Now that a new year has begun and it’s (still) the season to check what everyone thought of the previous one, there’s a sentiment I’ve seen across many year-in-review lists and videos: that 2018 felt really long, for some reason, which is something I feel as well. Not in the way that I played more games than previous years, but that much of the stuff that came out in the beginning of 2018 already feels like releases from past years.
Also, aside from the common thread of my end of the year reflections that is not having played many of the bigger releases - no Red Dead Redemption 2, no God of War, no Monster Hunter World, and no Spiderman (yet) – most of the games I did play didn’t blow me away (unlike 2017, for example, where every one of my favorite games of that year left a considerable impact upon my soul); I didn’t play Yakuza 6 nor Kiwami 2, 428: Shibuya Scramble, and Return of the Obra Dinn, and I’m pretty sure at least one of those would be one of my favorites of last year. If anything, many of the games I enjoyed the most were all from previous years.
But 2018 wasn’t all devoid of gaming goodness (especially when December came around), so let’s get to it!
Yakuza 0 – This was the fourth Yakuza game I played and, somehow, it still managed to introduce some side gameplay mechanic I was expecting to not care about (in this case, both the cabaret club management and the real estate stuff), then proceeded to almost spend more time with it than some of the main stuff. While Majima’s story is outstanding, I must admit I had a bit of trouble adjusting my mindset to seeing Kiryu as a young adult. Especially since his face and voice didn’t really change in a quarter of a century. Not surprising that it’s great, but must be said, nonetheless.
Super Mario Odyssey – This is a blast to play, to explore, to look at and to listen to, and made me so emotional to the point of tears in a couple of occasions. Playing it is pure bliss, plain and simple.
Steamworld Dig 2 – When I played the first Steamworld Dig, I found it to be pretty good and had a good time with it, but I didn’t feel it was enough to keep actively investing in the series. I ended up getting the sequel, though, and I’m glad I did, given its all around improvements over the original.
Nights of Azure 2: Bride of the New Moon – For the first NoA, I liked the main character’s design, and the gameplay seemed decent enough to warrant buy, which then led me to ending up caring very much about it. I enjoyed the characters, the city, the simple combat mechanics, and how actually emotional it got at times (shoddy localization aside). For the sequel, the gameplay remains enjoyable, the localization is certainly better, and expanding the roster of characters was a good direction to take, even if, as a whole, I prefer the first one.
Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice – My first Ninja Theory game, after a history of games that didn’t really grab my attention and a Tameem Antoniades that tended to come off as a bit of a prick. Although I initially doubted how well they could tackle a subject matter as heavy as this, they did seem to put a lot of care and thought into it, and it definitely shows. It’s certainly recommended you give this a try if you haven’t but must be played with headphones on.
Besides this last year not being nearly as strong as the previous, Sony’s lackluster E3 conference, and the lack of Travis Touchdown in Smash, there wasn’t really anything that left me feeling that much disappointed. The closest thing would have to be a game I had some considerable high expectations for, but just didn’t vibe with: Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology.
Not long after I finally decided to buy the DS version, the localization for this 3DS remake was announced. So, I decided to wait and play that instead. Since I wrote a Qpost on it, I’ll just quote my main issue with it: “The most damning thing, though, is the main party. I honestly didn't find much of a connection to any of them (maybe slightly to Marco and Aht), nor did I find their interactions to be feel meaningful, apart from those relationships that were already established from before - Stocke and Rosch, Raynie and Marco... To be perfectly honest, I found more interesting interactions in those short skits in Octopath Traveller.”
This game exceeded my expectations for the simple fact that I never knew it was a thing until I found it mentioned on the publisher’s Facebook page, and proceeded to buy it. For those unaware (which may very well be everyone who ends up reading this blog), Cineris Somnia is, and I quote the Steam page, “a 3D adventure through a beautifully strange and mesmerizing world.” That sums it up pretty nicely.
Basically, this is “Melancholy: The Game”, where you walk around solitary and degraded places – from an asylum during war times to a huge mansion – trying to figure out the stories, wishes and regrets of the ones who inhabit each place and time. And the visual storytelling is striking. If you’re up for that, do give it a try.
Honorable Mention: The Lost Child
Sometimes, I just crave the “budget” version of some games I love. In that sense, despite being a sequel of sorts to El Shaddai, this game is to Shin Megami Tensei what The Legend of Dark Witch is to Megaman and Parascientific Escape is to Zero Escape. Seeing as I truly enjoyed its prequel, I must admit that, at first, I wasn’t sold on this. Changing to a first-person dungeon crawler with a completely different style – one of the highlights of El Shaddai – wasn’t doing it for me, but as I was seeing more of it, that budget bug started to gnaw at my brain, like “dude, this is totally an SMT rip-off, I gotta try it.” So, I yielded, and the mindset change helped me see it as something much more entertaining than I initially expected.
