By ZombiePie 5 Comments
Author's Note: This is PART TWO of a two part series in which I discuss the new and old games, as well as anime, TV shows, and feats of athletics that I enjoyed in 2023. Please read the first episode if and when you have the time, but don't feel like there's a specific order.
There are minor spoilers here and there and feel free to share what your picks for some of my categories would be in the comments!
The Flat Out Worst Game I Played In 2023 - A.D. 2044
In the previous blog, I tried to avoid repeating what I stated in greater detail on the site before the GOTY season rolled around. In the case of A.D. 2044, I'll make an exception because this contemptible work of video game entertainment deserves every bit of the dressing down I give whenever I think or talk about it. A.D. 2044 is a remake of an Atari S.T. game that is an homage to a popular 1980s Polish science-fiction film that envisions a post-apocalyptic world wherein all the men of Earth, outside of a few, have died and women are running the world. As you might expect, according to the film and the games that follow in its footsteps, without the moderating mindsets of men, women, upon gaining the ability to command armies, install a totalitarian state that hunts and kills the few remaining men left on the planet. In the case of A.D. 2044, the game also features a sophomoric sense of humor and fembots that run around in leotards. Outside of the time I accidentally played a game by someone who committed a murder-suicide, playing an anti-women manifesto is maybe one of my biggest gaming regrets for the sake of blogging on this site.
Not only is the game morally reprehensible, but it is butt-ass ugly, as well as zero goddamn fun to play. Most of the environments are the same dull and grey industrial corridors with a few color changes here and there. The vast majority of the puzzles are needle in the haystack affairs. Every single central environment or screen has you turning to find or move into obscure positions to click on smudgy or monotonous masses of 3D textures to pick up and then use on levers or padlocks that repeat the same Myst-clone rigamarole that was already tiresome by the time this game came out. Of the countless Myst-clones I have played, A.D. 2044 is among the worst, even if it is not the most arbitrary or challenging game in this crease. Nonetheless, the game does stand as an ethically dubious affair that repulses whenever it tries to make a point about why militant feminism poses this existential threat that needs to be fought alongside real threats to democracy like fascism. It's just an all-around drizzly shit of a game.
Runner-up: Alfred Hitchcock - Vertigo - Like A.D. 2044; while I have said my piece about Alfred Hitchcock - Vertigo, I'm happy to give this game shit as it rightfully deserves it. Pendulo's best works are likely behind them as they appear to be stuck making tie-ins after they formed a partnership with fellow European game developer Microids. After taking some pretty big creative swings with The Next Big Thing and Yesterday, they seem stuck in mid-tier game development Hell, with their 2023 Tintin game doing almost NOTHING to improve their fortunes. With Vertigo, they not only sullied one of the greatest films ever made but also repeated several harmful and despicable tropes related to mental health and therapy. The primary character is a psychologist who seems to violate doctor-patient confidentiality rules at the drop of a hat, and the game's primary antagonist is one of the worst-written characters I witnessed in all of 2023. The game's ending brings up the dark specter of child sex abuse, without warning, as a cheap stinger. It goes without saying: do not play this game!
The Empty Calorie Thing I Saw Through To The End In 2023 - Anthem
In approximately one month from the posting of this blog, Anthem is set to do something many online multiplayer shooters or games as a service (i.e., GaaS) dream of: it's about to celebrate its fifth anniversary. Oddly, one of Bioware's most significant missteps is moments away from crossing a threshold few in the industry accomplish, but here we are! Many people have subscribed to a popular fan theory that the game was forced upon Bioware by EA in an attempt to jump in on the growing popularity of Destiny and Ubisoft's online shooters. Still, upon doing some basic research, I discovered that not to be the case. The painful truth is that Anthem is a game Bioware spearheaded on its prerogative. It did so at the cost of burning out many of its veteran staff, hindering surrounding game projects, and plummeting its reputation. Despite being one of the most painful examples of a legendary developer operating outside of their element in recent memory, Bioware made this Anthem bed, and they will forever need to lie in it. While they continue to speak of Dragon Age: Dreadwolf as this self-righting project, Anthem represents a proverbial nail in the coffin of the old BioWare many of us grew up with. With massive layoffs impacting the company in 2023 that gutted it of the few remaining figureheads that had name recognition, BioWare is listing into irrelevancy and possibly encountering the same fate as Origin Systems, Bullfrog, Westwood, and Pandemic as it faces the ravenous EA maw.
