Game of the Year 2015

List items

  • Trails in the Sky Second Chapter is the most well written RPG I’ve played since Persona 4. I don’t say that lightly. Persona 4 is my favorite game of all time and that is purely on the back of the writing. What Trails in the Sky has done with its world building is something I’ve never experienced in a game. The world of Zemuria feels so incredibly well realized that I almost felt like I could visit there myself. The political machinations of all the individual countries never ceased to interest me. You then add to that an absolutely fascinating ancient history told through the ruins you explore and Trails in the Sky has truly created a world I want to visit again, and again and again. What makes SC rise from great to truly being something special is that it then tells a fantastic story in that world. The cast of characters are all well rounded and each are given tons of moments to strut their stuff. Scherazard and Olivier’s interactions in particular always stand out to me as moments I won’t forget. This is a cast that has been through shit together already and have grown from it and now we get to see them progress even more through a new adventure. It’s rare that we see characters truly grow over the course of multiple games, but Trails in the Sky SC absolutely accomplishes that and creates some genuine people who I cared to see their adventure through. I really can’t give it any more praise than that. Trails SC was a truly special experience for me and I hope Falcom can continue to deliver that and XSEED will continue to be able to support the series in the west.

  • When Splatoon was announced, I could not understand the instant fervor around it that gripped the Nintendo fandom. After years of trying and failing to find a competitive shooter that fit me, I had given up on really caring about the genre in general. On its face, nothing about Splatoon seemed all that interesting. Then I got my hands on it and everything changed. Splatoon is something that you can only appreciate as a complete package. Everything about Splatoon is fresh, fun and friendly. Shooting the opponent is useful, but it isn't the main goal. It's amazing how all these little things add up to create an environment where I can actually enjoy playing a competitive shooter without feeling the constant worry about my performance hurting the team. Because I can actually relax while playing it, I can also perform better an actually have fun. As strange as it is to rate the lack of feature as a net positive, the lack of voice chat also really helps me let go and just enjoy the game. The core game itself is also completely fresh and interesting. There is some pure joy out of inking the ground and fighting for territory that's extremely difficult for me to put into words. Small things about the presentation really add up as well. The ink feels incredibly different from your typical laser gun or bullet and that really helps accentuate the entire fresh feeling of freshness the game has. The fashion element also adds a fantastic element of character customization that is typically limited to load outs and gun skins in most shooters. You add to that Nintendo's amazing post release support and you have not only a multiplayer shooter I can enjoy, a miracle of itself, but also one that keeps me coming back again and again.

  • I’m not sure how much I have to say about MH4U other than it’s more, better Monster Hunter. The new monsters and weapons are all fantastic additions. There vertical environments and jumping attacks actually add the new variety to the combat that Capcom tried and failed to do with the underwater segments in Tri. MH4U is an incredible experience. I don’t need to say more.

  • When Tales from the Borderlands was announced, I could not have cared less. Borderlands 2’s writing was so abysmal that it burned and salted any joy I had ever felt for Borderlands world. It took a ton of convincing to get me to even look at Tales from the Borderlands, but I’m so glad I did. What TellTale has managed to create here is nothing sort of astounding. They’ve taken the broken pieces of the Borderlands narrative and on top of that have painted a magnificent picture of a world filled with interesting stories and characters. Tales from the Borderlands has an extremely lovable cast of characters and the story they run with is full of interesting moments, twists and surprises. The game is also genuinely funny. I haven’t laughed this much at a game and some time. I honestly cannot believe a game with Borderlands in the title got this many genuine laughs out of me. This game has singlehandedly reinvigorated my interest in the Borderlands world and I hope we’ll get a followup worthy of being in the same world with these characters. Oh, and it’s also a requirement that I mention the episode intros. Their use of licensed music in those are incredible.

  • The Witcher 1 and 2 always felt extremely ambitious for their scope. They managed to suggest a larger world using clever tricks to hide their smaller scale and budget. The Witcher III fulfills the promise of their ambition. The scope and scale of the world is something I never expected to see in a Witcher game. More than the scale and beauty of the world, what makes the game something special is the writing. Even the most meager of side quests that just wants you to fetch a couple items has some sort of narrative hook. Every little moment feels crafted. When you find a random treasure chest in the world, it is often accompanied by little bits of visual storytelling hinting to how it arrived. It’s all these little things that add up to make Wild Hunt feel like an unbelievable experience. In addition, you also have all of CDPRojekt’s trademark post-release support. Not only is the game constantly getting better, but Hearts of Stone is one of the best and most complete pieces of DLC I’ve seen. I don’t feel ripped off for it not being in the game, but I also completely feel it was worth the cost. If it is finally time to say goodbye to Witcher Geralt, I’m glad this is the adventure we send him off on. I’m also incredibly excited to see what the future brings for the franchise.

