, there's a lot of heart changing in this game, and to get that done, that means a lot of JRPG style combat. This was another thing that intimidated me before playing, because watching Vinny and Jeff play Persona 4 made that game's combat feel a bit tedious.

Thankfully added depth to the combat, with more options, more damage types, more systems to work with, and much more interesting spaces to explore made this one pretty fun. Each Palace feels unique, and bespoke. They've usually got some gimmicks going on, maybe some light puzzles to solve, but they're fun enough to work through. And this is now about as much of a stealth game as a JRPG can be, which plays into the whole Phantom Thieves thing quite well, along with making getting the jump on enemies easier and more fun.

The arc of each Palace feels like a heist, because it, well, is one. You scope the place out, secure a route through to steal the Treasure (source of the target's distorted desires), sometimes do something in the real world to open something in the Palace (underutilized, overall), send a calling card to the target for dramatic effect (there's an in game explanation, but I like dramatic effect), and then the heist itself. The Palace is on high alert from the get go, and the music is amped all the way up, which always got me amped up too. I only wish more of the Palaces had more time spent in this final, full heist mode, because a lot of them you can just fast travel right near the Palace's Treasure, and go straight into whatever happens next (boss fight). After which, the target has a change of heart, confesses all the wrongs they've done, and does what they need to atone for their actions.

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It's such a more interesting set up than the boring corridors of Persona 4, and the settings for each are cool too. Varying from classic heist targets like a museum or a bank, to odder things, like a space burger factory, or cyber-Egypt. And at some of them tried to have enemy types that sort of fit in the different locations, unlike the total random nonsense of 4.

The combat itself is improved too! Persona 4 (and I guess 3, probably), had the "One More" system after exploiting weaknesses, and 5 adds Baton Passing too. Hit an enemy's weakness, and instead of that character taking another attack, you can pass the baton to someone else, who gets a damage buff (and possibly restores some HP and SP, if you rank them up at darts), and if they hit another enemy's weakness, pass the baton again. Keep doing it, and the final person gets to do a powered up attack without spending any SP or HP! It's a cool system, and one that I wish stayed useful farther into the game, because at a certain point I got powerful enough that fights often didn't last long enough to pass the baton more than once, maybe twice. That, or they simply didn't have enough enemies to have a full baton passage.

Other things, like more damage types, and different tactics like being able to swap party members mid fight (crucial during a lot of bosses) made this a much more fun and interesting game to play than 4 ever seemed to be. One especially cool change is in acquiring new Personas. Instead of just a simple "pick a card" minigame after some fights, now you need to knock enemies to the ground, and interrogate them correctly to recruit them! And since all the enemies are Personas that you can equip, that also makes determining their weaknesses easier, and often something that can be figured out with some thinking (like a fire enemy being weak to ice). I know some of that stuff is from the olde Personas (1 and or 2?), but regardless of if they're wholly new or hearkening back to the series' roots, they helped make this a game I really enjoyed playing.

One thing that's definitely new, and amped up, is the style. Sure, sometimes Persona 5 shows its PS3-ness in ways that don't look amazing, but on the whole, all the effects, the quality of the art design, it's just beautiful, and cool! Whether in battle or out, Persona 5 has a cool vibe, and I loved it.

Even the menus look cool!
Even the menus look cool!

Same with the music, just about all of it from the chill tunes walking around town, to the hyped up battle songs, they help convey whatever mood the game is going for, just about perfectly.

I got a bit off track there from the Rebellion thing, but I think I'd have to veer into specific story spoilers for that, and... I'm not sure I really need to get into the story with this game. I could, but I've written plenty as it is without trying to recap the story of a 150 hour game. But it kept me engaged throughout, and even if some of the twists are easy to see coming, and some parts are a bit silly, I still liked it a lot.

All this doesn't mean I don't have some gripes with the game. Along with so many friendships, like previous games, there's also a bit of romance dashed in. Which is fine, but there's still no queer options in there. Worse yet, in Persona 5 the only queer characters are a very masculine looking and sounding drag queen who owns a bar (but is generally a friendly and nice character so I have mixed-ish feelings on her portrayal), and couple of bad gay stereotypes, who even after apparently being re-written for Royal to be less homophobic and predatory...still are...bad.

And that sucks, because it's 2020. Hell, it was 2017 when this game released originally (in the West), and I bet it sucked then too. In a game that is about righting the wrongs of society, about helping those who need it, a game about people who have been shunned, or outcast in some way or another, it sucks that this is all queer people, who have long been wronged by society, get. We deserve better, damn it, even if it didn't feel counter to this game's themes!

But in some ways, the real kick to the teeth is that while Joker (a sixteen year old boy) can't date other boys his age, he can date adult women. And not like, adults who are eighteen, which I still don't think would be acceptable, I mean adults. Like a doctor, or a teacher, who I can only assume have to be at least THIRTY, right?! Which is gross under any circumstances. I kinda can't believe that stuff was put in Persona 5 in the first place, and that they didn't then go and change it for Royal.

Yet it was, and even if I didn't pursue that, it doesn't change the fact that it was built into the game.

It's not gross like that, but the whole not being able to be queer thing is also a bummer because as I said above, Yusuke is clearly queer-coded in the way he looks, acts, talks (at least in the English dub), but not in a bad stereotype way like those other characters. I'm sure someone wants to @ me with, "he's just artsy and weird," but I'll have none of that. My best boy can be artsy, weird, AND queer!

In a version of this game that's actually friendly to queer characters, not only would Yusuke have definitely been gay or bi (or maybe ace, honestly, anything but hetero), he could have been some sort of nonbinary too. I dare you to try to tell me that wouldn't have made this game better, I DARE YOU. (If you do I'll just ignore you and not reply, because I am also nonbinary, bi, and very clearly biased.) Whether it was an open part of who he was, or accepting that was part of his character arc, but the game actually stuck with it, unlike Persona 4, I think that would have been better.

Spending the last of his money on two lobsters just for the aesthetic.
Spending the last of his money on two lobsters just for the aesthetic.

The more time that passes, the angrier I get that Kanji especially was set up as being gay, but then the game just backed off from it 40 hours later in Persona 4. Just made him seem gay long enough for Yosuke (not to be confused with best boy Yusuke) to be plenty homophobic. Never mind poor Naoto. But that's a different game, and a different tangent, sorry.

While I'm taking a (long) moment to complain, the game certainly sexualizes its teen girl characters more than it should. Specifically Ann. Even if it's not the worst I've ever seen out of anime/video games, I feel like the fact that I've been fairly desensitized to it speaks more to how often it's a thing. But, this is still several levels lower on things I wish were different about the game than the above being able to date women way too old for a teen (which again is to say LITERAL ADULTS).

Actually, I have one last thing to put in the complaint category, which is also I'd say the one story related thing I'd want to address. And it's the literal ending of the game, so I'll put it in SPOILER hidden dealies, so, you know. But also it's not that big a spoiler, so don't worry too bad.

Anyway, I guess my first (not a spoiler) complaint for the end game stuff is the amount of time skipping, after a long game that is all about day by day routines. I'm sure the original only did this more so (I know Persona 4 did), but it's a bummer to just lose time I could have used to finish up those other Confidants. Especially when I was so close with Iwai and Chihaya, I'm so bummed I wasn't able to because the game just decided to skip all that time altogether. I'm sure it would have resulted in a fair amount of time spent doing kinda nothing, but I wish I had at least had the option not to skip it, so I could have finished those side stories.

For that matter, I also wish they had filled that time with more...anything. If there's any way that 5 doesn't live up to 4, it's in (as a friend of mine has long said was her biggest complaint with 5) time spent just hanging around. I like 5's main story, more than 4's for sure, but it doesn't really leave a lot of time for the Phantom Thieves to just hang out as a full group and get up to hijinks. Never mind some good opportunities that kinda got squandered (like the class trip to Hawai'i). It would have been nice if there were some more scenes of them just doing goofy stuff put in there, but that was probably outside the scope of what they were able to add in Royal.

On the other hand, I wouldn't have minded if all the work put into the new Palace, and that other storyline had been instead put into just writing and designing some new goofy hanging out sequences. But I guess the people who design Palace levels probably aren't the same people who do the story stuff, games are very complex things, after all.

Anyway, all this brings me to the ending of the game, and thus the actual SPOILERS, just beyond this image.

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So, like I said earlier, the game takes place more or less over the course of a year, with the knowledge from the get go that the main character is only going to be there for a year. Already setting up for some sad farewells. The day before Joker is set to leave, you can go around and say goodbye to everyone, or at least everyone you got to Rank 10 with. Plus various unnamed NPCs (which is how I knew Kotaro the old dog finally passed away).

Already I was bummed that I couldn't give proper goodbyes to some characters like Chihaya because I was literally one rank away, or only got a half-assed and grumpy goodbye from Iwai. Especially when all that time passed that... But I already went into that, and was able to say goodbye to pretty much everyone. Aside from Yoshizawa, who was not to be found anywhere, and a couple characters who were either presumed dead, or missing for other reasons.

That's all fine, and I definitely teared up a bit here and there. The thing that kinda bummed me out was the following day. I was expecting this to go pretty much exactly how it did in Persona 4. Joker would go to the train station, and everyone would be there to say goodbye, and wave as he rode out of town.

Instead, what happened was some guys in a car (completely unexplained!) intervened, and basically I only got a super brief goodbye from my friends, and the only reason I can see is so Yoshizawa and Maruki could be shoe-horned into the ending, and so there could be a post credits tease that Akechi might still be alive.

But, regardless of that, it just left me with a deep feeling of melancholy. In some ways that was bound to happen anyway, because I was saying goodbye to all those characters, and this game as a whole, but this... Just felt sad.

Then I started wondering, Maruki and Yoshizawa weren't in the original game, so what was the original ending like?

The answer, it seems, is way better???

In the original ending, we get stuff like Morgana in cat form working on the engine of a car (which is very funny), but more importantly, it doesn't end with Joker riding the train alone. It ends with him, with the whole Phantom Thieves group together, riding off into the sunset. It's a great ending, and I wish they'd kept that instead of the new one.

I really didn't need to speak to Maruki one last time, never mind that conversation could have happened on the day before. Same with bumping into Yoshizawa, and the Akechi tease. It's a huge bummer, honestly, that they felt the need to emphasize all that stuff instead of having the wonderful moment of driving off with all your friends.

But it is what it is, I guess.

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I've done the thing I always used to do with these blogs, having so much negative stuff near the end. Still, I did, for all the melancholy I felt at the end, for all the gripes I have, I really loved my time with Persona 5. It's the sort of game that just really clicked with me, and I'm sure it'll stick with me for a long time to come.

Now that I've actually played one of these games, I'm in a different spot than I was after just watching Persona 4. Now I feel like I should play Persona 3 at some point, since that's the one of the "Persona Trilogy" (I'm sure I'm making some fan of the first two mad, I'm joking) that I have the least experience with. Which is to say almost none. But since Persona 4 Golden just recently was ported to PC, hopefully 3 will get some sort of return too. My hope is for a full on remaster or remake, but that's likely hoping for too much.

And, what about a theoretical Persona 6? Next time will I want to wait another three years for the better re-release? Dunno! Maybe they won't even do that, what I've heard makes it sound like post-5 there's been a lot of turnover at the Persona studio, maybe that'll mean a lot of changes to the formula for the next game. I certainly have a few things in mind that I hope they go about differently.

But, regardless of theoretical new versions of Persona 3, or Persona 6, now all there is to do is wait for Persona 5 Scramble to get localized for the US...

Probably gonna be a while...

And also, as always, thank you for reading.

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Three Days of Simulated Farming.

Farming Simulator. Good chances are that anyone seeing that phrase on Giant Bomb is reminded of those old Quick Looks, the first of which is going to be a decade old this December. I feel old too. Perhaps because my introduction to the franchise was watching Ryan and Vinny horsing around, Farming Simulator is something that has long confounded me. Not so much that it exists, but that it exists as a basically yearly franchise. I get it as a singular thing, I quite like the idea of video games as simulations of very boring real life things, and Farming Simulator was one of the first "higher profile" of the "Blank Simulator" games, or at least one of the first I was aware of.

It's the part where this is something that they keep releasing new games of, and people keep buying them (to the tune of 25 million sales across the series) that surprises me.

Anyway, thanks to my yearly subscription to PlayStation Plus, I was finally able to play a Farming Simulator game. Farming Simulator 19, released in 2018, naturally. Apparently Farming Simulator 20 has only released on phones and Switch, as the series seems to be on a schedule of PC/bigh consoles one year, and mobile/Vita or Switch the other. The point of that being that for the platform I own (PS4), this is the most recently released farming simulation, at least in this franchise, the Call of Duty of farming.

So, my friend Tom and I decided to give the game a go. But not just load up the game, goof around, and laugh at it. We wanted to make a serious attempt at learning how to farm in a simulation. Okay, we definitely also wanted to goof around, but first and foremost we wanted to give this game an honest, earnest shot. And, over the course of three days, we did just that.

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Mostly.

So here, is what happened in our weekend of Farming Simulator.

Day 1:

Farm name: Funky Barn.

We decided that since ancient humans didn't have tutorials on how to farm tens of thousands of years ago, that if they could farm without modern technology, we could farm without tutorials. Meaning we went straight into the multiplayer mode, no in game tutorials, and initially, no looking anything up online.

The first step was figuring out how to make a custom game. Not that difficult, but one annoyance is that every player has to have downloaded any DLC being used. There were a couple free DLCs (one of which being a PlayStation exclusive free tractor), but Tom, on all three of our farming days, had not downloaded either. We didn't realize this was a requirement until I had already started a game, so that one had to be abandoned and we had to restart, this time with the DLC turned off.

The game allows for up to six farmers (and it has a character creator, but most of the options for customization are just dozens of branded hats) per instance, and it even has a setting to only allow friends in, or to lock the farm behind a specific password. It was just the two of us, as we were unable to convince our friend Jay to take herself away from Fallout 76 long enough to farm. I will say before I go any further that she got Tom and I to try 76 during its free weekend, but I had more fun simulating farming, so keep that in mind as I detail the rest of this.

Pushing to help the farming go faster.
Pushing to help the farming go faster.

However, it still starts you with no land, or equipment owned. So our next step was to figure out how to acquire both of those things. This was a bit confusing. There's an in game store, accessible both in a physical location on the map, and through a menu accessible anywhere. That'll let you buy just about everything...except the land. Since we didn't realize initially that the store can be accessed anywhere via menu, we thought there had to be some physical location to buy property from, but no. After some doing, we figured out first that a farm has to be created in game (I guess you could create multiple different ones in the same instance and compete with your friends?), and then land can be purchased via the map. Also it's possible that you need to create the farm before buying equipment, I don't remember the exact order we did everything.

So, we bought some land that was already growing some stuff (notably sunflowers), and some equipment that we thought would be useful. A tractor, some sort of harvester, and a trailer. Plus a forklift, for fun. The next problem, however, was getting this equipment to the land that we bought. Some of it was quite wide. Often wider than the space between the trees on the narrow, winding roads to the farm. But, some off road shenanigans later, we we were back at the farm.

Except it wasn't really a farm if it was just a few plots of crops, so I went and bought some things to make it feel more like a home. Like a home. It came completely furnished, with all the necessities. On office water cooler, TV brand TV, Micro brand microwave, two full sized surfboards, one mini surfboard, and a framed black and white picture of a (modern) tractor on the wall.

Then I bought a doghouse, which came complete with a dog. We named him Bowser. He was a good dog, that would just eat infinitely, and roll onto his back when pet. Sadly, there's no petting animation for the farmer, but I will say the third person running animations for your fellow farmers are fantastic (very funny). The dog also came with some balls that can be thrown, but Bowser didn't seem that interested in fetching.

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Of course, I also bought a shed, and some sandcastles to really make the farm feel like home.

At this point, after buying all that equipment, the land, and the house, we were almost out of money, so it was time to figure out how to farm. This is where I think Farming Simulator's only ambition comes to bite itself in the rear, and end up hurting the experience. One of the selling points for Farming Simulator 19 is, "over 300 authentic vehicles and machines." But I look at this the same way I look at games like the Forza series and their hundreds and hundreds of exquisitely detailed real world cars, which is that at some point, it's just too much. Except in Forza it's less of an issue because really, they're all just cars. I assume you can do just fine in any car of a specific class, assuming it's being raced against similar machines, because that's how racing competitions usually work.

That isn't the case when you're talking about specific machines built for specific purposes, and in some cases equipment that can only be attached to other specific machines. Especially when the game isn't as immediately clear about that as it could be, which can lead to things like buying something that won't work with what you've already got.

Anyway, after a lot of bumbling around, eventually we figured out how to harvest the sunflowers already growing on our land. The next problem was getting them out of the harvester, and into a trailer. We assumed for a long while that this required pushing some sort of button, but it turns out that you just need to line up the trailer right, and it'll go automatically. I was just bad at the lining up part. But we got the sunflowers into the trailer, just in time for Jay to tell us to try Fallout 76.

Thus ended the first of Three Days of Simulated Farming.

Day 2.

Farm name: Funky Barn Too.

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We learned a lot during our first day of farming, but in our bumbling, I thought that maybe we could learn from our mistakes the day before, and get further with a fresh start. So, Tom and I agreed to start anew, with a new farm, on Felsbrunn this time, and importantly, with the money reset to that starting 1.25 million. Surely with our newfound knowledge, and expertise, it would go a lot faster, and smoother, right?

Well, the first thing we noticed is that Felsbrunn is a lot easier to get around, as there aren't as many roads with lots of trees on both sides. That, and the starting position was closer to the shop, which was handy as everything bought materializes there, even if it was bought in the menu elsewhere.

This time, instead of just buying some random land, we decided to scope it out first, and make sure we bought the correct equipment for whatever we were going to harvest. So, we did all that (while also buying a new farmhouse (no surfboards this time), doghouse (this time the dog was named Doug)), and a chicken coop, as animals are a vital part of the farming process.

I assumed that since the doghouse came with a dog, the chicken coop would come with chickens. Not so. Thus, the next step was figuring out how to buy chickens. We did so, and we had a little penned in area around the coop just brimming with chickens. Now, chickens are living organisms, and like all organisms they need sustenance, which meant buying chicken feed (though apparently they don't need water). Figuring out what they ate (apparently just wheat, meaning that though we were growing wheat we had to go buy some), and how to buy it wasn't too tricky.

Getting it from the store to the farm, however, was. Chicken feed only comes in big bags attached to a pallet, and my initial thought was to load it into the back of my pickup truck. It would definitely fit, and though the bag was big, it wasn't so big that a couple people couldn't heave it up onto a truck. No dice, however. So, I did the next best thing, and used the truck to physically push the bag from the store back to the farm.

Upon reaching the farm, I realized the bag was atop a pallet, which would have been perfect for a forklift. So, since the feed seems to have to be lifted into the air and poured out for the chickens to eat, I bought a forklift (remember, this is a second farm and we didn't have that first one anymore), and fed the chickens.

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We did not play on this farm long enough to get any eggs, as the next thing we did was focus on the crop farming. And through the help of some internet searches, we eventually managed to harvest a whole field of wheat, and I drove it off to the grain mill to sell for what I hoped would be a great bounty.

All told, we spent 1.2 million and ended up with 15 thousand dollars made back.

After this demoralizing reminder of the hell that is capitalism, we decided to explore the area of Felsbrunn. We drove up a long road to some castle ruins (very long for Tom in the slow forklift), careened down a mountain into the town, stood on top of some statues, and drove various equipment into the water.

Needless to say, our defeat at the hands of capitalism left us quite distraught, but not yet ready to give up, even if this was the end of the second day of Simulated Farming.

Day 3.

Farm name: 2 Funky 2 Barn.

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The third, and as of this writing, final attempt to Simulate Farming. This time, we went in with a concrete goal, and a vital tip to help maximize our money situation.

The Goal:

Plant, grow, and harvest a crop from scratch. So far we had just harvested crops that were already planted, and ready to go. That, and the whole chicken thing, but this time, we wanted to really grow something, and go through that whole process.

The Vital Tip:

Lease equipment, instead of buying. Buying large equipment that costs hundreds of thousand of Dollars/Euros/Pounds is, in retrospect, not the smartest idea. Leasing, however, meant that we could get access to far more equipment, for less money.

Our plan, then, was to find a suitable field, and grow potatoes. After some searching online, Tom assured me that potatoes are profitable, and I went along with it, because who doesn't like potatoes? With this goal in mind, and some good farming music in our ears, we started our farming mission.

We bought the land, and leased several pieces of large potato technology. We acquired the seeds (a process that was more confusing than it should be because the game just sells generic seeds that become whatever you want based on something that I don't remember), plowed the field in a very logical/efficient manner (well, maybe not), and planted the seeds.

Since Farming Simulator 19 doesn't concern itself with watering crops, all we had to do was wait for the potatoes to grow, right? Not so much, as we were struck with the bane of all farmers...

WEEDS.

So, we looked up how to deal with our field that now looked like more weed than potato. Two options presented themselves: Herbicides, and equipment that would cut up the weeds while not affecting the crops (somehow). We decided herbicides are probably bad for the environment, so we went with the other option. Simple, right?

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Several problems occurred.

First, for some unknown reason, despite my tractor with its giant, cool looking double wheels already being very large and heavy, apparently the weed cutter on the back of the tractor requires a weight equipped to the front of the tractor. Which was fine, I thought ahead and had already equipped the tractor with a thing on the front for connecting things. With the front weight equipped, surely now we could just cut down the weeds, right?

As I drove onto the field, I was rather distraught that not only were the weeds unaffected by the cutters, but I was destroying the potatoes. It turns out that my massive(ly cool looking) tires were wrecking the crops. Apparently vehicles need narrow tires to not do that, the logic being that they can more deftly drive between rows of plants. I assume the reality (in this simulation) is those ones just arbitrarily don't wreck the crops.

Our solution to this was to go into the menu and turn off friendly fire with crops, as I didn't want to give up my cool tires.

I couldn't give up these great tires.
I couldn't give up these great tires.

Still, this didn't solve the weed problem, as they were impervious to the cutters. Some research online later, and apparently the cutters don't work on fully grown weeds. Only herbicides do. Back to the store we went, and soon we were spraying that stuff all over the field, and causing untold havoc on the local ecosystem. Probably.

I should note, weeds can also be turned off in the menu, but at this point I wanted to kill those darn things!! And indeed they were, finally.

The weeds taken care of, soon the potatoes were grown, and ready to be harvested. So, Tom and I deployed the potato technology we acquired at the start of all this, and though some trailer related shenanigans ensued again, we eventually had our harvest loaded up, and we drove it off to the spot that Tom read would buy potatoes for the best price.

All this research, all this convoluted work, leasing things and having to lease different things later, learning how weeds and friendly fire work, trying to farm around the one raised spot from Tom's terraforming where he put a garage behind the field instead of where we actually parked the equipment, the five hundred grand we spent on this endeavor (plus another house, and a dog, this time named Cereal (I didn't tell Tom this but I didn't really agree with his naming choice this time)), it netted us...

Five thousand.

A third of what we got for the wheat.

So, I drove my pickup down a river and we called it quits.

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Here are my thoughts on Farming Simulator 19: It is not a great game. I think it often focuses on the wrong things in too much detail (way too many different machines), while trying to make some things simple in a way that ends up being counter-intuitive. Like how you just buy generic seeds, instead of buying the specific type.

The game feels lifeless, and sterile. The only things resembling personality here are the radio stations (full of what I can only assume is music from a royalty free music library) and the dog rolling around. Maybe the surfboards. It doesn't feel well suited to a controller, both in how some things are mapped, but also the feel in the sticks just doesn't feel tuned well. I had to turn the camera up to 300% to not feel like I was turning in cold molasses, yet there's almost no dead zone for the stick, meaning my controller's drift problem (which is infuriating since I only bought it last October) was happening often enough that I kept thinking I should switch to my older controller that might not drift, but the battery is so worn out it needs to charge after only an hour or two of playing.

I don't know what it would take to make this a game I would enjoy outside of the context of these three sessions with my friend. More story (which I guess the single player might have, but I doubt it)? Better controls? Any personality at all?

What gets me about all this isn't that there are people who enjoy this game. I know I like games with things that some people think are tedious, like Death Stranding, for example. What gets me is that they keep putting new versions of this game out, and people keep buying them. At some point it almost feels like a scam. Here's the same game, but this year you get pigs!

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I dunno.

It's not for me.

But at least Tom and I had some fun with it.

Thank you for reading.

2 Comments

My Second First Final Fantasy: VII Remake.

I've never played the original Final Fantasy VII. Readers may remember XV was the first one I ever played, and the only other Final Fantasy thing I had experienced was seeing Spirits Within in the theater. I say all this up front to make it clear that aside from the most basic of information that became part of popular culture, I knew almost nothing about Final Fantasy VII before playing the Remake. That, and info I picked up from the marketing for the Remake, like who Barret and Tifa are. Before then literally the only characters I knew the names of were Cloud, Sephiroth, and "Aeris."

