It's been one hell of a gaming year compared to 2018, especially for me, since I actually bought some new games this year! I've made it a bit of a personal policy as of late to wait a year before buying a game, since by the time I get to it, a year will probably have passed already and I could have bought it for a better price. But this year's output was so alluring that I fudged the rules and bought games to play them immediately.
The only exception is Trails of Cold Steel 3, which I only bought to get it before it disappears from the face of the earth and to help get the fourth game localized. A man can dream, you know? But beyond that, I have 3 games to talk about, one of which is my game of the year. Hell, it's a contender for game of the decade as well. But I don't have the fortitude to make that choice, so I'll stick to this discussion for now. On to the games!
This year was the year Square Enix finally managed to release KH3, a game people have been clamouring for since 2006. 13 years later (fucking Nomura) and it's here, a full-fledged console release overflowing with money. I had a blast with it, but the game is torn between so many primal forces. It's at points either overproduced or underproduced, given too much or too little creative freedom and feeling exactly like it should or suffering from problems that should have been solved like 3 games ago.
The game is vibrant vibrant and funny, but lacks depth and contains elements (like the Game&Watch minigames or the cooking) that feel like they could have easily been cut just to free up resources for the rest of the game. I can't really blame the game itself, but instead I wanna blame the games that have come out during these 13 years, which have built to a climax no 30-hour game can hope to pay off properly. The Re:Mind DLC is bound to improve it somehow, but it's priced at $30 and will probably spin more plot threads to be angry about. I think it'll just make for more of KH3, not necessarily a better KH3 overall.
I think my relationship with From Software can best be summarized with this one image:
They own my soul and I can't resist buying one of their games if it's at all possible for me to do so. Their whole catalogue since Demon's Souls has provided me with a lot of things to love and to hate and Sekiro is no different.
While I love the game, there are a lot of things that works against on a personal level. The first thing is the story and the setting, taking place in the Sengoku Jidai in Japan, a setting I had enough of after playing Onimusha and Nioh. The setting loses so much intrigue when it's very easily mapped to Japanese folklore, something that is much harder (though still possible) with their other Souls-games. Not to mention that it makes filthy katanas the standard and not the outlier you begrudgingly have to accept.
But beyond that, it's even less replayable than Bloodborne, which is one hell of a feat, I tell you. Once you master the combat (which takes a while since the game doesn't do a good job of hammering in just how aggressive you're meant to be), it just becomes a checklist of defeating the great bosses and picking up the few items that aren't just next-to-worthless consumables. All the RPG-adjacent mechanics like the leveling and the upgrade system are almost completely worthless, since the basic attack and the parry is all you need for most encounters.
When you lean into action over RPG systems, there comes a point where I have to become more critical of said action and Sekiro focuses on next to nothing but timing. There are a bunch of extra moves you don't need and a rock-paper-scissors system at play when it comes to defense against unblockable attacks, but you spend so much of every encounter mashing attack and timing parries unless you're up against something you can demolish with a Shinobi Tool.
There's just no room for player expression, just tight execution of what the developers intended. That's fine, but it seems like they set out to make the combat system into something more interesting and failed. A valiant effort, but not enough to win my esteemed Game of the Year award. Good thing Capcom provided me with exactly what I needed instead.
I am not exaggerating when I say that not only is DMCV the culmination of 18 years of DMC games, but 18 years of action games, period. The game contains elements of Viewtiful Joe, Onimusha 2, Chaos Legion, Bayonetta and even fucking God Hand. When series director Hideaki Itsuno said it would exceed fan expectations, he wasn't lying! But I'm getting ahead of myself, there's a story to be told here.
At the end of 2017, details about the game were leaked, leading me to go on a review rush through the series in 2018, ending on DMC4 with a plea to Capcom to right the wrongs of the series and give us a worthy final game. So then, at E3 2018 on the Xbox show, the game was finally revealed in this trailer. But forget that, and instead take a look at this reaction video, which accurately depicts some of the emotions that trailer brought out in me:
Now, I was not without my doubts for the game. The new artstyle, Dante's lackluster theme song, the microtransactions and everything about V had sown seeds of doubt in me. But as more details about the game got dropped, my expectations rose, culminating with the release of the public demo which confirmed everything I needed to know. But throughout that whole rollercoaster of reveals, something that stood its ground as an absolute good was Nero's baller theme song, Devil Trigger. At this point, it has received countless covers, but none of them convey what a sheer 0-10000 the reveal was like this shitty cover produced by 4chan:
The reveal promised justice for the series, and after months of agonizing waiting, the big day came, and I got to enjoy the game in the only way I saw fit: With cheap pizza at my feet alongside the only can of Monster I have ever deigned to purchase. I am nothing if not completely on board with the boomer Dante meme.
