If you’ve been following me closely, you’ll likely have noticed that throughout the year, I’ve posted monthly journals (for want of a better word), detailing the games I’ve played that month and my general thoughts on those games at the time. I plan on doing one for December to round out my year but in addition to that is the elephant in the room that is the accolade list. I generally don’t like to think about what the best and worst games of a given year are until that year has concluded since I like to see absolutely everything a given year has to offer before looking back on that year. Despite my personal objections though, I can’t help but talk about the games launched this year, which I played this year so without further ado, here’s a Shoggy Look at 2018.
Monster Hunter had two major releases in 2018: Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate launched on the Switch in August and Monster Hunter World launched as a Playstation 4 exclusive in January. I haven’t played Generations Ultimate but it looked like a more traditional Monster Hunter experience. World starts out with a character creator far more robust than it has any right to be. Not only do you create your playable character, you also create a Pelico (It’s an anthropomorphised cat that follows and assists you in battle). As much as I enjoy the character creation engine though, it’s part of an opening that’s so slow and disengaging it was a challenge to keep my interest at all. There is a hint at a larger-than-life lava monster lying in wait but the first few tutorial missions, getting to the village, learning how to hide in foliage, accepting your first couple of quests, feels incredibly sluggish. Once the game gets going properly though it feels about as engaging as any other Monster Hunter, both for good and ill. I like how the first large monsters you’re hunting aren’t just Jagis again and how the second or third large beast you’re after spews poison. I’m not the biggest Monster Hunter afficienato but my understanding is that elemental monsters like that don’t usually turn up until much later on.
What stopped me from playing, aside from me picking up other games, is the grind: Despite winning an award for being a great RPG, the way your character becomes stronger is to harvest materials, either by killing the same large enemy multiple times or getting lucky at resource harvesting points until you have enough of the given resources needed to build stronger weapons and armor. There isn’t a traditional leveling system that increases your strength, health and, stamina. The realization that you’re going to have to kill potentially dozens of a specific, large monster before you have enough materials to make a better weapon weighed on me enough that I decided to take a break from the game. Another factor is actually a feature that is absolutely a double-edged sword: Monster in-fighting. Each map is huge, there are no loading screens between zones and, more than one large monster roams these maps simultaneously. If the large monsters meet, it’s more likely than not that those monsters will fight each other (and you, the hunter). Maybe I got unlucky but I’ve lost resources when a larger monster killed a monster I was hunting (then later, me). There’s also the unfortunate reality of being teamed up on by a monster I can take down if I really concentrate and a second monster that I know I’m too weak to do any significant damage to. Then there was an instance where three large monsters decided to fight each other close enough to me that I absolutely became a casualty. Monster Hunter World is absolutely a well-made game and I plan on getting back into it eventually but it wasn’t my favorite game of 2018.
Dragon Ball FighterZ (I pronounce it Fighter Z, fight me) launched in January. It’s a one-on-one fighting game where you make a three-person team and fight against another three-person team using characters and fighting in locations from the iconic super-franchise that is Dragon Ball Z (and Super). This game was made by Arc System Works and that’s really all I need to say: this is probably the best fighting game launched in 2018. Arc System Works simply doesn’t make bad fighting games and here especially, playing FighterZ feels like going through a particularly good episode of the anime. Combos and super moves are easy to pull off, the game runs quickly on the base PS4 I use and even when I lose a match I never feel like it was completely one-sided (even though it usually is: I’m terrible at these games). The plot of FighterZ centers around Android 21, a new character made specifically for the game, who makes evil clones of seemingly everybody in an attempt to...either destroy or take over the planet. Familiar characters recognize that you, the player character, are taking over their bodies and this is used as a means to explain why canonically weak characters can defeat canonically powerful characters. If it seems like I’m not completely familiar with the plot, that’s because I usually play exhibition matches outside of story mode. The fighting is a much more powerful draw for me than the character interactions and overall plot. The problem is, there isn’t a lot more I can really say about the combat: combat is fast, responsive and, satisfactory. This game is technically solid and feels great to play. Since it’s part of a genre that I’m not good at though and the plot disengaged me I don’t think I can call it my game of 2018.
