This year was flush with sequels, and even those that weren’t are either direct ports of some kind or spiritual successors of something or another. What started out as a slow and strange start of the year ended up with one of the strongest finishes of gaming in recent memory. This year probably saw more games that that I picked up and was happy to experience than in most years past, which is strange to say as I love picking up obscure games.
10. Ni No Kuni
Ni No Kuni came to the community in the drought of gaming that all those who partake in this enjoyable pastime fear—January. It is the time of year that Skeletor and the devil take both Jesus’s and Santa’s cookie and New Year’s induced naps as a time to disallow any joy into the world or any human to smile, also it is very cold out normally. This year was different, and not just because of global warming either, Ni No Kuni took the chance to stand up to the forces of evil and say, “Hey jerks, I want to make people in North America smile again” and then proceed to make the most prosperous region in the world even more so, because that is the way fairy tales end.
Telling a heartwarming tale about a little boy that accidently causes his mother’s death, and goes on a quest to attempt to bring her back to life in the least zombie like manner possible. For most people this would involve the grieving process, but since this is a Japanese RPG it instead involves a fairy trapped in a stuffed animal, wizards, another land, and oddly pre-world war two-ish setting—you know, before Japan got all “Hitler-y” and war criminal-ish. Ignoring all the underpinnings the game manages to be both charming as well as brilliantly entertaining from the moment that it starts to its conclusion, and in true JRPG fashion it manages to last for an unbelievable amount of time with an always increasingly amount of bullshit side quests the heroes can go on.
9. Project X Zone
You know what we don’t get enough of in the States? Direct sequels to games that fans forgot where a thing almost long enough ago to gain amnesia on why they were immeasurably pissed about the game not coming out in their region. I only say that half-heartedly because it kind of seems like something that is probably going to be happening more and more as the consumers my age are more eager for games then they probably are to play all the way through the stupidly extensive amount of content included in them. Project X Zone is what happens when you take all of Namco’s, Sega’s, and Capcom’s licenses and try to make one game that make sense with whatever battle mechanics you devised in your drug fueled business meeting. Also the entire game is basically a giant fan-service device, if the above sentence wasn’t enough convincing. I can’t even complain as everything, aside from the plot, ends up working out really well for the game.
The game has just over 40 story missions to it. Each one of them takes the bare minimum of half an hour to clear, and that is only if all of the treasure chests, most of the enemies, the side quests inside of the standard quest, and any additional content is skipped in favor of basically powering through. The missions also have a habit of getting longer and, later, not even starting the mission until the level itself has already been cleared of monsters once. Then there is the story sequences that can be just as long while they are trying to explain… something. The best part of the game is when they stopped trying to figure out what was going on and just accepted that it was weird and bad guys were involved in some way. I stopped playing the game, albeit with intentions of going back, when I saw that I was about 30 hours in after just finishing the 25th chapter. I really did enjoy the game a ton, but I had other things that I needed to be doing with my life.
8. Rouge Legacy
The only real non-sequel/spiritual successor on the list this year and probably one of my greater shames. Not because I haven’t beaten it, even though I haven’t (it is hard and Stark makes fun of me every time I play it in front of him), but instead because I caused several people at work to lose weeks of their lives to this game. At one point this summer half of my work place dialog consisted entirely of either describing something insane that we experienced the night before, either through a crazy series of events which included the character of our choosing being both gay and color blind, or some secret that we found just kicking around in the game. The fact that the game was fair and punishing, fun and frustrating, and all the other complexities that you can throw at a well-crafted Metroid-Vania Rogue-like meant that it captured my little work community like the flu that hit us earlier this winter.
The plot is that the player characters are going to overcome the challenges that await them in the castle seemingly through breeding, attrition, and piles of corpses. So after the 500th or so generation and slow and progressive upgrades they might one day be able have one of their offspring’s progeny say that they were able to hold their head up high and proclaim victory, even if he has a really terrible case of vertigo. I do find it kind of weird that every one of the off spring that is chosen to go into the castle is in some way damaged, as if to say that only the defective stock is selected to go to their death while the rest is left outside for breeding reasons—but that must meant that the family isn’t really that serious about solving this entire thing. That would explain why it takes thousands of years though.