Anthem today is an oddity. I played the game's entire story and was utterly flummoxed. The game is still an impressive visual tour de force with luscious forests and equally impressive climactic changes between its regions. The mech suits have some remarkable abilities, and flying remains its best feature, as it bestows a sense of freedom that has yet to be emulated. The game also addresses common issues with Mass Effect Andromeda in that you can tell BioWare shelled out heaps of cash to do Hollywood-level motion capturing with all of its significant characters and voice-acting talent. And yet, the game feels so incredibly vapid and dull. Playing the game last year was a brutal reminder that it barely got off the runway as the story ends on a MASSIVE cliffhanger, and several character introductions remain unresolved. Likewise, with the game never getting the proper roadmap that BioWare was hoping for, the end result now is a game that only partially completes what feels like a prologue as it spends hours upon hours of its time droning about lore and worldbuilding that you ultimately know is never going anywhere. And worse, the game still hits you with traditional always-online multiplayer shooter feedback loops! I logged into the game and was greeted by it rotating through the same calendar its dev team implemented before they were relocated to Dreadwolf. I saw its Halloween event trigger, but the in-game email announcing it dated back to 2022! I could have shelled out hard cash for in-game currency. Yet, with the story incomplete, the elite armor sets and weapons are only worth investing in if I wanted to play the PvP modes, which, based on my observations, topped out between sixty to one hundred-ish people on a good night! The sixty hours I invested in Anthem were visually pleasing and sometimes fun, but there's no denying how empty I felt when I did reach what currently stands as the game's "end."
Runner-up: The Exhibit: Finding the Next Great Artist - For those above eighteen who have been around the block, the cat is out of the bag for reality television. It's almost entirely bullshit, and yet, many of us cannot help but continue to come back to it even after being presented with tomes of proof that what we are watching errs on intellectual dishonesty. With MTV's The Exhibit: Finding the Next Great Artist, I saw some within the art community share that it was a largely inspirational piece about empowering people of color and minorities in the art space within the guise of a reality television program. While I cannot entirely refute that, with the show still engaging in chicanery and reality television editing to dupe you into believing in manufactured drama, I couldn't help but lop this attempt to draw attention to the plight of independent artists in modern society in the same boat as everything else produced by MTV these days. If the network and this show cared about fostering change in the art world, it would entirely drop the player elimination aspect. Instead, it commits the same foul as The Biggest Loser in trying to tap into the Survivor crowd.
The Most "Fans Of The Genre Will Enjoy This" Thing - Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty
Some of you reading this blog right now are possibly moments away from saying that you put Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty on your personal GOTY 2023 list. Look, that's fine, but it speaks VOLUMES about how fast this game's stock fell when Lies of P came out, especially among the enthusiast press and Soulslike fans. Despite Wo Long's massive marketing push at the start of 2023 to coincide with its release, the game came and went. Sure, it made some exciting improvements to the smithing mechanic that Team Ninja has been attempting to make not an entirely worthless system after three bites at the apple (i.e., Nioh, Nioh 2, and Final Fantasy Origins), but that is one of the few exceptions to a general feeling that Wo Long is nothing more than "diet Nioh." Yes, I might be underselling the morale system, which is a godsend to those who want to see accurate difficulty ratings before jumping into bosses in Souls games. That said, besides a handful of quality-of-life improvements to a subgenre that already feels "solved" at this point, Wo Long doesn't do much else to differentiate itself in an incredibly crowded field.
