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Game of the Year 2019

It's that time of year again. I present another ordered list of games I have beaten this year. As with previous years this includes game not released this year. You can check out my 2017 and 2018 lists. In this list you will find a lot of my continuing thoughts on the FFXIV, DQ, Yakuza, KH, and Character Action. Thanks to having already wrote those thoughts down I have managed to go on as many long rants about my entire history with a series. You were not spared this for Pokemon or Fire Emblem. If you like that stuff but all means go to those old lists and enjoy?

12. Pokemon Shield

I guess it is important to begin with my history with pokemon. I am a pokemon lifer. I have never lapsed on the games since generation 1. Only came close once in Gen 3 due to the Hoenn region games having the worst "region" design.

I use that region term because I found a lot of what turned me off of Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald still persisted in the much later Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire remakes. It also explains why I still like Leaf Green and Fire Red with the same engine as my hate RSE. It is all those subtle things like gyms, new pokemon, pokemon distribution, type distribution, leveling curve, route design, etc. Warning a about to go on a very long rant about very small details of Gen3 to better context to how I read pokemon games in the next paragraph. You can skip but it helps with context.

An example from Gen 3 that is the common criticism of too much water. Which most people take to mean you have too travel on too much water routes. Which is true. But the real problem is some of the most common pokemon you encounter for the entire game not even on the water routes are the Wingull line and Lotad line. They have the typing of water/flying and water/grass respectively. These both negate water's weakness to grass. So choosing the grass starter to be your answer to water type pokemon is completely wrong. They also don't share a single weakness between each other. These would not be a problem if they were fairly rare to encounter all the time but they are everywhere. Lotad is only weak to poison, bug, and flying. At this point of the series bug and poison types are still generally very weak pokemon. Wingull weaknesses on the other hand are rock and electric. Rock types are weak to water so that's a wash. Leaving electric as the answer. Which this gen only introduced three new electric types with Plusle, Minun, and Electrike line. Plusle and Minun being gimmick pokemon that leaves Electrike one of the most uninteresting mono types pokemon around. This gets to one of my specific pet peeves with pokemon games. I really dislike it when solution to a problem is use an old pokemon over the new introduced ones. It is these things that every fan made pokemon game are out there trying to make in the very real sense this is what separates a good pokemon game from a bad one.

Now we get into my expectations for Sword and Shield. I have completed the national dex in Gen 1, 4, 5, 6, and 7. So yes I am exactly the person the dexit hurts. Completing my national dex is one of the activities I spend a good chunk of my pokemon time on. Definitely a big bummer for me. Still I wasn't exactly 100% with the pre release internet rage over the game. Which was less born out of the dexit itself and more born from decades of lofty expectations of what a console main entry pokemon game could be. I really wasn't looking for any change between the handhelds to console. I solely just wanted that good 'region' design that set Black and White and Gold and Silver above the rest of the pack.

Pokemon Shield doesn't have bad region design like the Hoenn games. It's totally fine. But that complicates my thoughts on this game because that is how I judge these games. Yet I my gut tells me that this my least favorite entry in the series so far. Sword and Shield are a sort of compounding of the problems the series had since Gen 5.

Sun and Moon was the next big attempt at doing story focus since Gen5. The problem they ran into was that unlike Gen5 they spent at least half of their story telling on shoving regional flavor down the players throat. That stuff is better kept to player's exploration of the space because it just leads to really dull and boring storytelling. This came back to bite the games hard with Ultra SM which instead of being sequels like B2W2 was instead a retelling in which most of it was having to sit through the same introductions to this region you have already been. It really just sucks the enjoyment out of those games. With Sword and Shield they have doubled down on that path. The story is practically 100% forced regional flavor. When plot even does an npc will show up and tell you not to worry about that instead focus on how we are all about sports here in the Galar region.

Another thing that personally has bugged me is pokemon padding. This was most apparent in X and Y. Black and White had given us the incredible experience of where only the new Kalos pokemon appeared until post game. You were 100% guaranteed always see something new with every encounter. Which is always the most exciting thing with new pokemon games. XY introduced so few new pokemon they compensated for it by just stuffing more and often old pokemon on to every route. You could go multiple routes without seeing a new pokemon. Sword and Shield does not have that problem as they introduced enough new pokemon to make that not happen. But they made the problem worse with the introduction of on the map encounter table and random encounter. This doubles the amount of pokemon on the already bloated routes. The entire wild area is this concept taken up to 11. Dexit some how results in having to sift through way more old pokemon than before in your game. They doubled down on the disadvantage of having all those old pokemon around while not taking advantage of removing old pokemon can bring. I would except a hard no old pokemon at all for the BW experience back. My final Dexit thoughts can be summed up in the famous Matrix quote "Not like this... Not like this.."

Now it is time to talk about this game's gimmick. Good news is I don't like Dynamax or Max Raid battles. So I won't have to miss them when they are thrown out like the trash they are for the next generation games. Sure it dumb that Dynamax can only best used in like 1% of your play time in game. I guess this is the best place to talk about the war crime they committed by reversing the best thing pokemon has ever done in making all TMs unlimited use for the sole purpose of making you have to grind out raid battles for single use copies of the good stuff.

This game is competing very hard for the spot of the worst mainline pokemon game. I personally give it the bottom spot as Gamefreak have shown they are capable of doing way better.

11. Fire Emblem: Three Houses

I got a Switch this year. I chose Fire Emblem to be my Switch game this year. After my 90 hours I regret that choice.

On a positive note, I made it that 90 hours through the game so it must have had something good. The characters, story, and concept of the game all very good. They just flounder in the execution. I played it on Hard Classic. Which lead to the problem of I felt I had to play the game trying to min max it's systems to the best I could. Min-maxing the professor systems is a massive uninteresting time sink. Those first of the month explore sessions to try and get maximum professor exp. Talking to everyone, searching every nook for items, returning lost items, and fishing for an hour and half once you secure a steady supply of bait. I felt like those sessions could easily extend into the 3-4 hour marks. The reward for getting the professor level is now you get to do more stuff per period. Now it time to do 6 random encounter battles a month in Fire Emblems slow and plodding combat or else not feel like I being efficient.

Which brings me to my next point Fire Emblem's base mechanics are not good they are just tolerable. Characters never really get any interesting abilities outside of fliers, mages that learn meteor or warp, and archers. Everyone else gets the same range footsies and one on one stats versus stats roll. Everyone lamenting their choice for choosing normal and the game being too easy don't worry you probably had the better experience. All playing on hard mode does it reveal how bad the random stats on level up system is. Your character who was a walking death machines a couple levels ago got a couple bad stat rolls and is just kind of mediocre to bad for a while. Instead of having a class full of cool badasses you get in normal, you end up with basically crew of serviceable combatants except that one character you dumped your stat up items who has become death, the destroyer of worlds, and trivializes the game anyways just taking more turns doing it.

I also went with Blue Lions and it was a bummer that my route seemingly completely lacked any additional world building. The game has some good ideas. It's a way too long for its own good. There could be about 4 more games on this list in place of this game.

10. Dragon Quest VI

If you read my previous years list you will see I have been on a quest through the Dragon Quest games. You can get most of my thoughts on DQ over there. This game is more on the lower ranks of DQ games.

This game brings back a class system like seen in DQ3. It is more fleshed out into something that resembles an FFV job system but I personally preferred DQ3 system. Part of that is they wrongly hold over the part from DQIII where the ability to switch classes comes in about a 1/3 through the game. This works in DQ3 because you assemble a party of classes at the beginning of the game. Where in VI your characters are base classes that are not classes because you don't even earn class experience until they take on a real class. It just weird to not have any access to the core systems for so long. I have played some DQVII this year and not far enough to really put it on this list. It does the same thing there but they make it feel better there by oddly enough making the game way longer. When dealing with such a long game it comes off a nice breath of fresh air getting access to the system to help you keep moving forward. That could have been the intention here as well but it just didn't land in a shorter game.

That gets into the rest of the game. This game is seemingly Yuji Horii's swing at doing what the rest of the industry had been doing while he had been off doing his own thing. It's the closest to you'll get to Yuji Horii's Final Fantasy. The game revolves around two world maps that you travel between. One is the real world while the other is the dream world. You get all sorts of dreams selves and real selves. Doing this in the dream world to have this happen in the real world, vice versa, etc. It gets real convoluted at times. Charting the course through the two world maps when playing through the game would give you the most ridiculous Gordian knot. It all works out well in the end but it is certainly one of those games you cannot step away from because you will be lost when you come back.

9. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

They made a Star Wars game and it was good. Probably something to be said how they most fun I had with the game was mowing down base storm troopers. How I made sure to push every Purge Trooper into a pit rather than fighting them. Engaging with the fight mechanics was not always the most enjoyable thing. Game could have used some fast travel. They still made a good Star Wars game.

8. Yakuza Kiwami 2

I played another Yakuza game this year. It good like those other ones. You can read my Yakuza thoughts in previous years lists. The story of Yakuza 2 is a golden example of how to tell a sequel story. So good at being a completely different story that somehow finds it way to completely tie back into the story of 1 while completely reframing that story. It's good stuff,

7. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

I'm a big fan of the DS Castlevania games. This is a great one of those. They totally delivered. I think they only gripe I had was wishing they had just boosted the drop rate a bunch starting at the beginning. Would have helped to just more easily just get to see all cool stuff they had made.

6. Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen

This game came out on Switch this year which reminded me I still needed to beat it on PC. The folks at Waypoint introduced me to Into Free -Dagan- the title song to the original Dragon's Dogma. I immediately modded that back into my PC version of Dark Arisen. Turns out launching that game into that amazing track was just enough propulsion to get me through the game. Man what a game it is. The end game to that game is super smart. Not to mention the Dark Arisen content is maybe the best dlc I have ever seen. Semi-random dungeon you can run for random loot drops. It completely changes the structure of that game in a great and positive way. The design of the game from top to bottom is just genius. If the monkey paw came to me with the wish that the game industry picked up on Dragon's Dogma's design at the cost of the Souls games being forever ignored. I might take that wish.

5. Devil May Cry 5

The Devil May Cry game I have been waiting for since DMC4 is here and it is all I could have asked for. This entry is both somehow too high on this list and too low on this list. I did not really put much time into the game. I played through it the once. It was enough to tell me that this was exactly what I was looking for. When I need my character action game fix I can finally put away my DMC3SE and DMC4SE. This has got what I need that I couldn't find in DmC or Bayonetta.

4. Kingdom Hearts III

Speaking of things I waited a long time for Kingdom Hearts 3. I was satisfied with Kingdom Hearts 3 after the long wait. Which is basically the highest praise possible.

It has problems. The game feels very half baked. The combat in this game is actually good and the best in the series but no one could possibly know that without having played all the others. Because the thing is this game has no fights in it that are designed to make use of it's systems. Kingdom Hearts series has had some of the best designed boss encounters of all time. Having played those I can just imagine what those type of fights would be like in this game's systems. It just that here are none of those fights in the game really. The Final boss maybe gives you a bit of a taste of that.

There are other problems like how they forgot to put the Final Fantasy in it. The varying quality by which the Disney Worlds are handled. Some have great integration into Kingdom Hearts Toy Story, Monsters Inc., and Big Hero 6. Others like Frozen and Tangled just are wastes of time.

In the end, they do basically jam in all the plot you were waiting for at the 11th hour of the game. But that stuff is so good and satisfying. By the end of the game I was happy where all these characters I had spent 15 years with have ended up. That's how it ended up here on my list. Also the trailers for the ReMind DLC looks like they might be going a long way to address the problems with the game.

3. Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride

Spoilers for the next entry. I am putting DQIV above DQV on this list. That is a controversial DQ opinion. DQV is the best elevator pitch for a JRPG there as ever been. DQV is a game about family. You will follow your hero's life from a child to an adult to becoming a parent. In this game you are not the Hero character from previous Dragon Quests. You are not the chosen one. Instead the quest you inherited from your father is to find the hero as they are the only one who can help you to defeat the demon lord and to free your mother who was kidnapped on the night of your birth. You also can recruit monsters into your party meaning you have a playable cast of nearly 100 characters.

The game is every bit as good as that pitch implies. It's a 5/5. A timeless masterpiece. But in it execution of it's lofty ambition it lack some of the exquisite attention to the craft that sets DQ apart. One example is that this story spans over a long period of time and they don't really capitalize on that potential for story telling. You can have a decade pass between last time you've been to a certain town and there being nothing there to really comment on that. If you read my entry about DQXI from last year you would know that is exactly what that game excels at. That game will not lead any potential for story to go uncommented on. They left some good meat on the bones.

Another example of this is while the monster recruitment is a pure stroke of genius for their goals for this game there is a little stumbling because of it. Since this game was focused on family they did not want to clutter up your party with bunch of non family members until plotwise the family unit is formed. So the monster recruitment is a great way to gameplay wise to temporarily fill those slots with non plot entities. The problem comes when that family party finally comes together the way they have chopped up and divided out the abilities across the monsters leaves the family unit you are so attached to and want to use end up having gaps in their abilities that we regulated to the monster units. It just doesn't come out as clean a most DQ parties end up.

Those are my relatively minor gripes with the game overall an all time great.

2. Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen

Dragon Quest IV also has a good pitch as well it's 5 quests in one game. What that actually amounts to is how the game introduces each member of the party in their own micro campaign before they join together for the normal DQ campaign. They do these brilliantly and it is fantastic.

They way they split of the party ends up giving each chapter a good and unique feeling play style. They almost do each feel like their own game. The start you out with the knight Ragnar. His is very simple level up get some gear. Hit the enemies harder than they hit you. They introduce a healing companion part way through. Next they give your the martial artist princess Alena with her trusty paladin healer and black mage. It's your nice traditional party setup.

Next up is the absolutely wild merchant Toreneko chapter. You start by playing shop keep simulator until you earn enough money to buy strong enough gear so you can actually travel two step without dying. Then you travel to get more drop you can sell to earn more money for better equipment to travel forward. Eventually you are gated by money checks. Where you need to spend money to build bridges or a tunnel that also important for later connect the areas you have been with the other characters. You open your own shop to get better resale value on your drops. It's a completely different game basically. You are playing Recettear in your Dragon Quest.

The next chapter is the two twin mages Meena and Maya. One is of the white magic variety and the other black magic. It makes for an interesting chapter only have squishy mages as your party. They stories of all of these are good little vignettes. They all end up ending in problems usually involving the same force of monsters doing bad thing. All these people need a Hero.

Thus enters the Hero and the final chapter of the game. You are the Hero you end up picking up your party members along the way. You do the Dragon Quest thing. It is good. It is greatly enhanced by the fact that you have covered most of the map in the other chapters. So you already know the lay of the land, who the players are, and what is going on. It really cool having that road map of things in your head as you play. Truly a master class in game structure. I adored it. I now know where DQXI got it from.

1. Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers

Total Play Time: 156 days, 18 hours, 24 minutes. That is my /playtime from FFXIV at the time of writing this. I have been in it since the launch of a Realm Reborn. You either already know why this is here on this spot of the list or I really can't help you understand because wouldn't take me 156 days to explain it but certainly a percentage of that time. So I'll try my brief vaguest way to impart what it is like when you are on the other side of this line.

Shadowbringers certainly takes XIV above and beyond any FF games story telling. For me the high watermark was FFX, It a manages this by truly leveraging the absolutely massive long form story telling that FFXIV uniquely as a MMO as over basically any medium. You would need some decades long running novel series to even being to compete. To take one minor but atomic bomb of a lore reveal. A character tells you that magical scientists had gotten the poles on the elemental chart wrong and light actually represented the forces of stagnation and dark represented the forces of activity. My mind was literally reeling from that. That only works because I have spent so much time over these 6 years with this game that I have completely internalized it's entire magical physics systems. It wouldn't land if this was a reveal about information I received 60 hours earlier in another normal rpg. It works because this was information I had learned years ago that is being turned on its head.

FFXIV is also just hands down the best MMO on the market currently. It is also the best games as a service game on the market. Why are you out there wasting your time on all these games as a service games that are just worse than this one? Why force yourself to commit weekly and dailies on some other game's battle pass? Do your weeklies and dailies here. You get rewarded with an incredible story here that will likely be wholly unique in the way it as been delivered that will most likely never be replicated.


Game of the Year 2018

Following up on last year's list, I seem to have yet again played enough videogames this year to put them together into a very important ordered list. Going by sheer numbers I have played a lot more games this year but not a lot of titles that actually came out this year. So as last time this will be a list of the games I have beaten enough to put on the list. At least that was the intention until this became also became a term paper about Dragon Quest to get all my thoughts down on those games.

22. Dragon Quest II

So early in the year with AGDQ there was a run of the original Dragon Quest which awakened a powerful nostalgia in me for Dragon Quest which I honestly forgot I had. With DQXI coming later in the year. I went back and played my nostalgic beginnings. That was DQ 1 and 2 on GBC which long with Monsters both of which has to rank up there on play time right below Pokemon for me.

Back in the day I certainly never beaten Dragon Quest 2 and that is for good reason DQ2 is a tragically flawed game in one area and that is balance. This game is monstrously difficult and frustrating in its balancing. That was even back on GBC which was after some rebalancing work. This time I finally completed it this time playing the android version which is further rebalanced even more. So it was mostly a playable game this time around. Still the notorious last stretch of this game was still nightmare-ish and maybe one of the most frustrating experiences I have had in an rpg.

Outside of that though the game is filled with plenty of great expansions on the original game. They switch from a single character to a party of 3. To make the party meaningful that means these characters now take on simple class structure now which is important for a later entry. It is also cute in that these classes are basically chopped up versions of the original game's hero and three characters are all in fact his distant descendants. This is like a text book example what I find to be best strength of the Dragon Quest series is that they are always using gameplay and game design to really push the themes and story of their games.