But that was all preamble, what about the game as delivered when compared to what was promised? Well, seeing as the whole thing is utterly amazing, I'll start of with the few lowpoints.
As previously stated, Dante's theme is quite lame when compared to his earlier ones. It's extra lame when put against Devil Trigger, which I've listened to countless times at his point. While the microtransactions have thankfully little effect on the game's balance, it's still a disgusting way of exploiting players with more money than patience. The amount of loading sucks, which is hopefully less of big deal in the PC version, which I plan on getting one of these days. And lastly, due to Lady and Trish not having much to do outside of their introduction games, here they are relegated to one good line each and very little agency. But with how much else is going on, I can accept that.
And good god, is there a lot of stuff going on! I barely know where to start! I suppose I can begin with the fact that the series un-rebooted itself and returned to the main timeline, which is a feat I have not heard of being done before, especially this clearly. DmC just got swept under the rug like it's nobody's business.
What we got instead of a DmC2 is a fully produced sequel to DMC4 up to its ears in polish and money. In a year that also deemed it fit to include Anthem and the continued adventures of Fallout 76 in its roster, it's almost kind of mean to style on the rest of the industry this hard. I'm all for it, of course, since Itsuno doing reversals gets us games like DMC and DMCV. Has me hopeful for Dragon's Dogma 2, if he ever gets to make that.
So, beyond all the niceties like the photorealistic trenchcoats, the rad action scenes and the surprising amount of comedy, what's in it for the player when they actually have to hit buttons? A lot. Like, a lot a lot. As in, the game features the most developed movesets of any character action game to date, with every animation being satisfying and every move having purpose.
Now, what impresses me is the terrific fine-tuning done do improve things from DMC4. Nero lacked depth for expert players, so he was handed the Devil Breaker system, which just so happens to match the gambling theming implied by some of his attack names. Nero even got an ability that solves a small issue the series has always had, which really shows the amount of understanding Itsuno's team has for the series.
Dante is very hard to get the hang of without hours of practice, so some of his combat styles got buffed to make them slightly easier and much more fun to use. He also has a disgusting amount of weapons to play with, giving him an insane amount of potential for combos. Not to mention that they added in a bike weapon and a rideable rocket, something that was relegated to cutscenes in DMC3. Hell, they even included some neat things from DmC!
So yeah, the gameplay is the best it's ever been, in both the series and the genre as a whole. But I really need to talk about what was done with the story. Because hot damn, is it an achievement. While the quality of the series' writing varies, the thematic throughline remains consistent (as long as you ignore the reboot). The value of remaining human over submitting oneself to demonic power is a simple but very wholesome theme that I appreciate.
While DMC3's story remains the tightest, DMCV gets points for drawing from every possible source both to fuel its own story, but also to pay tribute to the whole series. The result is a story that plays out almost exactly as a fan would envision it, even managing to improve the stories of DMC1 and DMC4 ever so slightly.
I am not kidding when I say that the ending was awesome and poignant enough to bring me to tears of joy. That is not a common occurence for someone as stoic as I am. But through my history with the series and the writing combined with the final boss, it happened. In a very spoilerific GDC talk, Itsuno explains that this was all by design. They came up with the ending first and spent all effort trying to build up to that one point. I know it's weird to praise someone for coming up with an ending first, but game endings are often a secondary concern that fall to the wayside once the deadline approaches. So it's great to see someone who knows where to aim a story and then pull it off.
I'm about done handing out praise, but there's one last thing I have to bring up, which is this video where Itsuno apologizes for taking 11 years to make a follow-up to DMC4:
And to that, I have but one thing to say: When you've made the best action game of the Heisei era, who cares that the party is a little late? Now, hit the music!