So, what are my thoughts after playing the Remake with my only foreknowledge being a certain spoiler (that I didn't even know when it happened, so I wasn't sure if it'd even happen in this Remake), and lots of people saying the Remake was good?

It's fantastic, and I loved it! The story, the characters, the combat, the setting, everything about this game just clicked, and aside from some generic side quests, I had an absolute blast through it. But that's getting ahead of myself, first, a quick note about SPOILERS. I'm gonna talk them, but not serious story stuff until the back part of this write-up, and they'll be clearly marked. Believe me, I've got thoughts and theories, and if you have any inkling of playing this game, just go play it! Assuming you can afford it, I know how it is.

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The first thing that really got me about this game is despite it being based on something from 1997, the setting and initial thrust of the story feel like they were written specifically about this modern moment. Which, maybe is actually kind of a depressing thought if a lot of those themes and ideas about an evil corporation ruling everything/the only elected politician in the city being a figurehead, fossil fuels killing the planet, etc are only more resonant now, twenty-three years later. Of course, I don't know the full extent of the changes and additions made, maybe they really leaned into making the wonderfully mundanely named Shinra Electric-Power Company as evil as corporately possible.

Still, Remake is a game that doesn't even try to be subtle about this stuff. The more well off residents of Midgar live on the upper plate in a nice, clean city of the future, while literally underneath them are the people stuck in the slums. Living in a world where even the sun is blocked out, and light comes from enormous bulbs in that big metallic pizza in the sky. Like glowing pepperonis, there to remind the citizens of the lower level both of the things Shinra provides for them, but mainly that all they get are the leftover scraps not good enough for the people living above.

Of course, like in real life, even the "middle-class" people between those down beneath the pizza, and the corporate elite also have their share of troubles, they're just better at hiding it. One of my favorite sequences in the game (and spoilers in the whited out section) was the bit involving Jessie's parents. She, Biggs, Wedge, and our hero Cloud embark on a nighttime mission that begins with a stop at her parent's house, for everyone other than Cloud to go in and enjoy some delicious homemade pizza. Cloud, however, is really there to sneak in and swipe something, while Jessie's mom is distracted.

The game doesn't tell you this until you get into the bedroom to steal the MacGuffin, but Jessie's dad is dying. Mako sickness, from years of exposure to the very stuff Shinra is pumping out of the ground to power their wondrous city of tomorrow. It's such a simple moment, it's one of those things that has no bearing at all on the main story of the game, but it was an impactful one on what this game is about. Even the people who think they have it well, who can afford a nice house in a nice neighborhood beneath the real sky, even they have it bad, because ultimately Shinra only cares about itself, its goals, and like all corporations, its own profits.

And that sequence goes on to have some really fun combat, which brings me to the, well, combat. I feel like over the years I've given people I know the impression that I have an active dislike for traditional JRPG combat, which isn't...exactly true. I really liked the Paper Mario/Mario & Luigi games back in the day, and I'm currently playing a game that is just straight up JRPG combat, but I like to think I have an open mind about these sorts of things, even though in all honestly I do prefer stuff that leans more toward real time combat.

Then again, that's kind of irrelevant given all the ways the combat was revamped, and redesigned for Remake. It's primarily a real time, direct control system, but mixes in elements of traditional turn based stuff better than any other game I've played. Remake isn't the first game to try to do a mix of real time stuff, and "pause the game to give some sort of commands" combat. The Ni no Kuni games have done similar things, arguably stuff like Dragon Age Inquisition does something similar (though obviously that's derived from a different genre of RPG). None of the ones I've played have ever felt like they really nailed both parts, got them to gel especially well, or maybe most importantly, made me feel like I really needed to use both to succeed.

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Remake does all that, and is a complete joy to play. The real time combat just feels good! Cloud and Tifa (the melee characters) especially move and attack with a level of fluidity that I didn't expect from remake of a turn based JRPG. FF XV certainly could feel very fluid, but that was also a game where the base combat was too simple for its own good. Mostly it was just holding Square to attack, holding L1 to automatically dodge, and occasionally using Circle to warp to a target. There was more to it than that, but it didn't have nearly the depth that Remake does.

This isn't just a game about dodging attacks and mashing Square (or holding to do specific other moves), every character has their own special moves, that are all dependent on the Active Time Battle (ATB) meter. The meter fills slowly over time, but goes up faster by actually attacking, to keep things active. These abilities can range from defensive (Barret's Lifesaver which lets him take damage in place of others) to purely offensive (most of Cloud's sword moves, or Tifa's literal Divekick), to magic spells, to things that are just a big mix of stuff. Like a late game ability for Cloud, Counterstance, that puts him in a more powerful form of his usual counter focused Punisher Stance, that lets him counter any sort of attack, instead of just physical ones, and do way more follow up damage to boot! I used that one a lot in the last couple boss fights, it really came in handy!

For a game that is pretty simple to pick up (there's no DMC style intense combo system, for example), there's a lot of stuff to give it the depth to make it interesting. Enemies can be Staggered, which leaves them immobilized and susceptible to bonus damage, and there are moves specifically focused on Staggering. Some stuff will help Pressure enemies, which makes them more susceptible to Staggering, and combined with Stagger focused attacks, or properly utilizing an enemy's elemental magic weakness, it can lead to really great moments where everything just clicks into place.

And it all feels good to use, too. There's a quick select thing for moves (just by holding L1 and using moves you can customize outside of battle), and early in the game I leaned more on that than the "so slowed down it might as well be paused but you can't stay there forever" selection through the menus. Being the person who does tend to favor action games, that's what felt more natural to me. And that's fine early on, when each character only has a couple moves, and it's easy to just pop over to Barret for a bit to use some abilities, focus on some ranged enemies (with his MINIGUN ARM), etc. But it doesn't take long before each character has more things that they can do than face buttons to map attacks to, never mind using items.

The deeper in I got, and the more fights felt like I had to be thinking about enemies' weaknesses, and had to use actual strategy, the more I leaned on that slowed down menu. It turns out giving yourself a few seconds to breathe during a hectic fight makes it easier to plan out things! While I never found this game to be super difficult (perhaps a byproduct of playing it immediately after DOOM Eternal and Nioh 2), it was definitely a healthy challenge that I loved, and it made me really think about its combat systems in ways that most "difficult" games don't. DOOM Eternal and Nioh 2 at their hardest made me feel like I was just flailing, or acting on instinct, and rarely did either make me think about how to best win tough encounters.

There's a lot of random objects with a lot of physics on them.
There's a lot of random objects with a lot of physics on them.

Part of that thinking comes before the fights even begin, in the different equipment and magicks each character can equip. The world of Materia (magic orbs) was new to me, but like a lot of Remake, it's a simple system with a lot of depth to it. Weapons and armor have slots, any Materia can be put into any slot, and they can be freely moved and swapped around (at least outside of combat). Cloud may have started with the Fire Materia equipped, but that could be moved to someone else, and Cloud could have Ice magic instead. Or perhaps no magic attacks, and simply have Materia that buffs HP, MP, other stats, or gives him a special Deadly Dodge attack after dodging. There's even linked Materia slots that can combine regular Materia with specific linking Materia for special effects. My favorite being the one that imbued Cloud's sword with fire damage, but the one that heals the character after using the other Materia's attack was another useful one!

And because anyone can equip any Materia, there's so many ways to customize every character, that it really feels like a system that could allow for substantially different builds. Some things do seem to be at least a little set in stone, like Aerith's magic stats, regardless of what anyone equips, just seem to be higher than the others (though through weapon upgrading stuff I'm sure it's possible to really boost that for the rest too), so obviously she leans more toward those. Plus I don't think there's any way to equip her with a melee weapon (despite her clonking someone in the head with a folding chair in one cutscene), so there's obviously still some limitations.

The combat is great, the world and setting are great, and I really like the characters too. Cloud is kind of an a-hole in the early goings, but I really liked his arc of loosening up and doing the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing over the course of the game. Aerith is such a fun, spunky character who picks up on how to push Cloud's buttons in just the right way that she can pester him into doing just about anything. Tifa, the old friend that just wants to help however she can, is always there when someone needs her. Jessie, Biggs, and Wedge, though not full party members, they're the revolutionary trio that are all great in their own ways.

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And finally Barret, who certainly has some issues in his portrayal. Not that I have anything to add to this specific discourse about the portrayal of a black character and not so great black character tropes. Other than to listen to people like Austin Walker who are in the position to know what they're talking about, and have spoken about it.

But also Barret's revolutionary voice, the number of times he says things that just feel so poignant, about both what's going on in the game, but also what's happening in the real world today, that I couldn't help but really like him too. A lot of it rings true in ways that I was surprised by, and more than anything else, Barret the revolutionary who never gives up, that's the version of this character that's going to stick with me.

The last thing I want to say about Remake before getting into mega spoilers is that I adore its dedication to silliness. Again, I know very little about the original, but my understanding is that as much as the main story was relatively serious, there were a lot of really goofy, nonsensical things along the sidelines. Rather than just push that stuff away, bury it and pretend it never existed, Remake says, "No, this is part of what made the original so endearing, so let's embrace that." More than anything else, I'm talking about the Hell House fight, which I will not give any other details about, for others like myself with little to no knowledge of the original. I'll just say I certainly didn't see that coming, and just about lost my mind at how ridiculous it was. Loved every second of that nonsense fight.

Suffice it to say, I really loved Final Fantasy VII Remake, and if you haven't played it, I give it a really strong recommendation. I never played the original, so clearly it works for people that haven't!

That doesn't mean I'm done writing about it, I'm just giving a mini-outro for anyone that hasn't finished the game, because up ahead is SPOILER ZONE. And I mean big, end of the game spoilers and theorizing about the following games level stuff. Don't say I didn't warn you!

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I knew going into Remake that changes were made, not just more additions to flesh out the world and characters, but changes to the actual story. What they were, I didn't know, but the deeper into the game I got, I really started to wonder about them. Primarily, those spooky robed specters that kept popping up. The ones that swarm all over, pushing and pulling people around, getting in the way at the worst moments, or swooping in to help in moments of certain doom.

That, Cloud's various visions of Sephiroth, and just something about Aerith... It all got me thinking there was something...strange in this game. Like, just a strange mood around Aerith sometimes, counter to her bubbly, joyous demeanor. Or, not counter, so much as it felt like maybe she was just covering up for a deep melancholy, or something...else. Like she knew far more than she was letting on, not in a nefarious way, so much as a...trying to keep something from the others sort of way.

Which brings me to the theory I concocted mid way into the game. Which is that Remake is not just a retelling of FF VII, nor a reboot, re-imagining, etc. It's a Star Trek reboot situation, where it is a separate universe/timeline/whatever, that exists canonically connected to the original, and there are some characters actively aware of this fact. Aerith, through much of the game gave me the vibe that she had some explicit knowledge of this, though I think her secret ended up being her being an Ancient. That said, I still think, whether she realizes it or not, she has some sort of knowledge of that previous timeline, probably due to her Ancient lineage.

Sephiroth, however, I am one hundred percent convinced is from another timeline, and is using his knowledge of what is going to happen to try to shape events differently. The trouble is, those pesky specters show up any time events are going against the grain of preordained Destiny, to prevent things from changing. They even go so far as to bring Barret back to life after Sephiroth kills him, a moment that left me genuinely shocked. At least until I started wondering if the specters would revive him, which they did.

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Of course, what good JRPG would invoke the concept of Destiny itself if it then didn't have the characters go and defy that? Which Remake does, with them fighting, and defeating literal Destiny (a feeling I wish I could do given how Bungie is- okay, sorry, I couldn't resist). Then of course it ends with a duel against Sephiroth himself, and the heroes moving forward, where the "Unknown Journey will continue."

So, to recap, multiple characters act like they are acting against the way things are "supposed" to go (Aerith, the one who died in the original and has the most to gain from this, is also the one who seems to know a heck of a lot about Destiny), the game ends with Destiny destroyed, and the characters now having the true free will to do what they want. Of course it's not that simple, as they all need to save the planet. And, presumably, defeat Sephiroth for real.

I'm so excited. Like, I think they could have just done a straight remake, added only to flesh out the characters and the world, and it would have been fine. All the dystopian city state run by an evil corporation stuff is only more resonant and timely than ever, and I think that alone could have been enough. It would have been a good story, and left me interested in seeing where it went from there.

But this? This is such a bold, wild move, and if they are willing to break the mold of Destiny, get free from the expectations of retelling a story so beloved to so many, that leaves my imagination running wild!

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Now, I'm sure Remake 2 isn't going to be a wholly new thing. Characters from the original will still return (I think there's a Vincent and a Yuffie?), and locations from the original will still be gone to. But if they're willing to use these characters, and this world as a platform to tell a new, different, more resonant to the modern era story, I'm all for it. Sign me up, I can't wait!

Of course, the problem there being it'll be at least three years before the next one, right? It wouldn't surprise me if it was closer to five, and then an entire decade for the whole story to finish. Assuming it's a trilogy, which, who knows. Could be more! Or less, I dunno!

Regardless, Remake's ending left me pumped, and so excited. It's a great game, and there are so many other great things about it that I didn't even get into here. Most of the areas have a great, lived in feeling, and the music is superb, both in its more orchestral bits, and its smaller, goofier tunes. Absolutely go play it. Maybe it won't excite you as much as it did me, but I'm pretty sure most people will at least have a fun time with the combat, and so long as you like fun, a good time with the story too.

5 Comments

DOOM, and the Eternal lore problem.

Eyes fly open, only seeing the lid of a sarcophagus, suspended above, and at your level, arms chained to an alter of some sort while zombified scientists meander closer. Chains broken, and zombies killed, you see holograms of people worshiping you, and one woman scheming, before once again donning the armor of the DOOM Slayer. Then you get the first piece of concrete context for DOOM 2016: Dr. Samuel Hayden revealing that things have gone wrong as they possibly can, and the facility is overrun with demons.

And the Slayer's reaction is to be so rightly pissed off that by the end of this quick prologue, he punches a communication panel so hard it goes straight into a late title card.

In retrospect, DOOM 2016 (after this just referred to as "DOOM") has one of my favorite opening sequences. Definitely my favorite cold open, at least in any game I've played. It leaves so many tantalizing questions, and sets the stage for a game about ripping and tearing through countless demons, and being so furious that people would try literally fracking hell for demon energy that he doesn't care at all about whatever justifications they had. No amount of reasoning or, "we had no other choice" could ever make up for unleashing so many demons.

I think there's two main reasons why this stuff worked so well in DOOM. One, is that it was all relatively simple, and straightforward, and the other is that it felt like it understood that the mystery, the ability to let players' imaginations fill in the gaps was better than explaining every last little detail.

The photo mode is neat, but only accessible when replaying missions.
The photo mode is neat, but only accessible when replaying missions.

DOOM Eternal, however...is kind of the exact opposite. A galaxy and dimension spanning story about a one man war against now not just the hordes of hell, but also against the cyber-angel Makyrs, hell priests, and maybe also some intentionally zombified humans? DOOM was content to let the imagination fill the gaps, but Eternal has a codex entry for anything you could want to know, and so much more.

The weirdest thing, though, is that I feel like all this story and lore developed into something of a paradox. On the one hand, Eternal is overflowing with lore. Digital reams pouring out of the codex, to the point where codex entries became another collectible, like glowing trading cards floating amongst the levels. The problem being that almost all of this lore, these codex entries were so uninteresting that even when I tried to read them, I felt my eyes glaze, and just thought I should go back to the ripping and tearing.

That brings me to the paradox, which is that despite this game having more lore than it knows what to do with, more than could ever be interesting, Eternal still manages to not present enough direct information for me to feel like I fully grasped what was going on. In some ways it almost reminds me of stuff like Destiny 1? Though I'll at least give this to Eternal, it has the lore actually in the game.

I guess I should probably put in a spoiler warning, just because.

The way Eternal handles "world-building" is to just say the names of Proper Nouns and Factions and Locations without any other context, as if everyone already knows what's going on, and if you don't, then find the codex entry collectible that will fill in that gap, if you have the endurance to read the ten part (or more?) series on the history of the Sentinels, for example.

I did not.

The vehicle on this mouse pad looks...familiar...
The vehicle on this mouse pad looks...familiar...

I really did not expect this to happen, but Eternal has left me thinking about Mass Effect. Many people talk, even to this day, about spending lots of time reading through every codex entry in that first game. I, as someone for whom Mass Effect 1 is my favorite game ever, am being sincerely honest when I say I barely read any of the codex entries in that game, or even across the whole trilogy.

I didn't feel the need to, because the game did such a great job of explaining the universe, all the different races, factions, etc, in world, through dialog. By giving me the opportunity to talk with characters, to ask questions, to delve into these topics in this way, I learned so much about the rich universe BioWare created, and I loved it. And now, all these years later, when I think about how to best introduce that sort of information about a universe, random bits of lore written in a codex isn't the answer, at least not for me. But who am I to say? It's not like I spend my spare time writing fiction in the hopes that someday literally anyone would read it. (Games writing is different, I know, I'm just being cheeky.)

I admit that part of it is just that I don't really jive with the codex format of world-building, even when the world being built is interesting. Another game I thought about in relation to this, is Pyre. The third Supergiant Games game, the one that's a mix of fantasy sports balling and visual novel. I hadn't played it until this year, and didn't write about it because I didn't feel like writing a full spoiler-blog at the time. Suffice to say I really like Pyre's story, the whole arc, all the characters, the choices (which certainly matter in some respect), everything.

But as much as I like that game, and its world, I just found myself unable to read too much of the lore entries in its codex either. For the life of me I couldn't tell you why, because I think that world is pretty cool. And since there's very little voice acted dialog in that game, it's almost all reading, so it's not like I have some aversion to literally just reading. It's odd and I haven't really thought about it until playing Eternal, because some games like Control, or Prey, I'd read every memo or email I found in the game. For some reason my attention just drops like a rock when the info is presented like an abridged Wikipedia article.

Heck, even in DOOM, I read most of those corporate emails I found!

Photo mode of the Slayer using the Super Shotgun's flaming grappling hook.
Photo mode of the Slayer using the Super Shotgun's flaming grappling hook.

Okay, the last game, that I cannot believe Eternal made me think about, and please don't stop reading as soon as I say this because I know it's the most tired thing to bring up, is Dark Souls. Or rather, the From Software style of world-building sparsity. Those games (aside from Sekiro) have mastered the art of dribbling out bits of lore, through the environments, off hand dialog from depressed NPCs, and snippets in item descriptions. Now, we all know this, but what exactly made me think about Dark Souls in DOOM Eternal?

Early on, in one of the first few levels, the Slayer encounters a character known as The Betrayer. Upon meeting him, I was given a codex entry, which I read some of, and that boring lore just got me thinking about a much more interesting way of presenting a character named The Betrayer. Think about From games, where often the only direct information you are given about a boss is the name that appears above its life bar. I don't know anything about the Cleric Beast in Bloodborne aside from its name, but there is something fundamentally intriguing about the first boss in that game being called Cleric Beast. This beast much taller than a human, twisted and gnarled, scraggly haired, and antlered, used to be a cleric, or perhaps still is. Without directly showing anything aside from that name and its visual design, it says quite a lot about the world of Bloodborne. More importantly, it raises questions that are key to the bigger story/lore of that world.

I'm not saying that simply naming this NPC The Betrayer and giving no other information would be as informative or world-building as the Cleric Beast, but it would have been a hell of a lot more interesting to just have that name and let my imagination fill in the rest.

And that, really, is probably the most disappointing part of Eternal's lore. The thing that made DOOM's lore so cool was that there was very little of it. Someone referred to as The DOOM SLAYER who was imprisoned in a sarcophagus in hell is cool and left my imagination running wild. The endless possibilities that my mind ran through after finishing that game, things that ranged from eternal cycles of the Slayer awaking to deal with demons, to thinking he was BJ Blazkowics from Wolfenstein.

Finding out he was just some dude muttering about ripping and tearing (I cannot believe they gave him a voice and then THAT was what they had him say) who was given super powers...was disappointing. I'm sure the reveal that he got his powers from the same hell priests he's killing was supposed to have impact, but it really doesn't when those hell priests could just as easily have been MacGuffin crystals for all they actually affect the story.

I don't know what sorts of decisions led to DOOM's story and lore being the way that it was, but after Eternal, I get the impression that maybe intriguing snippets of lore that is far better off with the gaps left unfilled was perhaps not their ultimate goal after all. Even so, the vibe of that game, where the Slayer was just so disdainful of everyone around him, and fed up with having yet another demonic mess to clean up isn't here, aside from maybe one or two instances.

Neat unlockable, but I feel like it's intentionally hamstrung in some ways to encourage people to spend money on the standalone ports of DOOM and DOOM II.
Neat unlockable, but I feel like it's intentionally hamstrung in some ways to encourage people to spend money on the standalone ports of DOOM and DOOM II.

Two moments in Eternal stand out to me in terms of anything writing related, and channeling that vibe from DOOM. The first is when a scientist says they need to carefully remove Samuel Hayden from some stasis thing and the Slayer just yanks him out and he falls to the floor with a clunk. The second is later when Hayden says the Slayer can't just shoot a hole directly into the surface of Mars, followed immediately by Vega just opening the portal for him to go shoot a hole directly into the surface of Mars. Or maybe Hayden said that right before the Slayer fired the BFG 10,000 at Mars, I forget.

When I think about those couple moments, those are the ones that best replicate that feeling from the previous game. The Slayer doesn't care, he just has demons to kill, and he's furious that people were arrogant and foolish enough to let this happen, presumably again. I so wish Eternal felt like that more, because that's how I felt about all this lore. I just wanted to rip and tear, not have Hayden walk me through the step by step process of demons torturing humans to get Ardent Energy out of them, read some lore about the Khan Makyr, and proceed to roll my eyes. Makyr? You know, like maker, because they're angels, except not really.

Honestly, not to get on a huge tangent, but there is something I find profoundly cowardly about so readily and quickly invoking hell, demons, etc, but not doing the same with heaven. The word angel appears in a codex entry, at least, in relation to the Makyrs, but that's about as close as they get. I'm not saying they need to or should go all the way and make these games literally tied to any specific religion (I say as someone agnostic at most). I'm saying that if it was really metal, they would have called it heaven and not been afraid of making people angry, especially when those people were never the ones to play something like this anyway. Let me rip and tear god into pieces, you cowards!!

Okay, last story complaint here: In DOOM, about the only time the Slayer showed any care toward another character was when he transferred Vega into a storage device, and brought him to safety. Thus why Vega is your AI buddy through Eternal. Now, I know Vega doesn't really have much personality beyond a pleasing voice, because he fills the role of generic AI character. But I like Vega, and I was bummed that he just kinda gets left at that terminal on the Makyr world. I mean, I also enjoy Hayden's voice talking to me, but Vega is the one character in these games that deserved better than to presumably die. On the other hand, since Eternal begins with the Slayer in a space castle with no other context, and all his upgrades/weapons from the last game gone, I don't know that continuity is something that especially matters, so they could just bring him back next time.

I know I complain about the lore, but I wouldn't mind if DOOM BUN became an actual character.
I know I complain about the lore, but I wouldn't mind if DOOM BUN became an actual character.

At least the game is fun, right? Even then, as much as there are some improvements, I didn't come away from this one feeling like it was the best shooter I'd ever played, which was my feeling after DOOM in 2016. And that's despite additions like the double-dashing, flamethrower to get armor, grenades actually being useful, overall better feeling weapons, etc that I think would make replaying DOOM now a little harder to get back into. Obviously that game wasn't designed with that stuff in mind, but even things like how the ammo/chainsaw are balanced I like better. In DOOM, midway into the game I barely ever needed to use the chainsaw for ammo, whereas here, I guess the Slayer's pockets in the new suit are a lot smaller, because he can't carry nearly as much, so that part of the loop stayed useful.

Then again, there's no Marauder in DOOM, and I'd never have to hear the indescribably unfunny phrase "mortally challenged" again if I just replayed DOOM, so there's that. And the soundtrack's better, sounds like maybe due to old Mick Gordon not having full control this time/having a falling out with Bethesda?

So, DOOM Eternal, fun game, despite some missteps. Glad I played it, still looking forward to whatever that team does next (probably another DOOM), and hopefully they can reign in some of the lore stuff then.

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Unrelated, I have a couple other games on my docket. After finishing Eternal, I've been playing Nioh 2, which is more Nioh, but in a good way. In some ways, it is the most, "they made that game again" sequels that I've played in years. But also there are additions and changes to the combat, like stealing special moves from Yokai like this was a DS Castlevania game. And I like that I can play an anime purple haired samurai lady instead of generic white dude from the first game, so I'm having fun. I like the rolly Yokai cat friends a lot (that you can pet). I probably won't have enough to say to write a full blog about that game, but I'm enjoying it.

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I really want to play Final Fantasy VII Remake, but as of this writing, the copy I ordered has yet to arrive, but that'll probably be what I play after Nioh 2. Unless something screwy happens with the shipping, at which point I'd have to go directly to the last game I've got here.

As for what it is, well, it's a newer re-release of a game, but...

You'll never see it coming...

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The Last Guardian, and Lost Friends.