Another example of this is games addition of the ship and the concept of traveling continents. Now a days of course you get a boat big deal. But in the context of going from Dragon Quest 1 to 2 even in my 2018 mind they managed to make it like a magical amount of freedom I have been given. You see in DQ the final dungeon can be seen literally across some water from the starting city of the game. Ostensibly most of the games journey is about putting a magic bridge over one literal square of water. So to be able to travel over water is huge. Then they hammer in this point further. One of the places you will find while on your boat is the entire world map of DQ1. It plays Unknown World immediately evoking a strong nostalgia hit for that game even if you just played it. Plus you can just hop on your ship and sail between the old final dungeon and starting town.

There are plenty of other things like that about these DQ games. But I have already said more than enough about the worst Dragon Quest game.

21. Devil May Cry

I played this some time around after getting hyped about DMC5 around E3. This was the first time I actually beaten the game. The gameplay is old but you can certainly see the seeds of the later better games. I briefly touch DMC2 after this and boy DMC1 is way better than that.

One things at the time that struck me then and I could have explained better back then was that the really weird disjointed and wonky nature of how this game's story plays out struck me as something a kin to classic literature these game reference frequently in their names. There's weird things like Dante totally killing his brother with zero reaction to a little bit later crying over a woman be barely knows that looks like his mother and just tried to murder him. Now that could be and likely is just bad writing. But if it was intentional what purpose of invoking classical literature styling serve? To me it seems like classical lit is all about extremities of the human condition. Old Dante was always about being a half human/half demon who was extremely proud of his human side and he showed it by trying to be human to the extreme. More human than human if you will. Sorry could not resist. So if the classical literature connection was intentional it would have been away to show how human the Dante character is.

20. Disgaea 1 Complete

I like the Disgaea games this was the first time I have actually managed to complete the first one. I cannot recommend this remake though. It at least launched at full price and had just about zero changes to it outside new sprite but otherwise was completely mechanically untouched from the much cheaper steam version. That eventually changed as they patched in some quality of life changes. The biggest being a 3x increase to the exp multiplier cap. Which in Disgaea the game about grind cuts the amount of time to complete everything the game has to offer to literally 1/3 of normal. That's big still not full retail price for a 15 year old game big.

19. Dragon Quest

So for Dragon Quest I did in fact bust out my old GBC version of it. I do believe I have beaten this one before but it has been so long ago and that file was no longer on the cart if it did. So this version did have some balancing tweaks and changes from the original so take that into mind.

Anyways DQ is a very interesting base for this series and JRPGs as a consequence There was quite a lot interesting and good design choices that were made in this game even in a more modern lens.

Story wise there is not really much to say here it is very limited but they do make so choices that elevate it slightly. For one the conceit is that you are the descendant of a previous legendary hero and are follwoing in his foot steps. This makes the game feel slightly more robust than just say go beat the Dragonlord. The reinforce by things like you finding your ancestor's legendary equipment scattered about the land randomly on the world map, off a beaten path in the final dungeon, etc.

The amount of work the song Unknown World previously mentioned in DQ2 is immense. I put it up there as the best world map music and maybe even the best piece of video game music period. It just evokes so many different feelings. The subdued somber nature of it. Really works with this games lone solitary hero traveling the world out there on his own. But is also evokes the passage of time with the steady rhythm that synchs with the walking animation and also the weight of that time as you are following in the foot steps of a great hero. This nature of the song is what is exploited to great effect in later entries like DQ2. It really hit that nostalgia sense.

You also have those little DQ touches like the previously mentioned final dungeon being just across the water from the starting town. So that your final goal is always there in sight. Or when you stumble upon a town on the world map only for there to be no people in it and has strong random encounters. A great way to show not tell the consequences of if you should fail via playing with you game mechanics expectations. Then there is actually saving the princess which is your actual first stated mission but is totally optional. When you rescue your sprite changes to show you carrying her in your arms as you have to walk her back home. They rewrite all sort of npc dialogue around the world for when you are carrying her. Something that most people will never see because they are only going to make a beeline to the castle in a couple minutes of game time. This also what starts the traditional DQ victory lap. Which is when you defeat the final boss, random encounters are gone from the game and you are free travel the world and they give every npc new dialogue. This is until you usually return the king who set you on your quest who has his guards play you the main DQ theme into credits.

The conscience choice to make the game about a single character instead of a party. Other RPG games existed and they had played them. So they knew going into this that this was going to be many people first rpg and the first rpg they were going to make. So they choose to greatly simplify the formula. The battle were 1 character versus only one monster. This means they had a much easier time tuning the balance of the combat that other early jrpgs and rpgs in general tended to flub like DQ2 for instance. It also gave us the base Dragon Quest combat formula which only seen relatively minor tweaks over the years.

There is also the balance of the Dragon Quest economy. Upgrades are fairly expensive and gold does not quite roll in. But on the other hand equipment upgrades very effective. You are going to have to be very picky and choosey about what upgrades you get or you are going to be doing a lot of grinding. There is a line that you can walk that will help minimize the grinding you will be doing. Which is a lot of the strategy to DQ. There is also the third element of magic which does not scale off of stats but instead does fixed damage. Magic usually acts a method to beat things that your level and equipment aren't quite up to yet limited by your mp pool but the gold and exp rewards are worth your while.

A unique design feature of the DQ that does not appear in the others is the fact that there is only one save point in the entire game which is where you start the game. It is also the only point the fast travel systems can take you. This changes the entire flow of the game compared to the usual can save in every city formula. This forces starting town to be a de facto hub of sorts. Where are a constantly returning to and every leg of your adventure spokes out from it like bicycle wheel. This has some implications for the gameplay. One it means you will constantly have to retread through previous locations to make it out to the next new area. Which also means you will get in plenty of incidental grinding just traveling around meaning you don't have to do so much of the walk two tiles outside the city type grinding typical of jrpgs of the era.

If any of that started sounding similar it did to me as well. As to me I immediately recognized it as very similar to the game flow of the Souls series. Which I don't think it's anything to wild to say a jrpg series might have taken some inspiration from DQ. The death penalty of the DQ series should also sound pretty familiar as well. When you die in DQ you return to your starting point and lose half of your gold. No you can't go back and pick it up from your corpse. As I mentioned in the economy section gold is very important and hard to come by. You totally get the 'I'm walking out here with too much gold on me. Man I need to bank this into a new item or literally bank it in high increments only at the bank. Crap! I died I was only 200 gold way from that shield!

18. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair

I played Danganronpa 2 early in the year after enjoying my time with the first last year. It was still a good game. I do recommend. Not the last time grizzly murders will be solved on this list. There might even be a fully blown Visual Novel on this list like the next entry even.

17. Steins;Gate

This visual novel was adapted into one of the better anime of all time. Maybe even best one to a decent amount of people. The basic gist is it is a very good pop sci-fi conspiracy thriller. I decided to finally check out the source material. It's just as good but more fleshed out but with a higher time commitment who could have guessed.

16. BlazBlue Cross Tag Battle

I had plenty of enjoyable times with Cross Tag and I wanted to like it more than I did. The problem was I never really found characters on the roster that I quite clicked with to be my main. My closest thing to a main was Chie from my experience of her being my main in P4A but her old play strategies almost completely destroyed in the translation to this game. Constantly leading me to get blown up for finding myself slipping back into those old habits. This happened with just about every character who I like from their original games completely falling flat for me in this game. I had more success with characters I originally didn't like from their original games that were translated into something more my style but they really weren't the characters I wanted to play.

The actual systems and what not were great. It just bizarrely missed me.

15. WarioWare Gold

I like microgames. They put all the best microgames into one game. Enough said.

14. Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight

I played all 3 Persona Dancing games this year as the came in a bundle. Persona 5 Dancing is lowest on this list.

First the game seemed to be hurting on track selection as Persona 5 currently just has way less material to select from. From the other two game they seem to prioritize vocal tracks for these games which is probably the right move. But Persona 5 is light on those so a lot of the roster is every vocal track plus two remixes of them. They do delve into the instrumental tracks more but how do you leave "Layer Cake" aka the weapon shop music off the list?! Also having t get so much mileage out of the vocal tracks didn't leave them any to use as finale track to act the anthem to the games like P4's Reach out to the Truth and P3's Burn my Dread.

Secondly P5 Dancing was the last one of them I played and the only one that I felt suffering from note vomit of the note tracks not seeming to match up to their songs at all. It felt like they were struggling in adapting P5 Jazzy tunes as compared to P4's J-pop and P3's J-hip hop and J-rock.

13. Persona 4: Dancing All Night

This one has a fully story compared to the other two dancing games. So that's great. The other games have stronger hooks as rhythm games compared to this one which I will get into next.

12. Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight

So the structure of P3D and P5D differ from P4D in that they ditch full visual novel story of P4D. Instead choosing to dole out their stories via Social Links. Which you gain ranks in this game by completely mini achievement type tasks playing the actual rhythm game. So it will be you rank up with this character for hitting x amount of accumulated perfect notes or clears song with X many modifiers on. I feel this shift actually makes playing the actual rhythm parts more engaging than in P4D.

11. Return of the Obra Dinn

This game scratched that similar itch that Danganronpa scratched for me earler. That itch being the Ace Attorney itch. Also was I the only one totally imagining I was playing Meryl Stryfe from Trigun. I did not know playing an insurance adjustor was actually something I have always wanted to do. Sort of bummed the humanoid typhoon or even a regular typhoon did not show up.

10. Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth Hacker's Memory

You can read my last year's list for my thoughts on the last game. The gist is basically the same they made a fairly good turn based monster collection rpg and layered a good season of Digimon story on top of it. The gameplay is basically the same as last time. They instead tell a mostly separate story from the first game that runs concurrently to that first game. The story is quite good this time as well.

Last year's list I mentioned my previous issues with Bandai Namco and them not putting out games like this the west. There was new really weird move from them. In that the original Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth has been delisted from US PSN. But that was only like two weeks ago from my writing of this list so maybe it is a weird blip. My trust level in Bandai Namco is low. That's why I am looking at that with great suspicion. My GOTY 2017 Digimon World: Next Order it still up and on deep sale so maybe grab that while you can.

9. Gravity Rush 2

8. Gravity Rush

I played both of them very near the beginning of this year. I liked them quite a lot. The gravity shifting mechanics are some of the best open world traversal mechanics I have played since the original Spider-man 2 game. Playing these game early in the year just might explain why I have yet to feel any real burning need to play Marvel's Spider-man this year. That need was already satisfied. I have one above 2 here as I felt that I enjoyed smaller tighter package of the first game over the more expanded upon second game.

7. The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories

I like SWERY. If you are on this site you probably like SWERY. This is probably the best game SWERY has made. It feels maybe a little too safe of a game being basically an indie physics puzzle platformer but that didn't stop me from thoroughly enjoying my time with this game start to finish. It's not going to knock Deadly Premonition out of my favorite SWERY game slot but it is a solid game

6. Dragon Ball FighterZ

Now here was the fighting game that totally clicked with me this year. I was playing this game daily hitting the lab and going online. It actually got me to buy my first real arcade stick upgrading from the mini stick I was using. Saw an immediate increase in the consistency of my execution. I eventually fell off this routine obviously looking at the amount of games I played this year. If other games didn't exist this year I could have easily stuck with it. The game art of doomed itself with me as all this beautifully rendered Toriyama art kindled that Dragon Quest spark that ate up a chunk of my year

5. Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix

In preparation of Kingdom Heart 3. I Finally played and beat the Final Mix version of 1 in the HD remakes. I still say it holds up incredibly well and is a fantastic game. It is still maybe the best example of the RPG heavy Action-RPG.

What I mean by that is that KH actually applies RPG growth mechanics to its action combat. The game starts you out with very frustratingly little that you can actually do. You attack with a three hit ground or air combo, jump, and use healing items that's it. You have to unlock your block and dodge roll.

This is actually kind of a genius design choice. As it leaves your only two defensive measures. Jumping- which is a really bad choice until later in the game with high jump and super glide. Parrying- which is almost always the best choice defensively and offensively and also you get rewarded bonus exp for doing it and in the early game can easily multiply for incoming exp for performing them consistently. It's great for getting the player to consistently keep parrying in mind as an option when they have so many more and easier options available later in the game.

Anyways by the end of the game when you are rocking 7 very useful spells, blocking, dodge rolling, high jumping, super gliding, various lengths of combo strings with like 8 different finishers and openers, 5 unique physical special abilities, and 6 mixed bag of usefulness summons. It is clear that your character didn't simply grow in numbers but astronomically in moment by moment combat capabilities. Truly putting the RPG into the action instead of a light sprinkling.

It really sucks that those beginning choices of weapons and exp curve do not have any in game information given about them. But it is really cool the profound effects they have on you in a given playthrough. So this time I chose the shield over my usual staff. You always give up the sword because it is a trap. The staff has great benefits in that you will start with and always have two more MP than any other choice. In this game max mp determines the strength of your spells and summons along with number of casts obviously. There is no way to permanently increase MP in the game and magic is incredibly good and useful. With the shield and maximum MP gear I think the highest I hit at end game was 16. So 2 more is pretty significant. So why would I go shield? Well I was playing on the hardest difficulty and set the leveling curve to be slow at the beginning. So I chose the shield which would get me safety net abilities early in the game as invincibility while healing and surviving a fatal blow down to 1 hp. This meant I got none of the MP regenerating abilities until the very end of the game. So the game became way more about managing my mp recovery items of which I got dangerously low on quite a few times. It was quite a drastically different play experience than I have had previously.

On the story front as someone who is actually caught up on the Kingdom Hearts lore, I was actually flabbergasted that they actually managed to do it but it all actually makes total sense when you have all the pieces in hand. Kingdom Hearts always felt like the one that brought about the most plot holes but it turn out if you just keep writing more and more you can plug up the plot holes just fine.

Like the one that comes into everyone's mind is that Kingdom Hearts implied that there was only one Keyblade, well there is actually 3 featured in the game for reasons plus another 1-2 if you take in account the secret movie, but anyways people always felt when like 50 showed up in the sequels that was some sort of plot hole. It's actually not because as it turns out everyone who has information about keyblades their source was ultimately King Mickey, an actual keyblade wielder all along. Mostly through him being research partners with Ansem. Who he did not totally trust due to having an assistant with the name of a known bad guy and looked oddly alike a missing keyblade wielder he knew. So thus everyone only has purposely half true information and refer to the keyblade as a singular item. So why did he not actually give Donald and Goofy the full rundown. That was because he did feel like he needed to because he sent them out with the intention that were going to find Master Aqua which was the only other keyblade wielder he thought was still around and she is more knowledgeable than him about the keyblade.

Anyways there was plenty of other things like that made go oh now I see that totally fits. So good job on them. Kingdom Hearts lore actually makes sense it just took like 16 games.

4. Yakuza Kiwami

3. Yakuza 0

I have always known that the Yakuza games were basically made for me. But I just never ended up getting into them. 2018 was the year I changed that and boy I was right. To really boil down what I love about these games is that they basically have everything I had been seeking from Rockstar's open worlds all along. The comedy perfectly aligned to my tastes. The densely packed open world. The ridiculously high melodrama crime tales. Good beat 'em up RPG beats kind of poor handling third person shooter every time. The side activities sure bowling is great, I want that. But you know what I would want even more to is to play a bug themed bikini wrestling TCG with some kids. There's a reason you won't find RDR2 on this list because after inviting Yakuza into my life I don't think there is anything more a Rockstar game can offer me.

I put 0 over Kiwami for pretty obvious reasons. Really love the 80's Japanese bubble themeing. Especially as I played Kiwami to 0 back to back. Funny to get more money in like the first half hour of play in 0 than I did in the entirety of Kiwami.

2. Dragon Quest III

Wow. Just wow. Playing Dragon Quest III for the first time was nothing short of a revelation. To call the leap forward from DQ 1 and 2 to 3 astronomical would be a severe understatement. If 1 and 2 are experimental birth place of the JRPG genre DQ3 feels like a game that was ripped from the future after at least a decade of perfecting the genre to it's absolute peak. There is a substory in Yakuza 0 about people waiting in line for a copy of DQ3. When Kiryu asks about what the line is about someone describes DQ3 as the best game ever made. I really could not come up with a single game that predates DQ3 that can even come close. I think Tetris technically existed but the Gameboy version was a year later. I may have said other games hold up on this list but DQ3 is one of those timeless games along side of games like Super Mario World. DQ3 came out on the NES originally and I would hold it up to FFVIs and Chrono Triggers and really any of the great JRPGs that followed.

The first notable addition DQ3 brings to the table compared to 1 and 2 is it introduces the class system. Which those with FF knowledge will be familiar with as Job system from FF3 which come 2 years later. There are some key differences here. You start out with a Hero character with their class fixed as basically the Hero character from DQ1. This makes them a fairly strong all rounder with exclusive equipment and spells that can cover for gaps in the team you assemble. Speaking of the team you get to create more characters to fill up a roster. They can be 1 of the 6 or 7 if playing snes onward remakes classes. They all have exquisitely good strengths and weaknesses that just make team building in these games an utter delight. Even the drunks are interesting acting as the carry class of this game until you can class change them into class change exclusive best class Sage without using the one off item.

Speaking of class change until the FF job system this is not something freely available. There place where you can class change comes in about a 1/3 through the game and requires the character to be a certain level. The general mechanic is as follows the class changing makes the character level one of their new class with 1/2 of their pre change stats and all learned spells. There is just so much decision making depth hidden in this single mechanic that you could play this game for decades and still find new things you want to try out. Here is like some examples of some good reasons why you would want to change a class as early as possible or wait until later. Changing early will get you lots of easy levels on a character as the start out at level 1. They are likely to soon overtake a class you held out on power when they have those 1/2 previous stats stacked on top. But on the other hand changing early means the characteristics of the first class will stop really shining through as you get higher in the levels.

There is also an extra layer on top of this system if you play snes or later remakes of this game. As they add in personalities which should be familiar to those who know Pokémon battle mechanics. Personalities like Pokémon natures increase and decrease the stat gains of given stats. The mechanic is slightly different here as personalities are not locked in and can be changed through items and equipment that add even more dimension to builds you can do. This just one example of how Pokemon wears its DQ influence on its sleeve. So you are a person who has ever found yourself liking the ideas behind the Pokémon battle mechanics but maybe not enough to invest the amount of time or take them seriously enough to actually be competitive at them. DQ3 is a good way to engage with source of some of those mechanics in a fun single player manner.

