Now that 2016 has finally arrived, I’d like to take some time to reflect a bit on what a year 2015 was. Based on the decisions made the year before, this was the time to begin laying the foundations for my new direction in life. Part of it was launching my own blog – The Man in the Garage – where I write musings about pretty much anything that I want to. What I quickly came to realize was that I had to take a considerable portion of the posts contextualizing and explaining; especially when writing about videogames.
And so, in order to freely explore my gaming-related thoughts I ended up coming across Destructoid’s bloggers section. I already followed the site but never noticed it. My first few articles were slightly adapted from the ones I wrote for my blog; in hindsight I could expand them more, as I intended originally before shortening them. Maybe I’ll get to revising them down the line.
I wrote about the Localization troubles of Lux-Pain, about how creative ATLUS got with SMTIV, about songs I enjoy immensely (the first and the second time) and told you all stuff about myself. I also went on a trip to Spain, where I got to meet my favorite game developer (Beginning and Ending). Oh, and I also did my first Bloggers Wanted piece on Presents! Had a lot of fun with this one. Then my “So that just happened” series started, where I shared my thoughts on some of the games I played. I wrote them exclusively for Destructoid, so I felt much more at ease about my expectations of potential readers.
I find it pretty interesting how I haven’t really had the motivation to keep my blog as up to date as I try to do with my pieces here. Besides my passion for gaming being stronger than other things, here there’s also a community ready to comment and give feedback – which I appreciate a lot. And I’ve also read some truly outstanding things over the course of these last few months, so thank you for that! I hope to keep sharing my experiences with you all during 2016, and some of the articles I’ve keeping on the sidelines for quite some time.
Well then, on to the games. For the first time ever I decided to compile a list of every game I had played over the course of that year. I was able to remember over 30 of them, some may be missing. But deciding my top whatever was much harder than I anticipated; nonetheless, considering roughly half of the stuff I played was from years past, in this first half of my recap I’ll be highlighting 10 of those that really struck a chord – five honorable mentions, five
First, some (very) honorable mentions:
I had never played any other game in the Drakengard franchise before the third one, but since my brother went ahead and bought it I decided to take the opportunity to try it out.
What I enjoyed the most from my time spent with this one was definitely the characters and the story. Yes, the violence and the language can get pretty extreme, and can be seen as somewhat gratuitous in some instances, but Yoko Taro’s exercise in balancing the dark humor and the crudeness of the subject matters the game explores got me pretty intrigued about his work. The combat is clunky, the framerate is choppy and the graphics are nothing to write home about but, overall, it didn’t detract me from completing practically everything the game has to offer. Even so, conceptually, the idea for the final boss works really well with the themes of the game but its execution is ludicrous and one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever encountered in a game.
Gone Home is one of those games that show how a developer can be really in touch with the kind of game they’re creating and the people who will be playing it. The game is already over 4 years old, so I hope I won’t spoil anything for anyone, but I’ll just leave this warning here.
First off, the atmosphere beautifully sets up the next couple of ours you’ll be spending with the game. It’s that mix of familiarity with the unknown, since your character lives in this house but has been away for quite some time. And I absolutely love the fact that practically nothing happens. Everything that *could* have happened was conjured up in my mind, just with some great setup and constant rain. The way the narrative takes you from place to place while you’re figuring out what happened to your sister that culminates in that tender moment in the attic earns Steve Gaynor (who gave a talk in the conference I attended in Spain) and the rest of Fullbright my appreciation. And the “don’t keep all the lights on like your sister” moment is simply perfect.
I generally don’t enjoy horror stuff – be it games, movies, whatever – because I don’t like to be scared. Even so, three things led me to SH2: Resident Evil 4 being amazing, my growing appreciation for psychological explorations in horror which eventually led me to Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (which has one of my favorite box arts ever) and into researching the rest of the series, and then the experience that was P.T. (Fun Fact: I’ve played through P.T. about seven times, all of them was with my usual group of friends and someone who had never played it before, and I’ve never hold the controller even once).
I already knew a lot about Silent Hill 2 before going into it, but my brother got really interested in playing it and he wouldn’t do it alone. I also would like to experience it so during the holidays the both of us played through it (he held the controller, to be more specific). And yeah, it’s great. There’s not much I could add to all the praise this game gets, so I’ll just say that the storytelling is top notch, the art direction is incredible and the sound is amazing. Next up: Silent Hill 3.
[Since I’ve already talked at length about both Jake Hunter – Memories of the Past and Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, I’ll just leave the links to those posts here (Jake Hunter) and here (Persona Q), so check those out.]
On my never-ending journey to play as many of the Shin Megami Tensei games as I can, one of those stops was the 3DS Remaster of Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers. This is such a product of its time, it’s amazing. Despite looking a bit nicer than when it originally came out, the “City of Tomorrow” is still pretty much what people thought the 2000s would look like aaaaall the way back in ’97 (in case Paradigm X doesn’t give it away). But more than the graphical quality, I’d say the art direction still holds up, as the places you visit have just the right vibe. Gameplay-wise it was my first time managing Magnetite, which completely overwhelmed me in the beginning but ended up being a rather fine mechanic that I wouldn’t mind seeing again.
There’s not much character development to speak of, besides 2 or 3 characters, and the plot is fairly standard – even if handled well – with the Vision Quests probably being my favorite part of the game. If you’re a fan of the franchise, I’d say give it a go.
