[Dtoid community blogger Cutie Honey shares his list of games that made him feel the feels in 2012. Be sure to read the whole thing, too; there's a contest hidden betwixt the text! Want to see your own words appear on the front page? Go write something! --Mr Andy Dixon]
With the 100s of games I've played throughout the last quarter of a century, I could count on just one hand the titles that had some abnormally large emotional effect on me:
Final Fantasy X
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Elite Beat Agents
Z.H.P. Unlosing Ranger VS Darkdeath Evilman
These are four treasures that absolutely made me evacuate out an orifice, whether it be from joy or sadness.
So imagine my surprise when 2012 had not one, but EIGHT games that made me react in some peculiar mood. While some of them may have not been on a tear-jerking or mind-blowing level of delivery as the initial four I've listed, they've gotten people like me talking about them long after the credits finished rolling. The following eight games (and some extra stuff) wouldn't be part of my BEST GAMES OF 2012 list, not that I would do one considering they've have been overdone to death by far more prominent figures. They are just eight titles that resonated emotionally with me in one way or another, regardless of gameplay flaws.
Each game will receive a nifty title for their award and an emotion they exhibited that goes with it. Tying it all together thematically is going to be a picture of a moé magical girl being kawaii for you. Except the very last title mentioned, there's no real order of preference with these games so please don't think of it as a countdown. Although akin to an opinion piece, there will be so much hyping, hyperbole, hyperlinks to obscure jokes, and other hypers; you'll wish you equipped V-ism. With that, my eggshell-walking shoes come off and it's time to start handing out fake awards.
Oh right, you're here for the free games? Well, read the article and find out how you can win one of the two games that will be mentioned within. You can try out for both, just follow the instructions when you get to them...
What? If I'm going to whore out the title for hits, I might as well get you to read what I wrote.
The Walking Dead - Guilt - It's All Your Fault Award
It may sound fairly cliché to include this game after its won so many awards by many major publications, but it really deserves the praise its gotten up to this point. At its core, the game is a series of unfortunate events that get more hopeless as time goes on. Every time your survivors catch a break, you can count on things to go HORRIBLY wrong.
Many of your actions and decision in the game ultimately culminate into a linear path with very little deviation to the lives of your characters, and while that has snubbed some players for the illusion of choice, it speaks volumes about the way the dialogue is crafted and delivered. When choosing ANY side or decision in one of the game's many arguments, it frequently results in getting told you've made a bad choice by a naysayer, and many-a-time you'll believe them in hindsight. The options aren't painted as obviously as "THIS IS THE GOOD GUY CHOICE" and "THIS IS THE ASSHOLE CHOICE" either, as some will leave you guessing until the last second. A pessimistic moral one can take away from this game is that: Shit is just out of your control sometimes. But boy, does this game make you feel guilty for screwing up at every turn.
Awkward moments: The Game
Often with your list of dialogue choices, you are also given the option to remain silent. While it allows you to opt out of choosing the lesser of two evils, the game WILL punish your loyalty with other survivors for being wishy-washy. As the episodes started coming out, the developers noticed players would choose silence more frequently as the alternatives get worse and worse in terms of the outcome. While Episode 1 followed fairly conventional story beats for the horror genre, each of following episodes has some pretty disturbing moments, even when you've seen them coming a mile away.
Your relationship with Clementine, the orphaned girl you're required to protect, is what helps you soldier on thought. She'll react and develop based whether you force her to face the harsh realities of the undead apocalypse, or decide to shelter her from it.
The responsibility that clings to you is the thread you're climbing up throughout this story, but as the plot unravels, the string gets heavier and heavier while you desperately try to keep everything under wraps. By the end of Episodes 3 and 5, I wanted to hang myself with that gigantic rope I was left with. Just don't go looking up fanart on Deviantart and tumblr... Not because of spoilers, but there is a lot of gay shipping and pedophilia...
Mass Effect 3 - Affinity - Tummy Tickler Award
Say what you will about the decisions that money-hungry EA has made in developing this game, but I still like the epic tale that was pooped out at the end. Unlike the linear route that The Walking Dead takes, ME3 DOES have a great number of choices that completely fall upon your actions, priorities, and decisions. For this, it would've been hypocritical on a narrative level to applaud The Walking Dead without giving ME3 its fair share of golf claps as well. This was a long trilogy that easily soars over 100 hours in duration and even though it faltered in the last 1% and was hastily pandered retconned, its universe still felt like it has a thick backstory I just wanted more of.
