Just like 2017 before it, 2018 was not short in the number of quality games. With longtime franchises taking a surprisingly strong new turn like the new God of War, and known powerhouses delivering as much as most thought they would with Red Dead Redemption 2 and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
Then, there were the underrated gems that many talked about, and will probably continue to talk about even if they were overshadowed by bigger games. Gems like Octopath Traveler and Hitman 2. That was coupled with excellent indie games in the vein of Celeste and Dead Cells
As usual, I haven’t played any of those games. Instead, I spent most of my gaming time going down my backlog, as well as playing games for my review series for the Saturn and the Wii. Compared to past years, this is one year in which I did not complete many games, and I actually struggled to come up with a top 10 list of the games I played in the year. Still, this list, which spans 21 years of gaming, is full with strong titles that I mostly enjoyed.
Here is the list in alphabetical order:
Bravely Second: End Layer: (3DS, 2016)
In my opinion, the first Bravely game got an undeserved bum rep due to its second half, which many saw as repetitive nonsense. Myself, I thought it was narratively brilliant meta-commentary on the JRPG genre, and it also gave use more scenarios to test the EXCELLENT battle & job systems. Also, calling it a “second half” is disingenuous, as it can be breezed through compared to the rest of the game.
With Bravely Second, the developers did not abandon their propensity for weird narrative tricks, nor did they abandon their excellent gameplay system. In fact, it can be argued that the second game is simply a tighter experience.
Which is why it has always been confusing to me why the game relatively failed in the market when it is simply one of the best 3DS JRPGs, and one of the best JRPGs of the generation in general. I don’t think it is a stretch to call the Bravely Default/Second the best turn-based battle/job system in any RPG.
Dark Souls III: (PS4, 2016)
Of all the games in this top 10 list, this (and Little King’s Story) is the only game that I would entertain calling the best game I played last year. It is a step-up after Dark Souls II, and in many ways can rival the excellent Dark Souls I as the best Souls game.
The environments are tip-notch, the combat is as tight as ever but with even more speed than the previous games, and the bosses are memorable and fun to play against. The Ashen One may be just another Hollow, with Embers just another concept like Humanity, but this is a sequel that manages to still innovate and excite while using the same formula.
A testament to its quality is that even two years after its release, it still has a thriving online community. At least, I did not struggle in getting some online fun despite my notoriously bad internet connection.
Rarely do I feel compelled to finish a game more than once, but for Dark Souls III is enticing me to finish it a third time now.
Deus Ex : Mankind Divided : (PS4, 2016)
True, it is not as good as Deus Ex: Human Revolution. True, it feels unfinished in its final form. True, it looks like Eidos had bigger plans for the game than Square-Enix have allowed. Yet, it is a testament to the quality of the game and franchise that all of that did not irreversibly tarnish this game.
Despite all of its faults, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided remains a very interesting game. With its strong setting in a world where human augmentation is causing a moral panic and the strong gameplay of Human Revolution built upon, this is a game with all the ingredients of success.
With Adam Jensen, you can tackle your mission with a lot of choices, gameplay-wise. Not only deciding between stealth and combat but deciding between how to go about being stealthy or fighting the enemy.
With a lackluster finale, and a promise of more to come (which may never be fulfilled). Mankind Divided managed to anger a lot of people. I personally do not think the end quality of the game itself has anything to do with that.
Dragon Quest VII: Fragments of the Forgotten Past: (3DS, 2016)
Including this game for last year is a bit of cheating, since I am yet to actually finish the game. However, I am sure I am about 75% done and close to finishing it in the next few weeks. That is mostly because it is such a long game.
Also, with its basic battle and class system, Dragon Quest VIII only reminds me how much better Bravely Second is from its peers. Still, because of its excellent sense of adventure, a huge number of interesting micro-stories, and just genuine good fun, Dragon Quest VII manages to be more than the sum of its parts.
There is something just fun about the Dragon Quest games, even if they are not the best at every element.
Little King’s Story: (Wii, 2009)
This is one of the more unusual games I played last year, and also one of the best. Little King’s Story is difficult to describe, but I would say it is closes to Pikmin than anything else. It is an RTS game where, as the king, you fling your subjects at objects to kill, or objects to destroy. However, the king is a small child, and the gameworld is a dreamy land that obviously betrays the metaphorical base of the game.
With its weird story, the game can be open to many interpretations regarding its intent, and I think everyone will get away with a different take.
Even without its weirdness, Little King’s Story is simply a great game with a satisfying gameplay loop. As you gain more followers, get access to more classes, and conquer more areas, the game keeps getting more challenging and interesting. Always rewarding you in some way or another. Also, the dream art direction is excellently matched with the beautiful soundtrack that is comprised of classical music rearrangements. Probably nothing would have sounded better than Bolero as the opening theme.
No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle: (Wii, 2010)
No More Heroes 2 is yet another weird and underappreciated game on the Wii. Except, this was the sequel of another weird game that was actually quite successful given its niche status. In my review of this sequel, I noted that there may be as many people who prefer this game over the original as there who prefer the opposite.
