Maybe 2019 did not deliver as much as 2018 and 2017, but many great games were released last year. From great sequels to established franchises like Fire Emblem: Three Houses to exciting new properties like The Outer Worlds. Hell, one of the best games in the year is a full remake of a past classic; Resident Evil 2. Of course, there were some more divisive games, like whatever the hell Death Stranding ended up being (not something I will probably enjoy).
In two or three years, I will probably start playing these games. After all, it is only this year that I started playing the great games released in 2017. When the time comes, I will play most of these games with the minimum amount of hype and bias associated with them, at my own pace.
Last year, I went down my backlog, as usual, playing games on my PS4, 3DS, and the Wii U in addition to finishing my Wii Reviews series and continuing my Saturn Reviews. The biggest development is that I finally bought a Nintendo Switch, with this list featuring the first game I played on that console. Finally, this will probably be the final list with a game I played on the Wii U, as I finished all of the games I bought for it. Honestly, the Wii U was probably the console I had the most fun with besides the DS family and I hope the Switch continues that legacy. As usual, the list ended up being very diverse, spanning decades in gaming and multiple genres and systems.
Here is the list in alphabetical order, enjoy:
The Banner Saga Trilogy: (Switch, 2014, 2016, 2018)
From the moment it was first announced after a successful Kickstarter campaign, I was intrigued by the promise of a Viking inspired story, especially with the distinctive art style the game was going for as well as its promise of a more “mature” Fire Emblem inspired game. My excitement dwindled when I realized the game was going to be broken up into episodes.
However, my cousin, who is not a big gamer by any stretch, kept on pestering me about how great a game it was. After playing the full version on the Switch, I realized my cousin was right all along.
Simply put, The Banner Saga is a game about responsibility and the consequences of that responsibility. As the leader of a caravan that is desperately trying to survive what appears to be an impending apocalypse, you are tasked with making many choices in this treacherous journey. These choices may involve the delicate balancing of scarce resources, and may even have the fate of your caravan and characters on the line.
Of course, it helps that the Tactical Strategy gameplay is intuitive, almost always engagingly challenging, and brutal to behold.
Dragon Force: (Saturn, 1996)
If we would trace the gameplay elements of The Banner Saga to other Tactical Strategy games, and indeed the gameplay in any other game on this list can also be traced to an earlier game, then we probably can. However, to do the same for Dragon Force would be difficult, as it is such a unique mash of elements.
Basically, it is a Real-Time-Strategy RPG with Real-Time Tactical elements. If that’s difficult to imagine, then I don’t blame you. You start the game as one of six nations vying for control of the world (two more choices are available after you beat the game). The game progresses similar to a real-time grand strategy game but with a sole military focus. The game sets itself apart when battles start, which are also in real-time. These battle showcases the game’s gorgeous 2D sprites as tens of them face off against each other and the battle can be decided by your clever commands.
With the variety of gameplay options, unique and strong gameplay, as well as impeccable sprite work, it is no wonder that Dragon Force has long been considered one of the Sega Saturn’s best games. Due to all of the above reasons, especially the 2D art that hasn’t aged a bit, it is still is a great game today.
DOOM: (PS4, 2016)
Coming in after two strategy games in this (unordered) list, it may seem that DOOM’s action-packed gameplay is as far removed from strategy as possible. While that’s true in the genre sense, it is not true in the application of the word itself.
Indeed, there is a lot of strategic depth in this first-person shooter, as you rush through waves of enemies, stopping to rip them apart to get more ammo and armor. It is a poetry of action and violence that is the closest to character Action games (like Bayonetta and Devil May Cry) from all the FPS games I played before.
Usually, I am not a big fan of this genre, but the single-minded focus of DOOM has won me over. It doesn’t care too much about setting or story as much as it cares about getting the Doomslayer to kill more demons. I wish it didn’t have collectibles though, as looking for those things slowed down the game too much for my liking.
Guardian Heroes: (Saturn, 1996)
It is ironic that a game that I wasn’t even supposed to play ended-up being one of the best games I played last year. As a pre-condition for the games I review for older systems, I don’t usually play games that have been remastered to new hardware. In this case, I didn’t know that Guardian Heroes had a brilliant remaster for the Xbox Arcade.