Through a journey only a hyped series of games could convey, ME3 crafts a real sense of comradery between you and your crew. Seeing how side characters are doing from earlier entries lead to some funny, nostalgic, and touching moments. And consistently, I was being offered quests that answered many questions and titillated my soft spots:
Did my YEOMAN survive?
How has Liara been doing since the first game?
Has Jacob done anything after I left Cerberus? No.
Was it worth the intangible 5 Space Points to recruit Jessica Chobot?
Is the psychic, man-eating alien race I spared in ME1 going to cooperate, or did I make a mistake three games in the making?
What happens to Blasto, the Hanar Spectre?
Despite the overall grim apocalypse your universe faces, I was giddy with glee at some of the interactions your old friends and enemies gave, and the affinity I've developed for the cast compelled me to see their stories through to the end. Except Kai Leng, that dude's a dick.
Mass Effect 3 is going to be a game I remember for the good times it gave me. That's the same tactic I use when I reminisce about my creepy uncle Vinny and his Van of Secret Dreams.
Binary Domain - Empathy - Perhaps MAN is the REAL Monster Award
Created by the brains behind the Yakuza series, this SEGA romp plays itself off as a serious story with a comedy-driven cast. A futuristic company has built robots that look exactly like humans and even think they're people. Obviously, this frightens the World Governments, and your team of mercenaries (a Rust Crew) is commissioned to not only stop this company but also terminate all of the faux-humans.
The plot is fairly laughable, but it has some quite serious moments that address racism and class values in a way that I haven't seen other games venture. I felt empathic towards the robots that have lived for years thinking they were human. With the way "good people" in the game treat robots, I was even somewhat siding with the point of view of the antagonist in the end. I'll also have to admit that a convoluted Kojima-esque revelation you uncover during the climax was completely unexpected. If you like the questions that Snatcher or Ghost in the Shell bring up, this is one story that's worth biting into. Just make sure you aren't lactose intolerant, because this game is very cheesy.
The plot aside, your in-game teammates also steal the show, pulling off every cliché in the Action Film (and racial stereotype) tropes. They become a very likeable squad that has no shortage of quips about your highly improbable situation, where you're casually killing motorcycle chimeras that are the size of building with a pistol. And you can bet your main character has some snide retort for every kerfuffle he encounters. This ties into a Trust System game mechanic that changes your team's fate depending on whether the individual members believe in you or not.
I personally got a bittersweet ending that resulted in the sacrifice of a teammate. And unlike The Walking Dead and ME3, I actually want to eventually play the game again and earn myself the best ending, not for the achievements, but for my (Rust) Crew.
Hotline Miami - Curiosity - Serious Business Award
Sporting a very unique visual flair, an excellent soundtrack, and a serialized story that carries you from stage to stage, this stylish tale will keep you wondering what's going on until you've uncovered every secret. Featuring a very quick feedback loop upon a Game Over akin to Super Meat Boy, I was playing that game more intently than many other releases this year. Even after several deaths, you'll get into this white-knuckled mode of concentration as you attempt to brutally destroy all in your path.
Lots of strategy must be placed into how you want to clear a room of hostiles and there's often more than one way to solve a conundrum. Upon each death, small enemy placement changes occur to keep some randomness in check against those who would approach the situation with triage tactics.
The curiosity not only stems from the addictive and heart-thumping gameplay, but the plot that slowly lets on that there's something bigger going on behind its many masks. Your reason for existence is to go from murder spree to murder spree, doing the same wet-work again and again. But as the repetition of dazzling lights and death starts to set in, some changes in your apartment you use between missions and the shady characters you interact with lead to some intrigue. By the "end" of the game, you can open up more questions than you've originally attempted to close. The most I can do with spoilers for this is that the game is much more than the bloodbath it sells itself as, and that's only if you've reached that conclusion yourself while playing.
Contest time! To score a free Steam copy of Hotline Miami, write down the name of any game that made you cry in the comments, along with the keyword Jordan, mentioned anywhere inside or out. Examples include:
"CHRONO'S SACRIFICE IN CHRONO TRIGGER BROKE ME DOWN! #JORDAN"
"I REALLY LIKED FF7, AERITH's DEATH MADE MY CRY JORDAN WEEP EVERYTIME!"
A lucky person will be chosen at random on January 11th, 2013. Victors will be contacted through Destructoid's PM system or by Steam if you choose to leave your ID in the comments.
We're at the halfway point and we're doing great so far. But actually, what's all this we stuff? I'm doing all the hard work. So let's take a break to give out a special Anti-Award for the worst narrative experience of the year, presented by one of the best narrative experiences of 2009, 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand.
