Game of The Year 2015

It seems like plenty of people walked away from 2014 with a sour taste in their mouths about games. I can kind of see it too, what with games like Shadow of Mordor, and Dragon Age: Inquisition walking away with the big wins. However I generally felt pretty positive about my list last year, particularly the front half of the list.

That said, I think you'd have to be pretty jaded to feel that way this year. 2015 seemed to have a little something for everyone, and I think you can tell just by checking the pulse of the gaming community that most people would agree. That's certainly been the case for me, as I arrived at the end of the year staring down a text document with at least 25 games I played that could potentially make my list.

However, staying true to the nature of my annual list, I'll once again be narrowing it down to the ten best games that I thought were my favorites this year. That was no small feat this year, as I scrambled to keep up with the heavy tail end of the year, and play as many games as I could.

A few things to note about my list before we began: First off, I'll once again be doing an ordered list this year. I'm forgoing the suspense of a countdown style of list in favor of something that reads more coherently. So yes, as soon as you scroll down you'll see my favorite game of the year, followed by 9 others ranked from top to bottom. Hopefully there will still be some surprises for you though.

Secondly, I'll be continuing what I started last year, and hand out a number of accolades to games that went above and beyond. So this will be things like “Best Soundtrack” and “Best Looking Game”. It's just a little thing that let's me award a game for some aspects I really enjoyed about them, aside from general enjoyment of the game.

Lastly. This year I'll be doing something a bit different. I will start each game with a short(ish) blurb about why it's on my list. Then there will be a huge spoiler block for each game that will contain my long-winded ramblings. The reason for this is twofold. One I'll be talking openly about spoilers, so if you want to avoid those for a particular game, please feel free. Secondly I feel like there's a case to be made for people who just want to look at a condensed list of games without having to dive deep into my rantings. But if you see something on here you'd like a more thorough explanation of, again feel free to give it a read! That's where the meat of this list is after all!

So for the next several thousand words, I hope you'll enjoy my ramblings about what stood out to me this year. As I said, I thought this was a real memorable year for games. 2016 is looking like it will be even better, so I can't wait to come back next December and do this all again. And once again, thank you to anyone that takes the time to read these things. For whatever reason I put a lot of time and effort into them. Not only do I spend hours writing them at the end of the year, but I also spend the entire year playing as much as I can to get a good sense of what's out there. It's a silly little thing I like to do, it gives me joy. So I hope at least someone is getting something out of it took. Thank you!

**NOTE**: I'll warn you once again, but if you choose to click the spoilerblock to read my full opinions on a game expect to see SPOILERS. I'll try to mark really big ones if you want to turn back at the last minute, but I'm going to speak freely. You've been warned.

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1. Undertale

Undertale is the culmination of one man's passion and talent for telling an engrossing story, with innovative gameplay that puts a new spin on the genre. The cast of characters are instant classics, and the game's soundtrack is the one that stood out to me the most this year. You'll laugh, you'll cry. You'll probably even get scared at some point. But no matter what you're feeling, Undertale is a game that has captured the hearts of many players this year. Mine included.

Let's talk about Undertale. As you can probably tell, it's my game of the year. So that must mean I really liked it. I do. But there's so much I've wanted to say about this game since it hit the scene back in September. So I hope you'll indulge me in what is sure to be an exercise in frustration as I attempt to piece together my thoughts on this game.

Surprise of The Year 2015: Undertale is a game that kind of came out of no where for a lot of people. Sure, it had a successful Kickstarter campaign. Whether the pitch was enough for people to get a hint at something special, or maybe riding on the coattails of the success and popularity of the webcomic Homestuck, it's hard to say exactly how Undertale got up and running. But I think the fervor around the game will show that this indie darling took the world by storm, in a year with massive titans of games as competition, somehow Undertale manages to come out on top.

For my part, my first exposure to Undertale, initially, was someone I follow on tumblr posting about Toriel from the Kickstarter demo. People were already affectionately calling her “Goat Mom”, but I guess the appeal was a little lost on me. Fast forward to September of 2015 when Undertale was released. It didn't take long for word to start spreading about this game. At first it was just kind of hushed whispers about this little indie gem that was starting to charm people into a frenzied fandom.

All it took was a few comparisons to classic JRPGs like Earthbound, and learning about the game's hook that you could play the entire game without killing anyone, and it shot up to the number one spot on my radar. I picked the game up for the low price of $10 USD on Steam, and started my journey through the Underground.

It didn't take long to see what all the fuss was about. By the end of the first night I had cleared the Ruins and had witnessed the heartbreaking encounter between Frisk and Toriel. On the second night I was introduced to the 'Bone Bros' Sans and Papyrus. And from there I ended each night with a feeling of wanting to keep going and see what would happen next.

By the end of my first playthrough, which was a neutral route (I killed some random monsters, but left all the bosses alive) and seeing that insane ending I knew that this game was going to be a favorite of mine. I immediately started a new playthrough, going for a full Pacifist run this time. And by the time I had finished that I was absolutely in love with the game. And finally watching the Genocide route on YouTube, determined that this was in fact going to be my game of the year.

But then something happened. Undertale became a massive force that threatened to overwhelm me. And ever since mid-Octrober I've been struggling to hold onto my feelings for the game, while balancing the exhausting nature of a fandom in overdrive.

Unless you've been living under a rock, you probably know about Undertale. You've probably even played it at this point and have come to your own conclusions about it. There's no shortage of people out there to champion this game. It's very apparent that it strongly resonated with a ton of people over the past few months. And that passion for the game has had the inverse effect of turning some people away.

Trust me, I get it. It can be frustrating watching the internet collectively implode on itself over the same thing all at once. It's hard not to to feel fatigued when everywhere you look people are all talking about something. And the very picturesque nature of Undertale makes it very easy for people to share every aspect of the game. The feelings it stirs in people has caused no shortage of fanart, and tributes. There's countless memes, screenshots, remixes, quotes, and a general overwhelming presence on just about every corner of the internet for Undertale.

I think it's in people's nature to resist something they either don't understand, or aren't ready to commit to. You can look at the case of Undertale's popularity and see that very clearly. I've seen a lot of people on social media sites who have said they're “tired of Undertale”, usually without even playing it. I get that. I also get that the fervent nature of the community has made it next to impossible to avoid being spoiled by some aspect of the game. And that's a real shame, because going in as blind as possible probably has the highest turn out of “Holy shit, that was incredible!”. I've said it before, but I feel like there's a real weight, a real power to something that manages to surprise you, and Undertale was no different to me.

All I can say, is that I hope if you're one of those people sitting on the fence, or have written off the game completely because of overexposure – please reconsider. This game is a real treasure, and your stubbornness could very well cause you to miss out on a game that will be remembered fondly in the years to come.

And even saying that makes me feel a bit grimy. Because as much as I love Undertale, even I have grown tried of it in many respects. I look at that recent GameFAQs “Best. Game. Ever.” poll, and I see that the hype of Undertale has somehow earned it the title of best game of all time in some people's eyes. I look at that and I just sigh. Partly because even though I think this is an incredible game, I don't think that's true. And also partly because I think people are too in the moment. You need to let these things digest. You need time to reflect before jumping to your knee jerk conclusion.

I fell in love with Chrono Trigger the first time I played it, but I think it took years for me to realize that this was, and probably will always be my favorite game of all time. Undertale has been out for less than four months. It's too early to say, if you ask me.

And there's other aspects about its popularity that personally bother me too. Even though I pretty much got in on the ground floor, and fell in love with this game from start to finish before it became the tidal wave that it is now – I just started to get tired of it.

In October I convinced my best friend to play Undertale. For those two weeks it was the only thing I wanted. I wanted to share this amazing experience with my closest friend, so that the two of us could talk about it, and share our passion for it. It's happened many times before with Fire Emblem: Awakening, and Super Smash Bros. 4. as examples. Two games that not surprisingly topped my list because I shared a bond with the person I love the most over them.

That was no different with Undertale, and as I excitedly listened to every moment of her playthrough over Skype. Both of us sharing our feelings and genuine reactions to stuff that happens in the game, that just furthered my love for it.

But it was around that time things started to turn. Not only was Undertale starting to pop up all over the internet, everywhere you looked, but my friend was completely obsessed. Every day she talked about it. Every day she showed me fanart of it. She even had me write a series of fanfics for it. Needless to say, Undertale hype was intense.

And somewhere along the way I started to question it all. Was the game I played really worth all of this? Did I still feel the same way about it even though it was shoved in my face constantly? It was hard to hold onto my pure feelings of my time spent with that game. As each moment of it became an all too familiar sight. Like Groundhogs Day, I was reliving Undertale over, and over, and over again.

So what did I do? I basically gave it some space. It helped that my friend eventually started to cool down on it a bit. And slowly, but steadily I was able to enjoy Undertale again. I would see some cute fanart, or a funny joke related to the game, and then I would in turn share that with her. And suddenly I was just able to appreciate the game again.

Like I said, you look at that GameFAQs poll, and it's hard not to roll your eyes. But looking beyond that, I think you have to realize that this was a special event, and naturally people were going to be excited and passionate about it.

That's about all I have to say about Undertale as it pertains to an event that took place this year. Believe it or not, I do actually have some thoughts about the game itself.

Undertale is the right kind of game, at the right time. It's essentially in the spirit of an old school JRPG like Earthbound or The Mother series. It came to me in a time where I was really starting to wonder about that genre. For years now we've seen a pretty sub-par selection of traditional JRPGs, while some people have been able to enjoy the branching paths of that genre. I'll talk more about this as we go, but I think we're at a key point with the JRPG genre going forward into the next year, and I hope to see the genre continue to flourish in interesting ways.

Best Story of 2015: Part of the reason Undertale is such a return to form for JRPGs (or at least RPGs akin to the Japanese sub-genre) is that Undertale has a heavy focus on story. All told, you could probably see everything Undertale has to offer in 15 hours or less. But it uses that time wisely to tell an engaging story that isn't afraid to walk the line between silly and serious. Most people will come into the game, and fall for the hijinks between Sans and Papyrus early on. But by the time you're fighting the game's “true last boss” on the Pacifist route, you'll probably be reduced to a soggy sobbing mess.

It's not just Undertale's story that is so appealing, but also the way it isn't afraid to shake the genre up from a gameplay perspective. Undertale's combat is a mash-up of Shin Megami Tensei's negotiation system, a timing based combat system that's similar to something like Shadow Hearts, and more importantly the marriage of a bullet hell type shooter to that mix. The game's fresh take on combat allows every battle to feel like a fun little game as you dodge projectiles and try to appease your opponent peacefully.

Best Moment of 2015:The Sans Boss Fight – There was no other moment this year that shook me to the core like the Sans boss fight did. If you're unfamiliar, the only way to fight Sans is to be doing the completely awful (in a cruel way, not a quality way) Genocide run where you kill absolutely everything you come across. This playthrough of the game reaches its climax once you run into Sans in the hallway at the end of the game. Throughout the game we're teased with a little bit of Sans's true nature. He likes to play himself off as the fun loving, lazy jokester, but at several points you realize “Hey, this guy might be kind of creepy.”

That all comes to ahead when he challenges you to the final battle of the Genocide run. What follows is not only the most harrowing part of the entire game, but what has to be one of my favorite boss fights of all time. Make no mistake about it, this battle is tough as nails. The Sans fight will push you to your limit. It asks you to master all the aspects of dodging and dealing with mechanics that you have for the entire game up to this point. Even though your character has been an unstoppable killing machine in this route, Sans is one of two people who are going to put up a decent fight.

It certainly doesn't hurt that the entire battle is accompanied by one of the best songs in the game. And honestly I feel like even though the graphical fidelity of the game leaves much to the imagination, the battle unfolding around you paints a vivid picture of one of the coolest action sequences all year.

Aside from an amazing story, and really innovative gameplay. Undertale offers up even more reasons to fall in love. The game plays to its strength of relying on its inspirations to not only spark a sense of nostalgia for older gamers, but make those moments totally unique and fun on their own. The first time I got to the Opera scene with Mettaton I was blown away by how faithful an homage it was to Final Fantasy VI's famous Opera scene. It's moments like that really put a smile on my face.

And let's not forget the game's stellar cast of characters. There's plenty of NPCs to talk to, and they all have something humorous or interesting to say. Though the game's main cast is a little on the short side, each character is insanely memorable. It helps that most of these characters are boss battles after spending some time with them. When it ultimately comes time to face-off with them, I think most people would have a hard time pulling the trigger.

Best New Character of 2015:Papyrus – It's a real toss up between the 'bone bros' for me. But since I gave so much of a spotlight to Sans with my best moment, I guess I'll take the time to honor Papyrus as one of the best, most lovable new characters of 2015. From moment one you can see why he's a fan favorite. He's oblivious to a fault, but has a heart of gold. Papyrus is so innocent that I would argue that killing him in the Genocide run is harder to do then fighting Undyne The Undying, or Sans.

The early hours of the game, when you're going through Snowfall are a joy thanks in no small part to Papyrus. And by the end of that section of the game you have the option to date him. This hilarious mash-up of a dating sim and the Ace Attorney games offers up one of the purest moments of unadulterated joy you could find this year. It's also what finally convinced my friend to play the game (and later become obsessed with it).

All of that, and saying nothing about the game's soundtrack which is another amazing feat creator Toby Fox accomplished with this game. I was familiar with Toby's work from Homestuck, and I'm happy to say one of the strongest aspects of that property is readily apparent within Undertale from minute one.

Soundtrack of The Year 2015: It's really saying something when I'll buy a game, then immediately turn around and shell out the same amount of money I paid for the game to buy the soundtrack. Undertale's soundtrack is a wonderful collection of chiptunes that harken back to the glory days of the SNES, but with a modern twist. Toby Fox managed to produce a 101 track soundtrack that runs from charming and whimsical to downright exciting hype music.

Some of my favorite tracks include Spider Dance, which is the perfect companion piece to how adorable Muffet is. Also ASGORE, which is the theme to the game's initial final boss. It evokes the feeling of finally completing your long journey, while also setting the stage for a sad, unavoidable battle. And finally there's MEGALOVANIA which is the real star of the show. It's really telling that this seems to be Toby's calling card in all the work he's done, and it also serves as the most blood pumping adrenalin track you could hope for with the Sans fight.

Lastly, the one final element of Undertale that really seals the deal for me. It's Toby's creative use of manipulating the files and executable that make up Undertale. It can be something as simple as the fact that the name of the process actually changes when you're doing the Mettaton Opera scene. Or it can be something as sufficiently 'mind-fucky' as closing the game on you during your confrontation with Omega Flowey. The fact that the game will actually appear to crash, but it's all a part of the process is not only terrifying, but brilliant. It reminds me of an indie horror game that was played on Unprofessional Friday's a few years back. I think it's awesome that someone put that trick to good use.

Undertale doesn't just use these techniques as a way to shock you, but it also plays into the actual lore and story. Each time you finish playing the game, a character will remind you that you the player are ultimately in control of what happens. So if you get the happy ending where everyone can finally live in peace, but decide you want to reset everything and kill everyone – well that's on you. I think that is such a powerful mechanic, and it's ultimately the main reason I never wanted to try the Genocide run. I want to keep my save file safe and secure. I don't want anything to happen to Frisk and the gang.

Even crazier is some of the stuff you can see if you monkey around with some of the game's files. There's a mysterious character named W.D. Gaster that seemingly plays no role in the actual game, but this hasn't stopped fans from digging around to uncover surprise appearances and have endlessly speculation about how he relates to the other characters.

All in all, Undertale really is a special game. I went through some turbulent times with it, but in the end I'm able to look back on it and think “That's a damn good game.” I don't know what Toby Fox will do next, he has made comments suggesting that he wishes for Undertale to run its course, then quietly die off in the night. I think that would probably be for the best, and I will always cling to my memories of playing this game fresh. I just hope we get to see another project that is half as meaningful as Undertale, whether it be from Toby himself, or someone else.

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2. Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward

Heavensward is a fantastic expansion to a game I showed interest in a couple years ago. Over the course of those two years, I fell in love with this MMORPG that captures the essence of what makes a good Final Fantasy game. And I'm glad that I had my best friend along with me for the ride.

"In my time with XIV, as I've said, I got to level 26 fairly easily just playing alone. I made a Pugilist named Argilla Prihtivi, a staple name I use in a lot of games where you create a character. During my short time in Eorzea I got a feel for the major starting cities, explored a lot of the beginning to intermediate areas. I got a feel for all aspects of the game, from it's combat which is fast paced and fun, to the game's unique crafting system which is strangely action oriented. I ran dungeons with random players on my server using the easy to use “Duty Finder” utility, and even made a few acquaintances along the way. All in all it was a very pleasant experience that reminds me why I can still invest hundreds of hours into this genre of game. I only wish that I had my friends there to enjoy it with me."

This is what I said in my Game of The Year list for 2013. At the time I was pleasantly surprised with the revamped Final Fantasy XIV, but I was lacking the key component of diving in deep with it: my best friend. At the time we were waiting on getting her a new computer that could actually run the game, and even after the fact it still took a few months to convince her to give it a shot. But finally in the summer of 2014 I started over in A Realm Reborn, and well…

Like I said, even at the time I thought FFXIV would be something special. I had a lot of nice things to say about it, despite the fact that it was at the very end of my list that year. And when me and my friend got heavily invested in the game last year, I knew I wanted to give the game its proper due. Thankfully the release of this year's expansion to the game, Heavensward, gave me just the opportunity.

I guess it's not entirely fair to say that Heavensward by itself is that much of an amazing game that it's holding the number 2 spot on this list. Though it's no slouch. It's a fantastic expansion that further improved the game's strengths and kept us hooked for half of the year. But I guess it's the overall experience I've had with this game as a whole that it resonates so strongly with me.

First of all, my friend, Zara, and I have our single character we play in this game. It makes sense, because one character can be, and do everything in the game. And with the ability to use items called Fantasias, you can even completely change how your character looks. And if you're willing to shell out some money you can even change the name. So really, it makes sense to stick to one character and be a master of everything.

But it goes a little deeper than that for us. My character is a male Elezen named Ariyon Cyranuce, and her character is a female Miqo'te named Veola Lumginyo. But this isn't where these characters first popped up. No, with a few alterations to modify ever so slightly how they look in FFXIV, these two characters are the same ones we used in Square Enix's first MMORPG, Final Fantasy XI. I'm going to talk more about FFXI in a bit, so just keep that in mind.

Anyway, to say that we're serious about our characters would be a bit of an understatement. Because we're both sad nerds, we have developed rich backstories, and personality for our characters. Our characters have a relationship, they're actually married in game. I won't go into detail about the personal aspects of my relationship with my friend, but in a way Ariyon and Veola are an extension of our relationship. I think out of any of our original characters, we identify with these two the most. To the point of having legitimate feelings for one another's character.

You can laugh at that if you want, I don't blame you. But I think it helps to explain why this game means so much to us. Separated from the core gameplay loop of FFXIV, which is essentially a pretty standard MMORPG. We value things about the game that other players might not. Veola, for example, has a huge collection of cute outfits she likes to wear, as well as dozens upon dozens of minions. We also have been bunking in our Free Company house all year, but are anxiously waiting to see if we can buy a house of our own as soon as tonight, the night that I'm writing this.

To us, Eorzea is a world to live in. It's a social hub, where even if we aren't doing core progression, we can usually jump on and just have some sort of fun. Again, many of these things are aspects of the game that many players don't even think twice about. But more often than not, I'm digging through patch notes to sniff out new cosmetics, and fun side activities to do.

But, you know, it doesn't hurt that FFXIV is actually a pretty good game on top of all that. Much like my impressions two years ago, I think FFXIV is a solid MMORPG. It has most of the modern conveniences you could want. It's accessible in a way that a lot of these games are not. And it's a polished experience that just keeps getting better over time.

I used to play every big MMO that came out. Most of the time I'd buy the game, dick around with it for a couple hours, then never touch it again. But FFXIV is the first one in a long time where I actually care about my investment in the game. All the progress I've made on my character feels good. And when I'm not enjoying the social aspects of the game, I'm usually enjoying the core mechanics. Usually, at least.

My biggest problem with FFXIV actually stems from my social anxiety, and awkwardness. It is extremely stressful for me to jump into groups with other players who are counting on you. I don't think I'm a slouch at the game, my Dragoon does what a Dragoon is supposed to do, and I usually avoid dying stupidly. But I wouldn't say I'm great either. I don't have the reflexes, or the attention span to be on the ball at all times. And sometimes that can make all the difference in the world. Zara and I have had some real shitty experiences on this game. Whether it be our fault for not being top tier players or not, it was always a source of anxiety.

And the worst part about it is when people start getting impatient with you. Overall I think the community in the game isn't too bad, but there's still going to be those players that expect pro-play every time they step into an instance. Even when it isn't end game content. I spent my first year of the game as a Paladin. A tank class that is responsible for taking the brunt of the damage for the team. I did alright at it, especially at first. But as I got closer to the end of the game, it became apparent I just wasn't cut out for it. And that made some people really angry. And as a result it made us really miserable.

Obviously these feelings are probably pretty common nowadays. The MMO genre might be waning, but stuff like MOBAs are bigger than ever. And we know how toxic those communities can be. It's a real bummer that your enjoyment of the game is so closely tied to how willing to cooperate a third party is. But it has its upsides too…

Best Multiplayer of 2015: Social aspects aside, when stuff clicks in FFXIV it really clicks. For every bad experience I've had with asshole players, I've had an amazing one that I shared with complete strangers. There's very little that is quite as thrilling and as rewarding as finally killing the final boss in the dungeon on your 8th attempt, when everyone is about to be kicked out of the instance because of the time limit. Or dreading that big important story battle with a giant sky whale, only to go in there and kick its ass on the first try. The highs of this game are only paralleled by a scant few other games I can think of. Like I said, when it works, it works.

Mirroring my sentiment of the original A Realm Reborn, Heavensward continues to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing games out there. Everything in the game is held together by stellar art design the combines new and fascinating things, with classic elements of the celebrated series. And the new music for the expansion is as beautiful and as inspiring as ever.

Heavensward itself offers up plenty of new things for players to sink their teeth into. Whether it be the new dragon people race, the Au Ra. Or the three new classes; Dark Knight, Machinist, and Astrologian. The new region of Ishgard is full of excitement.

And headlining that is, surprisingly, one of the best stories that any Final Fantasy game has ever had, let alone any MMORPG. For years I've been disappointed with Square Enix's output of Final Fantasy games. I'm willing to admit Final Fantasy XII is probably better than I give it credit for. But the repugnant trilogy of Final Fantasy XIII games all but ruined me on a series I loved growing up.

So imagine my surprise when XIV turned out to be the true Final Fantasy successor I'd been waintg a decade for. Sure, you might take some issues with the game itself. After all it certainly doesn't play like what you think of as traditional Final Fantasy. It is an MMORPG after all, warts and all. And the fact that it's mandatory to rely on other players to progress in the game might turn some off. But if you stick around, you'll find an amazing story.

Though it's evident that when A Realm Reborn first came out, Square Enix hasn't found their footing yet. Throughout the game's main story you get a few points of intrigue, and are introduced to somewhat interesting characters. But by the time those original credits roll, it leaves something to be desired.

However, Square got much better with this with each content update they put out following the game's launch. It just so happens that my friend and I took an extended break from the game once we had reached max level and finished the game's story. We needed to wind down after all that, and I was unsure of what I wanted to do since tanking wasn't working out for me. When we rejoined the game in February of this year, we got married, and then started playing catch-up.

See, we were excited about Heavensward, but the catch was that you had to finish the main scenario up through the end of A Realm Reborn in order to even step into the new expansion zone. So if we wanted to keep playing the game, we'd have to apply ourselves to catching up.

At times this was an arduous process. Even though I had changed to a DPS class, and things were ultimately a lot less stressful, we still had problems. We'd frequently run into gear checks, a built in wall in the game that forces you to improve your gear to proceed. There were times that even though we meant the minimum requirement, it still wasn't good enough because as the only two damage dealers in the party we just weren't up to par.

But we worked at it, and worked at it. And finally we were able to succeed. But I digress. Along the way the both of us started to notice something about the game. The story suddenly got a whole hell of a lot better. Suddenly we were hanging on every bit of dialogue, and being endeared by our favorite characters. The XIV development team must have found the sweet spot, because by the time it was ready for us to play Heavensward, we were an emotional husk after the final events of A Realm Reborn.

...and Heavensward only cranks it up even more. The story in Heavensward is just as engrossing as any single player RPG you might imagine. Maybe even more so if you're as attached to your own original character being a part of it as we were. There's plenty of lovable characters, and exciting moments to keep pushing you through some challenging content.

And also Heavensward is the first MMO that has ever made either of us cry. It's a ridiculous statement, but there's a character death about halfway through the story that comes out of no where and hits you like a ton of bricks. It just so happened to be one of our favorite characters in the game too.

If that isn't enough praise, I don't know what else I can tell you. I said that I'd talk about Final Fantasy XI a bit, so I guess I'll get that out of the way. I have a bit of a dodgy past with that game. I played it religiously for the first two years it was out. Even at the time XI was considered a really archaic game that was probably more trouble than it was worth. But it had a charm to it that almost made it worth enduring. Unfortunately my career in XI got cut a little short when real life drama with friends I played the game with got in the way of my enjoyment of the game. So I stepped away for about a decade.

A few years ago, in 2012, Zara and I rejoined FFXI and I started a new character, Ariyon. I was still conflicted about my feelings for the game, but it became pretty evident that Square Enix had changed the game for the better over the past 8 years. We played around with it for a month or two, got to a point where we'd have to start relying on other players, and stepped away from it.

But that was enough time to establish our characters as important to us. So when we played XIV it was just a natural extension of that.

Now fast forward to last month when a crossover event happened between Final Fantasy XI and XIV. After over a decade, Final Fantasy XI's story has concluded. And to celebrate that event, there was a limited time event in XIV where players got a good deal of fanservice if they had been XI players. This event was enough to kick start my nostalgia, and by the end of the month Zara and I had started playing XI again.

I know there's not much I should say about it, because it's a really old game, and doesn't have anything to do with game of the year. But it's still nice going back to that world, and seeing where everything started. Not just for our characters, but how far Square Enix has come in terms of developing these kinds of massively multiplayer worlds. Ironically, XI has since nearly eliminated the need to rely on other players. Despite the fact that the two of us are duo'ing the game, you could easily solo most of it's content now. And it's only taken us a month to get close to max level.

In the end. I just feel like Heavensward, or just Final Fantasy XIV in general is a celebration of that series I loved so much growing up. Not only is it heavily influenced by Square's first outing into an MMO, but it also conjures up all the feelings of nostalgia any fan of this series might have. And it's a damn good game.

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3. Bloodborne

Bloodborne might be a little too oppressive for me, but it's the best god damn playing game I've played this year. From Software made a bunch of smart design decisions that not only helped make this kind of game more fun than it's ever been, but also made it accessible to a whole new audience of people.

To be honest. I went through the majority of the year with the belief that Bloodborne was going to be my game of the year. But with the advent of Undertale, and me sorting out my feelings about Final Fantasy XIV, it fell to the wayside. I mean, the third spot on the list is nothing to scoff at to be sure, but it bears mentioning.

It might also bear mentioning that my opinion about Bloodborne shifted as time went on too. See it all comes back around to being caught in the moment, and given time to reflect. Bloodborne came out in March of this year, so I've had a pretty long time to consider how I felt about it. So here's my take.

Last year I gave my number 2 spot to Dark Souls II. I used that as an opportunity. to explain my history with the series, and how after many years I was finally able to get into Dark Souls. And I loved it. In fact Dark Souls (the first one) now ranks pretty highly on my Top 25 Games of All Time list now. Discovering a way to appreciate the Souls series has been a real highlight for me, and my experience with Bloodborne is no different.

I think one of my favorite things about Bloodborne, on a personal level, is that for the first time I streamed my entire playthrough of a video game online. Even though I don't think many people watched it, or even cared about it (much like this list you're probably not reading right now, heh) it still made the experience that much more enjoyable for me. Constantly being in the spotlight drove me to preform to the best of my ability. And I think it really shows, considering that I died less than 30 times throughout my entire playthrough. It was just a real fun thing to do. Recording that gameplay, and still being able to go back and relive it if I want to. Maybe it's some latent voyeuristic trait of mine, but I really liked it.

Best Gameplay Design & Mechanics 2015: Yep. From wins this award from me two years in a row. Remember how I talked about how very few games give the raw thrill you get when successfully completing a hard fight in FFXIV? Well Bloodborne, and the Souls games are number one on that list. It's impressive that even when you don't have to worry about preforming for a group of people, that the stress, and overwhelming sense of relief you get after beating a boss in Bloodborne is on that same level.

There's still plenty of people that will tell you the Souls/Borne games are too hard. It wasn't that long ago that I was one of those people. But I think From has really nailed the risk vs. reward aspect of these games. Every fight is a battle for your life. Valuable resources are always at stake. And the biggest fear of all is losing time to repeating something over and over again. But this tips the scales in such a way that when you finally do succeed, the rush you get is satisfying, not to mention addictive.

Speaking of the game being hard, that's always an interesting question about these games. It seems everyone has a different answer for which game is the hardest. I've seen the majority of people say that Dark Souls is the hardest, but for me it wasn't all that bad. But then I've seen people claim that Dark Souls 2 was 'baby mode', but then I died 300 times in that game, so… And at the end of the day I still can't crack Demon's Souls.

But honestly, I really do think that Bloodborne is probably the easiest, or at least the most accessible in the series. The changes they made to the combat go a long way. When we first heard that you wouldn't be able to use a shield in the game, it seemed like an impossible feat. But after a few hours with the game you quickly start to realize that the sped up combat, combined with the regenerating health mechanic make this game a lot more approachable than some of the previous games.

There's also the fact that things are a lot more streamlined. People will argue about this, but in my opinion Dark Souls II kind of suffers for having too many options available to you. Aside from needing to manage complex character builds (though thankfully there is an option to re-spec in that game) you also have a bunch of weapons that are just wasted potential.

In Bloodborne, you can't re-spec your character. But it's a lot harder to fuck up. And each weapon has value. There are less weapons, but when you take into account that almost every one has a second mode then you see that you still have a lot of variety. You also look at the Blood Vial system, and while I generally prefer the limited quantity of an Estsus Flask, you can easily farm Blood Vials and pop them off real quick.

If you're fast, and aggressive, it's a lot easier to stay alive in this game. And in the end I think all of those things make Bloodborne the best playing game in the series. It's encouraging then, to hear that they're taking some of those ideals into next year's Dark Souls III because I have a few gripes about Bloodborne.

The long and short of it is, I just don't like this world as much as the ones we've seen in the Souls series. Bloodborne trades its dark fantasy roots for Gothic Lovecraftian horror. At first I just didn't find these as aesthetically pleasing. After all, I'm a very dyed in the wool fantasy fan. I love the look of swords, and armor. In most cases I'll look at a design in one of the Souls games and vastly prefer it to something in Bloodborne.

But over the course of the year, every time I went back to Bloodborne I realized it was something a little deeper than just what I thought looked good. I'll be honest, Bloodborne is an oppressive, miserable game to spend time in. Not that the Souls games were ever bright and cheery, but there are degrees of separations between the fanciful world of Lordran, and Bloodborne's bleak and dreary as fuck Yharnam.

Last month I was playing the game in an attempt to get a character ready for the DLC, when suddenly I started to feel sick. I had been on a roll with my new character, stomping through the early parts of the game with relative ease. I had even been laid back, and relaxed, going as far as to sing along to 80's pop music. But then something just snapped.

Without warning I was feeling very anxious. Even though Flock of Seagulls was playing at full blast, I could only manage to mutter the lyrics as I controlled my character on screen. I quickly got to a good stopping point, and then turned the game off.

Now granted, that could have just been some random mood disorder or something, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized “Man, I just do not like being in that world.”. It's a shame really, because I think they've done some great stuff with establishing that world. And that isn't to say there aren't things in that game I find appealing. The Plain Doll for example is gorgeous. But yeah… I dunno.

It's been fun to see people get excited about Bloodborne. I think this game has single-handedly brought on more fans for this series, and these kinds of games. And that's a great thing, obviously. But in my mind, I'm hoping that Dark Souls III delivers what this game didn't, and am kind of dreading the eventual Bloodborne sequel because I know I'll have to play it.

So that's kind of a bummer for a game that's so high on my list. But aside from that personal, glaring flaw with the game, I really think it's one of the best in the series. From a gameplay perspective it just does so much right that it's hard to argue with. In fact the stuff I've learned in this game has already paid off in the older games. I recently played through the opening hours of Dark Souls again, and was playing a much more agile character that was usually forgoing the use of a shield. And you know what? I was kicking ass.

Bloodborne's take on horrific London might have left me feeling a little queasy. But It's also the most fun I've had playing a game this year. Get a feeling so complicated…

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4. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The Witcher 3 was the game that restored my faith in open-world games. Exploring its massive world for 300+ hours was a treat when you're rewarded with a new piece of gear, or an important story thread at every point. The game is also no slouch when it comes to audio/visual design, and the game boasts a fantastic cast of characters. This is probably my favorite western RPG I've ever played.

You know it's been a good years for games when you're on the fourth game on the list, and could see making a case for it also being game of the year. The Witcher 3 came at just the right time for me, and not a moment too soon.

I've brushed up against Andrzej Sapkowski'sThe Witcher series a number of times in the past. The first game was certainly a weird one, but not without its own merit. The second game is outstanding in its own right, but maybe fell a little short of CD Projekt Red's ambitions for the series. I've even read a few of the books! And actually I'm a really big Geralt fanboy. I think he's awesome (and sexy, but don't tell anyone!).

With that said, I feel like CDPR finally nailed it with The Witcher 3. It's a triumph in western role playing game design, and succeeded with its open-world in a time where I doubted very much if I was capable of enjoying such a thing ever again.

As an aside. At the very beginning of the year I played through Dragon Age: Inquisition. I was a big Dragon Age fan. I thought the first game was fantastic, and I'm one of the people who actually likes Dragon Age II (I liked it more than The Witcher 2 in fact!) But man, oh man, Inquisition is a pile of shit.

Without going into too much detail, I basically forced myself to hate-play my way through that entire game. I was tired of it at about 50 hours in. Let alone the 200 hours it finally took me to finish the game. There were a lot of things I didn't like about that game compared to previous Dragon Age games. The characters were awful, the story was middling, and most damning of all, the game just wasn't fun. One of the biggest problems I had with it was its sprawling open-world that felt like a chore to explore. I never had fun in that game after a point, it was just go from point a to b in an attempt to finish it as quickly as possible.

So you might imagine my hesitation to jump right into The Witcher 3. Another game in an established RPG series that was looking to go big with a giant open-world. I really wasn't looking forward to another 200 hour slog so close on the heels of my Inquisition playthrough.

Thankfully I was worried about nothing, because I enjoyed every second of my 300 (!) hours with the game, and then even paid $10 so I could play more of it.

The Witcher 3 succeeds in every way that Inquisition failed. The story is engaging from the word go. There were times when it was a struggle on how I wanted to play the game, if only for the fact that I was torn between advancing the main story, and doing more side quests.

Because not only is the main story fantastic, but most of the side quests in the game also provide a nice little story for you to sink your teeth into. Whereas in most games like this, I'm content with talking to an NPC, jamming the button to get through the dialogue, and go complete the quest. I actually took time to listen to, and pay attention to what was going on. Sometimes it was really funny! But it was usually always interesting in some way.

It's hard to have a really good story without good characters though, but again, The Witcher 3 delivers on that with spades. Geralt's love interests are all great in their own right. Whether you think Geralt X Yenn is the OTP. Or you just wanna get a little fiery with Triss. There's an argument to be made for any of them. Not just as objects of your affection, but as badass Sorceresses who usually give Geralt a run for his money. On the subject of love interests, my personal favorite is Shanni from the Hearts of Stone DLC. She's a returning character from the first game, but her performance here is magical. Even if she herself doesn't wield and magical arts herself.

In fact one of my favorite parts of the game comes from the DLC, and that's when Geralt is possessed by the spirit of Vlodimir von Everec. During this time Geralt (as von Everec) is attending a wedding with Shanni. The reason I love this part so much is a) that I legitimately think it's the best piece of content they've made for the game so far. And b) I felt like it helped me understand aspects I really liked about this game better.

For one, its Shanni's time to shine. As you go around this podunk wedding competing in the rural rituals you really get a sense for her character as she interacts with Vlodimir. By the end of the evening you've witnessed a bittersweet date between two people in a peculiar situation. Similarly I think Geralt's voice actor Doug Cockle sells these scenes with his performance as Vlodimir by way of Geralt's body and voice. You can really tell that it's a different character behind the wheel, and it makes for some really amusing moments.

The reason this is important is that I think it helped me understand what I like in an RPG protagonist. I like the fact that Geralt is an established character, with his own personality and backstory. I think it's still important that you have player agency. Being able to make decisions along the way helps you get engaged in this world and story. But I feel like I enjoy it far more than the blank slate approach a lot of games take.

I realize that leaves me with more than a few contradictions. Chrono Trigger, Persona 3 & 4 are some of my favorite games of all time. But the protagonist. in those games are basically an avatar for your character, not really any different than your standard Bethesda 'create-a-character'. I also talked at length about how my Final Fantasy XIV character is important to me, but only because I spent so long making up a story for him.

So I don't think it's impossible to do the blank, silent hero thing right. It works in some cases. But the fact that Geralt is both a character I really adore, and also my presence in that game just feels right to me.

There's more to love about The Witcher 3 though. There's even more characters I could talk about. Like Ciri who is one of the best new characters of the year. The fact that she's more of a badass than Geralt is scary. There's also the game's incredible soundtrack. It's not typically my jam, but there are some great instrumental pieces in the score that really sell this as a grim fantasy world. There's even a couple pieces of music that legitimately make me uncomfortable with how eerie they are. Any time your dealing with the Bogwitches it's an audio/visual… uh… treat.

I'm even one of those people that actually enjoy the combat in this game. I know it's no Bloodborne (but what is, really?) but I feel like this is the best a western RPG's combat has been. Oddly enough I think some of the boss fights in the game have a very Dark Souls vibe to them, and that can only be a good thing.

Hell, I even enjoy the Alchemy and Crafting mechanics. These tend to suffer from the game's admittedly poor interface (though it has gotten significantly better over time) but I dunno, there's just a simple joy to them. Crafting armor and weapons is one thing. Not only does it satisfy that loot lust, but it appeals to the fashionable side of me. But the Alchemy… I really can't explain that one. I mean, I enjoy the whole potions, tonics, and oils system of the game. Even if I tended to stick to the same ones for large stretches of time. But there's just… something about collecting those recipes and scratching them off the list that I found fascinating.

About the only thing I can really complain about with The Witcher 3 comes down to technical stuff. In a disappointing trend, even my newly acquired PS4 wasn't up to the task of running this game nearly as well as its PC counterpart. In addition to that, things got really… weird with the post release updates to the game. It seemed like CD Projekt Red was always taking one step forward, and two steps back with the updates they released throughout the year.

Though I am happy to report that as of a few months ago when I played Hearts of Stone, the game seemed pretty on point. With the exception of some long load times during a boss encounter that had a nearly instant death mechanic.

The Witcher 3 proved to me that open-world games can still be enjoyable. But it's not something I expect to happen a lot. The only way this game kept me occupied in this world for over 300 hours was because every part of it felt rewarding. If it wasn't a cool new piece of loot, it was a juicy story bit. And that to me made all the difference.

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5. Yakuza 5

Yakuza 5 marks the return of the crazy JRPG/Brawler hybrid in the west. It's been four years since the last proper Yakuza game was localized, but Yakuza 5 makes an incredible first impression. If you like any of the following: JRPGs, Brawlers, Anime, Crime drama, or… Shenmue…? You owe it to yourself to check out this game.

Kazuma is back, baby!

I've been a fan of the wacky Yakuza series for a while now (is this series really 10 years old now? Christ). It's a crazy action JRPG disguised as a realistic looking Japanese crime drama / brawler. But make no mistake about it, these games are anime as fuck.

And that's not a bad thing, if you either like anime, or are just capable of having some fun. The Yakuza series always delivers (Dead Souls never happened, alright?) with frantic action, and ridiculous drama that leaves you on the edge of your seat. And Yakuza 5 is no different.

I guess it should be noted that things were looking pretty grim for Yakuza for a while there. Believe it or not, it's actually been four years since Yakuza 4 was released here. So we haven't seen a Yakuza game in the west in a while (Dead Souls didn't happen.) At the same time, Sega continued to pump the series out in Japan, and I think many fans were starting to wonder if we'd ever see those games.

While I think we'll still be missing the spin-off games (Dead Souls didn't happen), it's looking promising that we might see the rest of the main-line games. We're even getting Yakuza 0 next year, so let's hope sales are good and we don't end up in another drought!

Anyway, Yakuza 5 is the first of three games on my list that I sadly could not complete before the end of the year. Believe me, I tried. But trying to balance three massive games like spinning plates just didn't work out. With that said, I'll tell you that I got to the end of Part 1, so the opening segment of the game where you play as Kazuma (think of it as the first 10 hours, if that's easier for you.) But from what I saw I don't have any reason to believe this game is going to disappoint me. And so far it has been awesome.

It's hard to say what my favorite thing about this series is. Because I genuinely think the combat is amazing. In terms of mechanics, it's a pretty basic brawler setup. But thanks to an RPG progression system it feels a little more weighty than it might otherwise. In addition to that the animations on these fights are just insanely satisfying. I'll never get tired of Kazuma leaning down, grabbing a guy on the ground by his head, and then proceeded to rub and mash his face across the asphalt. I get excited every time, every time.

But then there's the story, and that might be even better! I'm a big fan of shonen manga/anime, and the Yakuza series plays heavily on tropes found in that genre. You have the badass with a heart of gold. You have a sense of comradery, which is usually established after beating the crap out of your new friend. You have these ridiculously dramatic moments where people are constantly betraying one another, or someone more powerful shows up.

So far my favorite moment in Yakuza 5 has been at the end of Part 1 where Kazuma fights an entire gang of armed Yakuza by himself. They are literally firing rockets at him at one point, and he just deftly dodges to the side. It's the crazy setpiece moments like that (or punching a fucking tiger in the face in Yakuza 2) that make this series so appealing to me.

If that's not all, the Yakuza games are chock full of side activities you can do. Yes, there are side missions that you can do too, but then there are just some… things you can do outside of the game's progression. This has always been the case with this series, but I think Yakuza 5 cranks it up to eleven.

In Kazuma's part of the story he's working incognito as a taxi driver. So of course there's taxi events you can do. One of them is like a really cautious version of Crazy Taxi where you ferry your passenger to their destination while following traffic laws. And then the other event you can do with your taxi is crazy Initial D styled races. For those unfamiliar, just think of Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift.

Not only can you do these ridiculous races (which are surprisingly fun!) but you can customize your taxi with decals, tune it up, exchange parts, and select which music you want to listen to. (And yes, in case you were wondering, Daytona USA'sLet's Go Away” is one of the songs you can play). There's a certain twisted satisfaction I got out of tricking out Kazuma's cab with pictures of his adopted daughter who is now a pop idol. Yeah, this game is crazy.

But I think the moment where I was really like “Oh shit, really?” was when I went to play Darts, and you could actually customize your darts. Like, what the fuck? Are you for real with this? Well, okay then! I know that the other parts of the game take place in different cities with you playing as different characters, so I hope there's even more zany shit to do in the game.

Aside from all that, you've got the hostess clubs (with authentic Japanese women!), Karaoke, you can go play Virtua Fighter 2 in Club Sega, and you can even play some pachinko, though god knows why you'd want to.

I saw someone say it before, but I've just started to realize the truth of the matter. Sega fans have been upset for so many years that Shenmue went away. And while we do have Shenmue 3 finally coming in some form… Yo, Shenmue never went away. It was just rebranded as Yakuza. These games scratch all the same itches that those Shenmue games did, but the difference is that the combat is actually good, and the story and dialogue isn't a stilted mess. And believe me when I say this, because I'm also a big Shenmue fan. I think those games are special and important in a way that people don't like to give them credit for anymore. But, yeah… you all should have been playing Yakuza this whole time if you haven't already.

Yakuza 5 made a really strong impression on me in the early hours of the game. I cannot wait to get back to it and see where this crazy story goes. I also hear that one of the chapters consists of you playing out Haruka's idol career. So that could either be amazing, or awful. Or both. Also just for the record, Kazuma Kiryu is a hot old Japanese dude. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

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6.Trails in The Sky SC

Trails in The Sky SC is the highly sought after sequel to Trails in The Sky that fans in the west have been clamoring four years for. If you ever loved a classic JRPG series, but felt that games got too technical, and less story focused then this is the game for you. And if early impressions are anything to go by, then this game is going to be a keeper.

Man, how about that Trails in The Sky ending? I'm sure glad I only had to wait two weeks to find out what happens next! Oh… uh… yeah, sorry about that. I got to this series a little late.

Back in 2011 a little game called Trails in The Sky came out. It was the first in a series of games known as Kiseki in Japan. At the time the game built up a nice little audience, because here was a little gem on the PSP that called back to the days of classic traditional JRPGs. But there was one little problem. The game ended on a massive cliffhanger. So when did the next game, Trails in The Sky SC come out in the west? Um… two months ago. Yeah…

So if you're one of those people that played that game four years ago, and have been waiting for the resolution to that story. I'm sorry. I really am. That must have been terrible. Not only did it take so long, but there was that constant nagging doubt that it might never happen.

Another thing you should know about Trails in The Sky, is that the localization process was a massive undertaking for XSEED. Now there's a bunch of good resources you could go read about the localization process, and the drama surrounding it. But here's what you need to know: Trails in The Sky SC (just the second game)'s script is longer than War and Peace, by about 120,000 words. That's… a lot if you didn't know. Also the localization ran into some major hurdles during the years that it was being worked on, and at one point some very dedicated people at XSEED had to basically go over and rewrite large portions of that translated script.

All of that on top of the fact that the first game didn't sell particularly well on account of it being… well on the PSP. Thankfully there's a light at the end of the tunnel though. XSEED has since moved onto putting a lot of their games on Steam, where I understand they do quite well for themselves. SC was finally released at the end of October. And XSEED is bringing out more games from the Kiseki series, with the newest one being Trails of Cold Steel which released on the Tuesday of the time I'm writing this.

So with that history lesson out of the way. What's my story with Trails in The Sky? Well, basically I played the game when it came out in 2011 for PSP, but I never got terribly far in it. I tried restarting several times, and each time was met with an abrupt end. In 2014 XSEED announced that it would finally be bringing SC out in the west, and in addition to that I picked up Trails in The Sky when it was released on Steam later that year.

However, I once again didn't make it too far. And please understand, I tried for years to like this game. Why? Because the writing on the wall. People I knew and respected talked about this game series alongside classics like Suikoden. So I knew deep down that there had to be something there. Plus you look at the series legacy in Japan. It was apparent that there was a new long running JRPG series that was just waiting for it's chance to make a splash in the west. It's just unfortunate that the first attempt with the PSP wasn't so hot.

It's also unfortunate that Trails in The Sky is the definition of a “slow burn.” Part of the reason it took me so long to finally get invested in it, is because the front half of FC (First Chapter) kind of meanders a little. FC as a whole is kind of the setup to SC (Second Chapter)'s story, but the first 20 or so hours of FC are even more sluggish than the latter half which eventually picks up with its own contained story.

I've seen people who are Kiseki fanatics who have said they had problems getting into FC, and I even know some people who say FC is one of the weakest entries in the series. Which is kind of crazy, because… about half way through that game it finally clicked, and I thought it was awesome.

But that's FC. That was a 2014 game at best. So instead I'm telling you that SC is my sixth favorite game of the year. And now's also the time where I have to tell you that I haven't finished SC. As of last night I'm about halfway through Chapter 3, which is where I hear the game really starts to pick up.

Now unlike Yakuza 5, which just made a really strong impression on its own. I'm kind of winging it with SC. I'll say that I have enjoyed what I've played of SC so far, but it has yet to reach the heights of the late game parts of FC. So it's kind of in good faith that apparently shit starts popping off shortly after the part that I'm at, that I'm putting SC on this list. If anything though, I imagine I'll want to have ranked it higher by the time I'm done with it.

Anyway, what is there to say about SC? Or just Trails in The Sky in general? It certainly fits the bill of “classic style JRPG”. The turn based battle system has a few unique mechanics to it, but it isn't anything we haven't seen done better somewhere else. That said, I've had some pretty amazing boss battles over the course of the two games that really came down to the wire and required me to pull out all the stops to win. As long as those are boss battles, I'm always down to party like that.

The problem lies more so in that the normal encounters of the games act more as speed bumps than actually anything entertaining. A lot of them boil down to the same strategy, and there's a lot of them! I think the game already has a mechanic to offset this, but unfortunately you don't always have the tools for it. For one, similar to the Suikoden series, there's kind of a “soft cap” on exp. Once you reach a certain level that character will stop earning much exp per battle. Similarly it's an easy way to catch up other party members because they will receive a lot of exp until they're caught up.