Worse, Wo Long is another reminder of Team Ninja's bad habits that people have been hounding them for since Nioh 1. Yet again, they didn't adequately solve their issues of loot scarcity and how often their Soulslikes give you a bunch of bullshit. This problem is a carryover from the first Nioh and was in its most potent form in Final Fantasy Origin. Nonetheless, it still exists in Wo Long, and I hate it! Team Ninja's environments and background work are getting better, but there's something to be said about how dead the world of Wo Long feels compared to Elden Ring, which is an unfair comparison, sure, but it also compares unfavorably to the teeming metropolis of Lies of P. Despite the game presenting this massive world with a heavily advertised ecosystem of demonic animals and corrupted Chinese mythological figures, Team Ninja's understanding of writing narratives still falls into a "Needs Improvement" grade. There are a lot of big honking dragons that billow at you about blights plaguing the world, but even the larger-than-life figures feel like afterthoughts. With Elden Ring and Lies of P under my belt, Soulslikes need to do more than just have cool boss designs to keep me intellectually interested. Likewise, Team Ninja's post-game DLC for Wo Long is another series of grind-heavy challenges that lead to surface-level narrative-related clarifications. I think Team Ninja is at the lowest rungs of the Soulslike studio tier list regarding worthwhile and fun post-game content and DLC.
Runner-up: Secret Invasion (Season 1) - It's still amazing to see Disney be convinced that everyday people care about how the world of their Marvel cinematic universe works. Secret Invasion is not the only work in 2023 that attempts to peel back the veneer of big and epic superhero fights to show how the Marvel cinematic world works between major set pieces, but it might be the one that felt the most pointless. Despite it managing to pull Samuel L. Jackson back into the fold, who at this point is phoning it in and performing his Nick Fury role for a paycheck, I have reached the point where I do not care about anyone in S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was a show with its moments. Still, I barely care about the marquee Marvel movies, so the idea of investing hours into following side dish-like characters after eating a steak dinner has zero sway with me. If you like the direction Marvel is lurching towards, I have no doubt you can have some fun with this show, but for the rest of you, including myself, I think we have reached the point where we just plug our ears whenever we see a new trailer or commercial for a new movie or TV show in the modern Marvel universe.
Worst Anime of 2023 - KamiKatsu: Working for God in a Godless World
I'll admit that I only watched KamiKatsu after the internet denounced the show for its highly dubious CG work. And you know what? Anime Twitter was right for once! The CG in the anime adaptation of KamiKatsu is downright atrocious! Not since the Berserk 2016 series have I seen such terrible 3D animation pass muster in a mainstream, widely aired release. However, KamiKatsu is my pick for "worst anime of 2023," not entirely because it has rough production values and questionable 3D textures, though they help my case. It's also one of the worst edited animes I have seen in a long while, with its framing sometimes completely ruining the setup and execution of its gags and jokes. There are action sequences, and between the CG models and flat backgrounds, everything looks like shit. The fights are primarily blurry brown and grey sword fights against horned abominations or masses of tentacles that wouldn't even make the grade for episodes of Reboot circa 1998.
Maybe you're not going into KamiKatsu for its action sequences, which its animators know were bad; hence, they resolve in seconds. If that's the case, that leaves you with its edge lord sense of humor that largely seems tailor-made for people who have been opining for a humorous take on The Rising of the Shield Hero. With the manga and show revolving around an isekai protagonist attempting to force people into his sex cult for funsies, some real groan-inducing moments make KamiKatsu not for the faint of heart, as well as those with a properly adjusted moral barometer. One of the few jokes the show remains committed to throughout every episode is how one of the protagonist's allies is a pedophile who wants to have sex with a child-like-looking character. Yes, that character states they are a hundred-year-old goddess trapped in the body of a child, but Jesus Christ, how is this still a trope that will not die?! There's also an episode where the protagonist's party needs to shut down a competing sex cult, and they do so by having the white-shirt-wearing Soy Boy of a protagonist whip out their dick, censored for obvious reasons, which then results in several of the opposing cult's female members orgasming at the mere sight of it. Oh, and the lead priestess of this evil sex cult tries to fight the protagonist and, upon being defeated, orgasms and leaves a visible puddle on the floor. I have seen far worse animes, but no show quite captures the late 00s anime deluge of shitty and cheaply made manga tie-in shows that littered the shelves of mall-based Suncoast stores quite like KamiKatsu.