Amy - Disappointment - The 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand Award (For Being Shit)
Disappointment is an emotion that's hard to let go, and what better game to award it to than one of the biggest letdowns of the year. Featuring terrible level design, muddy graphics, stilted animation, retarded poor AI, broken checkpoints, an uninspired story, and the gall of the developers to jump on any criticism they've rightly deserved, I was never more disappointed in a game all year. And this was even after I got it at a quarter of the original price.
The game can look realistic in the right lighting.
After games like Amy and Resident Evil 6 this year, an idiot one could think Survival Horror was not a viable genre to stick around for the next generation...
It's kind of like that terminal elder in the family who everyone knows doesn't have much left in him to go on. He's the one that keeps mentioning at Thanksgiving:
"Not one of you thieving dogs in the family will get the inheritance!"
Luckily, our next game proves that a rightful successor will come to fruition.
(Until I write a large life insurance policy and kill him in the most convoluted way possible. Then the riches will be mine!)
ZombiU - Fear - True Horror Award
From a modeling perspective, ZombiU is not the best looking game... by a long shot; however, it cakes itself well in an atmospheric frosting of well designed screen filters, lighting, and sound direction. Often, the player will be hearing zombie screams in the distance. The dilemma is that you don't know whether it is a background noise or an enemy quickly approaching you from behind, leaving you to psyche yourself out over nothing. The implied narrative in many of the game's well-lit areas (in the aesthetic sense, some set pieces are pitch black) instantly put you into a sense of caution regardless of whether there's any real threat. The sense of immersion lost in other Wii U games that switch between the GamePad and television is remedied by the dark corners, one way detours, and piles of bodies that keep your attention on the action (or lack thereof).
I can't be alone in seeing this thumbnail on my recommended videos on YouTube all the time and being kind of annoyed by how ugly it is.
The gameplay itself is no slouch either on the psychological dread. Your radar on your GamePad often can be deceiving, as large masses of blips can simply be animals. But it also only shows targets that are moving, so an unconscious zombie can take you by surprise as well. This makes the GamePad's reliability dubious at best, but as your only helpful tool, it's begrudgingly going to be your best friend. The moments where you're scavenging containers for supplies or performing one of the other minigames on the GamePad are actually some of the most nerve-wracking moments in the game because there's always a chance a zombie could come sneaking behind you, and the Law of Averages ensures your doom at some point or another. If this game brings Survival Horror back to life, I welcome its death and reanimation with open arms.
Puella Magi Madoka Magica Portable - Despair - It Keeps Happening Award
Suspicions of bias aside (trust me, I was unsure that a licensed game could have any place on here as well), this game graciously lives up to its source material. And then it keeps coming back to haunt me no matter how many times I've buried the body. Luckily, Madoka also have given me great thematic hook for this article in general. The game is a dungeon crawler with an emphasis on monitoring your limited schedule (ala Persona 3 and 4), deciding when to interact with characters, and replaying the game's five main routes to bring the story to a final conclusion.
You want this scene to happen? You have to watch these characters die over, and over, and over, and over.
In order to get the official ending or anything remotely close to a "good" resolution, you have to run through the game multiple times by getting the bad endings, some of which outclass the anime in terms of "crazy shit dat goes down". While one can eventually just power their way to an ending that's actually happier than the series, it is built upon a foundation of some tough dungeon crawling and seeing some real messed up shit that you can't avoid, or inadvertently cause. The game itself mirrors the plot's sentiment, as you can intentionally "kill off" your allies or aim for bad endings in order to build up more power for the next "cycle" as well.
Come suffer with me.
I've played through the game in Japanese and read through mountains of translated text and video so I can say all that work is not going to pay off for most people, especially those that haven't seen the series. And compared to some other recent narratives from across the sea like 999, Dangan Ronpa, and Corpse Party that are more accessible, it's not the highest in terms of plot delivery. But personally, I could only handle the game in chunks before I would find myself too depressed to do anything. This game hurts so much, feels real bad, but that's why it burned a hole into my list.
Because this is a text-heavy import game and many Madoka fans won't be able to play it, I've included one of the bad endings in italics below if you're curious. I wrote it under the assumption you've seen the series, and it has a major spoiler. So if you haven't seen the series yet, give this a skip as it won't make much sense without three hours of backstory:
After Sayaka gets her soul gem thrown off the freeway by Madoka, instead of it being found immediately by Homura, you have to basically search for it in the game itself. Finding it quickly enough will result in the same flow of events as the series, but if you fail to find it in the required time, you'll immediately trigger a bad ending path. Sayaka's body starts to decompose and when she gets revived, she physically resembles a zombie with her skin basically falling apart (see spoiler pic). Her love interest, Kyosuke, sees her and calls her a monster, forcing her into the eventual tragedy she has in the anime, just with a more psychologically agonizing buildup.