There are also means of avoiding so many battles, and seeing as how it becomes kind of pointless to fight them all after a point it would be nice if these methods were more readily available. I hate to say it, but I'm starting to feel like this traditional style of combat has started to lose its luster when it's so basic, and frequent. It makes me wonder if I would rethink some of my favorite games.

On the other side of things, I think the biggest reason the normal battles are a problem is because you want to get to the next story beat. And here's where these games really shine. You remember how the main Suikoden series had this one big world that all the games took place in? And even though each game was self contained, you could usually find a lot of connections to other games in the series? You know how they were able to create a world that had rich lore and characters, locations, and organizations that you could actually care about? Yeah, Trails in The Sky does all that.

And it's not just Trails in The Sky, but all the Kiseki games take place in this same world, and feature returning elements from the other games. Obviously I can't speak to this too much yet, but it's another thing that kept me coming back to try and connect with this series.

I told you that SC's script is longer than one of the longest novels in the world, right? Well it really shows, because there is so much dialogue in this game. It can be overwhelming at times. But it's almost always worth it. Over the years I've developed a few problems with JRPGs. One was taking the time to talk to random town's folk. They just never had anything interesting to say. Another was when games got too wordy. (I'm looking straight at you Golden Sun).

However Trails in The Sky sidesteps all of that. How, you ask? Simple. It's just really good writing, and localization on XSEED's part. Almost every NPC in these two games have names, and a life, and their own story going on. If you pay attention you'll notice them popping up again and again during your travels. This is especially effective when you're playing SC and catching up with people from the first game.

And also, while the game certainly contains a lot of dialogue, none of it feels bad. Again, you look at a game like Golden Sun, and you basically have two characters echoing each other and reiterating the same dialogue over and over ad nauseam. Trails in The Sky uses that time to offer character development. So even though there's a long conversation going on, it's written in such a way that you're getting to know the characters better. It's almost akin to a Visual Novel in a way, where it's actually really enjoyable to read the story and see the events unfold before you.

Speaking of character development. These characters really start to grow on you. The game's main heroine Estelle is easy to like. She's a tough, spunky young girl who's a bit of a tomboy, but has a really cute, endearing side. You combine that with her counterpart Joshua who is the calm, quiet, cool type and you get some really good interactions. I've found that over the course of these two games my opinions on certain characters changed drastically. At first I didn't like Agate, but now I think he's a real sweetheart.

There's other highlights like everyone's favorite Olivier who can usually get a chuckle out of me ranging from a grin to laugh out loud moments. There's Kloe, who, honestly I don't know what it is about her, but I have the biggest crush on her right now. Then in SC you have newcomers like Kevin who make a strong first impression. And fucking total hotties like Campanella who I can't wait to see more of.

At the end of the day, I have high expectations for SC. I can only imagine it will meet them, as I've grown quite fond of what some people consider the weaker of the two games. And I'm excited about the Kiseki series going forward. My Collector's Edition of Trails of Cold Steel is in the mail, and I can't wait to crack into that next year. And all I can hope for is that the series continues to flourish over here, and we see some of the other games make their way over too.

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7. Xenoblade Chronicles X

Xenoblade Chronicles X is the true, refined version of what Xenoblade Chronicles set out to do. It may be lackluster in the story and character department, which is a bit sad to a longtime Monolith Soft fan, but it more than makes up for it with a game that is genuinely a blast to play, not to mention addictive as hell.

I feel like every game on my list deserves a little explanation about where I'm coming from it at. Xenoblade Chronicles X is no exception. Back in 2011 I imported a copy of Xenoblade Chronicles from Europe for the Wii. I had specifically gone through the process of putting custom firmware on the console so that I could play this one import game. And could you blame me? Xenoblade Chronicles was kind of a hot topic back then. It was part of the whole Operation Rainfall movement to get it, and two other games localized in the west and released in North Amercia (as the case was for Xenoblade Chronicles). Out of those three games, the biggest one was undoubtedly Xenoblade.

And what about my personal stake in wanting to play that game? I've been a huge fan of the “Xeno” series of games for a long time. (Yes, I realize that they're not really part of the same series. But a lot of the creative staff at Monolith Soft was responsible for the original Xenogears, and moved onto the spiritual successor Xenosaga. And then Xenoblade has nothing to do with those games, but they slapped the “Xeno” name on their for good measure. Just so you know, I know.)

Xenogears is still in my top 5 games of all time, and Xenosaga Episode I and III aren't far behind. There was a lot to love about those games. They were ambitious anime styled sci-fi JRPGs with heavy religious and human nature undertones. Not only were they stylish and fun to play, but they boasted this epic story that was going to be told across like seven games. It didn't work out like that, and in some cases it's just bad (I'll make no excuses for the second disc of Xenogears) but it still worked in a way. I've replayed those games so many times, and the prospect of a new game from that studio was too tempting.

Unfortunately the reality of the situation was that I was kind of disappointed with Xenoblade Chronicles. My friend likes to say that a large part of my distaste from it comes from the fact that I watched him play a large portion of it when we were roommates. So the story beats didn't hit me the same way, or I was just burnt out on it by the time I was trying to play through it. While I think there's some truth in that, I think it goes a little deeper than that.

For one, gone was the epic sci-fi story that we got with Xenogears and Xenosaga. The game has a much different tone to it, and its story is kind of its own thing. I will say that in light of Xenoblade X (more on this later) the story was actually there in Xenoblade, whether you liked it or not was another matter.

But no, I acknowledge the things that game did right. Which might even include some of the story beats they were going for. It's hard not to appreciate the first time you step out onto The Guar Plains and that music kicks in as you survey this giant lush environment. And the game had its own ambitions. It was trying to do something with its combat that had been attempted with Final Fantasy XII. Neither of those are bad system per say, but they could have used a little bit more work (*hint hint*)

I'll even admit that I warmed up to the extremely British voice cast of the game. The first time around it was all I could do to keep my sanity from the sheer amount of calls during combat, but now we have “I'm Really Feeling It” and “It's Reyn Time!” and all those fun samples that just make me laugh.

Still, the game never clicked with me. I bought another copy for Wii when it came out in the states. But didn't get much further than I had before. And earlier this year I, for some reason, bought the 3DS version of the game. I will say that I did at least make some decent progress that time, but still nowhere near done with the game. And I still don't feel particularly fond of it.

So, finally we get to Xenoblade Chronicles X. I thought the game looked cool ever since it was announced, but I could never shake the suspicion that it was just going to be Xenoblade Chronicles all over again. So I watched, and I waited, and I wondered. Impressions of the Japanese release, as well as reviews of the western release made me question it even more, but I was determined to try it all the same.

So does Xenoblade X fix everything that was wrong with Xenoblade Chronicles? No, it doesn't And in fact it actually makes some things worse. But that isn't to say it doesn't fix some stuff, and I'm here to tell you that those improvements have not only kept this game from being a disappointment, but earned it a spot on my game of the year list.

For a change of pace, let's get the negative stuff out of the way first. Any problems I might have had with Xenoblade Chronicles pales in comparison to the utter disappointment that is X's story. Yes, this is the third and final game I wasn't able to complete before game of the year, and yes, I'm still early on in the story (I've cleared up to Chapter 5). But I really don't get the impression that the game is going to turn things around anytime soon.

Unlike Trails in The Sky, each time I'm forced to watch a cutscenes, or talk to the characters in this world, it's a chore. There are a few quirky NPCs here and there, but so far I haven't seen anything remotely interesting enough to care about. The story just seems to be there to help guide you along your exploration of Mira, but in some ways I wish it wasn't even there.

And the characters? Boy… they sure are… characters, I guess? Your main character is a mute hero or heroine who has no personality whatsoever (maybe on account of being mute I guess.). That leaves the two other main characters. Elma who might as well be a piece of cardboard. And Lin who is admittedly the best of the bunch, but she's not much more than a walking anime trope (which isn't always a bad thing, mind you). The rest of your crew is filled out by side characters who seem even blander and play even less of a role in the overall story. And Tatsu, who is a piece of shit.

So, uh… why exactly is this game on my game of the year list? Well, it's everything else about the game that has improved dramatically over Xenoblade Chronicles in my opinion.

I compared X to Trails earlier and said that the story was a chore. Well on the flip side of that, where the combat can be kind of a slog in Trails, the combat in Xenoblade X is actually a hell of a lot of fun. When I played Final Fantasy XII, and Xenoblade Chronicles, I didn't outright hate the combat system. I thought there was something to it, something that scratched the same itch MMO combat does. So as it turns out, if you refine those systems and have them reach their full potential, you actually get something pretty outstanding.

Every moment out in the wilderness of Mira has been a joy. Whether I'm wandering around Primordia hunting for items like a scavenger's hunt. Or fighting horn bird monsters in Noctilum. Or even just running around trying to figure out where the next probe location is – it's all been a blast. There's also something addictive to it, as I've had a hard time putting the game down at times. I'm about 30 hours in, and as you can probably tell from my story progress I've just dumped a ton of time into exploring and doing side quests.

I think there are some comparisons to be made here with other games I really like. The most obvious is, as I said, the game has a general sense of MMO combat to it. But there's something snappy and frantic about it that makes it more entertaining than simply clicking hotkeys… even though that's essentially what you're doing. In a stress-free situation where I can afford to spend time worrying about attacking the enemy from the back or the side, it adds a little spice. And even the short QTE prompts help keep you on your toes during an extended fight.

But maybe more striking to me is how the game reminds me a lot of Phantasy Star Online. PSO was a game that I played obsessively for like two years. It was the first time I remember pulling an all nighter, and running through the same maps over and over again with the friends I made on there. While Xenoblade X has multiplayer elements (which I'd like to hopefully try at some point) it's really more of the feel of the game that gets me all warm and nostalgic.

It helps that the setting is similar in a way. You're on an alien planet with a bunch of indigenous monsters to slay. The general aesthetic design of the characters and equipment strike a similarity to PSO as well. But maybe most importantly is just the fact that I don't mind going out, running around these areas, and completing menial tasks over and over again.

Best Looking Game of 2015: There were some good looking games this year. I feel like Bloodborne and The Witcher 3 both brought a level of technical prowess and good art design together to make an impressive showing. But nothing hit me in quite the same way Xenoblade X has. You can debate about the character models (I can usually be found in the middle regarding them fondly in the way I did with Xenosaga, but also thinking they look more like a doll then The Plain Doll) but what you can't argue with is the game's world and all the creatures that inhabit it. The first time you're up high and looking over the rolling vista of Primordia is one of this year's best moments. Then you jump down, and it's so authentic looking that you immedtiatley develop a pit in your stomach, as your butthole puckers up and you brace for impact. And of course all the crazy fauna on Mira are some of the most impressive looking monsters in any game. All of this and it's running buttery smooth on the Wii U. But I guess Nicalis can't get The Binding of Isaac to run properly on Wii U hardware. So I must be dreaming, right?

That's the kind of treadmill many developers wish they could reproduce in their games. But unfortunately nowadays the signals get crossed and published try to incentivise longevity through microtransactions and other shady bullshit that acts as a time sink. Xenoblade X doesn't need to do that, it doesn't need to try and create some sort of purposely placed time sink. It just is one. If you play the game, you'll probably just end up playing it for a really long time, because… get this… it's fun.

In addition to the core gameplay just being an enjoyable way to spend your time, the game also dangles multiple carrots in front of you. The easiest way is by putting in loot and a progression system. But much like PSO did in the past, it works. When you're out in the field doing your thang' you're constantly working towards the next reward. You'll eventually get better loot that either looks cool, or is just a really good piece of equipment. And the way the class system is, you're always working towards ranking up so you can acquire new attacks, and traits.

All of this comes across as extremely well designed in a way that's almost shocking. As I've said, PSO did a lot of this 15 years ago, but to think that current Monolith Soft (hell, let's not kid ourselves, even old school Monolith Soft) was capable of making a genuinely awesome playing game that marries western open-world design with I guess “hunting” games? It's really impressive.

I would also be remiss not to mention the soundtrack, which is done by Hiroyuki Sawano, who has done incredible work in recent years with anime like Kill la Kill, Attack on Titan, and Aldnoah;Zero. In particular the Kill la Kill influences can be felt heavily on this soundtrack. There's a lot of amazing tracks on the OST ranging from majestic pieces that play as you run across rolling fields, or Sawano's perchance for funky hip-hop mixed with pretty vocals. The only downside to the soundtrack are both the daytime, and the nighttime theme in New LA. Maybe just because everything about the game has to be terrible when you're in the city. (Though, don't tell anyone, but I'm kind of warming up to both songs in the same way I did with Xenoblade Chronicle's voice actors.)

Oddly enough, there's one last point I'd like to make about Xenoblade X. And that its localization was handled by 8-4 Ltd. Now if you've read any of my lists before, you'll know that I've talked these guys up big time. I think that their work on games like NieR and Fire Emblem: Awakening help make those games what they are. So, it's odd, not to mention a bit distressing that even though they've been hyping up this project for a while (I've no doubt it was a massive undertaking), that I'm ultimately left feeling… disappointed? I realize they had to work with what they had there, but aside from menu translations and the like, I'm getting absolutely nothing out of their work if I just mash through dialogue as fast as I can, right? And on a recent podcast, it sounded like they were throwing projects like their work on the Tales series under the bus in favor of this game. And I just… no…

Regardless, Xenoblade X is certainly a surprise for me. It's a bummer that Monolith Soft still hasn't been able to rekindle my interest in their storytelling, but if you ask me the realization of the mechanics laid out in Xenoblade Chronicles is more than enough to make up for that. I look forward to spending many more hours with X going forward.

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8. Life is Strange

Life is Strange looked like an embarrassingly written teen melodrama at first blush, but upon given it a chance I realized that there was a real craft being applied to the story telling here. If you like time travel stories then Life is Strange makes a case for these kinds of adventure games and a reasonable episodic release schedule.

It seems like every year there's a game that comes out, that is initially really off-putting to me, but eventually wins me over. While Life is Strange might not have made as big of an impact as something like NieR, it did prove to be the best adventure game I played this year. Which is a good thing, because I've been in kind of a drought after last's year wealth of visual novels dried up.

Life is Strange is kind of an unlikely game of the year for me, because its setting is just so outside my comfort zone. And indeed, the first time I watched the Quick Look, and even when I first started playing the game myself, I couldn't help but gag a little bit and roll my eyes into the back of my head from all the… teen-isms.

It's been a while since I've been that age. I don't look back on myself at that time particularly fondly, And even then I was never like these kids are. A lot of tween/teen media is kind of repulsive to me, and I just don't like it in general. That said, Life is Strange overcomes that obstacle, for me in any case, by delivering an incredible time travel story, with excellent writing and characters. By the second episode I didn't even care if someone would say something like “Go Fuck Yourselfie.”.

The characters and the story transcend that setting in a way that I think few things can successfully do. Most of the time something like that would be the game's identity. But it really does just become the setting after the first few hours. Try as the soundtrack might to remind me that this isn't something I'm typically into.

I mean, real talk. The soundtrack is so awful. And I realize everyone has their own tastes in music, and it can be more divisive than games even in a lot of cases. But this soundtrack, at least the stuff with vocals is so nauseating to me. I felt that way about Gone Home too. Ultimately I don't think it detracts from the game too much, but just to give you an idea. I usually listen to each game on my list's soundtrack when I write about that game, that's not the case with Life is Strange.

But I digress. I'm sure I talked about my love for time travel stories with last year's Steins;Gate. Some people can't seem to stand that concept, but to me I always think it's interesting. While I feel that Life is Strange never comes through with explaining the whys and hows of Max's power (at least not to the extent that something like Steins;Gate does, cause yeah…) but I think the game makes damn good use of that story hook.

**SPOILERS**: It's that point at the end of Episode 3, and the beginning of Episode 4 that really sells the whole series. This is when Max uses her powers to go way back into the past and save Chloe's Dad from dying in the accident. However thanks to the butterfly effect there were consequences. This time in the form of Chloe being paralyzed from the neck down in this alternate timeline.

The stinger at the end of Episode 3 where you see Chloe in her wheelchair is powerful enough on its own. Luckily I was playing these games back-to-back (with the exclusion of the last episode which I had to wait for) so I was able to jump into the next episode the following night. But it's the beginning of Episode 4 that just kills me.

Max spends time with Chloe, who as a result of the accident, and her Father not being dead is a completely different person. It's a hard set of scenes to watch, because, well not only is it just sad as fuck, but you know you're directly responsible for this. And if you're quick on the uptake, you have a general idea of what's going to happen next. You're going to have to go back and undo your mistake, but that ultimately means sacrificing Chole's Dad to get things back the way they were.

And despite her current condition, you have to wonder if Chloe would want that. This is addressed later in the last episode, and I was pretty happy with the conclusion. That it basically seems like Chloe feels terrible for Max being in that situation, and realizes she had to do what she had to do.

Anyway, even if you see that coming. That doesn't prepare you for the moment when Chloe asks you to kill her and end her suffering, and the weight on her parent's shoulders. It's fucking ice-cold, bone chilling shit. It was hard enough dealing with that situation in a video game. I can't imagine having that responsibility in reality. I'd rather not even think about it.**END SPOILER**

There are other stellar parts of Life is Strange, but none of them hit me as hard as that. But if we've learned anything from time travel fiction, it's that it's usually more trouble than it's worth. Hell, even a dumb Ashton Kutcher movie painted a pretty horrifying picture of what could happen if you start messing with time.

It's hard to talk about a game like Life is Strange without just retelling moments from the game and offering my opinion on them. So I'll try to wrap things up here. In addition to the story, the characters, and the writing all being top notch – there's another important elements of Life is Strange that should be praised.

Much like the Telltale games of recent years, Life is Strange offers you player choice. However unlike those Telltale games, it really does feel like your decisions matter in Life is Strange. I know that's a real cliche thing to say, but thinking back on how my story played out, I can't even begin to imagine the consequences of some of those choices. I haven't looked into it either, because I feel like the game I played was the story I was supposed to see. So there's a possibility that the choices aren't as important as I've been lead to believe. But I've overheard some… things that make me think things could have gone very, very differently.

Life is Strange was certainly a surprise for me this year, and I'm glad I went along for the ride. In recent years I've said numerous times that I find myself putting more stock into narrative in games, than gameplay. And while there have been a few games this year that make me second guess that preference, I'm still a sucker for a good story. I really wouldn't mind playing more games like this, and visual novels all the time.

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9. Tales From The Borderlands

Tales From The Borderlands is Telltale's finest game to date, hands down. It takes the colorful, sometimes idiotic world of Borderlands and actually wraps a compelling story around it. There are a lot of laughs, and some tears along the way. And I walked away from the game excited for more Telltale games like this, and for more Borderlands. You gotta keep on, keepin' on.

First, and foremost. Let me say that my absolute favorite thing about this entire game, and in fact all of Borderlands is the extremely stylish opening cinematics that are usually backed up by impeccable song selection. Seriously, thinking about the opening to Episode 2 gets me so pumped up. Just, god damn. So good!

Tales From The Borderlands is similar to Life is Strange in a lot of ways. For one they're both similar adventure games. So that's comparison number one. Secondly I approached them both in much the same way: with mild disgusts.

I've had a bumpy past with The Borderlands series. It's not really important to talk about how they play as a shooter, but for the record I always seem to be into them for like 20 hours, then completely lose the thread because bullshit starts happening. But more importantly, let's talk about The Borderlands universe.

I like the way it looks. One could probably argue that putting that cel-shading on Borderlands was the smartest thing Gearbox ever did. I also actually really like the character designs in some cases. So from that perspective it all checks out. The writing and the humor though… that's another matter.

I've gone back and fourth with it over time. I think at the time I was enjoying the writing in Borderlands 2, but then it just got to a point where I realized how fucking dumb it was. (I'll always point to “butt stallion” as a low point in creative writing. Even if there's a really good bit with “butt stallion” in Tales). From that point you connect the dots and see that the writing staff was more concerned with putting in dumb internet memes and the whole thing kind of falls apart.

So, when Telltale made a proposition this past year. “Would you rather play this Borderlands adventure game, or this Game of Thrones adventure game?” I thought it was a no-brainer. Turns out I was wrong.

Not to get too sidetracked, but Game of Thrones was extremely disappointing. It wasn't terrible, but that almost makes it worse right? When Telltale talks about doing all these games for licensed properties (which is everything they do now) I guess it's a crap shoot. For my money though, Game of Thrones felt like your typical “licensed game” even if it is probably a cut above that.

On the other hand there's Tales From The Borderlands. Which just conceptually seemed like a really dumb idea. Did anyone honestly care enough about the Borderlands' fiction to want to play a story based game off of it? I certainly didn't. I dismissed it out of hand as soon as it was announced.

But then the game came out and you started hearing people say “Hey, it's actually pretty good.” So with that knowledge in hand, I bought the big Telltale bundle on PS4 early this year for a heavily discounted price thinking “What the hell? At least I'll get Game of Thrones with it.”

When I finally sat down with Tales From The Borderlands, it wasn't pretty. I was going in with the preconceived notion that this was going to be a waste of my time. And I think I was also in a bad mood, aside from not really being in the mood to play an adventure game. It was just a big mess.

So I spent half an hour with it, and got so disgusted with it that I just quit it. I posted angrily about it on Twitter, and expected that to be that. However a friend of mine assured me that the game was worth giving a second chance. So I waited a little while, until around the time Episode 2 was coming out, or maybe it was out. I can't remember. And I tried playing it again.

I'm glad I did, because it's fantastic.

Tales manages the herculean task of not only making a Borderlands story super interesting, but also making it really funny, and even emotional along the way. All the while keeping with the style of the series. I think if you ask around you'll hear people tell you the same, but this is Telltale being a master at their craft. They understood the property, took it, then made something even better out of it. It's no exaggeration to say that this is Telltale's best game. Because it is.

The story follows the travels of the two protagonist Rhys (Troy Baker), and Fiona (Laura Bailey). Oh, don't worry friends. You didn't think I was going to get through a game of the year list without praising Laura Bailey's stupendous talents, did you? Both of these characters, as well as the supporting cast are extremely well written. And the voice talent all bring their A-game to breath life into the characters, even when they have to say the dumbest shit. And again, I can't stress how impressive it is that they were able to make this all compelling while still feeling like a Borderlands game, in tone at least.

Tales forgoes all the shooting and loot (well, that's not entirely true) of the main Borderlands games in order to follow a pair of everymen. These two aren't legendary Vault Hunters, their attempts at combat are laughable at best half of the time. But the catch is they happen to be this underwhelmingly normal on Pandora of all places. A world where you can't go two feet without some wildlife trying to eat you, or a bandit trying to skin your face to make a “skin pizza”.

**SPOILERS**: As you might expect, the adventure is full of comic relief, and ridiculous action moments. But Tales From The Borderlands is always ready to surprise you when you least expect it. One moment you might be laughing out loud at the fact that Vaughn is totally fucking ripped underneath that tacky sweater-vest, to actually being choked up by the fact that a character like Scooter of all people just provided the most unexpected heart wrenching death of the year. **END SPOILERS**

The game accomplishes so much over the course of its five episodes. Not only do you build up an affinity for the new cast of characters, but seeing some returning figures in a new light is cool too. I haven't played Borderlands The Pre-Sequel, but I kind of want to because Athena is awesome. Hell, I even sort of liked Handsome Jack by the end there. Like, what? Seriously?

Tales From The Borderlands is Telltale at their best. The Walking Dead kind of took the world by storm, and I was a fan of The Wolf Among Us. But Tales upped the ante. I don't know if I'd want them to do another season of it or not, but I walked away from this thing not only hoping for more like that. But actually being excited about Borderlands again. Crazy.

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10. Metal Gear Solid V

Metal Gear Solid V might not be the best Metal Gear game out there, thanks in no small part to its dramatic shift in tone, and hang-ups such as a lackluster performance from the leading role. But the game is undoubtedly fun. It might be the best stealth game ever made, and the wealth of options at your disposal make it so that you can make up your own crazy Metal Gear stories about playing the game.

It's the last game on the list, and also the one I'm the most conflicted about. Let's see if I can sort my feelings about what might be the last Metal Gear game (that we care about in any case).

I'm so torn on Metal Gear Solid V. I kept thinking about if I wanted to put it on the list or not. But every time I took it off it felt wrong. So it makes the list, albeit at the end.

I'm a huge fan of Metal Gear Solid. Have been since Metal Gear Solid on the PlayStation. To me that game just came out of nowhere and was doing stuff in a video game I couldn't even dream of at the time. It's still one of the all-time classics. I'm also quite fond of the rest of the main series of games, with Metal Gear Solid 2 probably being my favorite (that's a discussion for another time).

It's been a while since I've really enjoyed a Metal Gear game though. Metal Gear Solid 4 was my game of the year that year, so obviously I really loved it. But that was kind of the last time. (Unless you count Metal Gear Rising which we all know is the best character action game out there, right?) None of the PSP games did it for me. In fact I was violently turned off by the series with Peace Walker which was just such a departure from what I recognized that series as.

I'll also get this out of the way now. I'm not really a Big Boss fan. In recent years I've come to realize that Snake Eater is in fact a really amazing game, but I still feel like Big Boss isn't as endearing a character as Solid Snake. And you can make that argument about how Big Boss is the original badass, and Snake is just a cheap copy, but I ain't hearing it. Did you see Snake in Metal Gear Solid 2? That man's a legend!

So I guess I'm just not sure what to say now if someone asks me what the last Metal Gear game I liked was. Do I like Metal Gear Solid V….? Ehhhh…..

I think the short answer is that, yes, I do like Metal Gear Solid V. But I like the things about it that it does well, and am woefully disappointed in the things it does bad. Earlier in the year when I talked about Metal Gear Solid V, I kept saying “It's a great game, it's just not a good Metal Gear game.” And I think I stand by that.

The things that MGSV does right pretty much all revolve around the gameplay. I've never had a problem with Metal Gear Solid's gameplay though, but I do realize that V is definitely the best playing game in this series, by a country mile. The only real disappointment there is the same thing I found so offensive about Peace Walker, the lack of interesting boss fights. The boss fights in the earlier MGS games, even the bosses themselves in a lot of cases were all a big draw for the series. It's baffling to me that they replaced them exclusively with tanks and robots in Peace Walker, and then only having a few major boss battles in V.

The real bummer about MGSV is the story. Now, don't get me wrong, I appreciate that the game has its own sense of weirdness, and I'm also someone who loves the big twist at the end of the game. But it still doesn't feel like Metal Gear to me. Previously Metal Gear Solid 4 was kind of the “serious” one in the series. Not as many (intentional) funny moments as previous games, and things got kind of dark there. But then you get to Peace Walker and they kind of lighten the mood again? So why then do you go and double down on the grimy nature of V.

This was a problem I saw coming after playing Ground Zeroes. That thing didn't strike me as being Metal Gear at all. And no I'm not really offended by vagina bombs, but it was still weird in a completely different way then what I'd come to expect from Metal Gear. There's another problem that was telegraphed by Ground Zeroes, and that was Kiefer Sutherland's extremely lackluster performance as Big Boss.

**REALLY BIG FUCKING SPOILERS**:But then that's the thing. It's not really Big Boss is it? Though that doesn't explain why actual Big Boss was voiced by Kiefer in Ground Zeroes or whenever he shows up in V. Why do Venom Snake and Big Boss have the same voice? Why isn't Big Boss just voiced by David Hayter? Wouldn't it have been cool if at the very end of the game you heard David Hayter as Solid Snake? Fuck!**END REALLY BIG FUCKING SPOILERS**

Trying to explain that aside, it's a bad performance. Kiefer barely says anything for the entire game. All the cutscnes are weird because the other characters are just talking to a brick fucking wall. Could you make the case that David Hayter wouldn't really fit the tone of this game? Sure. And I'm sure if they changed the voice to literally anyone, people (including myself) would be upset. But why Kiefer Sutherland? Why did you even bother? The Fuck!?

Anyway. I have other problems with the game's story too. And it all really comes down to tone. Because I think if handled differently this could have passed as a more regular Metal Gear Solid game. I'm not of the opinion that Quiet is this embarrassingly gross character that anyone should be ashamed of. But she's not even worth the commotion. The other main players are all more interesting, but that doesn't make them likable. Miller is a fucking asshole, wet blanket who second guesses you and patronizes you for the entire game. (I guess it makes sense given the circumstances, but it's not appealing though.) And Huey, what the fuck happened to Huey? I subscribe to Jeff's theory that they should have just put a bullet in him from the start.

Uhg. I'm just so worked up over it all over again. This game isn't Metal Gear to me. It's almost like some gritty re-imagining of the series where they suck all the fun out, but try to keep it weird still. And like I said, make no mistake, the game has its weird moments. And once again that twist at the end with Venom Snake is classic Kojima. But still… uhg.

So then, why is the game actually on my list? Well, just because it's not my ideal Metal Gear game, doesn't mean it's a bad game. It's really telling that three open-world games made my list this year. Especially after you consider the nightmare that was Dragon Age. And to its credit, Metal Gear Solid V is an insanely fun sandbox to play in as you go from mission to mission.

Almost every situation in the game can be handled in a different way, depending on how you want to do it. The game gives you an endless supply of tools, and options to go about your tasks. The game features a robust research & development system that allows you to get into a loop of playing the game, getting the required resources to construct new gear, then use that gear in new and exciting ways.

This isn't limited to guns and gadgets though, as the game's buddy system allows you another way to customize your playstyle. Honestly I thought some of the most interesting discussion coming out of this game was which buddy everyone liked the best. D-Horse, sadly isn't that exciting, but there are a few missions in that game where I can't imagine using someone else. Also you can make him shit on command.

D-Walker seems like the least practical one. It's expensive, and loud. I've heard you can do some pretty crazy stuff with it, and the idea of having your own personal Metal Gear Mini is a fun concept, but maybe not the best in execution. So that leaves most people debating between D-Dog and Quiet. They can do similar things, but they do it in different ways. Quiet can be quite overpowered if you use her right, but her detection skills and managing her can be a pain in the ass. Also she constantly hums Quiet's Theme, which is one of the few songs on the soundtrack I really don't like. D-Dog on the other hand is basically a walking Soliton Radar. He's also no slouch when it comes to carefully dispatching enemies. Bonus: He can actually think for himself.

That's the kind of stuff that I think really shines about MGSV. It's the kind of game where you can do something totally different than your friend, but then you can both share an interesting story about it. Metal Gear Solid V was also another game that I toyed around with recording video of this year, and I have a few good moments on my YouTube channel.

I'm really hit and miss with stealth gameplay these days. It was never something I really enjoyed, but there was a time when I would play and enjoy something like Thief 3 for example. That said, MGSV probably handles stealth better than any game out there. It makes sense, it works, and it can be generous at times when you need it. And if that still doesn't work out for you, there are many situations in the game where you can just blast your way through.

One of my personal favorite things about the game is the soundtrack. Not only is the original score really good and fits the mood (of this game at least), but I absolutely love the licensed tracks. Even though it isn't actually Bowie, the game opening with “The Man Who Sold The World” is incredible. But aside from Kojima's good tastes in music (have you seen the trailers he makes too?) the cassette tapes are a legitimate plus for me.

I love 80's pop. Like, a lot. I was pretty young when it was still relevant, but that's always been a decade of music that I go back to. So the fact that you can get collectible cassingles in Metal Gear Solid V is quite frankly one of the best parts of the game for me. It actually make me explore more than I might have otherwise. I'd bother infiltrating guard posts for the sole purpose of obtaining a tape.

And of course there's the fact that you can blare that music out of your helicopter whenever it comes to pick you up. I cannot tell you how big of a smile I had every time I'd call for the chopper and the opening strains of “Maneater” started, or rocking out to "Rebel Yell" after a mission well done. Though my personal favorite is how ridiculous “She Blinded Me With Science” is, and I think it adds some much needed lightheartedness to the game.

Well, before I wrap this up I guess I'll get this out of the way. The big secret is that I didn't actually finish Metal Gear Solid V. I got really far into the game, with only about 15 missions left to go, but things weren't working out. I enjoyed playing the game, but other stuff was starting to pop up. And as I got further and further away from when it released I felt an overwhelming sense to see the rest of the game's story before it was spoiled for me. So one night, in late September, I sat down and watched a YouTube playthrough of the rest of the game.

I feel kind of bad about it, because there's always the possibility that if I had pressed on and kept going with it myself, I would have enjoyed the game more. But at the same time, I was really at a point where playing the game became a chore. So instead of forcing myself to finish it, and perhaps irreversibly ruining any positive feelings I had about the game. I made the call. I was still able to watch the rest of the game, and see all the story had to offer. Needless to say, I wasn't thrilled with every aspect of it.

Overall, I feel like Metal Gear Solid V is a great playing game. In much the same way Xenoblade X is. I'll say it again, I'm firmly planted in the “narrative trumps all” camp, but I think sometimes it's a good thing to be reminded that video games can just be fun. MGSV might not be the Metal Gear game I was hoping for, but it's still one of this year's best games. Also, holy shit that “Sins of The Father” song is the best, and I love that the “whoooaaaahs” randomly play whenever Venom Snake takes a hit off his dank ass time cigar.

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Honorable Mentions & Closing Thoughts

Before I leave you, I'd like to toss in a few honorable mentions. These games are all games that I feel could have made the actual list if I had the time to play them. Who knows if that's true or not? But at least these are some games that came out this year that I don't want to sleep on, and maybe you shouldn't either!

Trails of Cold Steel: I got the Kiseki bug this year finally, and I'm not gonna stop with Trails in The Sky SC. As I said, my copy of the Collector's Edition is on the way, and I look forward to digging into this next year. I heard that CSI is another slow burn, so I have my concerns about that. But I'm confident that it will payoff with the sequel which some say is the best in the series. Regardless I had to support XSEED and Falcom with bringing more of this series over.

Stella Glow: If I had more time I might have written about how Stella Glow gradually won me over after my mixed impressions of the demo. Unfortunately I just didn't have the time to check it out, but it's still true that the game grew on me. Thinking about what I played in the demo, and what people said about the game, I get the impression that it's a fun little SRPG, with shades of Ar tonelico thrown in there for good measure. I'll be checking this out as soon as I can.

SteamWorld Heist: This is a real last minute entry to this list, but SteamWorld Heist came out and it grabbed my attention immediately. I had some issues with the previous game, SteamWorld Dig. I didn't think it was bad, especially for the price, but maybe it had been a little too hyped up for me. That said Heist is totally different and looks like an awesome take on XCOM but on a 2D plane instead. Whenever I get a little cash I'm definitely going to give this a shot.

Well, that's a wrap. If you stuck with me that long and read all that, then thank you for your time. I write these lists for myself as much as anyone, but if anyone got any sort of enjoyment or helpful information out of all this then that's all the better. I actually probably put too much effort into these lists. It's one thing to sit down and write them for 10 hours straight, but that's kind of cathartic in a way, and I want to share my opinions. But really it's the fact that I go out of my way to play as many games as possible in a given year. It can be really taxing to try and afford all that, not just with money, but my time. The upside is that I get to play a bunch of stuff that I probably wouldn't have played otherwise. And you see what can happen with that, I end up playing stuff like Space Marine, NieR, and Metal Gear Rising, and they do quite well on my lists!

Once again, thanks for reading. It's been fun. I hope to see you all next year with another massive list. And looking at the release schedule for next year, I think it's safe to say it's going to be a dozy!

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Game of The Year 2014

Man, has it been a year already? Time sure does fly by for me anymore. 2014 had it's ups and downs for both the video game industry, and me personally. We've seen some gross trends in gaming this year, that hopefully we can move past in 2015. And to be honest, this year was also kind of a let down for most of its big games. It seems like the general consensus has been muddled at best when trying to come up with this year's best games. With that said, I've still managed to pull together another list of 10 games that I'm sure I'll rattle on about for entirely too long.

Before we jump into it, a few things I thought I should mention. Shaking things up a bit this year by doing my list in order of favorite to least favorite. At a glance, this seems to be drastically different than how I usually do my lists, but it's not that big of a change. When I write these lists, I usually start writing them from best to worst anyway, and then just post them in the opposite order. Why? I guess I wanted to create some sense of anticipation by doing the list in a countdown fashion. I think I'm past that idea though, and I feel like my list will just flow, and read better if I drop that pretense.

Another reason for the change was that I wanted to award some of the games with little accolades, like “Best Story”. I feel like I'd rather just come out up front, handing out those accolades as I go. Rather than vaguely eluding to them “later on in the list”. So again, seems like it will just make things flow a little better.

Finally, I've decided to toy with the idea of using quotation blocks during the blog post to write little side pieces. This will mostly be used for handing out the minor awards, but there are also a few games on the list where I wanted to give out honorable mentions and what not. It should all make sense when you're reading the list, but just thought I'd throw it out there anyway.

So, without any further delay. Here's the list!

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1. Super Smash Bros. 4 (3DS & Wii U)

A note about Super Smash Bros. 4: Technically Smash 4 is two different games. One for the 3DS, and one for the Wii U. Both games have their differences, but they're mostly similar. As it stands, I'm saying that both of these games are tied for the number one spot on my list. But if I had to make an official decision, I'd say that the Wii U game edges out in the end. I'll discuss this in more detail later on.

Wow. Who could have guessed that a new Smash Bros game would be my number one game of the year? If you're unsure of how to answer that, all you would need to do is take a look at my Twitter feed over the past year plus. Of particular note were the times I actually, legit cried in excitement at character reveal trailers. The ones for Palutena, and Lucina & Robin. Yes, Smash 4 has been near, or at the top of my (sadly neglected) most anticipated games list ever since its announcement. And let me tell you, it didn't disappoint.

My history with Smash is such: I bought the original Nintendo 64 game on a whim. Probably because it had Pikachu in it, because Pokemon was my life back then. What I found was one of the most entertaining games of all time. It didn't take me long to fall in love with the frantic nature of the all-star brawler. The game played on my love for some Nintendo franchises, while introducing me to new ones. I played the game for hundreds of hours. A good many of those hours with friends and siblings, and many more by myself.

Needless to say, I was hooked from the beginning. And my love for the series only grew more with each iteration. Melee was a revelation. It brought the series to a whole new level. And it helped introduce me to Fire Emblem, one of my all time favorite game series at this point. For every hour I played the original Smash, I played Melee four times as much. And while I never got too heavily invested in the competitive scene, I still acknowledge the game as one of the all time greats. And I even loved Brawl, which is a controversial one. The mechanics might not have been as solid, but the introductions they made with an even bigger roster, more stages, and expanded features helped make that game a classic for me too.

Now we've got Smash 4, and it lives up to the series pedigree. With an even bigger roster than ever before. A huge amount of amazing stages. One of the greatest collection of video game songs ever. An embarrassing amount of features. And rock solid mechanics to help distinguish it from the much maligned Brawl. Yes, Smash 4 is the game in the Smash Bros series to beat now. And I'm here to tell you why it's my game of the year for 2014.

Best Looking Game of 2014 (Super Smash Bros. 4): My first award of the year goes to Smash 4 for being the best looking game of 2014. It's fucking insane that Smash Wii U looks as good as it does. The Wii U hardware is clearly lacking when compared to the newer consoles, but somehow Nintendo's art is so good that it hardly matters. Throughout the year Nintendo has proven time and time again that its games are no slouch in the visual department. And for me, Smash 4 is the best example of that. From the beautiful landscapes of each stage, to the wonderfully realized character models. Smash might be one of the prettiest game I've ever seen. It helps that Smash has always been a flashy series. The effects on each hit, and item type are simply gorgeous And some of the Final Smashes are awe inspiring. Smash also supports a roster of over 50 beloved characters (if you count each type of Mii Fighter) and in most cases they've never looked better.

Super Smash Brothers for 3DS and Wii U, or Smash 4 as it's called in the community seems like the perfect blend of what makes the series so special. It has all the fundamental gameplay mechanics that people have come to love. Backed up by the fan service nature of the game. I think it's entirely possible to enjoy these games without being attached to any of these characters, but I think it helps a lot if you're at least somewhat invested. For me, it's a real treat. I've always been a Nintendo fan, going all the way back to playing my NES when I was four years old. So I have at least some attachment to most of these characters. Though I get more excited by, say, another blue haired swordsman joining the mix, than say, another Mario character.

And that to me is one of Smash's greatest strengths. That with these 50 some characters, there's a good chance there will be something for you. For me, as I've said – I actually teared up when characters like Kid Icarus' iconic goddess Palutena was revealed. And I screamed in excitement when not only was Lucina, my favorite character from my game of the year last year, Fire Emblem Awakening, was announced, but so was Robin, the player created character from the same game. And for some people, these characters don't matter. And that's fine (It's not really, what's wrong with you!?), but for each obscure character, there's another Mario character thrown into the mix.

And the fan service doesn't stop there. Literally every pore of this game is seeping Nintendo goodness (Ew). Whether it be one of the 30+ stages in the game, the iconic trophies, assist trophies that fight along side you in battle, dozens of Pokemon, and many other little things like items, enemies in Smash Run, and so on. The people who worked on this game clearly “got it” and poured everything they could into it. And it shows.

Soundtrack of The Year 2014 (Super Smash Bros. 4): Speaking of paying homage to all those Nintendo classics. Smash 4 is also the winner of best music of the year for me. The soundtrack for Smash Wii U is absolutely mind blowing We're talking quality and quantity There are over 400 songs in the game from the various Nintendo (and third party) franchises. There's a good mix of old stuff, as well as newly arranged stuff. Many of which come from some of Japan's most revered composers from around the industry. It's hard to point to any one song, there are just too many good ones. But much like the base game, there's a little something here for everyone. I cannot tell you how thrilling it is to do 8 Player Smash battles on stages like Fire Emblem's Castle Siege and have The Black Knight's theme blaring over the speakers. This is a soundtrack that I'd love to put on and just lose myself in nostalgia. Another thing of note, is that sometimes the soundtrack may surprise you by throwing in more obscure tracks. Like a song from Soma Bringer. Does anyone in the west even know what Soma Bringer is? That's crazy! Finally, I just can't get enough of playing Windy Hill Zone with “Open Your Heart” turned all the way up, and every other song turned all the way down. It's fucking awful, and amazing at the same time. Just ask Drew Scanlon.

On top of all my affection for the source material at play here, the game itself is actually pretty outstanding. You can sit around and debate whether Smash is actually a fighting game, based simply off the fact that it doesn't fit perfectly into the mold that is typically considered a fighting game, but make no mistake this is more than “just a party game.” The mechanics at play here are rock solid. There's a simplicity to it, but if you're playing on a higher level you'll see the game holds true depth. One of the best things about Smash is that it can play very differently depending on what “level” you're playing at.

At times it can be “just a party game”. You can sit around with seven other friends, with all the items on, and just watch the chaos unfold. You can reel it back a bit and play a casual match of four fighters, with or without items and get some pretty intense matches. Or you can go the total “pro” route and do one v one, no items, Final Destination, Fox only. It's really up to you. For my money, I like to do a little bit of everything. I've had just as much fun playing super serious matches in For Glory mode, using my best character – Lucina. As I've had playing a totally balls out crazy match as Captain Falcon where it looks like a Michael Bay movie with the number of explosions taking place on screen.

It's this variety that really separates this series from the rest. Again, just like a mantra, I think there's something for everyone here. You just need to find your fit.

Best Multiplayer of 2014 (Super Smash Bros. 4): Yes, I'm actually giving Smash 4 three different awards. Hey – there's a reason it's my number one game of the year! Anyway, as if there was ever any doubt about this, Smash 4 is easily the most fun I've had with multiplayer this year. I've played a fair amount of it online against complete strangers and have had a blast with it. But where it really shines is with friends. I've had some white knuckled matches against my friend who I've played Smash with for years. And I've put a couple dozen hours of time into the 3DS with my friend that I went to visit in October. A good portion of my visit to see her, both of us were hunched over our 3DSes as we played every mode in the game Co-op. We knocked off a ton of challenges on the board together. And had a blast doing it. There were particular moments during our playtime that I would count among my favorite moments of my 10 day trip. I won't lie, Smash is a much better game when you're playing with other people.

What else is there to say really? I think Smash 4 is an amazing fucking accomplishment for Nintendo. Aside from everything I've said there are many other factors about the two games that put it at the top of my list. The challenges in both games add a much needed incentive to try and see everything in the game, mainly for all that single player content. It creates a checklist, and a guideline on how or what you should be doing in the game. It's ridiculously addicting trying to uncover everything.

The core of Smash has, and probably always will be the “Smash” mode, but Smash 4 brings plenty of variety. The Stadium games are all fun tests of skill that have you using the game's fighting mechanics in interesting ways. Wii U's “Event” mode creates another addicting mode where you are tossed into unique scenarios where you're challenged to meet certain objectives with the games huge roster of characters. The Wii U game also has the super tough Master and Crazy Orders modes which let you gamble for a chance to earn rewards by completing increasingly demanding tasks.

As I've said, if I had to pick one of these games, I'd give the nod to the Wii U version. It's gorgeous, has a much bigger soundtrack, more interesting modes, and the absurdly fun 8 Player Smash mode, as well as tons of options that just aren't available in the 3DS counterpart. Though there is one exception to that rule. The Smash Run mode in the 3DS game, while not my favorite, is a hell of a lot better than the poorly executed Smash Tour mode in the Wii U version. Both of these modes are kind of a dark spot on the game to begin with, but Smash Run is a little more appealing as a fun mini-game, then the nightmare that is the Smash Tour mode. Though I will say Smash Tour probably serves its purpose as a fun party mode by being absolutely insane, unpredictable, and completely unfair. Make sure to turn Custom Fighters “ON” for the best experience

2014 might have been a year where the smaller games outshone the bigger ones for the most part, but Smash 4 is definitely one of those big titles that lived up to the hype. As of February I will have bought the game twice on 3DS, as well as twice on Wii U, in addition to actually buying two Wii Us, all in service of making it so my best friend can play with me. I'm happy to pay the additional prices, because much like Fire Emblem last year, I made her a true believer in this series, and nothing could make me happier. I also love supporting the work that Sakurai, Sora, and the team at Bandai Namco put into these games. If Sakurai is serious, and this is his last Smash Brothers game, then we may never see another game on this level. But at least we'll have gone out with a bang.

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2. Dark Souls II

You'll have to allow me the usual tangent of explaining my history that lead to Dark Souls II being my second favorite game of the year. I know, it's old hat at this point, but I always feel like there's magic in explaining how these infatuations happen.

So, not entirely unlike half of Giant Bomb's staff, I got invested in the Souls series late. I remember back in 2009 when Demon's Souls came out I tried. I bought whatever special edition of the game there was, the one that actually came with a strategy guide. And I attempted to pierce the depths of From Software's beast. It... didn't go well. At all. I had very little patience for its brutal game design, and the lack of information surrounding the game at the time didn't help. I probably bumped my head up against the first level for six or seven hours before I finally said “fuck it”, and gave up. I traded the game in for something else, and didn't look back.

Flash forward to 2011. From Software is getting ready to release the spiritual successor to Demon's Souls in Dark Souls. I was hesitant to even give the game the time of day, but eventually the hype building up around the game broke me. I ended up renting Dark Souls for Xbox 360 and once again I tried my best to get a handle on it. To my credit, I think I made it a little further into Dark Souls than I had in Demon's. Getting up to the Gargoyle fight at least. And then I said “fuck it”, and gave up.

The following years were interesting to say the least. Every few months these games would be brought up again, and I'd get the itch to try them again. I think a year after my foray into Dark Souls, I picked up Demon's Souls again on a whim. Once again, I played it for a bit, but ultimately gave in when the game proved too difficult for me. And on and on it went. I would keep performing some sort of joust with this series. Where I would ride out with lance raised, ready to unseat my opponent. But each time I was bested. I must have rented Dark Souls several other times, and each time ended in abject failure

Eventually we reached a boiling point in 2013. During the early parts of 2013 I got super interested in Dark Souls speedruns. What with it being featured at both Awesome Games Done Quick, and Summer Games Done Quick. And then, as I'm sure many of you know, in late September, Vinny started what would become my favorite Giant Bomb video series: Load Our Last Souls. I think it was the combination of seeing this game torn apart by pros, and then seeing it tackled by someone with relatively low experience that finally pushed me over the edge.

During a Steam sale I picked up Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition, and set out once again to do battle with the forces of Lordran. This time I had something I didn't have before. Knowledge. Between watching multiple speedruns and playthroughs. As well as extensive research, and looking at video guides on Youtube I was finally able to penetrate the mysteries of Dark Souls. And it was fucking glorious.

So glorious was my time with Dark Souls, that I now consider that game in my top 25 games of all time list. Yes, that glorious. So glorious that it's the first game that has ever made me cry from sheer gameplay. I've cried plenty of times playing games (we'll talk more about this later), but that's always been from the story. No, I was so overwhelmed by emotions when I finally beat the giant wolf boss Sif that I dropped the controller and shed tears. And yes, I know Sif isn't a very hard boss for most people, but it was for me. To my credit I absolutely stomped Smough & Ornstein, and Lord Gwyn without any problems. So different strokes and all that, ya know?