Runner-up: A Girl & Her Guard Dog - I fault myself for giving A Girl & Her Guard Dog even two episodes worth of my time. The anime adapts a manga with an absolutely abhorrent premise with highly questionable implications. For those wondering, A Girl & Her Guard Dog follows an adult male, Keiya, who is in his twenties and fakes his age to attend high school so he can lord over his teenage lover, whom he has raised since she was a baby. It's one of the creepiest age-gap romance animes ever produced. Nonetheless, when I saw some screenshots of the show pulled out of context, and animated clips from it posted to social media, I knew I had to see at least a few episodes to confirm they were not faked. And boy, did I damn near piss my pants when I got five minutes into the first episode and immediately saw the characters deform and become off-model in the opening goddamn scene! In every animated sequence in this show, the animators either forgot to make model sheets for the characters, or everyone on the team had a different reference book with entirely unique proportions. Even during the first episode, you can observe people at the front and center of the screen warping and wobbling into different sizes and shapes as if you are watching something by Hanna-Barbera from the 1970s. It's amazing! To see a modern anime in 2023 make such a rookie mistake that you could only get away with during the Saturday morning cartoon boom is astounding.
Best Thing That Is More Than Its Memes - Lethal Company
Lethal Company is one of the most inspiring games to come out in 2023. Not only was the game almost entirely a one-person outing, but its primary developer had no professional training in game development. Finding out that the lead designer for Lethal Company was a twenty-year-old whose only background with making games was playing around with stuff in Roblox leaves me convinced that we are entering into a new era of self-published works and that the indie game sphere will be fine until the heat death of the universe. Honestly, the kids are all right! However, some of its impressive horror designs are lost in the mix of the game becoming a meme magnet. Lethal Company's location-oriented sound design is genuinely remarkable, with people you are playing with echoing or fading in and out depending on your location in all of its environments. The game's core risk-reward gameplay hook is fun and rewarding, with you needing to opt into cooperative bargaining and strategizing with your partners.
How long will this meme factory last? Honestly, I don't care. I paid less than $10 to give in to pressure from friends to play it with them, and in less than five hours, I feel confident in saying I got my money's worth. Furthermore, with the game introducing new maps, enemies, and concepts reasonably regularly, it's something I plan to continue to return to in the coming years. The endless hilarity of screaming for a friend, only to pivot to face one of the game's many monsters, which proceeds to off you in seconds, is one of the most common things you see about Lethal Company on social media. However, it's not an experience exclusive to big-time streamers or the staff of a gaming site like Giant Bomb. It happens every time you play Lethal Company. Even when the rotation of maps you experience starts to feel rote or repetitious, the game has so many tools in its toolbox to ensure no scavenging effort is the same. And even if the game is far from the most complex or prettiest title I played in 2023, it is the one that always managed to make me chuckle like a maniac.
Runner-Up: Vinland Saga (Season 2) - It was only a matter of time before the Vinland Saga anime would get to the famous "I Have No Enemies" scene, and in 2023 it finally happened! Yet, while seeing this iconic moment fully animated revived one of the most well-known memes from the Vinland Saga manga, the show's second season was a highlight of 2023 in its own right. It magnificently adapted one of the manga's best story arcs (i.e., the Einar Slave Arc) with grace and style. Season two of Vinland Saga captures the barbarity and brutality of the manga in shocking and visceral detail. Once again, the show's willingness to depict the Vikings as bloodthirsty killers instead of neat guys with cool-looking armor and magical runes is its best part. Also, the anime changes how Einar becomes Thorfinn's friend, and the added details about who Einar is are a massive improvement over the manga. The characters are ultimately the same as in the manga, but with more humanizing moments to make them feel authentic, the show's season two conclusion feels all the more harrowing.