For the uninitiated, No More Heroes is a weird action game starring Travis Touchdown, who fights weird characters in a low-budget game with surprisingly good action gameplay. It is almost all about the insane characters you end up fighting, but, in a strange twist, Travis needed to do some mundane quests in order to raise money to enter his next fight. Those quests were basically mini-games where you maw the lawn or carry coconuts.
In the second game, I think it continues with all the strong bits of the original, but relieves you from the tedium by actually having some really great mini-games (that you don’t actually need to play).
Paper Mario: Color Splash: (Wii U, 2016)
Here is another game that I did not actually finish last year, but I was close enough to finishing it that I am including it in this list. On the game itself, this was, to a lot of fans of the series, simply an evolution of the divisive Paper Mario: Sticker Star. It has no partner characters, no experience points, and attacks are chosen in battle by selecting one-use items. Cards this time in place of stickers.
In those ways, and in the terrible cloning of most of the Toad characters, Paper Mario: Color Splash is clearly inferior to the first two Paper Mario games. However, that is not a fair bar to be measured against. Instead, taking the game at its own merits.
The main game is divided into several levels, each with some hilarious micro-stories, as funny as anything in the series before. The combat is fun, with a lot of abilities and enemies mixed in, even if there isn’t much to gain out of combat. Also, the game looks and sound gorgeous, with the best-realized paper craft style I ever saw. Frankly, I loved the game, even if I loved the original Paper Mario style more.
Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium: (Genesis, 1995)
There isn’t a better way to praise Phantasy Star IV other than say that it is the only Sega Genesis RPG that can be compared to the great RPGs of the SNES. Even if in the end, that comparison does not put it in the same level as games like Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, the fact that it can be part of the same conversation is good enough.
Unlike its predecessors, there is little need for compromise to enjoy the game. It holds up really well from a gameplay perspective, and the story is still good. With some risky narrative elements that actually preceded some famous scenes and a continuous forward momentum, the game is exciting from start to finish.
Also, there is a crazy religious fanatic writhing in the ground in holy ecstasy; details like that are part of the great leap compared to PSII and PSIII.
Resident Evil: Revelation 2: (PS4, 2015)
Honestly, the fact that I am putting Resident Evil: Revelations 2 as part of my top 10 games that I played last year speaks to the low number of games that I actually ended up playing. It beats other games that I liked a little, like the original Rayman and the new Wolfenstein games (not Wolfenstein II), but it does not reach the level of the other 9 games on this list.
That’s not to say that the game is bad in any way. In fact, it is the best Resident Evil game since Resident Evil 4. It has the best realization of the combat style of that game, but also an excellent dose of horror and atmosphere. In some level, it carries from the excellent Revelations on the 3DS and promises a return to the classical games.
While it mostly succeeds, I think that the partner characters end up simply pegging the game down. Don’t get me wrong, the dual gameplay of using both characters is very well-realized. However, I imagine a better game where the isolation of a single character makes for a tenser experience. Still miles better than Resident Evil 6 though.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE: (Wii U, 2016)
Of the many quality exclusives that came to the Wii U, this project was the one most out of left field. Originally starting as mesh-up between the Fire Emblem and the Shin Megami Tensei franchises, it ended up being its own unique thing with some little inspirations from both. While that ended up pissing off some fans (of course), I think that the final product is better than any serviceable spin-off would have been.
In a JRPG game that takes more than a few cues from Persona, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE features a set of characters inhabiting the Japanese pop industry. From starting idols to masked ranger type actors, the setting is rooted in the entertainment industry, with themes on the power of art and the obstacles to creativity. While the story is not groundbreaking in any way, it frankly takes a good (and sugary) look at an industry I never thought I would care for, and yet somehow did not mind.
Maybe that’s because the gameplay is just so good. With more than a few cues from the SMT franchise, the turn-based battles take exploiting enemy weaknesses to another level. By using both elemental weakness (from SMT) and weapon weaknesses (the FE weapon triangle), the attack is supported by other party members in session, which can continue in a long and very effective chain.
Besides the excellent battle-system, the presentation is excellent from vivid menus to charming graphics and excellent music. Damn, the game is just so stylish, and it’s a damn shame that it saw such little success on the doomed Wii U.
Just like 2017, it looks like 2018 is yet another great year of gaming to look forward to playing further down my backlog. Last year, I managed to finish the last excellent exclusives of the unfortunate Wii U. IF judged purely by its games, the Wii U would not have been such a miserable failure.
This means that I will probably buy the Switch sometime this year.
Still, despite missing the hype-train off many games, I am still satisfied with the way I approach my gaming hobby. For someone like me, who no longer has enough free-time to playthrough a lot of games, but still has a divergent interest in many genres and consoles, it is very challenging to be in step with everyone else. As such, an ordered method of going through any excellent games that I would normally like to play.
See you next year, where some 2017 games will probably be on the list.