  • Life is Strange is an experience that took me completely by surprise. At first, the game seems like a simple twist on your typical high school soap opera. In a lot of ways, that’s exactly what it is, but it’s shocking at how good it is at being that. It’s a game that managed to make me care about the cast in a way I didn’t expect. It made me genuinely emotional on more than a few occasions. The game really manages to sell its world not only through the writing, but the visual design and music choices as well. Arcadia Bay Feels like a living, breathing place. It’s also a game that’s quite clever at using the time manipulating mechanics that it sets forth. I think the greatest praise I can lay on it is even with a cliched and obvious ending, I had become so attached to the cast that I completely bought into it. The end of that game made me an emotional wreck, and that’s something I haven’t gotten from a game in quite a while. It wasn’t the moment in the game that hit me the most, but it might be one of the ones I remember the longest.

  • The Phantom Pain is perhaps the best flawed experience I’ve ever had. There is a ton to rightful despise about the game. A whole chunk of the game, the FOB invasions, are absolutely worthless on PC due to unpoliced cheating and it isn’t even fun if it did work. The resource system can feel more limiting than being fun progression system. The game is filled with crappy micro transactions. Most damningly, the game’s story isn’t a piece of the MGS timeline that I needed to see filled in. Still, Kojima has created one of the best playing stealth games I’ve ever encountered. The open maps may limit the sort of crafted feeling you’d get in previous MGS games, but in its place you have a bevy of systems all cooperating to make sure you rarely see the same situation twice. It’s a game that rewards adaptability, and gives the player the tools to actually be adaptable. The cascading fail system feels like the perfect balance between instant failure when spotted and the ability to just kill everything if you need to (the greatest fault with Dishonored’s stealth that practically ruined the game for me). You aren’t going to instantly die when shot at, but you can’t take on a huge army on your own either. It feels like one of the few stealth games that truly relies on stealth being the primary mode of attack while not being super punishing to the player. That’s a line that is so hard to tread and the feeling it gave me playing it is why I came back again and again for 70 hours+ when most MGS titles could barely hold me for 20 or 30.

  • Bloodborne is in a lot of ways the giant leap forward I’ve wanted in a Souls game. The new combat system feels still familiar, but also gave me a world of new depth to explore. The world is absolutely fascinating as well. Where the game sort of falls apart is that it feels like a new First Gen Souls game. Most of the bosses are far too easy and gone are the features that would keep me coming back for subsequent playthroughs. The covenant system is stripped bare, the variety of builds is minimal, and the crafting system is relegated to a simple single branch of upgrades. Still the core of Bloodborne is perhaps the most sound Souls has ever been. A second generation of this game that builds expected features back in could be one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had.

  • Admission: I did not play all that much Kerbal in 2015. This is more my chance to finally recognize this game for the joy it’s given me over the year or two I have played it. Kerbal is such a wonderful thing. It’s cartoony exterior belies the incredible depth. No other game has really made me appreciate the shear impossibility of making it to space. No other game has also let me reenact the engineering history of The Space Race. Every time I pick Kerbal up, I learn something new about not only the mechanics, but actual real world space travel. It’s both a wonderful game, and a cool teaching tool. Very few games have accomplished near that feat.

  • The fact this is so much lower on my list than Trails in the Sky might lead some to think I believe this is a step back for the franchise. That’s not really the case. Cold Steel is a step forward in nearly every aspect. The presentation is smoother, the battle system tweaks are interesting and adds a much needed skip function and the world they create is absolutely as interesting as Sky SC. Trails of Cold Steel had a much harder job to accomplish. Whereas Trails in the Sky SC had a premade cast and story I cared about, Cold Steel has to create all that from scratch and slowly build to the point SC started off at. Admittedly, I haven’t gotten far enough into the game to be sure it stuck the landing, but from the significant portion I’ve played, I’m already sold on the cast and world and can’t wait to see where Falcom takes it.