I was just a kid when I got my first pet. My first real pet, not counting some bunnies that my parents actually took care of, and I was really too young at the time to remember now. But this pet, a half Pekingese/half poodle I named Gizmo, I loved him more than anything else in the world. This cute little creature, who showed me nothing but love, and unbound kindness, it wasn't like anything else I'd ever experienced. I used to be afraid of dogs before him. Not anything like a phobia, just the sort of thing that I'm sure a lot of kids go through.

I've known a lot of dogs in my life, and loved so many of them. My other dog, a pug named Chloe that we got a year after Gizmo, Ruger that massive rottweiler, all my grandmother's dogs, Hoagie, Baby (who was quite old), Frankie, and eventually Ruby, who I helped take care of for the better part of a decade, until she had to be...

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I played The Last Guardian recently, but as I'm sure is obvious, the game itself isn't what compelled me to write this. What compelled me is Trico, and how he's a better representation of spending a lot of time with an animal than I've experienced in any other game. All those moments of joy at spending time with a creature just different enough from you that it's novel in a curious way, but close enough that you can feel, really feel that bond between you forming.

But it also has all those frustrations that come with real, living animals. I love video game animals like D-Dog in MGSV, the dogs in Fable II and III, or any other number of horses out there, but they all feel like video game animals. D-Dog may animate like a real dog, bark like a real dog, and enjoy being pet like a real dog, but I've never known a dog that was half as obedient. I know dogs can get there with enough training and practice, but MGSV sidesteps all that in favor of giving you a useful Buddy to take on missions, and that's the right decision for that game. The closest to an exception I can think of, appropriately enough, is Agro from Shadow of the Colossus. But even there, Agro only ever seems to act on his own to help, like a video game animal.

The Last Guardian isn't any of those games. All the time it takes to try to figure out how to work with an animal that fundamentally isn't as intelligent as you are, even if he might be more keen in other senses, that's what The Last Guardian is about. There's puzzles to solve, and environments to traverse, but all that is just in service of the bond forming between a lost kid, and this mysterious giant creature. Trico, which looks like a mix between a bird and a dog, but acts more like a cat than anything else.

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Let me tell you, I don't have much experience with cats. And it probably shows, given how much I struggled in this game. I would say "in the early hours," but even up nearing the end, I was still running into trouble in some spots. Though in some cases, it often felt more like I was pushing up against the limitations of the game, or some things were just not working right. Like the time Trico turned around, traveled backward a couple puzzles, and stopped to stare at a pot forever. Nothing I could do broke him out of this trance, and I had to reload a checkpoint to continue.

I don't know how I feel about this game. I love Trico, I want to hug Trico, I want nothing but happiness for my large feathered friend. Yet I had so many frustrating, infuriating moments that I repeatedly wanted to stop playing. The controls and the loose, awkward "feel" of the game that make even the simplest jumps feel perilous, the swimmy camera that gets stuck on everything, and even Trico, who skirted that line between believably obstinate animal and inconsistent AI character.

And yet as the credits rolled, as I watched the post credits scene, all I could think about were all my old pets. How as easy as it is to only remember the good times, when they could be just as frustrating too. Gizmo, with his long hair, never wanted to sit still after a bath so I could brush him, and keep it from getting all tangled and matted up. Trico also never seemed to want to sit completely still while I pulled spears out of him, and wiped the blood off his feathers.

That's maybe the thing that struck me the most. That horrible feeling when I know my pet, my friend is in pain, but I don't have the means to convey to them that everything's going to be all right, that I'm going to do what I can to help, because they're animals. I can tell them that, use a soothing voice, be gentle with them, and some amount of that is conveyed, and hopefully they understood at least a little, but I know they don't. Not fully.

I felt that way about Trico, quite a lot, because this game doesn't shy away from putting him in danger. Whether from regular enemies with swords and spears, or other, bigger dangers, this game was tugging at my anxiety with what it puts Trico through. More than once I had to pause the game and look up what to do, not because I was hopelessly stuck (though that happened too), but because what was happening to Trico hurt me too much, and I couldn't bare watching that while I spent another five minutes missing the obvious thing, because I was too busy worrying about my friend.

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Because it reminded me too much of the months I spent hoping Ruby wouldn't have to be put to sleep, hoping I could spend more time with her. Even though I knew all along it was coming eventually, and I'd have to say goodbye at some point.

The one scene that has stuck with me the most, though, is one that was just a cutscene. The part where the playable character is completely out of it, totally unresponsive, turning grey like he's dying, or dead, but Trico just won't give up. He doesn't know what to do, doesn't know how he can help, but he still tries anyway, and it just got me so hard.

It's been a little over two years since the last animal I spent a lot of time with passed. I hadn't thought about it until recently, but aside from a few years at college, I'd spent most of my life with at least an animal close to me. My dogs growing up, helping out with my grandmother's dog, but it wasn't until I played The Last Guardian, that it hit me. How much I've missed having an animal friend in my life.

And the worst part is, with everything going on in the world, I don't know when or if I'd ever be able to have another one.

At least I'll always have the memories of all my old animal friends, whether they were real, or fictional, like Trico.

I know this wasn't exactly my usual fair, but sometimes you just need to get this sort of stuff out there. Thank you for reading.

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Shlooting in a world after Destiny.

Long time readers will know that I've had a very on and off relationship with the Destiny franchise. I obsessively (not a word I use lightly) played Destiny 1 until I burned out hard after a couple months (culminating in my finishing the Vault of Glass and only getting a shader). I played the House of Wolves expansion, but stubbornly refused to play Taken King because I didn't want to also have to buy the bad expansion, and that was the last time I played Destiny 1.

Flash forward to 2017, and Destiny 2. Which I liked a lot, even at launch. And over the next couple years, I played a lot of it, on and off. I'd play when the new expansions came, spent a lot of time with friends, and a lot of time just playing on my own, catching up on podcasts, whatever. Forsaken especially, was just fantastic, absolutely still my favorite time in the whole of these two games.

Then there was Shadowkeep, which was...not so good. I played through the story stuff, and did a little bit of the Vex Invasion season (whatever it was actually called), but then just...fell off. Part of it is that the stuff they've added since then hasn't interested me, but it's largely the monetization side. It's hard to believe, but the game going free to play, and Bungie leaving Activision...it's actually gotten worse. It feels more than ever like the game really just wants people to spend (real) money in the Eververse, and the seasons? Spending $10 for a paltry amount of mediocre (at best) content? And when I say paltry, I mean that some of the free Holiday themed events felt more fleshed out than what I saw. The stuff they did last year was already pretty shaky, but this feels even worse.

I haven't played in months, and combined with my Destiny friends losing any interest in playing, I don't see myself coming back to it any time soon. One of them even uninstalled the game, and this is after I was convinced to reinstall Anthem because we thought we'd play that again. You can probably tell how that went (will say, I hope "Anthem Next" is good). If Bungie puts out a big expansion, maybe finally make good on those repeated teases at a new faction of enemies, I'll jump back, at least long enough to see the new content, but otherwise...

So, it left me with a shlooting shaped hole in my life. It's easy to make fun of this sort of game, for the (intentionally) bad "genre" name, the fact that they try to make you play forever, the numbers are ultimately meaningless if all the enemies' numbers are just increased in proportion to you, etc. But that doesn't negate that they're fun to play, and at their best, always there for me when I need them. Okay, "need" is a stretch, but the point is that it's good to have something I can just turn on and play for a bit on a regular basis.

Luckily, Destiny 2 is not the only game of this sort, so in my desperation, I've spent the first two months of this year playing a couple other shlooty games...

Warframe.

Space Puppy!
Space Puppy!

This isn't the first time I tried Warframe. That was way back around the launch of the PS4, in 2013. Maybe early 2014, but I think it was 2013. Anyway, I tried the game, but only for a really, really short amount of time. And I didn't touch it again until some point in the last year or so, when I gave it another shot. This time I at least gave the game a couple hours, but it still didn't click.

Then, this January, I gave it another shot, and...it clicked. And all it took was my remapping the controls slightly so I could more easily slash my way through levels without taking my thumb off the right stick. Who woulda thunk it?

But what is Warframe, exactly? I know that's something that I've wondered about over the years, because it is kind of a weird game. At least aesthetically. Very bio-mechanical, mecha-fleshy game. Structurally, it's not really that weird, you just do missions, which unlocks paths to new missions through the Solar System. There are a couple open world areas, which feel big, and even have stuff like hoverboards you can ride to zip around faster. And there's jetpack missions in space, but those feel like they're missing...something that I can't quite put my finger on.

Eventually there's story missions that take place in the same locations as the regular missions, and some interesting stuff happens in those. For those in the know, the farthest I've gotten is The Second Dream, which might mean there's still a lot left for me to see, but I feel like I've played enough to write about the game. Still, I've been enjoying that side of the game, even if there is a smidge of a Destiny 1 "I don't think this has been fully explained" vibe to some of it. Then again, there's times where that feels somewhat intentional, unlike Destiny 1.

It's fun! Slashing through enemies, shooting when appropriate, once I got a good feel for the game, and its specific eccentricities, I have a lot of fun with it. And it feels like there's a healthy amount of variety too, as each Warframe has its own abilities, and even just in the three I've unlocked (Excalibur, Frost, and Rhino), those feel a lot different. Excalibur has sword related abilities like rapidly slashing around, Frost can freeze stuff and make a protective ice orb, and Rhino, to paraphrase what a friend of mine said, "as you could guess, has rhino powers."

I kinda forgot to take a lot of screenshots for this one.
I kinda forgot to take a lot of screenshots for this one.

So, the game is fun, it's got a fairly unique, weird aesthetic that has grown on me the more I've played, some of the story stuff is real neat (if a bit underdeveloped, at least so far), there's plenty of variety (I haven't even gotten to the fishing yet!), and I even have a space dog that I can pet! All this, for the incredible price of...free?

Well, yes and no. Warframe is free to play, and I'll say up front that this is the first free to play game I've spent any money on at all. Granted, only $5 so far, but it's more than nothing. That got me a cape and some in game Platinum (the paid currency), of which I already had some from years of redeeming PlayStation Plus Warframe Booster Packs on the thought that I might someday get into the game. And, I must say, thank you past me, because I did, and that money is useful.

Warframe isn't what I would call a pay to win game, but you could do that. I wouldn't, I think the rate at which I've unlocked new weapons has been decent, but the new Warframes has been a touch slow. Especially when that process is quite involved. First you need to get the blueprints for each part of a Warframe (there's always three), and build them. Each part takes, I think, 12 (twelve) real world hours to craft, but there doesn't seem to be a limit on how many things can be crafted at once, assuming you have the parts with which to craft. Of course you can spend Platinum to rush and complete instantly, but don't do that. Then (assuming you have the Warframe's blueprint) you craft the whole thing, which takes 72 (seventy-two) real world hours. That's three (3) days. It does feel like it might be designed to prey on the impatient, when I think about it. From there the Warframes have to be leveled up to unlock their abilities, but that's just regular video gaming.

The real issue I have with this is Warframes, and weapons (which also usually take twelve hours to craft, this is a crafting heavy game) take up space in your inventory. Inventory slots are limited, and the way to upgrade that space is...spending Platinum. Spend a bit of Platinum, and you get...two more weapon slots. Or one more Warframe slot. You start with two Warframe slots, and since you start with a Warframe, that means you could have one more. So, yeah, having to spend Platinum (it's not much, only like 12 I think?) for every new Warframe after the first one you craft feels crappy. Not the worst thing in the world, but it feels just a little stingy.

As for the rest of the monetization, there's a lot of cosmetic stuff, like colors for your Warframe, weapons, ship, etc. At least you don't buy individual ones, you buy big palettes which come with a variety of shades. I got one (it was at a reduced price for the day) with a bunch of blues, pinks, and oranges, and that's done well by me. There's other stuff too, like capes, and it mostly seems reasonably priced? Or at least there appears to be one day sales often enough that if you're patient you can get a reasonable deal.

So I'd say the free to play-ness of Warframe is...acceptable. It doesn't feel quite as 'in your face' as the Eververse is, but Destiny's inventory limits aren't nearly as constrained. Flip side, Warframe doesn't charge for any actual missions, or content of that sort, so I'd still give it to Warframe (which I did, $5 worth). Still could be better, but it got me to spend money on the game, rather than stop playing, unlike Destiny 2. So there's that! I've got enough Platinum to keep me going for a while, I suspect, and I intend to keep playing the game.

The Warframe not taken (this is a reference to poet Robert Frost).
The Warframe not taken (this is a reference to poet Robert Frost).

It's a lot of fun, and there's a whole lot I haven't even gotten to yet. Story missions, regular missions. From my understanding there's even a Sea of Thieves-ish multiplayer ship piloting mode? At least that's how a friend has referred to it. And like I said, there's fishing, but I think it uses spears instead of fishing rods, so it might be more like harpooning than fishing. Just with regular fish instead of whales.

If I have any other complaint about Warframe, it's that I think the game isn't exactly clear with how difficult missions are. It gives a level range for them, but that isn't what level you should be, it's the levels of the enemies in the mission. Which is fine, except there's no corresponding level for you. There's an overall account level (that unlocks access to certain blueprints), and individual levels for just about everything. Weapons, Warframes, space dogs, etc. But those weapon/Warframe levels all cap at 30, and enemy levels go higher than that. And the account level? I'm only at five, I think, but I've seen people in the 20s? Anyway, I don't know how to judge if I'm ready for a mission or not until I'm actually in it, and I think there should be a better way to know that.

Still, it's not the biggest issue, and on the whole, I like the game. It's good! Great, even. Give it a shot if you haven't. All you've got to lose is time, and maybe data if you have data caps. I don't, which is good, given I've downloaded multiple hundred gigabyte games in the last couple weeks. Also data caps are bad, just like the capitalist system that created them.

Tom Clancy's The Division 2.

Doing Benjamin Franklin Gates proud (this is a reference to classic feature film National Treasure).
Doing Benjamin Franklin Gates proud (this is a reference to classic feature film National Treasure).

Warframe may be free, but this game required a significantly higher buy in: $3. Okay, joking aside, some friends and I decided to try the game on a lark, because we'd surely get at least $3 worth of fun out of it. Turns out, we all kinda love it? Maybe love is too strong, but I've really enjoyed my time with it, certainly much more so than I expected. But enough enjoyment that it left me scratching my head as to why didn't play the game last year.

The best answer I have is a lot of the troubling "politics" around the first Division, which I didn't play beyond the beta. It felt kinda bad to be fighting factions that were just "rioters" in hoodies and escaped prisoners. Now, I'm not saying that The Division 2 is a huge improvement over the first in that regard, or that it really has any story that's especially interesting, but it at least replaces the rioters in hoodies for Mad Max-looking post apocalyptic gangs. I'm only slightly exaggerating, but I'm not exaggerating when I say that even if the actual motivations behind some of the enemy factions makes me feel kind bad for murdering so many of them (one of them are a group of people who were forced into quarantine, and broke out because they were being treated bad), at least in the moment, I can turn off that part of my brain and enjoy the combat as a video game.

It's been a while since I've played a new cover shooter (I have been replaying the older Uncharted game recently, but Lost Legacy may have been the other most recent cover shooter I've played), and I think Division 2 is a really good one of those. The cover mechanics themselves are good (the hold a button to direct your Divisioneer to a specific piece of cover is handy), the areas are well built for these sorts of encounters, and the enemies are just fun to fight. There's a good mix of them, from melee rushers to flamethrower users, to regular fighters, to snipers, to Large People with absurd amounts of armor. There's even those robots that range from Boston Dynamics dogs to malevolent lawnmowers. I'm pretty sure the game literally uses the word lawnmower to describe them. They're all mixed together well in ways that keep me on my toes, get me to move around a lot, and it's really good!

There's special abilities too, like turrets, drones, a shield, etc. My two favorites have been a healing drone (which I can direct between myself and others I'm playing with), and a shield that lets me use most non-handguns (not sniper rifles or light machine guns). I've also enjoyed what I've come to call the "war-crime gas" launcher, which shoots out flammable gas, that ignites when shot. Maybe that's a crass joke on my part, but that's this game!

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All that, and Washington DC ended up being a more interesting pick than I expected. I was anticipating this game to all be stuffy old federal buildings, but there's way more visual variety than I thought there'd be, especially in the story missions. I'd say it goes a lot farther to make DC an interesting location than say, Fallout 3 did. Stuff like fighting through an air and space museum, which features shoot-outs in a working planetarium, and an exhibit of the surface of Mars. It's cool, but if anything it just reinforced my wish that this was a fully sci-fi game, instead of being mired in Tom Clancy, and thus trying to at least appear somewhat realistic.

Which is patently absurd, given how focused the game is on loot, and weapons/armor being arbitrarily different from each other, with the same exact (real world) gun firing the same exact bullets doing more damage because it's higher level. In real life a shot to the head is probably going to kill someone, not do 53,000 damage but leave them standing. And yes, the damage numbers not only get that high, they seem to have only gotten higher as I get further into the endgame.

Anyway, it's just odd to me that this game is designed the way it is, because of the Tom Clancy's name. I don't want to be a Tom Clancy purist, I've never read any of his books, don't think I've seen any movies based on his works, and the story has certainly never been the thing I enjoyed about any of these games (even if I think Sam Fisher is a fairly memorable character). But it is weird that the name used to mean a certain attention to detail regarding realism, but in the years since his death, that's been going more and more out the window.

Other positives about the game: It has the best designed co-op invite related stuff I've seen in quite some time. Just simple stuff, like friends joining so seamlessly one friend and I were playing a mission, and didn't even realize a third friend had joined until we noticed her actually in the mission with us, which got a good laugh. There was probably a message at some point saying someone joined, but we didn't notice it (so maybe that's a UI issue in a way). But stuff like having an in game prompt when someone invites you, rather than having to go to the PS4 main menu invite thing, it's simple, but also so simple it makes me wonder why more games aren't so streamlined. Like if a friend invites me to Destiny, I have to go to that other menu and through that, which is just an extra step that I didn't even realize didn't need to be there.

And don't even get me started on stuff like Monster Hunter World, because this is light years ahead of that!

A not quite up to date image of my Divisioneer.
A not quite up to date image of my Divisioneer.

Oh, and the music! It's weirdly good? To the point where I've put the full soundtrack in my rotation of background writing music. Sometimes that gets lost whilst I'm playing with friends, and listening to them talk with the game audio lowered a bit, but when I'm alone, I really dig it.

And speaking of playing alone, while I think this game is at its best when played with friends so you can talk about nonsense like the 2001 Planet of the Apes remake, there is kind of a strangely relaxing vibe to this game alone. Something about walking down the wrecked streets of DC, picking through old backpacks for loot, watching the odd dog or deer run by... I like it. It's not on the level of something like a Death Stranding (which I keep thinking about, months later) in terms of a relaxing walking around game, but it's not at all what I expected. Of course there's plenty of side content, and random patrols of enemies to deal with too, but there's just enough moments of quiet wandering that it scratches that itch for me, just a little.

One last thing about Division 2's endgame. After finishing the story stuff, a new faction of enemies invades the city, takes over all the locations the story missions were in, and basically gives reason to replay them, just with remixed enemies. That's cool, and along with it, a new specialization thing open up, with super powered weapons that have their own skill trees to level up.

And here, is where I come to an addition I had to make after my initial draft of this blog, because of a SHOCKING revelation my friends gave me. See, in the specialization menu (only accessible at the main base of operations, the White House), four specializations are displayed at once, in order of newest to oldest. When I first saw that menu, I saw three options that were locked behind either doing lots of daunting steps of research (in game challenges, basically), or spending real world money (for each individually, or as a part of the Year 1 Pass). And I saw one that was open.

What I didn't realize was the menu scrolled and there were more options ready and unlocked without paying more money. So, instead of the several paragraphs I wrote complaining about the game trying to fleece more money out of me, I'll instead say that menu should have been clearer about there being more options! There was more room on the screen!

So, I don't think I'm going to spend that extra money to unlock those other specializations. I'm gonna buy the Warlords of New York expansion, they'll be getting more money out of me. But then again maybe I will, I dunno. I hate how I obsess about money, and so often it's about dumb little things like this. Ugh.

Dividing is best with friends.
Dividing is best with friends.

Okay, so, I've written about Warframe and Tom Clancy's The Division 2, both of which are great games, and games I intend to spend a lot more time playing. But how do they really stack up to Destiny 2, which they've replaced in my regular rotation?

Honestly, in terms of the actual game play, general story/lore, aesthetic, I still like Destiny 2 the best of them. But, that's not exactly a fair comparison to make. In a vacuum Destiny 2 is one of the best shooters ever in terms of just basic feel. At least I think so. But I've spent 347 hours and 1 minute playing Destiny 2, according to Wasted on Destiny dot com. That's a lot of time. Maybe not for some people, but it is for me. That's in contention for most time I've spent on a single game in my entire life. If you include the 159 hours and 51 minutes from Destiny 1, it's definitely the top of that.

Yes, Destiny in general is fun, but...I'm kind of sick of it? Or at least I'm tired of playing the same stuff, and anything new feels like a better use of my time in that way. So, games like Warframe and Division 2, which I do think are really great at what they do, just feel so much more like they deserve my time right now.

But in other regards, I think Division 2's co-op stuff is more seamless. Both that and Warframe do a better job of making variety more accessible than Destiny 2. Yes, there's three classes in Destiny, but I need a different character for each, and I had to play through all of the main campaign three times to get those three characters into the regular "endgame" (which I guess they've changed for free to play Destiny 2, but that wasn't the case in 2017!). I can just change around whatever, whenever in Warframe and Division 2, assuming I've unlocked it. I know I'm still going to end up repeating content because that's how these games go, but it doesn't feel as repetitive when I have my one character that I'm always working toward, rather than three that I swap between.

Also, I gotta say, way more dogs in Warframe and The Division 2 than Destiny 2. Can't let that one slide by. Pretty sure there's also pet space cats in Warframe, but I dunno about the cat status in Division 2. There's lots of wildlife of different sorts, so it's possible they're in there, just not as noticeable as dogs and deer.

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They're not the only games I've played this year so far, but they are the ones I've felt most motivated to write about. Well, that's not entirely true, I did want to write about Pyre, but I'd have to get into spoiling that game to really get into why I liked it so much. So I never got around to that. Maybe I will, maybe I won't. We'll see. That, and Return of the Obra Dinn, but outside of the neat gimmick I dunno that I'd have much to say, other than I enjoyed that too.

Dunno when I'll write again! Maybe DOOM Eternal? Who can say! I still don't have a Switch, for those curious. Someday. Someday.

But thank you, as always, for reading.

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The First Decennial Moosies Video Games of the Years of the Decade Awards Part II!

For those just joining this blogging in process, you can find the main 2019 Moosies here, and Part I of the Decennial Moosies here!

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Next up on this celebration of the decade, I originally intended to rank each one of the Moosies from the decade. Problem was, I started reading through the 2010 one, and...well, suffice it to say that I've grown a as writer in the decade since. I'm glad I have, but I don't want to actually read through all of every year, word for word. Even after the point where I feel like I got better at this sort of thing, and didn't rely so heavily on referential humor, or...Luigi fan fiction (rest in peace, Year of Luigi).

Instead, I've decided to rank every year of the decade in video games, recount the gaming highlights (the highlights are literally in the order in which I thought of them), and what was my game of the year at the time. And of course, reevaluate each one.

Years of the Decade:

10. 2013

Highlights: Super Mario 3D World, Metal Gear Rising: REVENGEANCE, DmC: Devil May Cry, Saints Row IV, Batman Arkham Origins, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, The Last of Us.

Luigi...
Luigi...

The year of the new consoles. Well, now not so new, and soon to be old consoles. The launches themselves were limp, and looking back on the rest of the year, it's maybe most noteworthy for some games that I don't think fondly of anymore. BioShock Infinite wasn't a game that I loved at the time, and certainly found a lot of disappointment in the story, but that was because of a bad plot twist at the end (that I had spoiled for me before I even started), rather than the more "current" discourse around the game and its slapdash/ill-thought out handling of race, amongst other things. GTA V was a game I did love at the time, but now... That style of humor, that whole Rockstar tone just doesn't sit well with me anymore.

There were still some really good, even great games that year. Just not really as many as a lot of other years.

It's a shame that the Year of Luigi wasn't stronger, given that we all love Luigi so much. At least I do.

My game of the year at the time: Grand Theft Auto V.

Whoof. You know, I bet parts of this game hold up. There was a lot of good mission design! Remember the one where Trevor had to fly a plane into the cargo hold of a bigger plane that was already in flight? Then again...remember Trevor? I used to find that guy pretty funny, but it's been a long six-ish years since that game's initial release.

Those missions though, I remember enjoying the act of playing this game, but... Even just watching Giant Bomb East struggle with playing the online portion of the game in their video series, I find it hard to believe I enjoyed playing GTA V back in 2013. It reminds me of the much more recent RDR II, except in this case GTA V's story and characters don't stand up. Granted it's only been a little over a year since I played RDR II, but I feel a lot more confident thinking Arthur's journey, at least, will hold up better than just about anything else Rockstar has ever done.