So let's start cracking into the story bits here. The game starts with the Hero's mother bombastically waking them up because you see today is a big day, the biggest day. It is the day the Hero embarks on their grand adventure! But first they must meet with the king! The Hero's mother practically drags them to meet with the king. So remember how I said Pokémon wears its DQ influence on its sleeve? Yes they totally ripped off this specific DQ opening as the opening to the games and anime. Well you see there is a bit more to this opening in DQ. Upon meeting the King you find out that Hero must go on this journey because the Hero's father set out to defeat the Demonlord but has been MIA for sometimes and they must assume he is dead. So now it's up to you his teenage son or daughter to save the world. This opening is hilarious because it cannot be understated how eager the mom is to send her kid off on a suicide mission like it was their first day at grade school. This scene is like the tone definer for the entire DQ series.

This game filled with all sort of great bits like that scene. At one point you retrieve a stolen crown from a groups of bandit. The reward the king gives you is his kingdom. The game fades to black and you are sitting on the throne as a new king/queen. All the towns dialogue change correspondingly to you now being the ruler. The guards won't let you leave the city. There is no way to advance the game until bust into the local gambling den and force the king to take back their crown. He was sick of being this king and just wanted to gamble. For the rest of the entire game if you ever use this king to save he will re-offer to make you the ruler again. There is also the fact that like a good solid chunk of this game is about you traveling on foot from Spain to India to get the king of Spain a single pinch of black pepper. Also yes this game's world map is loosely based on the real world.

This game also introduces another Dragon Quest hallmark. The false ending. You have a full adventure longer and greater than DQ2 before. You go to the Demonlord lair and it is every bit the difficult final dungeon of the previous games. The Demonlord himself every bit the same final boss as the other two games. You beat him and the game enters the DQ victory lap I mentioned in DQ1. All the npc dialgoue changes to reflect the defeat of the Demonlord. You would be forgiven to think you had beaten the game. The tells that there is something up is that you never did find out what happened to the hero's dad and there is one location that didn't really serve a purpose. So you go to the king they start playing the theme then an earthquake interrupts and s voice introduces itself as the archfiend from a different world.

You go to the place that did not serve a purpose ad you find a hole to fall down and you end up in a house. You talk to a guy there and he introduces this world a Alefgard which players of DQ1 and 2 will recognize as the continent the first game takes place in. You step on land and sure enough here's Unknown World back again putting in work. Something different this time around the world is eternally night and the world is way more apocalyptic than before. Down here you basically got through an abridged version of the entire quest of DQ1. Made shorter mostly by the fact you start with a boat this time. Anyways you defeat the archfiend go to the king and close out the game. This time you are bestowed with legendary name and title only given to the greatest heroes Loto/Roto/Edrick depending on what localization you get. This being the name of the ancestor whose footsteps you follow in DQ1 indicating that this game was in fact the prequel to DQ1 all along. A great way to end the first trilogy of DQ games.

1. Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age

I know what you are thinking I just spent a great many words detailing how I think Dragon Quest III is one of the greatest games ever made and yet here is something above it on the list. What gives? DQXI might be getting some bonus points for actually being a 2018 game. So I will admit these games might not retain the same ranking in my mind as time goes on. Dragon Quest III is a game I am completely looking forward to revisiting many times over the years. DQXI is not really that type of game but I will give maybe the most profound I can about this game. DQXI is a game I put 120 hours and at no point did it ever drag and there was never any filler. In this jrpg maybe only 10ish hours of that could have been considered grinding and that was mostly because I chose to do that grinding for the best end game gear. So the rest of this entry will be me trying to break down how I think they managed to accomplish this phenomenal feat.

Let's start by looking into what was happening with DQ in between the large gap between these games as I understand it. Let's start by saying the only other mainline games I played were DQVII and DQIX. As well as doing some slight dabbling in DQIV this year and briefly playing past the first dungeon in DQV in Japanese on my super famicom cart. I don't know any Japanese. Anyways with DQIV and DQV the class change mechanics were removed and these game seemed to really focus on pushing and experimenting with the storytelling. The class change systems would return for 6 and 7 be absent 8 and be back for 9. From my perspective like each game post-DQIII sets out a few key aspects and innovate on them. The general rule of thumb seems to be no class system means a focus on storytelling and its presence usually mean gameplay mechanics.

So let's look at what DQXI trying to focus on. XI is a non class system game they are focusing on some aspect of story telling. The last game of this type was VIII and both games share the same goal which is to focus on the presentation of their storytelling. Both of those games are not out here looking to tell the most innovative or daring stories they can. That seemed to been the focus of IV and V was to tell the best story. You see somewhere in those games Yuji Horii stumbled upon his silver bullet of Dragon Quest story telling.

You see Yuiji Horii was an editor at Shonen Jump when he first started making games. Shonen Jump for the uniformed is the weekly manga magazine that published titles such as Dragonballl, Yu Yu Hakusho, HunterXHunter, One Piece, Naruto, My Hero Academia, etc. Using his connections there explains what Akira Toriyama of Dragonball fame does the art design for DQ. This magic bullet was that he used his Shonen Jump experience and applied the highly successful Shonen manga plot structure.

You see each town you visit usually has it own fairly robust storyline to it that may or many not actually advance the main plot. DQ town fleshed out and feel like real living breathing places in a way you usually don't get from jrpgs where most towns just feel like pit stops with some different items in the shop. These places manage to feel about as realized a town in a western rpg where you spend dozens of hours doing quests in. But that's the thing and magic about DQ is that they manage to cram this down in bite sized chucks that can be done in a single play session. These town plots are the equivalent of the weekly chapter of manga. In the world of manga this smallest structure is the most important. You see every week they put of a reader survey to rank every chapter that week. If your manga is not consistently telling a more interesting story than every other author week in and week out in sub 20 page form you are getting cut. The weekly magazine is flagship you have to be driving sales. Given the series creator is it totally understandable why this micro structure of storytelling is do focused on and is one of the key defining features you will find in most DQ games now.

The next structure above this is the volume which is the collection of about 9 chapters of manga. These are the secondary point of sales for a given series so most manga structure the story around these as well. An example for visitors of this site is Dragonball Z. The volumes for the Cell saga break into the following: Android 19 and 20 appear to 16,17, and 18 awaken, the fight against 17 and 18 to first appearance of Cell, Super Piccolo vs Cell to Cell absorbs 17, Vegeta vs Semi-Perfect Cell to Perfect Cell, Perfect Cell vs Swole SSJ Trunks to Mr. Satan goes to the Cell Games, Goku vs Cell to Gohan turns SSJ2, SSJ2 Gohan versus Cell to the end. That brings us cleanly to the next structure the manga arc also known as sagas in DBZ terms. Then it follows that these arcs go together to form a series. The very unique thing that the Dragon Quest series does is that is puts all of these upper level structures into its games. If you refer back to the DQ3 entry where I talked about how that game features a false ending that was in fact an arc transition. This is exceedingly rare in videogames where game often limit themselves to being one arc into a greater series of games like a Mass Effect. They only other game I can remember doing this was my last year's number 2 game NieR: Automata.

So with all that preamble out of the way let's start cracking into what makes DQXI my game of the year. Earlier on I said the focus of DQXI was in presentation more specifically this game is trying to present the magic and identity of Dragon Quest in its most idealized crystalline form. DQVIII attempted to do this earlier but with XI they truly exceed. I think where VIII failed and XI succeeded was that VIII was them just making next DQ but in PS2 3D fashion. With XI it feels like they went all the way back to DQ1 design wise and rebuilt from there. With everything they put on top of that skeleton they really asked and answered why it was there. Most of these answers are gameplay elements reinforcing the storytelling or the storytelling reinforcing the game design. It really hard to tell the chicken from the egg in which is gameplay serving the story or the story serving the gameplay. So for the rest of the entry I will be going into story and gameplay at the same time going in order through the games three arcs.

The first arc starts right back at DQ1 with the Hero finding out he is the successor to legendary hero Erdwin and that he must set out of a journey to fulfill the prophecy and defeat a great evil. So he set off to go meet the king to acquire his aid and guidance on where to start. This is exactly DQ1 story completely. It is at this point I should bring up that DQ remembering it roots takes a lot of lessons from the long reigning current king of shonen manga, One Piece. It is a manga about a crew of good natured pirate out on an adventure to achieve their dreams and help their captain become the king of the pirate via friendship. So they twist they set up by having the King immediately imprisons the Hero on the notion that prophecy means coming of the Hero causes the great evil rather than the other way around. Then he escapes from prison with the help of the first part member the thief Erik. This twist basically set up the rest of the first arc to basically be the traditional DQ 1 and 2 tale but with One Piece's basic plot layered on top. That plot being that your party is basically a band of good natured fugitives that go to place basically saving the day and always having to make a swift exit to avoid the law. This narrative justifies they pretty linear nature of this first section of the game as the law is right on your tail. It also works to strengthen the bond between the party member because joining the party means giving up any chance to return to a normal life. The first couple volumes to use the manga analogy deal with what I like to call the gathering of the crew reflecting in it's early volumes One Piece. To even further hammering in some One Piece comparisons after getting your final members you are set loose out into the open sea. There the game starts opening up as the leg of this quest is about finding the 7 colored orbs so you can go and talk to world tree to get the guidance.