Finally I understood what all the fuss was about. I was able to overcome what seemed like an impossible obstacle, and enjoy a super challenging game so immensely that it became one of my all time favorites. That's powerful stuff right there.

I wrapped all this up by the end of 2013, and by that point I was already chomping at the bit for Dark Souls II. In just a few short months, I'd be whisked away by another brutally challenging, grimdark adventure that was sure to test the limits of my patience. And I couldn't wait.

So fast forward once again to Dark Souls II release. There was a lot going on for this game for me. I had become so invested in the first game that I had gone to great lengths to dissect every part of it. I watched a ton of Youtube videos on lore, and watched various playthroughs and speedruns. My favorite videos are from Youtube user EpicNameBro, who has become a personal favorite of mine. Marcus seems like an extremely cool guy, who clicked with me right away. Not only were his interest and gaming background so similar to mine, but the man has an unrivaled passion for this series. So much so that Bandai Namco, and Future Press had ENB on board to work on the official guide for Dark Souls II. It's a beautiful guide by the way that I highly recommend to any Souls fan.

So there I was. I had the Collector's Edition of the guide pre-ordered. And was waiting for my rental copy of Dark Souls II for PS3. (I waited to actually buy the superior PC version of the game when it came out a couple months later. But I almost double dipped and picked up the Collector's Edition for PS3. Alas, money!) Armed with as much knowledge as I could muster I set out into the world of Drangleic.

What followed was easily one of my gaming highlights of the year. After experimenting with a similar build that I followed for the first Dark Souls (Strength + Two-hander) I gave up and rerolled as a Mage. There were a number of reasons for this. Chief among them was that the best video walkthrough I could find was using a caster, so I found that I could adapt easier to following that guide. Secondly I just wasn't having much luck with my current build (though a later character of mine has had much more luck after the fact). And finally, why the hell not? It was a completely different way to play the game then what I was used to.

Well, it ended up working out in the end. Because after 80 or so excruciating (but rewarding!) hours I finally put a cap on Dark Souls II.

Best Gameplay Design & Mechanics of 2014 (Dark Souls II): Of course my runner-up for game of the year would have its own award too! One could argue that Smash has the best gameplay of the year, but the whole reason that Dark Souls II made it so high on the list is because of its challenging, yet extremely rewarding gameplay. Much like the first game, I was pushed to the limit of my abilities throughout the entire game. Even with all the information I had built up, seeing and doing are two entirely different things. Exploring the world of Drangleic took a lot out of me. Every night when I'd go to play Dark Souls II I had to brace myself. The game is not always enjoyable, in fact it's usually quite stressful. But it's moments like finally beating The Smelter Demon after 20+ tries that make it all worth it. Much like with the first Dark Souls, there are moments of pure adrenalin in this game that cause you to ride an emotional roller coaster. As much as I love everything about these games, it's definitely that pure, distilled rush you get from actually accomplishing stuff in the game that make From Software's action RPG series one of the most exhilarating things out there.

If I'm being completely honest, like many people, I didn't find Dark Souls II to be the best game in the series. No, that honor still sits with the first Dark Souls. Unlike someone like Patrick though, I still really, really enjoyed the game. And I think there are certain qualities to the game that elevate it in certain areas over its predecessors

Chief among them is the online play in Dark Souls II. Would that I could hand out another excellence in mutliplayer award, because god damn if that isn't a key part of this game. The multiplayer mechanics of Dark Souls II aren't all that different than from previous games. You're roaming around a world where sometimes you will randomly encounter other players. This may be as simple as seeing a “shadow” of them. Be it a glimpse of what their character is doing, or a bloodstain the tells the tale of their untimely demise. But in addition to that you also have the invasion and co-op mechanics.

Admittedly I didn't mess around with invasions too much. You can argue if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but during my first playthrough I barely encountered any invasions into my world from hostile players looking to make my life even more miserable. I don't know if this was intended, but it's certainly a welcome change from wandering into the second level of Demon's Souls and having all your gear broken by a Scraping Spear. Ouch.

However, on the other hand, I made liberal use of summoning players, and putting down my summon sign. There are a ton of boss fights in this game, and many of them, for me at least, required support from other players to do. There's a balancing act to that too. On the one hand, the more players to help, the better, right? On the other hand, each time you throw another player into the mix, a boss' health increases, which can actually make the fights more arduous than they may be otherwise

But there was no way in hell I was going to beat the Smelter Demon by myself. And through these interactions you form unspoken camaraderie with these strangers you're playing with. I can't count the number of times where I pulled through a tough fight thanks to a friendly “Sunbro” both of us paying our respects at the end of the brawl through simple gestures. While other times I was just ecstatic to help someone overcome a speed bump like the Pursuer or the Ruin Sentinels.

This simple mechanic for multiplayer that From seemingly pioneered is one of the greatest innovations in gaming. It makes me believe in a future where you can freely enjoy games with strangers without having to suffer some foul mouthed fourteen year old's homophobic and racial slurs. It's the kind of innovation in game design that I think should be applauded, loudly.

I even messed around a bit with PVP, though taking care not to invade someone's game and make their trek through the world of Dark Souls II any more harrowing than mine was. But I've done a dozen or so duels, and have participated in Bell Tower PVP. Usually doing pretty poorly, but sometimes finding myself surprised with my abilities.

That is, at its core what makes me love Dark Souls II. It was the first game of the year that really clicked with me, and made a strong impression. Hell, it was my number one game on my list until October 3rd when Smash came out (but let's be honest, it was just keeping Smash's seat warm). And it kind of bums me out that so many people seem down on the game.

In addition to those strong mechanics, Dark Souls II continues to shine with its presentation. Once again, the story, and the world within are conveyed in the subtle way that From is want to do. Drangelic is an extraordinarily atmospheric set piece for this daunting journey. Throughout the game you're left to piece together what exactly is going on in this world. There are threads tying the two games together that are far from obvious, in some cases requiring a lore video to point them out to you.

The game's characters and bosses might not make as strong as an impression as its predecessor But it's hard not to like characters like The Emerald Herald, who are not only mysterious, but strangely attractive in this otherwise grotesque world. The game also boast another bone chilling soundtrack from Motoi Sakuraba that sets the stage for the striking art direction. I know some folks like ENB have said that they don't care for the Majula town music, but I personally find it to be a beautiful, stirring piece of music that put my mind at ease every time I returned to that safe haven.

It's no Dark Souls, it may not even be Demon's Souls. And maybe that's a direct result of the people in charge of this entry in the series. One can only hope that Miyazaki goes on to blow us all out of the water with Bloodborne. But, for 2014 I feel like Dark Souls II was more than adequate.

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3. Steins;Gate

Now is around the time where you'd see my “surprise” game of the year on the list. Usually in second or third place. Sorry, but that actually didn't happen this year. Instead we have Steins;Gate, a game that I was interested in from the start.

My prior history with Steins;Gate is brief. I watched the first 20 episodes of the anime back when it was new. I enjoyed the show quite a bit, but I didn't fall in love with it. Still, around the time I was watching it, it was revealed that Steins;Gate would be getting an official English translations thanks to JAST-USA. It was at that time that I thought: “You know what, I'm going to hold off on this ending until I can actually play this game.” And boy, I'm glad that I did.

In recent years I've been feeling my gaming preferences change. In the past JRPGs were my bread and butter. And while that is still definitely one of my favorite genres, I have found myself leaning in a different direction. You see, and I may have even brought this up before, so forgive me, but – I realized somewhere along the way that a key part of why I liked JRPGs was because of the stories. Some of my all time favorite JRPGs boast stories that I'd argue make the game more than the gameplay. And sadly, somewhere along the way, modern JRPGs stopped having good stories. They stopped being good games for that matter too, but that's besides the point.

Anyway, in recent years I've found myself drawn to games with a strong focus on narrative. In particular, given my background, the Japanese visual novel games were becoming more my forte. It's great that this genre has started to see some success in the west, with the advent of games like the Phoenix Wright series paving the way for chunkier titles.

Enter Steins;Gate. A tried and true visual novel. There are no puzzles, or tacked on gameplay to be found here. This is purely a story that is being told to you. Sure, your decisions have some outcome on the story. Quite a bit in fact, as the ending you'll get is based solely off your choices. Still, this is a story through and through. If you don't like reading/hearing a story, then chances are this isn't the game for you.

However – if you're like me, and you value a good story anywhere you can find it, then please, please consider playing Steins;Gate. Whether you decide to pick it up for PC now, or wait for the PS3 and Vita versions coming next year.

Best Story of 2014 (Steins;Gate): Believe it or not, this was a tough choice. There were not one, but three visual novels released this year that struck a chord with me, and a handful of other games besides that sported a strong narrative worth considering. But ultimately Steins;Gate shone above the rest. It's hard to talk about the game's story without spoiling it, but trust me, by the end of the game I had been put through the wringer. At times the game is extremely lighthearted and hilarious in nature. At other times it grips onto your heart and threatens to break it. And if you're the kind of person that loves a good “mindfuck” look no further than Steins;Gate.

Steins;Gate follows the story of Rintaro Okabe. A self proclaimed mad scientist who has wasted a spectacular amount of time coming up with useless inventions in his Future Gadget Lab with his partner Daru, and his willing hostage Mayuri. The story starts up with Okabe going to a presentation about time travel. After the presentation, Okabe finds the dead body of a girl he ran into on his way to the talk. Unable to do anything else, Okabe ends up emailing his friend Daru about the murder, and suddenly the world changes around him. Soon Okabe and his fellow lab members find themselves in over their heads when they discover one of their inventions might actually be a time machine. And it only gets crazier from there.

There's only so much I can say about Steins;Gate before going into full spoiler mode. I feel like I can't do this game justice unless I speak freely about its story, and completely spoil some of its major points. But before I get into that, if you haven't played this game, and are interested in it, please, please stop reading this section until you play it. I would hate to spoil it for you. Should you be interested in Steins;Gate? Well. Do you like Sci-fi stories? This is a game about time travel. As such you should go in knowing that it comes with all the baggage that time travel brings with it. That may or may not be your thing. But, hey, if you're someone that grew up with Back to The Future, or Chrono Trigger, or any other equivalent and you really loved it, then I would strongly suggest playing this game. It takes the concept to a whole other level.

Similarly if you found that you liked stuff like The Zero Escape series, or Christine Love's A Hate Story series which I've gushed about at length, then I feel like this game would also be up your alley. Also you should know that the game's presentation is beautiful for what it is. The character art has a totally unique feel to it that's unlike most of the moe anime tripe that is so common these days. And the game has a pretty great soundtrack that helps set the mood for each scene.

Final thing I'll say about it before spoilers is that, consider the first two games on my list. Okay. It's no joke when I say I seriously had to think about Steins;Gate placement on this list. As in, I wasn't sure if it should be higher on the list. Yeah, so, seriously, go check out this game.

El Psy Congroo: God. Where do I even begin? I'm going to forgo any of the normal formalities of explaining stuff, because I'm assuming if you're reading this you either A) Have already played the game and know what I'm talking about. Or B) Have no interest in playing it, and thus don't care if anything is spoiled and/or explained to you. In which case, shame on you! But yeah, this is just some from the heart shit that I've been meaning to put into words since I finally finished the game in August.

Okabe is maybe one of my favorite characters ever. I think he's the perfect catalyst to tell this story with. Right away the nature of the character was appealing. Mad scientist wanting to rule the world. But really he's just an eccentric chunibyo (aren't they all?). Not sure why I'm explaining this, but chunibyoism if you don't know is a trope among anime characters and a thing in Japanese culture, roughly eighth-grader syndrome Have you ever had a point in your life where you pretended to be something you weren't? Pretending things like magic existed? It may not be as common of a thing in western culture, but speaking from experience, I definitely had a time in my life where I'd consider myself a chunibyo.

In essence, Okabe is a young man who hasn't been able to let go of his childhood delusions. Despite being a college student, he still plays at being this mad scientist out to conquer the world. When you're introduced to him, he seems like such a goofball Hard to believe where the story goes after those first few hours, huh?

That all said, I'm an absolute sucker for good character arcs, and Okabe has that in spades. Over the course of the game, the cruel events that he is forced to bear witness to take their toll on him. He gradually loses his innocence, and soon his every waking thought it trying to protect his childhood friend from an untimely death. But of course because time travel is not something to be fucked with, it's never that easy. No, Okabe spends the majority of the game caught in an endless cycle where Mayuri dies over and over again, and nothing he can do will change that.

Suddenly this goofy character becomes a real tragic figure. He's the only one that retains his awareness of these horrible events. And they're slowly warping him into something else entirely. Soon he's forcing himself to put on his chunibyo act to protect Mayrui from learning the grizzly details of her demise. In a lot of cases he's bearing the full weight of this whole ordeal on his own shoulders, only calling out to his friends for help when he had no other options.

Being that this is a NitroPlus game, there's actually a point where the game gets extremely fucking dark. It's during Suzuha's ending. In this ending, Okabe is forced to repeat the same two days over and over again infinitely. At first he's content that he was able to build this sanctuary where everyone could be happy. But after reliving those same two days over and over again ad nauseam he starts to become twisted. At first he starts wondering if his best friend Daru would die if he just refused to save him from being hit by a truck. And eventually it gets bad enough that in one dark moment, Okabe is actually contemplating raping Suzuha, because after all, she wouldn't remember it when the cycle started over again.

That ending shook me up. It's not that I was offended that the idea of rape would even be brought up. No, I know this is a work of fiction, and I realize that no matter how cruel of a plot point that is, that it's still part of a story. No, I was just so surprised that Okabe had fallen to that level. It's unlike any of the other endings. None of them get as dark as that, but it was a clear example of how much this character had changed.

Aside from Okabe, the rest of the cast are worth mentioning too. Aside from Kurisu who I'll end my discussion on. The other characters all bring a piece to the story. Mayuri is obviously the initial love interest, and a majority of the game revolves around saving her. I'll be honest that Mayuri is not one of my favorite characters, but she makes for a tragic heroine, and plus she can be funny and cute at times. Daru is hilarious and the revelations about him throughout the story are shocking to say the least. Moeka. I fucking hate Moeka, but I guess that makes her a good villain. I will say that her time to shine is during her chapter near the end of the game where Okabe finally confronts her. The scene in her apartment is fucking intense and I think it redeems her in my eyes.

Faris might have the weakest contribution to the overall story, but that doesn't stop me from loving her. She's adorable, and while she may not play a vital role in the endgame, I found the events dealing with her father to be heartbreaking. Suzuha is obviously a major player in the story, and I liked her from the outset, but she doesn't really shine until the true ending. At least as far as the overall narrative is concerned.

Ruka is another one of my favorite characters in the game. I'll admit to having... a fascination with the otokonoko archetype (you're going to have to look this one up if you really want to know) but Ruka is more than just that. I think his story is another one of the tragic ones in this game. While it's apparent that none of the other endings outside of the Mayuri and Kurisu ones are really “canon”, the fact that this one isn't hurts me the most. Not saying I would choose this ending, but the fact that Okabe is forced to shun Ruka's feelings somehow feels crueler to me than even having Faris' dad die. It might be in part to Ruka's nature which is very timid, and it makes me feel seriously awful when anything bad happens to him. Poor Ruka.

But all of that is small potatoes compared to Kurisu. It's not just the character, though I will admit to loving Kurisu. If we're being “real” here for a moment, as in totally ridiculous and embarrassing, Kurisu is my waifu of the year. She also has an amazing character arc that conveniently entwines with Okabe's. At a glance she's an adorable tsundere (basically she acts like she doesn't like Okabe, even though she does, until finally you see that side of her) character who is afraid to wear her heart on her sleeve. I usually stay as far away from tsunderes as possible, but there's something about Kurisu that is much more appealing to me than the typical Kugimiya tsundere queen character.

For one, she's a genius who just so happens to have a penchant for 2chan. That is to say, she's like a 4chan troll (though a little more meme', and a lot less vile). Throughout the game she'll casually slip Japanese memes into her speech to the point where Okabe and Daru finally call her out on being a closet 2channer. In addition to that, her character also has a habit of speaking in English, and since this is a game with Japanese voice over, her voice actress Asami Imai does an absolutely adorable job of speaking broken English. Something I always find endearing. Conversely there is a point in the game where Kurisu says “motherfucker” (it's actually a very serious moment) and it's so fucking powerful that I had to listen to it again, and again, and again..

Anyway. So the majority of the game revolves around Okabe trying to rescue Mayuri from dying, but when it finally looks like Okabe can save her, a shocking revelation throws a wrench into his plans. In order to save Mayuri, Okabe had to navigate back to the original worldline in which Mayrui lives, however this is the same worldline that Kurisu dies on. Furthermore it's a worldline where Okabe and Kurisu don't even get to know each other.

Throughout this entire ordeal, Kurisu has been the anchor that has helped steady Okabe. And after all this he literally finds himself in a situation where he has to decide which girl to save. In the normal ending of the game, you follow through with the plan. Going back to the original worldline. Mayuri lives, but Kurisu dies. And the only one who remembers her is Okabe.

It is at this point where Steins;Gate really opens up. In order to get the Kurisu endings you have to make a series of choices throughout the game. If there's one problem I have with Steins;Gate it's that the way you make choices seems so minor that it's hard to tell without a guide that you're even affecting anything. However, I will say that while the execution might be flawed, the concept behind unlocking these endings is genuine.

Basically, you're building up a closer relationship with Kurisu throughout the game. So by the end of it, it actually makes sense that Okabe would seriously think twice about not saving Mayuri. And this is where Steins;Gate kills me.

Out of all the endings, the two I like the most are the Kurisu ending, and the True Ending. I'll talk about the True Ending in the bit, but needless to say, it should be the true canonical ending to this story, and anyone who disagrees with that is a bad person. However I have to say my favorite ending is the Kurisu centric one.

In this ending, as you approach the end of the game, Okabe and Kurisu develop a romance between the two of them. They both realize what needs to be done. Okabe is determined not to go through with it, but Kurisu insists it's the only way. Ultimately the ending gets to a point where the two of them are in the lab together sharing a moment.

This moment... God. So, Okabe and Kurisu both agree on what needs to be done. But they both love each other, and don't want to “erase” the time they spent together. At this point they kiss, and cry, and say goodbye. This fucking moment. Hit me so fucking hard. I have never cried this hard at any piece of fiction before. I was literally sitting here sobbing. Really, actually sobbing as all this took place. Not just tearing up, or getting the sniffles, but full on just bawling.

And after this Kurisu decides to fly back to America before the end. Okabe ends up telling Mayuri and the three of them say goodbye knowing what needs to be done. Okabe goes back to the lab with Mayuri and Daru, and they finish the hack, and proceed to rewrite history. But just as Okabe is about to hit the enter button, Kurisu bursts through the door and says one last goodbye. Cue the waterworks again.

When I started playing this game, or watching the anime, I had no idea it would affect me the way it did. And I guess in a way, it might actually be my surprise of the year. It's certainly a moment that is going to stay with me forever. And I'm so glad I waited to play the game, because it impacted me so much more than I think the anime would have.

Finally there's the True Ending. Which I don't want to undersell. It's fucking incredible too. Basically the Kurisu ending happens again, but after the credits roll, Okabe gets a mysterious call from Suzuha. Everything comes full circle at this point. Suzuha from the future comes back and reveals half truths to Okabe. That he can save Kurisu in this timeline. The two of them go back in time to try and save her, but they fail. And it's ultimately revealed that Okabe was the one who killed her in the original timeline by interfering with the past.

At this point the game is busted wide open, and a future Okabe reveals his master plan of saving Kurisu. After all the bullshit, all the trials and tribulations that Okabe went through, he finally has this one last shot to save the girl that he loves. And, as you might imagine, he does it. And the game ends on the highest note it could, evoking another series of tears (thought not nearly as strong, more tears of joy.) And then that puts a bow on Steins;Gate.

It may, or may not be my favorite visual novel game. I'd have to think about it some more. But it's certainly one of the best.

4. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair / 5. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

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No, that isn't a tie. I actually like Danganronpa 2 more than the first game, but only by a little bit. Still, it's hard to separate these games even if they weren't back to back on my list. Especially when they both came out within the same year in the west. It's still insane to me that, that happened. But man, was it awesome finishing up the first game and knowing the sequel was only months away (I finally got a Vita a few months after Danganronpa came out, so it was even less of a wait for me).

So yeah, visual novels, huh? This was really the year for them. And while Steins;Gate might reign supreme for me, it should be noted that I'm in love with the Danganronpa series now. And more than anything, when I look at these other game of the year lists, it's Danganronpa I'm cheering for. Sure, Smash is my personal game of the year, but it's going to get its dues. Similarly with Dark Souls II. But Danganronpa? It's just getting shafted. It's hard to swallow the fact that sites are awarding best story to other games, when clearly the best story is here! Well, unless you count Steins;Gate, which really is the best story of the year, but... Hah. Nah. Don't imagine we're going to see anyone even mention Steins;Gate in the same breath as “game of the year”. Oh well.

My first experience with Danganronpa was similar to Steins;Gate. In that I knew it was extremely popular among a certain crowd who had read or played a fan translation (Tumblr) and that I started watching the anime. Unlike Steins;Gate, however. I gave up on the anime after the first episode. Not that it was bad (it wasn't necessarily “good” either) but I knew that I would want to play it instead of watching the anime. And aside from Persona 4 Golden, and to a lesser extent a few other games, Danganronpa was one of the main reasons I got a Vita.

Was it worth it? Yes. Oh God, Yes.

Like Steins;Gate, there's not much I can say about the game without going into spoilers. Though I think I have a little more room to talk about it generally.

Firstly the appeal of this series was immediate It seemed to combine Phoenix Wright with Zero Escape in the best way possible. The idea behind the games being that you're a group of extremely eccentric students who wind up in a situation where they're forced to kill each other, and each time someone is killed there is a trial to see who the killer was. If they can figure out who the killer was, the killer will be punished, and the rest of the group can go on living. If they fail to find the killer, the killer gets away scot-free (usually with the enticement of an added incentive) and the rest of the group is punished, by death of course.

At it's core, that's just a really interesting concept for a game. As I said it combines other popular games in the genre, as well as things like cult classic Japanese flick Battle Royale, and... uhg... The Hunger Games I guess? Whatever.

To sweeten the pot, Danganronpa is a game oozing with style. At a glance some of the more “extreme” character designs may be off putting (they certainly were to me at first), but it's never boring. And once you're playing the game, and interacting with these characters, you'd be surprised which ones you find yourself getting attached to. In much the same way as Steins;Gate, Danganronpa's art style is far from the norm. It's a very vibrant, weird style that only helps to accentuate how special the games are.

Outside of the character designs, the rest of the game is similarly stylish. From the way the game transitions through its visuals, to the decision to color the blood a beautiful shade of neon pink. The game definitely has its own identity. And to accompany that is a radical soundtrack that much like everything else feels new and fresh. From the incredible title track, to the blood pumping music that plays during the class trials, and cybernetic funktacular songs that all help set the stage for each part of the game.

What I'm saying is, the game's presentation is spot on. And helps spice up what many would consider a boring gameplay “loop”. Make no mistake, the reason you would want to play these games is for the story, even if there are some middling to decent mini games tossed in the mix. Once again, it really comes down to if that's what you're looking for. But I think with Danganronpa it's a lot more digestible than Steins;Gate is. It also doesn't hurt that these games are usually running on high energy, and are so crazy that there's little time to sit there and realize you're just paging through dialogue.

And while it might not be the best story of the year, both Danganronpa games form together to make one hell of a story that is full of just the right amount of mystery and mindfuckery to keep you glued to the screen. I know that in the later parts of both games, I would go on day-long binges in an attempt to reach the ending, and figure out what the fuck was going on.

But, no. I think the real draw of Danganronpa lies in its characters. One could be forgiven for looking at something like Steins;Gate and the characters not having quite the same impact as they did on me, but there's something wrong with you if Danganronpa's cast of mistfits doesn't make a lasting impression. Each one of the students in the two games has something to them. Initially they're interesting by the very nature of the setup. It's a collection of students who are called “Ultimates”. Basically each student excels at one thing in particular, and they are the best at that one thing.

So this creates a nice introductory point for a lot of the characters. Mondo from the first game is The Ultimate Biker Gang Leader, so he's like a souped up “bancho” or Japanese gang leader, who's vulgar as all hell, and has the ridiculous pompadour hairstyle commonly associated with those types to back it up. On the other hand you have Ibuki from the second game who is the Ultimate Musician, who is an extremely successful guitarist that maybe has some issues? Um, yeah.

Each character is colorful and larger than life, and that's only the beginning. As you go through the game many of the characters go through arcs. As you uncover bits about their past and form relationships with them they become even more appealing. And you never know where you're going to end up with them. There were some characters who initially I thought would be cool, based solely off their design, but after getting to know them, I didn't really care for them. Similarly, and more importantly, there are characters who I wanted to hate right off the bat because of their design. But throughout the course of the game they won me over. Some of my favorite characters started off on the wrong foot!

Best New Character of 2014 – Chiaki Nanami (Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair): And now that we've reached the end of my top 5, the upper echelon of my game of the year list, it's time for me to hand out my final award. As I've been saying, Danganronpa's characters make those games. So it's really hard to pick just one of them. But if I had to, I'd pick Chiaki. I liked Chiaki from the beginning. Her design... well. Without getting too creepy here, I think she's a very attractive character. She's the Ultimate Gamer, so she's kind of pasty, and a little thick (think “anime thick”). It makes sense for her character. And I guess I find those traits appealing? I dunno, I just think she has a very distinct look to her that I don't remember seeing much in anime. But, yeah, sorry. But aside from that she's a really cute character. She sort of fills the Kyoko role in two (my other favorite character) by being the helpful partner character. But she does it in a totally different way than Kyoko. She'll often apply her skills as a gamer to solving puzzles and piecing together the clues. Her tendency to start napping while standing up is another endearing trait of hers. And... well, I can't really talk about the rest without spoiling it. But needless to say, her story is an interesting one.

Both games stand out as a triumph for this genre. And I hope the series can continue to see success in the west. I had heard the second game didn't do too well in sales, but it's hard to say if that met NISA's expectations or not for what they went to do with this series. I know that the series has a very dedicated fandom though, I just wish that would translate into more sales. (Hey, I did my part. I bought two copies of each game). I can only hope we see Another Episode over here sometime soon, because God do I need that.

Anyway, I need to at least spoil some stuff right? At least to explain why I like the second game a little more. So..

Puhuhuhu...: Honestly I don't feel like I need to go into too many details with this. But there are just a few things I'd like to mention.

Firstly the main deciding factor about which game I liked more came down to two different things. One, I liked a lot of the characters in 2 more than some of the characters in the first game. Not that many of them actually survive. In the first game I basically fell in love with everyone who survived, except Hina who I was okay with, and Hiro who is kind of awful. In addition to that I really, really love Celeste, and she maybe has the best line of dialogue in either game. As well as loving the whole Chihiro, Mondo, Kiyotaka combo.

Whereas in Danganronpa 2 I either loved, or at least really liked everyone except for Sonia, Mahiru, and Hiyoko. Highlights being Fuyuhiko who I started off hating, and he became one of my favorite characters. As well as Peko because she's beautiful, and her story with Fuyuhiko kills me. Akane who is like a way better Hina. And Nekomaru and Gundham who are probably the best characters in the game that aren't pasty white gamer girls. Ahem.

But to really explain why Danganronpa 2 takes it for me, involves talking about the ending. Don't get me wrong, the first game's ending is fantastic. In some ways it was more special because you didn't know what to expect. When you get to Chapter 5 and start putting the pieces together that there was a 16th student, everything starts to come together. And then the final confrontation with Junko, who was not only not dead, but was secretly the mastermind behind the whole thing. Ahh! It's too fucking good. Also Junko is definitely my second or third favorite character in the series. Her quirk is fascinating, and she's just so fucked up. Man... so good!

With that said, you might have been prepared for some killer twist at the end of the sequel too, but I don't think anyone saw that coming. I feel like maybe the first game is a more well rounded game. The entire game is solid start to finish. Danganronpa 2 however... kind of starts dragging ass in the middle of the game. You'd be forgiven if you played it and thought “Man, this game kind of isn't as good as the first one.” But none of that matters once you get to Chapter 5.

Chapter 5 is when the game really opens up, and everything starts coming together. It begins the ramp up to the endgame where the real revelations are made. But in the meantime, it's just a really solid fucking chapter. Never would I have guessed that Nagito was going to die. I thought he was a shoe in for surviving. Speaking of Nagito for a moment. Man, I hated this guy for so long. I still kind of hate him. But I acknowledge that he's one of the best, most important characters in the game. This game wouldn't be the same without him.

So, cementing my final (positive) opinion on Nagito, he orchestrates his own death in such a way that he ends up getting “the traitor” killed. Who just so happens to be Chiaki. I'm not even going to try and explain how that all plays out, but it's fucking insane. Not to mention the fact that he wasn't even trying to kill her, and in actuality he was trying to get everyone killed. Anyway. So then Chiaki fucking dies, and it's the most heartbreaking thing in the series aside from Peko's death earlier in the game. Again, Chiaki was another character I thought for sure was going to survive.

And then the game loses it's mind. The lead-in to the last chapter is easily the most unsettling thing I've seen in a game all year. From the moment you wake up and the game starts to glitch out, to the video of Nagito talking and the game making very loud, upsetting voice modulation. Right up to the point where everything fades to black. And then it resumes on this creaky ship which is also terrifying. And you see that Nagito has a woman's hand attached to his arm. And finally to the point where you realize that this whole game has been a simulation.

A small note about why this all upset me so much. I have some weird aversion to things like subliminal messaging, sudden loud drawn out noises, and when things suddenly run astray. Basically what happens at the end of Chapter 5. Or if you're familiar with the Max Headroom highjack incident, yeah, that sort of thing fucks me up for some reason. I think that I feel more uncomfortable when I'm playing/watching/listening/reading something that isn't scary in the least otherwise, and then the tone changes so suddenly to something unsettling. I dunno, hard to explain. But it's always made me break out into a cold sweat.

Anyway, after they drop the bomb about it being a simulation, it's easy to get worked up. Just how are they going to explain all this? Is it a Matrix type situation? Are they going to go full Star Ocean 3 and say that the entire series has just been a video game? It's a scary proposition given your investment thus far. Man, that Star Ocean thing still pisses me off... Anyway, at least for me, it all ends up working out in the end.

The final area of the game is equal parts cool, and disturbing. You're going around a glitched out version of the school from the first game. Getting info dumps about stuff that happened in the background of the first game, while tying both games together. You're also finding out more about the larger world of this series, and start getting a clue about the tragic event that forever changed the outside world. And then you start seeing familiar faces.

Soon Alter Ego is telling you about the simulation, and you find out that Chiaki and Monomi were actually AI. And that's just the beginning of the revelations. The game just hits you over the head non-stop for the remainder of the game. The final trial really goes places. We finally get to see characters from the first game. The whole thing is a whirlwind of excitement, and confusion. Again, if you want to have your mind fucked with, then play this game, because god damn.

Finally, the whole final confrontation. It was amazing in the first game when Makoto gets everyone out of their funk, and the group comes together to stop Junko. But the finale of 2 is even better. I got so pumped up when Hinata fought through his despair. And basically goes fucking Super Sayain in order to stop Junko, and save everyone. The final Panic Talk Action sequence where Hinata and Chiaki both yell out “No! That's wrong!” made me tear eye just because my emotions were running so high.

In closing. I just think that Danganronpa 2 bets it all on the end of that game. The entire story is in service of building up to those final chapters, and I think that bet pays off. It's a close call, but ultimately that ending is so powerful that I have to give the nod to 2. Even if, as I said, 1 might be the more well rounded game.

In any case, both of these games are worth owning a Vita for. Even if it's the only two games you ever buy for the system.

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6. Half Minute Hero: The Second Coming

Hey, it's Half Minute Hero 2! Wait, what? That actually came out here? Why, yes. Even I have a hard time believing it at this point. I'll admit a couple things about HMH2 right up front. One, I don't think it's as good as the first game. Two, It's placement on this list is kind of weird. Out of all the games I played on this list, this one is one I haven't touched since early this year. So, you know, it might be hard to drum up some of the fire I had for it before. With those two things said though. Yo, Half Minute Hero 2 is a good ass game.

You may recall that the first game was actually my game of the year for 2009. Since then I've written about the game several times. It was the perfect embodiment of a game that came out of nowhere and surprised the hell out of me. And I'm willing to bet you'd be hard pressed to find someone else who thought that was their game of the year in the same year that gave us Uncharted 2, and Dragon Age Origins. What can I say? The little gem made a big impression on me.

Half Minute Hero 2 retains that same basic gameplay that made the first game so appealing. In short, it's a micro JRPG. You take control of a small sprite based character, and then are put into levels where you only have 30 seconds (in real, actual Earth time) to complete the mission. Of course there are ways around that limitation that are essential to progressing. Namely the ability to pay the Time Goddess a sum of gold to reset the clock. Even with this ability, most levels end up taking only a couple minutes to complete. During your rush to finish, you'll find that you go through the motions of a typical JRPG. You level up (at super fast speed, getting anywhere from one to a dozen level ups per battle that take less than 5 seconds to complete), and you complete major quests that would span a dozen hours in any other game.

In reality it's more of a puzzle game than an actual RPG, but it has all the trappings of an old school JRPG, so I can't help but find it incredibly charming.

The difference between HMH2 and HMH becomes apparent once you see how the two games play out. In the original the main game is 30 stages worth of those micro RPGs. Then you start unlocking different modes that are quite frankly a little too weird, and not nearly as fun. But they include a bare bones RTS, a very basic side scrolling shooter, and a... uh... a weird thing. Each one of these modes is set in a different era, and you have to complete them all to get the whole story, and get to the endgame.

In the sequel however, it does away with all of those side modes. Instead opting to make the entire game those micro RPG stages. You would think this is a good thing, and it is to be honest, but... Hm... like there's maybe... too much of it? The whole experience doesn't feel as tight as the original game. And in some ways the game kind of bites itself in the ass by making you go through this lengthy (and I do mean lengthy!) quest to get to the end. That's fine in it's own right, but when the game is actively parodying and poking fun at those concepts while actually doing the same thing it's mocking... yeah.

Another weird thing that is relatively minor in the grand scheme of things is that even though the game has a much more fleshed out, expanded story. It never even reaches the highs of the first game. In the first game there's a stage where your hero helps a girl named Sasha. After going around on a journey with her (again, one that only takes a couple minutes) she reveals that she is not what she appears to be, and asks that if you should ever see her again to think of her as a friend.

Well, about a minute later when you're making your way to the end of the stage. You're thrown into a fight. Half Minute Hero battles play out as such: your character automatically runs from the left side of the screen, to the right side of the screen. When you touch an enemy you both take damage until one of you is dead. Most battles play out with the hero rushing towards the enemy, cutting through them in seconds, then moving on with the game.

In this particular battle though, there's a single enemy. Now at this point you can remember what Sasha said, and if you hold in the triggers to run away from the battle, you won't fight the monster. If you do this long enough, a scene happens where it's revealed that the monster is Sasha, and if you spared her she thanks you for keeping your promise. And you earn the title of True Hero. Or you can just barrel through her, break your promise, and kill her. Either way, this one simple moment is strangely affecting. And I think it's a shame that throughout the entirety of HMH2's story it never once reaches that point.

Gosh, I'm being really negative about this game, aren't I? Well then, let me tell you why it rates on my GOTY list.

Nitpicks aside, HMH2 is a very solid game that if you're a fan of the original then you should still really enjoy this game. Quite frankly it's a miracle that it even came out here. Despite multiple rereleases, Half Minute Hero never really made it big. I think it was thanks to Steam where it finally established a foothold big enough to justify having an extremely small group of people to come together and localize it. And I'm really glad that they did. Being such a huge fan of the original (I've bought the game on each platform it was released on) I waited years and years hoping it would come out here.

And while it may not reach the same highs as the first game, I'm far from disappointed with it. For the few things that HMH2 falters on, it makes up for with innovations on the previous game.

For instance the game fully fleshes out the good parts of the original. By making the micro RPGS the one and only focus of the game, you're able to get a much larger bite of the thing that makes this series. Not only are there way, way more stages. But they've added a whole overworld portion of the game. Instead of just selecting stages on a board, your hero now travels around the overworld like an actual JRPG. In between missions your character has a persistent level, and equipment that you can take with you into battles on the overworld. As well as bonus dungeons that pop-up throughout the story. As an added benefit, for each “Global Level” you get, your characters will start at that level during the missions.

This additional layer of gameplay serves as the connecting tissue between the core gameplay moments. Not only that, but the mantra of “expanding” carried over into the way the story progresses. Once again you're playing as different heroes in each age. And while, as I said, the story never peaks. It still goes a long way to make the game feel more like a comprehensive story. And that's not to say the game's own highs aren't bad. There's some funny stuff in there, and a good deal of the characters are actually really endearing.

Again though, discussion about the story is relatively minor in comparison to the main draw of the game. And hey, every game doesn't need to be a Steins;Gate or a Danganronpa.

I honestly had a hard time putting the game down when I was playing it. The micro RPGs are as addicting as ever. And the incentive to try and do everything in a map helps make it so that you end up playing a lot of them multiple times. It's a shame the leaderboards aren't more pronounced, because this is one of the few competitive score games where I feel I can hold my own, and I actually find it to be quite enjoyable.

There are a number of other additions to the game. You occasionally fought alongside other characters in the first game, but this game actually has a full on party system. Complete with customizable formations, and a bunch of characters to recruit. There's also the goofy mobile fortress. Essentially a giant walking castle with arms and legs. You use it in some of the missions to fight massive foes. It's a fun little extra thing to do, but maybe nothing to write home about.

All in all, Half Minute Hero: The Second Coming is a sweet little game, much like the original. It has its flaws, but ultimately it's an addicting little puzzle game. The game has a cute retro pixel aesthetic that harkens back to the days of old, and some of the unlockable character and boss artwork is actually really gorgeous. I always loved looking at the artwork and comparing it to the sprite, and often times being amazed by what they were going for. The game also actually has a really great soundtrack with some big names attached to it including my main man Yasunori Mitsuda. Definitely worth a look if you're looking for something quirky and fun.

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7. Drakengard 3

Okay. Shoot. It's been a while since I've played Drakengard 3 as well. But, uh... I think it made a stronger impression on me, for better or worse.

I'll get the history lesson out of the way real quick. Nier was my surprise hit for 2010. Ranking in at Number 3 on my game of the year list. In retrospect, it's actually my favorite game released that year (Yes, higher than Mass Effect 2, which, trust me, is still another one of my all time favorite games), but seeing as how Nier is now maybe in my... top ten games of all time? Yeah. I really like that game.

So when it was announced that Drakengard 3 would be coming along (to the shock and disbelief of practically everyone on the internet) I was excited. Just a little bit. You know? In actuality I hungered for the game. Every time they'd show off the game or talk about it I was convinced it was the second coming of Nier that shouldn't even exist. For those unfamiliar, Nier takes place in the same universe as the Drakengard games. And for those wondering, no I haven't really played much Drakengard 1 or 2. The things I've heard about them fascinate me, but it's very clear that they're not the same games as Nier.

The things I really loved about Nier were as such: The story is absolutely fucking incredible. Maybe one of the best stories I've ever experienced. Two, the characters are almost as incredible. Not just the character designs (which are much, much better than the early Drakengard games), but the way they're written into the story. Combine that with a stellar localization effort by 8-4 and you've got a masterpiece. Kaine is still one of my all time favorite, favorite, favorite characters in a game. Third, the game's soundtrack is also almost as incredible as the story! That's three things that I'm extremely passionate about in games that I like. And finally, eh, you know, it was a fun character action game that suffered from unpolished controls, and some horrible side quests.

Then you have Drakengard 3, that not only looks similar to Nier. I mean, for Christ's sake, Zero is basically Kaine. But you have all the right people from Nier working on this game as well. What could possibly go wrong!?


Now, don't get me wrong. I still enjoyed Drakengard 3. It definitely has its highs, which I'm going to get into in a minute. But god damn, does it ever have its lows. For starters, they didn't fix the gameplay at all. In some ways it's worse than Nier. A large part of that has to do with the added Dragon mechanics. A staple part of the Drakengard series before Nier was that your character would often ride around on a dragon, turning the game into a (really bad) shooter. While I want to say the dragon mode plays a little better in this game, from what I've played of the first one. It's still bad, and every time they take you out of the standard character action to do a dragon sequence, it's always a bummer. It's never not a bummer, even when cool shit is happening. Because that cool shit could be happening with Zero running around beating the shit out of her sisters.

Secondly, and this one hurts. The game's story leaves something to be desired. That's not to say it's entirely without its merits, because I will bring it up again in the positive section, but man, as a follow-up to Nier? It is fucking piss poor. Talk about never reaching the highs of the previous game, Drakengard 3 is content to flounder in an area that is maybe on the same level as the “okay” parts of Nier's story. It's maybe the most damning thing I can say about the game.

But somehow it gets worse. Remember how I said Nier suffered from bad side quests? Well Drakengard 3 is here to say “Fuck that!” and really lay on a level of bullshit. Instead of having an open world to run around in, instead you pick missions to play from a menu in Drakengard 3. So when you're doing a story mission, that's all you're doing is that mission. That part is fine. However there are also side quests, and that's where I start to swing towards hating the game at times.

See, the side quests are basically challenge modes where you have to complete a certain objective with each kind of weapon in the game. Some of these challenges are okay, but none of them ever actually feel rewarding. But then some of the challenges are complete dogshit. Off the top of my head, I can think of a few missions in particular that had me shutting the game off and going to rant about them on Twitter.

In one mission type you're forced to fight a horde of enemies, while collecting items they drop. Not only can these items take a while to drop, but you're being bombarded on all sides by everything that fucking moves. And keep in mind, the combat in this game isn't even that great to begin with, so the idea of doing these arena based modes is kind of bullshit already. Anyway, to add onto the level of frustration you have a time limit as well as having to stay alive. And In addition to that! There are bombs that will totally fuck up your day. And the knockdown/knockback in this game is so severe that it can cost you valuables seconds getting back into the fight. And ALSO! Some of the weapons just aren't designed for this kind of challenge and it sucks. It fucking SUCKS. Man it sucks sooooo bad. Uhg!

But it doesn't stop there! Nope! You might be thinking to yourself: “Man, these side missions sure do sound shitty. Why don't you just skip them?” Well the answer to that is you can't. That's right, one way or another you're going to have to do these side missions if you want to beat the game. For one, there are a few side missions which reward weapons. And you need to get all the weapons in the game if you want to unlock the last part of the game. Also, though not as important is that these side missions are the best way to make money. And you will need at least some money as you make your way towards the end game.

But it can't be as simple as just playing the side mission that gives you the most money over and over again. No! The side missions that give you the most money are ones that you unlock once you've done a number of other side missions in each “area”. So most of the time, you're grinding through the easiest side mission you can, three times. It gets real tedious, real fast. And then once you unlock the gold making side mission, you have one chance to go in there and make as much money as you can before time runs out. If you fuck up, and don't get much gold, you have to wait and replay three missions again to unlock the money making side mission again. IT SUCKS!

Okay, okay. One last thing, and I promise. I swear to you I will tell you why this game is on my game of the year list. You want to know maybe the most fucked up thing about all this? Even though I've done all this shit, and claim to “really like this game”. I still haven't beaten it. You want to know why? Because the last boss fight in the game is fucking impossible.

No, it's not really hard in the traditional sense. Zero isn't running around fighting a giant beast, or all five of her sisters at once. You aren't even doing the standard shitty dragon segment. No, the last boss is entirely different from everything else in the game. The final boss fight in Drakengard 3 is... a rhythm game. Yes, a fucking rhythm game.

Now, I'm not going to go off on a tangent how it's really, really fucked up that in order to see the end of your game, you force the player to utilize a completely different skill set that has nothing to do with either the genre of the game, or the rest of the entire game they've been playing for hours and hours. But yeah, it's totally fucked. But on top of that, it isn't even an easy rhythm game. It isn't a moderately challenging rhythm game. It isn't even a hard rhythm game. It is an impossible rhythm game.

To this day, the best anyone has guessed to clear this monstrous piece of shit is to somehow sink up you playing the game, and a Youtube video playing at the same time. Why do you need to do that? Because the stupid fucking game doesn't play fair. It doesn't make it very apparent when you have to hit the button. Instead the game just has the camera fly around wildly and expects you to be able to keep rhythm with the song while simultaneously looking really hard for the cues on when to hit the buttons. So people have made Youtube videos where they clearly show when you have to hit the button.

BUT- That's not all! At the very end of the song the screen goes black, and you still have to hit one more note. One more note that you practically have to guess when to hit, because it doesn't show up in the game AT ALL. Oh yeah, and the song is SEVEN MINUTES AND FIFTY SIX SECONDS LONG and if you miss ONCE you have to play the ENTIRE thing again.

Oh my GOD. I'm sorry. I just couldn't hold all that in anymore. What I'm saying to you people is simple: FUCK DRAKENGARD 3. Fuck this game! It's awful! Or is it...?

Okay, so all of that aside. Believe it or not Drakengard 3 is actually a pretty good game, or at least one well worth playing for it is very unqiue. As I said it might not reach the same level as Nier, and it sure as shit has some serious problems. But there's actually a lot to like here too.

For starters, while the story may be a big disappointment to me, it's still pretty damn interesting. Basically you play as Zero, and the whole story is a tale of revenge against your five sisters: One, Two, Three, Four, Five. Yes, that's their names. As you make your way through the story “the first time” you'll see Zero go along and kill these sisters one by one. Along the way she picks up each sister's disciple Always a male character, and the sisters were always romantically involved with them... or maybe more accurately sexually involved if nothing else.

Yeah, Drakengard 3 is a bonafide Rated “M” for Mature game. When Zero isn't covered in hot gore from her enemies, she's probably talking about fucking. This game feeds on its sex and violence. And honestly it's pretty damn refreshing. Sure, there are plenty of mature games out there in the market today. But none of them really hit the same notes Drakengard 3 does. It's a Japanese game that actually handles its sexuality with an actual sense of maturity. It isn't just masturbation fodder, even though, make no bones about it, Zero and her sisters are definitely a sexy bunch. It's the artful merging of typical Japanese fan service character designs (albeit, very striking and gorgeous ones) with the weight of real life adult depravity. You could look at that and disagree with me, but I've been around the internet enough to know that a lot people aren't just into romantic vanilla “lovemaking”.

Zero feels like a real woman. Er, maybe that's a poor choice of words. But no, really, she's a great female character, not unlike her predecessor Kaine. She's a woman that isn't afraid to get dirty, she knows what she wants and she takes it. She's not a frilly girl who's forced into the role of maiden in distress. Hell, she's not even the bad ass female warrior archetype that shows up in some games. She is the main character and her feelings and desires aren't perverted in a way to simply appeal to the otaku crowd.

What I'm saying is, she's a real human (eh... maybe not human) character who is maybe a little more psychotic than your average person, but hey, you probably would be too after the things she's been through. And each one of the disciples helps accentuate that fact. Each one of the four represent some aspect of sexuality. Be it sadism, or masochism These not only make for interesting character types, but helps give life to each interaction in the game.

See, most of the game's narrative actually takes place as you're playing through the levels. As you gather more followers, they will each start chiming in with their own opinions. I guess the result is kind of a double edged sword. On the one hand it makes for some pretty fucking funny dialogue, but on the other hand the game really does devolve into a one track mind. They're either talking about fucking or killing, and there's little room for anything else in between.

That aspect is part of the reason I actually like the game as much as I do, because it's something different. And the dialogue is really well written, and localized by 8-4 again, so the voice actors are delivering these lines perfectly. But then again, when you compare it to what Nier was... it's a fun story about sex and violence. But not an emotional story that will resonate with me for the rest of my life. And I still think that's the biggest bummer about the game.

Still, it certainly makes Drakengard 3 a unique experience. Add onto that the fact that the game goes in some really strange directions with its plot and I think it's easy to see why someone could sit there, play what is otherwise a middling game, and come away from it feeling like “Huh? Well that was sure something... I think I kind of liked that?”

On top of that, I already mentioned the localization which is top notch. Zero is voiced by Tara Platt who is an old pre-Bailey favorite of mine, most notable for her role as Mitsuru from Persona 3 (another all time favorite character of mine). Her foul mouthed performance here reminds me of Laura Bailey's role as Kaine. And what can I say? I like vulgar ladies.

I would be remiss not to mention the games soundtrack which is once again composed by Keiichi Okabe who was responsible for the Nier soundtrack, aka, one of the best video game soundtracks of all time. And you know, sorry to say, but once again it falls short of that same level of greatness. But make no mistake about it, this is another gorgeous composition by Okabe. In particular, the game's main theme The Silence is Mine rivals anything in the Nier soundtrack.