Again, all of this just makes me glad that I've grown and changed as a person since then. If nothing else, that's a good thing.

As for which game I might pick instead, in retrospect...probably either REVENGEANCE or Super Mario 3D World. Those feel like the two, based on both how excellent they are at what they're trying to do, and where my tastes now lie. Maybe if I played The Last of Us again (which I intend to prior to Part II)... On the other hand, while I remember liking The Last of Us well enough, I don't think it ever stayed with me as much as the Uncharted games, so it probably wouldn't be that.

I'll go with REVENGEANCE, because I'm me, but also because I'm me, I'm going to again call Nintendo COWARDS for not porting 3D World to Switch.

9. 2014

Highlights: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Dark Souls II, Dragon Age Inquisition, Mario Kart 8, Bayonetta 2, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.

Gavlan is the secret best Souls NPC.
Gavlan is the secret best Souls NPC.

Thinking back on the decade that was, two things stand out about 2014. The first being that it was the first full year after the release of new consoles, and that year was spent with them trying to find their footing. They sold well, for sure, even without standout games to sell them. Which isn't to say those games were all bad, some of them were very good.

But the other thing about 2014, is that it was the year of the Wii U. Hit after hit, all of them great, and it was easily the single year I spent the most time playing Wii U games. Mario Kart 8, Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, Bayonetta 2, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, and at the time it even had Shovel Knight as a console exclusive! It may have only been a year, but that one year of the Wii U was stellar, and I hope that each of those games has found a bigger audience once they were ported to Switch, which normal people actually own and use.

Looking back on 2014, I was initially expecting this to be the worst year of the decade, but the strength of that one, incredible year of Wii U games helped it move up a slot. That, and a couple notable games from 2013 that, in retrospect, I don't think so highly of anymore. But don't let that take away from Wii U's one, shining year.

My Game of the Year at the time: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U.

It was a fun game, absolutely, but in retrospect? It didn't last, for a variety of reasons. Well, I say "variety," but really the answers are a mix of Nintendo's netcode being so inconsistent that one match might feel as good as playing it locally, and the next would have the entire fight playing out in slow motion. Literally. The. Entire. Fight. The other reason being my cousin, who got so good at the game and only played the character he was best with, that the rest of us slowly gave up on the game because he almost always won and it ended up not being fun for anyone else. I know that's not the game's fault, but the netcode is. Especially when I never had any problems with the online stuff in Mario Kart 8, which I did continue playing after 2014.

As for what game I think I look back most fondly on now... Probably either Dragon Age Inquisition, or Dark Souls II? Those are both great games, and while they have very different issues, I'd be lying if I didn't say I've felt an urge to revisit both of them recently. But if I really had to pick between the two, which I know I don't but I'm forcing myself to anyway...

I'm going to say Dark Souls II, because like in Dark Souls II, I wish I had a coffin guarded by giant hippo people I could sleep in to magically change my gender, but then not realize it until like twenty hours later in the game.

8. 2012

Highlights: Tokyo Jungle, Mass Effect 3, Dust: An Elysian Tail, Xenoblade Chronicles, Spelunky, Dragon's Dogma, Telltale's The Walking Dead, Journey.

I just remembered they're remaking Xenoblade. Hope they do right by it.
I just remembered they're remaking Xenoblade. Hope they do right by it.

2012, in my memory, felt a lot like how 2019 feels now. It felt like the year before the new consoles, even though technically a new console released that year (the Wii U flopped onto store shelves). The then current generation was nearing the end of its life. Games like Far Cry 3 were pushing those consoles further than they probably should have, and while fun enough at their best, were messes. Looking at the games I feel best represent how I now feel about 2012, messy is certainly a good word for that year, and I think it was a pretty good year in general.

My Game of the Year at the time: Mass Effect 3.

It's hard, even now, to fully unpack my feelings on Mass Effect 3. I love that series so much, and Mass Effect 1 is still probably my favorite game ever. ME2, while a bit disappointing in a few regards, was largely an improvement over the first one, and ME3 was better still in some respects. But it was also such a mess, and the whole thing over the ending, and that getting changed was... It was a mess (though I still think the ending changes were, overall, positive).

And looking back... Even at the time, Mass Effect 3 wasn't the "best" game of the year, it was my Game of the Year because of my love of Mass Effect. Because I spent so much of that year thinking about that game, going back to play DLC, and wondering about how the Mass Effect series got from the original to there. There's other games from 2012 that I know are "better" games, but in my heart, it's hard to take that away from ME3. So I'm not going to, it's still my Game of the Year 2012. Sorry, Dust.

7. 2019

Highlights: Devil May Cry 5, Judgment, Control, Resident Evil 2, Death Stranding, Outer Wilds, Mortal Kombat 11, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.

For those who don't know, Nero is surfing on his rocket punch arm.
For those who don't know, Nero is surfing on his rocket punch arm.

It feels a bit weird to "look back on" a year that only just ended. It's also more than a bit weird to try to guess where that year fits amongst all the other years of the decade when it's still so fresh and new. That said, even if this is technically in the lower half of the year rankings, it was still a year with a lot of great games, and I think that just speaks to the quality of the decade as a whole. Every year from 2019 onward (in this ranking, I mean) was a great year for games. Judged purely by the quality of the games, the 2010s were mostly great.

2019 itself, though, like I was saying above, feels like the year before new consoles. Some games (Control, Jedi: Fallen Order) feel like they are pushing the consoles too far. There were large stretches of the year that felt a little barren with new releases, or new releases that were worth caring about. It felt like a year where a lot of the real focus was being put into next year, and into the new consoles. And unlike 2012, this time we don't know yet how that's going to go. Hopefully better than 2013, and 2014.

My Game of the Year at the time: Devil May Cry 5.

Obviously I'm not going to have changed my mind about this already. But I will take a moment to say that, it was tough for me to decide the overall ranking of my top ten this year. A lot of those games I could have swapped around, not because I felt indifferent to any of them, but because I felt so strongly about all of them. There was simultaneously a part of me that wanted to put MK11 above Outer Wilds, and a part of me that wanted to put Outer Wilds higher. I was really torn between Judgment and DMC 5, until I went back and replayed DMC 5, and remembered how thrilling that game is. Heck, there was even a part of me that wanted to make Death Stranding Game of the Year.

Only time will tell how my feelings on these games changes. But will I ever go back and seriously reevaluate 2019? Probably not, but who knows?!

6. 2018

Highlights: God of War, A Way Out, Red Dead Redemption II, Monster Hunter World, Marvel's Spider-Man, Iconoclasts, Vampyr.

Miss ya, Arthur.
Miss ya, Arthur.

This was the year when the rumors of new consoles really started picking up steam, but obviously also the year before those rumors coalesced into anything concrete. That said, it was not a year hidden beneath the shadow of the newer consoles looming on the horizon, it was a year of great games. It was the year when the early inklings of crossplay between consoles started becoming a thing. Hopefully the launch of the PS5 and Xbox Series X will also mean that crossplay becomes a standard feature, but that's speculation, and not a reexamination of 2018. It was a really solid, great year of great games, at least.

My Game of the Year at the time: God of War.

Let me tell you something, the capital D Discourse around this game was exhausting. The "this is the greatest game ever" crowd on one side, the "actually Kratos is a bad dad and an irredeemable character" people on the other side, and frankly, I just wanted to enjoy a game about two characters bridging the divide between them while also killing monsters. No, it's not perfect. I hope the team takes the criticisms about the game's treatment of women, and the fact that there's really only one woman character in the game to heart, and do better with God of War II. It's still my favorite game from 2018, and God of War is still a better dad game than Yakuza 6. A game I'm still angry about.

5. 2010

Highlights: Deadly Premonition, Mass Effect 2, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Assassin's Creed Brotherhood, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Alan Wake, Fallout New Vegas.

Alan Wake returns...soon...hopefully...
Alan Wake returns...soon...hopefully...

The 2010s started out strong. Maybe not every game I loved at the time has held up (Red Dead Redemption), but it was a year of great games. Not really anything else to say about it, as I realize too deep into doing this to make a meaningful change to this format. I guess I could say I made the mistake of not playing Super Mario Galaxy 2 until years later, because the Wii U video output for Wii games somehow looks way worse than hooking a Wii directly up to an HDTV. Unfortunately that was the only Wii game I bought digitally on Wii U, meaning I couldn't even hook up the Wii and use a disc to get around that bad upscaling, or whatever the Wii U was attempting (or not attempting) to do.

My Game of the Year at the time: Deadly Premonition.

This one's kind of tricky. My experiences with this game had such an impact on me, and took up so much of that year that it really couldn't be any game but Deadly Premonition. The thing is, times have changed, and I changed. It's harder for me now to forgive stuff like the game's transphobia (around a specific character/boss fight) that didn't quite sit well with me at the time, but I didn't yet have the knowledge to understand why, or the vocabulary to explain it. And it's also possible that there's something else in the game that I can't recall that's also problematic in similar ways.

But does that mean it's not still the game I look most fondly back at? I could change my mind and say Mass Effect 2, but I feel like that'd be dishonest. I love that game too, and it's probably the "better" game, but in my heart, it's still Deadly Premonition, even if it was a flawed game at the time, and a problematic game now.

4. 2011

Highlights: Dark Souls, Saints Row The Third, The Witcher II: Assassins of Kings, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, Batman Arkham City, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Yakuza 4, Dead Space 2.

Jensen never asked for his trilogy to never be completed.
Jensen never asked for his trilogy to never be completed.

This is the point where I really started running into trouble trying to rank these years. There's some really, really great games in all these years. I almost had this year at number TWO on this list. What ended up dropping it a few spots was that I didn't feel totally great putting this there based on the strength of Dark Souls and Saints Row The Third alone. Which is to say nothing about the other games here, but several of them I think are somewhat eclipsed by other entries in their franchises. Witcher II, for example, might have the better story and skill tree than its sequel, but Witcher III was kind of THE WITCHER, right? I'd like to revisit Witcher II one of these days, but I don't want to hook up my 360 again. Anyway, there were some fantastic games, and I really loved them at the time, but in retrospect, they might not all be the classics I thought of them as at the time.

My Game of the Year at the time: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

This game is better than people give it credit for! Yes, the start is slow, but it's still good! Does it still rank as the game I'd say is my favorite from that year? Sadly not. That'd probably be Dark Souls? That or Saints Row The Third, I'm not entirely sure. Both are games I love still, but both have their issues. In one case it's some large swathes of the game that are bad (like Blight Town!), and the other, well, I don't need to go over the problematic side of Saints Row The Third again. They're both great, and I think back on both more fondly than I do Skyward Sword at this point. Also I played neither of them in 2011, which is a thing. That happens.

Of course, upon my final proof-reading of this, I decided to force myself to pick a game from each year, so I'm going to do that, and follow my heart, which takes me to...Saints Row the Third.

3. 2016

Highlights: Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, Final Fantasy XV, Titanfall 2, DOOM, Overwatch, The Witness, Dark Souls III, Mafia III, Hitman (purely for the joy of watching others play, I still am not a huge fan of playing it myself).

Nothing stop the DOOM SLAYER.
Nothing stop the DOOM SLAYER.

Getting down to it here. The best three years of the decade (in video games and video games ONLY). This year really felt like a steady stream of great releases. In my memory, at least, there weren't really any down periods, it was just hit after hit after hit. Some of which were games I obsessed over (The Witness, for better or worse), or kept playing for an extremely long amount of time (Overwatch, Titanfall 2). DOOM was an absolutely astounding reboot of a franchise I'd never touched before, and I could just go on and on. By this point the generation had really hit its stride, and it was truly amongst the best times to be playing video games.

My Game of the Year at the time: Uncharted 4: A Thief's End.

This is the toughest reevaluation yet. Not because I think any different about this game, more because there's games from this year that I either didn't play at the time (Final Fantasy XV), or have stayed as a regular in my rotation (Titanfall 2), and... I'm not sure what to say is my favorite from the year now. FFXV is an especially odd one, given it was actually the Royal Edition I played, and some of my favorite moments in that game were from that version, which I think released several years later. Maybe I should go back and put that in with the 2018 games? Nah, it's not like that's stuff only in that version, that DLC exists for the base game, so does it count as a 2016 game, or something else?

That's why the nature of modern games, and their ability to change and update so much over time is so interesting, and such a conundrum in situations like this. Even if I discount FFXV, do I go with the one that had such an emotional impact on me at the time, or the game I've kept playing since?

I think, as much as it hurts a part of me, I might have to give it to Titanfall 2. Uncharted was another Uncharted, and better than it had ever been, but Titanfall 2 was truly something special...and sadly maybe something we might not see again for a long time...

2. 2017

Highlights: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Life is Strange: Before the Storm, Prey, Hollow Knight, NieR:Automata, Horizon Zero Dawn, Yakuza 0, The Evil Within 2, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus.

I couldn't let the decade go without one more bigh cone from Kamurocho.
I couldn't let the decade go without one more bigh cone from Kamurocho.

2017 is probably the year that most people would point to as the best of the generation, or even of the decade. It was a phenomenal year, and maybe the one that had the highest number of excellent games. It absolutely had a bunch of games I really, truly loved, and still feel special to me. Maybe a few more years from now, with even more distance, I might change my mind on this ordering, but at this moment, this is what feels right.

And in terms of the broader sense of Video Games, this was the year of the Switch. Nintendo's gambit to get people's attention with a new gimmick, one that would hopefully sell better than the Wii U. Which it obviously has, the Switch has become a phenomenon. It turns out that a lot of people value being able to play their games portably, and as such it's sold more along the lines of stuff like the 3DS, than the poor Wii U. I'm glad Nintendo is doing well, mostly because I'd like to think that selling well means they have more resources to fund more games, and do more interesting things with those games, but I have no clue if that's true.

Also I'm still the only person without a Switch (hyperbole) because of my stubbornness. That, and relative lack of money. I know I could afford one, but you know how it is. Money. Hate it.

My Game of the Year at the time: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

The only thing even resembling a regret that I have around this game is playing it on the Wii U, so I had more technical issues than I would have on Switch. I almost wish there hadn't even been a Wii U version, in retrospect, because an exclusive of this magnitude would have forced me to get a Switch, and I wouldn't be in this stubborn mess I am. There's other games from this year that I love, but none of them could ever replace Breath of the Wild.

I never played that DLC. Not that I really want to load up the Wii U and spend probably the same exact price it was new to get that, but maybe someday. But probably not because when I do eventually get a Switch I bet BotW and the DLC will all still be full price because of the capitalist monsters that run Nintendo. Not to turn this into anything weird, but come on, Nintendo's the ONLY ONE where the games stay at full price as long as they do.

1. 2015

Highlights: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Bloodborne, Undertale, The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, Rocket League, Batman Arkham Knight, Life is Strange, Soma, Contradiction: Spot the Liar.

Roach was a good horse.
Roach was a good horse.

This was the year that the generation really came into its own. This was the year when everything started running at max power, and maybe it's not everyone's favorite year of the decade, but it is for me. 2015 felt staggering at the time, and maybe part of that was because it was coming off a couple disappointing years, but even in retrospect the games that I loved then I love just as much now, if not more so in some cases.

It might not have been the most interesting year of the decade, but gosh do I love the games from that year.

My Game of the Year at the time: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

This game absolutely captivated me. It was the realization of everything I ever wanted out of tactical espionage games, and a lot of things I didn't know I wanted. The story is ultimately a let down, but the game itself is still one of the absolute best I've ever played, and maybe ever will play. It's still my Game of the Year 2015.

As one final farewell to the decade that was, I intended to make a list of my ten games of the decade, and the previous portion of this "one" blog was to be dedicated to all the other games that didn't quite make it. True to form, I couldn't get it down to ten games, I wrote so much this whole thing had to be split in twain, and I couldn't even commit to not including some of the games from the "interesting" section in Part I. I also decided not to order them, just to embrace chaos. But also...there's an order to them. CHAOS.

Anyway, this is not me trying to say these are the "best" games of the decade. They're the ones that feel special, or important to me. But kind of the problem with making that sort of list so soon to the end of the decade is that it's hard for me to really feel like I have a hold of the most recent stuff. There's no games from 2019 here. Does that mean there's nothing from last year that I think could be an all time "of the decade" favorite? Not at all, it's just too early for me to really say. Which is part of what makes doing lists like this so silly in the first place, but there's fun to be had in the silliness.

All of that aside, these are great games, and going forward into the 2020s, I can only hope to have more games that affect me as much as these ones have.

So, in true nonsensical fashion, I've written about these games, and come up with totally arbitrary awards for them. Please enjoy, and forgive me for not being nearly as short as I intended.

Games of the Decade:

A boy, and a reinvention of a tired series: God of War.

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My thought process on these things is a lot of going back and forth, deciding at first to include something, writing about it, then deciding to cut it, deleting all those words, and finally backtracking and putting it back on, with a new mess of words.

God of War was a great playing, great looking game, but the thing that stuck with me has been the journey of the wayward boy Atreus and his father Kratos, both lost and just trying to find their way through the world. I'm still kind of amazed that they managed to make this sort of game out of what God of War used to be, and I'm extremely curious what the sequel will end up holding. Can it make me feel the way this one did, or even should it? That story about two people working to bring themselves back together was so special, and a retread of that would be disappointing, but I don't know that just focusing on the bigger Norse Gods and Ragnarök stuff would have any emotional impact. I'm not sure how they'll do it, but I've got a good feeling they'll figure something out.

God of War wins:

  • Best boy of the decade: Atreus.

  • Weapon gimmick of the decade: Leviathan Axe's recall.

A near decade long journey: Uncharted 4: A Thief's End.

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I had no idea how much of an emotional impact this game would have on me until I was several hours into it. That early chapter in Nathan's house, that opens with him reminiscing in the attic, and ends with him and Elena talking, eating dinner, playing Crash Bandicoot. That whole chapter made me realize how important those characters, and their adventures had been to me. I played the first Uncharted back in 2007. I was still in high school then, and this was almost a decade later. I'd gone through so much in that time, and every few years I'd go on another adventure with the gang. More fun with Sully grumbling, more of that rocky back and forth between Nathan and Elena (one of the very few hetero relationships in media in general that I like), and more of those fun adventures in pillaging the leftovers of ancient civilizations and accidentally destroying what little remains of their civilizations. I'm mostly joking about that last part.

This game was a conclusion to a years long journey, almost decade long, and I wasn't prepared for how it'd make me feel. Even a few years later, I still find myself smiling just thinking about it. My heart warms up a little, and I realize just how much those characters and their adventures meant to me. Even if the Uncharted series didn't end there (and Lost Legacy was great in its own right), this was the end of an era, and one I am grateful I experienced.

Uncharted 4 wins:

  • Best use of Crash Bandicoot of the decade.

  • Best conclusion of a decade(ish) long journey of the decade.

  • Nolan North of the decade.

Wildest ride of the decade: Saints Row the Third.

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I included The Third in the "interesting games" section of Part I of this Decennial thing because at the time, I thought I wasn't going to include it here. The fear that it wouldn't hope up to modern scrutiny, that maybe it'd be too problematic in a few spots, the mission design for most of the game probably wouldn't hold up, all that scared me away.

But then I thought about what this game meant to me back when I played it. It was something of a mentality changer for me. Not on its own, 2011 and to a certain extent 2012 (when I actually played this game) was a time where I was beginning to re-embrace my love of the absurd. It started when I saw Fast Five, and I think culminated in this ridiculous nonsense game. It was a year of me re-discovering my love of things just being wild, and goofy, and fun.

I can't explain why I felt that way at the time, and why it was specifically these two things that really drove it home to me. But that's how I felt, and I still feel so very strongly. Besides, even if not every part of Saints Row the Third holds up to modern scrutiny, or the scrutiny of the era, it was a fun time, and I think worth remembering as one of my favorites of the decade.

Saints Row the Third wins:

  • In retrospect I should have realized why this was important to me award for best character creator of the decade, which included the ability to completely change everything about the character pretty much any time.

  • Best near random use of zombies of the decade.

  • Absurdest big release of the decade.

A blade worth studying: Metal Gear Rising: REVENGEANCE.

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This one's in the same boat as Saints Row the Third, in that I originally wasn't going to include it here. It's not the best of the genre, and who knows, a decade from now maybe DMC 5 will be the game I look back fondly on and wish was on here instead of this. But right now, in this moment, REVENGEANCE is that game. It's so over the top, so ridiculous, and yet the combat is so tight, and the feeling of the well timed parry is almost second to none. Or heck, it might even be better than Sekiro's, it's been a while since I played it.

That, and it's in some ways it's a weirdly prophetic game. Something to be said about a game released in 2013, set in 2018, that features a right wing politician as the bad guy who used a certain fascistic phrase years before... Well, I've already gone too far into politics for this, don't @ me.

I guess I'll end with this: The perfect parry into stunning an enemy, slicing them in twain, ripping out their cyber-spine and using its cyber-fluids to refill health was a mechanic so good that even DOOM copied aspects of it for its big reboot.

It's just a fun, ridiculous game that I love.

Metal Gear Rising: REVENGEANCE wins:

  • Most prophetic game of the decade.

  • Best slicing things/people into many little pieces of the decade.

  • Zandatsu of the decade.

  • Robot wolf of the decade: Blade Wolf.

  • Duel of the decade: Raiden vs. Jet Stream Sam.

  • Best ridiculous music of the decade.

Double jumps, wall runs, and mechs: Titanfall 2.

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Titanfall 2 isn't just a game that I played for many many hours online over the last few years. If that's all it took to get into my favorites of the decade, Overwatch would be here too (and honestly I wouldn't want to lose all the happy memories I have from that game). No, Titanfall 2 gets on for two other reasons. The first is why I kept playing it for so long, and why I was so delighted at the influx of new players when it was on PS+.

Titanfall 2 is my favorite "competitive" multiplayer shooter. Ever. It takes the ultra tight, lightning fast style of Call of Duty, makes the movement way more fluid, fun, and high flying, and on top of all that, basically has a second style of game along for the ride! The Titans themselves, mechs that tower over the battlefield, slower than the Pilots on their own, but still fast and arcade-y by most video game mech standards. That dynamic between the two is part of what has kept the game still fresh and fun over these years, and honestly would keep me coming back for years to come if enough people kept playing it.

But even that, all of that, isn't the sole reason why it's one of my favorites of the decade. It's also got one of the best, if not THE best campaigns in any shooter. Certainly my favorite of what I would call "CoD style" campaigns. It's just a fun mix of combat, great level design, especially considering how much of it is built around first person platforming, and who could forget BT-7274? One of the best buddies of the decade, and still a favorite of mine.

Titanfall 2 wins:

  • Best robot buddy of the decade: BT-7274.

  • Best use of time travel of the decade: Effect and Cause.

  • Best competitive multiplayer game of the decade.

  • Best use of mechs of the decade.

Friendship was the real loot: Destiny 1 & 2.

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For all my faults with these games, for all that part of me really didn't want to actually "award" Destiny because I think it's in kind of a slump, I just wanted one more chance to remember how good the best times with Destiny were. Especially Destiny 2. I wanted to remember all the time spent with my friends, mostly Tom and "Loremaster" Jay. I wanted to remember all the goofy moments we had where the game was really secondary, and just the conduit by which we were talking about nonsense. But ALSO all the fun hijinks we had in game. I hope I never forget the now infamous "unlimited ammo" incident. For those who weren't there (literally everyone except those other two), suffice it to say that there was not, in fact, unlimited ammo.

I'm cracking up just thinking about it, and if that isn't worthy of getting on here, I don't know what is.

Destiny 1 & 2 win:

  • Most up and down in terms of quality of the decade.

  • Online co-op game(s) of the decade.

  • Most fun I've had playing with friends online of the decade.

  • Game(s) of the decade best suited to me just @-ing a friend with nothing more than the name of an Exotic and a question mark, and then getting an expert analysis of if it's good or not (or sometimes just a, "lol it sucks").

The most immersive of sims: Prey.

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There is an unease that permeates the entirety of this game. It's the rare game that could really make me distrustful of just about anything and everything in it. Even the sorts of junk objects littered throughout the station! People always talk about this game in the conversation amongst "immersive sims" (perhaps one of the loosest and illest-defined video game "genres"), but really I think it shines best as a survival horror game. Okay, I know I shouldn't be invoking video game genres, but Prey really stands out in my memory as a game that excelled at that unease.

So great was that unease that it wasn't until I finished the game, watched all the credits roll, saw the true ending, and realized what actually happened that it all fell into place. It has all the hallmarks of the immersive sim, it fits nicely into survival horror, but at the end it's really a game about empathy, and the importance of going out of your way to help others when you can. I really felt that ending then, and I still feel it now.

Plus the Mooncrash DLC was great! I almost wish it had been a standalone game, so I could have TWO excuses to write about Prey again, haha. But seriously, even if I did figure out how to break Mooncrash and make myself extremely overpowered, the early parts, where I was forced into corners, forced to make creative decisions on the fly, and forced to actually adapt and play Prey differently than I did in the main game, were my favorite hours spent in any immersive sim ever. Now I've got myself wanting to play it again!