(Murdering Yamcha is very important to Dragon Ball lore)
God of War IV doesn’t want to be called God of War 4 despite the fact that it continues on directly from the third game in the series (spoiler alert.) This game launched in April but I didn’t get my hands on it until a few months later. God of Four follows Kratos and his son Atrayus as they climb a mountain to scatter the ashes of Kratos’ late wife who I’m sure has a name but whose name I don’t recall ever hearing. This is another game that I didn’t play through to story completion but unlike with Monster Hunter, I do have a history of beating God of War games of the past...well game, I’ve played God of War 3 through to the ending. God of Chore feels like it wants to be a mixture of several other games. The father-son plot feels like it borrows from The Last of Us, the crafting mechanic feels like it borrows from a majority of recent games launched in the past several years, the skyboxes are gorgeous despite the path your meant to take being somewhat linear, again like most other games launched in the past few years.
As for the combat, there are different weapons and spells that are unlocked as you progress through the plot. Weapon-based combat uses simple button-combos kind of like older God of War titles whereas the abilities can be used once or twice before you have to wait for the cooldown timer to expire. The resulting experience turns out to be one where I fell back on using the same input-combo and ability to get through most enemy encounters. There are some environmental puzzles peppered into the bits of the game that I played through but none of them were all that difficult to figure out. Despite being easy to figure out, getting past a few of the puzzles required some tight timing so they felt satisfying enough to complete. I guess what really stopped me from playing through God of War to completion is how as I played it, I was just reminded of other games I could be playing. I like the older God of War games but not enough to complete those either. The plot of the new game did absolutely nothing for me either. The unskippable cutscenes didn’t make me care about getting up the mountain and the combat got repetitive pretty quickly for me. This is not my game of 2018, not by a longshot.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, a Castlavania type game kickstarted by the man who made gaming history by producing Symphony of the Night, was pushed back to 2019. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon however was released somewhat unexpectedly in May and is meant to be a spiritual prequel to the highly anticipated horror-adventure game on the horizon. Curse of the Moon is an 8-Bit action platformer shrouded in horror aesthetics. You control one character to start but can wind up controlling up to four very different characters. Depending on how you play and if you chose to even accept the help of the other three characters, there are multiple endings that can be unlocked in Curse of the Moon, some even affecting future playthroughs. Overall, Curse of the Moon was a lot easier to get through than the NES games it reminded me of like Castlevania 1 and 3. There were only a few late game areas that really troubled me but on my second playthrough things got much more difficult due to character restrictions. Overall, this game felt more satisfying to get through than another 2018 game I’ll talk about later and it certainly does its job of keeping me excited about the upcoming Ritual of the Night. If pressed, I would probably call Curse of the Moon my retro-throwback of 2018.
Dark Souls Remastered launched launched in May, unless you’re a Switch-focused gamester, in which case it launched in the more thematically appropriate month of October. I never played the original release of Dark Souls but I’ve played through Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne so I had an idea of what I was getting myself into. At this point I’ve put nearly a hundred hours into Dark Souls Remastered, having beaten the game a couple of times with more than one type of character. I’m at that point where I’m experimenting with a different playstyle now that I’m comfortable with the game. If you don’t know already, Dark Souls is a game in which you’re undead, you’re freed from the Undead Asylum and asked to ring a bell...then you’re asked to ring a second bell. Then a snake asks you to get a bowl and fill it with the fires of powerful souls so that you can put an ancient God-King out of its misery and hopefully stop this whole end-of-the-world business. I’ve been talking about this game a lot since I started playing it and like with Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne, this is a game that deeply engaged me from the beginning. This game originally launched years ago but if I really wanted to, I could call the remastered version my game of 2018. I definitely feel like I got more out of this game than most others I played this year, and I’m still very much into it.
During May, David Cage dared gamers around the globe to reconnect with their emotions by launching Detroit: Become Human. As the title suggests, this game tells the story of several androids gaining sentience in the lovely city of Detroit. I played through this game once after having played through Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls so I was already feeling some David Cage fatigue when I started my narrative experience. What I liked about this game is how it does feel more like a game than Beyond and at times it felt like I was playing Heavy Rain as Norman Jayden: investigating homes throughout Detroit had satisfying moments and definitely engaged me more than the dialog choices that would come up every so often. I’m struggling to think of things to really talk about with Detroit, all that’s coming to my mind are details from the other two David Cage games. There’s a chapter in Detroit where you play as a gynoid that engages in housekeeping chores, similar to the opening of Heavy Rain. Also like Heavy Rain, there is a character capable of using augmented reality to solve murders. I would probably have more fond memories of Detroit if I could have forced a famous actor to eat pizza out of a garbage can but that just isn’t here. I’ve played a lot of narrative-focused games in 2018 that I liked a whole lot more than Detroit: Night in the Woods and Soma tugged on my heartstrings, Bertram Fiddle had a couple of puzzles that puzzled me to the point that I consulted a guide but, Detroit just felt like it was more interested in style rather than substance.
