Well, with the retail version of The Walking Dead game sold out everywhere, Iím losing my conviction that despite my disinterest in the show and comics and the game itself until it started winning game of the year awards left and right, I need to play it. And with the WiiWare version of Retro City Rampage still not out, Iím thinking of giving up on waiting for that to come out before creating a best of 2012 list (technically it will be a 2013 release, after all).
So letís do this! Here it is, my best of 2012 list! Iím doing it a bit differently than I have in past years because honestly there werenít enough outstanding games to fill a top 10 list as sufficiently as I have the last four years. Donít get me wrong, there were a lot of great games, but many were smaller games that didnít occupy my time as fully, and that ultimately didnít prove especially memorable. It may be my fault, perhaps lately Iíve been too choosy about what I play Ė Sleeping Dogs for example is a game I came close to playing and in past years may have, but I changed my mind last minute (same thing with The Walking Dead). Just know that Iím not complaining. After all, what I will probably remember 2012 best for (gaming-wise) is finally getting a chance to finish Majoraís Mask.
So what Iím going to do instead of a top-10 list, is just to highlight three games that I thought were truly outstanding. For a point of reference compared to my 2011 list, I donít think any of these games are quite as good as my top 3 of that year, but theyíd fit in somewhere between those three and my #4 game that year. Whereas no other game of 2012 did I like quite as much as my #10 game on that list. In short, these three games are what I consider the true must-plays of 2012.
In order of release dateÖ and alphabetical orderÖ and, uh, also in order of scale I guessÖ and obscurityÖ
I only played Journey once. It was two hours long and I finished it in a single sitting. When I finished, despite how early into the year I played it, I said to myself, with the same conviction as I did Ghost Trick in 2011: This will be my game of the year.
When I started playing it, I had sort of forgotten that you meet other players but canít communicate with them, and the possibilities of this mechanic had never dawned on me. When I first noticed another character, jumping around the level, it was a magical moment Ė I immediately got it. And as I followed this mysterious person around the level and he followed me around, and we helped each other find secrets, without actually talking to one another. The bond I felt with this other character, just in this one level, was so strong and so unlike anything Iíve ever experienced before, and immediately I was in love with the game. Over the next two hours, I lost track of partners and other ones showed up, but still I was able to bond with them in this way, and it was truly magical.
The game is drop-dead gorgeous, visually; the music is incredible, and the set-pieces, if I can even call them that, are truly spectacular and one-of-a-kind. Journey was quite a journey. And yet, Journey is not lasting art. It was two hours and I hesitate to play it again for fear that the magic of my first play-through will be diminished on a second go. Eventually, it will get to the point where everyone you play with online knows how to do everything, is just trying to accomplish specific goals, is disinterested in the other player, and that original magic will be lost (before the online community disappears altogether). Iíll have to replay it before that point. I fear it might already be like that, that Journey is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and will never be the same as it was in 2012. But if that may be the case, Iím just glad I was there.
THE LAST STORY
Xenoblade Chronicles impressed me in a lot of ways, with its scale and its world and its energy, and itís the game I put the most time into this year, but there was so much I didnít like about it. That game pretty much devolved into spending hours upon hours running across enormous fields hitting every enemy along the way with your sword to gain the necessary experience to challenge the next boss. Itís probably the most ludicrously time-wasting game Iíve ever played; donít even get me started on the inanity of spending hours in menus to equip the right equipment, gem crafting, or sidequests that are completed by running all over gargantuan levels until a little red Ďxí appears on your radar. With this in mind, I was pretty trepidatious going into The Last Story, expecting something like Xenoblade Chronicles but not as worthwhile.
Instead, with The Last Story, I got one of (if not) the most enjoyable and brilliantly paced JRPGs Iíve ever experienced. And it makes Xenoblade Chroniclesí excess of filler seem all the more offensive by comparison. Of course, most people seem to like Xenoblade Chronicles more, and I can understand that. The Last Story has much less depth, it is only a little over 20 hours long. The two games are ultimately for pretty different audiences. But for people like meÖ The Last Story is an action-RPG, and that means something. This game has an auto-equip button, that lets the computer decide who gets what equipment. Yes, this is the JRPG for people like me. No fiddling around in menus. No grinding. Oh yes.
I find The Last Story has much more depth in terms of the range of approaches to combat. The combat is also more enjoyable; I really feel like Iím controlling everything my character does, but the combat system is also unique, in effective ways that add strategy to the game. The bosses are awesome. The music is great. And I ultimately became quite endeared to the characters. And I already said this, but I canít help saying it again: the pacing is so great! This is a total class gaming experience. Read more in this blog I did about it.
WAY OF THE SAMURAI 4
Way of the fucking Samurai 4, oh my god I love this game. Why oh why did no one tell me about this series when I did my blog about how I wished there was an open-world samurai game? Sure itís not exactly the Red Dead Redemption of the samurai genre, but in its own, incredibly silly way, itís almost as good. This is a game where you can run up to the local magistrate and call them ďstupidheadsĒ, beat up old ladies within an inch of their lives and then recruit them into your dojo to train and fight for you, and seduce random women (or old ladies) with lines like ďYou have a nice, firm assĒ. Thatís just the tip of the iceberg.
When I first started playing, I thought perhaps this game was so little-known for a good reason. The ugly graphics and screen-tearing, and the repetitious clanging of the swords in the background into my headphones while I was reading tutorials was giving me a headache, and I was discouraged by the initial lack of clothing options (I opted for nearly naked over the ugly kimono). But then I clicked something to surrender a battle and suddenly I was tied up on a trolley track engaging in this ludicrous dialogue with a man to help save me, which I liked. And then it was late at night and I really wanted to save and quit and I couldnít figure out how to save and then I went up to a guy with a camera, who could save my game by taking a photo, and his explanation for saving and the subsequent dialogue choices were amazing. And then he was getting ready to take the photo when suddenly he got hit by the trolley and died. And I was incredibly amused and annoyed.
Anyway, it took me a while and some research to understand and get used to the gameís structure Ė this is a game you must play through multiple times to get anything out of Ė on subsequent play-throughs you can side with different factions and get different endings, and, crucially, everything you did on your first play-through is saved. Itís really interesting, and back when it first came out, and Destructoid wasnít really covering it much, I was planning to do a review of it in my blog until Josh Tolentino finally wrote a great review of it, highlighting that the gameís weakness is in its failure to communicate its strengths, and it takes effort from the player to get into. But gosh, that effort is rewarded tenfold in silliness. I ultimately played this game over 30 hours, and I have so many good memories, from recruiting geisha to my dojo, to opening the language school so I could understand English, to lowering my crime rate so the stores would stock more clothes, to going fishing inside a bucket (and catching the Ďlegendary fishí in there, no less), to completing ludicrous sidequests for the local vagabonds, to playing as an old man dressed in cat ears and cat paws who specializes in martial arts and performing the hilariously creepy sex mini-game. To following the path to the true ending, which, as stupid as the story of this game is most of the time, is actually kind of cool. No, itís not a serious triple-A samurai open-world game (and you might need to visit its GameFAQs page a bit), but if you like somewhat unpolished open-world comedy games, like, say, Deadly PremonitionÖ this was perhaps my favourite game of 2012.