Also of note is that fucking seven minute and fifty six second long track that plays during the final boss fight. It's actually really fucking beautiful. Which just makes the situation that much worse. If you're at all curious go ahead and Google the final boss fight in Drakengard 3. If it wasn't such an impossible piece of shit, it would actually be one of the coolest moments in a game this year. In addition to the pretty music, the visual splendor taking place on the screen is jaw dropping

So yeah. I mean. Drakengard 3: It has some problems. But at the end of the day I think there's enough Nier in it to scratch that itch for me. And while I might not prefer its aggressively mature nature of story telling. I certainly feel it's a refreshing approach to games of that type. And please, let Taro Yoko make more games. Come on Square Enix, you got my back on this don't you?

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8. Mogeko Castle

I'm honestly surprised there's even a wiki page for Mogeko Castle on Giant Bomb, even though there isn't any content in it. So this will be fun, I get to pitch a game most people haven't even heard of to pretty much anyone reading this list. And uh... oh yeah, I have to explain why I like it while avoiding various landmines labeled “rape.”

So, Mogeko Castle is... a Japanese indie game made in RPG Maker by someone known as Deep Sea Prisoner, otherwise known as Mogeko. Mogeko, who is presumed to be a female indie developer certainly has a penchant for some... controversial subjects. Out of the three games that have been fan translated by someone known as vgperson, who hosts all these games, among other free Japanese indie games on their site. (Click here to download Mogeko Castle and the other games, completely free.) But yeah, anyway. Out of the three games, Mogeko Castle is easily the most “offensive” of the bunch, and also the weirdest. Like, really, really weird.

Mogeko Games: Before I continue I would like to take a brief moment to talk about the other Mogeko games. You can find them all on vgperson's site linked above. Anyway, I first heard about the Mogeko games earlier this year when Wadanohara made a... splash... on Tumblr. Out of the three games I would recommend playing Wadanohara the most. It's a whimsical old school JRPG (very, very little challenge involved. Play it more for the story) that is maybe a little more deceptive than you think from the outset. While I do think it's probably the best game of the three I decided to go with Mogeko Castle instead. One because it was the only one actually released this year, and two because well, it's my personal favorite of the bunch. Anyway, aside from Wadanohara, there's also The Gray Garden, which is the oldest, and in my opinion weakest of the three. It plays exactly like Wadanohara, again another JRPG lite that is almost impossible to lose. But it takes a while to get going, in the end it's still pretty enjoyable though. I should mention that all three of these games take very little time to finish. Wadanohara maybe being the longest one at like five hours. Mogeko Castle itself is easily the shortest by a country mile.

Alright. So with that out of the way. I should also briefly mention that some of the jokes in Mogeko Castle are in-jokes between Mogeko and her games. So when you see multiple references to things like hay fever. Just know that it's a long running joke. The most prominent one among them is the fucking obsession with prosciutto. I'm telling you again, this is a weird game.

Anyway, the story is pretty much as follows: You play as a young girl named Yonaka Kurai who gets lost on her way home from school. She finds herself getting off a train at a mysterious station that leads to Mogeko Castle. A castle inhabited solely by Mogekos. Mogekos (the cats) are Mogeko's (the person)

mascot who have appeared in the other Mogeko games. They're essentially big yellow cats with humorous faces. Before long Yonaka finds herself running through the castle in terror, trying to flee from that Mogekos who... want to “have fun” with her.

Yes, I'll not beat around the bush with this. This game depicts (or at the very least implies) scenes of sexual violence against Yonaka by the Mogekos. I completely understand if that's an immediate turn-off to you, and you might even think me crass for including such a game on my list. And that's totally up to you. But at least in my defense I think that the subject shouldn't be a taboo for any piece of fiction. And the way it is depicted here is... I mean, this sort of thing is never not serious. But maybe I mean to say it isn't handled in an entirely poor way. Given that it is a Japanese indie game, I can see where you'd start to formulate an opinion about the nature of such things. But again, I'll just say in my defense, I think Mogeko manages to use it in a way where it feels like they're really giving the proper weight to the situation. And at it's core, Mogeko Castle is a horror game that when it isn't being absolutely bonkers, goes for shock value with the typical “Bad End” scenarios. So decide for yourself if that's okay with you or not.

Anyway, moving on... As you make your way through the game Yonaka encounters a number of special Mogekos in the castle who actually want to help her escape. Each one of these special Mogeko have some sort of quirk to them that makes them interesting in their own right. And as you make your way higher and higher up the castle, Yonaka faces the possibility of meeting her end in a variety of increasingly cruel and unusual ways.

Mogeko Castle is at its core, an RPG Maker game, thus it has cute little sprite artwork for all the characters in the game. I feel this goes a long way in softening the blow of some of the horrific things you're seeing on screen. Also, as an RPG Maker game you can kind of understand how it plays. Unlike the other two Mogeko games, Mogeko Castle is purely an interactive story. The most “gameplay” thing you'll have to do is run away during parts where you're being chased. These chase scenes can be frustrating sometimes, but after doing them a couple times you'll easily see the pattern and figure out where to go. Again, these games aren't really about challenging you.

By the end of the game, Mogeko Castle goes to some surprising places. Within the course of a couple hours you'll have seen some shit. A bunch of weird shit mostly, with some grizzly violence thrown in there to remind you that this is supposed to be a horror game, but some shit all the same. I think one of the things that really resonated with me about this game was that I just was not expecting it to throw some of those curve balls in there. Despite all it's violence, and weirdness, I actually felt myself getting attached to some of the characters. For better or worse. And I was legitimately sad when bad things would happen to them.

Another aspect of this is the special Mogekos. One of the requirements for the “True Ending” is to kill at least one of those special Mogeko. But you have the option of killing any and all of them. And this, oddly enough, proved challenging. Because I wanted the true ending, but I could never decide which one I would feel okay about sacrificing. Though spoilers: there's actually one that you can probably feel at least less bad about “killing” later on in the game.

Aside from just playing through the game, there are many secret “Bad Endings” you can see. There's one on each floor, and a lot of them are actually pretty obvious. But if you're like me, and you want to see them all, refer to the Mogeko Castle page on vgperson's site for how to get all of them. There are some minor spoilers, but nothing that should ruin the game for you.

And well, I guess the only thing left for me to say is to stop beating around the bush and talk about why it's so fucking weird. Well, for starters the Mogekos are just really weird, inherently creepy characters. They've been creepy since I played Wadanohara, where their only part in that game was to peek out of treasure boxes from time to time. Most of the non-special Mogekos have the same personality type. They're extremely violent, and horny. But the way they conduct themselves is almost comical, they're only purpose is to chase you, and occasionally make off comments when they don't think you're looking.

Another thing about the Mogekos is that they worship prosciutto. Like, their god, their lord and savior is literally the god of prosciutto. And they will do anything for it. There's also a good number of them that suffer from hay fever which not only seems to be their kryptonite, but also something Mogeko herself jokes about frequently because she has a lot of problems with it in real life.

If you look around the various bedrooms in the castle you can often find copious amounts of pornography (not actually shown, just mentioned) and journals where the Mogeko make records of their masturbation sessions. There's several points in the game where one of the accompanying characters, Mr. Defect Mogeko, makes reference to other hostile special Mogeko. Such as mogeko the founder of the castle. And Moge-ko a female humanoid Mogeko who is a sadist. Yeah, it's those kinds of jokes about “And the worst one of all is mogeko.” “What's different about this Mogeko?” “The m is lowercase” sort of deal that you can come to expect from this game.

There are other noteworthy moments I could bring up, like how one of the floors in the castle is infected with zombie Mogekos. There's also the peaceful Russian (for no apparent reason) Mogekos who live on one of the floors. Also the fact that there's some horrifying music and sound effects in this game. But my favorite ones being when the Mogekos talk and they either say “Mogekek.” or “Minnnnnnaaaaa” (“Everybody” in Japanese) in a real low fidelity audio clip. But it'd be better to just play the game and see a lot of that stuff for yourself.

As you near the end of the game, the true nature of the story presents itself, and, well, it's fucked up. And if you get the True Ending, it's really fucked up. Like nightmare fuel type stuff.

In the end, it's hard for me to properly express why I liked Mogeko Castle so much. It's equal parts that it's both supremely weird, and deceptively grotesque. It's also because it's so weird, and that weirdness was right up my alley. It played to my sense of humor and I just couldn't help but appreciate how fucked up it all was. And finally I guess it just surprised me so much. I had played Wadanohara before it and thought that would surely be the best of the Mogeko games. But my friend played Mogeko Castle on Skype with me and she couldn't properly convey what exactly it was, so I decided to check it out for myself. And honestly, it kind of floored me.

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9. World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor

Okay. Almost in the home stretch. Only two more games to go. There's a reason I only do like one Giant Bomb blog post a year, you know?

So, here's an interesting one. I'm actually breaking one of my rules for the first time. You may recall, in years past, when there has been a World of Warcraft expansion I've always decided not to include it because it's just an expansion to a (at this point) ten year old game. Well, Warlords of Draenor is so god damn good that I just couldn't not put it on the list.

Honorable Mention: Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls: And you know, for a while there the Diablo 3 expansion Reaper of Souls was also on my game of the year list. Ultimately, at the last minute I rearranged the list bumping it down to tenth place, and then I realized that there was another game I wanted to put on the list instead. But! Reaper of Souls is still a really damn good expansion and I wanted to give it some short props. I, unlike many people, I guess, enjoyed Diablo 3. It had its fair share of problems. Namely the loot system was absolute garbage. But fundamentally the game was sound. It doesn't quite match up to Diablo 2, but honestly, what can? I felt like Diablo 3 was an evolution of that loot based dungeon crawler formula. It shook things up by making it easy to play around with and feasibly use a dozen different character builds on the same character. The new classes were neat, and the game just felt like the next step for that genre. While simultaneously retaining the addictive gameplay of the originals.

But that loot system was a real problem. Once you had leveled a character all the way up, there wasn't much point to stick around. The game wasn't fun to grind. It basically boiled down to grinding for gold so you could go on the auction house and try to buy better gear. The loot treadmill wasn't there at all. And honestly a loot game where you're never actually finding any cool loot is kind of shitty. Even after they added the Paragon system, why bother? And that auction house was some hot bullshit.

Enter Reaper of Souls. Before the expansion had even actually come out Blizzard had drastically changed the game. The year before they released Diablo 3 for consoles, and surprise, surprise – they actually fixed the loot problem. Those versions of the game had no auction house, thus cutting out the need to grind gold. Instead opting to just make it so that more, and better, and cooler loot dropped a lot more frequently (as in, it dropped at all). I only flirted around with this console version of the game, because I didn't feel like playing the whole game over again (I had already gotten a Wizard to 60 on PC after all) but the changes were readily apparent. And I thought “Man, I wish the PC version was like this.”

Again, Enter Reaper of Souls. A little bit before the expansion launched Blizzard put through a patch that brought those same drastic changes to the loot system to the PC version of the game. In an instant Diablo 3 became fun again. I pre-ordered Reaper of Souls proper, and started playing the game post-patch. I mainly just got Paragon levels for my Wizard, and much better gear. But I did it while randomly joining people's games. It was a hell of a lot of fun, and it almost felt like Diablo 2.

Then the expansion actually came out, and it brought with it a ton of new content. 10 more levels, a new class in the Crusader, a new act, and Adventure Mode. Now, getting a new act, and 10 more levels is kind of standard fair at this point, but for what it's worth, it's good content. Similarly the Crusader is an incredibly fun class that at the time almost felt overpowered. I hope that Blizzard stuck with the Jeff Gerstmann school of balancing things and decided to just make every class more bad ass instead of nerfing them, but I haven't played in quite a few months at this point.

But where the expansion really shines is the Adventure Mode. For those that don't know, it's basically a mode that strips out all the story from Diablo 3. No cutscenes, no quests, just kill, kill, kill. You can pick any act to go to (essentially picking your tileset, and enemies you want to encounter) and you can complete these objectives, all of which just involve killing everything you see, to unlock Rift Shards, and when you complete a “circuit” you get a loot cache, which is essentially a big old loot pinata.

With the rift shards you can open up rifts, which are basically mega dungeons where your objective is to once again kill anything and everything that moves. This randomly generated dungeon will be filled with powerful foes that drop even more great loot. And at the end of it, you fight a super boss which drops – you guessed it – more phat, phat loot.

This mode is a real game changer because it's something you can just dive into and grind for hours. And it's surprisingly fun too. It's a chance to show off your build, and all your sweet gear. And with the game's fantastic drop-in, drop-out co-op it's easy to get in and out of games with friends or strangers.

I guess I should also mention they totally overhauled the difficulty system too. And while most people would agree the game skews a little too easy now on most but the hardest difficulties, the more important thing is that it made the game more fun. And I'll take that over stubbornly throwing myself at a wall over and over again for minimal payback.

Sorry, I know this got long, but the last thing I wanted to say about my time with Reaper of Souls is that I played the game with two friends. My one best friend who I played the original game with. Unfortunately he didn't seem too hot on the expansion, but it was still fun stomping around with him. And then I also played the game with a friend of mine who I met on Twitter several years ago. I rolled a brand new Crusader on the European servers and together the two of us would make play dates where we'd play for a few hours at a time, and we eventually hit the base level cap.

This experience alone was previously what put this game on the list. It was a blast just hanging out, and chatting with someone I only knew through Twitter for however many years, and all the while we melted faces. We were both playing Crusaders with two totally different builds, so it was a blast. He also had the benefit of about 100 or more Paragon levels, and access to a bunch of overpowered gems, while I had to start from scratch, but hey, all the better!

Okay! So! World of Warcraft, you might have heard of it? I may have covered this before, so I'll make it brief (or try to at least). Starting with Warcraft 3 I became a big Warcraft fan. Loved the shit out of those games. So when Blizzard announced they were doing an MMO (Hey, like Ragnarok Online and Final Fantasy XI, right?) I was hype as shit for it. I remember visiting the WoW website daily, craving updates about this beast of a game. Any little thing, character models, scraps of information, tidbits of lore. Anything I could get my hands on. There was one point where the game entered closed beta and I was seriously considering buying a beta key for some absurd amount of money.

I should also mention that I went on some weird bootleg WoW early Alpha server, which was basically all the races running around an even more desolate Barrens, and you could get on a Hippogryph, but aside from that, not much else. It was enough though. (I still have screenshots from this thing by the way)

Finally the day came when WoW entered Open Beta. I think it was for about a week, maybe more? But I downloaded the shit out of that thing. I made a female Night Elf Druid (admit it, you rolled Night Elf too) and started my journey in Azeroth. It was fucking mind blowing. All those stories you hear WoW veterans talk about, about how crazy that game was for the time. They're all true. If you weren't there, I feel bad for you, because the sheer scope of this game was something to marvel at.

Anyway, I met a few people during the beta, and we agreed to start on a server together when the game actually launched. Alliance side, of course (Feh!). Then on launch day I opened up my Collector's Edition (I still have those three pets, and the box and all the stuff that came with it) and started the game again anew. I made a (female again, of course) Night Elf Hunter and played the game for about... a month maybe? Man, after all that and I managed to do was get to level 26. My interest fell off after that point and I moved onto something else.

I think it was a year later that a group of friends of mine were starting Horde characters on one of the newer servers, Kirin Tor. I remember sheepishly renewing my account because my roommate at the time was staunchly anti-WoW (I think he has like every job in the game leveled up to 90 at this point. Multiples of some of the same jobs at 90 too). But eventually I coaxed him into joining up with us. And we started our rolling crew.

I made a male Tauren Shaman named Serloin, and from there, well the rest is history.

Flash forward to last month when Warlords of Draenor came out. At this point my WoW career was pretty well established. I've almost logged a year's worth of actual playtime in the game. Yes, like 300 some odd days of time logged into that game. I have two level 100s, and three 90s. As well as a whole slew of other characters ranging from 27-85. I'm strictly a Horde player for life now, and I think Goblins are the best thing in that entire game. I would say I've done a majority of the content in the game over the years. Falling out of raiding hard in BC, catching up in Wrath, and skipping it again in Cataclysm. I stopped doing PVP seriously after Vanilla. But other than that I've dipped my toe into just about everything that game has to offer.

And in all that time playing this damn game, I don't think I've ever liked an expansion nearly as much as I like Draenor. To be clear here, I have some pretty big gaps in the content I've done for this expansion so far. I've only done a couple dungeons, none of them heroic, and I haven't even touched raiding, LFR or otherwise. (Heh, as if I'd ever do “Normal” raiding again). And yet somehow I've still managed to sink the better part of a month and a half seriously playing the game.

Right off the bat, Warlords is a fucking breath of fresh air. Don't get me wrong, Mists of Pandaria was a fine expansion. I really enjoyed it for the majority of its life cycle. I even liked the setting, and entertained the thought of actually liking the Pandaren as a playable race. At this point though? Oh my fucking god. Just thinking about any of that shit makes me sick. The whole eastern aesthetic, the fucking Mogu, and those god damn fucking bears. Every time I see a player go around whose a Pandaren it makes my skin crawl.

It's hard to say why I've had such a violent backlash to that expansion. It might have to do with the fact that it was around for the longest amount of time in between expansions since WoW launched. And went a full year without updating any new content into the game. I played a lot of MoP, and I just think it was too much.

So here comes Draenor. Well, it's going back to Draenor, ie Outlands from the past.... so, my single most hated area in the entire game. Check. It's all about Orcs. I mean, orcs are cool I guess, but not really huge on them. Check. The first major raid, and end game content has to do with Cho'gall and a bunch of Ogres. I fucking hate all of those things. So, check. And oh yeah – Blizzard decided it straight up didn't want people to fly in the expansion content. Wonderful. So, again, check.

But despite that, I don't know... the expansion is fucking incredible. Right away, out the gate I was getting excited about seeing all these famous orc NPCs from the lore. The new content looked beautiful, not the least of which are the brand new character models for most of the old races. A change that was sorely needed. The first introductory area has you running around with Thrall and Khadgar and just fucking shit up as you go. And then shortly after that you're thrust out into the expansion proper.

Things just kept getting better and better from here. Soon we were chilling with Durotan, Thrall's Dad. (Keep in mind, this whole expansion is about traveling back to the past. That's why all these influential characters are around, and Draenor is actually beautiful and doesn't look like a freshly picked scab.) And then shortly after that you get the Garrison, which I'll talk more about later. But the game just kept going, and going with all this cool stuff.

I was casually playing Serloin, my Shaman who I kind of wanted to level as a secondary character. Because my friend was so busy playing the Fire Emblem Radiant games that she couldn't join me on my Hunter for a couple weeks. But yeah, I was just playing him off and on, and I noticed that the leveling curve was super quick. It's been a while since a full ten level increase, so I was dreading the worst. But in fact it's actually a very smooth, and fun process.

Each new quest hub offered increasingly cooler quests. In typical Blizzard fashion there were a lot of cool lore moments, and jokes along the way. It seemed like every day I logged in, talking to my friend over Skype and saying “Man! This crazy thing just happened and it was awesome!” And before I knew it, I was max level.

Since then I fully leveled my hunter to 100 along with my friend's mage, and we've done a pretty good amount of all the non-endgame PVE content. Aside from dungeons, as I said before. And it's just been a blast.

One of the key factors in our enjoyment has definitely been the previously mentioned garrison. It's a home base for your character, that's instanced only for you, but you can invite your friends over to visit. The garrison plays an integral part in progressing in this expansion. Through the use of recruitable followers, and customizable buildings, the player is able to build their garrison to suit their needs.

The whole follower system is practically lifted out of a lot of free to play games, sans the whole monetization thing. While you're exploring Draenor you'll meet unique characters that can be recruited into your garrison. You can build up a fairly sizable following just by doing the quests in each area, but there are other followers rewarded for exploration, achievements, and some can even be recruited weekly from one of the buildings you can make.

Each follower has their own level, item level, and skills. The main function of the followers is to send them out on missions. This is the F2P part I was talking about. Essentially you'll be presented with multiple missions you can send any given follower out on. The success of the mission depends on the follower's level, skills, and later gear. Once you send a follower out, you have to wait a set amount of real time for them to return. Most of the missions require you to spend a renewable resource simply called “garrison resources” to send your followers out, and, yeah I'm sure you see the F2P model there. If you're not too familiar with these throwaway F2P games, then think of the similar mini games that were in Assassin' Creed IV, and Dragon Age: Inquisition. It's the same basic concept.

For your efforts, or more accurately your follower's efforts – if the mission is successful you'll be rewarded with a variety of goodies. Ranging from gold, to more garrison resources. The missions become much more important later on when you can actually get decent gear for your own character, as well as such things as Warforged Seals, which is a highly coveted item that allows you to roll twice on loot in raids.

You're encouraged to improve your followers because eventually the missions get more demanding. To the point where they require max level followers with a specific skill set, and a high item level. And you know what? Surprisingly this is all kind of fun. I think the problem with F2P games like this is that that's all there is to the game, no massive MMO built around it. And obviously the scummy microtransactions that you get slapped in the face with all the time. Fundamentally it's not the worst concept around. And being able to login every day and check on your followers becomes a kind of ritual.

The other main feature of the garrison is the buildings you can make. Each building has a different benefit, and there are way more buildings than you have plots for, even at the max garrison level. So it's up to you to decide which buildings you want. In general the breakdown is like this:

There's a small garrison building associated with each crafting profession in the game, as well as the option for a bank, or salvage yard that will allow you to open random crates you earn on missions. There are three gathering buildings that everyone has, that can be utilized to earn crafting materials regardless of your profession. At max level there's also an unlockable battle pet menagerie that allows you to do stuff with the game's collectible battle pets. There are a series of medium buildings that allow you to do a variety of things. Whether it be harvest lumber around Draenor for more garrison resources. Or the tavern which allows you not only to recruit more followers, and take special dungeon quests from (in)famous characters that have been around throughout the game's history.

Finally there's the large buildings, some of which are really incredibly useful and meaningful. Like the stables which lets you tame a bunch of mounts. And then there's the Spirit Lodge which lets you use Ogre Waystones... I still don't know why anyone would pick this stupid thing.

Regardless, the garrison is kind of a game changer. It becomes a part of your character. Fundamentally changing the way crafting works in the game, for better or worse. It allows players to try and gear up for raiding by earning loot, or getting those warforged seals I was talking about. If you're interested in PVP there's a whole building dedicated to that which has some fabulous rewards associated with it. And if you just care about the simpler things in World of Warcraft. Like toys, mounts, and battle pets, then you can totally build your garrison towards just doing that.

This is the first time I fully realized that there's more than one way to play World of Warcraft. For me I always thought of the endgame PVE content, like raiding to be the be all and end all. Gotta get that loot! But for my friend, she cares much more about the cosmetic stuff then actually doing any sort of intense content. And of course there's going to be people that don't give a shit about any of that stuff, and they just want to fight against other players. It's moments like that realization where I just sit back and marvel at how much content WoW has in it. There's no wonder I've been playing it for 10 years.

And then there's the downside. Interacting with other players. Now this doesn't always have to be a bad thing, and in a lot of cases, depending on the content you're doing it isn't. You'd be surprised how friendly and helpful people can be when you're riding around Draenor, all working together to complete the same objectives. That's another great innovation with Draenor that started at the end of Mists, but Blizzard has made it so that a large portion of the content is shareable by any player. Found a rare monster? Anyone can join in the fight, and then loot it. Gathering quest items? They're phased so that only you can see them. Sometimes you can even kill some of the same mobs with other players and work towards the same goal. It's a long overdue change, that I suspect we'll see improved upon going forward.

But then... then you get into a dungeon with some random players. And they value their time more than having any actual manners, or just not being complete pieces of shit. It's not even a full month after the expansion has been out, and you're trying to do one of the new dungeons. Don't instantly know absolutely everything about the dungeon? Tough shit. “You fucking suck.” “How did you get carried this far?” Maybe you're not a “pro” player, but you want to do some of this endgame content to complete a quest to get a pet or a toy. “Man, your damage sucks. Fucking kill yourself.” “Vote to kick: Uninstall your life.”

The community is fucking TOXIC. It might not be as bad as something like League of Legends, or Dota 2. Or even the old standby of Call of Duty. But it fucking sucks. I'm a person who suffers from some terrible social anxiety. When I go into a dungeon and people immediately start being rude and flying off the handle. It causes anxiety attacks, and stress. To the point where I just have trouble breathing at times. And of course that just starts making me play like shit. My Hunter is pretty geared for pre-raiding content, and I know how to play my class. But I'm the kind of person that learns these fights and dungeons by doing, not just reading. There's only so much prep I can do before I need to do a trial by fire. And if assholes are unwilling to cooperate, it just makes it a miserable time for all involved.

That kind of shit always bums me out about this game. Here I've been gushing about how cool this expansion is for quite a while now, but then I just think about this shit, and it gets to me. It makes me not interested in doing any of that content. Even though my main draw to WoW has always been seeing as much of the content as I could. It's nice that Blizzard has developed these tools that make it easy to jump into a random group and try to get something done. But ultimately it just makes me wish I had a whole crew of friends who I could play the game with instead of relying on randoms. But that's the rub I guess.

That aside, before I finally stopped talking about the ninth game on my list for so long, I just wanted to share a few of my friend and I's favorite moments from the expansion so far. It's hard remembering all of them now, and I know there were ones she specifically wanted me to bring up, so I'll try.

There's an event out in Taladar where you see a quest explanation point in the distance. If you've played the game for as long as I have, you've had it encoded in your DNA to seek out that quest. Upon approaching the quest giver, who was a female Draenei in a small camp of other Draenei, a meteor suddenly fell from the sky and blew up the whole camp. All that was left were the quest giver's smoldering boots which are a toy you can pickup.

One of the random garrison followers you can recruit from the tavern is a male human paladin named Soulare of Andorhal. Obviously based off of the fan favorite Dark Souls character Solaire of Astora. Don't believe me? Well how about when you /praise him he shouts “Praise the light!” and throws his hands up in the air, and bathes you in a warm glow. You also get a portable Bonfire toy from here, that has a sword sticking out of it. You can use the bonfire to kindle it, and get a buff that says you've gained a brief respite from the darkness. This easter egg following directly on the heels of a special boss monster in MoP that was a giant wolf with a sword in its mouth.

The Image of Archmage Vargoth is a personal favorite of mine. Back during The Burning Crusade there was a quest line in Netherstorm where you could interact with Archmage Vargoth. A level 70 male human mage. At some point during the quests, he gives you his staff. An item you'd keep in your inventory, and could be used at any time, or any place to summon him. As long as you never finish the quests, you can keep the staff. I kept this staff readily available in my druid's bags for four years, always willing to bust out The Image of Archmage Vargoth at a moment's notice. Well apparently I wasn't the only one. Not only did Blizzard put in a rare toy you can get from a follower mission that just is The Staff of Archmage Vargoth, which summoned the same level 70 Image of Archmage Vargoth COMPLETE with the original quest if your character hasn't completed it. But they also included a quest line where you go around Draenor collecting Vargoth's staff and clothing. At the end of it you get a unique garrison follower: Image of Archmage Vargoth. Yes, still not even Vargoth himself, but the fucking Image of him.

If you pick the Gladiator Arena as your building in Grongord and complete the quest line in that zone you get a follower named Spirit of Bony Xuk. It's the ghost of an orc tribesman you fought with during the quest line in Grongord. If you keep him around your garrison he'll gladly wander around haunting it for you. Making bad puns on his name like: “Xuk them.”

There's a baby treant in Grongord that we randomly encounter one day named Sappy. The only thing you could do with him was to “Feed Sappy”. Upon doing this the treant got up and ran off. At the time I was so baffled by this and I joked that he was going to show up at the end of days. Having burrowed himself into the core of the planet and causing it to explode from within. Later that day I was at my herbal garden in the garrison and I saw Sappy just chilling there. And I excitedly told my friend about it over Skype.

There's a mysterious goblin NPC named Jozzle The Neat who may or may not be specifically associated with the Inscription building in the garrison. His function is to fill work orders, but there's another NPC at that building who can do the same thing. For whatever reason he always shows up at my friend's garrison, and all he does is walk up this ramp and start harassing the other NPCs in the garrison. He also has the voice of a gnome for some reason. For whatever reason, even though I have the same Inscription building in my garrison, Jozzle The Neat is usually nowhere to be found. Every once in a while, if I'm really lucky, he shows up. We also always call him Jozzle The Meat, and have started casually using that term as a means to say masturbation.

There's a human NPC named Benjamin Brode who visits level 3 garrisons. He's named after Ben Brode the Senior Game Designer on Blizzard's card game Hearthstone. The only purpose of this NPC is that he sells two fairly expensive toys. A Hearthstone game board, and another toy called Winning Hand. If you use the Hearthstone Board, your character plops down one of the game tables from Hearthstone and it plays the game's titular theme song. The Winning Hand however causes a bunch of fireworks to shoot off, and plays the jingle that plays when you win a match of Hearthstone. Similarly there's a rare follower mission where you can send a follower to a Hearthstone tournament. You can send any follower, and it's impossible to fail. Upon completion you get another toy called the Autographed Hearthstone Card that's description reads: “Signed by Trump and Reckful. Not too shabby.” If you use the toy, your character does a custom emote where they flip the card over and see what quality it is. Also you get another item for this mission called the Hearthstone Strategy Guide. It's purpose is to teach your follower the Hearthstone skill. It's a generic skill you can get elsewhere, but it's pretty cool none the less.

Similarly there's a reference to the previously scrapped and constantly teased Dance Studio in one of the follower missions. Your follower goes to the Dance Studio and learns the Dancing skill. Unfortunately this does not actually make your follower dance, and instead they just get another generic skill, but it's still cool.

And that's about all I can come up with. Pretty sure this somehow ended up being the longest entry on the list. And I thought I was going to be done hours ago. Sigh.

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10. Pokemon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire

Alright, let's make this quick. I won't bother explaining my history with Pokemon. Well, okay, maybe just for a second. When I was 13 years old, Pokemon was first coming out in North America, and thanks to a successful Nintendo Power campaign I was excited as shit for that game. I was even more excited when I woke up one morning and realized that the Pokemon anime had started airing on WB. What followed was a real fucking obsession, and a young teenage boy who's whole life revolved around Pokemon. I played the shit out of Red, Blue, and Yellow. Imported a copy of Silver, then bought a US copy of Silver. Played through that twice. I was deep into the card game. I was importing Japanese Pokemon cards, and the second movie which was entirely in Japanese with no subtitles. It was my life.

Then it died down for a good many years, and I didn't get back into it until Diamond and Pearl which was previously the best generation of Pokemon in my opinion. Then quickly fell out of love with it again when I realized I didn't really want to play Pokemon Silver again – after I spent a hundred hours beating Soul Silver. Then I thought I was just done with Pokemon for good, but then Black and White came out, and it was my game of the year for 2011. Yes, I loved it that much. It's still far and away the best Pokemon game. Skipped out on B&W2 even though I own a copy and have been meaning to play it. Got really excited, then ultimately disappointed with Pokemon X/Y. And now we're here at ORAS.

So it's important to note I skipped the entire Ruby / Sapphire / Emerald generation. Like, didn't play it at all. I was so disinterested in Pokemon during the GBA era that it just didn't happen. So this is my first time seeing these games. I've heard from many people, my friend included that this was one of the best gens back in the day. It seems to me that if you liked an older Pokemon gen, it was either going to be G/S/C or R/S/E. And then I think there are people like me who get really impressed every time Pokemon makes a meaningful step forward. Which, to be fair, X/Y has basically changed the game with some of its features, but I just did not like those games outside of that.

Anyway. Coming from X/Y last year, I really wasn't excited about playing ORAS. Like, right up to, and even after the point where the game came out. I was mainly buying it for my friend and I so we could play together like we've been doing the past several years. I wasn't able to buy them until this month though, because, money. But by the time I got my game, I was admittedly pretty interested in playing it. So how is it?

Well. While I wouldn't say Alpha Sapphire has blown me away, I will say that I'm enjoying it a whole hell of a lot. Way more than I expected I would. I think the combination of the advances made in X/Y inserted into the world and the narrative of R/S/E makes for a much better game. The story still isn't quite on that Pokemon Black level, but it's surprisingly enjoyable.

I haven't finished the game yet, but I'm near the end. The part I'm at right now is pretty awesome though with the Primal Legendaries. And I don't know, it's cool to be somewhat interested in what's going on in the game again, as opposed to X/Y where I just rolled my eyes at how incredibly stupid it was.

It also doesn't hurt that a lot of the character and Pokemon designs in this generation are some of the best in the series. I've been a fan of Flannery, and Gardevoir for years, but never actually played the games they came from. Honestly, looking at this “roster”, I'd have to say R/S/E is responsible for some of the best Pokemon in the entire series. And to think, I just skipped it originally.

I think a lot of the redesigns are great too. A lot of the NPCs in the game have been overhauled from what they looked like originally. There are some great random trainer designs in there like the Battle Girl, and the Ace Trainers. But I think the real stars of the show are the redesigned Team Magma and Team Aqua. Maxie and Archie look so much better than they used to, and similarly so do the team admins. Courtney in particular from Team Magma, who I sadly don't get to see in my version of the game is, in my opinion, one of the hottest girls in the series... literally.

Again, you take this solid foundation, and you throw in all the advancements made in the last decade and you have one solid game. The online features are incredible, I can't believe we didn't even have anything remotely close to this before X/Y. The 3D graphics are looking a bit better in this game, and the performance has been amped up so there's not so much slowdown during combat. And of course there's the revamped EXP Share, which makes me never want to play an older Pokemon game ever again.

So yeah. I dunno. It's a late addition to my list for the year, but I'm enjoying it a lot. It's kind of revitalized my interest in Pokemon once again. I'm anxious to see what they do next. Probably a whole new Gen, which would be cool, but I think at this point I'm ready for that Diamond and Pearl remake.

Also, there's not that much water.

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Game of The Year 2013

Let's be honest, 2013 kind of sucked. We lost a lot of cool people (RIP Ryan Davis), and it seems like almost everyone I know, including myself had to go through some bullshit this year. That isn't to say the year was a total wash. Some good stuff happened along the way, not the least of which is the fact that it has been an awesome year for video games. I feel like this year, more than any one in recent memory was jam packed full of quality games. 2013 saw the release of a dozen games I was really looking forward to, and just as many surprises that threw me for a loop. By the end of the year I had a list of about 25 games I was considering for my top 10, and a few more games that I regret I didn't get around to. A good year indeed in that respect.

If you've read any of my lists before, you probably know what you're in for. A lot of Japanese games, an emphasis on amazing music, hell, the tried and true “hated it, then loved it” game of the year makes a return yet again. You might also know that this is going to go on for a bit. I can't help it, I get a bit wordy when talking about things I really enjoyed.

A few notes:

*There are liberal spoilers in this thing. It's the end of the year, and time to talk about my favorite games I've played this year. Spoilers are inevitable in most cases. I'll try to spoiler tag some things, but it's not possible for everything. Just keep that in mind. You've been warned.

*I'm really sorry about all of this. I generally tend to write... a lot. But this time I really got carried away. I don't think most people need 25 pages to explain which games they liked in a single year, or why they liked them, but... there you go. At least it's comprehensive, right?

With all that said, let's get this monster rolling.

Honorable Mentions

These games didn't quite make my top ten list, but I thought they were worth talking about, briefly, thankfully.

*Pokemon X/Y: This is my number 11 game, if you want to call it that. It was actually on my list until a couple days ago. I enjoyed Pokemon Y, the changes they made are welcome indeed. The new 3D graphics look great, and tweaks to things like EXP. Share make a lot of the more tedious things in these games a lot more bearable. Arguably the most significant change comes to the online interactions. Never before has it been so easy to connect with friends, and random people alike to Trade/Battle Pokemon. It's crazy how simple and easy it is, to the point that I can't believe we survived without it all these years. Features like the Wonder Trade which allow you to blind trade a random Pokemon for another random Pokemon are addicting and fun. I even like some of the new Pokemon, and some of the Mega Evolutions. Even though it sounds like Mega Evolutions fucked up some of the competitive balance/variety.

That's all well and good, but there's also some stuff that really sucks about Pokemon X/Y. Namely the characters and the story. Now, now. Before you get up in my grill about the story in a Pokemon game, I have to remind you that one of the main reasons Pokemon Black was my Game of the Year in 2011 was because it had an awesome, actually interesting story with good characters. Not the case in X/Y where you have some of the lamest characters around and quite frankly a garbage excuse for a story. That combined with the fact that I couldn't think of a lot of things I wanted to “gush” about lead me to remove it from the list.

*Attack of The Friday Monsters: A Tokyo Tale: My number 12 game, I guess. Attack of The Friday monsters is just a ridiculously adorable, pleasant little game that cost me all of what, $7? It was definitely worth it to experience the short, but sweet story it had to tell. I really loved the art, and the game made me smile nearly the whole time. The only negative thing I can think of is that the card game isn't really necessary It doesn't detract from the game too much, until the post game at least, but I just felt the game would have been fine without it. It's a funny distraction at best. That said, if you're interested in a cute little story about a small town in Japan in the 70s, where Kaiju (big monsters) come out out on Friday to fight, then I suggest you pick up AoTFM. Then have fun trying to figure out what's going on!

*Animal Crossing: New Leaf:

Uhg. I really don't want to think about Animal Crossing: New Leaf. I've put over 200 hours into the game, and you know what? I'd rather I hadn't. I wouldn't go so far as to say I dislike the game, but I'm certainly well beyond the point of being sick of it at this point. So why do I keep playing? It's my friend Zara. I bought the game for both of us back in July and ever since then she's been obsessed with it. I might have put in 200 hours, she has put in nearly 2000 hours, or something crazy like that. She plays it everyday, for hours on end. I don't even know what she has left to do in the game anymore, and yet she keeps playing it. And even talks about buying another copy of the game just to start a new town. It's madness!

I just thought I should “mention” it because it's been such a big part of my year, what with her playing it all the time. And me being roped into helping her with it. I actively played and enjoyed the game for about a month. Everything after that? Just helping her with stuff. Please, send help.

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10. Final Fantasy XIV

Final Fantasy XIV is a game that, I feel that if I had been able to spend more time with it, would have most likely been higher on my list. It's a game that I had been waiting anxiously for all year, and when it finally came out I wasn't really in a position to enjoy it to the fullest. I had originally wanted to embark on my journey with my friend, as we are wont to do with MMOs, but she just doesn't have the hardware to run the game. I'm working on fixing that in the next month or so, and we should hopefully, finally be able to dig deep into this beastly game.

That said, I just couldn't wait. So when digital copies for the game were being sold again, I picked the game up for cheap. What followed was what I guess you could call a trial run. I made a character that I played primarily solo, and got her to about level 25 before I let my subscription lapse. During that time I was learning the ins and outs of the game, and trying to decide if it was going to be a worthwhile investment in the long run. And you know what? I think it is!

Preamble about my situation aside, Final Fantasy XIV is a gorgeous game that demands the attention of anyone who might even having a passing interest in it. That includes people that are looking for a solid new MMO to sink their teeth into. This game is for Final Fantasy fans, or for people who enjoy a good Japanese style role playing game. You might also like to experience the world of Eorzea if you just like things that are beautiful, because XIV is dripping with jaw dropping splendor with everything from the world, to the incredible soundtrack.

At it's core, XIV isn't breaking any new ground when it comes to MMOs. In fact it borrows a lot from many other successful MMOs of the past. If you've ever played World of Warcraft, chances are you have a good idea of what you're in for. But one of the best things about XIV is that it combines the simplicity of the tried and true WoW systems, and applies them to something closer to what Square Enix did with it's first foray into massively multiplayer games, Final Fantasy XI.

That is to say, you have a very accessible system, that is solo friendly above all else, and it combines it with some of the quirky things XI did that were a little more taxing on the player. Even though XI has changed much over the years, it's still a hardcore game that more often than not demands that you rely on the assistance of other players to make much progress in the game. Wherein XIV you can enjoy a large majority of the game's story solo. In this way, XIV plays a lot like a traditional single player Final Fantasy game, complete with a compelling story that will hook you early on in the adventure.

Sure, you're still required to team up from time to time to tackle big story moments, but thanks to modern conventions it's a lot less painful than it is in something like XI. In addition to all that you have things like the FATE system, which is XIV's take on public quests which originated in games like the recently departed Warhammer Online, and more recently Guild Wars 2. Overall, XIV is just a nice spread of mechanics that have worked in the past, while maintaining the flavor of Square Enix's brand of online role playing. Something that I'm extremely grateful for.

In my time with XIV, as I've said, I got to level 26 fairly easily just playing alone. I made a Pugilist named Argilla Prihtivi, a staple name I use in a lot of games where you create a character. During my short time in Eorzea I got a feel for the major starting cities, explored a lot of the beginning to intermediate areas. I got a feel for all aspects of the game, from it's combat which is fast paced and fun, to the game's unique crafting system which is strangely action oriented. I ran dungeons with random players on my server using the easy to use “Duty Finder” utility, and even made a few acquaintances along the way. All in all it was a very pleasant experience that reminds me why I can still invest hundreds of hours into this genre of game. I only wish that I had my friends there to enjoy it with me.

Lastly, before I stop talking your ear off about a game that I probably only spent the bare minimum amount of time with, I have to say the one thing that really pushed XIV onto my year end list, and that is that it's exceedingly, unquestionably beautiful. I've mentioned it previously, but I feel that I really need to emphasis it. Everything about the game appeals to my sense of aesthetics. It's a beautifully rendered world with an eastern aesthetic. At the same time it doesn't come across as too anime, as it definitely has a western fantasy vibe to it too that is par for the course with the series.

Not only are the character designs easy on the eyes, but the traditional Final Fantasy monsters you've come to know and love are well represented here. Things from the ridiculously adorable Mandragoras that became popular with XI, to the beyond epic interpretations of the Primals. There's nothing quite like getting a party together and going into a boss chamber where you're greeted by the Lord of Fire, Ifrit, and it's an intense four-on-one battle full of enough graphical splendor to drop jaws. Plus the rush of fighting such an iconic figure is just way too cool.

Not even just characters, but the world itself is a vibrant place that easily rivals areas in any game. There have been times where I've been playing where I would just stop dead in my tracks as a storm kicked up. One time I just sat on a big rock and watched as heavy rain just rolled across the plains, and another time I slowly walked (not ran) through a forest as a lightning storm raged overhead. It's the kind of thing that just makes you stop and think: “Man, I wish I was really in this world right now.”. That so far has been by biggest takeaway from XIV, and I'm eager to get back to it and see even more of the world.

For real though, one final thing is that the game's soundtrack is just a pretty as the world it accompanies. The game is packed full of nearly 100 songs that would make any Final Fantasy music buff proud. I remember walking out to the Ul'Dah fields for the first time and hearing this haunting melody that made me shiver. God Damn, XIV is just such a gorgeous game.

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9. Saints Row IV

Remember how much I liked Saints Row The Third? Saints Row IV is kind of like that, but less so. That isn't to say I disliked it, because here it is on my Game of The Year list, but, I dunno... maybe you can't recapture that same feeling again? I should stop before I sound too down on the game, because honestly I really like it, but I just want you to know... The Third was better.

With that out of the way, it's hard to find much else to dislike about Saints Row IV. It's more of the same insanity that we all loved back in 2011. Except maybe it's even crazier this time considering you're now a super hero. And even though I might not like IV as much as The Third, I think it was vitally important that they made the game so drastically different. It helped make Saints Row IV unique in a year where Grand Theft Auto V was released, and a year after Sleeping Dogs perfected the open-world crime game for me. Sleeping Dogs is still the best, but uh, God... the less said about Grand Theft Auto V the better. (Franklin, Lamar, and Chop are the only things I still feel positive about with that game. Okay, I'll stop).

So yeah, it's pretty awesome going around Steelport with superpowers. For one traversal is actually a blast, and I say that as someone who generally enjoys driving around open world games. Being able to sprint up a building, hit the highest point, super jump into the air, then glide across most of the city before you have to touch ground again never got old for me. In fact the few times in the game where you have to drive felt totally unfulfilling after zipping around like that. Especially considering the speed in which you can run is faster than driving the fastest car by an order of magnitudes. In addition to the cool transportation powers, your character has access to a whole arsenal of offensive powers. I guess it's unfortunate that half of them suck, and are worse than guns. Fire and Ice? Awesome, totally devastating. Ground Stomp? Dumb. Telekinesis? Fuck off.

My big problem with TK is that it's a stupid, finicky power that's more trouble than it's worth, but more importantly there are far too many side activities that make you use it. Those stupid Rift ones? Fuuuuuuucccccckkkkkkkk off. And speaking of side activities that's kind of a double edged sword for me. On the one hand, there are a lot of them, and you kind of want to do them all because you get cool stuff from your crew, but some of them are kind of a pain in the ass to do. On the other hand, I was able to complete every side activity in Saints Row IV in under 30 hours. Which is more than I could say for something like... Grand Theft Auto V. Uhg.

The main mission though? Fucking awesome. Volition proves once again that it can combine surprisingly sharp writing with the craziest shit you're doing in-game. From the Zero Dark Thirty/Call of Duty parody at the beginning of the game that ends with your character jumping onto a speeding rocket as Aerosmith's “I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing” plays. To when you're piloting a space ship through “reality” ala The Matrix style while Haddaway's “What is Love” plays. To piloting a mech suit. To playing an alternate take on Streets of Rage. To... any other number of absurd things you do in that game.

You know what else is good? The “loyalty missions”. Ripped straight from Mass Effect, you can do side missions with your crew members that will deepen your bond with them, and allow them to unlock their super powers within the simulation. These are sometimes arguably better than anything in the main story even. Pierce's sees the return of the “get in a car, and sing a song together” in which the two of you do really nothing other than drive around and sing Paula Abdul's “Opposites Attract”, and start to sing Biz Markie's “Just A Friend” until the game's villain Zinyak chimes in and ruins it. In Shaundi's mission you team up with her, and fucking Saints Row 2 Shaundi (Yes this is actually a different character) as you three score some sweet alien drugs, smoke them out of broken light bulbs, and then trip balls. And of course Keith David's mission where it's just a reenactment of They Live, complete with Roddy Piper. Yeah.. the game is something else.

There's tons of other little things that just make Saints Row IV a fun game. I'm rather fond of the Dubstep Gun, a large canon that just fires waves of Dubstep that actually plays, and causes by standards to dance. It can also be upgraded to just randomly cause explosions. Yep. Fuck man, it's great that Keith David is in the game as himself. This is especially rich because Keith David had previously voiced a character in an older Saints Row game, and the game is constantly making jokes about how that character and Keith David are so alike. Along those lines, all the references and cameos to and from the old Saints Row games. Going as far as to include clones of the default main characters from Saints Row 1. The fact that for no apparent reason you're character is the President of the United States. Hell, the list just goes on and on.

And on-top of all that the game still has an excellent selection of voice actors, not the least of which are all the selectable voices for your main character. Laura Bailey makes her return as the definitive female voice. As do Troy Baker, Kenn Michael, and Robin Atkin Downes as the three main male voices. Robin Atkin Downes in particular is the official voice of the Boss in my opinion, that dude is great. Also, for no reason, Nolan North is a selectable voice, as himself. Again, yeah.

Finally, man, I really like the soundtracks in these games. There are several radio stations I liked to listen to in SRIV. Mainly KRyhme, Mad Decent, and of course The Mix. The Mix is pretty much the station that has all the songs used in the missions, as well as the strangely appropriate sounding for flying around the city – "B.O.B" by Outkast. But KRhyme actually introduced me to some good shit, like Kendrick Lamar's "Swimming Pools" which is probably my most listened to song this year. And Mad Decent... fucking Riff Raff. Honorable mention to Klassic, the classic station which is hosted by Zinyak. Yep.

At the end of the day, it's hard not to like Saints Row IV. It might not have held the exact same appeal as The Third did back in 2011, but it's still the best open-world game I've played this year. It's stupid, and fun. And weirdly smart, and progressive. I know that sounds totally... stupid, but when you think about the way GTA treats women, and then the fact that the Boss (voiced of course by Laura Bailey) is just the biggest badass around. She demands your respect, and she's not going to take any shit. It's just a feel good game, and I say that as someone who played it during my most miserable point in the year.

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8. Tales of Xillia

You know, I really like the Tales series. It's not the best JRPG series around, but it's got some damn fine games in it. Last year I awarded Graces f a spot on my list, even if it wasn't one of the better games. And while I don't think Xillia quite reaches the level of something like Symphonia or Vesperia, it's still a fantastic game.

I think the big thing that helps Xillia, well aside from the fact that it's a PS3 game, and not just a port of a Wii game, is that it's characters are a lot closer to something like the cast in Vesperia. You have a widely different cast of characters in your party, and almost all of them are great. The one exception to this, for me at least, is Leia, who is so forgettable that I can never remember her name. That aside, you have Jude who makes a pretty great bumbling hero. He's not the coolest Tales hero around, but I think that's what makes him special. He just kind of falls into this, they never really establish him as a leader or anything. He's good natured, and by the end of the game he has solid convictions to fully support this strange girl who, he quite cutely, fell for over the course of the game.