Worst Puzzle - Timelapse
My "Quest For The Worst Adventure Game Puzzle" feature on this site sure did not go where I planned it to go. I had a pretty ambitious plan for what I wanted to cover in detail on the site, and then I got COVID and was beset with brain-fog-related writer's block for months, likely stemming from my illness. The only thing I could find the motivation to write about were short one-off topics instead of my forte covering Final Fantasy games in excruciating detail or point-and-click graphic adventure games. I'm not discounting an eventual return to form on my part when it comes to talking about adventure games. However, the feature likely needs a format change because I still worry that where I was eventually going with it was a guide that paraphrased puzzle solutions rather than discussing what makes them intuitive or not. Also, the games with the most potent puzzles worthy of my highest marks overwhelmingly come from poorly-made Myst clones from the late 90s to early 2000s. If my blog about Atlantis is any indication, no one wants to hear me moan about long slideshows with pixel-hunt-oriented contraption puzzles.
However, Timelapse has one puzzle that I should have covered on the site in some capacity. Despite some wacky FMV cutscenes that were a delight when I was not toiling away on bunk-ass Myst-like mechanics, it subjected me to what I would now brand as the "worst adventure game puzzle" I have encountered. The game challenges you to warp between several ancient civilizations to stop an alien race from destroying Earth, and one of your stopping points involves the Anasazi civilization. To unlock a story-critical path, the game tasks you with shooting an arrow between two stone pillars. This puzzle also requires you to find arrowheads strewn across the environment and attach them to sticks you need to track down elsewhere. However, there are three possible arrowheads to pick up, and they have non-communicated weights that you can only figure out through trial and error. Also, when you get to the screen wherein you need to shoot the arrow, the direction, and strength of the wind are randomly selected, and every permutation requires a specific arrowhead to be aimed and shot at an incredibly unforgiving and nonvisible hitbox. The arrowheads are expendable resources that you must repeatedly pick up after three uses. If you fail to figure out the position to shoot the arrow after your third attempt, you are back to step one of needing to scavenge for arrowheads, and to add insult to injury, the wind's direction and strength completely change for your next attempt. Every guide I checked advised players to pick one arrowhead variant and stick with it and, after that, to shoot directly in the middle of the screen and keep trying until the game reached the variant where that was the solution. I did that, and completing this puzzle took me about two hours. I'm not joking.
Runner-up: The Feeble Files - I have hinted that there are two "secret" scores for my adventure game puzzle series that I have yet to use. A puzzle can get a "0/10" if I think it is a technical achievement in the genre that rewards intuition, has logical or clever context clues, and avoids using cheap tricks to ramp up the difficulty. I have also stated that a puzzle can get an "11/10" if I fail to complete it naturally and resort to cheating. The Feeble Files, a game I don't know if I will ever cover on this site as I found it emotionally and physically exhausting, has a sequence wherein I had to cheat by pulling up the console command to get past it. To my defense, this is a relatively notorious part of the game wherein you need to play minigames until you get hundreds of tokens in an arcade. When the game launched, these minigames were so difficult that the developer had to release a save file for people to download that took place immediately after the arcade so that they could continue and complete the game. If you play The Feeble Files, you may have better luck at one of the worst versions of Mastermind I have ever seen, but I had zero patience for this part of the game and resorted to cheating, and I don't regret it for a minute.
Best Use Of FMV - Commander Blood
Yes, people are still impressed by Alan Wake II's use of FMV, but let me try to sell you on Commander Blood! First, Google "Commander Blood" and marvel at one of the most bizarre games from Cryo Interactive Entertainment. Cryo is a forgotten name among most non-European adventure game fans, but undoubtedly, they were one of the biggest names in the genre post-Myst. On top of that, they were far and beyond some of the most ambitious Myst-clone makers, what with them creating fully-rendered 3D environments, despite how hideous they may have been, at a time when that was not the norm. With Commander Blood, they decided to revive an old Atari ST adventure game they had made years prior. However, instead of doing another fully-rendered 3D Myst-clone, they had a go at making an FMV-oriented graphic adventure game, BUT instead of real-world actors, they used puppets. Yes. This gritty science-fiction game from 1994 by a bunch of French people who fell in love with Myst made Farscape five years before the first episode of Farscape aired! And before you ask, no, none of the puppets look good, but that's what makes this game so magical to watch in action.