7. Dragon’s Crown
I will be honest, every couple of months there is something that happens in the world and I become really impressed that we managed to pull through it without this entire thing—life that is—just coming to an end. I like to have that feeling about peace talks or republicans being elected and allowed to have guns, I don’t like knowing that everyone managed to lose their collective shit over a video game because it had big breasted women as playable characters. I mean, the way that everyone had me feeling the day before this game was released was that my wife was going to stab me to death in the middle of the night simply because of my proximity to my penis (it is attached after all) and men everywhere had lost the right of breath after Japan had allowed this to even be drawn. Imagine my surprise that morning when I awoke, even more so when the game itself managed to be pretty good. Clearly my marriage made it through this, we can make it through anything.
Calling the game a simple brawler is being mean, there is a level of depth in the mix that you rarely see even in most fighting games—and not just the depth between the sorceresses cleavage either. Oddly the game seems to be largely ignored because of the art style and advantages that it took with both genders, and ignored for the atmosphere that it managed to produce coupled with just being a kickass awesome time to play. In a world that this game was largely demonized, raised to great heights and scream about, made people feel terrible about wanting to play it, and then quickly forgotten, I find it odd that Dead or Alive 5 seems to have danced out with two versions with vastly less dressed women doing a crazy amount of more objectionable things and no one even cared. Why? Is it because that series has existed for a while?
6. Atelier Ayesha
I have a huge soft spot for this series. When I first found it I was terribly unemployed, going through one of the worst depressions of my life, and had just moved to an entirely new area where I knew next to no one. Then this series entered my life and showed me that things could be amazingly cute as well as deep and engaging. For two sequels the game not only managed to continue that feeling but improve on it every year—gaining a couple game of the year awards from me. Then they wanted to try and do a dark and gritty reboot with the new series.
Saying that making the world that was designed around being cute and uplifting and deciding to put it in a world that is literally falling apart and dying is probably one of the stranger choices/turns that anyone could make with a series. Thankfully enough of the core that makes all of the games amazing remains and allows for ample creations of barrels and TNT to be thrown at wolves and eagles. It could be that it was more of a struggle for the series creators to try and establish a new world instead of just working in the confines of an older one, doesn’t really matter as this is probably the only series that I don’t care how many they put out in a year as I simply want more.
5. Saints Row IV
Saints Row the Third was the game that you threw in front of your friend when you were done talking to them but were lonely enough that you didn’t really want them to leave yet. That game happily went toe to toe with Skyrim for game of the year and managed to make it a stupidly close competition, even to this day—which if for some reason you are new to video games and reading this site is akin to saying that one time you watched an owl kick the crap out of a leopard, impressive. With the highlight of the series being that they simply don’t care, and using that as a jumping off point, Saints Row IV manages to hold onto making sense with its fingernails and not let go somehow.
It is hard to talk about this game without pointing out that it started off as DLC, which you can even get a semi completed version of for this game because of course they couldn’t let any of this ever make sense. The staff at Volition seemed keen to point out that it was simply because the game got out of hand, but it is hard to believe that when the company they were working for clearly needed a cash influx as it was actively exploding due to a series of the world’s worst investments. Many speculated that they were forced to blow it out to a full game, and after playing this I can’t say that they were wrong. It doesn’t really matter though, this half-assed game was still 30 times better than almost anything that any other studio puts out on a regular basis.
4. Shin Megami Tensei IV
I adore these games. I can’t even complain that they seem to be coming out in increasing regularity (this one and a 3DS remake this year as well, with another one coming very soon) as they are pretty much always exactly the right combination of difficult, RPG, and plot mixed together to form a wonderful and rewarding cookie that I can enjoy. Even after a decade of becoming overly addicted to these games I am still finding it hard to part with some of my favorite demons to fuse them into some other unholy creation in hopes of furthering their weird and progressively sexual transformations. For random enemies that join my party they have a weird way of making a place in my heart, even though they always seem more than happy to be fused into some other sacrilegious tongue monster longing for battle.
