2016 has finally come to an end, which means it's the perfect time to reflect on all the great times we've had gaming this year. That time has been filled with entertaining experiences, with plenty of surprises along the way. There are some notable releases that I haven't gotten to play yet — namely Dishonored 2 and Doom — but there were still plenty of great games, with many I won't even get to bring up (sorry Shadow Warrior 2). Let's start with some standout titles that are worth talking about, even if they weren't the greatest of the year for me.
“Sequel That Didn't Surpass Its Predecessor” Award — Bravely Second: End Layer
Bravely Default was a fantastic game. Even taking into account the controversial endgame — which was indeed longer than it needed to be, but nowhere near the shit-show that a lot of people claimed it was — it still served as the pinnacle of the class-based, classic JRPG. If Final Fantasy III evolved into Final Fantasy V, then Final Fantasy V evolved into Bravely Default. It was just better in every way.
Fast forward to Bravely Second, a game I was obviously excited to get my hands on. While still a very good game in its own right, Bravely Second suffers from being...well...second. It's a game that decided to be a direct sequel, but then regrets that choice very quickly. Taking place only two and a half years after the first game, the world is now filled with new towns and important places that were obviously there the whole time, except they weren't and don't lie to me game because I was fucking there. It also tries far too hard to retread the ground of its predecessor. All in all, it spends more time reminding me of Default than interesting me in Second.
Runner-up: Fire Emblem Fates
“This Game Seems Familiar...” Award — Salt and Sanctuary
Salt and Sanctuary was a game I was interested in from the moment I saw it, like many fans of it inspiration. Unsurprisingly, the internet was filled with “It's 2D Dark Souls!” comments and articles, spending more time talking about its inspiration and what it draws from it than the game itself, and the two-person indie team was (understandably) far too happy about the good press and success to ask otherwise. That's a shame, because regardless of how much it was influenced by Souls, it still serves as a fantastic stand-alone title. Sure, it's a bit Castlevania, a bit Metroid, and a bit Souls, but it's also an incredibly intriguing adventure through a dark, wonderfully drawn world, with fun combat and unique ideas.
To pull from my original review, “Salt and Sanctuary is a fascinating game. Its inspiration is obvious, but how it manages to mold that inspiration into something of its own is what really makes the game shine. There are plenty of familiar mechanics and homages, but the end result is a satisfying title that I certainly recommend trying.”
Runner-up: I am Setsuna
“I Had No Interest in Playing This... Then I Played a Lot of It” Award — Street Fighter V
Fighting games have never really been my thing, outside of a tremendous amount of time playing Super Smash Bros over the years. In terms of classic-style fighting games, the only actual experience I had was playing the SNES Mortal Kombat titles on occasion as a kid. I've just never been able to sit and learn the ins and outs. Then a friend and former colleague far more experienced with the genre began talking a lot about Street Fighter V, trying to get people to come play with him. Finally, I caved. My long-time curiosity in the genre and interest in SFV's constantly evolving state rather than a million re-releases combined together and pushed me to buy it.
After trying out every character to pick one to focus on, then spending all day long using the game itself and tips that had been sent by my friend to try and get down the basics, I finally felt comfortable with a fighting game for the first time in my life. He and I had an online bout to see where I stood, and then I proceeded to get my ass handed to me. Rather than let it discourage me though, I came back for more, over and over until I could start making him have to put the effort in, and then started to be able to face down other friends who actually knew the genre and give them a run for their money. I don't play as much now as I did then, but even if I don't return to it — though I definitely plan to — I'll still be proud of myself for facing and surmounting that personal challenge.
“You Da Best” Awards
Overwatch / Titanfall 2
Fuck you, it's my list and I'll cheat if I want to. I genuinely couldn't decide which of these two excellent multiplayer FPS titles I wanted to give the spot to, so they can take it together. Overwatch had too few maps and modes from the start, and had the disgusting gall to charge console players $60 for a game that could be bought for $40 on PC, but it also had a fantastic cast of varied characters that provided you with plenty of different ways to play. There's a reason it's getting so many shout-outs this year, and that's because, in spite of its issues, it's just really damn good.
Titanfall 2 is a game I was rooting for from the beginning. I enjoyed the first title on PC, and really wanted to see its potential truly fleshed out. The sequel does just that, providing the definitive Titanfall experience. The addition of a really cool single-player campaign and the changes and additions that were made to the multiplayer really came together to make a shooter that I had way too much fun with. But for the love of god people, learn how to play the damn Bounty Hunt mode! It's not a difficult concept! You kill people, get the money, and put it in the bank you fu—
Dark Souls 3
If you know me then you knew this was likely going to take a spot here. I'm a huge fan of Souls, and Dark Souls 3 is the perfect send-off for the series. It's a game that messes around with new ideas, is filled to the brim with fan-service, and has probably my favorite Souls boss fight in Nameless King. It's also my least replayed game in the series, which could simply be because I've put more collective hours into Souls games than anyone should spend on anything, but I like to think that it's because DS3 does such a great job of wrapping the series up that it did exactly that for me.
The DLC was a bit of a misstep in my opinion, as I felt they took a perfect opportunity to continue the “wrapping up” aspect of the game and fuddled it by trying to make a new story, but ah well. Bloodborne remains my favorite From Software game, but Dark Souls 3 is still pretty damn great.
Final Fantasy XV
Everyone who follows me, or even sees my posts in passing, knew this was coming. We can talk about what this game could have been til the cows come home, but the game we got? Goddamn did I love it. Is it flawed? Absolutely. Does it feel like it needed more time in the oven? No doubt. In the end though, no AAA game I played this year had the heart and soul that Final Fantasy XV did. It was beautiful, it was emotional, and it made me think — and keep thinking for days after I finished it.
It has fantastic combat that people will call shallow because they only used one type of weapon or did nothing but hold the Circle button down the whole time. It has a fascinating story that will continue to get shit because of a few missteps and because it didn't put everything in people's faces. It has arguably the best villain of the entire series. This is a game that is unafraid to tell you to stop and think. One that says, “Just sit on this goddamn train for 2 minutes and not kill something you impatient fuck.” It's a game that evokes real emotions, and just because those emotions are sometimes frustration and confusion doesn't mean it didn't do it's job.
Well, that's it for my 2016 awards. Special shout-outs go to The Last Guardian, which was an absolutely beautiful adventure that was marred by technical mishaps (depressingly surprising no one who played Ueda's other games at launch); Firewatch, which was a lovely little time right up until the depressingly abrupt ending; and I am Setsuna, which I gave a runner-up position further up, but genuinely was a phenomenal throwback title that did exactly what it set out to do. The only real reason S&S got that full spot was because I had more to say about it.