The world of Commander Blood has no bearing on any other supporting media other than a tangential and fleeting connection to Cryo's Captain Blood game from 1988. Every puppet, whether it be the talking cockroach prostitute you meet in a Blade Runner-inspired red light district, is an original idea that a grown adult thought would be passable in a science fiction production. And the cheapness of this game's production values is the best part. There are talking fish-like creatures that are pom poms ripped from a cheerleader's gym bag. Some of the puppets have pipe cleaners for eyebrows, and Cryo doesn't even try in the slightest bit to hide this fact. The handful of characters that are 3D renders are equally bizarre, and the outside spaceship shots are obviously them shooting footage using a poorly made miniature. The lone real-world FMV-based character that joins you is a woman swimming underwater, and it is clear Cryo could only capture about thirty seconds of footage because her animation loops constantly whenever you talk to her. Alan Wake II, eat your heart out, and don't come to me until you have puppets!
Runner-up: Gothos - When newcomers to classic FMV adventure games check out works from the 90s, many are apt to suggest that titles like Phantasmagoria, Night Trap, Ripper, or Spycraft: The Great Game pilfered a Spirit Halloween store, despite not knowing these games invested millions into actors, props, and cameras. On the other hand, Gothos does deserve to be a game that brandishes that label because not only are all of its costumes of the lowest and most unconvincing quality, but the real-world actors are obviously the developers and their supporting friends and family members. Gothos is from a one-time game developer that I could not uncover much information about, which suggests this was a passion project from a small team, and this was their best shot. And trust me, you get the sense this is their best attempt at a video game because everyone acting in it plays it up to the best results imaginable. It's a sight to see, and I would implore you to see if some video evidence of this game's existence is out there.
Game I Most Enjoyed Playing As A Part Of Giant Bomb's Game Pass Game Club - Signalis
Even though I have been a reliable voter in selecting new titles for the Game Pass Game Club, I deeply regret my inconsistency in participating in its threads when things take off after the voting ends. With this award, I hope that anyone reading this will attempt to track down at least one of the threads from the group they can find on the first page of the forums. It's a fun group that drives attention to big and small games available on Game Pass. Of the games I played as a member, Signalis was the most alluring highlight. Is it inappropriate to call Signalis a "vibes game" when it has so much going for it? While evocative of PS1-era horror games, the game's look has much more detail than most fifth-generation console game homages. Likewise, the act of playing the game, especially with how carefully crafted the ammo and resource drops are, feels much more tactical than anything you could encounter from the era that inspired it. Nonetheless, there's no denying that the game makes you wistful about works from over twenty years ago, and its conventions echo a nostalgic tone for a bygone era from beginning to end.
If Signalis were a 2023 title, it would be in the clear running for my "Best Moment or Sequence Award." The game's ultimate reveal about your character's girlfriend's intents and plans, as well as "The King In Yellow" moment, are true shockers that had me gobsmacked. Certainly, you go into it expecting to be surprised as it starts with very little context about what is holding its world together, and such story-related pivots are the norm and expectation with the genre. Nonetheless, with "The King In Yellow" moment in particular, I was taken aback at how literature-oriented Signalis was with its storytelling aspirations, making the effect of its big reveals more impactful. And HOT DAMN, when this game's story kicks into action, does it ramp things up both in-game and narratively. It is an incredibly lurid and dark journey that you navigate with the lead character, Elster, but it is an adventure that will undoubtedly stick with you.
Runner-up: Jusant - I know I was in the minority about Jusant among the Game Pass Game Club group, but hear me out. The minimalist storytelling and sparse but ever-evolving environments lead to a highly enlightening experience in Jusant. I like the slow burn on the Apocalyptic setting and the fact the game gives you only some of the facts about its world and surroundings. Sure, there's some frustration to be had with the rock climbing-based gameplay, but that's to the story's benefit. It presents you with this ominous spire as a challenge, and sometimes you feel as exhausted with climbing parts of it as the game's protagonist. The story also wants you to buy into the idea that there is a relationship between the nameless protagonist and the wall of rock you climb, and for me, the controls, even if they are slightly QWOP-like, work to establish that.