There is a lot going on in the first arc here. I love how they introduce the first party member just after veering off of DQ1 plot trajectory. It is like they are answering the question of why there are party members in this game. The DQ1 Hero did not need a party but the king is hunting you rather than helping you so you are going to need friends. Upon acquiring the party you can see all the gameplay conditions layer on top of the basics of the basics are their to showcase the bonds, relationships, and identities of these characters. One of these is the Pep system which is in battle characters will enter the Pep state randomly and get a boost to three stats for some turns. The three stats are different for each character. The true use for the Pep system though is when 2 or more characters synch up their pep states they can use a Pep Power on their turn. A pep power is usually very ability reflecting the characters involved it can be an attack, a cool power up, and all sort of other crazy effects. The thing is not all characters can perform a pep power with each other. Who can and cannot use pep powers together is often reflected in the party dynamics. The Hero can pep power with anyone being the glue the hold the group together and often serves as an anchor in three character powers between two characters normally wouldn't have a two character power. The twin mage sisters have more dual powers than any other pairing. The life of the party but personally closed, Sylvando, on the other hand starts no dual pairings outside of the Hero but has a lot of three person pairings. This is fitting as Sylvando's battle kit is closest to the Hero's in that he covers a wide variety of bases but being the circus performer usually with a twist. Like having heals over time rather than pure healing or having incomplete kits like being able to buff some stats and cure ailments but not all of them. The entire cast is built with so much care and detail to make so many interesting dynamics that reflect both in battle and outside of battle.

Taking it back to story a bit here. On the smaller scale this game has town plot structure of previous Dragon Quests. They bolster this type of story telling partly by just how gorgeous and jam packed these town are that make them a delight. They also make this world feel so much more alive by taking another page from the One Piece handbook. Which is by constantly foreshadow everything all the time. This is the thing that One Piece is most famous for. You can have a name in a single panel later turn out to be a central character of an arc like 10 years later. One Piece does this so much that currently fans are pretty sure they have a pretty rough estimate of basically most of the major overarching events that are going to go down until the end of the manga. What this techniques does is it trades surprise for anticipation. The downside is definitely that this leads to predictability and the plot of DQXI is mostly predictable. Upside is the world feels much more realistic when I can talk to everyone in a major city learn about like 5 other places I will be going to and what to expect when I get there. Probably the best advantage of getting to know what coming ahead is it lessens the need to rush to get there. You transition from I gotta know what's next to I'll get there when I get there. This works wonderfully for One Piece which super successful despite it's glacial pacing in advancing the main plot. In DQXI this allows to really focus on and appreciate what's going on immediately in front of you. It's how you find yourself thoroughly enjoying every minute of 120 hour game by having it guide you to its pace.

Another way DQXI gets you to slow down and fully explore its places is with its crafting system. By exploring every nook and cranny you will find all the recipes and materials to craft all the equipment you could need and vastly superior to what you will find in the shops at any given time. This is huge because what it ends up meaning is the player can exchange exploration for grinding. Over the course of the game I mostly fought only 1 of every unique enemy that appears on the field only exception really being in the course of doing certain sidequests. The game did not really give me too much trouble for doing that it was a pretty smooth experience. The game might have been tuned at little too easy but it seemed at least the bosses where designed to makes sure you done at least a certain amount of crafting or grinding.

So with that were come to our first arc transition. Your meeting with the world tree goes horribly wrong. The villain jacks your legendary blade and as well as takes all your Hero power. The prophecy is truly off the rails now. The Hero wakes up after this to find that the world has ended and he is all alone and he's also a fish. The first order of business is to just survive and he eventually makes his way to what might be the last bastion of humanity. There he gets a brand new party member as he helps fend off a menacing army of DQ baddies. I cannot understate how good the visual of a marching army of DQ monsters is. Then the hero and his new ally set off to defeat the rest of the seven generals and the dark lord that controls them all. Along the way you meet up with your other party members and find out what often wild things they have been up to during the apocalypse. The new experiences often opening up brand new combat abilities. You also re acquire the ship early on this arc. This opens up the game quite a bit from the previous arc as there are a decent amount of options in the order you could tackle things. Eventually the generals are defeated and the party is back together and the Hero gets back his powers. The party acquires a means of flight basically finds Kami's lookout and there learn what they need to forge a new legendary blade. The Forge the blade and storm the darklord castle and defeat him in true Dragon Quest fashion. Queue credits and victory lap.

Now here dear reader is where I am going to put a spoiler warning. As the final arc is really the only thing that DQXI actually never tips its hand on in advance. Even plenty of reviews I read at the time seemed to completely missed this section of the game assuming it was over and there was only some post game bonus material left. But I have to talk about it because it is easily the coolest part of this game. So read on if you want to.

So there is a post credits sequence that points you in the direction of a key to this big temple you might have found earlier on one of the sky island. This temple was surrounded by a bunch of these ghostly spirits that you see throughout the game that only the Hero can see. Inside you talk to a great spirit that tells you their purpose. These spirits job are to going out an observe all events that occur in the world and record them in this orb housed at the temple which is the literal embodiment of time. The Hero is also informed that he uniquely has the required amount of power to shatter the time orb. This puts a choice on the table. The world is saved and everything is fine except for the fact that party themselves suffered a great personal loss. So the choice is to either leave everything as it is or have the Hero shatter the timeline and reset the world back to the end of the first arc. The final arc involves dong latter. Mechanically this works out as a sort of new game half plus. In which you literally returned to a save state taken at a certain point near the end of the first arc. Only the Hero retains his level and you keep all your items. But the rest of your party are exactly at the level they were when this save state was taken even equipped with the same items. Otherwise though you have otherwise basically thrown away the last 40 hours of gameplay. The rest of the first arc plays out largely the same except the Hero is now toting the evil corrupted legendary blade the darklord had while his own version broke shattering time. He then uses this blade to thwart the event that originally occurred at the world tree and defeat the dark lord before he can rise.

This is when the game reveals to you that the darklord you defeated was not in fact the actual darklord. Instead he was actually a party member of Erdwin who betrayed him and killed him before he could deal the final blow to the true darklord. He then hatched his plan to basically hijack the prophecy when it rolled around again in the future to gain all the power and thwart the next rise of the hero and the actual evil lord. Stopping him means the regular prophecy is back on and you have a darklord to stop. The way the rest of this arc plays out is that you essentially have access to the entire world map from the get go. Every place on the map has been completely restocked with new quests and things to see. So basically is a big open world with the goal a prepping your party as much as you want for the final battle. The final battle is no slouch mind you so you will want to do a lot of prep. Some this quest will return the experience and abilities that you party members had gotten in the old timeline. The you head in for the final battle. Along the way you learn of the fates of the rest of Erdwin's party. Most importantly the Sage who was his lover. She was the one essentially to do everything to set up for your arrival and make sure the prophecy was in motion. Once she had done all get could she basically succumbed to her grief and found herself at the time temple where she became the great spirit you talked to.

The party succeeds and they defeat the darklord truly this time. But the Hero wants to do something for the Sage who has done so much for them along there journey. So the party ventures back to the time temple. There the Hero uses his power to return the Sage back to her true form and gives her his power and the legendary blade so he can go back and save Erdwin. She does disappearing leaving the sword behind. The Hero then takes the blade back to the World Tree to return it to its rightful resting place. It is there that he finally has a chat with the world tree who reveals her true form as the dragon that created the world. She then congratulates him and for the first time ever bestows the title of Erdrick, the greatest hero. The Dragon Quest theme play and the camera zooms in on the legendary blade and pulls back out reveal the Hero of DQ1 pulling the blade out of the ground. The credits roll and Unknown World plays and the credits advance on a montage of game of each DQ up until this one. Post credits you get a scene of the Sage successfully making it to the past and reuniting with Erdwin. The scene cuts to a closing of a book housing this tale. Revealing a woman with the same hair color as the Sage. She places the book back on the shelf along with another book with the symbol of the Hero on the side presumable both the tales of Erdwin and our Erdrick. This woman the descendant of the Sage and Erdwin the only one who would know both tales. She then walks up the stairs to go wake up her child for their very big day! Yes that's right folks it's the opening to DQ3. The end. What a perfect ending for such a fantastic game.

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Game of the Year 2017

As it has turns out there has personally never has been a better time for me to playing video games than 2017. The combo of first year of full time employment and not being a STEM major meant I had just the right combo of available funds and free time to play more games than I have in just about any other year. I also happened to pick up a PS4 this year so there is some catching up on what I missed on the platform on this list. I ended up playing enough games to in fact build an ordered list of games I played this year. So I will do just that. There will be spoilers.

13. Final Fantasy XV

FFXV has the distinct honor of being probably the worst video game I have played to completion. I am dyed in the wool Final Fantasy fan. I don't believe the series has dead yet. I liked FFXIII a great deal and it ranks pretty high among the Final Fantasy to me. This all is to say the I went into this game open minded and gave it the biggest chance I could.