[Gems of The Past]
Steamworld Heist – Going back to what I wrote about Steamworld Dig, when this was first announced and released, I didn’t really pay it much attention. It was actually my brother who sang its praises enough that I ended up giving it a try (actually, that happened with this and a couple of others here, now that I think about it). Which I’m very glad he did, since I absolutely adored this. It looks amazing, I love the characters – strong One Piece vibes here – and the soundtrack… oh, the soundtrack. Just beautiful.
Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia – I’ve recently realized that I haven’t played many Castlevania games, let alone complete them. Only Circle of the Moon for the GBA comes to mind, actually. Brought on by having watched the Netflix series and all the good things I’ve heard about OoE, I decided to try this, and ended experiencing something as enjoyable as I hoped, and much funnier than I expected. Seriously, those villagers are hilarious.
Cave Story+ - I remember trying to play this one about 7 or 8 years ago and having a really bad time (mainly due to trying to do it with the keyboard), but with this Switch release and aforementioned pressure from my brother, I was finally able to give it a fair shot. Well, turns out I loved it and completing everything felt especially satisfying.
Devil May Cry 3 – Brought on by the DMC5 hype, I decided to go back and play the previous games, which I had never done before. I tried playing the third one some time ago, but couldn’t get past Cerberus, so I gave up. But, this time, I feel that playing through DMC helped me get in the zone and actually finish this (and then Devil May Cry 4). Much like with fighting games, I’ve come to terms with being not that good at action-heavy games – especially as I grow older – and that doesn’t frustrate me as much as it once did, so I don’t mind if I need to turn down the difficulty. But, in this case, I managed to beat it on Normal, so, hurray! And I finally understand all the well-deserved praise this game gets, because it really is *that* good.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance – Pretty much the same feelings I had towards Devil May Cry 3, except this has more Red Sun and using hands to drift, which is one of the coolest things.
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir – I’m so glad this remake exists, because I missed this when it first came out and was having a bit of trouble deciding whether to jump in, since I played Muramasa and loved it, but I’m not as big a fan of Odin Sphere’s setting. Turns out I love this one as well! To be honest, initially, when playing as Gwendolyn, I was having some trouble following the narrative, but it quickly began flowing nicely. The gameplay, as whole, is so addictive and every character feels different and interest enough. Along with Steamworld Heist, this skyrocketed toward becoming one of my favorites ever.
I was having a bit of trouble deciding where to place this. After all, whatever year I play my most loved games in, it’ll obviously be one of my favorites of that year. But, given all the work, I figured I should at least still celebrate it in some fashion. Because SotC is one of those games that I always thought didn’t need a remake. Even so, they tried, and it makes me so glad that “didn’t need a remake” didn’t turn into “shouldn’t have gotten a remake”, thanks to Bluepoint’s wonderful job. I was astonished to compare screenshots of older versions to these remake’s, because this was what I always saw in my mind when playing the original.
So, I’ll just underline how Shadow of the Colossus is not only visually beautiful, but there’s beauty in its grandiosity, in its subtlety, in its solitude, in its melancholy. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Honorable Mention: Owlboy
Since it came out on consoles in 2018, it makes the list. Before playing it, I was hearing and reading very opposing thoughts on this game. From what I gathered, general opinion was either very positive or very negative. For me, while I can totally understand how someone wouldn’t have a good time with this – on the gameplay side, at least – because I wasn’t having in the beginning either, I ended up getting more into the groove and overcoming those issues. What puts it here, however, is some of the most beautiful sprite work I have ever seen in my life. Otus, despite being mute and only having half a dozen animations to work with, is one of the most expressive and lovable characters of the year. And the story is especially touching.
[Too Many Feels]
My first experience with SWERY was through watching a full let’s play of Deadly Premonition, followed by a full LP of D4. In both cases, I found stuff that seemed very appealing to me, but there wasn’t really a motivation to actually play them. At best, those games have some very charming characters and interesting ideas; at worst, they are what Suda’s games are (very wrongly, IMO) accused of being: crazy and over the top just for their own sake.
Even so, I decided to take the plunge with The MISSING: JJ Macfield and the Island of Memories, a wonderful game that really showed me how good SWERY can be. Gameplay and narrative that are so tightly interwoven, mixed with sensible writing for some heavy topics and appropriate zaniness make for a very memorable experience. It’s a game that has something to say, and does it well and effectively. Highly recommended!