(Press O to relive an old meme)
Octopath Traveler is a traditional JRPG launched exclusively on the Switch in July. You chose one character at the start (who you can’t take out of your party until the endgame), and eventually meet up with seven other characters. There is an overarching plot but for the most part, you’re following a series of four-chapter arcs specific to the eight party members you encounter throughout the world. There’s a satisfying amount of variety in what each character is trying to accomplish and the characters are all fairly likable overall. During the course of my playthrough, some chapters involved gathering herbs to cure the sick, murdering perverts, going on a holy pilgrimage, being the best capitalist on the planet and of course, there’s a tournament arc. My biggest gripe with the plot is how little the party members really interact with one another. I wouldn’t like to be locked out of content if I didn’t have a specific party make-up but it seems like each chapter is focused solely upon the character it applies to, to the point that the other 7 may as well not even exist. The party members can and do interact with each other of course, I just wish there was more to it than tavern conversations.
The way Octopath plays was very familiar to me as it borrows heavily from 8 and 16 bit JRPGs. Enemies and your party take it in turns to attack each other based on their speed stats using either whatever weapons they have to hand (or claws and teeth if you’re fighting monsters or animals) or specific class abilities like magic, summoning or, petty theft. Character progression is based not only on an overall character level but also on job levels which dictate certain stats based on the jobs those characters have (or have had) and the abilities they’re able to use. A scholar for example is able to cast powerful offensive magic while gaining a boost to their intelligence stat but their overall speed and strength suffers. So long as you keep a varied party, combat isn’t usually too difficult during the main game. In addition to the classic turn-based combat though, each turn of combat earns your party points that can either be expended to make multiple moves in a turn or boost your defense. Spending 3 or more these points can activate super moves or boost special attacks as well. I’ve put dozens of hours into this game and completed the main stories for the eight characters but I haven’t seen the true ending of the game because of how sharply the difficulty ramps up during endgame. It’s been so tough on me that I actually haven’t unlocked all of the job classes either. Despite that, I would probably call this my RPG of 2018.
(Best girl. Not even as a Waifu, she's simply the best one.)
Starlink: Battle for Atlas is a game that launched in October and I playfully referred to as Star Fox 3 up until I actually started playing the game. In Starlink, you play as one of several pilots who you can buy now at your local Best Buy, flying iconic ships that you can also purchase now at your local Gamestop. If you purchase the Nintendo Switch version of Starlink, you get to pilot the Arwing and engage in exclusive Star Fox related story content. Outside of the Star Fox content, Starlink is about humans entering a new galaxy and stumbling face-first into a massive war between an invasive species of purple energy...robots...and a bunch of other alien species who don’t seem to care about this strange new human race that suddenly turned up. If it seems like I’m unfamiliar with the plot it’s because I’m still very early on in the actual plot of the game. I know that I hate the human characters but that’s about all (Levi especially got on my nerves). I’m out of touch with the plot here because Starlink is a Ubisoft Sandbox, or rather, a series of Ubisoft Sandboxes floating in the sandbox that is space! After completing some simple quests in the early-game, your get the ability to leave the starting planet and travel around the galaxy freely. Transitioning from space to one of the several planets is seamless and the first time I did it, it was really impressive to watch. Satisfying visuals however, do not a good game make. The actual gameplay revolves around gathering resources and selling them to upgrade planet-bound bases and engaging in third-person shooter style combat. Despite the fact that you constantly play in a vehicle, combat feels like any given third-person shooter. The most effective strategy is to circle-strafe around enemies and hit them with elemental weapon combos. Even in space, the combat still feels like a somewhat slow third-person shooter but with an additional axis to consider.