ZombiePie's 2023 Ostrich Moment - Fire Emblem Engage
At its heart, my yearly "Ostrich Moment" award relates to a game that provoked an incredibly hostile reaction on my part to either the work in question OR the community surrounding it. As I have said, these works of art make me feel like a proverbial stubborn ostrich with its head stuck in the sand. In a rare turn of events, Fire Emblem Engage is an example of a "reverse ostrich moment" for me in that my opinion of it is greater than that of fans of the series and the media circuit that covered it. Engage makes notable improvements from Three Houses and is a better overall tactics game than it by a wide margin. It has far more mission types and shakes up the map layouts from previous Fire Emblem games, which became an annoyance in Three Houses due to the frequency with which you needed to grind to make any nominal story-related progress without feeling like shit. The stealth missions are highly creative and engaging, and mission objectives finally incentivize more than two possible playstyles. I also appreciated Engage being something that does not entirely require multiple playthroughs to get the broad vinegar strokes of its narrative. Overall, I think it respects your time much more than the last three Fire Emblem games that preceded it.
And here's my real "ostrich moment" about Engage that I feel incredibly passionate about. Engage devolving into anime nonsense with its story isn't a big deal, despite that being the most common complaint directed at it. Three Houses was anime-ass nonsense, and I don't think Engage does anything as dumb as the "True Ending" path tomfoolery Nintendo did in Fire Emblem Fates. Three Houses has some fun and memorable characters, but its core story isn't especially great, nor does it fully deviate from the often fuzzy-mitten norms of the modern games in the franchise. While some stamped the "disappointing" label on Engage because they felt underwhelmed by its narrative ambitions, I felt moments away from screaming my guts out like Jacobim Mugatu from Zoolander. Every "sin" that Engage makes in ferrying aimless fanservice into your gullet, let's not act and pretend like that didn't happen in Three Houses or even Awakening. Since the Aed Massacre in Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War, the greatest Fire Emblem game ever made, most modern Fire Emblem games are about pantomiming the most rote and tired anime tropes under the illusion of you interacting with a drama that reacts to player choices. It's always been a superficial magic trick and not something unique to Engage, but if Engage is the game where you realize that, then I want you to revisit the rest of the DS and 3DS era games in the series!
Runner-up: Lies of P - Yup, it's time for me to get back on my bullshit of complaining about not liking Soulslikes! Playing a game that repeats what I consider the same design flaws as the works of FromSoftware but with even worse production values and more technical glitches sucks complete shit. It sucked in Wo Long, and it really sucks in Lies of P. I'm also so done with all of these games having every one of their bosses employ an annoying "two phases" strategy. It's a fine concept when it happens once or twice, but it is utterly tiresome when it is virtually every single boss. But what completely ruins Lies of P for me is its speed. Everyone and everything, including your character, attacks so quickly that unless you can process Soulslike combat like a robot, even basic battles feel like K2 mountaineering efforts. I repeatedly found it tricky to keep pace with a flurry of offensive attacks during boss battles, especially those requiring perfect parries. Speaking of which, I still consider it complete crap that these games have multiple bosses, wherein perfect parrying is the only way to beat a boss. Doing this always feels like games of this type are railroading you into a few playstyles with long-term viability, even if there are far more at your disposal, and I have always considered that shitty game design.