Prey wins:

  • Best mimics of the decade.

  • Best twist ending of the decade.

  • Space station of the decade.

  • Best instance of what I assume is a game written with the male protagonist in mind so the lady version is accidentally gay by having the protagonist's ex-girlfriend be a major character...of the decade.

Heart wrenching and goofs: Undertale

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Oh, Undertale. The stuff of memes years after release. But it wouldn't be the Undertale I know and love without that goofy sense of humor, and honestly, I can't think of a game better suited to have nonsense memes that will last until the end of time. That goofy, silly, corny sense of humor is the thing that opened my heart to this game years ago. All those puns, the wordplay, the goofs, it's all right up my alley.

The humor is what pulled me in, but the story, characters, and all that other serious stuff the game gets to by the end, that's what makes Undertale one of my favorite games of the decade. Maybe ever, really, but that's a whole other, harder discussion. Gosh, it's hard to boil down what makes this game special without just spending pages and pages on it, so instead I'll focus on one thing: Music.

Out of every game released in the last decade, there isn't another game that has tied so many songs to specific, deep emotions for me. Even if a lot of them are goofy hijinks, there's also all the serious ones, and I'd be lying if I said the final boss theme doesn't still send a chill down my spine. No, literally, I just tried, and it does.

I know I opened this by mentioning memes, and for a lot of people that's all this game ever will be, but for me, and a lot of others, it's one of my favorite games, and experiences of the decade.

Undertale wins:

  • Most memorable music of the decade.

  • Funniest game of the decade.

  • Most heartwarming game of the decade.

  • Most punderful game of the decade.

  • Skeleton of the decade: Papyrus.

The game that made me think about the queer teen life I never really had: Life is Strange: Before the Storm.

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As I sat here, trying to find the words for this, I just listened to the main menu music, on loop, for some time, letting it wash over me. And I still don't know that I even have the right words. It's a game that made me feel...for lack of a better word, "seen." It's a game about the awkwardness of teenage life (or all of life), of navigating that while also figuring out your sexuality, and so many other things, and I just...

Very little of the specific beat by beat moments of the plot have anything to do with things that happened in my life, but the broader stuff? The unpleasant cop-ish stepfather, the "drama kid life" in school, playing D&D with friends, and all the confusion with coming to terms with my queerness...

I wish I had something profound to say. Something that feels even half as profound as this game made me feel when I played it. But I don't. It does make me think about my life, chances I wish I'd taken, things I wish I'd done, but... I don't know.

All I've got is this garbled mess, which given how the final proper episode of Before the Storm went, never mind the prequel episode, I guess that's only appropriate. So much of life is a mess, mine especially. Of course many of the things that spoke to me most would be just as messy.

I miss Chloe and Rachel. And I wish their story had a better, happier ending. But that's life, I guess. We've just got to remember the good things we have, or had, and take it from there.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm wins:

  • One truest pair of the decade: Chloe and Rachel.

  • Best queer game probably made almost entirely by straight people of the decade.

  • Melancholy of the decade.

A long journey with digital friends: Final Fantasy XV: Royal Edition.

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I've written so many words about this game. I still have a few left to say, even if they're probably rehashes of what I wrote months ago.

The sheer brilliance of having a character, in game, snapping pictures on his own, and the game taking the time when the characters rest to go over what he's got... It's the thing that makes this game work. It's what ties it all together, and what made me tear up at the end, when they took one last opportunity to reminisce over the journey. So many games are good at building up memories, and attachments to characters, but this one little thing... It made all those connections feel real.

And that's it. I've run out of words to say about this game. It's a mess. I love it.

Final Fantasy XV: Royal Edition wins:

  • Road trip of the decade.

  • Fishing minigame of the decade.

  • Best looking video game food of the decade.

  • Best photography of the decade.

  • Best charmingly bad photography of the decade.

  • Song that most makes me tear up ("Stand by me," by Florence at the Machine) of the decade.

  • Best sadly non-canonical queer ship of the decade: Promptis (Prompto X Noctis; let them be gay SQUARE ENIX YOU COWARDS).

A game best played with a friend at your side: Deadly Premonition.

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Back in 2010, a friend of mine mentioned this game, I don't even remember what he said, but it was to the effect of his thinking we should play it together. It'd be a good laugh. So, I got it, as it was $20 new, and we started playing. At first we were just laughing at the game, it has such a weird opening (York discussing the subtext of Tom & Jerry), and then it goes into some of the worst survival horror I've played in my entire life. If you've never actually held a controller and played this game, you owe it to yourself to try it, it's astounding how bad it feels.

There was something...that I couldn't put my finger on at the time, but there was something to that game, so we kept playing it. Over the months, because this friend and I are terrible at coordinating together. Mostly because he's always had a thousand different things going on in his life. We were both still in college at the time, so that didn't help either. Eventually I became so enthralled with the story that I finished it on my own, and had to let my friend finish it without my spoiling anything for him.

During all this, I also realized Giant Bomb did their dual Endurance Runs. I was still new to GB at the time, and didn't realize my friend had probably gotten the idea to do this from them. Anyway, I ended up not only playing this game through, watching my friend play through a large portion of the back parts of it, but also watching it be played twice on the internet, all in the same year. Deadly Premonition was 2010 to me, and its best parts still hold their charm over me to this day.

Even as I become more and more conflicted by its problematic side. I still don't have anything profound to say, just that we all probably have things like this. The things we really love, but wish were better. Not better in the "I wish the game played better," or things like that, but better about queer characters. Better about not falling into bad stereotypes, or violence against groups of people that face far too much of that in real life.

Soon enough, there's going to be a sequel to this game. I don't know what to expect. I predicted it'll be my GOTY 2020, but I can't say that was a serious expectation. I guess all I can really hope is that it's got enough of that charm that enthralled me so, but that everyone involved has grown, and knows better now.

I have, and I don't think I'll be as forgiving a second time around.

Deadly Premonition wins:

  • Favorite "cooperative" game of the decade.

  • Sandwich of the decade (Sinner's Sandwich (still never tried one)).

  • Song of the decade: Life is Beautiful.

Another duo I couldn't separate: Mass Effect 2 & 3.

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I could pick between the two, but really the story of Mass Effect and my experience with it this decade isn't just a game. It's, well, it's also inextricably tied to the first one, but these two feel more like two parts of a same whole, in retrospect. Mass Effect 1 felt different from these two. Mass Effect 2 and 3 feel like a two-parter. Not quite a "get the gang together" and then "go do the thing," because there isn't a one to one with the crew members between them, but it's something like that.

Mass Effect 1 is my favorite game of all time, and that universe is one of my favorites out of all the fiction I've ever played, watched, read, etc. That series was just the right mix of having enough of a directed story and plot, but also while letting me feel like a person there, feel like a real part of the story myself. And obviously I know the choices are pretty limited in retrospect, as are their impacts, but that doesn't negate all those dozens of hours I spent with these games, with these characters.

Garrus, you bastard of a space cop, you're kind of the worst, but I love you, faults and all. But I'm still glad I was able to temper your more "The Punisher" lines of thinking and acting.

Wrex, oh Wrex, they did you wrong by not having more of you in 2 and 3. Not super wrong, there's still enough, but I would've loved more. To hear more of your stories, and add a few more to that never ending list.

Tali, my friend. If there was one character in this series that had the most growth, it was probably you. I'm so glad to have been there on your Pilgrimage with you, and helped you whenever I could.

Liara, you wild weirdo, going from introvert archaeologist to full renegade information dealer, to something a bit more reasonable in 3. Again, I'm just glad to have been on the ride with you.

Mordin, Legion, Thane, Jack, Samara, EDI, Javik, Grunt, and so on, there's too many to list. Mass Effect 2 might have been somewhat lacking in the main story department, and 3 might have ended poorly/had some very large plot holes, but these games were such a part of my decade, and I still think back fondly on them.

That, and I curse every day EA doesn't port them to modern consoles! Give us the remastered trilogy YOU COWARDS.

Mass Effect 2 & 3 win:

  • Best cast of characters of the decade.

  • Best endorsement of the decade ("my favorite store on the Citadel").

  • Best callback to a goofy moment of the decade ("my favorite spot on the Citadel").

  • Best overall DLC of the decade.

  • Best party of the decade (Mass Effect 3 Citadel DLC).

A horrible night for a curse: Bloodborne.

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If there was any one developer that truly rose from obscurity into greatness this decade, it was From Software. Yes, Demon's Souls just missed the cut, but Dark Souls was when they got big, turned into a studio that people payed attention to. A studio that would garner a certain crowd of fans, not all of whom necessarily made the best impression on others, but popularized a new style of game that took people by surprise.

And then they made their masterpiece, Bloodborne. I don't use that word lightly, but amongst all of the games here, all of the ones that I played this decade, this is among the few that I think comes closest to being the perfect realization of what it sets out to do. It is that style of game play, near perfected, that style of world building, the best I've ever seen, and all wrapped up in an aesthetic that entrances me to this day.

It does all this, and for my money, is the best piece of Eldritch/cosmic horror ever crafted. All it took was creating a world that so clearly and obviously appears to be anything but that, aside from a few hints here and there, that sense of there being something lurking, just beneath the surface, slowly getting closer, closer, closer....

Until the reveal, when the whole world feels like it's flipped over, and the truth is laid bare.

Even if it had none of that, few games have ever gotten my pulse pounding as much as Bloodborne. The thrill of fighting a boss, a towering monster of rotten flesh, scraggly hair, and jagged bone, dodging and weaving, and coming so close, so close until... my prey has been slaughtered.

My heart beats just a little faster even thinking about it.

Bloodborne is one of my favorite games ever, truly in the top ten. I know I said it's close to perfect, but there's some blemishes. Even so, this game entranced me not just from the start, through to finishing it, multiple times, through to getting the Platinum, through to playing the DLC, through even to today. From Software has continued to make great games, but none have captured my imagination the way Bloodborne has. It is a modern classic, plain and simple.

Bloodborne wins:

  • Souls game of the decade.

  • Best sweeping "cinematic" soundtrack of the decade.

  • Horror game of the decade.

  • Best build up and reveal of an Eldritch truth of the decade.

  • Most blood of the decade.

Tactics, espionage, and operations: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

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Metal Gear, for better or worse, has probably meant more to me, and had more of an impact on me than any other video game series ever has. And likely ever will, given how much the earlier ones affected teenage me. Over all these years, my feelings for Metal Gear on the whole, and the people who made it (one in particular that I don't need to name) have changed. Not for the better, or for the worse. They've just changed. More critical of some things, but fonder remembrances of others. It's also just funny to think about how much MGS's weird sense of humor and tonal shifts affected me as a fiction writer, even if the direct influence isn't that apparent in most of what I write.

And, as so many of even the most die hard MGS fans will say, MGSV is a pretty big letdown in most of those respects. There's the core of a good story in this game, but it it feels like a seed that was just planted, and given basically no time to grow. With the development of that game being what it was, and at least one plot thread known to have been left dangling because a mission was cut, it's not really possible to know how much of the story is the way it is because of creative choices, and how much was the result of deadlines, cuts, or what have you.

Even with this game disappointing at the thing Metal Gear had always been known for, and generally regarded as its strongest suit, MGSV still became one of my favorite games of the decade, and honestly ever. What it lost in storytelling it more than made up for it by being the best stealth game I've ever played. There is a fluidity to this game's mission design and structure that still excites me with the breadth of what's possible. It's not just that it lets you go about missions in whatever way you want, it's the way that missions react to you doing that, it's the way not everything is always as clear cut as it seems, or the way that things change once you're actually on the ground, trying to complete the mission.

I spent almost two hundred hours playing this game. I don't remember how long it took me to get through the story, probably under half that, because the rest was a mix of me getting the Platinum Trophy, and just messing around with the game. Seeing how far I could push the AI, seeing how many ways I could think to tackle missions, how much leeway there really is. Turns out there's a lot! It's not a game where literally anything is possible, but it's a game where just enough is possible so it feels like anything is possible. For my personal tastes, it's the best stealth game I've ever played, and if the story was better, it might be my favorite game of all time.

Or, to put it in the immortal, maybe accidentally paraphrased words of Brad Shoemaker, "it was almost the greatest game ever made."

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain wins:

  • Dog of the decade: D-Dog.

  • Horse of the decade: D-Horse.

  • Robot horse of the decade: D-Walker.

  • Tactical Espionage of the decade.

  • Best balloons of the decade.

  • Best cardboard boxes of the decade.

  • Vaping of the decade.

The First Moosies Decennial Video Game of the Decade (2010-2019): The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

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Breath of the Wild, in so many ways, is the culmination of most of my favorite things in games. It's a game about exploration, about huge, open spaces. About moving through a world, where the traversal is the draw, the fun, the challenge. A beautiful yet desolate world, ravaged by a long gone war, but crucially not a dead world. A world of regrowth, of survival, where people do their best to get by, and live their lives as best they can.

It's a game about puzzle solving, both big and small. A game that gives you most of the tools right up front, and designed for people to be able to go in almost any direction, and do almost anything. A game littered with shrines just waiting to be delved into, so their puzzles can be solved, so I can hear that classic little chime and feel so excited. A game where any odd little thing out in the world might be a quick little puzzle to solve, and get a Korok seed.

It's a game about creativity in problem solving. Over the last few years, I have seen so many videos of people fighting enemies, solving puzzles, or traversing the world in ways that left me stunned. Infusing things with so much force while they're in stasis that they fly off at breakneck speeds, using the power of magnets to make a pair of mine carts into a makeshift aircraft, or even just as simple as some well timed explosives when all the normal weapons are broken.

But these aren't just separate elements of the game, they're all connected. If Breath of the Wild is about anything, it's freedom. Freedom to go wherever, and do whatever. Obviously it's not limitless, and the only frustrating parts of the game are when that freedom is stripped away in favor of more scripted scenarios, or the worst forced stealth sequence I've played this side of Majora's Mask. That, and the whole subplot with Link disguising himself as a woman to get into the women only town, which is, um, problematic, let's say.

The thing is, in a game as enormous as Breath of the Wild, a game as otherwise incredible and truly awe-inspiring as this, those end up feeling like nitpicks. It's not just easily my game of the decade, it's the closest a game has ever come to dethroning Mass Effect from my favorite game ever. Maybe at some point, with enough time passed, and nostalgia, it'll get there. Who knows.

I could go on and on, but I think it's clear how much I love this game. Few games have ever made climbing to the top of a mountain, just to enjoy the view, so good, and pure of an experience. Now let's just hope the sequel doesn't screw it up somehow.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild wins:

  • World of the decade.

  • "Emergent game play" of the decade.

  • Vistas of the decade.

  • Best use of the sparseness of music to make its appearance have all the more impact of the decade.

  • Adventure of the decade.

  • Do-rag of the decade.

  • Most mountainous game of the decade.

  • Most seeing mountains, going to them, and climbing them of the decade.

Thank you for reading, especially if you got through both Parts of this end of the decade special. In terms of video games, I think it was a really incredible ten years. Maybe not consistent, but on the whole, there were more fantastic games than I could even recount here. And looking forward to the future, I'm excited. Excited for what's possible with the new consoles, excited for a future where, hopefully, cross play is the standard. But most of all, I'm excited for the next game that I don't see coming. The next game that goes from "what's that" to knocking my socks off.

I'm sure it'll be another decade worth remembering.

Let's just hope climate change doesn't end us before we get there.

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The First Decennial Moosies Video Games of the Years of the Decade Awards, Part I!

There's been a lot of rumblings lately about the decade coming to a close. A lot of people trying to find the best tweet of the decade, best game of the decade, best movie, etc. It is fun to think about things like that, but I would never limit myself to something so pedestrian. No, instead, as a celebration of the many years that I've done this, I am going all out. Or...at least mostly out. I've re-written this intro multiple times, along with parts of the actual meat of this, and cut several things. Things that certainly defined the decade, but... To be frank, it felt wrong to write about the decade in games without going into serious stuff like Gamer Gate, and... I do not have the energy for that.

So, what I've ended up with are a couple "things" from the decade, and a whole bunch of games I felt are worth remembering. Or maybe I can't forget, even if I want to. It's only appropriate that something written about the last ten years be messy, really.

That, and despite my best efforts to keep this short...it ended up long. Long enough that it's been split in twain. And if this isn't enough, feel free to read my 2019 Moosies! But here...is Part I:

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My favorite technical "innovation" of the decade: The Share Button.

It was very easy to roll my eyes when Sony announced the PS4 was going to have a dedicated Share Button. But it wasn't until the console was out, and a certain revelation occurred that completely changed my thinking on it. And that revelation, was this video:

The ease with which the Share Button, and the PS4's constant recording of game play, allows people to share (the branding works!) videos and images of glitches and other nonsense showed me a whole new world of what was possible with social media integration. Or in other words it meant a newfound proliferation of videos and screenshots of bugs in games, and that they could be actually recorded directly, rather than blurry shots taken with a phone (not that that stops people from still doing that).

But, over time, I found myself just taking screenshots for fun, posting pictures of cute in game animals or other things, often with the text of, "friend." It's silly, and it's goofy, but it's fun to see my friends posting stuff, see them enjoying mine, and all because of a simple button on the controller. A button so simple that Xbox One's lack of it, despite the same ability to post screenshots and videos existing on the console, likely led to a lot of people not going through all that just to share a picture.

It eventually led to Nintendo copying it on the Switch, and Microsoft doing the same on Series X. If anything, they should have rolled that feature out sooner, on some revision of the Xbox One controller, but there's likely a lot more to complicate that process than I would know.

Regardless, silly though it sounded at first, the Share Button has truly been a great, and fun feature.

Gaming's lost social media platform: The Miiverse.

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Why dedicate a button to sharing things to existing social media platforms when Nintendo could just make their own? Oh, the Miiverse, what a strange and wondrous place it was. Again, it's easy to mock now, and I'm sure that's coming through a bit in my tone, but I genuinely liked the Miiverse. There were a lot of cool ideas in there. Having pages dedicated to each game, a relatively easy way to get there, and see other people talking about it is a cool idea!

Even if a lot of Miiverse just turned into memes and nonsense, it was fun. Fun, and though again people mock it for this, but it was a place that lots of kids used. Granted, given the not so small number of people intentionally breaking the rules to see what would slip through the cracks...maybe that wasn't always a good thing. The point I'm trying to make is, there were probably a lot of kids not generally allowed to use a lot of the rest of the internet unsupervised that got a chance to use the Miiverse, and make friends there.

And people mock it for it.

I used the Miiverse a decent amount in my first year of owning a Wii U (the whole story of my time with the Wii U was a single year of heavy use then basically nothing until Breath of the Wild). It was fun, it was silly, and it's a shame that it's gone. Was it perfect? Absolutely not! But I miss it, and I doubt that anything quite like it will ever exist again.

Rather than just do a list of my favorite ten or so games of the decade, first I'm going to write a bit about a bunch of games that I think are all interesting in one way or another, but not necessarily "games of the generation" type games. Games that, for good or ill, have stuck with me, and helped make the decade in games what it was. Not in any particular order, either. If nothing else, I want people to look at these games and think, "Yes, these sure are the games Moosey would highlight at the end of a decade."

Tokyo Jungle, the best survival game of the decade.

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Is Tokyo Jungle a good game? Not really. But is it a game that I love because of its absurd premise, and its dedication to that weirdness? One hundred percent. Sony developed and published a game on the PS3 where you start as a Pomeranian trying to survive in post apocalyptic Tokyo. The actual flow of the games itself isn't really that weird mechanically, but the whole aura around it is so, so odd, and I love that it exists. I'm so happy that at one point in time, this bizarre little thing was allowed to exist.

Now if only Sony would make a proper sequel, or at least port the game to PS4. Or, really, make the game that feels as out of nowhere and bizarre as this did then.

No Man's Sky, and the art of the comeback.

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Lots of games have changed significantly after their initial release. One of the defining new(ish) things from the decade in games is the ability to so readily, and drastically change games via updates. But in most games those updates amount to balance changes, bug fixes, things that are so small most people wouldn't notice them. That, or they're games that are explicitly in "early access," and thus not technically finished.

Out of all the games that I played over the decade, No Man's Sky is the one that sticks out for both having changed the most, and for the majority of that change being positive. Launch No Man's Sky (a game I enjoyed!) was barren and featureless in ways that really made it feel like it was not a finished game, rather than a sixty dollar product sold on store shelves (but that, I'm sure, is a long topic I am not equipped to discuss fully). But the amount of changes made over the years, including very fundamental ways the game is interacted with, and even the physical planets themselves, were enormous.

Like, for example, I had built a base on this wonderful planet. Blue foliage everywhere, not really much water, but it was nice. Calm. Lovely. It was a joy to return there, store my old stuff, build new things, etc.

Then one day there was an update that changed everything, and it became a toxic mess.

So, yes, that update left me a bit miffed. But additions like an actual story that was good, a third person mode that changed the vibe of the game more than I expected, vast improvements to the spaceship combat, and loads and loads of other things, they all make No Man's Sky feel like a different game now than when I first played it.

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Of course, there's much that can be said about the loss of those older versions of the game. Someone could take a PS4 disc, and install it without any updates to get the patch-less version of the game, but what about the version with the early updates? Or the updates a year or so into the life of the game? I'm not saying it's a tragic loss, just something I think about occasionally.

PT, the harbinger of the delisting doom.

What is sort of a tragic trend, however, are games that get delisted. And when that topic comes to mind, PT really is the first notable one. The demo for a canceled Silent Hill game that Konami tried to bury forever, even after it inspired a new generation of low to mid budget indie horror games. It's an interesting little thing on its own, but the fact that it was not so effectively wiped from the face of the Earth is a large part of the mystique around it these days.

The worst thing, though, is that PT being delisted was not the end, but the beginning of a bad trend. Games being removed from digital stores seems to be only happening at a faster and faster rate. High profile games too, like several of the Forza Horizon games. Sometimes these games return, like Alan Wake, but sometimes they're just gone to all but those who bought them already.

And in some cases, like PT, even they're even gone to the people who had downloaded them, but lost that data. Okay, PT was free, but the point is that this is bigger than that one game. Thinking of games as just some unimportant thing that is okay to be lost to time is...sad. Games are art like any other form of entertainment, and even if the majority of them aren't great (like all forms of entertainment!), that doesn't mean they should just cease to exist.

To be fair, there are still ways to get PT. I had lost it at some point after swapping in a bigger hard drive to my PS4, but after some snooping, I...found a way to get it back on there (it wasn't that difficult or nefarious, I didn't mod my PS4 or anything like that). I dunno if that way still works, but at least people are trying to preserve this stuff as best they can, or find ways around these things.

Especially when, from the sound of it, most of the time these delistings happen for legal reasons. Song licenses ending, or maybe it's car related for stuff like Forza. That Ducktales game was delisted, because I guess Disney and Capcom decided it was cheaper to just let it fade into the ether than let people still be able to buy it. Or, you know, just let people have it.

But capitalism couldn't that happen, oh no.

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Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, my ticket into online games with friends.

Okay, this wasn't the first game I ever played online with friends. There was about a year back in the previous decade where I played 360 games online with a group of high school friends. But between then and Advanced Warfare, most stuff I played online was just me against random people.

This is the game, perhaps along with a certain other one I'll get to, that got me to buy a headset with a mic on it. To...gasp...talk with people!! Not the randos, but my friends. Newfound friends that I had made this decade, and though now it's hard to imagine my life without them (even if I've really only met one of them outside the internet), back then we didn't know each other as well as we all do now.

Playing games, chatting about nonsense, coming up with all our goofy in jokes (still think about yelling "TWO XP" on double XP weekends), it's really one of my fondest memories from the decade. Obviously those sorts of things extend beyond one or two games, but when I think about where it started, it was Advanced Warfare. Still my favorite Call of Duty of the generation, and likely to be the last one where I really enjoyed both the single player and multiplayer modes. The double jump into air-dash is one of my favorite "feeling" things of the decade, and it's a shame Call of Duty decided to move away from cool future stuff, and back to the boring/morally troubling realm of "modern" "warfare."

The odyssey, and legacy of Destiny 1 & 2.

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Destiny, of course, is that other game from 2014 that helped push me into playing games online with friends (and never mind that I'm pretty sure Destiny released prior to Advanced Warfare). It was probably just as important to that as Advanced Warfare was, but when I think back on the Destiny games, I feel like there's a lot more there to dig into. Beyond my personal experiences with them, though that all ties in as well.

Like No Man's Sky, the Destiny games have changed quite a bit. But in these cases, it was less a fundamental re-imagining of the core of the game, and more along the lines of adding more stuff onto the games. And yet, despite the fact that the changes to Destiny over time haven't been as immediately drastic as changes to many other games, I can't think of any other games where the general reaction to them has been as much of a roller coaster.

My own experience with these games began with the highs of obsessing over base Destiny, which led to my burning out fast. But, a handful of months later I came back for the House of Wolves expansion, and while playing at a more measured pace, was able to have fun again. Then I stopped when everyone else came back for Taken King, because I was so stubborn I didn't want to have to buy the bad expansion to play the new good one.