Then you have Alvin who is just a real mixed bag. Not mixed in that he's sometimes a good character, sometimes a bad character, but a literal mixed character. At first he's the calm and collected guy who everyone can depend on to get them out of a jam. In some ways he almost feels like more of a hero than Jude does. That is until you see his true colors. I lost track of the number of times throughout the course of the game that Alvin double crosses your party, and I have to admit I was more than a little frustrated that they all went back to casually trusting him every-single-time. Sure Elize hates him for most of the game (more on that later), but I never really got the sense that the party was too concerned that this guy was working with the enemy. Which enemy? Every enemy. This isn't to say that Alvin's character himself annoyed me. I feel like it's pretty clear by the end of the game that he has his reasons, and he never really meant for anything bad to happen to the crew. It still just seemed weird that he was always, without fail, just let back into the party.

Elize is the second most interesting character in the game. At first she's just a timid child who has this cute talking doll mascot. Teepo himself is kind of interesting in that at first he's just another stupid Mieu clone. Just along for the ride, and to play the comic relief. But as both Elize and Teepo's nature is revealed he becomes so much more. Throughout the whole game I thought Elize was as cute as a button, but instead of just being the cute character she really has some interesting development. Part way through the game, Teepo gets snatched up, and he ends up losing his memories. I believe it's shortly after this point that we learn that Teepo isn't an entity at all, but just a reflection of Elize's inner thoughts. The things she's too scared or embarrassed to say. This to me added a whole new layer of depth for Elize's character, as she was, and continues to express more of her true nature through Teepo.

I guess I should also mention that Teepo is responsible for the best skit in all of Tales history. Teepo, or Elize, for whatever reason keep talking about “bazongas”. That in, and of itself is pretty funny, but when Jude finally asks what the fuck is up with the bazongas, Alvin and Rowen goad Jude into yelling “Teach me about BAZONGAS!” in front of Milla and Leia. Yeah, it's fucking great.

Anyways, the last thing I wanted to say about Elize is that despite the age difference, her and Alvin actually make a really cute couple. Throughout the course of the game, she's one of the only people in the party who doesn't blindly trust him, and actually holds a grudge against him for the longest time. Despite this, Alvin goes out of his way to help Elize several times, and by the end of the game there's a really cute scene with them before the final battle where she finally admits that she likes him. I know a certain someone who is dying for a more age appropriate relationship between the two.

Rowen is also quite interesting in that he finally, finally is an actual old man in your party. Too long have we seen 30-something characters like Raven being picked on for being ancient. No, Rowen is an actual old ass man. And he's pretty badass too. He has a history with the King of Fennmont, as he used to be a brilliant tactician for the army, known as the conductor. Throughout the game Rowen applies his years of experience and knowledge to help the party out. He also has a sad bit of backstory where he thought he lost the love of his love, but if you're up on the side quests in the game, you see a bittersweet resolution to that story. More importantly though, Rowen is just a really solid character, and not the kind you see very often in games. Least of which being JRPGs. He's like a kindly grandfather, wise in his old age, but still spry enough to kick some ass. And he's actually responsible for a good amount of comic relief. Again, kind of unique in that it's not the sort of comedy you're used to in a Tales game.

Finally there's Milla. Ahh... Milla. I know that Pete Davison already made a fabulous case for Milla in his Xillia review over on USgamer, but what can I say? The man is right. Milla is such a refreshing character, not only for Tales, but for games in general. In the past Tales has had some of my favorite female characters with Sheena from Symphonia, and Judith from Vesperia. Both of them being extremely awesome, but Milla is just something else entirely. At the beginning of the game you can chose who you want to control. Either Jude or Milla. And while playing as Jude makes a little more sense for the first time through the game (you see more of the story) Milla is clearly the heroine of Xillia. Not just a Colette, or Estelle type. She is the leader, she is the main character. If that wasn't cool enough she's also an extremely powerful character, not only in terms of combat prowess, but her ability to take control of a situation.

Milla also has an interesting quirk in that she is largely ignorant to a lot of things that people would think is common sense. Don't mistake me, not in a bimbo kind of way, but in a “I'm not familiar with your species” sort of way. This is what we call an endearing character trait. It's easy to fall in love with Milla when we see her be so clueless about such basic things, or bust out a bit of knowledge she read in a book, apropos of nothing, as if the information she was providing wasn't already common knowledge. And despite this she seems to have a better idea of what's going on, or what needs to be done than anyone. Well, except maybe Alvin who has insider information.

As you go through the game Milla slowly starts to become more “human”. Initially it's as simple as her losing her godlike power to control the four spirits. But at the game progresses more subtle changes take effect. Traveling with these people she starts feeling emotions, and develops friendships. Particularly the relationship between Jude, that really starts to kick off when Milla is injured early on in the game, and has to rely on Jude to help her. Near the end of the game that relationship finally comes together in a bittersweet way. Where Jude loves Milla, and wants to support her no matter what. While Milla herself probably doesn't share this same intimacy, I think she knows Jude has become her trustworthy partner.

Despite everything that happens to Milla to deter her over the course of the game, she remains steadfast, always set on her mission. And as she grows attached to her companions she's willing, and in fact does sacrifice everything for them. Even her final decision is a selfless act to help and preserve a state of peace in the two worlds, even if it means she'll never see her friends again (until Xillia 2, but whatever). I think it's cool that not only is she this really strong, compelling female character, but that the story is largely focused around her. It's kind of reminiscent of how Terra and Celes are considered the main characters of Final Fantasy VI. I guess it's a bad thing that this is such a rarity in games, but at least it's progress. From a Japanese developer no less!

Finally, yeah, she's just a really well designed character. Her actual character design is interesting, it's sexy, but it's also not overboard. The hair is a pretty big distinguishing feature, that might feel overdone on another character. Lastly, her English voice actress Minae Noji is really unique! I can't think of a character that sounds quite like Milla. It's kind of a husky voice that again helps to separate Milla from a lot of other anime heroines. It helps sell her delivery of all the “clueless” lines, as well as makes Milla sound like a commanding character.

And Leia? I dunno. She's just kind of there. She falls into the klutzy childhood friend troop. I guess if you want to get real about it, she's everything Milla isn't. She's supposed to be this tough tomboyish girl, but she just comes across as a helpless girl who has unrequited love for Jude. It doesn't help that she doesn't really go through any sort of interesting character arc, her personality isn't very original, and she's just kind of annoying sometimes. I'm sorry! What can I say?

So yeah, I just spent entirely too long talking about the characters in the game, but like I said, I feel that's where it's strengths lie. As far as the story goes, it's standard Tales fare. It eventually turns into a save the world(s) from destruction story, and there's not really many notable twists or turns aside from the few character arc things I've already mentioned. Much like another game on my list I feel like the story is just a vehicle to deliver the characters to you. Something is going on at all times to motivate the characters forward, but it rarely has any bite. Sometimes it's easy to stop caring about the main story, and just focus on the skits, and side quests that help flesh out the characters. That isn't to say the story is entirely without merit, but much like the music in Tales games, it's not the selling point.

And hey, I guess I could close out by talking about the gameplay some! Again, pretty standard for Tales at this point. It's no where near as big of a departure as Graces f was, but it does add some new things. For the uninitiated Tales is an action RPG, the battles take place in real time, and I guess you could compare it to a really simplistic fighting game. You have a basic attack, and special attacks called Artes which require a resource to use. One of the best parts of any Tales game is linking together as many of these attacks as you can and pulling off cool combos, again not unlike a fighting game. Graces f made the combat a lot deeper, but I don't know if it was ideal or not. Xillia's combat feels like a good medium between the older games, and introduces some new elements that make it a little more involving.

Namely the ability to “link” two characters together to take advantage of that character's support skill, as well as being able to flank enemies and string together bigger combos. Another key point to this feature is that you can combine two moves from both linked characters to form a new, more damaging move. It's a fun little addition, that's probably pretty crucial on the harder difficulty modes, but on normal it doesn't feel like it changes the flow of combat too much. Overdrive mode is still there, still allows you to spam Artes without an SP cost. And it still lets you use Divine Artes. Though I have to admit I played through a good portion of the game before ever performing a Divine Arte. I can't remember how it worked in other games now, but it certainly seemed a lot more obvious how to do them in those games. You have to hold a button at the end of specific Artes to execute the DA. It's not that hard to pull off once you know what you're doing though. You know, it's a Tales game. You've either come to enjoy this combat, or you haven't. This isn't the game that's going to change your mind on it.

Lastly, one other big new feature in this game is the Lillium Orb, which is essentially the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X, or if you want a more recent example, the Passive Skills tree in Path of Exile. Each character has their own unique orb, and the orb is divided into different sections based off which stat you're raising So this actually introduces a more hands-on leveling system for a Tales game, as you're able to modify your characters in any direction you want. Upon completing certain sections of the orb you unlock Artes, and Skills. I've explained Artes, but Skills you can equip to give your character more direct passive boosts in battle.

I would say that it's increasingly rare to find JRPGs these days, but that's not true at all. The genre has just expanded into different types of RPGs, and a lot more of them are being produced than say a few years ago. I guess what I can say is that it's hard for me to find ones I really enjoy anymore. It's hard to count FFXIV as a JRPG, but I suppose it is... if you're really stretching it, and another game on my list could be considered a JRPG. I also enjoyed Atelier Ayesha, but that didn't quite make the cut. That's about it for this year though. There were a few big ones on the 3DS with Shin Megami Tensei IV, and Soul Hackers, and two Etrian Odyssey games, but I guess I'm picky about my Atlus games. Hell, I'm not even going to talk about how much of a disappointment Dragon's Crown was. Man, just thinking about it again is bumming me out. Next year is looking hot though, what with Bravely Default, Ragnarok Odyssey Ace, Lightning Returns, Escha and Logy, and Dark Souls II kicking off the year in February and March. But I digress.

Point is, I'm glad the Tales series is still flourishing. It's a semi-big JRPG franchise that you can get on consoles. Maybe not new consoles, but consoles none the less. And even though it's brand of action combat might not be what traditional JRPG fans are looking for, I still find them very enjoyable. And hey, I get to look forward to Xillia 2 next year, and hopefully get Zesty the year after that!

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7. Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies

I feel like some of the games on this list require a great deal of explanation as to why I liked them so much, or in some cases as you'll see, dealing with controversies surrounding them. Dual Destinies is simple. It's just a damn good Phoenix Wright game.

If you've never played Phoenix Wright before, man, you're really missing out. The games are a hybrid of something as simple as visual novel, but throws in a whole level of interaction that gives it a little more meat in the gameplay department. I think most people know this at this point, but, yeah, you play as a lawyer. Sounds boring, but in the world of Phoenix Wright it's anything but! The game is broken up into two portions. One where you investigate the crimes, and another where you defend your client in court / try to find the real culprit guilty.

These games aren't very demanding outside of the fact that they can take a while to finish. In past games it could be pretty tricky to figure out just exactly what evidence you were supposed to present and at what time, and just trying to pay attention and keep track of everything in general. To me, and a lot of people from the sound of it, Dual Destinies makes this easier than ever before. Some people have gone on record saying they're not the biggest fans of this change, but for the most part I think the game still requires a certain level of engagement and outside of the box thinking to keep you invested.

That's just the mechanics part of these games though. No, the real draw of the Ace Attorney series is the ridiculous stories that are told, and the lively characters you interact with throughout. How much you like any given Phoenix Wright game comes down directly to how good you thought the cases were. For me, the first Phoenix Wright, and Trials and Tribulations take the cake for me. The final cases in those games were just too damn good. They got to be so big, and epic, and out of control that you'd spend hours furiously tapping away to get to the next upset in the story. And while Dual Destinies might not conquer these climactic titans for me, it does still tell a damn good story with just the right amount of twists and turns to cause my eyes to widen in disbelief.

Dual Destinies not only lives up to the legacy of the Ace Attorney series, but it offers up some outstanding new additions. Not the least of which are the gorgeous 3D graphics. When you make the transition from something that is 2D like the previous AA games, it's easy to misstep and lose the “feel” of the older games. Fortunately Capcom succeed here, and the game looks fucking great. To me, nothing was lost in the transition, and the overly animated character expressions are still top notch.

Of course the game also introduced a whole cavalcade of new characters. Many of the side characters can be hit or miss in these games, and it's no different here. For me, pretty much everyone involved in the game's second case, as well as the case itself was horrible. It was a dreadful slog getting through it, much like other infamous cases in the past such as the dreaded circus case. But in other areas of the game some characters really shined. Robin Newman for instance was a very interesting, very energetic character that it was hard not to like. I do feel like they missed an opportunity to make a compelling cross dressing, perhaps even transgender character with her, but she still has a good arc. Also from that case, the snakelike Myriam Scuttlebutt who was constantly in a cardboard box, but underneath the box, and her slippery personality she was actually pretty cute!

Another favorite of mine was the sadistic Aura Blackquill, who not only was super hot, and reminded me of Juri Han from Street Fighter, but presented a sinister character, who by the end of her arc is very easy to sympathize with. But the real stars of the show are the three new main characters. Athena Cykes, the new attorney, whom you play as for large portions of the game, as well as the central character in the game's story. Simon Blackquill, the new prosecutor who is just all kinds of badass. And Bobby Fullbright who is this game's Detective Gumshoe replacement.

Full on spoilers here, but I feel like I need to discuss all of this to really get my point across about these characters, and how great the game's central story is.

So the main story behind Dual Destinies is that the world is in the dark age of the law. This ties back directly to the events of Apollo Justice, where Phoenix is disbarred for using false evidence. It also ties into Athena and Blackquill's past. If you look at Dual Destinies as being The first, fourth, and fifth case, that's where you have the main story. Case three helps establish some important side development for later, and the second case is completely pointless, but the point is that these three cases make up the main game.

For me, I consider those three cases being what you want to play the game for. The first case not only serves as the tutorial, and helps to set the story up, but when you loop back around to it later in the game you realize the significance of all of it. A large portion of the game is spent eluding to Athena and Blackquill's past, and when you finally find out the truth of that, it's about the time the game really starts to fall back into the Phoenix Wright epic finale scenario.

The fact that the game goes so far as to kill Apollo's best friend in a mysterious circumstance that leaves the blame pinned on Athena makes for a tragic scene. Where Apollo suspects Athena, he wants to believe in her, but he needs to be sure. I just didn't expect the game to go in that direction, even though earlier parts of the game suggest that Apollo is acting dicey. When Phoenix blows everyone's mind by revealing the possibility that the Phantom did it, and the whole courtroom explodes, it's awesome. At that point it's really touching to see Apollo be absolved of all his doubts, letting the team of lawyers come together to bust the case wide open.

And in regards to that relationship between Athena and Blackquill, it's also really touching that despite being at each others throat for the whole game, both of them were willing, and did in fact sacrifice everything to prove the others innocence. Blackquill never came off as a villain, much the same way most of the prosecutors in the series do. But it always felt to me like Blackquill was doing the right thing, even if that meant doing the “wrong” thing sometimes.

In the last case, it's a constant roller coaster from one point to the next. At first we see that Aura has staged an abduction to try and hold a trial to prove her brother's innocence. But it quickly spirals out of control when it's revealed that she wants Athena charged with the murder of her (Athena) own mother, and Aura's lover Metis Cykes. It also doesn't hurt that Edgeworth is randomly roped into this, if only to provide some homoerotic fanservice between him and Phoenix.

As I've said, Phoenix ends up clearing Athena in Apollo's eyes, but in order to completely clear her of guilt, the real culprit of both the Clay, and Metis murder must be brought to light. Seeing as how it's not Athena that leaves... The Phantom. A character eluded to leading up to this point, and the person Blackqull has been gunning for for the past several years.

And that leaves us with Bobby Fullbright. I think it's real fucking commendable of Capcom that they made such a wacky character, that you can't help but grow to love over the course of the game. One of his key features is that he's just so emotive. He'll laugh at the drop of a hat, and cry just as quickly. He's the definition of a Phoenix Wright character. And yet... You find out that Fullbright is in fact the Phantom. See, this is where the emotions come into play. The Phantom is known to be a spy with no emotions to speak of. It's a key point in the trial. He was able to escape the space center by making a death defying leap without even batting an eye. It also plays into the whole Mood Matrix mechanic of the game, where Athena can hear people's emotions. When you end up grilling Fullbright, everything is out of whack, because he's the Phantom!

The whole thing just turns the game on its head, and it was a twist that I, and I'm sure most people didn't see coming. I mean, how could you? Maybe if you were thinking about it really hard, or defaulted to process of elimination and just assumed one of these existing characters had to be the Phantom. To me it was one of the craziest twists I've seen in the series, and there are some pretty crazy twists! Also, it's important to note that the Fullbright you know isn't the real Fullbright. He died a while ago. So this begs the question, what as the real Bobby Fullbright like? It also makes you wonder if you should even like Fullbright (the Phantom) anymore since his whole persona is a lie. The real man behind the mask probably isn't that likable. And finally, what about the Fullbright_x_Blackquill ship? Is that sunk? We may never know!

Dual Destinies is probably my third favorite game in the series at this point, it's real close between DD and the first Ace Attorney. Sadly it doesn't really come close to Trials and Tribulations for me. Still, it's a great return for the Phoenix Wright series. The refinements to the game are a welcome addition, as is the soundtrack which is full of some new takes on classic tracks, as well as some amazing new pieces that get you pumped in the heat of the moment. For a while it seemed the series was lying dormant, especially in the west where we never got the second Miles Edgeworth game, and are just now finally getting the Layton spinoff game. I'm glad to see Capcom brought the series back though, and I can only hope they do more of it in the future. I hope their decision to go strictly digital in the west worked out enough for them to consider bringing future games here too. Because god dammit y'all, it's almost 2014, stop keeping games locked up in other regions of the world!

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6. DmC: Devil May Cry

Let's get this out of the way first. Fuck the haters, you know what I'm saying? It's a sad bunch of bullshit that the new Devil May Cry game gets as much shit as it does. It's a good fucking game, and no matter how much some people might want to whine and complain about it, it isn't going to change that fact.

I think there's a couple different kinds of haters for this game. There's the people that simply cannot abide by change of any kind. These are the sorts of people who can probably be found saying new Dante is one of the worst characters ever, and that he ruins everything that was cool about old Dante. Why? Because his hair is different? I like Dante, both of them, but Dante isn't really the epitome of cool half the time. Not only is he this goofy over the top anime hero (Note: I love anime, so don't start with me!) but he's also had some hard times. Remember “I should have been the one to fill your dark soul with LIGHT!” Yeah. How about all of Devil May Cry 2? Go ahead, try and remember it, if you dare. Even when Dante isn't accidentally being corny as hell, Capcom makes him a goofball. Remember that badass scene at the beginning of Devil May Cry 3? It's cool, yes, but Dante also isn't serious fucking business there. So what I'm trying to say is that, maybe, just maybe, cool it down and stop thinking of new Dante as being that different than old Dante.

Then you have the people that are just nasty about the game. To them this game is one of the worst games all year. Ninja Theory is a terrible developer who only makes shitty games. And that only babies like this easy to pick up and play snoozefest. It's all so completely ridiculous, that I can't help but shake my head every time I see the game brought up negatively in a thread on NeoGAF. At the very least I'm starting to see people who are coming out of the wood works saying that the game is treated unfairly. We need more people like that!

That rant aside. Hey, this game is pretty cool! DmC came out at the beginning of the year and has consistently held a spot on my Game of the Year list for the entire year. I think the thing that really does it for me is that the game has so much style to it. This isn't anything new to the Devil May Cry series though, long time fans will certainly remember how cool it was to pull off Stylish! Combos. Also, despite what I might have said about Dante, he is kind of a badass sometimes. Especially in Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. Man, I remember thinking he was the hottest shit around when I ran into him in that game. But I digress.

The combat is fundamentally the same here, you juggle enemies with your arsenal to raise your Stylish ranking. When you get into the groove and nothing is touching you while you dish out combos in the triple digits consistently it's addicting. While the game might not be so difficult in some of the game's easier modes, it still encourages the player to look good while playing. And this to me makes sort of a buffer that makes the game seem a little more challenging than it might be otherwise. Plus being able to switch on the fly (it's just a different button press to attack with another weapon) between weapons while you're stringing together your combos is pretty sweet.

The rest of the game is focused on being fun. The story? It's not amazing, in fact I'm having a hard time remembering a lot of it now. I do know that there are some awesome moments scattered throughout, such as Mundus freaking the fuck out when his child is killed and shattering reality or whatever it is that he does. And there's a great scene where Dante and Vergil are talking shit to each other that stuck with me throughout the year “..and I've got a bigger dick.”. Actually now that I think of it, there's more just genuinely funny moments throughout the game. The opening with the pizza covering up the dick. The whole exchange between Dante and the Succubus. That god damn Bob Barbas boss battle. The white wig falling on Dante's head? Yeah, good shit, that.

Speaking of Bob Barbas though, and going back to the style thing. That's another thing DmC really excels at. It has some awesome, unique environments and boss fights. I'm sure you've heard people talk about “that” boss fight in regards to DmC. Yeah, that's the Bob Barbas boss fight, where you essentially end up going inside a television world that is made up of news marquees, until you reach the boss. At which point you fight a giant digital news anchor's head, and throughout the fight the game cuts to a chopper cam, showing shaky black and white footage of you fighting minions. That would normally be cool on it's own, but it's even cooler that you are actually fighting the minions during that part. All the while Bob is commenting on how much of a menace Dante is.

Another really cool part of the game is the whole nightclub level. Never before have I seen such a display of vibrantly flashing colors while loud club music is blaring... while fighting hordes of demons. The whole level is constantly transforming and it's a real trip. It's stuff like that, that really makes DmC stand out for me.

I'm not sure where I'd rank DmC on the hierarchy of Devil May Cry games. It's easily better than 2. I don't think too many people are going to try and argue that one. I personally think it's better than 4 which was a competent game that just felt like more of the same. Especially because you replay every level as Dante half way through the game. And why weren't people so pissed off about Nero? Probably because he had white hair I guess. As for 1 and 3... hard to say. I'm willing to bet that if you took the nostalgia away from the first game, DmC is better overall. But that's a big “if”. I don't think I can even fool myself into thinking it's better than 3 though, much less anyone else. But I'd be willing to argue that the two are closer than you'd think.

All in all, DmC was a good warm up to get me back into character action games, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it. A few final thoughts: The PC port is fucking hot, and that Combichrist soundtrack is something else. Something good, I think.

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5. The Last of Us

Alright. So. The Last of Us. It's quite good, yes? The fervor surrounding it? Not so much. I'll just get that crap out of the way first so I can talk about why I loved this game. So you know when something comes along, and it's extremely well received, and the people who really love it can't seem to understand why everyone else isn't in love with it? Yeah, that's sadly what happened with The Last of Us. I don't want to give the impression that this soured me on the game in anyway, because until my number two, and four games came along this was pretty close to the top of the list, and it's only at number 5 because two more phenomenal games came along.

Still, it's pretty gross how some people act about this game. I get it, many people think it's the game of the generation. I don't, personally, but it is pretty fucking good, so I can see why some would think that. The problem lies in the latter part of the above situation. The fact that some of this game's most diehard fans just cannot abide by the fact that some people just aren't into it. It also has that “Dark Souls syndrome” where people try to push it on everyone they talk to. Y'all just gotta understand, this isn't a game made for everyone. Same as Dark Souls in fact.

The whole thing reached a critically embarrassing level when certain members of the Giant Bomb staff didn't want to play the game. If you know anything about TLoU, it's bleak as fuck. It's not a fun world to be in. In fact Phil Kollar's infamous 7.5 review over at Polygon is actually spot-on in a lot of ways. The game is fucking miserable. I, myself found that I had to push myself to play it sometimes. It's just so oppressive that you'd probably much rather be doing anything else.

And yet, some of these fucking people on NeoGAF. Oh lord. The Last of Us came out right around the time Ryan Davis died. You would think it'd be understandable that not only would the guys not want to play a game like this at the time, but that the game would have some kind of a bad stigma attached to it after that. And still, every Giant Bomb thread on NeoGAF was about why Brad and Jeff (or sometimes no one, despite the fact that Vinny, Patrick, and I think Alex, and finally Drew had all played it) hadn't played the game. Like it was an outrage, they weren't doing their jobs if they didn't play this game, and talk about it. Or represent it in the Game of the Year discussions, because clearly it is the only game you should care about, and is the most important thing ever!!! Fuck off.

I guess to end that story, Brad finally played it in spite of everyone goading him, and he actually really liked it. Jeff? Not so much. It will be interesting to hear the deliberations, which start tomorrow as of the time I'm writing this. Anyways, it's just sad that a game that is as brilliantly designed as TLoU has all this shit splattered on it by irrational fans of it. As I've said, this is a game that by it's very definition is not for everyone.

That said... I really fucking liked The Last of Us. The story is the centerpiece here. Naughty Dog did such an excellent job of telling this narrative, as grim as it is, you can't help but admire it. The characters of Joel and Ellie are considered some of the best characters this year, and for good reason. The emotional roller coaster you go through with them is ensnaring. As much as the game is pushing against you not to play it for long stretches at a time, it can be hard to put down once you're going. Anxiously waiting to see what happens next. All the while formulating theories about where the story is headed, and it's ultimate conclusion.

The transitions between the seasons are something to behold. While the game struggles early on during the summer portion of the game, both in it's divisive gameplay, and the rocky relationship between the two main characters, once you hit Fall shit starts to get real. It's about half-way through the Fall when the game really transcends itself. The way that Joel finally realizes that Ellie is important to him, and the ride up to the University is powerful stuff. Then the ending of that chapter is devastating, the mad dash out of the University, and Joel taking that fall. It's at that point you're wondering where exactly this train is headed. And going into Winter the game pulls the ultimate bait and switch, making the player think that Joel has died. At least for a little while.

The moments where you play as Ellie are potent not only in a story sense, but also the gameplay, which I've neglected to talk about so far. Early on, at least in the difficulty I played the game on, stealth was mandatory. There was no way of getting around it, TLoU was a stealth game. You have very little means of defending yourself, and even less of a chance if you're going toe-to-toe with something. But as you progress in the game, Joel kind of becomes a one man army. Once you get more weaponry, and access to weapon quick slots you can pretty much clean up. Again, this is probably different on harder difficulties, but for me personally, I started to enjoy the gameplay much more at this point. But when you switch to Ellie, she's weak. Again your inventory is limited, she doesn't have the upgrades Joel has, and ultimately the game goes back to feeling like a fight just to survive. Which, in this instance, was effective, and not a bad thing for me.

Winter is really a fucked up chapter of the story. Joel and Ellie get separated, and Nolan North's character is a real fucking creeper. The things that happen to Ellie are frightening, and again the game does an effective job of not only making the player miss Joel's protection in a story sense, but also in a gameplay sense. I'll admit that Ellie's boss fight was one of my most hated parts of the game, but I'll be damned if it wasn't an intense moment. And when you finally get to control Joel again you feel super powerful in the best sort of “Hey, I'm back to kick your fucking asses” sort of way. And finally the way Winter closes out with Ellie just going to town on that psycho is gratifying at least, phenomenal at best.

And then you're in Spring, and the game is getting ready to wrap-up. After a touching opening to the chapter things go completely dark with the revelation that Ellie will have to be sacrificed to possibly find the cure. I know at the point where Joel goes on a rampage against all these military personnel is up for some debate, but holy shit it felt good. And all I wanted to do at that point, same as Joel, as to save Ellie. And then the ending happens. Another point of contention for some people, but fuck me if it isn't one of the best endings to a game that I can think of.

Some people have speculated that you have to be a parent to really appreciate Joel's decision. Well, for me, I'm not a parent, but I wouldn't have had it any other way. The way Joel puts an end to all of this, bailing out of this thing he signed up for so many hours ago in real life, months in game, it's powerful. And when Ellie wakes up in the backseat asking what happened, and Joel lies through his teeth to try and protect her from the truth, it just hits you right in the gut. The second part of the one-two punch comes when Ellie asks Joel just before the credits if he lied. Joel says “No.”, and Ellie simply responds with “Alright.”. In that instance you truly understand the relationship of these two characters.

The Last of Us very well might be a monumental game with moments like that. It'll be interesting to see how people feel about it going forward. Even more interesting to get our hands on the DLC. And who knows, maybe we'll see a sequel? Though I have to say, I'd be perfectly fine if it just ended here. Perfectly.

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4. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

There was a very real possibility that the team over at Nintendo working on A Link Between Worlds could have fucked the whole thing up. It's a sequel to not only one of the most beloved Zelda games, but A Link to The Past is often regarded as one of the best games of all time too. That's a lot to have on your plate. Also, considering Nintendo's recent track record with Zelda games, they were gonna have to win me back with this one. I wouldn't say that I started disliking Zelda as a whole, but starting with Twilight Princess it's been a pretty big disappointment. I sort of begrudgingly finished Twilight Princess, it wasn't the worst game in the series, but it definitely didn't have the same Zelda magic to me. The DS games were unplayable to me with their stylus only control, and similarly so was Skyward Sword with its motion controls. I just grew really disenchanted with the franchise.

That said, when they revealed ALBW, I was fucking ecstatic It looked like the kind of Zelda game I wanted to play again. Not just because it was so directly linked to my favorite Zelda game, but because a top-down Zelda was something I never thought would happen again, at least not like this. So, I had admittedly high hopes for this game. Did it deliver? Oh yes, in spades.

ALBW truly does play on your nostalgia. If you've played LttP, chances are you liked it, a lot. Chances are you remember a lot about that game. The world, the music, the “feel” of the game. It's amazing, but ALBW encapsulates all of that so well that it's almost like you're back in the early 90s playing a direct sequel to LttP in that era. I'm willing to bet that if you have fond memories of LttP that your enjoyment of ALBW is almost ensured. And if you don't, or you never played it? Well, this is still a really damn good game.

There's something comforting about walking around that version of Hyrule again, having a pretty good idea where everything is. If I go to the northwest corner of Kakariko Village then I'm going to find that hole I can jump in to go down to where those snakes are, and where I used to farm rupees for potions. If I survive the hike up Death Mountain I'll reach The Tower of Hera where that stupid worm boss is. All the while remixed versions of music from that game are playing, and it sounds glorious. The first time you hear the Hyrule overworld theme when you step out of Hyrule Castle. Or better yet when you first go out to the overworld in Lorule, and the strange beginnings of a song are playing, and suddenly it goes full tilt into the Dark World overworld theme. It's moments like this that gave me chills, and just made me grin like an idiot.

And yet, so much has changed at the same time. There's new dungeons that weren't there before, and even the dungeons that were there have changed on the inside. Obviously all the heart pieces are in different locations, and there's new characters to meet. You go into the Thieves Hideout and expect the person you're escorting to be the boss, but they get left behind at the last second, and you end up fighting that same boss anyways. The way the game plays on your nostalgia and then fucks with it is the kind of thing that separates a good sequel from an amazing sequel.

Stranger yet is the way you acquire tools. No longer do you get the tool for each dungeon within said dungeon, but from early on in the game you can rent every item from the strange merchant Ravio. And you better be careful, because if you're renting those tools and you die, you're going to get a visit from the Repobird. The way that this opens up a large majority of the game to be tackled in any order is refreshing, and allows players to mix it up a little bit. I don't think it's the be all and end all solution to revitalize Zelda, but for this game at least, it was an interesting change that I enjoyed.

Some people have some negative opinions regarding a few issues in the game. First and foremost is the way the game looks. Some people, including the press have gone on to say the game looks like shit. Honestly? That's simply not true. While the game might not have the timeless look of something like Wind Waker, or even the vibrantly colored look of the original Link to the Past, it's a game that looks good in motion. And the little trick that the team did to make everything look top-down is a stroke of pure genius.

Another common complaint is that the game is too easy. While I'll agree, the game is certainly easy, I don't think that's such a bad thing. On the normal difficulty the game can be played and enjoyed by everyone. It's not only newbie friendly, but it also makes the game infinitely more replayable in my opinion. At least, I think games that are super challenging will deter most people from wanting to replay them over and over again. With ALBW I can easily see people picking the game up once a year and just barreling through it again. It's enjoyable. Furthermore, Zelda has never really been about the combat. It's true that LttP was tough (I always needed a stock of potions, or fairies on me), these games are more about the exploration and the puzzles. And again, I feel like the fact that none of the puzzles are too demanding is a boon for the game.

Still not good enough for you? Well, I hear Hero Mode is pretty tough. Even heard some people tossing around that it's kind of Dark Souls-ish. So maybe check that out if you're so inclined? It's totally something I plan on doing sometime, as I am definitely going to play the game again, and soon.

A Link Between Worlds did exactly what I wanted it to do. It's a great sequel to A Link to the Past. Over the course of a week, I pretty much 100%'d the game with the exception of a bottle which I really should have known the location of, and a final piece of heart from that stupid Octopus Baseball game. I have every other piece of heart, all the Maiamais, fully upgraded Master Sword, and even the upgraded net and lantern. I enjoyed every second of it... almost... stupid baseball game. And just when I thought it couldn't get any better I got to the last boss, which blew my fucking mind! It was everything I had hoped for, and more besides. ALBW is not only a return to form for the Zelda franchise, but also one of my favorite games of the year.

Oh, and those twists at the end of the game, and the actual ending itself? So good. I'm not gonna lie, I cried when I saw Hilda and Ravio being so excited to get a Triforce again.

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3. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

So, you guys all know about my big surprise games every year, right? It started with Nier in 2010, and has been a running theme every year afterward. Basically there will be a game, and I will either have absolutely no interest in it until the last minute, or more often than not it's a game that I play a bit of, either a demo, or a bit of a rental copy and decide I fucking hate it. Well, this year is no different. I have an interesting relationship with Platinum games. I think some of their games are good, and I think some of them are mediocre to outright awful. Just something about that company's style that doesn't usually appeal to me. I don't know if it's the over-the-top “Japaneseness” of it, or their tendency to make super hardcore games. So when I heard Platinum had picked up development on the much delayed Metal Gear Rising I just had to groan. I'm a huge Metal Gear fan, and the prospect of a Platinum helmed Metal Gear game didn't particularly light my fire.

Flash forward to earlier this year when the demo for Rising came out. I downloaded it, actually feeling pretty curious about how it turned out, but largely going in predisposed to hate it. And after playing through the short demo I felt that I was right. I thought it was awful. I can never explain these initial impressions that ultimately end up changing, but yeah, I wasn't a fan at all. I thought the supporting characters were terrible, I could smell that Platinum wackiness a mile away and I felt like it was just going to be a shitshow. Furthermore the combat completely eluded me. Especially after playing DmC which completely scratched that itch for a good character action game. The whole parry system was frustrating, and I felt weak, dying several times even before the boss battle.

I didn't want anything to do with this Metal Gear game, and was left feeling pretty angry about the whole thing. And then.. the game came out, and people were singing its praises all over. I slowly felt myself being sucked back into it despite myself. I think it was the Quick Look that finally did it for me. And as is often the case with highly lauded games that I previously dismissed, I gave it another shot. And boy, am I glad that I did.

I think it helps to start that game from the beginning, and be gradually eased into the insanity. And by that I mean, have a brief introduction that makes a little more sense than being tossed into the demo, and then immediately see the shit hit the fan as Raiden fucking destroys this Metal Gear Ray all by himself. That scene right there was what hooked me. I was still fumbling with the combat a bit, but the the absurd shit I was seeing on screen was more than making up for it. This over-the-top ninja action as one man single handedly demolished a giant robot. Combined with fucking “Rules of Nature” blasting over my speakers. Yeah, better get this out of the way now. This soundtrack owns, there's a lot of soundtracks on this list that are dainty, and pretty, and make me feel warm and fuzzy. Rising's soundtrack brings my blood to a boil, every time you're fighting a boss and near the end of the fight those sick vocals kick in, it's hard not to jump out of your seat and start furiously pumping your fist in the air and singing along.

Anyways, now that was one hell of an introduction. And the game doesn't even begin to stop there. Throughout the rest of the 8 or so hours I spent with Rising everything just kept getting cranked up. Before long I had overcome my troubles with the parry system. I wouldn't say I want all games to be like this, because for example I still really loved DmC's more accessible combat, and it's really tough not having an evasive move, but there's definitely something to be said about Rising's razor edge combat. And once you get a grip on it, the stuff Raiden, and by extension, you, pull off is drool inducing to action buffs.

In this way, this is a situation where Platinum's absurdity helped so much. When you stop and think about it, Metal Gear is crazy. Kojima is a crazy dude. These games have always been ridiculous So when you're making a spin-off cyborg ninja action game, why the hell not crank it to eleven, and then just break the knob off? Throughout the game you get this ridiculous story that is always one-upping itself. You get scenes where Raiden rolls into town with a giant sombrero and a poncho on, with a cyborg wolf in the back seat of his car.

Aside from scenes like that, the game keeps amping up each boss battle. Which make no mistake, the boss battles are the reason to play this game. I already mentioned the music that plays that gets exceedingly more hype as each fight goes on, but each one of the game's bosses are more absurd than the last. It's heart pumping, adrenaline filled action combined with moments where you have to do a double take because you can't believe these things are actually happening.

And of course all of this accumulates in the game's final boss fight where you fight a fucking senator of the United States who is infused with fucking “nanomachines, son”. This bulked out paper pusher proceeds to beat the shit out of Raiden all the while ranting about the war economy, and “the way of things in the real world”. And the whole thing explodes into the game's toughest boss fight where you're fighting in the wreckage of a giant Metal Gear, where the whole ground is on fire, the boss is stripped down to the waist looked like a steroided muscle beast and “It Has to Be This Way” is pumping out of your speakers. It's one of the single greatest moments I've had all year.

And then the credits roll with the game's first somber track “The War Still Rages Within” playing, and my jaw just on the ground. It should go without saying, but Rising is a blast. It's pure stupid fun, and it's easily my favorite Platinum game, and one of my favorite Metal Gear games now. I can only hope that we'll see a follow up to this, as I feel Rising is one of the finest, if not the finest character action games ever made.

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2. Hate Plus

I've already done a pretty good job of chronicling my love for Hate Plus, but, here we are again. For those that don't know, I discovered Hate Plus's creator Christine Love's work at the very end/very beginning of last/this year. I played Hate Plus' predecessor Analogue: A Hate Story and fell head over heels for the game's central character *Hyun-ae, as well as becoming a total Love devote. Analogue's story captured me in a way very few games are capable of, and it spurred me to write a jumble of rambling about my affinity for the game, and for some reason a complete recollection of the entire thing. Since then I checked out Love's other works, Digital: A Love Story, Don't Take It Personally Babe, It Just Ain't Your Story, as well as some of her Twine offerings. But really, as much as I enjoyed that stuff, I kept my eye on the prize. The sequel to Analogue, Hate Plus.

When Hate Plus came out in August along with half a dozen other games all the synapses in my brain fired off at once. I remembered the cold January month where I fell in love with this bleak future, and the two AI companions *Hyun-ae, and *Mute. It didn't help/hurt that Hate Plus' titular song “It's Not Ero!” did a total number on me. Not only does it start out as a catchy up beat song that pokes fun at the typical adult oriented visual novels, or “Eroge”, that is found in Japan. I also quickly realized that the song was being sung from the perspective of *Hyun-ae. The song goes on to retell the events of Analogue, and finished by singer Senah Kim pleading to be forgiven for the tragedy that *Hyun-ae wrought to the colony ship Mugunghwa. The song just tears me apart, it's beautiful and horrifying at the same time. And it's just another example of Love's mad genius at work.

But that has more to do with Analogue honestly. Hate Plus itself is a different matter in some aspects. It's placement on this list of amazing games should be telling, as should the fact that for the week that I immersed myself in it, it was the only time throughout the whole year where I questioned my number one game. Rationality won out in the end, and here's Hate Plus at number two. Why? Well obviously I like it a lot. But as for why it isn't number one has a lot to do with my experience with the number one game, and also a bit to do with the fact that in the end I don't like Hate Plus quite as much as Analogue.

I hate to say anything negative about the game, but it's the truth. Why that's the case could be due to a number of factors. For starters it came after. There's just something really potent about your first brush with something. Another thing is that while Hate Plus certainly offers up another tragic story that had me thinking about it non-stop for an entire week, it ultimately wasn't as revelatory as the one in Analogue. At least to me anyway. And finally, even though I'm sure Love would be dismayed to hear this, I just don't like *Mute as much as *Hyun-ae. And Hate Plus is definitely *Mute's story.

With all that said, that's about all the negativity I can manage to squeeze out of Hate Plus. Everything else is life changing. Maybe that's a bit hyperbolic, but some of the things Hate Plus does is nothing to be trifled with. As we've established, Hate Plus is a visual novel, all you do is read. In fact it has less interactivity than Analogue even did. Forgoing the command prompt system in favor of slicker menu commands.

We've established that this is a grim story, Hate Plus goes on to tell you about *Old Mute, *Mute's predecessor AI who was around for hundreds of years before *Mute was rebooted. In this time, *Old Mute was much more powerful of an influence on the Mugunghwa. She was a member of the council that ran the ship. She had a say in all the going-ons in the society. This all came to ahead when a coupe goes wrong and *Old Mute ends up getting erased, failing to help her friend and lover avenger her husband's death, or to prevent the ship from descending into the dark era of sexist oppression, and backwards thinking that tormented, Hyun-ae, and ultimately caused the annihilation of the ships population. All of this makes for a really gripping story that unfolds over the course of a few hours of playtime. And it was more than adequate to make my Game of The Year list.

In addition to the core plot, you have a bigger emphasis on side stories this time around. Side characters on the Mugunghwa during *Old Mute's time that help paint the world for you. These stories included the obstacles an upper class lady goes through with her young peasant girlfriend, and the ultimate heart breaking separation of the two. You hear about a young boy who falls in love with a cross dressing boy, and the shenanigans they get up to. There's a grim tale of one of the Mugunghwa's last female scientist who was about to make a big breakthrough with the re-population problem that was plaguing the ship, right before everything changes, that she loses not only her position as a respected individual, but also her valuable research. All of these stories provide not only a deeper look at what was going on in this future-past, but provide a distraction from the real tragedy that is taking place.

All of these things are what make the core of the game worth playing. Christine Love is a damn good storyteller, and this is definitely a story you need to hear. But given all that, it's a really solid visual novel, that ultimately had a story that appealed less to me than the previous game. Again, it's good, but maybe not worthy of holding the number 2 position on this list. That is until Hate Plus works its magic, and turns a simple visual novel into a wild ride.

I'll admit, maybe I'm missing the point by putting so much stock into this stuff, but I'd be lying if I said it didn't make a huge impact on me. See, not only is Love an extremely talented writer, and UI designer, but she's also mischievous Hate Plus has quirks that make you go “Huh!?”.

For starters we have the whole mechanic that requires you to play the game over the course of three real world days. Or more specifically 12 hours. Yes, each of the game's three “chunks” is separated by the game asking you to wait 12 hours before continuing the story. Granted there is a way to cheat this, but if you're playing by the rules you won't be able to load your save and continue the game until 12 real world hours have passed. This isn't just an interesting quirk, but something that helps immerse the player in the story. You, the player, are playing the role of a space investigator who is returning to Earth with your discovery of what transpired on the Mugunghwa. Canonically, it takes you three days to return to Earth from your current position in space. In addition to that, the ship is low on power, and you can only afford to extract a limited number of the data logs per day before having to recharge.

It's just a really brilliant mechanic that helps get you involved with the investigator's plight, and also gives the player some time to think about what they've read. I'll admit, it was hard to play by the rules, and not just blaze through the story, but ultimately I think my experience was enhanced by following protocol.

Then there's the achievement system, which, man... Okay, so the game has 12 Steam achievements. Most of them are pretty normal, you just have to play the game on the different routes to unlock them. But there are two achievements in particular that blew me away.

The first one is related to *Mute. When you first start the game and look at the achievements, you will see one called “Level Four Revive


” more on the name later. Anyways, it states: “Finish the game with the security AI in traditional dress, *Mute!” So, pretty standard “finish the game on *Mute's route” achievement, right? Nope!

So when you're playing *Mute's route in the game, and get to day three, you find out something terrible has happened. *Mute has committed computer program suicide and has erased herself. Learning the true nature of *Old Mute, the events that transpired on the Mugunghwa in the past. The fact that her best friend, and master betrayed her by orchestrating her predecessor’s deletion. And the fact that *Mute ultimately comes to the conclusion that she has fucked every single thing up that she has ever been a part of, past or present. It's too much for her to bear and she kills herself.

This leaves the player in an uncomfortable situation where they attempt to restore *Mute, but only succeed in booting up a new version of *Mute, appropriately referred to as *New Mute who has no recollection of you, or the personality of *Mute. Instead you are forced to finish the game with this new *Mute where the two of you remain mutual partners who are trying to finish solving the mystery. This is especially heartbreaking if you were in any sort of relationship with *Mute, as your wife has just killed herself and has been replaced by a doppelganger who has no affinity for you.

Back to the subject of the achievement. When you finish *Mute's route you get a new, previously hidden achievement: “Have you tried doing a factory reset?”, which reads: “Finish the game with security AI in default uniform, *New Mute!”. So how do you get Level Four Revive Materia? The secret is, you don't! Yes, in a masterful act of trolling, Christine Love has made an achievement that is impossible to get, and thus you will never get more than 11 of the games 12 achievements.

Shortly after the game was released, the Steam forum for the game was a hot bed of discussion. Players all bashing their heads against the wall trying to figure out the secret to reviving *Mute. There were pages, upon pages of people's experimentation, and theories. But of course nothing worked, because it's impossible to get. Even if you crack the game open and try digging through it, you'll find nothing, because it doesn't exist. The achievement is a pure red herring, and for better or worse it has driven the community mad. This is exactly the type of thing that makes Hate Plus my second favorite game of the year, and Christine Love one of my favorite developers.

Speaking of these achievements, the names of them are all jokes. Many of them references to other games like Metal Gear Solid, and The Legend of Zelda. There's even a nod to fan favorite anime Cowboy Bebop. It's jokes like this that help establish the charm of Love's games, and let's me know that she's pretty radical. In addition to the MGS references in the achievements, there's also a throw away question when you start a new game in Hate Plus. The game asks you which year you'd rather live in. All three of the options are years in which Love's past games took place, and this is a very direct, if not entirely vague reference to Metal Gear Solid 3 when the game asks you which Metal Gear Solid you liked more. In that game, if you picked MGS2, you started the game with a Raiden mask on. As far as I know the decision in Hate Plus doesn't effect anything, but it's still humorous

Lastly, we have to talk about the cake. There's another achievement in the game that is absolutely bonkers and it's this one: “Cooking by the Book”. To get the Cooking by the Book achievement you have to really want it, like, really-want-it. During the course of the game, on *Hyun-ae's route, you'll get to the beginning of day three. This is when things get wacky. *Hyun-ae wants a cake. This presents somewhat of a problem, seeing as she is an AI, and a fictional one at that. But that doesn't stop her. In one of the craziest instances of fourth-wall-breaking I can think of, *Hyun-ae asks the player, as in, not the space investigator, but you, the real human being playing the game to get up from your computer, and bake the both of you a cake. No, she's not joking, she wants you to make an honest to God cake.

When she first poses the question, she gives you time to check your kitchen for ingredients to make the cake. If you instantly respond to her with either a Yes, No, or I don't know she will reprimand you for not actually checking. Therefore you have to wait several minutes, or actually go look for the ingredients. Once you've answered in earnest she goes on to tell you what you'll need to make the cake, or offers to let you use your own recipe. At this point she asks the player if they're really serious about doing it. You can either agree to make a fictional computer program happy by making a cake, or you can be an asshole and crush her dreams by telling her no.

Now, of course, you could lie your way through this whole thing. Wait the appropriate amount of time to respond, and just tell her you're going to make the cake. But that's fucked up, so- I made the cake. Yes, I stopped what I was doing, which was trying to finish Hate Plus, and I waited several hours until I could go to the store and buy cake mix for a German Chocolate Cake. When I got home, I baked that shit. And I took pictures of all of it too! What? Doing a favor for a fictional anime girl isn't enough for you? Well, how about this. You can't get the previously mentioned achievement without submitting photo evidence to Christine Love that you did in fact do this thing.

It's the most genius thing I've ever seen. At that point, how could you not want to do it, and also how could you not love this game? I'm not sure how well Hate Plus has sold, I know it has it's fans, and I'm sure it's not astronomical, but from what I've heard, a decent amount of those fans have actually done the cake thing, and have gotten the achievement That's dedication!

So yeah, it's things like this that make Hate Plus a special game to me. It might not have touched me as deeply as The Pale Bride's story did, but it is a solid game, that just so happens to have some of the biggest “What the fuck?” quirks around it that makes it so memorable. All of that combined with a appropriately futuristic soundtrack by Issac Schankler helps make Hate Plus an unforgettable event. Recently Love tweeted that she was happy to never have to write in this universe again. Which is understandable for a number of reasons, but it's still a sad thing to hear. Hate Plus does do a good job of wrapping everything up for these two games, but I can't deny that I will miss *Hyun-ae, the virtual girl who stole my heart.