FFXV might just be the greatest boondongle in the history of gaming. A decade of development as a flagship game of a major publisher just sucking in time, money, and talent and what came out the other side was something completely devoid of any merit. The only good thing I really have to say about it is that you can feel the games ample development in that it is the basically video game equivalent of Disney's Star Wars in feel.

The developers of FFXV just never stumbled upon a single good or exciting idea or element at all.

The combat is probably the most bland, boring, and unresponsive takes on character action I have ever seen. It made all the complaints about NieR's combat I have seen this year pretty laughable by comparison.

They added magic systems on top that basically amounted to a grenade you can toss in combat that came with a whole massive magic crafting system that promises all sorts of depth but was otherwise shallow and uninteresting busy work of slapping as much of an element as you can and scrolling through every item in the game to add the best uninteresting modifier you can find.

There's also summons you can do that look cool but have the most esoteric conditions to summon that you'll basically never see them. You have the party member abilities of which one is actually useful and it also happens to be the one they lock you out of towards the end of the game, great! There is a whole ability tree of the most unexciting sounding upgrades possible that I would go long swaths of the game forgetting to spend my points in there because there was nothing on there that I actually was driven to want.

There really isn't much to the actual moment to moment story of FFXV. Basically nothing surprising or important occurs in the whole of the opening open world section of the game that makes up the bulk of FFXV. None of the massive set of side quests ever actually contribute anything story wise. After that everything is short and truncated in a way that it can't have any impact. I fell like I got more story from the anime and the movie than I did from the actual game itself. They built out a whole world, lore, and large set of characters just nothing is done with them. Lunafreya the character as important as the main character Noctis in the world immediately dead on arrival. The evil empire that is built up to be the main villains entirely dead and collapsed in the time it take from the start of the game to when you reach them. They pull an entire World of Ruin you get to explore for like less than an hour. I

In the end FFXV is just a waste of a game. It was a waste of my time to play it. It was a waste of 10 years of development. It was waste of the spin off media they made for it. It is waste they they continue to expended effort to add to the game. It is the worst Final Fantasy game ever made. FFII's leveling system was at least an interesting novel idea in a terrible game. FFXV is not terrible it's just a nothing game which even worse in my opinion. I promise the rest of the entries on this list will be way shorter. I needed to at least get something out of all the time I wasted on this game.

12. Gundam Versus presents fighting games I didn't play enough to include on this list.

I like Gundam which something you will hear about later on this list. Gundam Versus is a fun game. I got to give some fools that UNIVERSE! Enough said.

This was going to be the year I was going to get into Guilty Gear with Xrd rev2. I spent some time in the lab picked out a main. Got online for a bit never won a single round. Got distracted by all the games coming out this year. I also played some BlazBlue: Central Fiction which might be more my speed than Guilty Gear currently is but I barely touched it. Anyways Arc System Works are doing a great job. Dragon Ball FighterZ will surely be the Arc System Works fighter that I finally get competent at.

Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite is not the MvC game I am longing for but I liked it more than I thought I would. Never ended up playing much of it though.

11. Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel

Early in the year I picked this game up on steam and I played it solidly for about a month. I was totally number 1 on the leader boards not just because of that bug they had where player's would swap stats. Ok it was totally just that. Anyways Nitropluc Blasterz is a very good game. It is probably the easiest anime fighter to pick up and play outside of P4A. It is in that gap between Street Fighter and anime fighters.

10. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

I found some time at the end of the year to squeeze in Danganronpa which had been sitting in my steam library for a while. The Persona meets Phoenix Wright mix it has going is pretty great. The story is fun and engaging. Turns out like others have told you before is true Danganronpa is a good game. You should play it sometime.

9. Life Is Strange: Before the Storm

There is absolutely no good reason why this game this game should exist and the game doesn't give you a reason why it should either. In spite of that however Deck Nine made a game that I was glad to play. They got those episode out real snappy. It was nice episodic thing to have to comeback to. No one needs to play this game that shouldn't even exist in the first place but if you are looking to fill some time and liked the original Life is Strange you should check out this game.

8. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

This is the right game at the right time. The story of this game has been talked about to death at this point so I won't add to that discussion. So I'll just explain its position on the list. We all know it's gameplay is just not there with the rest of the package. I barely have in me to care about good first person shooters anymore so that really dragged it down for me. That ending song might have left just that bad of a taste in my mouth to knock it down a couple entries. I don't see this game as sticking with me for a long time but given how things are heading that is very hopeful. Or at least I anticipate Wolfenstein III will totally usurp this one when it comes out.

7. Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep

I love Kingdom Hearts for reasons that have evolved over the years. This one plays on the fact that I love that Tetsuya Nomura has ripped of MGS and then out Metal Geared Nojima by way of Star Wars with the Final Fantasy and Disney IP. Kingdom Heart in a lot of ways follows the same plot trajectory that MGS does. The story of the first Kingdom Hearts is not too far off from the Disney tales the game whisks player through just with a little Nomura filter on it. KHII start's off by having you play a blonde character instead of the old man character in a virtual reality simulation that starts to break down. Then it takes you back to the main character than it introduces all sort of shit that doesn't make any sense but unlike MGS2 is actually resolves itself. So what Kingdom Hearts done in the like 6 other games post KHII is basically go back an in a very Kojima way try to write and retconn his way into explaining everything that doesn't make sense from the first 3 games while simultaneously adding a whole bunch of stuff for KHIII to eventually resolve.

So we get to Birth by Sleep which is the one entry I skipped out on and Finally played when it was released earlier this year on PS4. Birth by Sleep is MGS3 of the series. It is the prequel to the first Kingdom Hearts featuring a new cast with some of them with familiar faces. The gimmick here is that the game features three protagonists that you can play through the story as forming a Rashomon plot where you get the story from each character perspective. It ultimately ends up being the best story by far in the series. Some of that has to do with how dark it ultimately gets as all of these characters story each end their own unique tragedies to explain why they aren't around in the first game. This game surprisingly gets the most plot mileage from the Disney connection than any other entry in the series. Two of the main playable characters are flawed in a way the Sora the usual protagonist is not. So they end up actually learning lessons from the Disney worlds they encounter. Terra, the one flirting with the dark side of the force, ends up spending a good chunk of time working with and for the Disney villains but then also interacts with uplifting Disney character when he needs dragged back from the edge. The pure juxtaposition of the dark tone of the story and the light hearted Disney worlds is great. This game is probably the selling of the concept of Kingdom Hearts.

The main problem with the game is that it's gameplay let's it down. Birth by Sleep is the best playing of handheld entries to be sure but it is a massive step back from the console entries. Birth by Sleep pushes the trend that KHII started of being flasher for the sake of making the characters seems like they are stronger than before but sacrificing the good character action feel and balance that made Kingdom Hearts like the next best thing since DMC3 and DMC4.

6. Kingdom Hearts HD II.8: Final Chapter Prologue/Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep-A Fragmentary Passage

I am only talking about KH 0.2 in this entry which is the new game released in this package that functions as the Ground Zeroes of Kingdom Hearts III. As the name suggests it is a follow up of Birth by Sleep from the previous entry. It follows the exploits of Aqua who was left trapped in the KH universe's equivalent of hell at the end of that game. The game is not that long or substantial it luckily focuses on Aqua who is the best character in the series. The main attraction here is combat which they seem to have learned just how scale back in such a way that it can still be flashy but actually still has that good feel of KH I and II. It made me look forward to how KHIII will play instead of seeing how good of a MGS4 it pulls trying to tie up this ridiculous series.

5. Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth

I have a complicated history with Bandai Namco. Mainly there is a whole era of games they have made that I have desperately wanted but they would not give an English release. This title marked when they turned a new leaf finally started to giving the West those titles including Gundam Versus earlier on this list and another entry later on this list. I bought this one to reward them and I turned out to be pleasantly surprised.

I need to start out by saying that I am a massive Digimon fan more so than Pokemon and I caught them all in 4 soon to be 5 out of 7 generations of Pokemon. I feel that the Digimon franchise has entries that completely outclass Pokemon in each category anime, movies, manga(actually that the closest call), and yes games which we will get into later on this list.

To get into my feelings on this game I need to talk about how I love the anime entries in this series. Digimon Adventure and it's sequel Adventure 02 feature some of the best character and relationship writing I have ever seen in fiction. Director Mamoru Hosoda would basically rehash his Digimon movie Our War Game! as Summer Wars in 2009 that did well enough critically to get him that 'next Miyazaki' rub. The third anime Digimon Tamer's had the writer of Serial Experiments Lain, Chaiki J. Konaka, basically Trojan horse children into watching Neon Genesis Evangelion.

So why did I bring all that up. Well because my thoughts on Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth was that it was basically a good season of Digimon anime which is very high praise. It's maybe not as good as anything mentioned above but it is quite good. The plot shared some similarities with this year's Persona 5. A teen in Toyko under the care of an unorthodox caretaker. In stead of becoming a supernatural thief you become a supernatural private eye. You use digimon instead of persona. It taps into some of the greater Digimon lore which is deep and doesn't actually surface that much. The game has got some great style to it as well. They employ a real trippy as visual effect towards the end that was jaw dropping.