But for everyone else, Taken King was Destiny coming into its own. The moment where everything fell into place, and it worked. Thinking back, I wish I had come back and kept playing, if only just for that one expansion. I missed out.

Then the next year was another expansion, that some people liked, but a lot of people ignored, and the year after was Destiny 2. Which is when I returned, and the roller coaster continued along. I liked it at launch, but then the first expansion was bad, the next was better, and Forsaken then was great! For my money, Forsaken is the best the Destiny series has ever been, and I wish it was that good now.

Because Shadowkeep was underwhelming in every sense of the word, and the seasonal stuff in the months since hasn't been interesting either. It's just... The core of the game is still fun. Destiny 2 is a fun game, one of the most fun I've ever played! I'm sure there's countless things to tear apart in individual balance changes, and all of that, but at a base level, this is the same Destiny 2, just with more stuff than at launch, and yet...

I guess it's just a combination of fatigue at the old stuff, and the new stuff not being plentiful or good enough. It's a shame too, because I would love to be championing this game, now that it's free to play, and Bungie is fully independent. I've put more hours into Destiny 2 than any other game this generation. Possibly more than any other single game in my life. Almost certainly so if Destiny 1 is included in that hour count.

There's so much I could write about these games. Originally I also intended to write about how much they've influenced so many other games this generation, from loot stuff, to even those menus that I don't like. Not that Destiny pioneered much, if any of it, more that when I see Assassin's Creed using those same menus, with similar loot systems, it feels like Destiny is the game they're aping.

This one is included SPECIFICALLY as a joke for two people, one of whom might be reading this.
This one is included SPECIFICALLY as a joke for two people, one of whom might be reading this.

Of all the games that defined the decade, Destiny and Destiny 2 are two of them. Certainly helped define the generation, but I guess I could save that for next time when everyone is doing their "games of the generation" lists, which won't at all feel like mostly a redo of the games of the decade stuff. Just with less Mass Effect.

Speaking of...

Disappointment of the decade: Mass Effect Andromeda.

Before I say what I'm going to say, I need to clarify: I am being serious. I'm not joking, I'm not trying to make light of anything.

Mass Effect Andromeda made me depressed. Literally, emotionally, physically depressed. I try not to talk about it too much, because usually it's not really that bad, but I get depressed, like, capital D Depression, depressed. I mean, just in general.

Mass Effect Andromeda made me feel the way capital D Depression does.

Again, I'm being serious. I only played a very, very small amount of this game, when there was a free trial. It just made me depressed, so profoundly sad that something I loved so much had fallen so low, and even to this day it doesn't make total sense to me. It seemed far from the worst game I had ever played, but something about it just made me feel so bad I had to stop. If I went back to it, and tried again, maybe I could get through it, but frankly I can't think of a single reason why I would want to, or that would be worth my time.

It's depressing, and no other game has ever made me feel that bad in that way. So much so that I felt like I had to say something about it here, and the best I could muster is to say it's the most disappointing game of the decade. So disappointing I can't even tarnish Todd Howard by making that same joke from the Moosies.

It just makes me sad, and I wish, so badly, that BioWare could make another good game, Mass Effect or otherwise.

Spelunky, the rogue-like-lite-like of our era.

Like Destiny, I can't really say with certainty that Spelunky really did anything specific first, but I do think it's the game responsible for the rise of procedurally generated single run games. You know, rogue-like...lite...likes. I will never stop making that joke. In all seriousness, Spelunky was certainly the first prolific one, and still one of my favorites.

I never really got good at Spelunky. In my 400+ attempts, across two consoles (an odd case of my save Transfarring seamlessly from PS3 to PS4, without my even realizing it would), I only beat Olmec once. Never even tried to get any further than that, as I only made it to Olmec twice. Once very early on, and once much, much later, when I finally beat the game.

Between it being the catalyst for the spread of a (semi) new genre, and being so good in its own right, it's definitely a noteworthy game of the decade.

Transfarring.

I dare you to find an image that's more 2010 than this.
I dare you to find an image that's more 2010 than this.

Peace Walker was a good game, and I think it'd be more fun if we used the word "Transfarring" instead of "cloud saves," "cross saves," etc.

Dust: An Elysian Tail.

This was almost my game of the year in 2012, but my obsession with Mass Effect won out in the end. This game, one I loved so much I got all the Achievements in the 360 version, and went back years later to Platinum it on PS4, was just so darn good in every way. The art style, the fun and fast combat, the world, the story, everything was just great! And I could sit down to play it all over again, and have just as much fun now.

The Evil Within 2.

One of those games I bought half on a whim, but I just keep thinking about it! Such a cool mix of stealth mechanics, and survival horror-ness, and it was just a great game that I liked a whole lot. It was weird too. Unafraid to be a game about sneaking around zombies in a suburban neighborhood at one point, running from an unkillable monster through Twin Peaks looking halls another moment, then fighting a big goopy yogurt monster. It was great, and still one of the best spooky games I've ever played.

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Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.

A great game, starring one of the great heroes of our time, Donkey Kong, and featuring truly one of the best soundtracks of the decade.

Overwatch and the proliferation of loot boxes.

Some games, are just fun games that I played, and remember fondly. Some, whether done well or not, are forever games that I do truly, keep playing forever. But some, some captured my attention for a good long while, and just slowly lost me over time. Or maybe that's just Overwatch. I played so, so much of this game in 2016. It was super fun, and there was an astounding amount of variety in the characters! At least for first person shooters, anyway.

And they kept updating it for free, with new characters, and maps, which was so cool! But...those free updates came at a cost.

Again, did Overwatch pioneer the concept of boxes with random items in them? No, that was Mass Effect 3 (prove me wrong!). But like Destiny, and Spelunky, Overwatch is the game that everyone else wanted to be, and the one they copied the loot boxes from. It's a shame, because loot boxes...are bad.

I get the people who (at least used to) say, "Oh, it's not so bad if it doesn't affect the game play." I understand that argument. I also think it's completely wrong. Let me recount my own personal experience with the loot boxes in Overwatch.

I have not bought a single one. I paid my sixty dollars for the game (grumbling all the same at there not being a forty dollar version at launch on consoles like there was on PC), and have not given them a single cent since. Obviously there's always a temptation when the skins and stuff are cool, but the pace with which I got boxes for leveling up in the game was just enough to keep me satisfied.

Until the first big event.

2016 was an Olympics year, and due to licensing, I'm sure, Blizzard instead made up their own fake Olympics, and put some vaguely international sports themed stuff in the game. Now, most of it, was whatever. I think I got a Tracer skin with the UK flag as a cape that I used for a while, but that's not the point of the story.

McCree got a skin where he had half an American skin draped over a shoulder. And let me be clear, it was not a "good" skin. But I wanted it. Because I thought it was funny, and because I convinced myself that "American McCree" was an "American McGee" joke. You know, the guy that worked on that Alice in Wonderland game that I never played, or had any interest in.

Anyway, I wanted that dumb, bad skin, but there was no way to get it aside from loot boxes. So I kept playing, playing, playing, obsessively trying to get this skin that I didn't even think was actually good, I just wanted to use it ironically. I didn't, and I came closer than I ever have in my life to spending real life money on boxes at a random chance to get an item.

I'm glad I didn't, but then I realized how insidious loot boxes are. Especially for cosmetic items. If Overwatch was a game where some people had an advantage because they paid more money, I would have just stopped playing. But when the money "only" leads to cool outfits and costumes, and the coolest ones are only available during limited time events...it became clear how this stuff is designed to just prey on people wanting to be and look cool.

Now, the way this story should go is that I got so disgusted I stopped playing the game forever, but... I kept playing. Less and less over time, as the various changes to the game started losing my interest. First it was the changes to the overtime, then it was odd little changes here and there, to some characters. Some were made better over time, like Roadhog, but some I just didn't understand. Why'd they keep changing Symmetra so often? Not that I played her much, but it was just odd.

Another contender is the time I technically got two Legendaries in one box...except one was just coins.
Another contender is the time I technically got two Legendaries in one box...except one was just coins.

And eventually I stopped altogether. No specific reason, I just did. Though, I will say that combining attack and defense characters into one group was kind of...baffling to me, and that ended up being the thing.

Then the whole debacle with Blizzard and that guy being banned from Hearthstone happened, and it was pretty easy for me to uninstall the game. Not that I'd really played it in the last year anyway.

I wrote way too much about Overwatch, I'm sorry. The next game is me on my good nonsense, trust me.

Batman Arkham Origins.

I love the Batman Arkham games. The first one was truly a revelation, because I loved Batman so much growing up. And I still do, it's just a bit more complicated now, philosophically, because... Okay, I don't have time to get into that. Suffice it to say, Batman is perfect for the medium of video games, and the Arkham series was great because it captured so many aspects of the Dark Knight so well.

Fun combat that influenced so many others, it'd certainly be a game I'd write about here...if only Asylum hadn't been in the previous decade. Stealth that is fast, fluid, and feels like a Batman version of stealth. It's not Solid Snake or Sam Fisher slinking around cameras, and avoiding fights. It's Batman swooping in from the shadows, knocking out foes before they even realize it, and striking fear in the remaining enemies. The only thing they didn't nail was the World's Greatest Detective, as these games always felt more like pointing Batman in the right direction so he could solve the crime, rather than making it feel like I solved it.

And this one, oft maligned as the unneeded prequel from a different studio, I assure you, is secretly the best one. My favorite, at least. It's got the best story, consistently good and interesting level design for the stealth portions, and some fun twists on the combat. Including enemies that can counter Batman's counters! Add in the best boss fights of the series, a jolly Christmas setting, and what's not to like?

Really, I love all of these games, and while none of them are perfect, I've played all of them multiple times, and I could play another new one, right now. It wouldn't even need to do anything new, I'd just hope it wouldn't lean so heavily on Batmobile tank fights like Knight did.

Dark Souls.

Ah, the Dark Souls of-

Contradiction: Spot the Liar.

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I never actually played this game. I just loved watching Giant Bomb's playthrough of it. And, really, I think it's a lovely game (one that I do own, as a means of supporting the devs at the time), but if I want to say something about it, and the decade, it really has nothing to do with the game itself. Instead, it's how habits regarding video of video games have changed over the decade. A decade ago, I wasn't watching Let's Plays of games, or really anything remotely like that. The closest thing was Angry Video Game Nerd videos, and even those, only occasionally, and not that many of them.

Now, mostly because of Giant Bomb, they've become a regular part of my entertainment diet. They're content that I consume. And that's not just a change in my habits, the spread of these kinds of videos over the last decade has been incredible. They're a thing now, and it's great both because it allows people to experience games they otherwise wouldn't, and in some cases ways to experience games in ways they wouldn't on their own.

Furi.

Remember Furi? That boss fight game with the incredible soundtrack? I still think about that game. It was a ton of fun, and one of the most styyyyylish games of the decade. At least in my book. It's the sort of game where I don't have anything new or insightful to say about it, other than it's a game I still think about regularly. It was fun, furious, and had one of my favorite soundtracks of the decade.

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The almost self-parody of Metal Gear Rising: REVENGEANCE.

If there's any series that I love, in spite of its many issues, it's Metal Gear. And if there's a genre that I love, in spite of its frequent issues, it's stylish action games. So it's no wonder that the game that combines the two is one of my standouts from the decade. Maybe not actually Platinum's best game (that's probably Bayonetta 2?), but definitely my favorite. It takes all the ludicrous-ity of Metal Gear, condenses down to its most important bits, and fills in the rest with the tight swordplay I expect from Platinum.

To this day, I can't tell how much of the story was trying to be Metal Gear serious, or if there was some amount of self-parody in there. "Nanomachines, son." It's just, it's perfect. Whenever I see people wondering if a Metal Gear game could work without Kojima at the helm, I just think they didn't play REVENGEANCE.

Broader than this game itself, it's a bit disappointing what happened with Metal Gear. REVENGEANCE was killer, MGSV, which you know I'll get to later (in Part II), is for my money, still the absolute best stealth game ever made. But since then, all we've gotten is a zombie survival game and...nothing. I don't expect Konami to go racing out and fund a game with the scope and everything of MGSV again, but it'd be nice if they could let some other people, people with cool ideas about where to take the stealth genre, people who could absolutely tell a Metal Gear worthy story (I know I could, seriously!!!!), let them work on something Metal Gear.

Instead we got MGS3 pachinko. Alas.

Iconoclasts.

Remember this game? I do. Mostly because I keep listening to the soundtrack as background music whilst I write. But it's not just that, this is one of those games where no single aspect of it was amazing, and I found not insignificant portions of it to be frustrating, and yet...I keep thinking about it. Something about the story, and the world of the game has really stuck with me. Definitely worth checking out for anyone reading this who has no idea what game I'm talking about.

The best Mario Game: Super Mario 3D World.

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I love Mario, but when thinking back on all of the Mario games, I dunno that there's really many of them that I would pick as some of my favorite games ever. Even 3D World, I'm not exactly sure would rate in that group, but it is, if nothing else, my favorite Mario game. It combines what I like about 3D platforming, but gives it a faster, more focused pace than the previous 3D Marios. Well, probably aside from 3D Land, but I never played it.

It's a super fun, excellent game, and an absolute crime that it hasn't been brought to Switch. If Nintendo is going to keep porting Wii U games to Switch, they need to bring this one. They brought the mediocre at best New Super Mario Bros. U to Switch, for crying out loud! Is Nintendo just afraid it'll compete against Mario Odyssey? It's just baffling to me that this, one of their best games from the decade, hasn't made it over yet.

A Way Out.

While there weren't ten games of 2018 better than A Way Out, I'm afraid I have to admit there were quite a few more than ten games better than it in the whole decade. But, the experience of playing it with a close friend of mine, even if we weren't geographically close, was certainly one of my favorites of the decade.

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Matt Rorie's Alpha Protocol and Asura's Wrath.

What do those two games have in common? Nothing, probably. But for me personally, each has an association of playing it with a friend (different friend for each), despite neither game having anything even resembling literal multiplayer. They were just fun games to hand the controller back and forth with, especially Alpha Protocol. I distinctly remember at least one point where I made a decision that my friend was not happy with, and even if I don't actually remember what the decision itself was, that moment remains in my brain as a funny reminder.

Dragon's Dogma (Dark Arisen).

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I'd be lying if I said my admiration for this game was purely my own, and not influenced in the slightest by the Austin Walkers of the world refusing to shut up about it over the years. That sounds rude but Austin's never going to read this and ultimately I mean this positively. I found myself replaying it in 2019, and while it doesn't hold up in every single respect, the best parts are still great. The combat is still a lot of fun, and the Pawns (summonable AI characters created by other players) are still a neat proto-Strand Game element. This isn't me saying Dragon's Dogma was the first Strand game, that was clearly Noby Noby Boy, which sadly, released in the prior decade.

NieR:Automata.

I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about this game. I enjoyed it, and looking back on stuff I wrote immediately after finishing it, it reads like I liked it a lot, but I don't love it like so many other people do. The thing is I don't know how much of that is my true feelings, or me just feeling like I don't like it because other people like it so much more. Does that make any sense? Or has Yoko Taro just infected me with a permanent orb of confusion regarding this game? Regardless, it was certainly an interesting game of the decade, and one that made me wish I had played the original NieR, both at all, and when it was new. Before knowing anything about it.

Best moose riding of the decade, if nothing else.
Best moose riding of the decade, if nothing else.

Saints Row the Third.

What better game to close out my "interesting games of the decade" with than this? What a delightful, nonsensical bit of chaotic fun this game was. It really was so good back in the day, and I've got a whole lot of fond memories about it. It wasn't perfect, and my memories of its awful treatment of sex workers that I had back then would probably only mean it's actually worse than I remember, given how much I've grown and changed as a person in the years since then.

I really loved it at the time, and part of me is worried that if I ever went back to it, it wouldn't hold up. So instead, I'll just hold onto the memories I have of it, and think about how much fun it was.

That's it for Part I! Here's a reminder that my regular Moosies for 2019 lives here! Thank you for reading, and check back soon for Part II!

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Eleventh Annual Moosies Video Game Awards! (2019)

It's that jolly time of year, when everyone waits around the Gaymer Tree for all the video game awards to appear out of thin air! And fear not, everyone's favorite awards blog from an unprofessional video game write-about-er has returned yet again! It wouldn't be the end of the year without me writing too much about the games I already wrote too much about, often while just repeating what I wrote about them months ago! And it especially wouldn't be the end of the decade without that!

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There's a lot of people out there saying that 2019 was a weak year for games. And I'm not going to say it was the strongest year, but I still think it had plenty of great games. Was it as strong as the last few years, which were all fantastic? Not really. It was more of a year with really solid, capital G Good games, than anything revolutionary. I played a healthy amount of games I really like, and I'm here to tell you all about why they were good!

And maybe mention a couple games that I still enjoyed, but wish had been better.

But first, the traditional recounting of last year's predictions, and the (in)accuracy of each!

11th Annual Moosies 2019 Game of the Year: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.

I always open the predictions with a bold guess at what the next year's game of the year will be. A silly exercise, but one I enjoy nonetheless. You'll have to keep reading to see if I was correct!

Sony, attaining new levels of hubris, announces the PlayStation 5, featuring the Perfect Cell Processor. With that, it has full backwards compatibility with PS3 games, but not PS4 games. Costs far too much money.

Aside from the name PlayStation 5, I completely got that one wrong. Though in my defense, the idea of the PS5 being announced and released in the year 2019 seemed more reasonable back in 2018. Of course there's still plenty of time for them to announce the actual price and end up with another five hundred and ninety nine US dollars debacle (I don't think they will, though).

Despite the fact that everyone else seems to think The Last of Us Part II is coming in 2019, it doesn't.

Honestly, if I only get one prediction correct a year, I consider it a success. And I was correct. I still don't know where everyone got the idea it was going to release in 2019. Maybe it was people with insider knowledge hearing rumblings of them aiming for 2019 and then missing. And we'll see if they can hit the current date without delaying (again).

Nintendo puts out the New Nintendo Switch XL, which is a bigger, more expensive Switch. Does not drop the price on the existing model. Everyone else buys one (including those who already had a Switch), but I still hold out because they're expensive.

Well, by the letter of the law, I was wrong, because instead they announced the Switch Lite, which is smaller, and cheaper. BUT! Lots of people have bought Switch Lites, even those who already owned Switches. Nintendo hasn't dropped the price on the Switch original, AND I still haven't gotten one, so I'll say I was half right.

EA, those bastards, announce the Mass Effect Trilogy for Switch, but still don't remaster those games for PS4.

No Mass Effect Trilogy remasters, no Mass Effect remasters of any sort. STILL.

Microsoft, in their continuing attempts to get people to care about the Xbox brand, starts giving Xbox Ones out literally for free.

Wrong, but they're basically giving out new Game Pass subscriptions for free, and thus "free" games, so the spirit of this, that Microsoft was going to go to new lengths to get people into the Xbox ecosystem, that was right!

Tired of waiting for another game, Captain Falcon decides to leave this galaxy, and find peace amongst the stars. Meanwhile, Nintendo officially announces that rumored Star Fox racing game, and Falcon has a brief twinge of pain as he looks back in the direction of the Solar System, before he continues onward on his journey.

I had forgotten about the rumors of there being a Star Fox racing game. Imagine if they actually made a futuristic racing game, but instead of F-Zero it was Star Fox? I know I would be a bit disgruntled.

Sony not being at E3 turns out to be a ruse when Phil Spencer tears his Xbox shirt off on stage to reveal a PlayStation shirt underneath. Then Jack Tretton and some cronies storm the stage to announce his return.

Maybe someday I'll keep my predictions to things that might feasibly happen. Maybe.

Metroid Prime 4 shown off, has some bizarre control scheme that is needlessly gimmicky, makes the game worse, and is not accessible to people with disabilities. There's no option to change it.

The game got rebooted, or whatever terminology one might use to describe them starting over in development. So we'll have to wait longer still to see if this becomes true.

EA cancels that Respawn developed Star Wars game that they haven't even shown a logo for yet.

Wrong!

2 Blood 2 Borne announced as a PS5 launch game.

Wrong!

Half-Life 3 announced as a card pack for Artifact.

Given that a new Half-Life game was announced at all, I'm going to say this was...a third correct.

Not a stellar year for me getting predictions correct, but that's why I'm not in the predicting business! What business am I in? Well, none, technically, so I'll just get straight to the top ten, and other awards!

10. Todd Howard Presents the Most Disappointing Game of the Year that I still enjoyed: The Outer Worlds.

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By this point I think we all know the drill: Disappointment does not mean the game is bad, or that I didn't like it. What it means is that, amongst all the games I played this year, this is the one that felt like it most missed the mark between what I expected it to be, and what it actually was. There were long stretches of this game where it really felt like what I wanted from this style of game, and it was exciting. There are some really good characters, and some good stories told along the way.

If nothing else, the game gave us Parvati, who is one of my favorite characters of the year, and in the last few years. Who would have thought that having a heartwarming story about a queer character without any sort of tragic or bad twist ending would be so endearing? A lot of people, it was a rhetorical question, and you know it was a good one because I felt the need to explain that. But seriously, between Ashley Burch's performance being as good as ever, the writing (written by someone with actual life experience with the sort of things Parvati experienced (again, who'd have guessed that getting people who actually know about these things results in more authenticity?)), and the time the game gives her story to breathe, it was endearing, and the thing from this game that will stick with me the longest.

It's just a bummer that good smaller stories like that had to be saddled to boring/needless combat, too many uninteresting side quests, and a main story that peters out, and loses steam by the end. Many of the pieces of a truly great game are here, but there's just not quite enough of them, and some of them are just put together wrong.

The game itself is largely at fault for its shortcomings (of course), but really I shouldn't have gotten my hopes up so high. I let years of other people's rose tinted glasses change my opinion of New Vegas (a game I liked but never loved as much as so many do), and let a new game in that style from many of those people elevate itself in my mind to a level it realistically couldn't reach. That, and those early reviews were so positive, they're partly to blame too.

So, in a shorter version, The Outer Worlds gets that not so glamorous position of being my Number 10 game of the year. The game that almost didn't make it onto the list, and maybe in the years to come I'll regret putting it on there at all. Especially when the main reason is that I liked Parvati a lot. But sometimes a single, very bright spot is all it takes to make something worth remembering.

The Outer Worlds also wins:

  • Best friend of the year: Parvati.

  • Loudest level up noise.

Todd Howard also Presents: The biggest mess of a game that I still enjoyed: Anthem.

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A banner year for Todd Howard presenting awards for an awards blog he doesn't even know exists. Gosh, Anthem. This game really is a mess in just about every way a game could be. Technically, design wise, story wise. Which isn't to say every one of those is bad. Or completely bad. Because the game, when everything is working right, is fun! And even if the story is a lot of the same "ancient civilization blah blah blah" stuff that Mass Effect leaned too heavily on, there's still some decent characters in there too (along with one really annoying one (or three, depending on how you look at it)), and there's enough interesting ideas that I don't think the universe is worth abandoning.

But let me tell you, it's frustrating when I try playing with a couple friends and the game is just consistently broken for one of them, for no discernible reason at all. It's frustrating when a solid core of a combat system isn't used to its fullest potential because the majority of the missions might as well have the same fights copy and pasted. It's frustrating when one of the few boss types feels straight up broken, and has attacks that seem almost impossible to avoid. It's frustrating when there's no way to respawn after dying in a lot of missions without waiting to be revived. Frustrating to have to slowly walk around town, etc.

Some of these things were fixed after or around the time I stopped playing. How many though? I don't know! I still have hopes that one day this game might get its Taken King moment, and be revitalized, and live up at least closer to its potential. But those hopes are really low, if I'm being honest. It was still fun, just frustrating at almost every turn.

9. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.

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Star Wars discourse is one of the most exhausting ones out there (at least in the realm of entertainment), so I don't want to get wrapped up in all of that. That said, Star Wars is one of those things that has its place in my heart. Yes, it's nostalgia. That doesn't make the part of me that lights up when I hear the low hum of a lightsaber any less true. Even without the Star Wars-y-ness, I think Fallen Order would still be a good game, but it really is the Star Wars-y-ness that sparked that inner joy, that nostalgia that so many crave so much.

(Addendum: I wrote the rest of this before having seen Rise of Skywalker, and let me tell you, it takes more than just nostalgia to get me to like a Star Wars thing, and that is ALL I will say about that mess that would make Todd Howard faint.)

Another part of why I enjoyed this game as much as I did is that it's been so long since the last time I played a Star Wars game. At one point in time there were so many that Star Wars might as well have been its own genre. But before Fallen Order, the last Star Wars game I played more than a pre-release beta for was Force Unleashed. In 2008. There have been Star Wars games since then, but an underwhelming sequel to an already underwhelming game (Force Unleashed II), and the new Battlefront games just weren't what I was looking for.

Fallen Order isn't perfect, but it gets the important things right. It gets that excitement Star Wars should bring. It understands that lightsabers are cool, that sword fights are fun. But most importantly, it knows that the things that really makes Star Wars so memorable are the characters. Does Fallen Order have the best cast of characters in any Star Wars thing ever? No, but it at least has story as a main focus, and has a solid cast that does a better job of telling a compelling story than any other Star Wars game I've played. Before you jump down my throat, I've only played an hour or two of KoTOR (YEARS ago), and none of KoTOR II, so I know, I know.