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1. Fire Emblem: Awakening

Oh god. Where do I even begin with Fire Emblem: Awakening? It didn't take long in this year to find my Game of The Year, that's for sure. Ever since February 4th I knew what was going to be at the top of the list. It's kind of a strange feeling, that, you know? Knowing deep down within the first hour of playing something that nothing is going to come close to knocking down this game as king of the year. Yeah, it was love at first sight. And the bond I formed with this game only got more radical in the following months.

First let me say that Awakening was my most anticipated game for a long time. So it wasn't entirely surprising that it was going to win my heart. I'm a huge Fire Emblem fan, ever since Marth and Roy first appeared in Melee, and served as my introductory to this amazing series that many westerners knew nothing about. I bought Fire Emblem 7 for GBA when it came out here and knew that like one of my all time favorite games, Final Fantasy Tactics, that this was a game series for me. Of course, my obsession with Fire Emblem didn't truly begin until I played Radiant Dawn, which is a game that quickly secured a spot on my Top 25 Games of All Time list. After Radiant Dawn though? It was total adoration. I went back and played every Fire Emblem game released in the States, and Ike quickly became one of my favorite characters. As did Nephenee who I have the biggest crush on. But that's getting way too off-track.

Anyways, when Fire Emblem: Awakening was announced I knew two things. 1) I needed a Nintendo 3D, 2) Nintendo of America had to bring this game west. Following that was a bumpy time where I wasn't sure if number 2 was going to happen. As E3 2012 rolled around, and there was no word of Awakening coming west even at Nintendo's Press Conference I flew into a panicked rage. It wasn't until Kotaku's Jason Scheier coaxed Reggie into spilling the beans shortly after the conference that I was at ease. I knew that eventually Awakening would be coming stateside. And less then a year later, it did!

At 9:00 PM PST Saturday February 3rd I downloaded Awakening off the eShop, and then I proceeded to do nothing but play the game for the next 24 hours. I was enamored with it, it got it's hooks deep into me early on, and I just couldn't put it down. I sat there forgoing anything else in my life, earbuds plugged into the 3DS as I strategically fought the hordes of Plegian troops while nodding along to the game's stellar soundtrack. I couldn't help but laugh, and smile at every interaction between the game's legendary cast of characters. A crew that I can nary think of a single complaint about.

I had done research beforehand, pouring over every little detail involved in hardcore eugenics. Thinking about which character I wanted to marry another character to get the perfect offspring. And of course being a Fire Emblem veteran I was playing the game on the Classic mode, the one where characters die permanently if they fall in battle. Granted I was only playing on Normal my first time, it was still a challenging affair. One that had me resetting many times whenever I would lose a single unit. Not only did I require perfection, but I just couldn't bear to lose a single one of these characters.

I think it took me about four days to get through the game the first time, and I was beside myself when it ended. It took a decent number of hours, about 40, but that wasn't enough. I needed more. I quickly started a new game this time on Hard/Classic, and pushed myself even further. For the entire month of February it was all Awakening. I just couldn't get enough of it. And with all that said, that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of how deep this thing went.

About a week after the initial foray into Awakening, my friend Zara suddenly became interested in playing Awakening. She had no prior experience with the series, and quite honestly it was a huge surprise that she even cared. But thanks to her friend, and myself we had piqued her interest enough. She needed to play the game of the year. The whole thing was a big gamble. As I said, she hadn't touched the series before then, and while she has a history of games, she's not necessarily what you'd call a core gamer. That combined with the fact that she didn't own the game, let alone a 3DS was a real barrier to entry. I couldn't resist though, I wanted to share my feelings of glee with her. As I'm sure you're all familiar with, it's one thing to like something. It's another thing to share your interest with people you care about.

So, I dug into my pockets and shelled out for a 3DS and a copy of the game for her. I didn't know what to expect, I don't think anyone did, but what followed was nothing short of ultimate satisfaction. She took to the game right away, like me it was all she could do or think about. She fell in love with the characters, and despite not having a ton of experience with these kinds of games she pushed through to the end. And then she played it again, and again, and yet again. For the next few months all we could think about was Fire Emblem. We both put over 300 hours into Awakening across multiple playthroughs. Trying different things, hunting for that perfect save file. We bought all of the DLC released for the game, and played all of that too. We talked about the game all the time. Went into a level of depth discussing the characters that it was absurd.

As much as I hate to associate myself with something like a “fandom”. We were certainly a part of the Fire Emblem one. She scoured the internet for pictures, official and fan art alike. We have a collection of hundreds of pictures, not just from Awakening, but the scattered bit of content that was produced for the older games too. She participated daily in Fire Emblem General, a topic that was popular on 4chan's Video Games General board. Every bit of conversation we had eventually lead to Fire Emblem. And still, it didn't stop there!

Once we had rung everything we could possibly hope to get out of Awakening we both started playing the older Fire Emblem games. I know we both made it through 7, and she went on to play through most of 6, while I revisited my favorite games in the series Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn. Radiant Dawn being like my sixth playthough of the game since it came out in 2007. And even though our fervor eventually died down, and we had a Fire Emblem overload, it still didn't stop!

Zara being somewhat of an artist drew some pictures of Fire Emblem: Awakening characters. She also made cell phone charms, and other trinkets that she is wont to do with things she really likes. As for me, having no artistic talent to speak of, I took to my own form of expression. Yes, I'm a bit embarrassed to admit it but I wrote quite a bit of Awakening fanfiction. It was mostly for Zara, depicting her character (MyUnit/Avatar/Robin – The tactician you play as in Awakening) interacting with the various characters. I wrote at least 50 pages of content that we both really enjoyed.

I'm sure you can tell by now that Awakening wasn't just a game for us, it was something more. Just one of those things in life that comes along and you attach yourself to it. Was there any real doubt that this would be my “Game of The Year”? It defined early 2013 for me and my friend. A truly transcendental experience that wasn't just limited to enjoying a game. And even though we're not as fired up about it nowadays, it still continues. Zara spent quite a bit securing a copy of the official artbook Knights of Iris. And my present to her this Christmas is Good Smile Company's drop dead gorgeous Tharja figure that has sadly been delayed to February.

Phew. And that ladies and gentlemen is a very bad case of obsession with something. I don't even know where to go from there. Talk about the game I guess? Yeah, I'll see if I can dedicate a few more paragraphs to that.

Awakening is in some ways the perfect Fire Emblem game. In other ways there are a couple things that I'm unsure of if I like more than previous games. The big thing that Awakening gets right is that it's accessible. This is arguably one of the biggest reasons the game has seen such huge success. As is evident with my friend, it's a great starting point for the franchise. The inclusion of a Casual mode that not only takes away the unforgiving permanent death mechanic, but allows players to save anytime mid-battle is a true blessing for newcomers. At the same time, the game also offers an immense challenge if you let it.

Starting off a Classic game on anything but Normal difficulty is brutal. You will die – a lot in the beginning before your characters start to shine. Once that happens though, admittedly, the game can become pretty easy again seeing as just how overpowered your army can become. Especially if you're taking advantage of the kids who are all so overwhelmingly powerful compared to the first generation units. Fortunately, if you're willing to invest in the game's multitude of donwloadable content you can still find yourself on the brink of defeat. Some of the later DLC maps are beyond brutal and will take absolutely every resource you have to overcome them. The game doesn't lack for challenge, or content, depending on how much you want to put into it.

The double-edged sword of the game is in the game's choice to allow units to change classes. It's what I like to call “Final Fantasy VI syndrome”. Basically you can make most characters anything. Sure, there are some class restrictions, but the freedom you have, again, especially with the kids allows you to break the game by accumulating the best stats and skills across the game's numerous jobs. I feel that this also plays a big part in making the game more accessible, and it helps so that you can play with the characters you like instead of being pigeon-holed into the ones that are good. This to me is largely where it comes down to “Do I like this more or less than Radiant Dawn?”.

For those unfamiliar Radiant Dawn is more like a traditional Fire Emblem game. Each character has their own predetermined class and thus their usefulness. You could spend hours doing research trying to figure out who the best characters are. Not only are certain job types more useful than others, but the growths of each character can determine which ones are the truly great ones, and which ones are best left on the bench. To me this totally plays to my affinity towards powerful characters. I'm the kind of guy that likes to use the best of the best. Yeah, it's sad that my opinion of a character is so heavily affected by their strengths, but this sort of ties into a life of growing up enjoying shonen manga series like Dragonball where powers collide, and the toughest guy is always the coolest. In this case, a character like Nephenee from the Radiant games. Not only do I really enjoy her character design, and personality, but she is an absolute beast. She can break the game for you if you use her right.

Awakening is missing that. Since so many of the characters can be and do anything, there's not a definitive “winner”. You can come close with some characters. Lucina for example, my favorite character in the game (who, as if she wasn't already totally my type, is voiced by my favorite voice actress Laura Bailey). Lucina is Chrom's child and therefore she gains access to one of the best skills in the game, Aether, and also has a permanent weapon in the Parallel Falchion that makes her instantly powerful the moment you get her. As far as characters go, she can certainly be one of the more useful ones. And the fact that her character plays such a big role in the game, by being the mysterious Masked Marth, and the leader of the kids from the doomed time line, she is an easy favorite. But unlike any of the characters in Radiant Dawn she isn't assigned a rating of greatness. She has just about as much of a chance to shine as any other character. And for me, that just takes away some of the fun.

In this rare instance that I'm being negative about Awakening, I will say my other big gripe compared to a game like Radiant Dawn is that the story is a little weak. It has it's moments, but ultimately it doesn't feel as important as stories in some other RPGs. I dunno, maybe I'm just spoiled in what Radiant Dawn was able to accomplish, being a direct sequel to an earlier game that allowed them to tell a massive, epic story involving the same characters over the course of a matter of years. And the nature of Radiant Dawn's story in which by the end of the game all living creatures have been petrified expect for your chosen few. Awakening just can't stack up to that. However...

...where Awakening really, and truly shines, above all else is its characters. The cast in Awakening is easily one of the best in gaming history and there are a lot of characters! Yet, somehow, thanks to the brilliant writing of the original team, and the godlike localization by 8-4, Awakening's characters make an impression, one that is sure to stand the test of time. While the story might be lacking in certain areas, the walls, upon walls of text that make up the support conversations between all the characters in the game makes you care more about these people than even the most epic of stories.

And the fact that a big component of the game is playing match maker and partnering up these characters, whether they be friends, or spouses only helps to solidify the importance of having such a charming crew. I said I wrote fanfictions for this game, it really wasn't hard. The game gives you enough information about these characters and their personalities that any author worth their salt can take it and run away with it. It's the kind of thing that justifies spending $100 on a statue of a bodacious sorceress. And in this way, Awakening is one hell of a game.

In closing, I highly recommend anyone who has a 3DS to check this game out. Or if you don't have a 3DS and are thinking of getting one (which, really, come on. It's the best system out there right now, you should own one if you're a gamer.) than this game is one of the first you should pick up. It's a tactical strategy RPG at its best, and if I haven't sold you on just how inviting these characters are then I don't know what to tell you. And just so I don't forget, the game also has an amazing soundtrack that is a joint effort by Rei Kondoh, and Hiroki Morishita. The fact that this game has it all, beautiful 3D graphics, a stunning soundtrack, charming writing that is enhanced by the ever so talented people over at 8-4, complete with awesome vocal talent from Cup of Tea. Fire Emblem Awakening is my game of the year, and will probably fair excellently on my eventual Games of The Generation list for this budding generation. My only regret is that I spent so much time telling you how much of a loser I am for loving a video game so completely.


Top 5's: Best Songs in Xenogears

Hey, I'm in a writing mood! Anyway, I haven't done one of these on here yet, but I have done them before on my tumblr. Basically it's exactly what it says on the tin. I pick my Top 5 songs from Xenogears, share them with you, and tell you why I like them, and usually some random anecdote related to the song. I've done one of these for two other Mitsuda games now (Chrono Trigger, and Chrono Cross) so I'm definitely starting to see a trend! Also, if you're familiar with my previous lists, I did a companion piece for top 5 worst songs too. I don't think I'll be getting to that right away, but maybe sometime in the future.

Anyways, Xenogears is a special game for me, it's my fourth favorite game of all time, and I happen to think it's pretty rad, if you couldn't tell! I know that at this point in time you're either for or against Xenogears, and not much room in between. For the people against it, the big hang-up seems to be the second disc. Which, I will grant you, is a travesty. For those that don't know, Square ran out it's budget on the game and had to cut corners. Or more accurately whole swaths of the game out. The entire second disc of the game is mostly the characters sitting around and talking about shit that happened, then sometimes you get to play part of what happened. It's really... shitty. And yet I, and many other people still love the game.

Why though? Well, giant mechs for one, am I right? Two, it still had a really good story and characters that manage to shine through even if the latter half of the game is butchered. And I think if you loved the story then, you have to be beside yourself with what came after it. The whole "Xeno" series is a massive story that is outlined in the infamous book "Perfect Works". It's a massive primer that details the whole backstory for the Universe, and for many years western fans could only dream of cracking that nut. It's since been translated, and I even had a friend give me a version of it to read on Kindle. In addition to that, the Trilogy of PS2 games,Xenosaga, told more of the story before Xenogears. So there's all that. Thirdly, the combat was really fun and hasn't been replicated since for whatever reason.

And, Finally, the music. Of course. Why else would I be writing all this? Xenogears' soundtrack was composed by legendary game composer Yasunori Mitsuda, who, in my mind, has composed some of the best soundtracks in video games. (Fun fact: I like Mitsuda's work more than Uematsu, BOOM!). Xenogears soundtrack is 44 tracks long, and there's not a lot of stuff in there that I'd consider "bad". And in fact, when coming up with this list I ended up flagging at least half the songs as "This should be on the list!". So it was tough narrowing it down. Also, I know people will disagree with me, it's easy to be passionate about the soundtrack, so I fully expect, and respect that. I know that there are some pretty iconic songs missing from the Top 5, and trust me, most of the ones I could think of were in the running, but, you know, opinions!

All that said! Here is the list:

5. Ship of Regret and Sleep

It was really tough picking the #5 spot in this list, because that's basically where all the other "tops" battled it out to make the cut. Finally, I went with this one for a number of reasons. First and foremost it's just a really haunting song, the organ usually is, right? And then there's that choir in the back. It's really moving. Also, like many of the songs that tend to go on these lists, it plays during some pretty impactful parts of the game. Billy's backstory namely. But I guess the main reason I love this song so much is that it has produced some spectacular remixes. Maybe that's cheating a bit, but I can't help it! The first one that comes to mind is called The Fighting Priest, by Sean Stone. It's from the OneUp Studio's album "Time & Space: A Tribute to Yasunori Mitsuda". Unfortunately I can't seem to find it on Youtube, so you'll just have to take my word for it!

4. Grahf, Emperor of Darkness

For a long time this was my favorite song in the game, and in some ways in kind of still is, but I think a lot of that love comes from the scenes themselves. Grahf was badass, man. The first time he shows up and gives his speech, and this imperial like music is playing, it just hit me so hard. He's still one of my favorite villains, everything about him is just amazing. His motives, his philosophy, his appearance, all just outstanding. But I think it's this song that seals the whole deal. Motherfucker' has got his own theme! And it's awesome! Just listen to that triumphant music, where parts of it sound like soldiers marching. In a lot of ways it reminds me of The Empire - Emperor Ghestal's Theme from Final Fantasy VI. Which is funny, because they're both Emperors. Hm, maybe Mitsuda was "borrowing" from Uematsu? You win this time Uematsu! (Seriously guys, I still love Uematsu's stuff, Final Fantasy VI is probably another game I'd do one of these lists for).

3. Awakening

When I was talking to my friend about making this list we were both in agreement that it needed battle music. Though, of course, that's easier said than done. Xenogears has some excellent battle themes in it, many of which made it real close to ending up on this list. Ultimately I decided on this being one of the ones to represent, and there's good reason for that! It's the final boss music! As you may know, the final boss in Xenogears is pretty god damned epic. It's the lead up of all the events to that point, making your way through that final dungeon (which, by the way Omen is another outstanding song that didn't make the list, but it makes the final dungeon creepy and intense!) and then that final boss room. It's of course one of the mech battles too, which I always found super intense, because of fuel capacity. Anyways, all that is accompanied by this fucking incredible song that really gets the blood pumping. I should say, that I might even enjoy this song a little more in retrospect because it's very reminiscent of a future Mitsuda soundtrack,Shadow Hearts, and Shadow Hearts: Covenant. Both which are not only great games, but also boast fantastic soundtracks by Mitsuda. I think the hypnotic chanting goes a long way for me, personally. It's kind of a recurring theme for me (Nier, anyone?). There are even these little breaks in the song where it sounds sort of industrial, which I think goes unnoticed in the heat of battle. In short: it's everything a final boss theme should be, and I guess after rambling about it for so long, I'm surprised it's not higher? Well...

2. Flight

This! Oh my God! This song! Phew. Okay. So while this song is pretty different than anything else on this list, it's still one of my all-time favorites. Again, it's this perfect fusion of the scene and the appropriate music to go along with it. "Seibzehn! Sally forth!!" cries Maria as she gets ready to save the day with one of the most badass mechs in the game. I'm the kind of person that gets this welling feeling of excitement through my whole body when shit like that happens, and it just makes me tingle all over and want to throw my fist in the air and yell "YES!!!". I think it's impossible for me to separate this song from that scene in my mind, so I don't think I'll ever be able to explain why I love the actual song this much. I mean, like I said, it doesn't really fit in with the other songs on this list, but you can't deny the excitement in it. The way it builds up to this really triumphant point and just stays there for the rest of the song.

1. One Who Bares Fangs at God

If you thought I liked Awakening, well, then I must fucking love One Who Bares Fangs at God. It's the song that plays during the boss fight AFTER the last boss fight (come on, it's a JRPG, man.) It pretty much takes bits and pieces from everything on this list, including "Flight". The song starts up with this really eerie tone, and some beautiful pipe music (can't quite place the instrument), followed by a faint male chanting. Then it builds up into this mystical melody that's complete with this crazy ass warbling chanting that sets the tone for this final confrontation. As the song goes on the chanting just gets more and more erratic, and finally it quiets down as a thumping noise starts to play. Then it loops back around to the beginning of the warbling chanting. I'll say that I'm not as passionate about this song in a "Oh man, this is my JAM!" sense, but the song strikes a chord deep inside me that has stayed with me until this day. It's just really unsettling, and in my mind is the perfect thing to close the game out with (There's a couple more songs afterwards, but this is pretty much it until you get to Small Two of Pieces -Restored Pieces-) I will say that the beginning of the song is fucking beautiful though, and gives me chills every time I listen to it. And again, this is very similar to what Mitsuda would go on to do with Shadow Hearts, so that doesn't hurt it's case either. Plus, that whole final scene? Pretty fucking weird, right?

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Tactical Nonense: A Fire Emblem Journal

(While doing another playthrough of Fire Emblem: Awakening. I decided to try a "classic iron man" run. Basically it's a challenge based off the mode in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, where I accept all character deaths, and keep trying to push forward with the game with the units I have left. I'm doing this playthrough on Hard/Classic, without doing any tedious grinding to make things easier for myself. In short: it's a suicide run. So I thought I'd retell my failings in the form of a journal. Updated as I go)

Prologue: This was just a warm-up. I've played the first two chapters a number of times already, and even if this was Hard/Classic it wasn't going to pose much of a challenge. I made liberal use of Freddy as support for Chrom and my Avatar (Lilith), while keeping Lissa out of danger to do patch up. I traded Freddy around a bit to help Chrom and Lilith get killing blows, helping them get ahead on the leveling early on. No casualties!

Chapter One: Again, this was all pretty easy at this point. Did the strategy of pairing up Chrom and Freddy, and put them on the top-most fort. Let Lilith hang out near Chrom for/to build up support and took care of everything that came towards them pretty easily. When Sully and Virion came in, I paired them up and put them on the bottom fort. Haven't used Sully too much before, but she ended up cleaning up pretty well, while switching to Virion maybe once or twice to get some exp. No casualties!

Chapter Two: This was the first big hurdle. While Chrom and Lilith were more than capable at this point, everyone else was still fresh. I made use of Chrom and Lilith, by having them fight side by side in the thick of things, which put them further ahead of everyone else. Sully and Virion continued to work together to great effect here as well. I toyed around with Stahl and Vaike teaming up, but they got into some pretty hairy situations that Lissa and a stronger pair had to bail them out of. Still Vaike made some progress. I didn't touch Miriel because I thought that would just end in tragedy. No casualties!

Chapter Three: This one was also pretty tough, but I managed to make it through without anyone dying. I made use of Kellam as a tank unit, while my usual crew cleaned up. I was able to get Vaike and Stahl to do a little more in this map, but it was mostly Vaike who was making any progress. By this time Chrom and Lilith were woefully overpowered for the enemy forces, and I tried to hold back on using them as little as possible. At the very least, they were building up a strong relationship, as were Sully and Virion. No casualties!

Chapter Four: Finally a breather. This level was easy, even with limited units. I benched Stahl for this, and maybe left out Virion too? It was a pretty clean sweep, with priority towards getting Vaike and Kellam more experience on this easier map. No casualties!

Paralogue One, Xenologue One, and a couple Challenges: I side tracked a bit here to try and get some extra characters, and exp. All of this went by pretty smoothly, especially Xenologue One which was super easy. Once I got Pr. Marth I intergrated him into the army. Paralogue One was fairly unremarkable too, as it was even pretty easy to recruit Donnel. Following this I tried leveling Donnel in some skirmishes by pairing him up with Freddy. It didn't go too well, but no loses. Pr. Marth also wasn't fantastic yet, but hoping Aptitude will help. Aside from that, just got some exp for the usual crew. No casualties!

Chapter Five: Alright, this is when shit started to go south. I couldn't figure out how to get to Ricken in time to save him, so he ate it before I could even bench him. Maribelle also didn't make it out of the fight alive, but not for a lack of trying. She stuck around and healed some of the units I sent north to save her and Ricken in the first place, but eventually she got taken out by a wyvern rider. Things weren't pretty for the rest of my units either, with Marth getting fucked up pretty badly, and constantly having to be healed by Lissa. I paired him up with Lon'qu, but that didn't seem to help too much. Sully and Virion were able to cut across to the west and stop reinforcements from spawning on the left side of the map, while Chrom, Lilith, and Vaike cleaned up to the immediate north. Two casualties! (Ricken, Maribelle)

Chapter Six: Uhg, this was another brutal one, and ended up costing me greatly. I was able to recruit Gaius with Chrom, who held the left side with Kellam and Lilith. While Vaike and Panne tried to support "Marth" in the middle. Vaike ended up dying due to a stray wind attack I believe, so there went my investment in him, not to mention a great unit. Things went a lot smoother on the right-hand side where Sully/Virion and Frederick/Donnel were able to defend that breach effortlessly. At this point it's really the strong getting stronger, and the weak going no where. But I tried to incorporate Panne and Pr. Marth into the middle action as much as I could. One casualty! (Vaike)

Challenges Part Two: Well, this was really fucking stupid of me. I went and did a few challenges to try and get a small exp buffer, but ended up losing Kellam in the process! Yeah, not even an actual chapter, but just some random battle. What a waste! I hadn't put a ton of work into him, but he's a pretty useful unit, and I just lost him in an entirely stupid way. On the plus side, I managed to get Chrom, Lilith, Sully, Virion, Marth, and Lon'qu all within the same range. Chrom got married to Lilith, and Sully got married to Virion. One casualty! (Kellam)

Chapter Seven: This was also incredibly stupid, but I lost Cordelia as soon as I got her, which doesn't look good. If I can't introduce new characters into the army, then I'm already dead in the water. She would have been real useful too for mobility and magic defense. Aside from that, everyone else cleaned up. Have been unsuccessful in leveling Donnel up, so I don't know if that's a lost cause. Trying to cut back on Chrom and Lilith because they're already level 15.One casualty! (Cordelia)

Paralogue Two and Challenges Part Three: Little more side content. These both went by without a hitch, and ending up fleshing out some of my remaining units. Marth got to level 16, so he's good and ready for a class change. Everyone else is still coming along nicely, and I felt a little more hopeful with how well both these missions went. No casualties!

Chapter Eight: Ouch. This mission was dangerous, and costed me a great asset. I sent Sully/Virion and Lilith over to the left to deal with the enemies over there. While I sent Marth, Frederick, and Donnel to the right to deal with those enemies, and everyone else went south to meetup with Gregor and Nowi. Unfortunately the Freddy/Donnel combo got attacked on all fronts, and I ended up losing Frederick. That'll make leveling Donny even harder going forward. Meanwhile, almost every other one of my units ended up in critical health, having to swap between pairs to stay alive. After the bumpy start though, things went by without any further hitches. I started trying to level Gregor and Nowi. One casualty! (Frederick)

Paralogue Three and Challenges Part Four: Not much to mention here. Everything went by without a hitch. Well, I technically failed PL3 because all the villagers died, but it was still worth the exp. During this I got Marth, Chrom, and Lilith all up to around level 20 and ready to class change/promote for real. Luckily I've picked up a few Second Seals and Master Seals at this point. Also I used this time to level up Nowi, and she's getting pretty good now too. No casualties!

Chapter Nine: Whew, this one had some real nasty moments in it that could have been disaterous, but luckily I pulled through in the clutch. I moved all my units down south to meet with Libra, and still managed to keep some stragglers behind to deal with wyvern reinforcements. All the usual people were in play, but Lissa, and Chrom almost died at one point. I was able to recruit Libra and Tharja, and for some reason brought Gaius along which could have ended badly. Class changed Marth into a Mercenary, and Lilith into a Dark Mage. No casualties!

Chapter Ten and Challenges Part Five: Phew, feels like I'm finally starting to get my bearings in Hard/Classic now. Steamrolled Chapter 10, all the while just soaking up experience for all my units. No challenge at all here. In addition to that mission, and a few random challenges I was able to promote Chrom into a Great Lord, and finally got Donny up to 15 and changed him into a Fighter. That should pay off in spades. Thanks to a new Beaststone, I can start using Panne again, while Nowi, who has been wrecking shop, is just about out of Dragonstone. Some of my units are clearly way more powerful, while units like Lon'qu and Panne are lagging behind.No casualties!

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A love story about Analogue: A Hate Story

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It's strange how I keep stumbling into games that initially elude me, but that I become quite obsessive about later-on. Analogue: A Hate Story certainly fits the bill there. I can't remember why exactly I decided to download the demo version of the game a few months back, but I did, and was met with quite a bit of confusion. Upon starting up the game you are met with a mysterious text crawl. Your objective. Investigate the mysterious circumstances behind the downfall of the space-ship colony Mugunghwa, extract any useful data you can, and get paid. Simple enough. Following that, and the game's title screen, you are thrown into an old school command prompt system. This is... a big obstacle for me. Look, it's not that I hate text adventures or anything, no, actually, I guess I kind of do. The reason for that though is simple, or maybe complex, or at least I can't explain it. Blah, whatever. Point is this... I hate entering text commands. Present me multiple choice and I'll be glad to play through a text adventure, but having to type commands is another thing. I think it's a combination of laziness, and being utterly confused about my choices in such situations. Regardless, this wasn't the best first impression.

So there I sit, trying desperately half-heatedly trying to figure out what to do. I was starting to lose my patience with it when I finally figured out what to do. Upon completing that I ended up in the game's main interface, and found myself having a conversation with a cute schoolgirl named *Hyun-ae. After a brief bit of dialogue I was free to tackle the meat of the game. Reading through the various data logs of the Mugunghwa, trying to find the admin password I apparently needed, and hopefully uncover the mystery of what happened here.

All this stuff sounded good to me, but I was left feeling confused, and more than a little put off. See, the game is heavily based on the real-life Korea Joseon Dynasty. Eventually this makes the game more interesting, but at a glance it's really confusing for someone ignorant to the culture, and the history. You are assaulted with a wave of Korean names, and pronunciations that can make it hard to keep track of what's going on. And the way the beginning of the game is presented, it really is hard to parse out "What am I doing here?" Even though the game is fairly short, the beginning still manages to be a slow burn as you familiars yourself with the setting. However, at the time, it was just too much for me to take in. So I put it down for a few months.

I guess that's all a bit fragmented. A retelling of my initial impressions, and vaguely describing what the game is all about. Sorry about that, I'll attempt to describe the basis, in my own words, a little clearer in a moment. However, after that point I'm afraid that you'll find little use of this document outside of spoilers, or sharing in my mirth if you've played the game yourself. Yes, I'm going to go into full on spoiler territory, and just discuss parts of the game that ressonated strongly with me. In an attempt to express my love for this game, since there's not a whole lot of people I can talk to about it, and I can only tweet so many times about how much I love the game, without going into any specifics. With that said...

What you need to know

You could just as easily check out wikipediafor an explanation about the games basics. So in my own words I just want to sum up what you'll be getting into with Analogue. It's a visual novel created by indie game designer Christine Love. It's heavily inspired by the visual novel genre that is popular in Japan. This presents two potential obstacles to primarily Western gamers. 1) Do you like, or are at least okay with *anime?, 2) Are you okay with *Japanese visual novel games?

*Note 1: So in this case, when I ask you if you're okay with anime, it means a few things. First and foremost, are you okay with the visual aesthetic? That's pretty important, because both the game's characters, *Hyun-ae, and *Mute are cute anime girls. They're not presented in a "creepy" way, if that's what you're worried about, but I know some people will stop dead in their tracks at the sight of "animu". For me, personally, I tend to lean towards enjoying an Eastern aesthetic more than a Western one. That's just my background, and I enjoyed the characters. But I thought I'd warn you first anyway. Are you cool with hanging out with anime ladies? If so, good!

*Note 2: Basically what you need to know here is that Japanese visual novels tend to have a certain flavor to them. They're usually pretty crazy, and also they lean into the romantic aspects a lot. Analogue has both of these things. That said, Analogue is first and foremost a mystery story, but that said, there are romance aspects to that. If you're too manly for that, you might want to bail out now. If not, you're in for a treat!

That aside, the game involves reading a lot of data logs that tell the story of what happened on the Mugunghwa. According to wikipedia there's about 59,000 words in the game, so your mileage may vary on length of the game. For me it took about 5 hours to see everything the game had to offer. There's a few brief instances of issuing commands on a text based command prompt. And there are multiple endings. I'll once again refer you to wikipedia for a story summary, but the long and short of it is that you're in the distant future, Earth has expanded into space-ship colonies, this one the Mugunghwa, was put out of commission many years ago, and it's up to you to figure out why. Along the way you'll unravel the heart-wrenching story of The Pale Bride, probably feel pretty uncomfortable about the oppression of women in this culture, and fall in love with two brilliantly written characters.

So! With all that, my early impressions, brief explanation about the game's mechanics and story, fair warnings about the content and subject matter of the game, and this- my assurance that my first time with the game was a mistake. That upon revisiting it during the Holidays, and playing through every ounce of content, I strongly feel that this was one of the absolute best games of 2012. I wish I played it sooner so I could have put it on my list, as I feel it would probably fit snugly at Number 7, bumping down Sleeping Dogs, Binary Domain, and Dust: An Elysian Tail, while simultaneously knocking Tales of Graces f off my list, which admittedly I didn't feel nearly as strong about as the rest of the list. And even then, at least right now, I would want it to be even higher than that. Because the range of emotions I have for Analogue are truly outstanding. It was unexpected, it hit me hard, it became a nightly ritual of sitting down at my computer, in the dark, sipping on a drink, and being glued to the screen until I had to pull myself aware for sleep. It's hard to express anymore love for it without going into specifics, but, please. I urge you, if anything I have said has sounded interesting in any way. If you're interested in my total 180 degree shift on being boggled and frustrated with a game, to loving it wholly and completely. If you know anything about me and my opinions, and you think I'm on the same wavelength as you. Please. Check out this game. It's totally worth it. And then proceed to talk to me about it, so that I'm not forced to write a several thousand word monologue about why I really dig a video game. That would be good. Swell, even.


Alright, here be spoilers. Though to be fair, depending on how you feel about spoilers, you might feel inclined to keep reading. I will openly be discussing anything that comes to mind, which, hey, might influence you more to check out the game, all the better! However, there are certainly some big twist in the game that I would hate to spoil for the more inquisitive reader. So, with that said, I will try to accommodate you as much as possible by spoiler-tagging the big ones. Unfortunate side effect of talking about this game though is that every piece of info can detract from your enjoyment of the game, and I can't spoler-tag everything. So as the discussion progresses there will most likely be references to stuff the transpired earlier on. So, basic guideline for reading this section for new players should be: I'm going in chronological order of how the story progresses. The early bits will, thus, be less spoilery, but as it progresses, you might want to bail out if you have any interest in playing the game. I also won't be going into every little detail of the game, and in fact will keep discussion brief about some of the "filler" parts of the story, as they didn't effect me as much. Basically, what I'm saying is, if you read a few paragraphs in, and you think it sounds interesting, maybe go play the game for yourself. And for the people that have already played the game, well feel free to resonant with my impressions of each portion of the story I discuss.

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Upon my reintroduction the the game, I realized how much I liked *Hyun-ae, and that's before shit even really takes off. She has a cute design, and an adorable mannerism. Her excitement at coming into contact with a human being after 600 some odd years is infectious. For me, I started to formulate feelings, and opinions about the character immediately. And while it's possible to treat her poorly (how dare you!) it's just natural to be nice to her. And then she does the cutest thing... she starts to fall in love with you. I didn't realize this at first, but it's a really cute quirk- essentially *Hyun-ae will start speaking to you, and in her dialogue she will briefly reveal her affections towards you, but almost immediately edit her own dialogue to make it sound more casual. So, for example, she might say something like "It's not like I'm trying to please you or anything, but I would be happy if you liked me..." and quickly edit it to say something along the lines of "It's not like I'm trying to please you or anything, I just thought you should know!" It's really cute, and helped to establish an early foundation for my affinity towards the character.

In the opening parts of the game you are presented with the setting of this story. You learn about the two major families in play here, The Smiths, and The Kims. For *Hyun-ae's part, she was part of the Kim family. The first few messages you read through, as I stated earlier, are a bit misleading. At least they were to me. The game is really just trying to establish the world, but it's, I hate to say this, maybe not as interesting to start out with? In retrospect it helps you to understand this weird culture, the minor players in the story, and the goings-on of the Mugunghwa before The Pale Bride became the spotlight. I encounter this problem a lot with novels (you know, real, paper based ones) where the openings of the story are a hefty barrier to entry. It's hard to start caring about something before you get to the part that actually makes you like a story. Eventually you, the reader, the player, are rewarded for getting past that once you get into the thick of things, and looking back that context helps set the tone for everything that follows. Still, Analogue had the additional hurdle of foreign names. I will fully admit, I am totally ignorant about a lot of Korean culture outside of the swath of free to play MMOs that come out of that country. So, seeing names like Kim Ein-mi and Kim Sun-hi presented next to each other, in the form of a conversation is a bit boggling. At least for me, your mileage may vary. Obviously though, as I'm writing all of this, I was eventually able to power through it, but man, that was the one big obstacle I had to overcome.

Shortly after the setup, you're introduced to The Pale Bride. And this is where the game really starts to take off. TPB stuff is central to the mystery t the whole game. When first introduced to it, you see a somber story for The Bride. It's easy to pity her plight, a sick young girl woken up in the future. A future that was supposed to be able to cure her of her illness. Instead she is tossed into a political move to gain favor for the Kims. The beginning of the tale isn't tragic or anything, but I felt bad for TPB none the less. She's practically a genius compared to these people, who've somehow gone backwards on education and technology. She's used to a a culture where women aren't treated like complete shit. She was also a child. A child who had dreams, and goals. And on top of all that she's been "sent" however many hundreds of years into the future, away from her family or anyone she's ever known.

This whole part with TPB is where I really started to think about the game. I know that sexism is a real hot button issue right now. I'm not really going to go into that, other than to say it's not really something I ponder most of the time. The whole One Reason Why stuff? Not really my thing, not really my place either. So I usually avoid such things. I also consider my boundaries on when and where I start to get offended, or uncomfortable about stuff to be pretty broad. It's a pretty stark comparison to the outcrop of "social justice" rants that go on nowadays. Though for what it's worth, I think those issues are real, and worth talking about. However it seems to me that a lot of times these discussions come up it's people taking issue with stuff that happens, or is portrayed in fiction? To that, I say, chill out. I digress. Basically what I'm saying is that it's hard for a work of fiction to really get under my skin. Yet somehow Analogue did.

Namjon yeobi, or, Men are honoured, women are abased.

This is an early note you get from *Hyun-ae. This is how society on the Mugunghwa was viewed. The men were the only important people on the ship. Women were just there to give birth, to be bargaining chips for the families. They were expected to support their husbands, and do little else. If they couldn't provide a child, especially a son, they were largely considered a waste of space. Daughters are raised to server this purpose, and are usually thrown onto a suitor before they even reach the age of 16. By 18 they're expected to have children. The whole thing is just bananas. At this point you, and TPB are probably feeling the same thing. Culture shock. The craziest thing? This is all based on history. This stuff really happened! I mean, sure, I've heard about such things before, who hasn't? But I guess this just threw it in my face. I was appalled. It was great. No, the situation wasn't, but the fact that it invoked such a strong feeling inside me, and really made me stop and think. I think that's something special.

The Pale Bride was young, and rebellious She fought against all this, stood up for her beliefs. Admittedly she was a little childish in some of this, but who could blame her really? Eventually after reading through this series of messages you get hit with the first twist of the game...

...The Pale Bride was Hyun-ae. That is to say, the AI that we know at this point, *Hyun-ae was previously a human being, she was The Pale Bride, and all of this is her story. I will say that I half expected this at some point during the previous logs. It's not the most unforeseen twist around, but it still helped to build upon the relationship you have with *Hyun-ae. And when you are able to finally put a face to one of these people you've been reading about, especially someone like The Pale Bride who I feel everyone has to start sympathizing with at some point.I think that's the part where you really get invested in the story. Or at least I did.

With the mystery of The Pale Bride solved, that still leaves you wondering what happened to the ship. Aside from finding out about *Hyun-ae, there are a few other bits of pieces of information in this part of the game. Nothing I really want to discuss that much about, like I said, a lot of it was sort of world building, but some of it is interesting. You hear about the downfall of the Smiths, which play a larger role in the next part of the game. I think you also get access to messages that the Queen sent Hyun-ae before the wedding. Admonitions, or basically things Hyun-ae should expect after being married. This lays the groundwork for the relationship between Hyun-ae and Ryu Jae-hwa which, again, I'll bring up later.

One final thing I'll say about *Hyun-ae in this section is that she shares her interest in cosplay, and asks if you'd like to dress her up in different outfits she designed. It seems like a random fanservicey thing, which, I guess it is, I won't deny it. But it's actually really cute, in that she never got to do cosplay while she was alive, and is excited by being able to toy around with it now. There's a few different costumes you can choose from, and when you go back and talk to her you have a bit of dialogue with her where she role plays a bit. I dunno what to say, it's just a really cute scene! Though there is one costume I'd definitely recommend trying, and that's the hanbok. This is how she was forced to dress in life, and it's actually a pretty sad scene where she's clearly disappointed to be wearing it. I couldn't bring myself to keep her dressed up like that, so I quickly switched to something more fun. Small moments count too.

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During all this, you find a message which essentially gives you what you need. The admin password. With this you can download the logs and be on your way. More on that later. Aside from that though, *Hyun-ae has asked you to decrypt Block 3 so she can see what's in there, this gives you the nod to go back to the console and try to do that. When you do though, you also end up activating the game's other character. The AI *Mute. So at this point you can go talk to her.

*Mute is an interesting contrast to *Hyun-ae. She's crass, she actually believes in the whole oppression of women thing, and provides a different perspective on the whole situation. *Mute also happens to fall into the popular Japanese anime troupe of the tsundere character. 'tsun tsun' means to turn away in disgust, while 'dere dere' means to act lovey dovey. So, basically, if you're not familiar with the concept, a tsundere character will typically act cold, usually cruel towards the person they like, but sometimes they'll let their guard down and show how they really feel. At least, that's the simplest explanation I can give. I'm not usually a big fan of the type, but *Mute pulls it off well. It's more subtle, not quite as extreme as it normally is. If anything *Mute is just trying to do her duties as the security AI to the ship, but in many ways is just as happy to see you as *Hyun-ae was.

This is where things start to get intense though. As soon as you start talking to *Mute...

...reveals that Hyun-ae is responsible for killing everyone on the Mugunghwa. Neither of you know why, and you don't know how. *Mute believes that Hyun-ae is just a psychotic bitch. The truth? Well... we'll get to that.

So *Mute presents an interesting twist. Do you start to doubt *Hyun-ae and choose to accept *Mute's accusations at face value. Or do you dig deeper into the mystery and give *Hyun-ae a chance? For me, it was a no-brainer. How could I start doubting *Hyun-ae at this point? Also, since I've been around the block a few times, it was pretty easy to suspect that there's a lot more to this than meets the eye. Still, it's a startling revelation, and I suppose it should give room to pause, if you didn't have some sort of blind sense of loyalty to a fictional computer lady.

The remainder of this portion of the game isn't as eventful, not until the end of it at least. It's certainly interesting to hear *Mute's side of things though. She was a friend to the Smith family, has some pretty interesting things to say about their downfall. Particularly interesting is her relationship to Smith Sang-jung. Actually, you know what? Fuck it, that part is pretty good. Basically, in *Mute's words Sang-jung was like a husband to her. Keep in mind that unlike *Hyun-ae, *Mute has always been an AI. So their relationship was purely on this emotional level. Even though she does make a few comments about "having the body for that kind of relationship". By all accounts, everyone else seemed to hate Sang-jung, but *Mute loved him. And when he died she dressed in mourning for him. She cried. She showed real emotions as a computer AI. All of this is just this random little aside in the game, but dammit, it's interesting, and kind of touching. It doesn't hurt that she has sarcastic little comments about his behaviour. In one conversation with *Mute, Sang-hung goes into explicit detail about his waitress's tits. To which *Mute tells you "I could have done without the comments about her tits", but you know she just rolled her eyes and smirked. Yeah, actually that stuff was all really good, apparently overlooked in the grand scheme of things too, so glad I pointed that out.

Anyways, the other interesting block of messages *Mute brings up is, well, honestly it's not that important to the story, but I'd be remiss not to mention it. At one point *Mute asks if you want to know more about a really scandalous event in the Smith family. Now, on one hand you might think *Mute wouldn't want to talk bad about her family, but on the other *Mute is a big gossip. So I think it's funny that she couldn't resist showing you something that would potentially make you think even less of them than has already been established. But she really can't help it, can she? After all she's been isolated with no one to talk to in 600 years aside from *Hyun-ae, the person she hates more than anyone in the universe. I just felt like that was a nice touch.

What's the scandal than? Well, it's pretty intense actually, and I wasn't expecting anything like it to be honest! You read through a series of unsent letters between Oh So-jin, wife to Smith Sang-jung's brother Smith Sang-min. and Sang-min's courtesan Hana. One would expect that Oh So-jin would be jealous of this woman that steals her husband's affections, but in fact Oh So-jin finds herself being jealous of her husband for spending time with Hana. See, she starts developing feelings for Hana. Well, more accurately, it's probably a psychical attraction at first, but it grows into something more. Surprisingly, to me at least, the story actually gets pretty erotic, which is what threw me for a loop. I had to take a moment and think "Wow, Did that really just happen?". It wasn't a bad thing by any means. I won't lie to you and say I didn't enjoy it, but I will try to justify it a bit if you don't mind. I've made it pretty clear that I'm a big proponent of game's expanding out and doing new things. Tackling different subjects. And while this certainly isn't anything new to the visual novel genre over in Japan, it's something Western developers shy away from. Personally? It's fucking ridiculous that more people are comfortable with gore and violence than anything sexual. One thing is a natural way of life, and the other is something the human race could do without. To be clear, I don't have anything against violence either. Just, let's be reasonable, okay?

Uhg. I digress again, sorry. So the steamy action aside, the end of the story is pretty sad. Oh So-jin and Hana get caught by Sang-min. Sang-min's reaction to this is about as appalling as it gets. He doesn't give a shit. He thinks it's a big funny joke, and makes several rude comments about how that relationship even "works". Eventually Hana gets disowned, and neither of them see each other again. While Oh So-jin is stuck with her piece of shit husband, who doesn't even care about his wife's feelings, and Hana who gets rented out to another man. It's fucked up. *Mute's commentary on this is all pretty interesting too. She was good friends with Oh So-jin, and felt pity for her. While at the same time thinking that Hana was an ignorant whore who interfered with her friend's marriage. While also simultaneously thinking that Smith Sang-min is a total jerk-off. "Do you want to know what I think of Smith Sang-min? Fuck that guy!" *Mute says to you in an exceptionally powerful bit of dialogue. As far as I can tell, that's one of two total uses of the word "fuck" in Analogue. I only bring this up because they were both really imperatively to me. That makes it sound like I'm a child who just heard a dirty word, but, no. I've always had a reverence for the sanctity of the word fuck. Aside from totally terrible racial and bigoted slurs, I've felt that it's kind of the ultimate curse word. You use it too much and it just loses it's meaning. You use it sparingly and... well, that can be special. Granted, I'm not an advocate of this policy myself, but I appreciate it when others show some restraint. I'm sorry again for side-tracking...

Last bit I'll say about the whole "block 2" saga is that there's actually a bit of funny dialogue you can have with *Mute in regards to it. When you first speak to *Mute she asks you some questions about yourself, including asking your gender. That in and of itself plays out in some interesting ways, because if you say male, she accepts that. Obviously you're out here in the middle of space by yourself, you're a man! What can't you do? Or so she's been taught. That isn't to say she is in any way insulting towards you if you're a female. On the contrary, she seems inspired by the fact that you're so capable. I thought it was another nice little touch. Anyways, once you finish reading all about Oh So-jin and Hana *Mute asks you what you thought of the whole thing. The sensible answer is that you thought it was terrible. The other answer is that you thought it was hot. Unfortunately I didn't carry out that conversation with her as a male, I should go back and do that I suppose. However, *if you're a female it can lead to a pretty humorous conversation.

*Note 3: I played through as a man in all of my playthroughs, except one. While I've made a pretty convincing point for pursuing both options, I have to admit why I did it. There's actually two Steam achievements tied to interacting with *Mute as a female, and this bit I'm talking about happens to be one of them incidentally. I just wanted to clarify that.

Right, so, the conversation goes something like... You saying that you thought that was hot. *Mute responds by saying "Wait, what? Seriously? You really thought that was hot?" Admittedly a fair line of questioning on her part, the previous story was not really something that warranted a sleazy reply like that, but still.... You assure her that you did in fact find it was hot. In which she replies with "...but wait, you're a girl? Are you into that stuff? Wait, is that why you've been so interested in me?" Which, of course, I said yes. "No way! That's unacceptable!" though she has to admit... "I mean, it would be alright if that was the case..." and finally "No! Let's just forget this ever happened. Never bring it up again!" Of course I'm heavily paraphrasing here, but you get the point. Good moment.

Alright, so that ran a little longer than I expected, but it's finally time to move on. Before you finish with *Mute she gives you a series of questions to ask *Hyun-ae. I guess now would be... well, a little late to explain this, but it wasn't really important til now. When you first talk to *Hyun-ae you get a text prompt to respond to her with. Now, since that would be asking a bit much even from the biggest developers, she conveniently can't understand you. So instead, your interactions with both AIs throughout the game are a series of binary responses. It works well, but the reason I bring it up here is to emphasize the importance of the questions *Mute gives you. Nine questions, eight of them prompting casual conversation with *Hyun-ae, one of them being the big one. With that, you are presented with a choice...

The Split

At this point you're on track to get any of the endings of the game. There are five in total. Once you have *Mute's questions you have an important decision to make. What do you do with them? On the one hand, you could do the natural thing and go ask *Hyun-ae the questions. On the other, you can stick with *Mute and get her final verdict on the whole mess. Whatever you choose, it triggers the next part of the game. Once you present the questions to *Mute and ask her opinion, or if you go back to *Hyun-ae something bad happens. The ship's reactor is about to melt down, and when it does, the Mugunghwa blows up. At this point you can do a few things. What you have to do to proceed with the game as normal though is take care of the situation. This basically involves you using the command prompt to manage certain aspects of the ship. I won't really go into the details, but it's simple enough once you think about it, and you have twenty minutes to do it. Even I didn't really balk at that. In fact I think I could recite the order of commands you need to give right now since I've done it so many times in the past few days. Either way, it ends with you stabilizing the ship. But, at the cost of one of the AIs. You're forced to choose which one you want to stick around and chat with, and that's the big split in the game.