Looks good, sounds good, plays good, and feels good. Journey hits the nail on the head for me in every possible way for game design and presentation. Immediately upon entering the very shiny and brown world, I was sucked into the game with a childlike wonder I haven't experienced in decades. Despite its simplistic appearance, it felt like an environment that had a history to it and I wanted to explore it.
This was a linear experience that carries an epic weight to it as you venture from set piece to set piece. I was in awe in several driven sections where I could just sit back and enjoy the view. Your diminutive size to your surroundings only aid in the experience, I actually got scared in the underground section of the game when I encountered hostile creatures that were reminiscent of the giants in Shadow of the Colossus. And I felt the exhaustion of my avatar as it pressed on foolishly during one of the final weather effects you encounter. The hieroglyphs you encounter and read between zones illuminate you on the bittersweet plot as you proceed, and even though it is bittersweet, it actually gives some reasoning to the flow of gameplay.
Make sure to type in "game" when you google "Journey", because there's a lot of band and Hobbit pictures.
Another main component of the game is the uncontrollable matchmaking system which pairs you with another anonymous random player in each area. Based on my multiple experiences with Journey, these players are often quick to help you proceed and find hidden glyphs that increase your flight capabilities. Since you cannot communicate with anything other than pinging noises, far removed is the feel of dread one has when playing an online FPS with sailor-mouthed adolescents. It's hard to explain, but I would develop a kinship with the other silent players I've encountered... only to find out at the end that I was paired with names like "xX[420Sephiroth]Xx". Journey has done something few games could do: Not only did it force me to play games with people I would normally avoid, it made me enjoy playing the game with said individuals.
Despite being so small by technical measure, Journey opens up a world larger than my own comfort zone and I'd like to make a return trip sometime in the future.
Spec Ops: The Line - Obligation - Rustles Everything Award
This one is for all the jimmies. Spec Ops: The Line was supposed to be a forgotten game, a mindless military shooter that would be forgotten under the sales of its more popular brethren. Delayed multiple times, several staff changes, and no hype given for it, it's a miracle the game even came out. The "Baby Jesus of Video Games" (as I'm now calling it) was even advertised under the most generic of buzzwords.
However, this little diamond in the rough became one of my favorite games of the year. While it starts in the most typical way a game with sand and guns could proceed, it features some brutal plot pivots that unnerve and define your motivations throughout (in more ways than one).
Your team undergoes some psychological duress throughout the game in both the cinematics and gameplay. One hit executions in the game start with merciful knockouts, and then slowly turn to savage beatings as you reach the conclusion. Calm and collected squad orders turn feral as the situation gets desperate. The game deploys a wide range of talented voice actors with Nolan North as the lead. If you thought Nathan Drake sounded a little deranged whenever he whispers, "That's your neck", you need to hear him argue with himself on the brink of insanity. The soundtrack that plays in the background of each area comes from either a maniacal Radio DJ or your own psychosis, both taunting you at every possible moment, with the most fitting music.
Some scenes will run the gambit of emotions, from humor to mystery and even horror. If you're into games that mess with the your mind like the Metal Gear Solid series, you'll be right at home with some of the illusions at play. Despite the pretense one has with the setting, you actually venture into some pretty colorful areas with lots of backstory, caked into the walls themselves. The mystery at heart kept me obligated to press forward, despite commonsense, in both the game and real life. I expected to slowly drag myself through the game in bite-size chunks over a week, and found myself up at 4 A.M. in the morning wondering what the hell happened as I did it all in one obsessive run. And then I spent another two hours reading player reaction to the game and looking up the deeper, hidden stuff I would only notice in retrospect. Hell, someone even wrote a lengthy eBook about the game.
As Spec Ops: The Line has gone on sale for under 10 dollars several times this year, there's little reason to miss this six hour romp for the narrative alone. Fans of Apocalypse Now, Jacob's Ladder, or Heart of Darkness may see it all as pastiche, but for a game that was advertised as something completely different, it sold me on the surprises in store. If you enjoyed the weird messages Hotline Miami contained, you'll get a similar experience with this overlooked tale.
Who vandalized that graffiti with all that blood?
