Gillman’s Top 10 Games of 2013

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.

She seemed more annoyed than wrathful

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.

Like smash bros, but not making you want to kill your friends

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.

The legacy is chocolate

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.

Watch out, women have breasts

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?

The game where we learned to stop hating and love moe

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.

Saint's Flow Paul don't give a fuck!

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.

Is it weird that I look at this cover after 40 plus hours of play and go "ohhhh!"

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.

Millia isn't a fan of pants

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.

Not going to make the standard "why" joke here

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.

Laharl gets all the bitches

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.

Review: Chronicle of Vampires: Awakening

This all looks very natural.  All of it.

I understand the urge to dress up in cosplay and photoshop myself into scenes with my favorite imaginary characters all to well—that, and an unhealthy obsession with a pre-Tom Cruise Lestat de Lioncourt, are mainly the reason that Anne Rice has personally made sure I am no longer allowed in New Orleans; I also get this stylish beeping ankle bracelet and weekly fan letter from her lawyer telling me to “cease” something or other.  So I naturally understand the design behind this game attempting to go make its own fiction while carefully inserting still images of live actors next to the hand drawn, and constantly surprised looking, Linda Hyde and gratuitous use of vampire fiction.  I was a little confused by the hidden picture mini-games that kept interrupting the three to four different still images a main character had, but not everything can be perfect.

Yeah, no, all these items are needed and should be here.

The above mentioned mini-games managed to be really distracting too, as I would randomly be asked to do something plot related in one and then in another it seemed like a hotel manager was asking me to pick up the garbage in the lobby for him.  I am happy to help out, especially when the live action extras used to do it look to be friends of friends who had five minutes free and weren’t clear what was going on, but I am more concerned on my I am being asked to pick up the cat and sandwich and leave the fish corpse just hanging out in the middle of the floor like that.  Maybe that is why I appear to be the only person staying at this establishment.

1star aloneThe truth is that while I love the genre, Cool World/Roger Rabbit, sometimes the plot makes it hard for me to not question the validity of cartoon people walking around—such as how did a newspaper editor manage to smuggle a gun through customs and why is he only giving it to the animated reporter/main character after half a dozen murder attempts.  That kind of thing just pulls me out instead of becoming even passingly interested at the in depth level of book keeping the game tries to make me aware of.  Sadly I would have to recommend a pass on this one.

Review: Chronicles of Vampires: Origins

Don't look at her tits, don't look at her tits...

There were two great mysteries in my life as a child, what jerk of a mother allowed their off spring to circle all of the items in the image find in Highlights in the doctor’s office, and why wasn’t that magazine offered to normal people who weren’t under an oath more awesome and legally binding than the Green Lanterns.  At some point during my search for answers the image find section seemed to have found a life of its own, because I guess saying “I have lost my shoe in this room full of fish,” and then gauging other person’s response is no longer how you decide if someone is sane enough to stand trial.

Aside from handsome

The game is held together, loosely, by a series of in game dialogs that are supposed to explain why I am trying to find one non-descript purse in an apartment just full of purse like objects.  These rooms, of course, come with a list of objects that you are supposed to be looking for—while ignoring the more troubling signs of both neglect and possible mental health issues of whatever environment that they are in (who even uses CDs anymore and why is every TV just left on “static” by default). The game calmly asks me to get the character ready for her investigation while asking for things like a laptop and then a towel, I don’t know many people that need a towel when they are about to go gallivanting around the world chasing international museum thieves, but I am pretty sure the list was written by Douglas Adams.

1star alone
Insert random grumble here

It isn’t that everything in the game is bad, it was interesting to see load times in a downloadable game with simple graphics and almost no sound, and the way that the main character constantly looks surprised by everything that is happening at any given moment in the game is—not charming—depressingly amusing.  There is hope, though, as a direct story based sequel to this game has been released to the same e-shop—possibly of hopes of fixing all of the short falls of this title.  There may be hope at the end of the road, fans of this odd genre.

Review: 101 Dolphin Pets

This is, of course, a lie

I am sure that for every single animal out there someone is simply dying to attempt to train it to become the world’s greatest source of friendship and afterschool entertainment.  I too have longed to spend my quiet hours with a hairy nosed wombat that I have poorly trained to do the most mundane tricks imaginable; my knowledge of how highly endangered these amazing creatures are is the only thing that stops me from simply jumping on a plane to Australia, taking the long bus ride to Queensland, trekking illegally into Epping Forest National Park, and then capturing one of the 30 remaining breeding stock of females. Thankfully I don’t have to worry any more as my dreams have come to fruition with the 101 animal series; I can finally own, poorly train, mockingly dress, and force a creature of my choosing (depending on the title) into demoralizing competitions with others of its captured ilk.

This flavor of 101 Pets comes in Dolphin variety, allowing the captive sentient mammalian free rein of the pool behind what I am assuming is supposed to be the player’s ranch style house.  While this raises certain questions about the priorities in the way of salt water tanks/pool and exotic creatures expenditures vs. living conditions, it also seems odd that there are pet stores in this world that are happy to sell me various Hawaiian shirts that are form fitting for a dolphin.  I have never made that request of a clothier before, but I assume that the police would become involved if it was ever brought up.  For some reason in my mind at the end of this scenario it ends with me drunkenly explaining why I also needed my dolphin to have UV protecting sunglasses.  The answer, of course, is because he is awesome.