It doesn't do anything revolutionary, but just having a likable lead in Cal helps. Having great side characters like Cere and Greeze made it a story I cared about. When I think back on Force Unleashed, all I remember are silly physics, enemies holding hands and then onto things to resist being pulled away, and bad quick time events. When the inevitable sequel to this game is announced, what's going to excite me is knowing I'll get to go on more fun adventures with characters I like.

That, and it's a fun game too! The swordplay is a good mix between doing cool stuff, but without ever going into the complete over the top territory of something like a Metal Gear Rising. Which, I love games like that, but it is nice to play something a little more grounded, but without quite going into the needing to manage my stamina and be careful about every single move territory of a Dark Souls.

Which is maybe ironic, given the checkpoint system in Fallen Order so closely imitates Dark Souls. Not really to the game's benefit, but not in a way that detracted either. No, that was the technical issues. While not the worst I played this year, there was kind of a pervasiveness to the game's oddities that make them hard to ignore. Too many instances of enemies T-posing their way into position, too many stutters as the game streams in the next part of the level, or physics going wonky on bits of clothing in cutscenes. Or how the low health warning around the edge of the screen and heartbeat played through the credits because I finished the game with low health (thankfully they weren't in the cutscenes, at least).

I list all these things out not because each individual one ruined the game, or that even in totality they ruined it. I list them out because if this game was totally polished in the way that a AAA Star Wars game should be, it might have been a spot or two higher on the list. But at the end of the day, I'm just happy to finally have a new Star Wars game I really like. Happy to have another fun crew, happy to have had more puzzles to solve, and more Stormtroopers to fell in combat.

Oh, and BD-1 is such a delight. I love little robot friends and BD-1 is one of the best.

Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order also wins:

  • Best use of Star Wars in a while.

  • Best Robot Buddy: BD-1.

  • Best enemy banter.

  • Most dangerous mountain goats.

  • Best wall-running.

  • Best surprise cameo.

  • The, "In retrospect I appreciate the story even more because it's coherent and good unlike a certain movie" award.

  • Best story involving uncovering things relating to an ancient civilization in space.

Best Castletroid Game: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.

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What a long journey it was for this game to get out to people. And, unlike many a game that went through similarly laborious periods of crowd funding, this one turned out to be good! It doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it does have a few fun spins on memorable things from the games it so lovingly pays homage to, and is just a fun time. Plus, it's the only game I played this year where eating pizza gave me a permanent stat boost.

8. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.

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Quite a bit lower than my predicted Game of the Year, huh? And yet, I wouldn't say the game is disappointing, aside from maybe the story. In taking a more direct approach than the Dark Souls games, or Bloodborne, and leaning more heavily on characters, Sekiro just didn't stick with me in a lore or story way. Part of that was leaning so heavily on a real world setting, even if there are fantastical things in there. Exploring through semi-realistic depictions of olde timey Japan just aren't as interesting as delving into purely fantastical places like Lordran, or Yharnam. Sure, both Dark Souls and Bloodborne heavily take aesthetic inspiration from a lot of different things, both real and fictional, but those games got me invested in the world in a way that Sekiro never did.

But Sekiro's saving grace, the thing it does better than maybe any other game I've played, is that feeling of dueling. Clashing swords with a foe, rapidly blocking every attack, sparks flying, clanging blades drowning out all other noise, each of us just trying to wear down the other, until their posture is broken, and I get the killing blow in. There's more to it, of course, differences in how enemies behave, the Shinobi Prosthetic's various tools, but really, it's that one thing that stands out the most. The combination of the animations, the effects after a well timed block, the sound, it all comes together just about perfectly, and it's phenomenal.

In a lot of ways, Sekiro is the most fun I've had with the core combat of a From Software game. The feeling of dueling is unparalleled, and there's some great moments in the fights against biggest enemies too. One of my favorite moments of the year, in fact. But, that incredible core comes at the cost of less variety than their previous games, and like I said before, the story just didn't grab me. Or at least whatever grabbing it had back when I played it dissipated over the months, which is a far cry from Dark Souls and Bloodborne, which still excite my imagination to this day.

So, Sekiro, despite being a great game, didn't get any higher on this list than number 8. But still, getting on the list alone is an honor. Unless Todd Howard is involved.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice also wins:

  • Best dueling.

  • Best metal on metal clanging sounds.

  • Best use of monkeys.

  • Most monkeys.

  • Best feeling: exhaling after defeating a tough boss.

  • Best boss fight moment: Guardian Ape.

Best Expansion: Monster Hunter World: Iceborne.

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Monster Hunter World was one of those games that I played so much of, it was almost too much. Almost. And in the lead up to Iceborne, I wasn't exactly feeling excited for it, but then I downloaded it anyway. At the moment it was because some friends had, and I thought, "oh, we can do more co-op!" Then of course everyone else got distracted, and I ended up the only one in my circle of friends playing the expansion, so I did the whole thing alone.

But it was fun! And in a year where the only other expansion I played was a limp one for Destiny 2, I can't say this was a difficult award to decide. Even so, between the breadth and quality of this expansion, with a whole slew of new monsters, and new environments in which to hunt them, new tools like a greatly improved grappling hook, and another new animation of somewhat anthropomorphic cats cooking food, what's not to like?

7. Mortal Kombat 11.

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I don't play that many fighting games these days. Partly that's because there aren't really a ton of them. At least outside the realm of fan games and ones based on anime, most of which I've not heard of and am not interested in (Dragon Ball FighterZ being the obvious exception). Mortal Kombat, however, is one I can count on. Every four years, like clockwork, a new one comes out, and raises the bar for what I want out of fighting games, at least in terms of the kombat itself and the story mode. Of course, that clockwork schedule, which includes a whole other franchise in between that I didn't get around to playing the second of, does come at a cost. So there, I've now made you remember the crunch that comes along with games, and not just Mortal Kombat.

This game, though, I still really love it! To the point where I didn't buy just one DLC character, I bought the whole season pass thing. It was on sale, sure, but this isn't something I normally do. Usually with fighting games I wait until the game itself is super cheap, play through whatever story mode there is, and if I'm lucky, get in a few matches locally with a friend. But this game? I'm still playing it, both offline and online, and still having a ton of fun.

The issues I have with how the Towers work are still there, and I think it's baffling that there doesn't seem to be a way to mute people when playing online. Sonya's still voiced by a terrible person who gave a terrible performance, and I'm still bugged by the crunch and bad conditions people had to go through to get this game made. All of that said, the core of Mortal Kombat 11 is one of my favorite fighting games of all time, and I think it's just great. That greatness aside, though, seventh really was the highest it could get onto the list this year, given the strength of everything else, and those few shortcomings its has.

Mortal Kombat 11 also wins:

  • Best dab in a cutscene.

  • Favorite new semi-obscure MK character that became my main and will likely not be in the next one: Frost.

  • Best Fatalities: Johnny Cage.

  • Best stage: The tournament one with MK machines in the background.

  • Best Brutality: Liu Kang summoning an arcade machine.

Best Co-op Game: Remnant: From the Ashes.

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This game really came out of nowhere, was the hottest thing for a few weeks, then people forgot about it, huh? Or at least stopped talking about it, I don't know if there's a dedicated group of people still running through it. I hope so, it's a really good game! One that's good enough on your own, but a whole lot of fun with friends. It's a game that's genuinely surprising, at least early on, and despite clearly being of a lower budget than the biggest most polished AAA games, it punches above its weight.

It's super fun, and for anyone looking for a good (online) co-op game, this one gets my seal of approval.

Remnant: From the Ashes also wins:

  • Videogame: VIDEOGAME Award for most videogame-y name.
  • Best skulls.
  • Best dog petting.
  • Stargate Game of the Year.

6. Outer Wilds.

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What is there to say about this game that hasn't already been said? This game is an adventure, in the purest sense of the word. It's a game built for people who want to poke their noses into every last nook and cranny, looking for every little thing to find, every snippet of story, every little puzzle to solve. It's a game without any upgrades, aside from the knowledge in your head, and some logs kept on the ship. Because even the best space adventurers can't remember everything (I know I can't).

In the early hours of Outer Wilds, it truly feels like anything is possible, and that feeling is magical. So many games are easy to know exactly what they are before you even start them. I could be reductive, tear Outer Wilds apart, investigate every little bit, and analyze it like any other game. But that wouldn't capture the wonder I felt as I first took off, soaring into the sky, and out of the sky, to space. As I looked out, the possibilities felt endless. As I explored, further and further out, I was astonished at how much creativity there was in each place. How they all felt so different, so unique, and everything had a purpose. It was incredible, and those early parts of the game were some of the best hours I've spent with any game, maybe ever.

But sadly, this is where the "analyze it like any other game" part comes. The magic didn't last. At some point I lost interest in the story being told about the ancient civilization. At some point the new discoveries came slower and slower, and I was left with frustration as I tried to figure out how to get to those last handful of things I wanted to find. At some point the imprecise nature of the movement in the game stopped being goofy and fun, and started to feel like a hindrance to my completing certain things. At some point the little glitches, getting stuck in the environment and having to restart the cycle, and even something breaking right before the end of the game, forcing me to restart the cycle and go through all that rigmarole again... It detracts from the game, and I can't just ignore it. And finally, at some point my patience for whatever was going on with the actual ending of the game wore out.

I get why I've seen a lot of people say this is one of their favorite games ever. I can feel the magic there, and at its best I'm right there with them. But the magic didn't last, and all my frustrations, and disappointments with the story drag it down for me. Even if it didn't crack the top five, it's still one of my favorite games of the year, and maybe a decade from now I'll look back on it more fondly than I do now. Or maybe I just need to accept that I didn't love it as much as so many others did, and that's okay. It's still a great game.

Outer Wilds also wins:

  • Outer game of the year.
  • Best marshmallow roasting.
  • Best spaceship flying.
  • Most gravity.
  • Best time loop.
  • Outer game of the year.
  • Best marshmallow roasting.
  • Best spaceship flying.
  • Most gravity.
  • Best time loop...

Game I probably should have played: Life is Strange 2.

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Every year there's always one game that I didn't play. Well, more than one, but the one that sticks out. For a while, I was really struggling to think of a worthwhile game I missed. Thought about giving this award to Untitled Goose Game, or even Luigi's Mansion 3. For a while I considered Disco Elysium, but something about that game just feels like I would...hate it, even as it sounds mechanically fascinating.

So, instead, Life is Strange 2 is the one that I really feel like I should have played. For all their faults, I've found plenty to enjoy in every Dontnod game I've played, and just about everything I've heard about Life is Strange 2 sounds good. Or at the very least, people whose opinions I (sometimes) trust liked it! I know that's not exactly the most enthusiastic I've ever sounded about a "game I should have played," but I do feel like this is one I should get too, sooner rather than later. Hearing that it attempts to tackle serious topics like racism against Latinx people in modern day America, and doing a good job of it, well, at least in the bigger-ish games space, you don't see much of that.

I've also heard it doesn't have a bad ending, which would be a first for a Dontnod game, so I want to see that. Well, that's not fair, I don't remember the ending of...Remember Me, that might have been okay. It probably wasn't.

Runners up: Disco Elysium, Luigi's Mansion 3.

5. Death Stranding.

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A year ago, I was still making jokes about how we wouldn't see this game until sometime in the mid-2020s, and yet here we are. It's out, I played over a hundred hours of it, and I managed to find enough to say about it to fill two separate blogs. Like MGSV before it, this is a game that does really, truly speak to me on a game play and design level. I love traversing big spaces in games, and Death Stranding has some of my favorite traversal ever. It's not anything fancy, or flashy. Just the opposite, in most cases.

But that's what makes the game special. Its dedication to making the journey itself the challenge, making that the core of the game. Trudging along the barren landscapes of a time warped America, lugging along hundreds of kilograms of cargo, doing the dirty work that needs to be done. And in this case, I mean the literal version of dirty work, not the figurative type. So many games default to having the primary means of interacting be big, spectacular, and violent, that it's refreshing to have a game that isn't primarily about that stuff. Even if some of that stuff is still there, and I wish there had been less of it.

I wish more games on the big budget scale were like Death Stranding. More games that are willing to make you do what would be boring busy work in so many other games, but find ways to make them compelling, and yes, fun! Games willing to have empty spaces exist as worthwhile places unto themselves, and not just the pointless filler between the real "content." Games that are about bringing people together, not pushing them apart. Even as corny as it sounds.

And speaking of corny, even the "Strand Game" thing works really well. It manages to both have the best parts of building things in a world alongside other players, and helping everyone out, but also maintain the feeling of lonely melancholy that's so integral to the game's overall mood, and tone. It feels like the world is really being changed, and it can make traversing, and making big deliveries so much faster. But crucially that feeling of being alone, of having to trek across desolate lands is still there, and it is such a big part of what makes Death Stranding the memorable game that it is.

There is a haunting beauty to this game, to this world now devoid of what once was. So much of everything humanity built up, washed away by the rains of time, leaving only remnants left. Deserts, grasslands, mountains, all returned to their natural state, a primordial one. One that almost looks alien, and even if nothing else from this game sticks with me years from now, that will.

All the best parts of Death Stranding are great. But, again, like MGSV before it, the story drags it down. And unlike MGSV, this doesn't even have a couple of returning characters to help keep me invested in what was going on. Even if a subplot ended up being compelling enough by the end, it was only one part of a larger, messier whole. So, despite its best being unlike much else I've ever played, fifth place ended up as high as it could get. The top five of just about any given year are always the hardest to figure out, and this year especially, even if some of them have some flaws (like Death Stranding), they're still all great games that have stuck with me, and will continue to stick for quite some time.

Death Stranding also wins:

  • Strand Game of the Year.

  • Best hiking.

  • Best character names.

  • Best corpse delivery.

  • Best gadget: The Odradek.

  • Best open spaces.

  • Most cameos.

  • Best baby that ended not being as creepy as I initially thought, but was still kind of creepy.

  • Best duo that would've made for a more interesting story rather than the actual A-plot of this game: Cliff (Mads Mikkelsen) and Die-Hardman (Tommie Earl Jenkins).

  • Best product placement: Monster® Energy Drink.

  • Worst product placement: Ride with Norman Reedus.

Best woolly mammoth: Super Climb Up.

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I don't play many indie games. At least not the truly, truly independentest of indie games. The sorts of games that only show up at places like itch . io and you only find out about because they're from someone a friend of yours knows. Anyway, this was one of those, it was a charming little platformer, and there's one thing from it that stuck with me: How adorable this woolly mammoth is!

I wanna hug that mammoth!

4. Resident Evil 2.

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What an immaculate, honed to a razor edge of video game Resident Evil 2 is. My experience with the original is barely existent, but that didn't for a second impede my time with the remake. It really is the distillation of everything good about Resident Evil, and so focused in doing that to the best of its ability that it is, in some ways, nearly perfect to whatever the absolute ideal of what it's trying to do.

This game is scary. Games never scare me. The closest that they ever really get is when my heart starts racing at the end of a tough boss in something like Dark Souls or Bloodborne. Even then, that's more stress because I know I can't pause and take a breather (one reason why Sekiro never felt as pulse pounding, despite often being more demanding). The tight corridors of this game, the jerky zombies that actually feel threatening, monstrous creatures lurking just out of sight, and...him...

Mr. X.

I don't have patience for horror games that are solely dedicated to the "big invincible enemy stalking you." That, or what I've experienced of that sub-genre in the past (mostly Outlast, a bad game), were bad, or detracted from what really made the game work (Soma). But here, Mr. X is a walking heart attack. He is the creature that bumps in the night, literally as he moves around, the floor creaking with every step, the incredible audio design never letting me forget that he's out there...searching for me. Relentless. Unstoppable.

He can be slowed down, but is it really worth it when ammo can be sparse? The number of times I finished off a zombie with my last, final bullet are a lot higher than any other game I can think of. And sure, in retrospect, it's fairly obvious the game was fudging the numbers a bit. I'm pretty sure the devs have said as much, but in the moment? What better way to raise the tension?

The mark of a truly, exceptionally great game is that in writing about it, even just thinking about it has got me wanting to load it up and play it again. That, and excited for Resident Evil 3! I know the original isn't as well regarded as the original RE2, but just thinking about an expanded upon version of Mr. X has my heart going a little faster.

Really, the only knock I can make against the game is that whoever you play as, there's a not so great sequence in the middle of the game where you play as someone else. Not game ruining, but in a package that otherwise is near perfect, it stands out. Even the later areas of the game, that so many people seem to dislike, I didn't mind. Not as good as the opening police station, but still good. Then again, when there were this many games in a year that I felt so strongly about, any little thing can end up being the cause of something moving up or down a spot on this (arbitrary) list.

Resident Evil 2 also wins:

  • Best nemesis: Mr. X.

  • Best sound design.

  • Best use of actually making zombies threatening.

  • Most actually scary game.

  • Best bad credits song.

  • Gnarliest looking burger.

Multiplayer moment of the year: Becoming Champion in Apex Legends.

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What a roller coaster that was my feelings on this game. Disappointment that it wasn't Titanfall 3, displeased it didn't have the things that I liked so much from Titanfall 2, not enjoying the game at first blush, to rising up like the true gaymer I am, and feeling that rush as I came so, SO close to victory... And then, with my friends at my sides (or more accurate me at their side), Becoming Champion. And we kept playing, having fun, making up our own in jokes (many swamp related), sometimes we won, but often we didn't. One time a friend and I were led to victory by the God of Thunder, Thor himself! Or, you know, someone with Thor in their username.

Sadly, it didn't last. We all kinda fell off from the game. If I had to pin it to one thing, it would probably be that we all felt kinda cruddy with how nickel and dime the game was. Or, more accurately, tenner and twenty-er it was. Because it's expensive. It wasn't really impacting the actual game itself (though seeing more and more characters locked behind paid cash money didn't help), but we all just fell off it. And this was after several of my friends just bought the battle pass. I shouldn't speak for them, but I'm going to speak for them and say they did not get their money's worth out of the battle pass.

But none of that erases the fun that we did have with the game. The battle royale genre is one that I thought was going to pass me by, and nothing of it would grab me, but then Respawn went and proved me wrong. And I'm glad, because we had lots of fun! It'd just be nice if my whole memory of that game was fun, and not of us all slowly losing interest because of the capitalism side of it. Otherwise this might have sneaked onto my top ten, but it couldn't even beat out a Todd Howard Presented game.

Apex Legends also wins:

  • Biggest Boi: Gibraltar.

3. Control.

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If there is a theme to this year's games, it's that they have excellent, really high highs, but also fall short in some ways. In several cases, it's the technical side that they do, and Control is by far the worst offender. Or maybe the most consistent offender, given Anthem's...well, being Anthem. It doesn't really have the random oddities that Fallen Order does, instead it's very easy to tank the framerate. Big fight? Lots of physics causing the environment to go to pieces? It'll go down. Even opening the map can be trouble. The game's been patched, and hopefully patches since I've played have made it better still, but it was rough.

Which is why it's all the more impressive that the game shines as bright as it does. The aura of mystery that permeates this game, that oozes out of every corner of The Oldest House is phenomenal. The blend of paranatural weirdness and the boring day to day life of bureaucracy make for such a fantastic aesthetic. But it's not just aesthetic, it's in every facet of the game. I read every bit of text in this game that I found, because I was so fascinated by the world Remedy had crafted. Because I wanted to keep digging, keep diving deeper, and just see more of what they dreamed up.

It's a great playing game too. Framerate issues aside, it was still endlessly fun to hurl objects around. Useful against enemies, but sometimes it was just fun to wrench a piece of concrete out of the floor and chuck it through a row of desks. At least when the framerate buckles, I can see why, even if it's still got me bummed that PS4 Amateur was the only way I had to experience this game.

Not that it mattered. I kept diving in, delving deeper into The Oldest House until I got that Platinum Trophy, and had done just about everything I could do. And I want more, in the best possible way. That DLC better be good.

Control also wins:

  • Best mood.

  • Best colored lighting.

  • Live action video of the year.

  • Best use of puppets.

  • Moment of the year: Take Control.

  • Best physics.

  • Best destruction.

  • Worst framerate as the result of physics and destruction.

  • Janitor of the year: Ahti.

  • Pyramid of the year: The Board.

Best new Pokémon of the year as decided by someone who hasn't played a Pokémon game since the 90s:

I love Pokémon. Not so much the games, as the Pokémon themselves. They're cute, and they're friends that I want to spend time with and embark on adventures with! Just not the adventures that the games actually involve. So, in honor of my love of Pokémon, I've decided to name the best new Pokémon from the new games. Rather than rank them, I'm just going to list my favorites with my reasoning why. They are all friends. ALL OF THEM.

Wooloo.

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Look at this perfect sheep. LOOK HOW ROUND THEY ARE. I would hug a Wooloo. I would spend an entire day with a Wooloo. I would make a Wooloo my faithful friend and love them with all my heart.

Snom.

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I love this flawless bug child. This Pokémon is worthy of both memes and legend. Of course deserving of gentle hugs. I would kill for Snom. I would die for Snom.

Falinks.

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The power of socialism and unionizing at work. Divided they are weak, but united? Falinks is strong, and real, and my friend! I would hug every individual Fa in the links, and I would group hug them all at once.

Yamper.

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Imagine a dog so full of love and joy that it became too powerful, and that power was channeled into electricity. This is Yamper. Science has said that dogs don't like being hugged, but if Yamper was cool with it, I would hug them. Even if I got an electric shock.

Polteageist.

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From mummy juice to some other memes, cursed beverages are all the rage. This one is literally cursed by a spirit. The hug might be very wet, but I would hug it.

Greedent.

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This squirrel is actually Gimli from Lord of the Rings, but reincarnated as a squirrel. Because all fictional versions of the UK exist in the same universe. Would hug, for sure.

When deciding upon the best new Pokémon, I realized I couldn't keep it at one award. Not when there's also new forms of old Pokémon. So...

Best new form of old Pokémon of the year as decided by someone who hasn't played a Pokémon game since the 90s.

Galarian Meowth.

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This cat...has a beard. A BEARD. A very huggable beard.

Galarian Weezing.

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The commentary...is not subtle. I would not hug it, or stand near for fear of inhaling fumes.

Galarian Rapidash.

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Nintendo has accidentally made another trans pride Pokémon. This time a horse instead of an Eevee. Majestic, and huggable.

AND THAT'S NOT ALL.

Best Gigantamax version of Pokémon as decided by someone who hasn't played a Pokémon game since the 90s.

Landmass Snorlax.

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Snorlax...the best Pokémon...is now a landmass...and perfection. I would hug and live on this gentle giant for the rest of my life.

Fat Pikachu.

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Pikachu's ultimate and best form!!!! Finally returned to us!!!!! Extremely round, perfect. My hugs might not reach the total circumference, but my love does.

Long Meowth.

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Long.

Fluffy Eevee.

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FLUFFY. FLUFFY HUGS.

Thank you for indulging me.

2. Judgment.

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I had a lot of difficulty deciding between my number one and two games this year. Some years there's a very clear choice, and really the only one, but some I have to really, really think a lot about how to rank them. This is one of those years, and honestly, I almost want to bend the rules and give each of these two games the number one spot. But I won't.

That said, it might not be my number one game of the year, but it's got favorite story of the year, and my favorite new cast of characters. One of the biggest strengths of the Yakuza series is its recurring cast of characters, so dumping all of them in favor of entirely new ones, while setting it in the same city was a bit risky, but it paid off. Yagami is great, Kaito is exactly the sort of gruff but still friendly guy that makes for a great sidekick, and just about everyone else in the main cast is good too. Saori especially, stands out in my memory as another favorite. Give her more screen time in the sequel!

And while Yagami and friends travel down all the twists and turns I could want out of a Yakuza style story (complete with one of my seriously non-ironic favorite things from these games, crooked real estate deals), Judgment went a step farther than the Yakuza games in one crucial way: Making it feel like a real, living space. Not by having any sort of massive upgrade to the detail of Kamurocho, or expanding it in some way, but instead by filling it with more characters.

I'm sure I wrote this months ago in my other blog, but the small touch of giving names to the people who work at all the stores makes it feel more real. Even if Yagami only knows them in passing, only plays a small role in their lives, as they do in his, it makes them feel just real enough. And in turn it makes Yagami feel more like a member of the community, rather than a video game protagonist who shows up one day to start doing video game protagonist things.

That stuff's all strong enough that I'd be happy with it even if that's all the game was. But it's also just about as good of a brawler as the Yakuza games were. Not as much variety as Yakuza 0, but it's still a lot better than 6. Actually, this game's so much better than 6 that it's hard to believe it was the same people that made it. I think, I mean. I dunno, they pump out games fast enough they either have to be crunching real hard or have multiple teams working on multiple games at once, right? Or both.