Now, as I said before, I’ve really been indulging in those so-under-the-radar-you’d-need-to-dig-pretty-deep-to-find-it kinds of games. Morbid curiosity is what I call it. As of right now only one of those times ended up being a DUD, because Tokyo Beat Down is amazing! I mean, it’s a side-scrolling beat’em up that’s a bit janky at best, but the whole presentation more than makes up for it. It’s a parody of cop shows and the dialogue is written impeccably for what it’s trying to achieve. A truly fun romp that that turned out to be a really good surprise!
On to my five favorite games I played last year that weren’t released last year! In alphabetical order, mind you.
I remember seeing the initial trailers for this game back in 2010, I believe, and feeling rather intrigued by it. I ended up forgetting it, but this one time, during some PSN sale, there it was. And my interest was rekindled. I bought it, together with the original American McGee’s Alice. I remembered people not being that kind to Madness Returns, saying that the graphics were serviceable at best and the combat was weak, but hey, morbid curiosity am I right?
Well, I played AM Alice first and…the controls are awful, and visually it doesn’t hold up that well *but* the writing got me hooked, the art’s still nice and the voice acting is pretty good. At the very least, it got me excited to play the sequel (in retrospect, maybe it helped me to not be as critical of it, in which case I’m also glad for that).
The verdict? I really, REALLY enjoyed Madness Returns! Everything I saw as a positive in the original was improved here, as well as those gripes related to the combat (which isn’t great, but I’d say is good enough). It looks beautiful – stylistically and artistically – and the interplay between walking through London and Wonderland was handled so well, sort of reminding me of Silent Hill. The writing is top notch, taking this story I never cared that much about and made me a fan of the mythos. I found out about the Alice: Otherlands Kickstarter rather late, but I’d definitely back them if I’d played this at the time.
Honestly, this game probably deserved its own “So that just happened” entry. But alas, I’ll just be telling a little about how this could be one of my favorite games ever but somethings are just too difficult to ignore. This is a visual novel, centered around a group of people who are able to wield the Lux-Pain – an object that allows the user to read other peoples’ emotions – and go around the world trying to solve cases of parasites capable of affecting the mind.
Being able to read thoughts is not a novel thing, at all, but it’s the approach this game takes that leads to my love for it. This game is about empathy, treated as superpower that only a select few have, and that is how I feel empathy exists in today’s world. Something that should be inherent to us all gets forgotten over time, and there are not many people who seem to be able - or even want to! – be empathic; to truly understand the circumstances and the views of another.
It’s a game with replayability, which shows not only through the multiple endings but the collectables that some choices enable you to get in detriment of others. Even with the abysmal translation and localization, I played through it twice. And I promised myself that if my knowledge of Japanese ever is good enough, I’ll play it again in its original language to get the full experience. As of right now, it’s just something that could have been.
I already wrote a lot about this game (you can read my Extended Thoughts here) so here’s the short version: a game with really bad localization (what’s new, right), graphics and combat that totally shouldn’t hold up somehow do and make me enjoy this game enough to consider it one of my favorites in 2015.
But if there’s something that does totally hold up is the artwork by Kazuma Kaneko, the characters’ designs and the narrative itself, with a variety of ways to go about it. The questions you get asked during the game are very direct and limiting, but how you address each situation forms a really interesting and subtle path toward one of the 8 endings.
Beginning with Symphonia, I became a huge Tales of fan. I played every single one that came out since that one (with the 3DS remake of Abyss being a part of that), but how does Hearts R hold up? Localizations issues (once again) aside, I actually would have liked for it to have kept the graphical style it originally had on the DS. But if there’s one thing that impressed me how much I ended up liking were the towns. Something that I felt was missing in both Xillia games was for the places to be more distinctive, more alive. In Hearts R the towns are very small, but maybe because of that they seem more concise and more vibrant.
As per usual with this franchise, it’s the characters and their interactions that really sell it. Rule of thumb, I have a really hard time getting behind plots where there’s characters with “limited emotions” (I’m sure Inside out is a great movie, but I just have no interest in watching it, for example) and one of the plot points has to do with recovering the emotions of one of the characters, one by one. Anyway, my favorite character is, surprisingly, someone who was created for this version and, unsurprisingly, the old man character. I don’t think there was anyone I disliked, but I wouldn’t mind for the brother and sister duo to be less generic.
Tales of Hearts R doesn’t break into my top 5 Tales of games, but it’s a fine game in the series which I sure enjoyed playing.
This game is phenomenal, go play it.
What? Want me to say something else? I was ready to write a post just for it before I decided to make on the Yakuza series (from 3 to 5, I mean)… Sure, I’ll get a bit more into it.
On Christmas day, 2013, my brother’s presents to me were Yakuza 3 and 4. As these things are, I only played the third one on September of the following year and loved it. Then, on the following September I my journey continued. And the best thing I can say about Yakuza 4 is this: if for some reason I only had one game to play for a considerable number of months, this one would be a great choice.
Now, four reasons why this game is great:
1. It stars Kazuma Kiryu, one of the best designed characters ever. I generally don’t like to go into these kinds of arguments, but in this case I feel like it is earned. The way he looks, the way he sounds and his development over the course of the games make up such a coherent, interesting and appealing package that it deserves to be experienced;
2. The fourth game in the series introduces Shun Akiyama. He isn’t quite on Kiryu’s level in terms of what I described before, but he may just be my personal favorite character in the series;
3. You get to play with four characters, each with their own sidequests and specific minigames. The game ending exactly the bombastic way it should, given this premise.
4. I could have done everything besides the main campaign – learning how to play Shogi, master the Karaoke – and it still would be worth everything my brother payed for it.
Thank you for reading, keep being great and see you next time!