Welcome to 2017!
In what may be the most echoed understatement of the year, 2016 was pretty crappy. Not for me personally, but if you enjoy practically anything culture-related, music and cinema in particular, chances are you experienced the loss of someone whose work meant something to you. On the other hand, in the realm of gaming, I'd say it was a pretty great year!
The following compilation will be missing games I own and am positive could be strong contenders but, unfortunately, didn't get to play. Games like SMT IV Apocalypse, Steins;Gate 0 and Shantae ½ Genie Hero. With others, like FFXV and Overwatch, while I have no trouble recognizing their importance and potential quality, I simply don't have as much interest in them That's how it goes.
But enough introduction, have at you!
[Remember 2015] Award
These are games I either didn't play or finish in time for last year's list that deserve some sort of recognition for, at the very least, how much I enjoyed them.
Yakuza 5: It's seperated in 5 parts, where each one of them is basically its own game. Every time I thought “Hm, I don't know about this”, like for basically each one of the character-specific side-quests (except Haruka's), it destroyed my doubts and made me love it even more. Yakuza is outstanding and it has in Kazuma Kiryu one of the best designed characters I've come across.
Undertale: I recall the exact moment I begun to understand the praise this one was receiving: when you're having dinner with Undine. And then it kept getting better and better. Oh, and Megalovania is the best.
Senran Kagura 2: Are tits and ass the focus of this series? Yes, they are. That shouldn't mean that these games – in particular the 3DS ones – don't make an honest effort of caring for its plot and characterization. They're also really fun to play, if somewhat rough around the edges. I rather like them myself.
Tales of Zestiria: Even if not every Tales of game is a hit, I know I'll end up giving each entry at least 100 hours and having a good time. With Zestiria though, I had a jolly great time! I was a bit down on both of the Xillia games – especially the first one – but this may have become my 4th favorite in the entire series.
Steins;Gate: Okabe Rintaro both makes and breaks this for me. The game has more characterization than the anime, which I appreciate, but the anime has the right dose of Okabe for me. Anyhow, it's really good and I'm looking forward to playing S;G 0.
[Such Disappointment] Award
Merging a franchise that's extremely close to my heart with a overall pretty promising developer seemed to be able to produce, at the very least, a good, fun game. How, then, did we end up with such a boring product? With repetitive, tedious and unengaging levels and combat, which basically is the exact opposite of what I'd expect from PG. Even with the disappointing lack of local multiplayer, before playing it I was considering purchasing both the PS3 and PS4 versions if it'd let me play with my brother. It obviously wouldn't. A huge shame that I couldn't even have enough fun with TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan to actually finish it.
(Dis)Honorable Mention: Mighty Number 9
Sure, Mighty Number 9 would be an immediate answer for something that really disappointed me, considering my hopes for when it was first revealed and the fact I trusted it enough to back it. However, despite every atrocious level-design choice that undermined the honestly enjoyable shooting and dashing mechanics, I can't say I kept on expecting much from it during and after the disaster that was its marketing and PR. What I was expecting a whole lot from though, was a Platinum-made TMNT game.
[Expectations Exceeded] Award
I'd have trouble thinking about any of the five mainline Ace Attorney as flat-out sucking. Not so much trouble in knowing which one is the weakest to me: Dual Destinies. After all the chances in direction and concepts introduced in Apollo Justice which I was totally on board with, like Apollo's perception and Phoenix' character development, in DD I felt like they pulled a Dragonball: pull a U-turn back to a safer main character and making him hog the spotlight. Don't get me wrong, I love Phoenix, but he had a pretty great arc in the first three games and I felt it was time for the direction to follow a new path. However, I did appreciate how it fleshed out Apollo's story and motivations and gave us Athena.
I wasn't feeling to hot on Spirit of Justice at first because a) it's one of the most meh subtitles in the series and b)it was indicative of more focus on the aspect of the series I care the least about, which is the spirituality. Granted, I can't and won't say their overall approach has been dumb or uninspired; I just don't care much for it. But after playing it, I really left with a sense of closure and of hope for the future. Delving even more into Apollo's backstory, it made these last three games feel like his trilogy, like the first ones were for Phoenix. And Phoenix himself went back to the mentor role and fleshed that out. Yes, Athena absolutely got the shaft but hopefully it's her time to shine next! The anime cutscenes I also could do without, and I'm still not convinced in Sam Riegel as Phoenix, but I'm back to feeling good about the series going forward.