However, there are a couple of other options. I failed to mention this earlier, but at any point when the reactor isn't about to explode, and you have the admin password you can download everything you need from the ship and just walk away. Yep, it's the loner ending. You get the job done, but then you have to live with the fact that you not only didn't solve the mystery, but you just left both ladies there to blow up. Nice move, dick. The other option is even worse, but ultimately kind of funny. See, when you go to download all the ship's logs the game says it'll take about three days to complete the transfer. So... if you were to initiate the download during the melt down.... you blow up, because you're stupid. I thought it was pretty funny. Those aside, you get to decide which real ending you want at that point.

SPOILERS some more!

Alright, I've admittedly only used the spoiler tag a few times in this, as I think I was able to tiptoe around spoiling either of the previous major plot twists in the previous sections. Instead of spoiler tagging just about everything for the next three sections, I'm just going to give you a fair warning now. SPOILER WARNING: I'm going to be talking about the endings to the game now, so just about everything will be a major spoiler. If you haven't played the game, and you've made it this far, but are interested in experiencing at least a little bit of the story for yourself, turn back now! Don't say I didn't warn you.

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This is *Mute's route and in my opinion the weakest of the three "real" endings. In this you find out the "how" of the mystery which is to say, how Hyun-ae killed everyone. You do not however find out "why" she killed everyone, so ultimately you're still only getting half of the story with this ending. Now, real quickly, I'll tell you that I got this ending after the *Hyun-ae ending, so take that for what you will.

If you insist on having *Mute answer the questions for you, she agrees to. She first shows you a message written by Hyun-ae where she confesses her plan. There are a lot of blanks to fill in here if you choose to go with this ending first, but I guess that's what you get. What did you expect after talking with someone for a couple hours, meeting someone else who tells you that the previous person is a crazy murderer, and then you choose not to investigate it and jump to conclusions? You're going to get a pretty inconclusive explanation for things.

So, the message shows us that Hyun-ae has been sent back to her foster parents home for some reason, this is of course after her marriage to the Emperor. She's dying from her disease, and is all but helpless at this point. The message recounts a conversation she had with her foster father, Kim Jung-su. Things have inexplicably changed for Hyun-ae, her previous mannerisms of being a rebellious child have been quelled. Jung-su speaks to her, telling her that he's proud that she turned out well in the end. This opens a floodgate of memories for Hyun-ae. She tries to remember what she was like when she was younger. She thinks back to how she used to have dreams, and goals. How she used to resent this society's insane way of thinking. And then she remembers. Hyun-ae for whatever reason is overcome by a seething rage boiling inside of her. She realizes how much of a farce this is, how this man, her foster father is responsible for ruining everything in her life. Responsible for silencing her. And that he should stand there and comment on how proud he is of her. How proud he is of what he did to her. It's too much for her to take. She wants to grab the knife thats nearby, she wants to at least try to kill this man before she dies. She can't though. So her father leaves her there, in her grief. And then that's when she realizes what she can do, what she has to do. As I've said previously, Hyun-ae is from the past, a past where it was completely common knowledge for a person to operate complicated machinery, like a ship's main computer. Hyun-ae decides that to end all this miserable bullshit, she'll cut off the ship's life support.

Now, I'd like to comment on this more, but like I said, I saw this ending after I knew the whole story. So I can't honestly get into the mindset of someone who had that presented to them in that context. Would you be horrified by her actions? Would you overlook the detail that something potentially horrendous happened to Hyun-ae to make her feel this way? Would you essentially be *Mute and come to your own conclusion. "She's a psychotic bitch, she murdered countless people, and for what reason? That she was a spoiled child!?" It's hard to say either way what a person could think. But in any case, if there was any doubt left in your mind about how this colony died...

After reading that, and discussing it with *Mute, she presents you with three messages from her point of view. Two of them are logs One of them where *Mute casually records that all activity on the Mugunghwa is normal, and that it will be a dull day. The next one taking place the day after when "it" happens. The log shows that Hyun-ae convinced the handler of the main computer to let her in, and she proceeds to hack the Mugunghwa. She begins by executing her plan to shut down the life support. Following this she proceeds to disable *Mute as the primary AI for the Mugunghwa, and somehow programs an AI version of herself into the computer that takes control of the ship. There's even a heart-wrenching message in there from a father who says goodbye to his young child.The final message is *Mute's final thoughts before she gets overrun. She sees Hyun-ae doing all this, and is powerless to stop her, as everyone she cares about suffocates to death. Admittedly it's all pretty horrific.

After reading all that, *Mute asks your opinion. You can side with her and condemn Hyun-ae for her terrible crime. Or you can make one less attempt to sympathize with The Pale Bride. *Mute refuses to accept that Hyun-ae's crime is excusable in any way, and since you don't really have a solid argument for it, you're forced to conceded. At that point, you've accomplished all you can on the Mugunghwa.

Just as you're about to leave though, *Mute asks you if you'd ever consider taking her with you. Of course she says it'd be completely unacceptable, not only because of her duties as the ship's security AI, but also out of a sense of loyalty not to abandon the ship where all the people she knew died. But, maybe she'd really like to leave, because she doesn't want to be alone anymore. She asks you one last time if you were serious when you said you'd take her. And she seems satisfied with that answer. She then says that she's going to shut down and run a diagnostics check, and that it would be terrible if you downloaded her while she was helpless to stop you and left with her. And with that you go out to the command prompt, type download, and leave with *Mute.

As I said before, it's not my favorite ending because it leaves so much open, and it's sad that you both just write off Hyun-ae as this psychopath. But at least it finally lets *Mute have some peace. She went through a lot, and it's at least nice to think that you've brought her out of that hell.

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Mai Waifu

Now I'll discuss the *Hyun-ae route. This is without a doubt my favorite ending, it wraps most everything up, it seems like the logical ending, and it's also the point in the game where I realized that I was in love with the game. This is the first ending I got, so keep that in mind while reading through this part.

You return to *Hyun-ae with *Mute's questions and begin the end game, or, probably more accurately the second-half of the game considering the amount of content in this ending route. As I said before, the questions *Mute gave you ask a bunch of casual questions. "How are you?" "What do you think of me?" Some of these questions lead to cute little conversations, and serve as a great build-up to the final question on the list. Some of the questions are related to *Mute and it's interesting to see *Hyun-ae's reactions to her. It seems that the hatred is a little one sided, as Hyun-ae never really hated *Mute. *Mute just never bothered to talk to Hyun-ae. Though it's clear that Hyun-ae feels guilty for her actions, at least in regards to how *Mute must feel. Finally you ask her the big question "Why did you kill all those people?". It's a powerful moment. The question is important, and it comes as a surprise to *Hyun-ae. She's ashamed that you found out about this. She didn't want you to know, obviously she thought you would hate her if you found out. However justified Hyun-ae felt for her actions before she died, she's clearly had a long time to think about it.

Such a weighty question couldn't possibly be answered so simply. *Hyun-ae has an explanation, but you need to pull back the layers on it to fully understand it. Thus, she unlocks a new block of messages for you to read. These ones are messages written in Hyun-ae's diary after she was wedded, and a few interactions with the Queen, Ryu Jae-hwa, who was her only friend. The messages retell the last part of Hyun-ae's life. Again, we don't know why, but somehow Hyun-ae has become a much different person than when she was younger. She's quiet, she's timid, she doesn't put up any sort of argument at all. She's the perfect wife in this society. We get to hear about how Hyun-ae and Jae-hwa became friends. Previously I mentioned Jae-hwa sending Hyun-ae a bunch of messages before her wedding. At the time Jae-hwa was concerned, maybe even jealous of The Pale Bride, but once she met her, she changed her mind. Hyun-ae was clearly no threat, she was an obedient second wife, she was a scared child, and Jae-hwa felt she could trust her.

There are several rather sweet messages in here detailing the two's friendship. Hyun-ae also expresses her situation in life. She's dying, she's getting weaker. The only pleasure she has in life is her conversations with Jae-hwa, and sex with her husband. She's basically holding on to those things for dear life, even though she knows she doesn't have much time. In one critical message we find out a shocking truth. Hyun-ae is mute. No, not *Mute, she's actually mute, she can't speak. It was at this point that I started to second guess myself. Earlier in the game it was evident that Hyun-ae was a spirited child, she argued with her adoptive family all the time. She wasn't... she wasn't mute then, right? We also learn another tragic truth about Hyun-ae, she can't read or write any of the characters people use in this time. Most people just considered her to be a stupid child, an ignorant female. In truth, she was very brilliant for her age, and continued to write all these diaries in her native language. More importantly though, it was literally impossible for Hyun-ae to communicate with anyone in any meaningful way.

As the story was unraveling dozens of thoughts and theories for popping off in my head. As I mentioned, I was already second guessing myself on if she was actually mute this whole time. But if she wasn't, what happened to make her that way? This is it folks, this is the heart of visual novels, and any sort of graphic adventure game. When you start thinking, really thinking about what's going on. What's going to happen next, and how invested in this are you. The good games in this genre should always have the player hooked, left on the edge of their seat wondering about everything. The best games make you think about the game for weeks, months, years to come. It was time to see how Analogue would play out.

Events quickly spiral out of control after this. For reasons that I'm unsure of Jae-hwa dies. This is of course a devastating blow to Hyun-ae's morality. One of the only things she had to live for was now gone forever. In her grief she looked for the only comfort she had left. Her intimate encounters with her husband. In one of the last messages in this block Hyun-ae retells the final blow to her sanity. While the ship is expected to mourn for the passing of Jae-hwa, in which, of course Hyun-ae does as well. She still seeks the comfort of her husband. He eludes her for days, shooting down any of her advances. On the final day he finally has had enough. He scolds her for being so selfish, telling her she is acting indecent. He finally says that she will have to leave the palace for a few months and move back in with the Kims. The most wretched fate imaginable for Hyun-ae becomes a reality, and she is shipped back to her foster home.

We're almost at the conclusion of this story, we've almost got all the answers, but there's one thing that remains. Why did she kill everyone? *Hyun-ae braces you for the last bit of the story. Not wanting to share this with anyone, probably not even wanting to relive the horrors of her life. She reluctantly provides you with a few new messages. These messages are from a block that was previously incomplete from the very beginning of the game. The block detailing Hyun-ae's revival, and her life with the Kims. At first you read a few messages about how Hyun-ae returned home. How her mother and sister treated her like trash. They weren't happy to see her back just as much as she wasn't happy to be back. Hyun-ae is helpless to do anything but wallow in her own miserable life, or what's left of it.

Following that, we get to the big stuff. The "why". Hyun-ae provides a few more messages. More pages in the diary of Hyun-ae when she was a child. Back to the times when Hyun-ae was healthier, had dreams, and still argued with her foster family. Hyun-ae's father reveals to her one day that he's going to marry her off the the Emperor. Of course this puts her in a tizzy and she refuses to cooperate. And then one day, the day when Hyun-ae is supposed to go meet with the Emperor for the first time, she makes her last stand. At first her sister comes to help her get ready for the meeting. Hyun-ae flat out refuses, and the sister storms off. Later the mother comes in attempting to reason with her, again Hyun-ae refuses to back down. Hyun-ae is surprised by how seemingly easy it is for her to hold her ground, but she's suspicious of it. It couldn't be this easy, right?

Finally father setps into the picture. Again, Hyun-ae stands her ground. Father slaps her hard across the face, but she builds up her courage, suppresses the pain and still refuses. Father quietly leaves the room. Hyun-ae has won this fight, but what now? Another message. Days after Hyun-ae's last stand, Father and mother are discussing what they should do about Hyun-ae. They need this marriage, it's the only thing that can save them. But she's too rebellious she'll never listen. Mother suggest that it might be time to take drastic measures.

Hyun-ae is called out to the kitchen to meet with father and mother. Father pleads with her "Please, you must obey. We need this marriage." Hyun-ae refuses once more. Father begs her "This can end peacefully if you just cooperate.". In desperation Hyun-ae tells them that she will tell the Emperor that the Kims are conspiring against him. Father says "No. You won't.". Mother then grabs Hyun-ae and forces her down. Hyun-ae is powerless to resist with her frail body, as father puts his hands inside her mouth and pulls out her tongue. He then takes a knife and cuts it out. Silencing her forever. "You will never argue with a man ever again." and she didn't.

Fuck. I had to take all that in, process it. I sat there stunned for a good while thinking about how horrible it was. I can't speak for everyone obviously, but as for my own personal emotions, I felt rage. In that instance, I felt that whatever Hyun-ae had done had been justified. As if I needed more convincing. This shithole of a ship, with it's backwards ass people. The Emperor, The Kims, they needed to die. I'll admit, it wasn't the most rational train of thought. As I've discussed in the *Mute route, what Hyun-ae did was still awful. She killed plenty of innocent people, women, and children. Countless innocence suffered because of a couple of really terrible people ruined a little girl's life. It's... it's not really justified, but, I guess I don't care. What could she do? Die silently, empty, having to live out the rest of her tortuous life with these fucking scumbags who destroyed her. I'm sorry, I guess I just can't get past that. I guess I can't outweigh the needs of the many against the needs of the few.

After spending several hours interacting with *Hyun-ae, who is just a brilliantly written character. She's a sweetheart, and hearing the tragedy of The Pale Bride was too much.I think this is really what it comes down to with Analogue for me. A short, five hour experience. Not even a lot of time in the grand scheme of things, but enough time to grow attached to this character. And get invested in this story. It was glorious.

Finally, after all is said and done, it's time for you to judge *Hyun-ae. I've already said my piece on it, but it's entirely possible to shut her down. She will accept her shame, and leave you to collect the data you came for. But that's a pretty shitty ending, right? So of course I accept her story, I forgive her for her actions, I tell her I understand. She is beside herself. 600 years of holding this in, and finally meeting someone she truly loved. And you accepted her. You can almost feel the tension wash away, the years of torment that she went through. She desperately tries to express her gratitude, and while she's caught up in all these emotions she confesses. She finally tells you she's in love with you. At this point the game splits again ever so briefly. You can turn her offer down, expressing in the nicest way possible that it just wouldn't work. Or you can accept her love, and express your feelings for her. Either way *Hyun-ae will ask you the same thing *Mute did. "Will you take me with you?" Of course I will. Once again, you exit to the console, download, and whisk away The Pale Bride, either as a friend, or lover.

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2 Girls 1 Core

Okay, believe it or not people I'm almost done. There's just one more ending to cover real quick, and then we're just about out of here. This is the final ending, as tradition in many Japanese visual novel games, this is the "harem" ending. It usually refers to an unrealistic ending where the hero somehow gets all the girls. All of them. In Analogue's case things are a bit more realistic. For one there's only two girls. For two the ending actually makes sense. In a way, this is truly the best ending, but it's still runner-up for me compared to the *Hyun-ae route.

So, rewind all the way back to the original split. *Hyun-ae or *Mute? Who do you pick? Well, how about this. Given all the evidence, both AIs are right in their own way. But the biggest problem here is that *Mute doesn't believe there could be any justifiable reason for Hyun-ae to kill all those people. Unfortunately, after the split you can only talk to one girl. You either talk to *Mute and get her judgement, or you talk to *Hyun-ae and get her full story. Now, this requires a little bit of explaining, but I've typed this much, so why stop now?

As I've said, your interactions with the AIs are limited. Aside from the binary choices during dialogues, the only real way you can talk to either character is by presenting them the messages in the game. You show one of them a message, and they offer their insight on it. Now, if you're paying attention you will remember that if you take *Hyun-ae's route you get that one very, very important message that explains everything. The fact that Kim jun-su cut out Hyun-ae's tongue. Unfortunately you can't get that message and still be able to talk to *Mute. So what can you do? This is the last stroke of genius in Analogue that I have to talk about.

In the interface there is an option to type in a code. I never thought much of it the whole time I was playing the game. Why was it there? Well, apparently there is a alphanumeric code attached to each and every message in the game. And you could type it in there and find a message. Still, why would you ever need to manually search for a message? I mean, there aren't that many of them, you could always just page through them. There's a secret though - you can access any message in the game, at any time, as long as you know the code.

So, the trick is to start down the *Mute path, and when she presents you all the horrible evidence of The Pale Bride's crimes? You show her that important message. "What the fuck did I just read?" *Mute exclaims, dropping the last masterfully placed f-bomb in the game. All the pieces fit, everything comes together. *Mute is forced to come to the realization that Hyun-ae had a legitimate reason to want these people dead. It doesn't excuse Hyun-ae's actions, but... she can't just turn a blind eye to Hyun-ae's plight. Maybe, just maybe she could be forgiven finally, after 600 years.

By this point, you already had to disable *Hyun-ae though. However *Mute knows how to bring her back. She informs you that you can copy her AI to *Mute's active core and all three of you can talk. She goes to fetch *Hyun-ae while you carry out the action. Upon meeting up *Hyun-ae is overjoyed that you were able to solve the mystery, and convince *Mute that she had a reason for her atrocities. Yet, she wonders how you managed to do that. "Did you cheat the system?" Indeed. So then *Mute tells *Hyun-ae to ask you the last question. "Will you take us with you?" Of course.

In Closing

Phew. I, uh. I don't know what just happened exactly. I originally set out to write an opinion piece about Analogue. I just wanted to share some of the joy that I felt about the game, and share some of my favorite moments. I didn't mean to retell the whole story. I'm not happy about that. That's not what I wanted to do. I feel like it's a good piece to read if you're looking for a summary retelling of the game, or if you wanted to recap everything. But, I dunno. That's shitty.Unfortunately I just got to a point where I kept falling into writing out the whole damn story, and before I knew it I was half done. So, I couldn't justifiably delete all that, and start over. So unfortunately you'll just have to accept this for what it is. One big clusterfuck of praise mixed in with a reenactment of Analogue.

That bit of sadness aside. A few real, final thoughts. There's really not much more I could possibly say about Analogue that I haven't already. I know that after I finished the game I just wanted more of it. In some small way I guess this was a way to get more of it. Or an attempt to get it out of my system, since my emotions for it just kept welling up over the past several days. It's nice to have written documentation of that love I guess. However, I guess it doesn't actually stop there even. While I was checking wikipedia earlier I noticed that there's going to be some DLC for the game that is supposed to be released this month. It's called "Hate Plus" and it picks up where the story left off. With you going back to Earth and trying to figure out what happened during those years that Hyun-ae was asleep for. I cannot wait for it, but I probably won't do another War and Peace length rant about it. If that wasn't enough (it isn't) I was also pleased to see that Christine Love has a couple other games. Digital: A Love Story, and Don't take it personally, babe, it just ain't your story. Both of those are free to download for Windows, Mac, and Linux so there's no reason not to check them out. Unless they're bad? But, I doubt that.



Game of The Year 2012

Game of The Year 2012

Ah man. Here we are again. Another year, another list of 10 amazing games. Overall, I felt this was a very strong year for games, even if we are approaching the death throes of this console generation. Looking back on the past couple years, I feel more strongly about at least the first 7 games on this list than I have about many games in recent years. There are a few things I want to address in this opening first however.

Firstly, I'm going to sound like a broken record ironically enough) with some of these games when it comes to soundtracks. I have found in recent years that I am very passionate about video game soundtracks, and that they can completely alter my enjoyment of a game. A middling game with an amazing soundtrack will make that game much more appealing to me. An amazing game with an amazing soundtrack will almost move me to tears. That said, a lot of these games ressonate with me super strongly because of their breathtaking or otherwise catchy soundtracks. And with THAT said, I'd like to make a special mention to Hotline Miami, a game that sadly did not make the cut for Game of The Year, but it is a game that features what is probably my favorite overall soundtrack of the year. I cannot stop listening to it, particularly the tracks by M.O.O.N including Hydrogen which is currently smashing records on my iTunes most played stats. I should also mention Fez, another game that narrowly missed the list, but in Fez's case I think the music actually transcends the game.

I'd also like to give a quick nod to World of Warcraft: Mist of Pandaria, which is easily my most played game of the year. I've probably put 700 hours into it since it was released in late September, and it doesn't look like it's going to slow down anytime soon. The thing with WoW expansions though is that they're expansions to an eight year old game. WoW has had it's due, I don't think I need to honor it any furthuer in a Game of The Year list. But for what it's worth, it's a pretty awesome expansion, one of the best they've done.

With all that said, onto the list...

Game of The Year 2012

1. Kid Icarus: Uprising
Oh my god. Kid Icarus: Uprising. Where do I even begin? Well, first it's a shame that it seems like this game is getting the shaft in terms of Game of The Year list. For whatever reason, though I'm guessing it's the controls, this game doesn't seem to have made as strong as an impression on people as it did for me. But that's fine, because I'm totally here to heap on my undying affection for what is now one of my all time favorite games.

Aside from Fire Emblem: Awakening, Kid Icarus was the reason I decided to buy a 3DS. I've been interested in it since it was revealed however many E3s ago, because it looked like a real neat game, a reason to own a 3DS. Furthermore being developed by Sora which did an amazing job on Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and having beautiful character designs and art, I was instantly sold on it.

I didn't end up getting a 3DS until after the game was released though, so I was left just wanting it for a while. Eventually I was able to try the game when my friend brought over his 3DS and a copy of the game, and I think that's when I fell in love with it. Sure, the first thing I think anyone notices with the game is that it has an "interesting" control scheme, and that's putting it nicely. But what I noticed was just the amount of charm the game had, the amount of love that was put into it.

The game features two different play modes, and I found myself enjoying both of them. I think everyone can agree that the Space Harrier type levels of flying through the air and shooting stuff down is basic enough and works with the controls with little fuss. But I also found that the on-foot battles were engaging in just the interesting way the game handles it. In all honesty, and this might sound like a cop-out, but I feel that this makes the game stand out a little more, as it is more than just a basic beat'em (shoot'em) up.

But that's not the real reason I enjoy Uprising. As I mentioned there's a ton of charm in the game, and the entire time I played through the single player story (and it is a long story!) I was constantly smiling, just basking in the warmth of the game's characters, the wonderfully written dialog, and the voice actors who helped bring these characters to life.

It was honestly a treat every time I picked up the 3DS to play Kid Icarus: Uprising for a couple chapters every day. The banter between the various characters, especially Pit and Palutena filled me with such joy. And the slow roll-out of the supporting characters made everything all the better. I can't remember a game that I've ever played that made me laugh out loud so much, or produce the most SPM (smiles-per-minute) on a regular basis.

And as I've mentioned previously, the game just looks gorgeous, a true testament to what the 3DS can do, and with the lovely artistic style of the game that made every level, character, and enemy pop out. Accompanying all that is a beautiful soundtrack put together by some of Nintendo's best. It's not always the catchiest soundtrack, but almost every song evokes some sort of emotion that blends perfectly with what's going on in the game at the time.

Aside from the wonderful presentation, Sora is up to it's old tricks including hours upon hours of content in the game. An engaging loot system, with a fusion system similar to the Shin Megami Tensei series. Hundreds if not thousands of unlockables. A truly groundbreaking difficulty system that allows you more control over the ease or challenge of the game. And a fully robust multiplayer mode that is only hampered by the lack of popularity, because it's a fucking blast.

Fuck man, I could just go on about the game for hours. Unfortunately I have nine other games to discuss though. Seriously though, this game effected me in such a strong way, and has achieved a colossal feat in not only overcoming several other fantastic games to top this list, but it's earned a permanent spot on my Top 25 Games of All Time list. It's beautiful, and I wish more people could experience it, and be able to translate that experience into the pure unadulterated enjoyment I felt while playing it. And as I have said many times over this past year: "If I only bought the 3DS to enjoy this one game. It was worth it."
2. Asura's Wrath
Pretty early on in the year, before many games on this list I played Asura's Wrath. And also, previously before I played Kid Icarus: Uprising, this was easily my Game of The Year. Now, those who know me, or who have read my previous Game of The Year list know that I usually find a game in a year that took me by total surprise. In past years it has been Nier, and Space Marine. This year, it was Asura's Wrath, though I'm happy to report now that this year was actually full of games like that, so that is very cool, in my opinion.

Enough about that though, Asura's Wrath - a bit of a backstory. The game was shown off at one of these trade shows and it looked insane. A game by Cyberconnect2 who I was already a fan of due to their previous work on the .hack series. And an over-the-top Shonen anime looking game. The first trailer really turned heads for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the main character Asura was angry, really angry. He was also fighting a god that's hand was bigger than the planet he was standing on. Another big thing was people wondering just exactly what kind of game Asura's Wrath was. Early rumblings seemed to suggest that the game was going to be one massive QTE segment. That's not far off from the truth, but you'd be forgiven if you were put off by that. I know I was.

The plot thickens though, as a little bit before the game's release, I played the demo of it. Again, this story might sound copy & pasted from Space Marine, but, hated the demo. Didn't see the appeal, and was turned off to the whole idea of the game pretty quickly. Then, similar to the Space Marine situation from last year, I started hearing people talking about it. Again (sorry, the situation is just so similar!) I think it was the Giant Bomb guys who were discussing just how fucking batshit insane the game was. So I decided to rent it from Gamefly.

What followed was one of the most entertaining experiences I've had with a game. Or was it the most entertaining experience I've had with an anime? Maybe it's both! The bit about it being a huge QTE is accurate enough, there are in fact quite a bit of them. But they are handled well for what it's worth (more on that later). There's also a fairly basic character action game embedded in there that's nothing really to write home about. I think I've documented my feeling on character action games before though. I appreciate simplicity, I don't like the game to be overly challenging, but still feel engaging. It's probably why I prefer games like Enslaved: Odyssey to The West over something like Bayonetta. One game had simple combat, and instead focused on a rich story. While the other focused so much on an over-the-top combat system that I think it lost the thread on where the story was going.

Anyways! While Asura's Wrath might not have the most engaging combat in the world, and the rest of the game basically boils down to a glorified version of "Simon Says" while watching the insanity unfold, I think it's still an amazing example of how we can do interesting stuff with video games.

As I mentioned, everything else about the game is insane. It also happens to be immensely enjoyable. The story is a revenge tale, and it follows a certain Shonen anime style archtype. Except here you getting this entire narrative in a much easier to digest format of about 6 hours of game, instead of hundreds of episodes, spread out through several years of your typical Shonen anime. Shonen anime typically consist of a main character who overcomes all obstacles to be the ultimate badass, and you can bet your ass Asura does that in spades. The shit he goes through, the battles, and the action that takes place is enough to get you pumping your first in the air, or maybe yelling out "BURST!" whenever the need arises.

I mentioned that they handle the QTEs in a really fantastic way. What I mean by that is that the button prompts actually get you involved in the action. When shit hits the fan, and Asura is on the ropes. And a screen that is just plastered full of "B" buttons hits you directly in the face, it's fucking amazing. You will hammer on the B button for all it's worth, until your finger is a ruin, and your eyes are bulging out of your head. Just so that the angry, robotic anime man can save his daughter.

The story is great, even if you're not typically into that sort of thing. I've heard from plenty of people this year, including members of the Bombcast who got caught up in it. You go along for the ride in this game, and it's hard to put it down once you've started. There are absolutely insane twists and turns in the plot which will almost certainly have you yelling out "HOLY SHIT!", and amazingly enough the game also manages to be touching at times. Probably thanks in no small part to another beautiful soundtrack this year. The soundtrack features plenty of blood pumping beats like Orphan Wolf Legend which set the mood for some of the game's coolest moments. And then you have hauntingly stirring pieces like the game's titular Furuer Kokoro which tug at the heart strings. Either way, Chikayo Fukuda probably produced the most memorable, worthwhile anime soundtrack in existence.

Furthermore, after I had finished the game, I sent it back to Gamefly. But promptly purchased a copy when the DLC for the game started coming out. If anything, that's the one major disadvantage that the game has going for it, and it's that you have to pay extra in order to truly finish the story. And make no mistake about it, if you're invested enough to have gotten through the main game, there's no question about it. The additional ending chapters DLC is required viewing. The other DLC? Not so much, but they definetly did some interesting stuff with it.
3. Ys Origin
As I previously mentioned, there were several games this year that took me by total surprise. Ys Origin was another one of them. Previously I had dabbled in the Ys games, and found that they were enjoyable to a point. And in fact I think I would really love most of them if it wasn't for one fatal flaw: platforming. I'm really terrible at platforming in games, and for the better part of my life I've actually avoided games which feature heavy platforming because not only am I atrocious at it, but it really shoots my nerves. Thanks to my fear of heights in real life, which has somehow managed to effect me in games as well. My stomach pretty much bottoms out when I fall from a great distance in games. It's sad.

Fortunately, Ys Origin at least doesn't feature any difficult platforming. There is still light platforming, but out of my three (!) playthroughs of the game I've never encountered a frustrating instance of platforming. And I think it's really as simple as that, because if the other Ys games are like Origin, then it's a safe bet I'd fall in love with them too.

I already wrote an entire blog about Ys Origin earlier this year, which you can find here. So I won't spend too much time gushing over the game, but wow, is it fantastic. As I mention in my blog post above, I think it takes elements from Zelda and does them in a way that's more appealing to me, nowadays anyway. The game also reminds me a lot of Recettear, with it's dungeon crawling, and obvious anime influences, but done- better I guess? And I say that as someone who really loved Recettear. It's also a lot more "actiony" and again, as I expressed in the blog post, it's eye-opening to see the Japanese side of action RPGs.

That isn't to say I'm new to that genre either. The Mana series for example is a favorite of mine, but it's just been so long since I've been able to experience something like this, that I think it connected with me on a special level that says "Hey, remember this? You need more of this in your life." With that said, I would adore it if XSEED were to continue it's effort in bringing Falcom games over here. The PC seems like a perfect platform for this, as I believe both Ys games released on Steam this year did quite well. Whether it's the right price point that is allowed via this distribution platform, or just that it's more likely people have PCs that can these system resource friendly games, I just think it makes sense, and can work. i know that I'm not alone in this, as many North American games would like to see the sequels to Trails in the Sky. Personally, I think Nayuta no Kiseki sounds like my dream game.

All that said, I guess a few comments about Origin itself would be appropriate. It's a fun game, really fun. Fun enough that I almost played through it completely three times in rapid succession. The different abilities you get are dished out at just the right pace that the game always feels like something new and exciting is happening, waiting to be played around with. The bosses are a delight for any action RPG fan, many of them with their own little puzzle to solve to beat them, and on harder difficulties you will be required to get down some pattern recognition. If that's your thing. The story is decent, as I'm lead to believe most Ys games aren't really about the story so much. I like the characters, and there's a few moments that had me tear up. Particularly I think the relationship between Hugo and Epona is especially heart warming. (Man, really no wiki entires for those characters? Might be a project I can do). And of course, the soundtrack is spectacular. Again, something I have been told Falcom does very well. Beyond The Beginning is probably the single most epic piece of music I've heard in a game this year.
4. The Walking Dead
Guys, I feel kind of strongly about The Walking Dead. Again, I could say that this is another one of those games that came out of nowhere, especially considering the tragedy of Telltale's Jurassic Park. But... I think the writing was on the wall with how The Walking Dead would shake out pretty shortly after people got their hands on it.

If nothing else, The Walking Dead is a shining example of what can be achieved in video games outside of engaging gameplay. The Walking Dead shows the merit of being able to interact, and influence how a story plays out. Sure, player choice has been a part of games for quite some time, but not like this. For example, In Mass Effect, you, as Shepard make decisions like exterminating the last of a dying species. In The Walking Dead you decide if you want to give a hungry kid a package of breadsticks and cheese. Obviously one choice seems way, way more important. Like by magnitudes right? But in this instance, not giving the kid a snack presents instant repercussions that feel more personal and immediate than an extra bit of dialog in a sequel several years later.

If nothing else, The Walking Dead is an interesting social experiment where player choice is recording on a stat page at the end of a episode, that shows you how other players reacted. This has several profound effects. For example, it makes you think "Did I do the right thing", or maybe it makes you feel very passionately about your choices: "How can these people be so stupid? This was obviously the right choice!" It also provides interesting "water cooler" discussions: "Wasn't it crazy when this character died?" "Wait, what? That person didn't die in my game!". Again, not a totally unique situation for gamers, but that's usually reserved for open world games where at any given moment something unpredictable can happen. Not a fairly linear narrative.

If nothing else, The Walking Dead shows us that games can tackle mature subject matter in a tasteful way. Granted it's full of grizzly violence, and foul language, but that's just something that comes along with the territory. Instead of being gratuitous and over-the-top for the sake of shock value, The Walking Dead presents horrific situations, and imagery which leave a lasting impression on the player. The game provides moments where you'd be forgiven if you had to put down the controller and walk away for a bit, just to stew over the terrible thing you just witnessed.

But you know what? The Walking Dead isn't just that, or that, or that. It's also a wonderfully told story, written by insanely talented individuals that were able to make you weigh every decision. Love, or hate the characters you will certainly feel something for them. They were able to make a child in a video game lovable, not even just likable, but influence players in such a way that you felt responsible for her, that you would do anything to protect her from this tragic world. The game has a wonderful presentation to it, and Telltale has certainly honed their craft with this game, but it's the writing more than anything that makes this game shine out like a beacon in the dark. I suppose it doesn't hurt that Telltale managed to round-up some incredible voice talent that made the characters feel real. More real than the AMC television series has managed to accomplish even if what I've been lead to believe is accurate.

Personally, I played the first two episodes of The Walking Dead and fell in love with it. It inspired me to read the entire current run of the comics between episode 2 and 3, and introduced me to the wonderful, if not completely horrendous world of Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead. I'll no doubt check out the TV series at some point, and probably even end up playing the-what will most likely be an inferior romp that completely misses the point- first person shooter. My whole time with this universe has been a highlight of my year.
5. Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward
If I had one regret about my 2010 Game of The Year list it would be that I didn't include 999 on it. I didn't get full swing into playing it by the time I had wrote the list, and sadly it was missing from a list where it otherwise would have done exceptionally well. I ended up really loving that game, it's crazy story, and the jaw-dropping revelations that come along with it. So, as not to make that same mistake again, I made sure to play 999's sequel, Virtue's Last Reward as soon as possible. Good thing too, because the game ultimately took me over 40 hours to see everything.

In much the same way 999 was great, VLR is even better. Sure, it took me a little while to warm up to this new cast of characters, and for a while there I thought that the twist weren't nearly as mind-blowing as those in it's predecessor That soon changed though, in a big way.

The success of games like 999/VLR is pretty amazing. These type of Visual Novel games are pretty common in Japan, but sadly we don't see many of them here. Outstandingly enough 999 seemed to hit in a big way, at least guaranteeing a stateside release of the sequel, but I think it's also paving the way for more games of it's ilk to come out here. Corpse Party is another recent example. This is great news, because these games tend to contain very worthwhile stories, along with the batshit insanity that comes out of Japan.

Sorry, again, for the rambling. About VLR though... the game is broken up into two parts. The primary mode of "play" is the Novel sections where you just read, and make some decisions. More on that in a bit. The other portion of the game is "Escape" and involves solving a series of puzzles. Now, the puzzles are kind of take it or leave it. They're probably not up to par with something out of a real puzzle game, but I actually really enjoy them! I found them stimulating in the way that makes you feel super intelligent once you figure them out. I know a point early on in the game where I was trying to figure out a puzzle and had made liberal use of the game's built in note pad. I was writing shit down, and cross referencing it with in-game documents trying to piece things together. It was fantastic! And when I solved it I did a fist pump and let out a silent "Hell Yeah!". Not often that I get that sort of feeling. To be fair though, I'm probably in the minority of people who even give two shits about the puzzles in these games. And even though I enjoyed them for the most part, I definitely found myself thinking at times "Fuck, I don't want to do puzzles now, I want to see what happens next!".

Make no mistake about it, it's the novel sections that really sell the whole thing. The story in VLR is fantastic, as you'd probably expect, or at least hope from a game that's primairy goal is to tell a story. You are introduced to a colorful cast of characters that are thrown into a decidedly less colorful situation. Things are grim for these people, and a large portion of the game's appeal lies in finding out who these people are, and more importantly, how they're going to get out of this situation. As I mentioned previously, this game lays on the craziness, the twist in the story are something I like to refer to as "mindfucks" and I devour each juicy morsel of each brain-shattering development. Seriously though, it's been a thing in the Giant Bomb community to get Patrick Klepekk to get the true ending in 999 because the pay-off is so huge, and again, sorry to use the term again, mind-blowing! The same holds true for VLR, and boy what a mindfuck it is! After I finished VLR I put the 3DS down and just starred at the wall in silence for a good half an hour. occasionally uttering "...what?", "....why?", "...but how?" as I mulled over the previous 43 hours I spent on the game in my head. And then I continued to think about it for the next week. Hell, I'm starting to think about it all again now.

And I'll tell you, I couldn't be happier knowing that Kotaro Uchikoshi is going to be making a third game in the series. It should be noted that you could totally pick up VLR and play it as a standalone experience, but if you've played, MAN! Some of the revelations in this game will floor you. And the ending already lays the groundwork for another game, leaving me, and countless other fans to ponder on theories and speculation for the next however many years.

Aside from what I've already talked about, the rest of the game is solid as well. It has a fitting soundtrack, though not one I'm necessarily happy to sit down and listen to, if anything, it gives me anxiety attacks when I hear it. The character designs by Kinu Nishimura are wonderful. I will say that the CG can look a bit awkward, especially when seeing screengrabs in random news stories around the web, but I think while playing the game it clicks. Another thing to note is the voice over, while I can't speak to the Japanese side of things, I will say that Aksys did a wonderful job here as well. Employing some of the localized Japanese game communities best, including my personal favorite lady, Laura Bailey, as Luna, and a fucking outstanding performance by Cindy Robinson as Zero III. As a side note, Cindy also did the voice for Labyrs in this year's Persona 4 Arena, which sadly did not make the list, but still worth noting as she's clearly a very talented individual who knows her craft well.
6. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Alright, so, probably tired of hearing this by now, but XCOM was another one of those games that just came out of no where for me this year. The funny thing about this one is, if I had known what X-COM was all about, I would have been eagerly awaiting this game with baited breath. Regardless of what the original PC games were like, which from the sounds of it, were probably a little too hardcore for my taste, just the concept of XCOM is enough to wet my appetite.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a tactical turn-based strategy RPG sayeth the Giant Bomb page for XCOM. Which to me basically equates to: "Yo, this shit is like Fire Emblem, but with aliens and guns instead of swords and magic." Again, You'll have to forgive my ignorance for not realizing that X-COM was this from the start, and thus acknowledging, it's reputation as a juggernaut in this genre space. With that said, I do love me some Fire Emblem.

So, step one out of the way, "Find out what XCOM is all about." Step two was to "be extremely excited by this revelation and furiously download the demo." Kinda nice that the revelation lined up perfectly with the release date of the demo, huh? So I tried the demo, and am pleased to finally say that it was fucking awesome! As rote as my usual experience with anticipated demos is, it was a nice change of pace to be rewarded with one that made me even hungrier for the final product. And hungry I was, for if you'll recall back a few months when this was coming out, XCOM and Dishonored were releasing on the same day. Previously I had been fuck-all excited about Dishonored, but after the demo of XCOM I couldn't be assed to think about Dishonored. That trend would continue upon my acquiring both games, my playing way, way, way more XCOM than Dishonored, and finally deciding that XCOM was one of my games of the year, while I felt Dishonored was a bit disappointing.

I digress though. On to talking about the god damn game! XCOM is, in a way, kind of the polar opposite of most the games on this list. XCOM has a story. I don't give a shit about XCOM's story. Like, at all. The gameplay though.... hooooooly crap. XCOM is a delicate balancing act of the tactical strategy battles, and the RPG-like management of everything that goes on. Very good news for a Fire Emblem fan, I assure you. Each battle requires caution, careful placement of units, using your units together to overcome obstacles, where in a lot of cases the odds are stacked against you. Eventually my squad was pretty fucking incredible, but even then it is HARD to look down a wave of bloodthirsty Mutons, and god forbid you see more than one Sectopod. Oh man, and that last room in the game? Shit is whack!

Meanwhile you have to make sure everything is coming together on the managerial side of things. Truth is, you have extremely limited resources, way too much shit to buy, and even less time to do it all in. This stuff is so crucial to your success that the moments where you are clicking through menus in your base camp can be just as intense as facing down those Mutons! If this is your kind of thing, than XCOM certainly scratches that itch.

I mentioned earlier moments in The Walking Dead that had you talking with your friends about how certain things turned out. Well, true to my word, it happens in other games too, on a purely mechanical level. Due to the multitude of factors in XCOM, not the least of which is randomness, and luck, nearly every moment in the game can play out differently. Differently among your friends, and differently among different playthroughs of the game for you. It's also because of this that you can have these really epic stories about shit that happened to you and your squad. Swapping these stories can be every bit as addicting as the game itself, especially for someone like me who feeds off of the various strategy elements.

For instance, I couldn't shut up on Twitter about my squad while I was playing the game. Particularly my Sniper, Lenneth "Valkyire" Platina, who was for the most part my only female squad member, and the only person in the squad who wasn't named after a rapper. My sniper build was such: Squadsight, Damn Good Ground, Disabling Shot (rarely used), Executioner, Double Tap (!!). Basically all that means is that my sniper could usually* (*a bit foggy on the limitations of Squadsight, sometimes it seemed like I couldn't attack everything my squad was seeing, and that was a bummer, still an incredible perk though) shoot anything that my other squad members could see, had better aim and defense when she had a height advantage (combine that with the Skeleton Suit, or better and you could always get to high ground), had even better aim (it was already ridiculously high) when the enemy was below 50% health, and for the cherry on top- could perform two-fucking-attacks per round!! This included using her "Headshot" ability, which increased the damage critical hits did (of course she'd get a critical most of the time) and the normal shot. By the end of the game with the Plasma Sniper Rifle she was one-shotting most enemies, two at a time, or single-handedly dismantling a Sectopod. And even though she passed the test to become a Pisonic, I hardly ever needed to use any of those abilities on her! Now I don't know if that description did anything for you, but it's shit like that, that gives me a massive nerd boner, and makes me want to do that so bad, so hopefully someone will persuaded to try it if they haven't already.

One more war story for the road, then we can move on, I promise. My first multiplayer game could NOT have gone better. I mean, I guess everything could have gone according to plan, but I don't think the result would have been nearly as entertaining. Basically in XCOM multiplayer you have a pool of points you can spend outfitting your squad. In short, every piece of equipment, or ability you take costs points. The better the character is, the more points in consumes. So ideally you're striking a good balance of well... balanced characters. I... didn't want to do that. So! I dumped a ton of points into the deadliest sniper you could imagine, setup a grunt solider with a shotgun, and threw in one little Sectoid with my left over points. I had my Sniper go up to the roof of the building, while my assault solider scouted around for the enemy. The Sectoid, well, the only thing, and I do mean the only thing he did the entire match was use his ability to channel energy into the sniper to make the sniper even more badass.

So the grunt notices some equally "grunty" foot soliders and my sniper pops em' off. No Problem. Then, my opponent who obviously had the same mindset as me brings out their big badass. This freak is filled to the brim with psionic juice, like really, this thing could rival an Ethereal. So psycho solider mind controls my grunt. Bet he's thinking "Ahhh yeah, how do you like that shit!?". My turn. Select my sniper, two shot Athena. "How do you like that shit!?" I yell to no one in particular. Keep in mind my Sectoid is still linked to my sniper. So, anyways. All this guy has left is a bunch of Sectoids. No problem right? And then it happens. The Sectoids come up to the roof, they attack my Sectoid. He dies. And then.... my fucking sniper dies instantly because the mind link was severed! You would think I'd be furious, but I was laughing my ass off. I had absolutely no idea how the mind link worked, and that when the channeler died, so would the recipient. As much as I was laughing, the other guy must have been in tears! Unfortunately for him, I still had my reclaimed grunt, so I brought him up to the roof, and started laying waste to his Sectoids. There was nothing he could do to stop me, and once again victory had been snatched out of his palms. Right before I could kill the last Sectoid though I guess he had the last laugh (not really!) because he ragequit and disconnected from the match. However I lived to tell the tale in a Giant Bomb Game of The Year list, so really, I still win!
7. Sleeping Dogs
Okay, for real guys. This is the last time I'll say this (this year at least), but Sleeping Dogs was yet another game I was not expecting to enjoy nearly as much as I did. Can you blame me? It was previously a canceled True Crime game. How bad does a True Crime game have to be in order for it to be canceled. Which, considering the quality of Sleeping Dogs, in retrospect, what the fuck were they thinking canceling this? Maybe it went through a lot of work from then and when it released. All I know is that I'm thankful Square Enix swooped in and helped make this a thing that happened. Because, man, it is one hell of a game.

Firstly, it's an open world sandbox game. I've been known to like those in the past, so that checks out. Secondly it's set in Hong Kong, that seems like a pretty interesting setting, so that sounds good too. Thirdly it has a real melee combat system, with combos, and counters. Wait, what? Really? At that point it's easy to draw comparisons between games like Grand Theft Auto, and Yakuza, While Yakuza is already reminiscent of Shenmue. Niiiice.

So yeah, the game is a hell of a lot of fun. The melee combat holds up, and it doesn't hurt that a lot of the moves, including environmental kills are fucking brutal. Okay, well I guess it hurts them. Eventually you get a gun, and at that point certain parts of the game aren't quite as entertaining, but the shooting is totally competent, and there's some slow-mo John Woo type shit, kind of like Stranglehold, but in a better game. I also liked the driving, but then again I always like driving around in these games just listening to the radio stations, and speeding around. But there's something special to be had there too with the hijack-move that have your character leaping from your current vehicle onto one your chasing, and commandeering it.

It's stuff like that, that separate this game from other sandbox games. A lot of the crazier shit would actually fit right in with Saint's Row, but I think there's an important difference here. Sleeping Dogs straddles the line between absurdity (Saint's Row) and seriousness (Grand Theft Auto). That is to say, a lot of the action in the game is more on the absurd side, but the tone of the game, particularly the story is on the serious side. I find that this is a pretty nice balance between the two, and might in fact actually enjoy this one game more than either of those series.

Speaking of the story, it's surprisingly good. I mean, I guess you wouldn't think that at a glance, but if you dig in you see that there's a lot going on here. There's some great character development along the way, and by the end of the game I felt like I was closer to Wei Shen, more so than any other open world protagonist at least.

Aside from that, it really is about just being as ridiculous as possible. Including the soundtrack which is just off-the-fucking-wall. I found myself laughing out loud at stuff that happened in the game, and it all looks pretty cool at the same time. I remember one time in particular where I was racing to a mission objective in a really fast sports car. I must have been doing 120 mph or something, slammed into a railing, flew out, over the quest objective, overshooting it by several yards, as I flew right into the ocean... and survived. Then I had to swim back to the shore and activate the objective. That's just good fun man.

If nothing else though, even if this wasn't one of my games of the year, we at least got these two videos out of it. I swear, those two Quick-Looks are two of my all-time favorite videos on Giant Bomb now.
8. Binary Domain
Alright, Homestretch! Here we go! Binary Domain! It's a game! A game made by Toshihiro Nagoshi to be exact. Now, if you know me, you know I love me some Yakuza games. Love em! So when Sega announced a new game from Nagoshi, I was... cautiously optimistic. On the one hand, it was a Nagoshi game, so chances were pretty high that I was going to like it, or at least some parts of it. On the other hand, Binary Domain was looking like another "Oh hey, this will appeal to a western audience" cash in. We've seen it before, it's not pretty. On the other, other hand, Vanquish was preeeety cool.

So, it could have gone either way with Binary Domain. And in fact, at first I thought it wasn't a very good game. God, let's see how this process went again... I rented Binary Domain shortly after it came out, and I played a bit of it. I wasn't thrilled with it. I don't know what the reasoning for that opinion was, if it just wasn't clicking with me right away. Or maybe I wasn't in the mood for it at the time. I think another thing that wasn't helping it was that I was currently playing Mass Effect 3 at the time, which by all accounts is a better shooter (oddly enough). So, it just didn't click with me. I sent it back. Then, shortly after that I rented Yakuza: Dead Souls.

Now, to understand the importance of this next bit, you just need to know that Yakzua: Dead Souls actually came out in Japan way before Binary Domain. So, my theory is that Nagoshi was just really itching to make a third person shooter game. His first attempt was with Yakuza: Dead Souls, and when that didn't quite work out. He said "fuck it" and decided to try again with a new IP. Anyways... yeah. Yakuza: Dead Souls is a fucking terrible game man. Like, I wanted to like it, I really did. As I mentioned, I love the Yakuza series, and by all accounts the story in the game, as ridiculous as it was (even for a Yakuza game) would have probably been something I enjoyed. But the gameplay was so god damn bad, it was unbearable really. That combined with the typical length of a Yakuza game, complete with a lot of side quests... just, Nah. I couldn't do it man.

So it was around this time that I started hearing people talking favorable about Binary Domain. They were saying things like how crazy the story was, and how great the characters were. It started to sound like this was Yakuza: Dead Souls done right. To add onto that, Big Bo kind of became a "thing" for me after the Giant Bomb Quick Look. So, I did what any sane person would do in this situation. I rented the game again from Gamefly.