There’s not much in the way of cover in space but you have an energy gauge that can be used to either boost away from danger or engage a shield. The shield, both on planets and in space, acts as a parry system and can be an effective way to deal with enemies. In space, unlike on planets, it’s very easy to lose track of where everyone and everything is. In the heat of a space battle, it’s easy to unexpectedly lose a lot of health to enemy fire only to blindly sidestrafe into a mine and just die outright. This wouldn’t be so bad but exploring space is slow and if you’re traveling at hyperspeed, the enemy encounter rate is much higher than one would expect. It might take five uninterrupted minutes of flight at hyperspeed to travel from one planet to another but it’s not uncommon to encounter space pirates every 10 to 20 seconds of travel and be forcibly taken out of hyperspeed. I wound up getting frustrated with this game: I don’t want to leave this game unfinished but I don’t feel a lot of incentive to even go back and play through the Star Fox content. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a bad game, it just feels like it’s missing something.
Mega Man 11 launched in October, a surprisingly packed month for me, and even though it was quickly forgotten it left a really positive impression on me. For background context, I’ve played through the first 7 Mega Man games within the past couple of years as well as 8 and 9 earlier this year. I’m not an expert but I have a great enough fondness for these games that I do like putting them in and playing through if I have a free weekend. I would say Mega Man 11 is comparatively easy, maybe not the easiest in the series but there were fewer roadblocks for me in this game than there were in past entries. A major factor that contributes to this game being as easy as it is, is the fact that it’s very possible to grind for currency with no consequence. In between levels you can purchase lives, power-ups, energy tanks, and new abilities if you have enough currency. Even without exploiting this strategy, the platforming in Mega Man 11 feels forgiving: I don’t recall many instances of levels trying to knock me into bottomless pits as often as previous entries, the enemy placement isn’t overbearing and, the new double-gear system can be employed at almost any time to either power up Mega Man or slow down time. My biggest pet-peeve with this game is just how short it feels. Ironically, the levels feel much larger than before but this iteration of Wiley’s Castle feels like the briefest version there has ever been. As much as I enjoyed Mega Man 11, and as great as it is to have a new Mega Man game again after so many years, it’s not my game of 2018.
(Daily reminder that Fuse Man owns a bunny)
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate launched in December and I don’t feel like I’ve played it enough to fairly talk about it. All I can say definitively about it is that I strongly prefer this game to Brawl and 64. As much as I like that I have to unlock all of the characters, I wish there was a faster, easier way to achieve that. I haven’t spent much time at all playing with many of the new fighters or on the new stages, but I have spent a little bit of time in the new Spirits mode. I absolutely miss Smash Run and the 3DS exclusive Pac-Man stage but I’m glad there isn’t an equivalent to the Wii U board game thing or Brawl’s trip mechanic. The things you can do with Ultimate’s camera have already provided me with a lot more fun than I ever would have expected, but I really wish there were more new stages out of the box. I expected Smash Ultimate to be a great game and so far it’s absolutely living up to my expectations but I don’t know how I’ll feel about it next month or within the next three months. I feel more in control with Smash than I do with Fighter Z, a game where I feel like I’m either doing alright or I’m absolutely going to lose. I don’t feel like I can call this my game of 2018 but I can say definitively that Smash Ultimate is a game that I enjoyed more than God of War, Monster Hunter World and, Detroit: Become Human.
So at the end of this year, what have I really come away with? Mega Man 11 was a great return to form for a classic franchise whereas God of War IV felt like it was chasing trends rather than setting them. Ubisoft set a sandbox in space, Square Enix released a fantastic RPG and I played a couple of great fighting games. I’m on the verge of naming a remastered version of a game from 2011 as my game of 2018. If I had to be official and proclaim a game of the year, I would probably give it to Octopath Traveler. It’s a game I put a few dozen hours into with a plot about as engaging as a particularly good season of a light fantasy anime. I may not have completed the game but it kept me hooked for a month or two, just like Dark Souls did once I picked that up. Unlike Dark Souls remastered, Octopath Traveler is of 2018 and is thus eligible, not only for Game of 2018 but also RPG of 2018...and story-driven game of 2018. In fact: I’m giving Octopath the Everything Ever of 2018 because it was a fantastic experience that I can see myself revisiting like Final Fantasy IV or any given main-line Pokemon title.
It was a pleasant surprise to have played so many 2018 games during their year of release and I’m hoping to keep up to date next year too. There are a lot of games on the horizon that I’m anticipating in 2019 so hopefully by this time next year, I’ll have a list just as robust. Until next time: Happy New Year everybody.
(God, I can't wait for this game)