Honorable Mention: Batman The Telltale Series
Truth is, I don't know exactly what I was expecting out of Telltale's Batman. The only other game of theirs I played was Wolf Among Us, which I loved, and this was another one that really piqued my interest. Maybe it's because I wasn't hearing many great things about it that made me lower my expectations but whatever that may be, I must commend TT for their take on this lore. Unlike, say, the Gotham TV show where every character seems to be related in some sort of fashion just because that automatically makes their confrontation with Gordon and Bruce matter, here I felt those relationships were more organic – and they better be, since that's the main point of these types of games.
[Game many people crapped on but I really enjoyed] Award
This is one of those cases where I take a chance on a design I find really good, a narrative scenario that catches my attention and some gameplay that seems fine enough. I wasn't expecting game of the year material here (especially after the reception it was getting) but I spent over fifty hours with it and had a very good time.
Despite happening during the night and there being no people outside, I loved exploring the town in Nights of Azure. The timer that limits how much time you spend on the field hinders that aspect of it a bit, but overall doesn't detract from the experience, as it is a way to try and make you maximise the time you're there and focus on an objective. I appreciated the day-time sidestuffs, even if I would like to see them fleshed out just a bit more. The combat may be simple and I may have suffered a bit of disconnect, since this put me in a “character-action-game-platinum” kind of mood at first, but it's nowhere near that, obviously, but after adjusting my expectations it became fine. The raising of familiars is another positive point for me, because there are enough to make you want to try different combinations but also to make acquiring every one seem attainable.
In terms of the narrative, there were many times where character relations and motivations weren't super clear, and the text-only backstory portions became a bit confusing. But seeing as the localization is one of the worse aspects of this package, I don't want to comment on the plot too much and risk being unfair to what may be a perfectly serviceable story. Despite that, and despite the budget really showing in places (like the animation for both drinking and eating being the characters drinking tea), some of the scenes between Arnice and Lilysse elicited some very genuine, caring reactions from me. Definitely looking forward to its sequel.
Honorable Mention: Root Letter
What really grabbed me in Root Letter was the way they manage to capture a small Japanese town, with all its history and folklore, and made me feel like a tourist in the best way. And the ambient soundtrack backs up the exploration quite nicely, making it feel even more alive. Not making the...“Full ending” I'll call it, available from the beginning is a bit of a dick move, but since you can skip chapters and lock different choices pretty quickly it doesn't hurt so much. Still, not a fan of that.
It also highlighted some of the ways people may live their teenage years and how that influences how they face adulthood in an interesting, thoughtful manner, which I certainly appreciated. Oh, and it made my girlfriend ask me to use the Vita and play it for 10 hours, so for opening her mind for other possible games she might enjoy I'm forever grateful.
[Hidden gems of the past] Award
Some of pretty fascinating games only come to my attention long after their released, and when they randomly pop-up in one of my Play-Asia sales inspection. That's what happened with Lux-Pain, Tokyo Beat Down, and now Theresia.
Like I usually do with this kind of purchases, I check-out a couple of screenshots, try to find a review or two just to get an idea, and then jump in as blindly as possible. Personally, Theresia did not disappoint. In what amounts to an exploration of a degraded underground environment riddled with traps – the only way you lose health and possibly die – despite being a DS game both the visuals and the sound make for a rather tense atmosphere. The narrative is intriguing, to say the least, and I certainly wasn't expecting more than one perspective to be part of the plan. Won't hear me complaining about it, that's for sure.
If it sounds and looks interesting to you, I say give it a shot.
Honorable Mention: Spiderman Shattered Dimensions
I've had this waiting in my wish list for the longest time, simply because I was intrigued by the noir sections and because it made a big impression on me, for some reason. And I'm not even that big of a Spiderman fan.
Far from a great game, I'd say it's good. The controls may get obnoxious in some sequences, but there are also some sections which feel really good to swing through.
[Mesmerizing Beauty] Award
The moment a frame of this game registered in my brain, I knew I was playing it. Even if it ended up being more of a visual and mechanical showcase of fluidity in motion, I'd be okay with it. But it's not. Some heavy family themes like divorce are addressed, which hit pretty close to home. The phrase “Because I could” gave me such shivers that I had to take a moment to regain myself. Beautiful, in just too many ways.