Basic required food is not an upgrade

1star alone
The only time she smiles.

Amusingly hard to justify separation of disbelief aside, the parts of the game that are supposed to be a game never seemed to be that enjoyable.  There are a series of mini-games that ask the player to use the touch screen to trace all the similar images for monetary rewards, the problem being that the touch screen is not responsive enough to trace anything let alone a heart less than the size of a dime.  All of the games are explained, at great length, through walls of text—which I mostly skipped through because 11 pages is way too much tell me to avoid stars and collect coins while my dude swims.  Look, I understand that I have trained Austin (as I have thus named him, after the best Power setting) so little that he could be considered functionally retarded even by animal standards, but I think placing him third in any event where he is the only person on a podium–and probably the only one that entered, is a little harsh.

101 Hawaiian Shirted Dolphins doesn’t fail because of its concept, if anything I would applaud it for allowing me to illegally own one of nature’s most aware beings and forcing it into a small and confined space to amuse me until I got my own afterschool special staring the living Corey.  The developers dreamed big with this game, and aiming for the stars should always be commended even when you fail to leave the state and end in a landfill.  I simply wanted to spend more time hanging out and high fiving my aqua friend then slowly grinding away at broken mini-games to award him with a sweet new skateboard or something.

You Probably Shouldn’t Buy Space Engineer

Really COCKED that one up

Fans of the site will know that I mine Steam trading cards for money to buy more Steam games with, this normally leaves me with some cash on hand to, at the very least, weaken my already poor resolve to purchase additional games on the client.  Today I noticed an interesting title by the name of Space Engineers, something like Mine Craft in space and with graphics.  It seemed interesting, in-expensive, and like something that I might pick up and play around with—possibly on the stream at some point while Stark said something about all of my spaceships all looking overly phallic.

I may have ended up buying the game, I might have ended up forgetting about the game, but what happened next made me interested enough to write about the game.

While browsing reddit I happened about a thread titled, “My opinion of the developers of Space Engineer”.  I am not dumb, I know for a fact that no one acts cagey in a title if their “opinion” isn’t going to attempt to be neutral while secretly trying to convince everyone to hate on it—I just wanted to know more about the game as it was in pre-release and besides two videos I knew nothing about the game.  To say that the thread was poorly formed and confusing was an understatement; it took reading the comments for a while to figure out exactly what was going on. Basically I walked away knowing that I probably shouldn’t buy this game. Most of the leg work was done by poster earlycat, so credit goes to him for that, all I am trying to do is present this in an understandable and digestible manner.

posthere

and gone

To begin with the developer, Keen Software House, has a bad reputation for charging people to get into betas and then suddenly deciding that they are feature complete—bugs and all.  There previous game, Miner Wars 2081 was released on Steam as an early access beta, pushed to full release days later, and all work was halted almost directly after.  It was poorly received, critically so. Also it was a DRM nightmare. Also it didn’t work on many machines, at all.  Right before the team stopped work, stating that they were stopping work to start another title instead (probably because they had grown bored and their ADD kicked in), they had promised a list of updates and fixes that never appeared.  Keep in mind that this paragraph is about things that happened on their previous game, and isn’t even about the current one.

Huh. They... Just want my money?

Say you have a game breaking bug, or just a normal kind.  The first thing most people do is head to the forums to discuss this with other humans to see if it is a known issue with some kind of work around (like don’t make your penis rocket so big).  Keen Software would prefer that you didn’t do that, or discuss anything besides how awesome the game is at all if you would.  In less time than it takes for the pizza guy to get to my house threads are being deleted with people posting questions asking about bugs, not just standard trolling and people asking if they should buy the game threads (those, by far outnumber them and are also all being deleted), but legit threads with people with issues in the game.  The bug forum itself does seem to be populated, but with old questions from people that are waiting to hear back from moderators that are too busy making sure the main forums are a positive place.  Sure, maybe you reported a bug in the wrong area, that happens, you thread is moved or deleted.  I will give you the benefit of the doubt on that one, have to keep this together or it will be a mad house. Oh, wait, you mean they delete anything from the main forum that isn’t praise:

Legit

It is true that most of the thread deletion complaints have been more about people simply asking if the team, you know, intends to complete this game unlike their last one.  Those threads last less time that it did for you to get this far in the story.  Threads about if you should buy the game are seemingly deleted in bulk, which is odd because most of your day one traffic is people asking if the game is worth it.  One person even went so far as to try and start a conversation with the devs about what is going on, for which (this was earlycat) he was banned and then given a 25% off coupon for the game… I don’t know if the last one is a joke that steam plays or some college intern having a sense of humor.  The point is the forums are like some kind of train wreck that just watched the VMAs after finding out that the Patriots cheated during that one season all those years ago.

Win... Win?

I have talked before, on the pod, on the Stream, in some articles, to myself, about how weird the idea of pre-purchasing a game can be when a designer can just call it quits at any moment while leaving whatever steaming pile they delivered with the player and calling it done.  My experiences with it to this point have been pretty positive, with the games taking the fall for either being weird, or just not what I thought they were going to be and not with the concept themselves.  I think it is kind of interesting that the gaming world finally has a way that a small company can come out and proclaim itself basically a super villain and manage to destroy all of the good will that millions of people went out of their way to create.

Source: Reddit (r/gaming)