The only reason this game lost out to others, namely Xillia, is because it has a well-defined history of not giving that much direction on what to do next; an idea that is all well and good when it doesn’t fall on a game world that can only poorly be summarized as “massively expansive”. It is really too bad that this game basically falls back to either wandering around randomly and hoping something will trigger, or flipping through a guide to figure out what to do next (did I mention that chunks of it can be done out of order, so good luck finding your place halfway through), because this game basically addresses all problems with every other Shin Megami game that has come out (aside from Persona) by actually have the player character have a group of non-combatant friends who constantly give the impression of what ending the player is heading towards.
3. Tales of Xillia
Oh Xillia. If you had managed to keep up the energy and amazing twists that you had for the first 4/5ths of the game you could have easily have been contender for game of the decade. Instead we got treated to is either a team that was running out of time and simply wanted to do so much more with what they had, or a company that looked at what was there and said, “if we do this we can make a follow up”. Either way after the game attempts to end for the 2nd time everything kind of starts to fall apart, not in the fun last disc to a PS1 RPG kind of way either but more in the train wreck that was Snooki thinking she could be elected to anything—aside from butter.
There are small and clever subtle nods throughout the game to the fact that it can be played as one of two main characters, something that I have not seen done in 15 years. From that point forward it almost feels like the game just gathers all of the best things that every other Tales of game has ever done as it is rolling downhill towards some kind of amazing climax. The problems come that every time it hits one of the patented, “thought this was going to be the end of the game” Tales moments large chunks of amazing are thrown off—never to be seen again. Instead of just convulsing violently every time something truly jaw dropping, plot twisting, and eyeball exploding happens the game had held together this would have been an easy pick for number one. With its flaws it still managed to be one of the best games I have played in a long time.
2. Pokémon X/Y
My knowledge of the last two games in this series is so light it might as well be non-existent—I played White for about two hours before I couldn’t care anymore. Those games managed to be the best selling Nintendo game since ever, boring as hell, not do anything original, and spawn a numbered follow-ups— something a Pokémon game has never done before. When I heard that the 3DS was getting another game I took the news with passing interest, mainly because I was unemployed at the time, but mainly because the games hadn’t done anything new since they said you could battle two make-believe monsters at once; this makes the last core change that happened in the series take place well before most of the people who play it were born. Let that sink in for a minute or two.
This game is what people have been complaining about forever. I could probably list the things that have been changed as a list of reasons that this was almost the game of the year, but instead I will just add in the fact that Nintendo’s concern about “balance” and “battling and trading anywhere” kind of makes me feel like they know that they are going to have to do something that is at the very least akin to a full MMO at some point in the near future and this is just them getting us ready for it. Am I getting your hopes up for something that probably won’t happen? Almost certainly, but I wanted to do that instead of talking about how Exp. Share gives everyone in the party experience along with capturing Pokémon now too. Things that pretty much every review at this point has brought up.
1. Disgaea D2
I try not to name things my game of the year that came out towards the end of it simply because it seems to add weight to the power of recent memory and tells the industry that it is ok to pile everything around one time. We are gamers, we buy games when they come out. All that said Disgaea D2 feels like the first full iteration on the concepts presented in the first game instead of just small, almost predictable, Madden type steps forward. The games had constantly been improving since they launched, but they had always been trying to add one or two more mechanics into the system without every really subtracting those that didn’t seem to work or that were in conflict with existing ones. This time we finally saw a stripped down, retooled, and almost reimagined idea of what this series could be; the game that changed the way we count how long we play video games.
As of the time I am writing this I am about 60 hours into this game, which considering some of the things that have been happening in my personal life and that this game has only been out a month I would call that a small victory for everyone that has ever lived. I spend time at work thinking about how I am going to approach my time that night in the game. I haven’t felt about this way about a game in years, probably since I became heavily medicated for my rampant OCD and have been able to not think about everything both obsessively and constantly. I guess the moral of this game is that they finally found a way to either break through my medication cocktail with better programming or made a better form of crack. Either way, game of the year man. Game of the Year.