Honorable Mention: Senran Kagura Estival Versus
[Much Sass] Award
[Syberia is great you guys] Award
Earlier in the year, a friend of mine told me about a series of point-and-click games he thought I might enjoy. Thanks to a Steam sale, I found said games at a very generous price and decided it was time to give it a go. What awaited me was a sense of adventure I hadn't felt in a long time.
It's funny how, in the broadest sense, most if not every videogame aims to provide you with an adventure for you to play through, but I only associate the word 'adventure' with certain types of mechanics, environments, and characters. I've never played the Uncharted games, but they fit that conceptualization I have. Despite being immensely different from those, Syberia gave that sense of wonder, of each new stop bringing something new.
The places you travel to look really good and captivating, yes, but I must commend the development of Kate Walker, the main character, as the most crucial driving force here. Starting of as a lawyer just wanting to do her job, she slowly comes to the realization that she thrives in facing the unknown and in discovering new things. And you're with her all the way, experiencing this chance in every conversation she has, in every reaction to something in her surroundings. Even if it does suffer from those typical issues of the genre, where not everything you can interact with is as evident as it should be, and those moments of “use everything in anything you see”, I vividly recommend this one.
Honorable Mention: Syberia 2
And there's a third one on the way? Sign me up!
With that out of the way, let's move on to the six games which I felt really made this a year to remember for me!
As the time of this writing I'm over 100 hours in and I can't stop playing! And I'm not even looking to complete the Dex or anything, I simply got a new team with a Quilava at the head and am going from place to place, just chilling. That's certainly something I look forward in a game like this.
Diamond was the first game after the first ones where I felt I wasn't simply going through the motions of looking everything up, getting badges, beating the league, get everything. My team developed not in favour of the strongest monsters but of the ones I appreciated the most. Even so, I still went into this one knowing too much about what to expect. Then I took a break from the series, not finishing HeartGold and only coming back when X was released and, this time, I went in as blind as possible. I got so much more out of the game because of it. The sense of wonder that finding new creatures, evolutions, and places is what I enjoy the most in these games after all.
With Moon, sadly I couldn't go into media blackout as much as I'd hoped, but what I new wasn't enough to sour me on the experience. Right at the start, where you decided your name and appearance, the way those initial moments were handled and how they evolved from what the formula used to be, it all felt much more familiar and organic. The change from gyms to trials was a welcome one, and despite my fears when I heard the words Totem Pokémon – I was honestly expecting some really shitty designs – I was pleasantly surprised by what those were. Adding to that the fact that you can visit most of the named characters' houses and interact with their families, all those little quests like the father and son with their Grimer and Muk, and, in my opinion, the best way that the League has been handled since the beginning (finally making you feel like an actual defending Champion) make for one of my most loved entries in the series.
Now, I do understand some complaints about expecting a bit more of the scale of the islands and how some of these decisions should have come long ago (*cough*HMs*cough*), I don't find much sense in criticizing this game for finally doing what others before should have done.
If you're looking to come back to the series or finally jumping into the craze, this is a perfect entrance point.
I like Limbo a lot, but I also share the sentiment that there was some kind of shift in the middle that didn't mesh as well as it should and that it perhaps didn't go where it wanted to narrative-wise. None of that applies to Inside, except the part where I also like it a lot.
A thought-provoking experience, with mechanical progression that feels deliberate and well-thought-out, there was one other thing that really struck me as being outstandingly well done: the sound design. It's really easy to miss this but the way the steps sound, every door opening, even when he touches surfaces just feel so right. Kudos to that team, seriously. Even if I was looking forward to this before, what I got was above and beyond that.
The Last Guardian
This may sound cheesy and generic, but it's still true: when I held that game case for the first time, I could hardly believe it finally came true. Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are special games, with the second one even more so, personally. I won't say “I never doubted this game would be amazing!”, because that's not what this journey of waiting and expectation management was about. In all honesty I tell you that, amidst all the “it'll probably look and control like a PS2 game” and “it certainly won't be worth the wait”, my trust that I would get I wanted to from this game didn't waver. I may not have been hyping it everyday of my life, but I certainly didn't need more trailers and information besides if it still looked like it did and if the core concept was the same. Sure enough, I got what I wanted.