Gameplay is fairly standard turn based JRPG it features a two different weakness cycles you have the standard elemental wheel and the digimon type wheel of Vaccine, Virus, and Data. There plenty of digimon to get and the evolution system and level cap system are enough to always keep you team comp cycling and moving. It means that the game seemly always keeps a carrot just out of reach and it managed to keep my attention for the length of game. It is overall a very solid JRPG if you like those and I do.

4. Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood

Final Fantasy XIV is a hell of a game. I have been playing it since launch and it is the only MMO of the many MMOs have played that has stuck this hard. I won't get too far into what makes it a great mmo in this entry instead I will be talking about it as a Final Fantasy game. Because man talk about total Final Fantasy whiplash of playing both this and XV in the same year.

The thing about XIV is that the dev teams actually gets the FF series in a way that none of the FF dev teams has since FFX. They truly nailed that essence of Final Fantasy since they launched A Realm Reborn that has been missing from X. As a previously mentioned waaaay back I love XIII but it just doesn't feel like a Final Fantasy even to me. A Realm Reborn recaptured that magic but it felt much like you as a player where getting dragged through Final Fantasy theme park. Heavenward brought a story that felt like SNES era Final Fantasy as you were part of a ragtag band on a quest to talk to a dragon and hopefully end a centuries long war.

With Stormblood it really feels like FFXIV has truly hits it's stride and the story it tells for the first time does not lean on the Final Fantasy of the past but stands on it's own while still feeling like a Final Fantasy story being the first in nearly 16 years. The story revolves around liberating two occupied states from the evil Final Fantasy empire which is certainly familiar. Surprisingly the story manages to actually make the empire threatening. This is surprising because while up to this point in the story they have been a constant threat, the warrior of light that you play is at this point kills world threatening gods casually. They manage to do this all with ever pulling the old this great evil entity was behind it all along. In the end the enemy remains human in a way that never happens in a Final Fantasy which is refreshing.

Other things of note is that over the years and with in this expansion they have built out a cast of characters that rivals the very best of the series. The art team is also killing it in this expansion especially in the environmental design work. The engine is starting to get old but the sights wowed me in a way that much more technically advanced FFXV did not. It makes it hard to believe the same company made both there is just so much more life to XIV. Stormblood does cheat a bit by featuring an Eastern theme which as FFX has showed Square does amazing work when they are given the rare chance to do Eastern themed work. The hardest working music man in games, Masayoshi Soken, managed to knock this soundtrack out of the park it is every bit as strong as the next to entries in two entries in this list. He produces all this music at a ridiculous pace and under a ludicrous schedule. His work might not be the most polished but he is starting to give Uematsu a run for his money as a Final Fantasy composer.

3. Persona 5

I liked Persona 5 as much as I liked Persona 3 and Persona 4 which is a lot. Persona 5 is basically the advancement of the direction Persona 4 went in evolving Persona 3. They took the idea of making the social links more important that Persona 4 did by making it so you social linked with your entire team and gained abilities for doing so. It expanded this out to the entire social link cast. Which definitely had benefits making it feel like you were getting a lot from every social link but it brought in some issues. Like the non party member social links in general gave you way better benefits than your party members did. Also the non party member social link usually had better stories to them than the party members. Both of these combine to make make me not appreciate the Phantom Thieves quite as much as I did SEES and the Investigation Team before them.

Another thing Persona 5 does is put just about all of it's focus into Phantom Thieving aspect of the story making you lose almost all of the semblance of Japanese school simulator aspect of Persona 3 and 4. This brought benefits in that the Phantom thieves story is more interesting and focused than the SEES one and Investigation team one but again something was lost. I feel like you never really get to know Persona 5's Tokyo in the way you got to know Persona 3's Port Town and Persona 4's Inaba. It mainly coasts on your familiarity with Tokyo from elsewhere. All of the social links revolve around the Phantom Thieves so they don't flesh out the setting. The high school in Persona 5 is almost entirely a non entity.

A lot of Persona 5 made me appreciate design decisions that were made in Persona 3 more in contrast to itself. Persona 3 choice to limit how much you social link with the members of SEES immediately meant there was a larger cast for you to interact with and expanding the scope of its world a bit more. It also staunchly enforce a separation between your school life and your SEES job in way I can appreciate since the school life is so lacking in 5. A lot of the design shift occurred in Persona 4 but was not quite as noticeable because it fit with Persona 4's small town setting making sense that there was a smaller more intimate cast and a smaller place to explore. So the issue this brought became ore noticeable in 5 as it steered towards those decisions. All in all those I really enjoyed this one. They all have there strengths and weaknesses and I don't think I can claim any Persona as better than the rest.

2. NieR:Automata

I don't need to go into too much detail about what makes NieR: Automata so great that has been done before elsewhere. So I broke down an bought this game during the wait between the final entry on this list and Persona 5 to come out. It was still within about the first month of release. I was fairly convinced that I was not going to like the game at all due to being turned off of the gameplay. I am very picky about my character action which DMC3 and DMC4 are my top favorite and I enjoy KH I and II for how they manage to RPG it and feature the best boss battles in gaming. Bayonetta was above my cut off but not by a lot because I felt that the Witch Time mechanic was a little too much of a baby mechanic for babies.

So you can imagine my surprise when I didn't actually hate it. Initially the novelty of the way the games shifts it way through so many gameplay modes seemly was interesting enough of a gimmick. Eventually down the road especially playing the dlc unlike I would guess most people I really started to dig into the sepths of the system it's about Bayonetta level for me. Then the game got it's claws into me. First I had to stop an make sure the music wasn't done by Yuki Kajiura, famously for me the composer of .hack//Sign. That is about as high praise as you can get from me other than mistaking your music for Yoko Kanno's work. Next made a small notice of how the character designs not too dissimilar from Harry Ord from Turn A Gundam who is my avatar on this site. Then on I could not help making more comparisons to Turn A Gundam which is my favorite Gundam. Both are deep deep future tales, have silver hair coming form space with advanced technology, a lot of similar themes about war, and incredible soundtracks with Turn A actually being done by Yoko Kanno. I guess what I'm getting at here is if you like NieR: Automata you should maybe check out some Gundam.

1. Digimon World: Next Order

It has been long held little known fact that Digimon World is in fact the greatest video game ever made. This is due to the fact that it featured the greatest gameplay loop. It took a page out ActRaiser and the later Dark Cloud handbook in that is combines city building with an rpg system. What differentiates Digimon World is that it's RPG system goes back to the Digimon's roots as a virtual pet.

This means you have to feed, train, take to the rest room, watch you don't tire, and cure the sickness of your Digimon. This also means eventually your Digimon will die and you'll have to start over raising a new one put you a a strict timetable in which you must juggle all of this. The core idea of this game is that you need to leave the city to explore the world and find and recruit Digimon which back to the city which will build various improvements.

The push and pull here is that it hard to train and take care of your digimon away from the city but the improvements you make to the city make it easier for you to take care of your digimon even out in the field. Balancing act you are playing is that you want to spend enough time training your digimon in the city which is the fastest way to get them stronger but leave with enough life span that you can recruit as many Digimon as possible as well fight fights to get the funds to up keep your digimon. Then when your digimon passes you use the improvements to make a stronger digimon so you can get further and recruit more and repeat. It all feeds together in a way that is so satisfying that no gameplay loop since has ever been as good.

There was an attempt to recapture the magic of this game back in 2012 with Digimon World Re: Digitize which featured the same gamplay loop. I mentioned back in the other Digimon entry this was on of those Bandai Namco games that I desperately wanted but they did not release in the west. I eventually did play it when a fan translation was released. While they had the same great loop they definitely missed the mark. The problem was that they had tuned the game to be too easy. If you did know of Digimon World you would remember that it was know for being notoriously difficult especially as it required a lot of esoteric knowledge that the game never game you to fully understand it. Which was reason why that game's gamefaqs forum was still active well into the late 00's in not the 10's. So it made sense why they went easier with Re: Digitize. The problem it caused was that is was that you could make way too much progress per digimon life cycle. You almost never really felt all that rewarded for building up your city since you very rarely ran in to a gate where your digimon wasn't strong enough. Plus you were able to collect more improvements than you could actually notice the value of each individual one.

And so we get to Next Order and after waiting 18 years for a true follow up to many favorite videogame. It arrived and they actually managed to nail it and it actually got a western release. They got the difficulty right this time. They made some new additions to the formula. You've got the mega stage, you have two digimon at a time, there another system to improve the city not solely through recruitment, and they actually surface evolution information in the game this time. The game's story is actually insanely enough a direct follow up to the original Digimon World's story. The protagonist of that game shows back up in this game. Also HOLY HELL the opening to this game was insane to me. It opens with this killer remix of the original game's final boss theme which was the most hype like 20 second loop in gaming. At that moment playing this game for me was to know what it must be like to be Dan Ryckert and have the universe bend to my will to create a great follow up to my favorite game ever and have it actually get released in the west. I don't like this game as much as I like the original that I dissected for almost two decades but it is really close.

Sorry NieR: Automata you were completely robbed. Any other year would have been your year.

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