I don’t know how long it has been since I looked forward to a Mario Party game. Not only that, it ended up being amazing. The variety of characters, different modes and replayability show how Super Mario Party is a real return to form.
Honorable Mention: Unravel Two
Again, I’ll be quoting myself because I think I summed up pretty well the importance of this game to me: “The first Unravel was an immensely emotional and special experience for me, with a beautiful overall presentation, both visually, narrative and sound-wise. Because of that, I immediately downloaded this one and, while the story didn't grab me nor impacted me as much as the first, this one was special for an entirely different reason, thanks to the co-op.
Due to work reasons, my brother took the opportunity to live and work abroad, and he came home for those 4 days during the E3 conferences, which we've watched together for many years now. We played through Unravel Two together, laughing and having tons of fun with Yarny and his buddy (who we affectionately called Yarnam), knowing that, unlike before, opportunities like this don't come around as often as they once did. That's why I'm still very grateful for this series.”
[One to Keep an Eye on]
All in all, Detective Pikachu (the game, because now we have to be specific) is fine. The first chapter starts rather well, with an incident created by a Pokémon, which you then need to solve by relying on the different abilities and characteristics of the creatures present at the scene. But, unfortunately, it quickly becomes just a series of mysteries created by humans with Pokémon present as well, I guess. While this series has seen many and varied spin-offs, this one feels fundamentally different. Honestly, this game sets a precedent that gives me hope for what future installments could be due to the way it takes advantage of a Pokémon world that’s not just about battles, gym badges and groups of thieves and thugs. I just wish they’d focus more on Pokémon-based mysteries, and not follow the typical “asshole wants to take over the world” routine.
Also, in the future, I hope they ditch the fugly human character models and try to inject some growth and/or intelligence in the characters. It relies too much into that automatic friendship of “that person is nice and pretty, so I’d give my life for them”, and a police detective giving a young adult considerable authority over an important investigation based on practically nothing and nepotism doesn’t seem very reasonable. (just a quick aside related to this last part, the Wikipedia entry for this character reads: “While hesitant with Tim's investigating, he becomes more open to it when he sees how important it is to him.” Not really, no. He seemed pretty on board the whole time.)
[Most Hype Trailer]
This trailer – which I’ve watched countless times just ‘cuz – incentivized me to beat DMC 1, 3 and 4 (a.k.a, the ones that matter). Can’t wait for March to come around! So hype!
[MY FAVORITE GAMES OF THE YEAR]
The 25th Ward: The Silver Case
To be completely honest, whenever Grasshopper Manufacture releases a game, there’s a pretty big chance it’ll get into my year-end list of favorites. If it happens be an actual Suda 51 joint, its chances increase exponentially. A couple of years ago, when The Silver Case finally made its way westward, unsurprisingly, it was one of my favorite games of that year. At the time, I wrote about it: “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 know him as today.” While it still represents exactly what I wanted to convey at the time, since then I replayed that game and gained new appreciation for it. It may be due to my lack of brain power, but the first time around it was a very heavy game to wrap my mind around; a second playthrough, even if it doesn’t clarify everything, helps the player in obtaining new perspectives on the events.
If that wasn’t enough, The 25th Ward does a nice job of summarizing the events of TSC for you right at the start of one of its three parts. Equipped with all this information, I believed I was read to delve into the mysteries of the recently created 25th ward of Tokyo. Spoiler alert: I wasn’t. After the first couple of chapters, I thought to myself “All right, this is not so bad. I’m understanding most, if not all of what’s happening” (right, well done, kid). Then, the third chapter comes along and completely annihilates any confidence I may have had in following the plot. Not only because of all the elements it plays with, but how it puts old characters in new roles and all the new concepts it introduces.
But this didn’t discourage me. Rather, it just incentivizes me to play through it again and try to figure out and notice those small details I absolutely missed the first time. Because one of the biggest aspects that appeals to me in the writing of both The Silver Case games is how the dialogue tends to lack exposition. It can, and honestly does, work a bit against it, but the interactions feel so fluid and so natural, and because they know stuff that the player doesn’t, we’re bound to be left hanging. Then, when going through a second time with all that new, juicy info, we can also be part of the conversation. It’s a risky move, but for me it pays off big time.
The last thing I want to focus on is the characters. Basically, every single one of them is an asshole in their own way. Some are more than others, some are easier to sympathize with, but overall, they’re a bunch of arrogant pricks. And you know what? Suda is pretty good at being able to make us root for charming and lovable little dumbasses, and he absolutely nails it here.
Also, if there’s ever a follow-up to this, it *needs* to star Kuroyanagi in the leading role. I’m sure she’d agree.