Is this the best game overall in the series? I don't think so, but that's ok. I see Trico being quickly discarded as having “awful AI”, but there's a huge difference in wanting it to behave similarly to a real animal and having it respond to every command immediately. This is where the author's intent comes into play, and I'm sure this wasn't an oversight on the part of the developers. They took a huge chance in having this intentional hurdle because it would bring them closer to their goal, which was to centre this experience around the relationship between the boy and Trico. I can even tell you the moment this creature became 'real' to me, and it was when it needed to stretch. As simple as that. Having shared my home with a variety of animals over 20 years also contributes to appreciating what this team managed to do.
My only complaint about something being objectively cumbersome relates to the camera. The framerate may not be up to par with what is expected today, but it didn't hinder my voyage through a beautiful, desolate place, watching a friendship truly unfold. Whenever the boy began running in place, I was worried. Every time Trico was in trouble, I felt the need to help it. As far as I'm concerned, it was totally worth the wait.
Zero Time Dilemma
After playing Virtue's Last Reward, I became much more critical of the attempts of making gameplay a perfect narrative device . After it, no time-travelling story felt up to par. Expectations were freaking high, I tell you. And while I wanted The Last Guardian, it is its own self-contained tale; VLR needed a conclusion and we almost didn't get it! Let me just say how so very proud I am to be part of a fan-base like this, with such dedication and passion to its series and its creator and for its efforts to make this come true.
Did Zero Time Dilemma live up to such lofty standards I had set upon this series? Let me get some complaints out of the way first. Although the new storytelling style is a good fit for the central theme of perspective, the performance wasn't quite there where it justified the time spent on it. It saddened me a bit that Blue Bird Lamentation became the go-to 'sad song' after its masterful use in the previous game. It felt a bit on the short side, taking me exactly half the time of VLR. I'm not advocating for quantity over quality, but some of the characterization felt lacking as well as the number of puzzle rooms.
These may seem a lot, but none of it takes away from the fact that I was completely satisfied with how it wrapped everything up. Would like a bit more Snake, but I digress. Even things that at first I was full-on hating on, like the Transporter, managed to make sense when I really thought about it and put it into perspective by how its prequel framed this world in terms of higher dimensions. (I really need to finish that post about it)
And I see where people like Riobux are coming from in regard to Delta and the need for an antagonist, but I didn't see his role like that at all and so this didn't became an issue for me. Given that 'helplessness' is a core theme of the series and how 'perspective' plays into this one, while he does come across as antagonistic and asshole-ish, if there's an antagonist is the laws that govern the universe despite which the characters have to fight to survive.
I hope I'm able to finish that write-up in the near future but, for now, I'll just leave it as being one of my favorite game series ever.
When Unravel was first shown, my brother's reaction was one of “this one of 'your' games”, meaning that it's something there's a really good chance I'll be playing. And I did. So glad I did.
While visually impeccable, it's the themes that you unravel as you play (pun more than intended) that make it memorable. With a progression curve similar to Journey, the places you'll be romping through are actual places, related to memories of the development team. It's a truly special feeling when, after completing a level, you're shown actual photographs of their history. Theirs and those places'. It hits so many notes, from longing childhood to growing up and even environmental chances, all in heart-wrenching fashion.
I know I'm one to cry a lot– just thinking about the beginning notes of Toy Story's 'You've got a Friend in Me' always manages to turn on the waterworks, like what's happening right now – but everything about this game is exceedingly beautiful. Yarny itself, who shares much of the appeal that attracts me to characters like Chibi-Robo, is delightfully cute and one can't help but care for it.
I remember when the Destructoid review came out and this got a 10, many were clamouring that it was undeserved. As far as I'm concerned, if nothing else, it definitely is one in my heart.
The Silver Case
I've wanted this game ever since I played Flower, Sun and Rain for the first time.
I've personally asked the man himself, Suda 51, if and when this would be would be released.
And in the year we get so many almost cancelled games or ones lost to development hell, I finally get to experience the solo debut of one of the people I most admire.
On the gameplay front there's not much to be said. The few puzzles there are can be immediately solved via a readily available function. Where this really shines is in its narrative and presentation, and in its importance for defining the way Suda approaches the projects he directs and writes. It's not his best work, nor should it be. What it is, however, is the crucial piece I was missing in understanding how he grew to be the designer we knew him as today.
One last thing: I closed last year’s equivalent of this blog by mentioning what I was expecting from 2016. I got two of those three things , but 2017 seems to have stolen the third. April surely can't come soon enough.