Contest #2! To score a free Steam copy of Spec Ops: The Line, write down the name of any game that made you cry in the comments, along with the keyword Darren, mentioned anywhere inside or out. Examples include:
"OMG! METAL GEAR SOLID'S PSYCHO MANTIS THING WAS SO DARREN!" -or- "DARREN. WHOA, THAT ETERNAL DARKNESS REALLY MESSES WITH YOU!"
A lucky person will be chosen at random on January 11th, 2013. Victors will be contacted through Destructoid's PM system or by Steam if you choose to leave your ID in the comments.
But before we bring this show to close with a giant circle jerk, let's do some damage control for games I didn't bring up:
There's been a wealth of other games this year that got people shaking and quaking. Sadly, I wouldn't have room to address all of them in a timely fashion. Plus, it ruins the alliteration for me to include more than eight. So here's a bunch of games that came out this year that could've easily made this list but were left out for one reason or another:
Close but no cigar:
Papa Y Yo (PS3) - A heart to heart tale about the creator's childhood and his abusive father, told in the most abstract and whimsical sense.
Asura's Wrath (360/PS3) - Although mostly quick time events, that over the top story and high octane pacing can get your blood pumping.
Dust: An Elysian Tail (360) - An amnesic furry finding a talking sword and an annoying fairy sounds like a bad and uninspired start, but this fairly dark story about genocide has its moments and is quite the accomplishment; especially considering everything except for the sound design was done by one man.
Dragon's Dogma (360/PS3) - The game's plot smokes a huge blunt right after the last boss and actually turns the idea of New Game+ on its head while also explaining the game's lack of multiplayer... Through the narrative! It's pretty much the inverse of Mass Effect 3.
Home (PC) - A very different take on the Adventure genre. Even if you catch onto what it's doing early on, it is set up in a way that has you wondering (and writing) what exactly happens in the end.
Frog Fractions (PC) - A very unexpected and awesome sheep in wolf's clothing. It lost some of that initial shock after the first few "revelations" but it's worth a playthrough. A very brave and clever game that's a love letter to late 80s PC floppies.
Thirty Flights of Loving (PC) - I can see why people think this is one of the best experiences of the year, but I personally didn't get much out of it. Running less than 15 minutes long and it makes you wonder what defines a game, but the number of glitches and bugs in that short of an experience, plus the MSRP didn't work in my favor. There's beauty there, but it just didn't do it for me.
Didn't get to finish:
Lone Survivor (PC) - Only got 30 minutes in. I can tell this love letter to the classic Silent Hill is going somewhere awesome with multiple endings, but I need to put more time into it.
Katawa Shoujo (PC) - A dating sim with girls that have a myriad of disabilities. Only got halfway through one route, but it piques my interest, and the fandom has exploded. You could do worse for the price of FREE.
Fez (360) - It was alright, but I didn't have the motivation to proceed terribly far into it without getting distracted by other releases. I'm truly sorry, Fez. Maybe in another world, another time, another plane.
Ports of pre-existing games:
Persona 4: Golden (PSV) - Although full of anime tropes, it's one of the most endearing RPGs tales to come out in awhile. Give the updated version a try as it adds a lot of content (if you even have a Vita).
Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition (PC) - If you want the perfect example of atmosphere in a video game, this 2011 game is a sterling example. Unfortunately, these are the 2012 awards and a PC port doesn't count. Still, it's cheap and if you're looking to get absorbed into something deep, check it out.
Where other mediums may have taken decades to achieve great strides, games have evolved at remarkable speeds, turning somewhat new concepts into overdone tropes within a year. Some of the things these eight wonders of the world have done, cannot be delivered to the same effect again. The mercy killings in The Walking Dead won't have the same effect in Season 2, nor would a game suddenly titled Hotline Miami 2 possibly pack the same narrative punch without going in a different direction. Revolutions in survival horror games have come and gone in waves, and while a sequel to ZombiU can refine the gameplay, it will already be old hat with the presentation. And you know what? All of that is alright. A blessing of game design is that designers, publishers and players often immediately know when something is overdone and will do what they can to push forward. If 2012 could output so many quality products in such a short period (amidst the muck), then the next few years are going to be interesting to witness, just to see what surprises us.
But let's not forget all the good games that have paved the way to this point. Let me know what games struck a chord with you or what you disagreed with in this article. Or let me know any games I should really try, because I'm always looking for a good story. And if you haven't got a chance yet, try some of the games I've listed; if I haven't hyped them up too much for you, I'm sure you'll get your time and money's worth out of playing some of them.
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