A Way Out
With Josef Fares and his team’s previous game, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, we got an emotional story about a brotherly bond, told mechanically by having the player control both brothers at the same time. A Way Out takes that concept further, by making almost mandatory to play with another person, as this journey simply must be shared.
Right at the beginning, it’s interesting how the basic act of choosing who’ll be controlling which character, with just those little biographical snippets to go by, may condition you to act a certain way and the choices you’ll make. One other thing I really appreciate is how the game manages to give you enough freedom to roam around and makes it feel a step above other co-op games where you can’t be a couple of meters apart from each other, which is something I always wanted to be able to do in local co-op. Of course, they’re still enclosed spaces, you can’t each be in opposite sides of a city, but the developers structure each place so well that they manage to convey that sensation.
I don’t want to go too much in depth into the story because I’d really like to encourage you all to play it and to share this journey with someone else. I’ll just say that it shows that Brothers wasn’t just some lucky hit. Josef Fares may come across as a bit unhinged, but, when it comes to games, he’s very good at what he does.
Going by The Coma and Resident Evil 7 last year and now this, you’d have a hard time believing I’m not a fan of the horror genre. Well, that’s somewhat of a generalization; I’m not a fan of games and movies whose (main) purpose is to scare you. If it’s to tell a story and make you feel discomfort while using scares as a vehicle for that, I’m all in. Other thing I’m finding out I actually enjoy a whole lot is ghost stories. Again, not ghost stories meant to scare you or straight up “let’s kick some ghost ass” ones, but rather stories where you’re incentivized to find out more about said ghosts and why they’re so hung up on the world of the living.
Death Mark does that incredibly well. It’s basically a first-person exploration game through haunted sites, where you’ll need to either figure out how to vanquish a certain ghost/otherworldly being, or how to appease it. However you get around to doing it will have consequences on which characters live or die, and I ended up caring for most of them. And the main character, for someone that starts off as a tropey amnesiac, shows some well-defined personality.
Much like The Coma, what made me want to try this was very simple: just a couple of quick videos showcasing the gameplay and a very attractive art style – by the by, those character designs give me strong Kazuma Kaneko vibes, and I’d love to see them in an SMT game. And based on just that, I played a game that, months after finishing it, still comes to mind frequently.
In most games, especially RPGs, my M.O. tends to be finding everything, exploring every secret dungeon, fighting every secret boss, and getting every snippet of dialogue. With Octopath Traveler though, much like the game itself, it felt like an opportunity to be a little experimental.
First, I decided that I wouldn’t get every character straight away. There are only four in the main party, so that’s how many I got. My initial character was decided the moment I saw their introductory trailer: Alfyn, the Apothecary, immediately appealed to me as the perfect MC in this unusual playthrough I’d be attempting. His purpose is simply to travel the world and help people. His ability is to be so friendly that he manages to gather information just by talking to people. Which is great, because that’s how and why he ends up meeting his future travel companions: Therion, H’aanit and Primrose. The four of them travelled that entire continent, each with their purposes, but still working together.
This was very new to me, you see, because I’m not a fan of RPGs where you have little to no story and structure (case in point, games like Etrian Odyssey or Stranger of the Sword City come to mind, where you simply have character classes and, maybe, snippets of generic backstory); I’m not into absolute role-playing, you might say, since I’m not that great at coming up with stories on my own. Octopath gave me just enough to feel that there is that structure, but also let me try a bit of RP. The character interactions are brief enough to get a sense of their personalities and relationships, while also leaving it very open.
While playing through this, I gave myself the opportunity to not see everything, to not finish every side quest, and this adventure took me about 40 to 50 hours to complete. And, yeah, I think it may be what left me with such a good impression. If I played it the way I generally tackle this type of games, as much fun and addictive as the battle system is, I’m sure I’d feel absolutely burned out after a couple of hours more. This way, maybe Alfyn will one day go on a new adventure, meet new people, and help them with their troubles. Because that’s the kind of guy he is.
Valkyria Chronicles 4
The three main elements that attract me so much to Valkyria Chronicles are the beautiful graphical style, the addictive mix of turn-based and real-time gameplay, and the way it shows regular people taking up arms to protect their country. Because the sequel, Valkyria Chronicles 2, seemed to change to a more generic style and high school setting, and being on, for me, a more cumbersome console, I decided to skip it. The third one seemed more interesting, but sadly never left Japan. So, for the longest time, I was missing an actual continuation to VC1, and this year I believe I finally got it.