Blogger Of The Year From The Giant Bomb Community - Gamer_152
There may have been other bloggers and commentators on Giant Bomb that were more active than Gamer_152, but I will give them the nod for this award, thanks to the vast diversity of what they did and covered on the site. From their monthly check-ins about Halo Infinite to a short comprehensive review about the history of pinball to a myriad of interviews with independent game developers or designers that erred ever so closely to professional quality work, fellow moderator Gamer_152 took all of their readers on a journey in 2023 that I think deserves more recognition than they got. Other bloggers on the site attempted to bring an air of professionalism to the userbase by penning comprehensive essays and reviews on Giant Bomb, and Gamer_152 is one of them. But rather than rattle off why I think you should consider reading their works, here's a list of my personal favorites of theirs from 2023:
- Right on Cue: An Analysis of Side Pocket (SNES)
- The Becoming: Dehumanisation in Scorn
- Interview: Greg "Cosmo D" Heffernan, Creator of the Off-Peak Games
- Wake up the President: Nuclear War in COLDLINE
- Card Advantage: The Design of Magic: The Gathering
- Rebound: The Design of Pinball
I do not have this award in an attempt to make blogging on this site a competition. Nor do I have this section in my end-of-the-year review in hopes of reviving the on-site user content creation on Giant Bomb. As I have said before, sometimes you should write, not because it can make you famous or even lead to greener pastures or new job opportunities. Sometimes, you should write for yourself and be amazed at how creative and passionate you can get. If you have yet to let your thoughts flow, I strongly recommend it, even if you hesitate to work with penning paragraphs or whole essays. Hopefully, in directing you to some of Gamer_152's works, you will find a way to champion and challenge your voice to go where it has yet to go. Give it a shot! You are likely better at it than you give yourself credit for.
Runner-up: Everyone Else Still Writing And Publishing Stuff - I will warn you that this final section from me will sound like me on a soapbox. However, we are marching into 2024 on uneasy footing regarding the gaming hobby. The art and craft of writing and discussing games on the internet may be in the worst state it has ever been in, and that is not a unique phenomenon to Giant Bomb. All across the games press, we see massive layoffs that continue to gut gaming journalism, and in the void, it is transitioning to Patreons, self-publishing, and Discord servers. I don't want to sound like an "old head" who admonishes new generations for interacting with new or emerging platforms where they feel comfortable expressing themselves. Still, something is being lost in this transition that I think we all need to fight to get back or protect where it still exists. At the forefront of that is my firm belief that the written word needs to be protected. This may not be something you feel you need to fight for here or even with gaming, but mark my words: you should stand up for it where you feel like you should. I want to emphasize that I have no reason to believe that blogging or forum posting on Giant Bomb is at risk, nor do I hate or dislike what the current Giant Bomb staff are doing. I love the current slate of content Grubb, Jan, Dan, Mike, Tam, Lucy, and others are creating and want to continue to support them in their creative efforts.
Nonetheless, as I mull over the dozens of independent Patreons for gaming authority figures I value, things are getting overwhelming. I am not capable or in a position to support all of them, nor do I have the mental bandwidth to consume everything they are outputting. Likewise, while the scope of independent platforms is growing, no one is making new blogging or forum platforms. As prominent authority figures turn to streaming, Discord, and Patreon, the hobby increasingly feels like a one-way street. Consumers are no longer being directed to actively participate with communities to create things or works of their own. Instead, they are beholden to what they watch and see, which they rarely can influence. Web 2.0 is dead, and its legacy is only partially a positive one, what with it gutting physical press media thanks to Facebook and Google actively fudging their numbers to get everyone to consume information on news feeds and aggregators.
Nonetheless, I miss being able to Google tip threads and guides on performing a combo in a fighting game, not needing to join a Reddit group, and then having to scroll through reams of text using a different search engine to find one comment from two years ago. I also miss listening to podcasts or watching a livestream and being able to continue topics and ideas brought up during those productions with others in discussion threads that remain fixed visibly on a website. I opine for the days of reading a review and feeling like there was room for me to relay my own respectful rebuttal when I noticed I approached a game from a different viewpoint compared to someone paid to assess its qualities. I miss offering my desire to play games online with a single discussion topic with an accompanying date and time and not needing to scour eleven million Discord servers before nailing down which one has a community I think I would vibe with best. I miss that. So, to those of you keeping these traditions alive, regardless of how much support you got in return, I thank you.