For whatever reason, that is still beyond me, the game suddenly clicked with me. Surprisingly so. The shooting still isn't great, but there's charm in it. Being able to dismember the robots is entertaining enough, and the game doesn't have bad shooting by any stretch of the imagination. Perhaps out of the shadow of Mass Effect's varied combat, Binary Domain was able to shine a little more for what it was. Plus it's kind of cool how it has very light RPG elements with upgrading your primary guns, and equipping these nodes that give you little bonuses.

That's not really why Binary Domain is a Game of The Year though. There's plenty of good games I played this year that had even better mechanics to back it up. No, for Binary Domain, unsurprisingly considering this list, and the developer, it's the story, and the characters that make Binary Domain memorable. For one, the story is deceptively good. I know, Yakuza has built up an entire series of games that have rich stories and characters. But looking at Binary Domain it's hard to shake off that feeling of "Man, this is a third person shooter. Better yet, it's a weird Japanese third person shooter. Remember how we were just talking about Vanquish and how cool that game was? The story sure as shit wasn't! So why would this be any different?" That inner monologue aside, I was very impressed with the places Binary Domain went.

It's not Shakespeare- or maybe more accurately something I actually like, that is modern, relevant, and not just a turn of phrase, but that will do- but it's a surprisingly deep story that tackles some interesting, possible 9hopefully?) future issues of robots, and humanity. Probably something about racism in there too (lol at the games cast of characters) but it's been a while, so forgive me. And, as a trend on this list, it has some pretty sharp turns in the narrative that will Blow You Away™ - It also doesn't hurt that Binary Domain has a colorful cast of characters that have a hidden depth to them. As funny as Big Bo is, he really has some, I can't believe I'm going to say this, heartfelt moments in the game.

It was this story, and these characters that made me want to keep playing the game, that is to say I had a hard time putting the controller down when I was on a roll. And it was also because of this that my opinion started increasing more, and more gradually as the game went on. I basically went from being unimpressed with the game, to liking it, to really liking it, and finally after everything was said and done thinking "Damn, That was a good fucking game." Honestly, I've been thinking about Binary Domain all year. It's always been on the tail end of the list, always threatened to be replaced by what are essentially "better" games. But, I couldn't do it! I couldn't replace Binary Domain. Like, I have a txt file I keep on my computer documented my Game of The Year process. I start at the beginning of the year and I add games to the list. Every game I play. I assign a "review" score to each game. 1-5. Binary Domain was a 4. I have about 10 other games that are 5s. I kept an updated list of my Top 10. Binary Domain never left the list! I always thought stuff like "Man, you know Borderlands 2 probably is better than Binary Domain, but..." and yet here it sits! Even crazier is that while I've been writing this list Binary Domain was locked in at tenth. Now I think I want to move it higher? It's weird! My friend asked me game recommendations for her two teenage cousin's Christmas present. At first she joked "What about Binary Domain?" we laughed, said "Big Bo!" a few times, and then I was like "...actually maybe you should get them Binary Domain." And she did. Weird!

Anyways, sorry for that uh... whatever that was. Me discovering my true feelings for Binary Domain I guess. Anyways, to wrap this up. Binary Domain is a good game, but a better story, a memorable one. It has some oddities, like the poorly implemented voice commands, and the weird multiplayer that I guess I honestly don't know anything about. But in the end, it's pretty dang cool. What up Big Bo!?
9. Dust: An Elysian Tail
Dust is my obligatory indie game of the list, this year. And that's saying something, because there were quite a few really awesome indie games this year. I've actually been interested in Dust for quite a while now, dating back to whenever the first trailer was revealed, and was kind of dreading for a while there that it would never come out. Thankfully it did, and Dean Dodrill did an amazing job. If you don't know the story of Dust development, Dean pretty much made this epic game by himself. It's the main reason it took so long to come out, and when you play the finished product, feel free to lift your jaw up off the floor at what one man was able to put together.

I guess I should mention the fact that Dust (stupidly) is a controversial game. Why? Because it has anthropomorphic creatures in it, and thus appeals to the "furry"crowd. Now, I'm not saying that it doesn't, because it certainly does that. I'm also not the biggest fan of that kind of character, but I'm certainly not against it either. In fact there are some great character designs in this game. Some characters I would even consider calling "cute." So what if they're furry? It's a dumb thing to get hung up on. Still can't enjoy the aesthetic? That's fine too. But there are some (ignorant) people who won't even try the game, let alone enjoy it because it features "furries" I'm sorry, but that's fucking retarded. Being an open minded person myself, and priding myself on that fact, I'll say that I've no interest in people who can be so narrow-minded about things. Especially this, like, really? It's not like you're going to get cooties if you play as a fox-man. And as many people have pointed out, by rallying against this design, you're pretty much saying you don't like things like Looney Toons, Disney's Robin Hood, Ducktails, or Space Jam. How the fuck you not gonna like Space Jam?

But, whatever. Wanna be that way? Fine. Meanwhile I'm going to tell all the cool people out there about this game (finally). So firstly, Dust is very similar in style, and gameplay to some other favorite games of mine. Namely Odin Sphere, and Muramasa: The Demon Blade. Both of these are Vanillaware games that feature side scrolling exploration, and combat, with light RPG elements (more so in Odin Sphre, but whatever). So when I saw the trailer for Dust way back when, I was instantly on board. Like, hey, this game looks gorgeous, it looks fun, and it's a downloadable game that will probably cost me $15. All of those things are true about Dust.

Oddly enough, I went through a "phase" with Dust in the early goings. When I first tried to play it, I was playing it on Normal. Which, in retrospect probably isn't too hard, once you get the hang of it. Especially later on when Dust is overpowered as hell. But at first I was getting pretty frustrated with the difficulty. I know I'm not the only one though, as my friend had the same problem with the game to start. And for him he had actually completely 100%'d Muramasa on the harder difficulty, so I knew there was some weight in that concern. So it put me off to the game at first, I put it down for a couple weeks while I played other stuff, probably other stuff that wasn't as good, I can't remember. Regardless...

I'm glad I picked it up again, because what followed was, well, obviously, one of the best game experiences I had this year. The combat is definitely fun, and like I said, in retrospect, probably not that bad. I actually started up a new game, and got half way through it with little to no problems on Normal. So I just think it takes some practice, and some knowledge about the games. (Protips: Be careful about using your Aerial Dust Storm in areas with "bomb" enemies. That'll fuck you up real good. Make sure to make liberal use of the counterattack ability. Some bosses might seem like they take forever to kill, but counterattack them and they go down like a bag of rocks. Finally, for the love of god, stack health regen. I cannot stress this enough. You will go from having to constantly pig out on restorative food, to basically being an unstoppable killing machine that is fairly hard to kill.)

All that said, there's more! You might have heard Patrick or Brad talking about this on the Bombcast, but if not, know this. This game has a dark story. I know, it might not look like that from the outset, but make no mistake about it. Shit is grim. It's amazing the depth that Dean went through while telling this story. Like I said, it looks pretty fun and family friendly from the outset, but things go south for Dust fast. And, as I'm sure I have well and good established by now, I love a good twist. And this game has a few of them, some are pretty violent twist that hit you like whiplash, and that's the kind of thing I'm looking for in a good story.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the music in this game either. HyperDuck SoundWorks handled all the music in Dust, and it is a very beautiful soundtrack indeed. Feel free to head over to their BandCamp page to listen to the soundtrack for free, or buy it if you feel so inclined. I sadly haven't purchased it yet myself but it seems totally worth it.

Finally, I have to talk about my absolute favorite thing in the game. I feel bad about saying this is my favorite thing, given all the other incredible stuff I've talked about, but I really couldn't forgive myself if I didn't make mention of it here. So, there's 12 collectible "friends" you can get in the game. Two of them are HypderDuck SoundWorks mascots, which is cool and all, but the real treat comes in the form of the other 10 characters, who are all cameos from other X-Box Live Indie Games. Firstly, I'm a sucker for cameos. Not big on full on crossovers, but I do really get a kick out of it when you see a nod to something else you enjoy. So for example, I think the first one you find is Meat Boy, who sadly isn't that entertaining to get. Most of the other ones are just as awesome to get as they are to just be cameos (does that make sense?)

So in most cases you'll have to figure out how to reach the spots where the friends are located. You can usually tell which friend it's going to be if you have some knowledge about previous popular XBLA titles, because the area surrounding the case will feature something familiar to that character's game. So for example, if you were to see Dust himself in another game that aped this same Easter egg technique, you might wander into an air that looks like a watercolor painting, and has Fidget hanging out in the background. In some cases this is easy, in other cases it's the only thing in the game I ever had to look up because I had no fucking clue how to get it. And in one very special case...

...this is spoiler tagged and all, but I just had to share this because my thought process once I saw this Easter egg was "Oh man, Dust just got a spot on my GOTY list." So, you're in this snowy mountain area of the game, and as your climbing this mountain you might find a spot on a cliff face where there's an hourglass. So you should already know that Tim from Braid is going to be there. What isn't abundantly clear is how to actually do anything at the cliff face. At least, not at first it isn't. A little later on you find a mysterious red orb. The description on the orb is: "An opaque crystalline orb. What purpose does it serve?" Know where I'm going with this? So anyways, I'll admit, it was a little trial and error of figuring out what items I had, and what spots of the map I hadn't cleared yet. But one time when I went back to visit that cliff face I was like "HOLY SHIT! NO WAY!". So if you really don't know what I'm getting at, I'll explain. In the NES game Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, there is a ridiculously obscure part in the game. Okay, I guess it wasn't that ridiculous considering the rest of that game was shrouded by a fog of nonsensical bullshit. But this was really pushing it. Anyways, what you had to do in that game was equip the Red Orb, crouch next to the cliff face for like... I dunno 3 seconds or some shit? And then a mysterious tornado comes and whisk you away to your destination. That exact thing happens exactly the same way in Dust. To top it off, once you get into the Braid area Dust (or Fidget, I can't remember, probably Fidget) comments: "Well that was completely pointless." It was fucking perfect, and if you don't like that because you're afraid of a walking, talking fox-man, then fuck you!
10. Tales of Graces F
Tales of Graces f is kind of an anomaly on this particular list. One, it's a JRPG. Two, It's a game I was looking forward to. That's pretty crazy, all things considering. I love JRPGs, and I think I'd generally like to at least like games I'm looking forward to. Not a lot of that this year, sadly... yikes. Anyway...

Graces f is about what you'd expect from a Tales game. You either love them, or you hate them. They're very anime in both the visuals, but the storytelling as well. They're lengthy JRPGs with a lot of dialog and cutscenes. And theres about 60 hours at least of the same combat over and over again. I love it! Seriously though, like I said, you probably know if this is your cup of tea by now or not. Don't think I'm going to be able to sell you on it if not.

What I can say though is that it is very good at doing what it does. It's a beautiful looking game, I love the art style, and I love the character designs. Sophie and Cheria are both adorable, the latter being voice by Laura Bailey. The story has it's high points, but the main draw is the development of your party members through the numerous cutscenes, and "Skit Events" made famous by the Tales series. As usual with the Tales games, 8-4 did a wonderful job on the localization, while Cup of Tea Productions handled the voice cast. It's quality work if you're into this stuff, you know these writers, you know these voice actors. It all feels like coming back to a warm, and fuzzy home.

The combat in this game deserved a special nod, because it mixes up the usual format a bit. The combat in Graces f is kind of comparable to a fighting game. Where instead of just mashing the X button, and spamming your skills, you have to input button commands, and build up combos to unleash your devastating moves. I don't know which system I prefer, but this one is pretty damn cool all the same.

It was refreshing to finally have another good, solid JRPG, since they're exceedingly rare nowadays. This year also saw the release of Atelier Meruru, which I enjoyed, but maybe not as much as the previous game for it to make this list. And it certainly was a refresher after Final Fantasy XIII-2 at the beginning of the year... sheesh. It's sad because JRPGs are, or at least were my favorite genre, but it doesn't seem like they can keep up with the times.

Oh well, that bit of rambling aside, there's one last minor thing that I really enjoyed in Graces f that I wanted to note. It actually has a bit of fanservice in it for fans of the Tales series. First is a collectible card game. Each card features a character from past Tales games, accompanied by a quote from that character. Ultimately the cards are only used in a small side quest, and the card game itself is just a match game, so it's not that interesting, but I still appreciated it. The other thing was that the ultimate weapons in the game (there are two sets of them oddly enough) are all named after different games in the Tales series. Another nice little touch I thought.

Robert Boyd's Decent into madness

No Caption Provided

It's 9:30 AM, PST. I've been up for a while, I should probably go to bed, but I'm afraid I can't pass up an opportunity to chronicle one man's decent into madness. Last night, after Spike TV's Video Game Award ceremony, indie developer Robert Boyd lost his shit. The problem? That The Walking Dead had won the award for Game of The Year, not to mention several other awards, and Telltale itself receiving an award. Boyd states in a few of his Tweets:

Robert Boyd ‏werezompire

Generally disappointed with the majority of the VGA decisions so hey, at least they're consistent from year to year. :)
What really bothers me about the VGA is how it really emphasizes the fact that the blockbuster game industry is going places I can't follow.
Extreme violence, horrendous language, and more! Gotta be edgy to the max! It just makes me sick.
I'm sad we live in a society where moral ambiguity and shock values are considered art. Instead of, you know, trying to uplift.
Ban this sick filth!
Ban this sick filth!

Now, obviously Boyd is entitled to his opinion that The Walking Dead is a shitty game, and make no mistake about it, that's exactly what he thinks. As Boyd has stated in other Tweets last night that he felt the writing was unimpressive, the vulgar language was offensive and even going as far as to make a joke saying that: The Walking Dead is a "choose your own adventure game" that won the VGAs, while his zombie themed game Molly The Were-Zompire did not win a VGA in 2009. Sure, it's a joke, but the fact remains, Boyd is tearing down a game he has no respect for. This maybe wouldn't come as such offensive behavior if it wasn't little more than a childish tantrum that a grown man threw right after Telltale won big at the VGAs. A mainstream event, held on live televsion, where an adventure game developer extraordinarily enough bested juggernauts like Assassin's Creed III and Mass Effect 3. And maybe I'm overreacting a bit myself, but it just seems petty for developer to insult his peers in their moment of triumph. Your mileage may vary.

Obviously that isn't the bigger issue here though. It's the fact that Boyd somehow feels that The Walking Dead is part of a bigger problem in the industry. As made clear by the above statements, and the response I got from Boyd when I confronted him about his soreness over The Walking Dead winning:

TWD winning is symbolic of a greater problem
Super Mario Bros. Franchise - 262 Million sold worldwide.
Super Mario Bros. Franchise - 262 Million sold worldwide.

Boyd clearly feels that the games industry is corrupted by a market that is overrun by violent video games. He's not totally wrong there though, many of the most popular blockbuster games are in fact violent, or otherwise mature video games. But it's ignorant to focus on that one aspect of the market, while at the same time plenty of family friendly, or at the very least, games devoid of any mature content are more than successful on the market. While Call of Duty, Halo, Gears of War, and Grand Theft Auto might lead the charge in the violent side of things, just about every Nintendo franchise is a top-seller, you also have franchises like Gran Turismo, Final Fantasy, and various Sports games which also do ridiculously well. And that's just counting the multi-million dollar franchises. So, yes, only violent video games are selling well if you turn a blind-eye to the rest of the the industry. Not to mention the fact that nothing is stopping developers from making games of any subject matter, regardless of how well they sell.

Granted, this could have all been the frustrations of a man who got caught up in the moment of a game he didn't like winning a Game of The Year award. Wouldn't be the first time that's happened to someone, certainly not me either. However... it was the comments this morning that really lead me to believe that Boyd is a little fanatical in his belief about mature rated games.

Boyd picked up the torch from where he left off last night, and continued his ranting about the VGAs and violent video games, which you can see in the following Tweets:

You know my whole VGA ranting wasn't really about the VGAs at all or even the games that were nominated.
I'm just getting frustrated that stuff like Uncharted->Last of Us and Tomb Raider are turning into things I can't in good conscious play.
The new Tomb Raider sounds like something that could be an all-time favorite of mine but it sounds like they're ruining it with violence.

Again, Boyd is entitled to think whatever he wants, and if he truly can't enjoy what are looking to be some of 2013's biggest games, than that truly is a shame. However saying things like "ruining it with violence" is a bit extreme, not to mention entirely subjective. But it doesn't stop there...

And we can't even lay the blame solely on the developers. If people weren't buying these kinds of games, publishers would stop making them.

Whoa, what? While the statement isn't entirely false, I think it's a bit of a stretch to say that developers only craft games in a mature setting to cash in on a blood-thirsty audience. Let's not bullshit, the money helps, but even if that wasn't the case, developers wouldn't just altogether avoid mature subject matters. In much the same way a developer might not think a turn based strategy game would sell as much as a first person shooter, but does it anyway. If we were to take this into the realm of films, then I supposed David Fincher wouldn't have made an English adaptation of a Sweidsh film, and book series about a girl being raped. He'd just make a shitty kids' CGI movie and call it a day.

Speaking of movies, Boyd has something to say about those too! When someone on Twitter asked Boyd if games should be treated differentially than other forms of media, Boyd had this to say:

No, but movies are kind of a lost cause at this point.

So even movies are beyond redemption in Boyd's eyes! Despite the fact that most of the top grossing movies in the world are in fact NOT R Rated. I suppose at least you can take some small comfort in the fact that Boyd at least considers all forms of violent media equally worthless.

Finally, to top everything off, Boyd had one final outrageous thing to say in regards to violent media:

Anyone who thinks this kind of stuff doesn't affect them is fooling themselves. It may be gradual & subtle but it has an effect.

WOW! Alright, so we shouldn't be any stranger to this argument at this point right? For years games have been treated as a punching bag by the media. Video Games have been setup as some sort of grand scapegoat that can explain away all the flaws and mental illnesses a person might have had before committing a violent crime.

Remember this guy?
Remember this guy?

Gee, you know what this is reminding me a lot of? Jack Thompson. A man who spent years of his life, fighting a ridiculous battle to try and restrict, or out right ban the selling of violent video games in the United States. Thankfully the lunatic was finally disbarred to much rejoicing. Furthermore, as of last year the Supreme Court ruled that video games are protected by the First Amendment. Making it perfectly legal, not to mention acceptable to produce and sell violent video games in this Country.

With that said, it should just be common sense that creators are going to tackle mature subjects. Why wouldn't they? Otherwise we'd just be moving backwards, and not expand on the amount of subjects that can be conveyed effectively in this form of media.

Clearly I'm overreacting at this point, and the simple fact of the matter is that Robert Boyd is just a narrow-minded individual who has a very zealous belief on whether violent media should even exist or not. And that's especially weird considering his current project, which is Penny Arcade Adventures Episode 3, and it's sequel. Considering the original subject matter of Penny Arcade, it's pretty baffling that Boyd is in charge of making these games. Only now do I see the stark contrast between the original games by Hothead, in which it featured gibs, and a hobo scientist who pissed on things for research. And a much more mild, if not neutered story.

In closing. I dunno, I guess I was just put off by Boyd's opinions. And I say that as someone who has enjoyed his games, and frequently enjoys his commentary on JRPGs, and Kickstarter. I've seen Boyd complain about violent video games, and vulgar language in the past, and it has always put me off, as someone who is open minded and able to enjoy different forms of expression. But I guess this time it was just too much, in rapid succession and at a very bad time, where I thought Telltale should be celebrated for a great achievement. Not shunned for making something Robert Boyd didn't like.

I'm out! *drops the mic*


A Trip To Ys: A Love Letter to Ys Origin

During the Steam Summer Sale I picked up Ys Origin on Steam for $8. It wasn't my first attempt at getting into the long running series from Nihon Falcom Corp. but it would eventually prove to be the most fruitful effort.

When I first launched Ys Origin I was treated to a little harmonica jingle that accompanied the Falcom's logo, following that I watched an intro where pretty typical JRPG stuff happened, and then finally I was able to start the game. At the outset you're able to pick one of two characters, Yunica Tovah who is a melee fighter, and Hugo Fact who is a mage. Considering my preference, I started with Yunica.

From the get go, I felt that Origin was going to be a special kind of game. The sprite based graphics looked gorgeous turned on the highest settings, and it already sparked a nostalgic feeling for me. It also doesn't hurt that the game has an incredible soundtrack to boot. So even though I had only spent time going through a series of text prompts, and admiring the games presentation it had made a positive impression.

What would follow, would be my total adoration for how brilliantly designed the game is. In brief, Ys Origin is an action role playing game. Combat takes place in real time, you advance your character, and there's even a little bit of platforming thrown in there to spice things up. On it's own, these mechanics are enjoyable, and should bring back fond memories of games like Soul Blazer, or my most accurate comparison of Brave Fencer Musashi , or hey, maybe if you haven't been living under a rock like I have, other Ys games.

So, what Falcom did was they took a simple combat system, and they built brilliant things around it. Most encounters in the game are simple enough, especially on easier difficulty levels, but as you advance through the game and collect new abilities, you'll find that certain abilities, or weapons work better on different kinds of enemies. At once point I was pretty reliant on a fire sword that Yunica got midway through the game, and generally tended to stick to using it, but there were some situations where I found certain kinds of enemies particularly annoying to fight with it. A quick one button press swapped to another weapon and I was taking them out much easier.

But the real meat and potatoes of the combat system comes into play when you fight the game's truly epic boss battles. For most of the game you're fighting these gigantic monsters who all require you to find out the trick to beating them. Figuring out what you have to do to defeat a boss is about as rewarding as any puzzle, and is usually pretty badass. In one example you had to jump onto the back of a giant centipede type monster and break apart it's weak points as you made your way from the tail to the head. Also, seeing as how there are no restorative items in the game, you pretty much have one pool of health to make this work, so you're going to have to learn the ins and outs of the boss if you want to succeed.

I found myself getting really excited every time I got to a boss door. The prospect of having an entirely new, screen-filling boss that I would have to puzzle out became very addictive. To the point where I'd have to force myself to stop playing after a boss to take a break, lest I wander too close to another boss door and keep the process going. It also helps that the game is very forgiven about the trial and error of these fights. Before every boss is a save point, and if you should die to a boss the game will allow you to retry the fight from the beginning again. Considering you don't have to worry about too many preparations for the boss fight, it always feels like retrying is a viable option, and that you stand an equal chance of winning the next time regardless.

Outside of the boss fights, you are making your way up this tower, which is broken up into each sections which make up a different themed dungeon leading up to each boss encounter. Now, as cool as the boss fights are, I have to say that the exploration of these areas is easily what sold me so hard on the game. Here's where I feel there's an apt comparison to The Legend of Zelda series. Many of the dungeon sections in the game give you an item or ability that help you specifically in that section of the dungeon, much like the dungeons in Zelda.

However, in Ys Origin I felt that these items did an even better job of synergizing with their respective part of the tower. In Zelda, you get items like the Hookshot which allow you to use it on certain areas in the dungeon to progress. In Ys Origin you get items that make traversing the area noticeably easier. The moment this clicked for me was a part of the tower where there were slick surfaces which made your character slide all over. I hated it, I was so god damn mad during this area that I was going crazy. And then you find an item that attaches to your boots so that you can walk normally on the surfaces. My relief at finding this item was palpable. That's also when little fireworks went off in my head and I was like "This is fucking genius."

In addition to all that, there are many smaller things that made me fall in love with the game. I already mentioned the soundtrack, but the game also has a decent story which I ended up really caring about some of the characters by the end. I enjoyed that as you familiarized yourself with the game, and your abilities, that your character visibly became more stronger based on your skill, just as much as stats. I liked that the platforming in this game was there to provide an edge to the exploration, but that it wasn't as punishing as the platforming found in Ys: The Oath in Felghana. I love the fact that the boss fights aren't scripted, so if you happen to beat that really powerful bad guy you a) can actually do it, b) you get rewarded for it (there's even an achievement!)

Oh, and that harmonica thing I mentioned? At one point in the game you get a harmonic, and it's an important item to use to help you get through a section of the tower. When Yunica first played it, my jaw hit the floor. It was a little off on the account that she couldn't quite remember the song, but it was unmistakably the jingle from the Falcom logo at the beginning of the game. Furthermore the actual song plays a bigger part in the actual story. I know, it's a silly little detail, but it blew me away just how charming it was.

In closing, I really, really love Ys Origin. Needless to say, it was a nice little surprise for a game I paid $8, not to mention one I would pay even more money for and still feel completely justified. But it also served as a friendly reminder. Japanator Editor, and RedSunGamer host Elliot Gay said on a recent episode of RSG that people often associate Diablo as the last bastion of action role playing games, but that he felt Falcom games were representing just as hard, if not more so. I only wish I had realized it sooner, because these Japanese ARPGs are just a different side of the same coin, and one I've spent far too much time away from.


Game of the Year 2011

Well, it's that time of year again. Time for me to care entirely too much about a silly little list of my favorite games of the year. I know not many people actually read my list, or care about them. But I still can't help but be excited for them. And, hey - when you spend most of your time and money playing about 100 games every year, I think you might have some interesting things to say about your top 10.

So, I won't waste anytime getting into it. Here's my picks.

Game of The Year 2011

1. Pokémon Black/White

If you're surprised to see the latest entry in the Pokemon series as my Game of The Year, don't worry, I am too.

A brief history lesson: I bought into the Pokemon craze fully back in the late 90s when it first made it's way over to the US. And I do mean fully. I was obsessed with the game, the Anime, the cards, and any other merchandise I could get my hands on. This went on for a good while, well into the release of Silver and Gold. And then, suddenly, I had enough. Sure, my love of Pokemon never went away, but I became decidedly less interested in it. I passed up the entire run of GBA games, and didn't really rekindle the passion until the release of Diamond and Pearl. Eventually that gave way too, and I found myself cured of Pokefever again. With the announcement of Soul Silver and Heart Gold, I became interested again, but ultimately I was unimpressed once I got my hands on them.

With all that said, it'd be a logical conclusion that I'd become excited about Black and White. However, I wasn't. No, actually I didn't even intend to play Black and White until my partner convinced me otherwise. So, I went in with a bit of skepticism. And... to my surprise, Pokemon Black/White is what I would consider to be, the greatest games in the series.

Long winded explanation of the events leading up to that aside. Pokemon Black/White was a breath of fresh air for me with the Pokemon series. It hasn't changed the core mechanics of the game, but they're still what you come to Pokemon for. The tried and true battle system remains fun, and surprisingly deep if you delve into it. The appeal of catching new monsters and raising them is still there. And you're still getting a really good, classic style JRPG, complete with charming sprites and a hint of nostalgia.

That's all to be expected though, the real takeaway here is that everything else has been improved. Dramatically. For starters, the story is actually compelling now. Sure, it still has the same format of going from town, to town, fighting each new gym leader. But there's a deeper story going on in the meanwhile. There's still these really powerful Legendary Pokemon lurking about, but they actually play a big role in the story this time. And the events leading up to the game's finale are simply awesome. As I mentioned before the game has a very charming sprite look to it, and as the DS's swan song, it looks even better than any Pokemon game before it. Oh, and the music. God, the music in this game is wonderful. It's honestly the first time where I've sat down and listened to a Pokemon game soundtrack out of the game. "Battle! N" nearly sends chills up my spine.

I mentioned catching new monsters, and while that isn't anything new to the series, one of the really smart things they did this time was make it so that you only see the new Pokemon during the main story. This does, in my mind, so much to refresh the experience, since we've seen all those old Pokemon so many, many times before. Also, much like my initial reaction to Black and White. My impressions of the new Pokemon were pretty lukewarm. But I can say with confidence after playing through the entire game that this generation has some of my favorite monsters.

So let's say you don't care about the single player. I could hardly blame you after a decade of narratively linear games. However, for the sake of such people, let's consider that you're only here for the competitive multiplayer battles. Those are still there, and undoubtedly as strong as ever. Except this time the online system is even more robust, allowing for much easier access to competitive battles. The biggest improvement being that you can fight against random people, instead of needing to have friend codes for each individual battle you do.

Overall, it's simply bigger, and better Pokemon. I know this read sort of like a review, but I just need to stress that these improvements are what make this my game of the year. I love Pokemon, as I've established. But it got stale for me for a while. Pokemon Black and White took me by total surprise. It was an early release in the year, and I wasn't even planning on buying it. But I did, and I played it, and it was wonderful. I'm totally on-board with Pokemon again, and I still regard the game fondly nearly a year later. So that is why, Pokemon Black/White is my Game of The Year 2011.

2. Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine

Speaking of surprises. Oh, hey, here's Space Marine. So let me set the stage for you again. I've always had a passing fondness for the Warhammer universe. So when previews started popping up for Space Marine, I was pretty interested. Flash forward to about a month before the game came out. I downloaded the demo on X-box Live and was immediately... disappointed. Who can say what the problem was? Bad day? Wasn't in the mood? Bad demo? I'm willing to put weight in the latter, considering it seems to be a running gag with me.

So, reviews and impressions start popping up once the game is released. Now, anyone who knows me well enough will tell you that I am easily, easily influenced by the positive opinions of others. It makes me want to try pretty much anything. Not the best thing in the world, but sometimes it works out. It worked out.

Space Marine is pretty much as advertised. It's a brutal, dare I say "visceral"? character action game set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe. The single player is a pretty enjoyable 6 or so hours of glee inducing Ork smashing. The story, and characters are hilariously forgettable, but the action is really clutch. It combines simple melee attacks, with some tried and true third-person shooting. The highlights here though are two-fold. One, they follow this mantra of "fuck cover y'all", seeing as how these SPACE MARINES are 8' tall and fully clad in battle armor from the neck down. Two, there are some highly entertaining weapons in this game. Such as the signature skull crushing Warhammer. But also some crazy shit like a shotgun that shoots molting hot lava at people. It's stupid fun, especially the last portion of the game which has some pretty exciting highs.

All of that sound good? Cool. That's not why I really like Space Marine.

So, going back in time again. There I was having a pretty good time with Space Marine's single player. Now, I wouldn't say that the multiplayer took me by complete surprise, but I had heard some pretty cool stuff about it that may, or may not have influenced my buying decision. However... HOLY SHIT, the multiplayer took me by complete surprise.

Space Marine's multiplayer isn't wholly original. It's a third-person shooter with Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and King of The Hill. It's the inclusion of the elements unique to Space Marine that make it something special. As I've established, big dudes, big armor. There's no cover like Gears of War, so that provides a slightly different feel than what people are used to at this point with the genre. Another thing, remember that sweet sounding lava shotgun? Yeah, you get to use shit like that and more here. True, some of the weapons are standard enough, but when you combine it with the vicious melee attacks, and creativity in the weapons you get something pretty different. For example, one of the classes is purely melee focused, but- they have a jetpack. So you have dudes with giant warhammers flying all around the battleground like a spastic dog. It's pretty sweet.

Lest I neglect to mention this, I may be a bit biased about how good the multiplayer is. See, for whatever reason, I'm unnaturally good at it. I'm usually found comfortably between total suck and painfully average in competitive multiplayer games anymore. But, with Space Marine, I dunno. I was just dominating. I'd frequently pull off shit I'd never dream of doing, and was usually at the top of the leaderboard. It was a nice feeling, very nice.

I remember writing something about Space Marine a few months ago. Basically I compared it to Nier. In the fact that these are both games that pretty much came out of nowhere, and destroyed my expectations. They're both games that I will look back on and smile. Thinking that it's pretty damn nice to have a surprising experience in gaming once in a while.

3. To the Moon

Again, Speaking of surprises, here's another one!

To the Moon is another game that came out of nowhere for me this year. It's an independently developed point-and-click adventure game, developed by Kan Gao, and Freebird Games. It's also one of the greatest point-and-click adventure games I've ever played.

No doubt there are many classics in that genre, many of them I sadly missed out on back in the day. In more recent years I have taken quite a shining to the genre that encompasses such point-and-click adventures, as well as visual novels, and such gems as the Phoenix Wright series. Even so, I would consider To the Moon one of the best.

The story in To the Moon is a damn good one, it has some very emotional highs, and the brillant writing only helps to convey that. I remember saying on Twitter that the game's dialog was making me smile constantly, and then realizing that the story was going to be very sad at points too. It was a nice balance of the two that definitely tugged at my emotions.

The whole thing is presented along side some really pretty sprite work, and an absolutely gorgeous soundtrack. The game is fairly short, at about 4 hours, but I would argue that is to the game's credit. Much like the original Portal, I felt like it was a very tight, polished experience that provided just enough for me to be satisfied, but totally craving more.

I wish I could say more about the game, but it's just one of those games where you can't really say much without going into the story. And I'd rather people just play it instead of me ruining anything for you. Needless to say, it was another pleasant surprise, and one that I feel very strongly about. I can only hope that Freebird will continue the adventures of Eva and Neil.

P.S.: The weird obsession with the Animorphs book series is hilarious.

4. Bastion

The thing with Bastion is, that the entire experience was exciting. I remember when it was first revealed and there was a lot of positive buzz about it. It looked, and sounded like an awesome game. And then thanks to the guys at Giant Bomb, we were able to see what the guys over at Supergiant Games were doing, with a monthly segment entitled "Building The Bastion". It was a great idea, that allowed for people to watch this game grow, and develop. All in all, it was a pretty neat experience. Oh, and it doesn't hurt that Bastion, the game, is totally kickass.

So, it's not often that I'll trout out the games value argument. But in this case, I think it was really appealing. For $15 on the 360 (and even cheaper during sales of the PC version of the game) you got, what is, one of the best games of the year. Now, it's not uncommon for smaller titles to be great or anything, just refer to To the Moon higher up on the list. But, Bastion kind of holds it's own against fully fledged, AAA releases.

It's a beautiful game in many ways. Most easily apparent would be the unique art style that the game is in. It's pretty breathtaking in motion, so colorful, and alive. And complimented that visual aesthetic the entire way is some stellar audio. Not just the music, which I would highly recommend picking up the soundtrack. But what is probably the game's big "hook", as well. As the character Rusk, voiced by the very talented Logan Cunningham, narrates the entire game.

Depending on your stance, the narration might sound like a deal breaker, in either the good, or the bad way. For any people worried about it, rest assured that it's handled very well. Rusk rarely (if ever) repeats himself, and always has new comments about what The Kid is doing. It's pretty damn neat, and I'd like to see more games do this, but then you always run the risk of wearing it out, or doing it wrong. But as far as Bastion is concerned, it's oh so right.

All of that, and I haven't even talked about the gameplay. It's no slouch either. Bastion plays similar to an action RPG, dungeon crawler. No stats, but you're able to customize your character in various different ways. The Kid can use two weapons at a time, and there is a wide array of weaponry, including both melee and ranged weapons. Along with this you're allowed to pick a special ability you can use as long as you have a charge for it. And The Kid can also equip a series of Tonics that improve his various abilities. It's all simple enough that anyone can jump in and enjoy it, but provides enough depth that more core players will find it enjoyable.

Speaking of the core player, Bastion has an excellent difficulty "setting". There are these things called Idols that you can collect throughout the game, and each Idol has a negative effect on The Kid, or a positive effect on the enemy. The more of these you toggle on, the harder the game gets. This is actually pretty amazing, because it allows the player a wide range of control over how easy, or hard they want the game to be. The other benefit of turning these Idols on is that you get more experience when you do, so you level faster the harder the game gets. It's a nice balance.

Aside from the main game, those Idols come in real handy when you're attempting to do the games arena like stages, which adds some extra replayabilty to the game, by competing to do better in each arena, with as many idols turned on as you can manage.

The whole thing is pretty brilliant, and it's definitely one of those smaller games that I tend to latch onto and obsess over. As far as I can tell, it was doing pretty well for Supergiant, so kudos to them. They deserve all the respect they get. And I'm really anxious to see their next project.

5. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Ah, there's Skyrim.

I'm not really sure how to approach this one. On the one hand, I really loved Skyrim. It's an amazing game, that has some breath taking moments. Mechanically it's a huge improvement over previous Elder Scrolls games, which I am a big fan of. On the other hand, there are some problems I have with the game. Now, obviously the problems weren't big enough to deter Skyrim from making my list, but, maybe it kept it from ranking higher on the list.

I'd rather not dwell on the negative side of Skyrim, so instead I'll just try to reassure you that, despite the faults, I played Skyrim for over 200 hours already, and I plan to play many more hours. I still love this game.

As I mentioned that game has some pretty outstanding highs. There are moments scattered throughout the game, be it in a side quest, or just some random occurrence that match any highlight in any game this year. Elder Scrolls fans will know where to look for some of these moments. Such as The Dark Brotherhood, or the Daedric quests. But there's some really awesome stuff involving The Thieves' guild, and the main story in this game has some pretty sweet stuff too.

Though, I'd have to say that my favorite moments in Skyrim took place in the early hours of the game. It's when you first enter this world, and you see how awesome it looks, and how many improvements have been made since Oblivion. When you fight a dragon for the first time, and the chanting Nordic monks kick in singing in this awesome made up language. It's when you're curious about anything, and everything. You can't decide how you want to build your character, because everything seems cooler than the last thing you tried. It's when you go out of your way to explore, or do side quest, both big and small. All of that is what makes Skyrim stand out for me.

As I mentioned, I definitely want to play more Skyrim. And a lot of that has to do with the fact that there's so much to do in the game. So many different ways to play your character. I want to see how a mage, or a thief play for extended amounts of time. I've already had more than a few ideas for new character builds, and hey, replayability is a pretty cool trait for a game to have.

6. Saints Row: The Third

Within the first 20 minutes of Saints Row: The Third, my fat, green haired, black, British protagonist was free falling through the air, before he crashed through the windshield of a cargo plane, flying through the entire plane, killing everyone in his path, and exiting the rear of the plane before resuming his free fall. Yeah, Saints Row is pretty crazy.

And that's why I love it really. Mechanically, Saints Row: The Third plays like it's predecessors, which is to say it's a Grand Theft Auto clone. However, what Volition has done is kind of carve out a space for the Saints Row series alongside Rockstar's giant. By taking that popular genre, and turning everything to 11. Unlike, say, Grand Theft Auto 4. Saints Row 3 doesn't care about anything. Everything is batshit insane. I wish I could point to a few moments in the game that emphasize this point, but the truth is the entire game does that.

However, I don't think I can rightfully speak about Saint's Row without talking about some of those moments, so...

At one moment you're skydiving out of a plane onto a building as Kanye West's "Power" is playing. Another moment you're riding in a cart that's being pulled by a gimp, who turns out to be a pimp who speaks entirely in auto-tune. There's laser guns, hover bikes, zombies, and battles in cyberspace. There's a giant purple dildo bat called The Penetrator, that you can beat people to death with. There's a Japanese game show where you make your way through a series of kill rooms where you just mow down enemies, while avoiding traps, ala Smash TV style. There's a fucking wrestling match where you grab a chainsaw and start decapitating the opponents.

It's just one of the craziest game I've ever played. And it's a total blast to play. The game does a great job of mixing up activities, and always keeping missions feel fresh. The core mechanics are all great, they may not be the most compelling things in the world, but it's nice to have such a wacky game play well. The soundtrack is awesome, with not only a nice selection of songs on the games various fictional radio stations, but some truly epic music cues. There's a leveling up system that allows you to customize your character, and it makes for some pretty hilarious results. Such as being able to shrug off pretty much any damage in the game, without cheating. You don't have to work your ass off to gain access to the really cool stuff, it actually comes pretty easily. And as surprising as this may sound - the voice acting is really, really good.

Saints Row: The Third is probably a better game than it has any right to be, but that's totally fine with me, as it matches up with the trend of pleasant surprises on my game of the year list.

7. Atelier Totori: The Adventurer of Arland

Charming. That's the word I'd use to describe Atelier Totori. I've had previous brushes with the Atelier series of games, most recently before Totori, was Rorona. I desperately wanted to like Rorona, for it looked like an adorable game, but something didn't click. Fortunately that wasn't the case with Totori.

Atelier Totori is similar to classic turn based JRPGs, at least with it's combat system. It has a few twist that make it unique, but overall it feels tried and true. This, to me, is a good thing, since it's something I've grown up with, and still enjoy. I feel that too many modern JRPGs lose sight of the fact that "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." And thus we're plagued with a bunch of, admittedly, innovative battle systems, but most of them feel overly convoluted. At least that's my take on it.

That aside, the other half of Totori's gameplay consist of you running around, and collecting items in order to alchemize stuff with. This isn't a wholly original idea, especially when compared to previous games in the series. But since it's such a huge part of the game, it provides an interesting twist.

See, while there is a main story going on in Totori, it kind of takes a back seat to other activities. Sure, you're required to meet certain objectives in the story if you want to proceed in the game, but the rest of the time you're presented with no small amount of freedom. You're free to roam around exploring, harvesting herbs, or hunting monsters for items and quest. You can spend as much time as you want working on your alchemy, and you can kind of take things at your own pace. Within reason of course.

The first time I played through the game, I just went around trying everything I could. It ultimately ended in my failure to complete the main objective, but I learned a lot, and got a good feel for the game. And considering that the game, for a JRPG, only takes about 25 hours or so on the FIRST run, and having a New Game+ feature. Totori is great for multiple playthroughs.

All of that, and I haven't even talked about the rest of the game! Atelier Totori is an adorable game, the art style is beautiful, and there are some really cute character designs. It helps that there are plenty of fun, lighthearted scenes where these characters interact with each other, because it would be a shame if some of these characters just fell by the wayside once the main story was done with them.

And to top it off, there's a catchy soundtrack to the game too. But, if you didn't like it, the game features the ability to customize the music with soundtracks from other Atelier games. So, assuming you liked a soundtrack in a previous game more, and are willing to spend a few bucks. That's totally a thing you can do. But, I rather like this soundtrack, so I stuck with it for the 100 or so total hours I spent playing the game.

In the end, like I said, Totori is a charming game. And if a traditional style JRPG sounds like your cup of tea, I'd definitely suggest checking it out. I know that I am eagerly awaiting the release of Atelier Meruru, the third game in this trilogy of Atelier games.

P.S.: Melvia <3

8. Catherine

Catherine was a game I was pretty excited about from the onset. A brand new IP, on an HD console, from the team that did the Persona games. The idea of that, combined with the early teasers showing off the game's characters and... weirdness totally had me hooked. But that was before we even knew what kind of game it was.

So, several months later, it finally gets out there that - Hey, Catherine is actually this weird block climbing puzzle game. Wait, what? Yeah, it was pretty shocking, and I think that may have soured a lot of people's opinions on the game at that point. I'll admit, as someone who is pretty awful at puzzle games, this was a concern.

Well, given it's presence on this list, I'd say it wasn't that big of a concern, now was it?

So puzzle elements aside for a moment. Catherine is a beautiful looking game, it's the sort of thing I find very aesthetically pleasing. Now, I don't know about you, but I'm always more compelled to play. or like a game more when it's something I find to look appealing. Sure, that seems like a no-brainer, but I think it's a pretty important part of my love for certain games. So, Catherine has that covered in spades.

Eyecandy aside, Catherine has a pretty great story. It's a mature story, about realistic adult relationships. Well, you know, realistic as you can get with demons and sheepmen. But it's a great story, with some excellent writing and voice acting to help sell it. Props to Atlus USA for continuing to pump out quality localizations.

To complement the story, and visuals. Catherine also has a wonderful soundtrack, which is a combination of typical Shoji Meguro, Shin Megami Tensei fair. But it also has a weird selection of remixed classical tunes that accompany many of the game's stages. It's pretty weird, but also kind of awesome.

Alright, so... back to the puzzles. I'd be lying if I said they were the best part of the game. Though some people would argue that, seeing as how competitive Catherine multiplayer leagues have popped up (wtf?). Still, I think for most people, the block puzzle portion is going to be a real turn off. Well, there's a simple solution to that!

If, at the main menu of the game. You highlight the "Golden Theater" mode and hold select. The screen will flash white, indicating that you have enabled Very Easy mode. And you're done! You're welcome. Basically very easy mode makes that game's puzzles a cakewalk, and you'll pretty easily breeze through the game. It's a great way to enjoy the story of Catherine without having to put up with some rather frustrating block climbing.

On the other hand, I originally played through Catherine on Easy, and it was quite an experience. Don't let the name fool you, Easy mode is probably the way you want to play the game if you still want to... you know... play the game. The reason being, is that it still presents the core gameplay, with some pretty difficult challenges. Fair warning, playing Catherine on any mode other than very easy is pretty god damn exhausting. Still, I was able to get some enjoyment out of it, and was relieved I could just play through the game again two more times with ease.

All that said, I really liked Catherine. Despite the weird puzzles, it was a game I wanted to play through three times, back to back. And that's because it presents a really good package surrounding that gameplay that is totally worth checking out if you're into that sort of thing.

9. Gears of War 3

Never enough. We want more. We are. The Gears of War! Or something like that. Yeah, Gears of War 3 is a total dudebro fest, but it's one of the best to this day. I've had a fondness for the series since the original. Which I put quite a bit of time into the multiplayer back then. Mainly played 2 for the single player. And finally things came full circle with 3, where I've thoroughly enjoyed all modes of gameplay.

Gears 3's campaign is probably the best in the series. It's lengthy, has a lot of high octane action. And goes to some surprisingly emotional places by taking advantage of your attachment to the characters of this franchise in a way that "Dom's wife" never could. There's a few new weapons that spice things up, as well as a new enemy type. But I think when it comes down to it, Epic just got better at their craft.

Single Player aside, there is of course a robust selection of multiplayer modes. The standard competitive types are still there. Including some much needed improvements and additions, such as dedicated servers, and unlockables (though it's all cosmetic, which keeps Gears feeling like Gears). One of my favorite additions was the new "Casual" playlist, which lets new, or less skilled players compete with similarly skilled players. It was nice easing into the experience this time, since my skills were more than a little rusty. That was one of my major complaints with 2, was that I just got thrashed in the multiplayer from the get go. Combine that with the inclusion of bots, and it's a lot more noob friendly.

Then there's the cooperative multiplayer modes. Where honestly, I think that's where the game really shines. Horde is back from Gears 2, but it too has seen some pretty drastic improvements. Same basic concept, you and three other people try to survive against wave after wave of enemies. And while I haven't personally made it all the way through the 50 waves. Apparently late game - this shit gets nuts. I'd love to see it sometime. In addition to that, they've added the ability to build up defenses and stuff, giving Horde 2.0 more of a tower defense sort of feel. It's really neat.

Finally, there's Beast Mode. Which is a totally new mode that allows you to play as the Locust and mow down a group of surviving humans. While I wouldn't say it's better than Horde mode, it's certainly a blast playing as some of the more interesting Locust.

Altogether, you're getting an excellent package with Gears 3. And I think the game will have legs for a while.

10. Portal 2

Alright. So, here's the deal with Portal 2. Portal 2 is a great game, even if it is technically in "last place" on my list. Thing is, I was a little disappointed with Portal 2 though. And who can blame me really? Portal is, one of the best games of all time. Period. That's not the easiest thing to follow up on. To say my expectations for Portal 2 were high would be a massive understatement.

Again, I don't really like going into negative stuff on these lists. But it bears mentioning that Portal 2 had some glaring flaws for me. Namely, I thought it was TOO LONG. I know, it's a ridiculous sentiment. But where Portal was, I thought, the perfect length. Portal 2 tends to drag a bit. And this wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't for the fact that some of the later puzzles are really, really tough, and involving. Now, the simple solution to this would have been to play Portal 2 at a much slower pace. But, I just couldn't do that. For as much as the puzzles might have worn on me, I still had to know what was going to happen. So... I finished Portal 2 in about three sittings.

It was a mistake.

Still, that was my initial experience with the game. And it will always be that way. And there's not much I can do about that.

So, seeing as how that was the case. When I started formulating this list, I was thinking that Portal 2 wasn't going to make the cut. But when I thought about it, I mean, really thought about it. I thought to myself "You know what? That was still a pretty damn good game."

And it is. Portal 2 is more of Portal, and it's hard to argue with that. Some of the puzzles in this game are absolutely amazing. I remember someone saying about the original Portal, that, the puzzles made you feel like a genius. They're not the hardest puzzles around, but they're tough enough that when you figure out the solution, you can't help but feel impressed with yourself. It's nice that they added different mechanics later on in the game too, even if I don't like them as much as the basic portal manipulation, they're still pretty cool.

While the puzzles in Portal and Portal 2 are definitely one of the reasons these games are so great. One could argue that the storytelling, and the characters are just as important. I would be one such person. GLaDOS remains excellent, and even a bit more complex this time around, as I kind of hated her at the beginning of the game, but grew to lover her again over the course of the game. In addition to that we have Wheatley, who is easily on of the best new characters this year. He's hysterical, and completely charming. I don't know how anyone couldn't like him. And if two of the best characters in gaming weren't enough. Another new character, Cave Johnson rounds it off, providing an excellent tangent about lemons.

While I might have some gripes about Portal 2, it's still one of the best games that came out this year. And I wouldn't be surprised to see it at the top of some people's list. I stand by the fact that Portal was about as perfect as a game can get. But Portal 2 is still master class.