To me, the biggest improvement is the Squad Stories, no doubt. In the first game, via your allies’ strengths and weaknesses, you may get an idea of their personalities, but for a series where you can lose your comrades in arms for good, this is a crucial addition. Especially when, by going through these, those character specific abilities may change, reflecting what they experienced individually and together. Still on the characters, I may prefer the first one’s take on civilians forced to become soldiers instead of just playing as actual troops, I’m glad it’s not the same. Of the main cast, Claude was the one that grew on me the most; especially when the poor bastard is crucified left and right for not wanting to die, not letting his friend die, and for doing his freaking job. But it’s war times, shit’s tense, I get it.
On the gameplay department, I feel that not much has changed, but the grenadiers are a welcome inclusion and the variety of environments really kept me on my toes. I’d rather the grading of the missions not be only focused on speed, as there were missions where I’d like to take my time and be thorough, but it does give it some replayability.
In short, I understand how people may feel it’s just the first game again – from the same graphics engine, to being set during the same time, to not exactly revolutionizing the gameplay. But it’s still more Valkyria Chronicles, it’s great, and is one of my favorite games of the year.
Persona: Endless Night Collection
At first, I was going to only include Persona 5 Dancing in Starlight here – simply for being my preferred game, cast, and soundtrack – but after playing through Persona 3 Dancing in Moonlight I realized something. When looking at Persona 4 Dancing All Night – which is also included in this collection, so it gets extra points for that – it does have more songs (given its bunch of spin-offs, so it makes sense) and a more robust story mode, so when compared to either P3D or P5D, those will feel lacking because, at their core, they’re not only pretty much the same game, but only together they make the full game.
In terms of the soundtracks, the remixes are very hit or miss for me. Fortunately, there are main songs in their original forms as well, so thumbs up for that. Regarding the gameplay, I like this take on the rhythm genre (already did in P4D), but with the notes flying outward it’s clearly made for the smaller Vita screen; especially when you’re expected to follow multiple notes at once. I still managed to King Crazy some of them on Hard, so… (I don’t touch All Night difficulty; my hands and brain can’t take it).
Now, for the story element, at first glance these Social Events can be seen as inferior to Dancing All Night’s 10 to 15 hour canon (for better or worse) story. But I believe that, in this case, it fits. For that one, there’s Rise, who’s an idol and you can contextuality justify having the Investigation Team learn to dance. Here, it’d have to be much more of a stretch. In years past, I’d be much more gung-ho about wanting everything to be some kind of canon sequel that moves the story forward, but now I appreciate it much more when spin-offs simply go more in-depth into the personalities and lives of the characters you know and love – and Junpei – and that’s exactly what we get in these new entries.
We can only guess why they were sold separately, *coughgottagetdatcashcough*, but merging them would probably require both casts to interact with each other, and that’d take even more time and it’s already Persona Q2’s thing… In any case, if you only care about one or the other, I wouldn’t say you’ll go wrong with playing just that one, but together they make for much better value. Especially considering all the DLC. Oh boy…
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
Maybe it’s because I tend to give more emphasis to narrative and single player content, but when it comes to reflecting on my favorite games, I’m unfair to fighting games in general and Smash Bros. in particular. Given how much time I’ve dedicated to it over the years, it’s one of those series that I take for granted when discussing my favorite games. And since the one I’d rather play is always the newer one – except with the 3DS one – it’s easier to not feel appreciative of all the humongous effort that must go into making these games. But considering Ultimate is like a celebration of everything in Smash Bros. history, it would be absolutely unfair to not give it the distinction it deserves.
Due to my brother living abroad, the single player and online modes have been much more significant to me, and with this frankly ludicrous roster, I feel more incentivized to try every character now more than ever. And my mains may still be the trio of Luigi, Lucas and Marth, but I’ve really taken a shine to some of the newcomers in Ultimate that I was not expecting at all, like Inkling and King K. Rool. But local multiplayer is still where it’s at, and the Smash get-together tradition is still going strong with this one, especially with all the stage variants and rule possibilities. Also, as is customary with every new Smash Bros., this game is even more visually phenomenal than the last, from the most subtle animations to the grandiose Final Smashes.
The lack of trophies saddened me, I must admit, but Spirits are also a great way to bring even more of gaming history into the fold. There may be some puzzling omissions, like Professor Layton and No More Heroes (fingers crossed for DLC #hopeneverdiesuntiliteventuallydies), they did put Kyle Hyde in there. And freaking Joker from Persona 5 is coming? Yes, until Travis makes it in there, there’ll be a tinge of unfair disappointment in me, but that’s my own fault because this game is nothing short of spectacular.
With all said and done, I hope you had a good 2018 and here's to hoping 2019 will be better :)
Thank you for reading!