There is something that I deeply appreciate about the games that this studio makes. Part of it is the storytelling, which at its best is superb (though at its worst is pretty bad, and I'm still mad about the ending of Yakuza 6). But a lot of it is just how much it feels like they've created a true, living space. It's easy to knock the games for reusing Kamurocho so much, I know I have in the past. The thing is, though, I've played so many of these games, and spent so many countless hours in that one little district of Tokyo, that it's started to feel like home. Feel like home in the same way that the Normandy did after a trilogy of Mass Effect games.

It's a place that I know and love. A place that I've gone through good times and bad in. A place that I know like the back of my hand, and could take a stroll down right now, and just enjoy being there. And now, it's a place that holds a strong, positive association with not one, but two different series. I guess assuming that they make a Judgment 2, which I genuinely hope they do. I'm still a little iffy on the direction Yakuza Like a Dragon is taking, but I couldn't be more confident in Yagami as a solid core to build a new series around. Which also isn't me saying they should pump out seven more Judgment games without giving each one the care and time it deserves, but I would love to solve more mysteries with him, and all his friends.

Judgment also wins:

  • Best new protagonist: Takayuki Yagami.

  • Most interesting sequence where control switches to a woman and she almost instantaneously gets catcalled.

  • Best hair: Yagami.

  • Best BIGH traffic cones.

  • Best credits sequence (cat).

  • Most cats.

  • Most friends.

  • Best arcade games.

Eleventh Annual Moosies Old Game of the Year: Final Fantasy XV: Royal Edition.

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In some ways, I feel like I've said all that I can about this game, and in others I feel like I could just go on, and on, and on. This game was a journey, one that I took on a total whim, and one that left a deeper impact than I ever would have guessed. And, if I'm being frank, a deeper impact than any game actually released in 2019. Deeper than most games I've played this generation. I know it's only been a few months since I played it, and part of me does feel like I'm jumping the gun by saying something like this, but it really did find a place in my heart.

And it feels so silly to say, because the parts of the game that I love are just so goofy and clichéd. On paper there really isn't anything that special about this game. But paper doesn't tell the story of all the hours I spent on the road with those characters. Noctis, Prompto, Ignis, and Gladio, each one in their own way, has clung onto me. None of them are perfect, either as people, or as written characters as a part of a story. A story that I still have a lot of issues with, stuck inside a game that also has more flaws that I could list out here.

At the end of the day, I love this game, I love these characters, and this game stands amongst a cherished few to really get so deep into my heart. I cried at the end, and that's not something that happens to me often. So, flaws and all, I love this game. And unlike the journey I took with it, I'll keep this short, because I've already written the long version out.

Runners up:

Soma.

Soma was, for months, the obvious pick for this award. Months until I played FFXV, at least. It suffers a bit from leaning too heavily on the running and hiding from monsters, but at least the devs officially added in a can't die mode, so I could just enjoy the story. Or, perhaps enjoy isn't quite the word given it's very dark, and depressing, but it's a story worth experiencing. Just know going in that that it's pretty dark, and has a lot of fleshy mechanical body horror stuff going on.

Slime Rancher.

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If my ranking of Pokémon from a game I haven't played told you anything, it's that I love cute things. And the slimes in Slime Rancher...ARE ADORABLE.

My only disappointment with the game is that at some point there was a patch that completely broke it for me. Any time I try to load my save the game just hard locks, and my only recourse is to close it from the PS4 main menu. I was fine looking past the framerate troubles, but this? No longer being able to get to my ranch...it made me sad. There's been a couple patches lately, so maybe that fixed it, but...I'm doubtful.

Okay! That's a lot of text that I've written, and a lot of reading you've done, but we're almost at the end! So, without further ado, the number one, Eleventh Annual Moosies Video Game Awards Game of the Year, is...

1. Devil May Cry 5.

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Some years, what speaks to me most is story, or forming a really, truly deep connection with the characters. Had FFXV actually been released this year, that would've taken the crown. But some years, a game comes along that might not have the best story, but has something else that just elevates it in my mind. Two years ago Breath of the Wild's vast expanses and fantastic "emergent game design" was it, and a handful ago it was the incredible fun of playing Smash Bros. for Wii U with friends.

This year?

It's kicking ass in the best stylish action game ever made. This game is incredible, I don't know how to put into words how this game makes it feel. I was going back and forth between this game and Judgment, so I put the game back in, and played some of it, wondering if it would be as good as I remembered. Would I just fumble around and wonder why I liked it so much months ago?

Nope.

It all came back instantly. All the moves, everything, like I just had played the game yesterday (which technically as of this writing I did play it yesterday, funnily enough). It all flowed out, rippling through my hands to the controller, to Dante ripping and tearing through demons like nobody's business. Doing well too, I swear I was getting SSS ranks more consistently than I did back months ago! That however, I'm going to say is the part where my memory might not be consistent with the reality.

But it's not just that they made a game with one character that's great to play. They made a game starring THREE, all play differently, and all are a lot of fun, but in their own ways. Sure, there's overlap, they all can do an uppercut the same way, but that's just consistency. In the same way that everyone in Mortal Kombat does an uppercut the same way. I really feel like this is some sort of achievement. Seriously, what other games have had this high a quality in the combat for multiple playable characters? Not counting fighting games, that's the entirety of what they do. Then again, also I feel like Dante has SO MUCH going on that it eclipses even a lot of fighting games.

And they made Nero fun to play! I mean, he wasn't terrible in DMC4, but that was the biggest issue dragging that game down. So much of it was spent playing as a character with very little variety in what he could do. Then Dante had way more going on, but he was relegated to backtracking through all the previous levels with weird gimmicks like poison gas.

So the solution? Give Nero a slew of prosthetic arms, each with fun abilities, and at least what feels like more in the realm of sword attacks. That, and the whole energy and mood of this game feels different than DMC4. That game, at least in my memory, is kind of mellow, and too serious for its own good. At least for what it is, it also had some goofs. But here, Nero's theme, Devil Trigger, is one of my favorite songs from any game. Ever. It's just so catchy, and so good at hyping me up, that hearing it during fights just gets me ready and raring to go. And it's not overdone either, that sort of thing can get tiring, even when the song is great.

You know what else they went and did? They took that song, and made a different version of it for the final boss fight, like this was a full on anime, and it's great. I love it.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention V, the Adam Driver lookalike who fights by commanding his critter friends (or captured demon associates, to be more correct to the lore). They went and made a character who semi directly controls other characters, and made it work, in real time, in an action game that can move at such a blistering pace. Also he has a button dedicated to reading poetry mid-fight.

ON TOP OF ALL THAT, there's co-op! Underutilized, but it works.

Just writing about this game, just thinking about it excites me. It's got my blood pumping, got me going, ready to load the game up and just play through it all again for the like, third or fourth time. Or just keep climbing that Bloody Tower, even if I never got better than a C rank, and then only with one character.

Game of the year can mean a lot of things. But ultimately, if a game excites me this much, so many months after playing it, it's hard not to give it the big award. It's phenomenal, and darn near perfect at what it does. If you haven't played it, and you like cutting up enemies in stylish ways, please, do yourself a favor and play this game! It is the pinnacle of the genre, and I need to stop myself from writing more because otherwise I will just ramble forever about it.

Love it. Really do.

Devil May Cry 5 also wins:

  • Most stylish action.

  • Best original song: "Devil Trigger."

  • Best alternate version of an original song: "Silver Bullet."

  • Best bad song: "Subhuman."

  • Best prosthetic arm: Devil Breaker.

  • Best thing I heard all year: Demonic metal voice screaming, "SMOKIN' SEXY STYLE!!!"

  • Best sword fighting.

  • Best weapon name: Dr. Faust. It's a cowboy hat.

  • Best realization of something that should have been in DMC3 but they were too cowardly to do it then: Weaponized motorcycle.

  • Most devilishly good game.

  • Best dance-taunting.

Thank you for reading! I know a lot of people were down on 2019 as a year for games, and I get it. I felt that way too, at times, but going through and thinking about it, there was a solid group of games that I really liked, and even loved! Sure, I did admit that FFXV was the game that actually left the biggest impact on me, but that's happened before, and doesn't detract from what anything released this year achieved.

Anyway, got off on a tangent there, instead of starting into the yearly tradition of predictions for next year! Will they be right? Almost certainly not! And that's what makes them so much fun to do.

Predictions!

2020 Moosies Video Game Awards Game of the Year: Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise.

Am I allowing my hopes to get too high for a sequel to a game that was deeply flawed in just about every conceivable way, the compelling aspects of which may very well have been lightning only striking once? Yes! But when has that ever stopped me?

Half-Life Alyx delayed at least once more before release.

I'm holding off this year on Half-Life 3 predictions because of an actual Half-Life game coming.

Xbox Series X has a mini-fridge built into it.

That's the real reason for the vertical design.

Nintendo announces the Switch Liter, which is just a slightly smaller version of the Switch Lite. Still does not drop the price on the regular sized Switch.

You know there's people who would buy it, and act like it's exactly what they needed.

The same Mario Kart 8 bundle returns in time for Black Friday at the same price.

My desire to have a Switch but my stubbornness at wanting to save money have been at odds for some time now.

Bayonetta 3 finally shown for real. She has a new hairdo.

Still can't believe Platinum announced and released another entirely separate game before showing us literally anything for Bayonetta 3 after that teaser. Also that teaser still has me worried she'll be going back to her Bayonetta 1 era hair, which I don't like. Her Bayonetta 2 hair is much better, but they should probably give her a new look each game.

Still no F-Zero.

I'm so tired.

Halo Infinite is, in fact, finite.

It'll be quite funny if this Halo game tries to be a forever game like Destiny.

Whatever attempt is made to get people interested in Anthem again...does not work.

I hope I'm wrong. I'd like that game to be good. I'd like BioWare to be good.

Bluepoint Games' remaster is not, as people suspect, Demon's Souls, but instead...Tokyo Jungle.

In actuality I'm not sure how I'd feel about them remastering Demon's Souls. It's a very interesting game, at least aesthetically, but it's also the only From Software game in that "style" that I don't like playing, for a variety of reasons ranging from level design, to needless inventory restrictions.

Wait, what? The prediction was about Tokyo Jungle? Well, you know.

Thank you for reading. I enjoy doing this every year, and so much so this year that I also intend to, in the not so distant future, do something in honor of the decade of video games that came and went. Or is still going depending on how one wants to define decades, but shush. Don't be a fun spoiler. Keep your eyes peeled if you want to read exciting things like me ranking every year (in games) from the decade, or finding new reasons to keep thinking about Tokyo Jungle.

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Stranded with my thoughts (SPOILERS!)

So, I really intended to just write about the game part of Death Stranding. That was what compelled me, and that was what I felt I had interesting things to say about. Now, do I have interesting things to say about Death Stranding? Does Death Stranding itself have interesting things to say? I'm still not sure about either! But I kept trying to wrangle my thoughts around what happened in that game, so I decided that writing them out might help me. And if I did that, I might as well put them up here.

Just be warned, I don't have a coherent overall thought on the game. This is just me trying to work my way through it. This is a blog, after all, not a professional write up analyzing the story. I'm sure those exist, written by people who are much better at that sort of writing than I am.

Also, of course, I'm gonna SPOIL as much of the game as I can remember, so, you know.

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I think Death Stranding's story gives a fairly good first impression. It establishes how frightening the world can be, how dangerous the BTs are, and the stakes around screwing up with corpses can be (entire cities get destroyed in Voidouts, after an anti-matter/matter like reaction between the living and the dead coming into contact). Then it goes straight into, "Your mother, the President" needs you for this mission mode, and I was cackling. Sam's mother, Bridget, wants him to build bridges, figurative and literal, across America. I laughed so hard I think I missed a line of a dialog after I heard Die-Hardman say "President Strand." Was this stuff good? Eh. What it well written? Probably not. But was I enjoying it?

Absolutely!

Then you deliver President Mom's corpse, literally carrying her on your back, to an incinerator, and have to activate the semi-undead BB to detect ghost monsters, which didn't really work out for me because they grabbed me anyway, and I just had to run away. After that, President Mom's daughter (Sam's sister, Amelie (AKA Samantha America Strand (who looks identical to President Mom, just younger))) is appointed President (rather than, you know, elected), even though she's trapped on the other side of the country (yet can still transmit her hologram despite ostensibly being stuck in a city controlled by terrorists).

Which is the first thing the game confused me about, and having finished it, I'm still a little caught up on it. At this point in the game, they made it sound like Edge Knot City (where President Sister resided) was still a functioning, populated city, just one that didn't want part of the United Cities of America (I maintain that not using "United Strands of America" is a missed opportunity). But, and this is much later in the game, when Sam gets to Edge Knot City, it's completely destroyed, and no one is there aside from President Sister. I don't know if I just missed something, misinterpreted something, or if the game was just lying and/or plot holing.

Just me and mom, climbing a ladder.
Just me and mom, climbing a ladder.

Anyway, with the help of Guillermo Del Toro and Monster® Energy Drink, Sam Porter Bridges and BB set off to reconnect America, one Distribution Center and Prepper House at a time. This is when the game introduces MULEs, who got so addicted to the high of Likes after delivering packages, will assault anyone carrying cargo, supposedly to deliver it themselves. Sadly there's no way to reason with them, as I certainly could have used their help to expedite some of these deliveries. Or, you know, maybe after I cleared out a camp some people from Bridges could've come and collected the MULEs or something.

Not that I like prisons, they're BAD, and given the world of Death Stranding is (sort of) beyond capitalism (there's no money, only Likes (which have no monetary value) and resources with which to fabricate), I'd also like if it was beyond that sort of criminal "justice" system. ALL THAT SAID, if I can knock out an entire camp of MULEs in a few minutes, I think it'd be nice if Bridges could get off their asses and send some people out to talk some sense into the MULEs so I wouldn't have to keep going around their camps (or sprinting through) when I make deliveries.

But I digress.

Forgot to mention he wears this mask for most of the game.
Forgot to mention he wears this mask for most of the game.

So, Sam and BB set off through the tutorial area, and get to Port Knot City, which is a nice moment, going down a long hill while one of the few not Low Roar songs in the game plays (I don't think I like Low Roar, a band I'd never heard of but there must be like two albums worth of their music in the game). I forget what band did this song, but it's the one piece of licensed music in the game I remember liking, so it made the moment nice. Sam makes the delivery, takes a nap and a shower, and then Troy "Two Masks" Baker (Higgs) shows up and hams it up before a boss fight.

So, Higgs is a character. But not really a good one, as the game waits until basically the end before actually making any of his, or the other terrorists (who are never actually seen with him, they just replace the MULEs in the later areas of the game) motivations clear. He just shows up, spouts some lines that didn't make any sense until I rewatched this cutscene after finishing the game (via the Quick Look), and disappears.

Then Fragile (a lady with a rad jacket that I would wear in real life, and a French accent that I don't understand how she has it given she lives in post apocalyptic America (I know the reason is the actress is French, don't @ me)), who owns a boat, takes Sam across a big lake, and the Real Death Stranding starts. Which is to say that the actual story goes on the back burner for a while as Sam does the compelling part of the game, and just traverses desolate landscapes, delivering cargo reconnecting people, etc.

She has a better sense of style, and also seems better at acting than old Norman.
She has a better sense of style, and also seems better at acting than old Norman.

Amongst the many deliveries, Sam gets flashbacks of a baby inside some sort of life support thing. These are the Mads Mikkelsen portions of the game, and eventually result in multiple sequences where Sam gets thrown through time (or universes?) to World War II and (I think?) the Vietnam War to fight against Mads and his squad of skeleton soldiers. But like the rest of the story, none of the answers come until much later, so I'll get to that then.

The main narrative follows Sam as he gets a delivery to South Knot City, which includes a character (who is clearly Higgs) giving Sam a portable nuclear bomb, that the game explicitly says is that, yet Sam doesn't seem to realize it unless he rests at a specific Distribution Center and Fragile finds it. If you don't (I didn't realize I had to rest there to get the cutscene (the game said to meet Fragile at that center, but I didn't see her, so I dunno, I just kept going)), the bomb explodes as Sam enters South Knot City, and the game reloads a save.

Otherwise, Sam has to bring the bomb to a tar pit and throw it in, because it's Death Stranding supernatural tar that connects to other universes. I think.

Then there's a flashback where Higgs is creepy and mean to Fragile, and the story moves on to the other creatively named woman character, Mama. Her baby is a ghost, but a harmless one, aside from making it perpetually rain around the area. After more deliveries and such, it's revealed that Mama has an actual name that I can't remember, and a twin sister named Lockne. Also the baby was supposed to be Lockne's, but Lockne had health issues that prevented her from having a baby, but the two drifted apart after the whole ghost baby thing.

So Mama has to cut the tie with her Ghost Baby, and go with Sam to Lockne, so Lockne and Mountain Knot city will the UCA. Mama dies immediately upon arrival, and her soul fuses with Lockne? Or they were originally the same soul, but split at birth? I'm not sure, but they become one, Lockne joins the UCA, and fills the same role Mama did as the person who explains new gadgets because she's portrayed by the same actress (because again, twins).

I like Heartman. He's very generous with the Likes.
I like Heartman. He's very generous with the Likes.

More deliveries happen, eventually leading Sam to deliver Mama's corpse (which hasn't decayed or shown any signs of Voidout exploding) to Heartman. Heartman stops his heart every 21 minutes so he can search for his dead family, because there's a lot of guys longing for lost wives/children in this game (at some point it was revealed Sam's wife, who was either pregnant or had already given birth, I forget, died).

There's also a subplot going on where Guillermo and Heartman don't trust Die-Hardman (who is later revealed his real name is literally John McClane), and that subplot is something that feels a little Metal Gear-ish, and I wish the game had more of that sort of intrigue in general. Anyway, Heartman sends Sam off to do more deliveries, and this part of the game centers around people trying to figure out what the Death Stranding actually is, and I found that part interesting!

No, really! For a while there, I was into them trying to solve that, and all the stuff about them trying to say every major extinction event in the history of the world was a Death Stranding was interesting, and I was hoping it'd lead to something...well, better than what happened, but I'll get there.

Because it's after this that Sam eventually gets to Edge Knot City, and the story goes into overdrive.

He gets to the city, has a boss fight with Higgs and a giant BT, then goes to the Beach (oh gosh I forgot to mention the Beach), and has another boss fight, but this time he didn't bring any weapons, so it was actually a fight that involved more thinking than just shooting rockets at the BT. Okay, I'm being harsh, I didn't hate that fight, but I do think the space was too small for how big the BT was. But the fight with Higgs where you need to sneak around and such was fun, felt more like an MGS boss fight. Especially when it ended with a redo of the MGS4 fistfight atop the submarine. Just with less nostalgia and more slow motion shots of Troy Baker's face contorting as he gets punched.

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That was fun.

Fragile shows up to deal with Higgs while Sam and President Sister Amelie reunite, and Sam mentions Mario and Princess Peach by name. I'm still shaken by this happening in a Sony published game. I also laughed at the Princess Beach line, which I dunno how most people felt (I assume this is the infamous line people kept mentioning), but I think it was supposed to be funny.

Even though Higgs said it was a final boss and game over, the game isn't over, because now the Die-Hardman might be up to something sneaky plotline and the ghost Mads plotline intersect, and form up with the main plotline of rescuing Amelie who, also, I forgot to mention, is an Extinction Entity.

And, this game is a lot. Sam has to travel back across the country, things are getting messed up with more and bigger BTs everywhere, it's revealed that Higgs was secretly making me deliver pizza to him the entire time, and everyone thinks Mads was the mastermind behind everything until Sam figures out that Mads was just another sad dad (sad dad Mads) all along.

IN FACT, it was Amelie (her name a French play on words) who was pulling all the strings, because she was actually President Mom's soul, and also behind the BB experiments (which were morally wrong but also not just used to find BTs, but also literally what the Chiral Network connecting everyone is made out of), and also trying to cause the extinction of humanity because she thinks it'd be better to just end it swiftly than drag it all out.

Aurora Borealis? At this time of year?
Aurora Borealis? At this time of year?

Now that I've thought about it, I think the game might have been better off focusing on just one of these things. I'll say the conspiracy to cover up the truth of the BB experiments, their relation to sad dad Mads, and Die-Hardman, because that's the one that works best, and also has the best (sort of) pay off. There's a solid story in there about America being the cause of its own undoing (the BB experiments coincided with the Death Stranding in a way that couldn't have been coincidental), and then trying to cover it up while just continuing to do literally the same thing it had been. That, as a contrast to the "rebuild America" story sold to Sam could have really worked! It's got intrigue, double crossing, mystery, conspiracies! It feels like a Metal Gear story, and I like those. Mostly.

But instead we get a lot of Sam convincing Amelie not to destroy humanity, including a sequence where the player has to unequip a gun and hug her, which would've worked better if I realized I could do that on my first try, and didn't have to reload, haha. Then there's a very long sequence where Amelie keeps explaining stuff to Sam, but only between sequences of wandering around a Beach with no direction, and not even full freedom because it just resets Sam if he gets too far away.

Eventually that ends, Sam returns to the land of the living, everything is rosy, and Die-Hardman is appointed (again with no mention of an election) President. But the game still isn't over yet, because there's more to be revealed about Die-Hardman's involvement in the sad dad Mads storyline, and we learn that the actor playing Die-Hardman is actually pretty decent, he just hadn't been given the opportunity to do much until now.

Then Guillermo says that the BB (who Sam named Lou at some point) is basically dead, and needs to be decommissioned (incinerated). But he also does a "wink wink" to Sam about disconnecting when he does it, so Sam goes off on one last delivery, and another song plays.

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When he gets to the very same incinerator he brought President Mom to, he tries plugging into Lou's pod one last time, and gets the final flashback to sad dad Mads, where... Okay, there's a fair amount of the science of what's going on in this game that I don't understand, but I don't understand what happened here.

So the scene plays out, and again this is some of the best acting and whatnot in the game. I would have rather played a whole game about sad dad Mads and John "Die-Hardman" McClane than Extinction Entity President Mom/Sister. I mean, I would also rather a game with women who aren't braindead and kept on life support so undead babies can see ghosts, and where sad dad Mads has to kill his life support wife, but I digress.

Sad dad Mads is trying to escape the facility with his BB, and Die-Hardman tried helping him, but eventually sad dad Mads is caught, and cornered. That's all fine and dandy, but then... Sam shows up? And first I thought this was just like, a visual metaphor for Sam watching this, because unlike the flashbacks through the rest of the game, this wasn't from the literal point of view of the baby. A bit on the nose to actually show him watching it, but whatever, it was still better than Sam literally sitting on the beach as Amelie explained everything to him.

But then Mads talks to Sam??? But Sam isn't really there, none of the other characters see him, or acknowledge his presence in any way. Anyway, it's revealed that Mads (whose name in game is Cliff, and he makes a comment about cliffs and bridges, which got a laugh out of me) is actually Sam's dad, and the BB from the flashbacks was not actually Lou, but Sam. Sam who died, and was brought back to life by President Mom/Sister.

Then it's back to the present, where Sam takes Lou out of the pod, Lou is alive, and the two leave to start a new life, and there's some rain that doesn't seem to be Timefall.

And Death Stranding ends.

Whoof.

Lest we forget the time Sam was uncomfortable sharing a shower with Guillermo and also the game worked in a fat joke by having an weight capacity warning go off with the two of them in there.
Lest we forget the time Sam was uncomfortable sharing a shower with Guillermo and also the game worked in a fat joke by having an weight capacity warning go off with the two of them in there.

I know I said this was going to be just me stream of consciousness-ing, but if you actually read all that, I commend you. Having now laid it all out like that, at least as best as I can remember... I think it's kind of a mess. Or really a lot of a mess. It reminds me of MGSV, just with the opposite problem. MGSV's biggest problem (outside of its terrible treatment of women characters) was underdevelopment. The foundation of a good Metal Gear story is in there, but there's barely anything to it. Whether that was the result of purely creative choices, or cuts having to be made (at least one full cut mission that would've resolved and otherwise dangling plot thread is known to exist) is unknown.

Death Stranding, however, feels like it has the same problem until the end, at which point it crams it all in, and keeps cramming until there's too much. And I get it, I get the impulse to keep cramming in story. I also don't have an editor, but in my case it's because I can't afford one, so we end up with blogs like this, or my fiction writing (which I think is good, but I'm not gonna lie, no one's finished reading my books, and I know the length isn't helping).

The problem is Hideo Kojima isn't me, he's one of the best known game directors in the world. If he really wanted to, he could've had more people around him to try to reign in these ideas, and cut it down to just what actually works. (Unless of course we're all wrong, and THIS is the edited down version of Kojima's vision).

A story about rebuilding a flawed nation that brought about its own destruction, and instead vowing to build something new, something better, something that won't make the same mistakes could have been really good! A story about coming together to rebuild is a good one, especially given how divided the world is. The pieces of something good are in this game's story, and it's disappointing that they didn't come together in a way that was...better.

I wrote way more about this game's story than I wanted to, and I did it without really saying much of importance. Appropriate, I guess.

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If you read all that, or even more than a paragraph or two, thank you. Truly. This may end up the last blog I write before GOTY season starts, and I do my usual Moosies stuff. Depending on when I get around to the succinctly named Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order.

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