Ultimately, that turned out really well for me, as I really enjoyed Guardian Heroes and there is no way I would have played it on Xbox Arcade since that is one system I am yet to be part of.
Also ironic is the fact that the game is from a genre I don’t usually like. However, this is one of the earlier games in the Beat ‘em Up genre that shook things up greatly by introducing some RPG systems as well as multiple characters and branching storylines.
With its solid gameplay, good music, and 2D graphics that stood the test of time, Guardian Heroes became one of the only games of its genre that I really enjoyed.
The Last Guardian: (PS4, 2016)
No, it is not worth the wait. Scarcely anything would be worth the massive wait everyone had to endure for The Last Guardian. That is, of course, one major reason I think the game was coldly received upon its eventual release. Another reason is that it was different from Team Ico’s biggest game; Shadow of the Colossus.
However, taken at its own merits, I really enjoyed The Last Guardian. Team Ico’s usually mysterious storytelling and environments shone through for the most part in the impossible locations we visit. Mostly though, I enjoyed how the game drove me to form a relationship with the giant Treco, the creature you must coexist with to find a way to escape.
Some reviewers disliked the imprecise controls and the fact that Treco wouldn’t listen to every command. Of course, both may be a hindrance, but they are intentional design choices. The boy is inexperienced at the beginning, and in fact, becomes better as the game goes on, and Treco is an independent creature that isn’t beholden to your controller. Only with time and effort does Treco become more obedient, as you build trust, and with that a relationship with the character hopefully blossoms.
It may not be a game for everybody, but for those willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and to go in without any bias, I think there is a really very good game her.
Nioh: (PS4, 2019)
Nioh may be one of the best Soulslike game ever, even when including the Soulsborne games. I could simply end it with that and be done with this blurb, and I know that in this site, Chris Carter may partially agree with me. Yet, let me explain more by describing the following battle with one particularly difficult boss:
I was having trouble killing this boss, so I needed everything in my arsenal to defeat him. First, I used ninjutsu to inflict him with fire and then continued using ninjutsu and magic to keep that fire burning. By the time I could no longer keep the fire condition active, I already decreased a little more than half of the boss’s life. Then, I moved in for the kill, all the while using magic to decrease the boss’s attack. Just as the boss was transforming into his second phase, I quickly unleashed my special power (the living weapon) and managed to quickly kill the boss before things went too hairy
In just one encounter, I used almost all of the game’s multiple systems. In no Dark Souls game was I ever afforded the same level of flexibility in character builds nor did I ever need it. With a Zweihandler in hand, I could defeat everything from the first to the last boss with no need for alteration.
That’s not the case in Nioh, at least not in the standard difficulty level, as I always needed to change my tactics based on the enemies I faced and the equipment I had. True, there is too much loot in the game, and the latter change into statistics focused gameplay is not great (By that time, you have already spent 80 hours at least with the game).
Finally, the fact that I am very knowledgeable about this period of Japanese history meant I enjoyed it a little bit more, as the way the story unfolds isn’t that good.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse: (Wii U, 2014)
I confess that I am not a big fan of the Shantae series. Sure, the gameplay is good, the graphics are beautiful, and the music is cool. However, I did not find the total package to ever be more than a “good” game. At least, that’s the case with the first Shantae and Risky’s Revenge.
That changed a little with The Pirate’s Curse, as everything improved just slightly enough that the game managed to easily be “very good”. That may not seem such a big jump, but that increase in quality was the difference between playing the game to finish it, and playing the game because I am bloody enjoying it.
I actually think that most people who loved the character actually got their start with this game, as it is easily more accessible than its predecessors. Also, the level of charm here is off the chart with the trademark level of WayForward humor and character design.
Tales of Berseria: (PS4, 2017)
Among fans of this mainstream niche series, Tales of Berseria is often considered one of the better games in the series. I concur with that assessment. It has the same (but with the usual twist) excellent battle system of the latter Tales games, but without the added baggage of cliched and terrible characters married to a cliched and terribly saccharine story.
Instead, we have the same level of cliched characters and story, but with a hint of bitterness that equalizes the taste wonderfully. True, in another playthrough, all of that will probably fall apart, but the illusion stands for the main part. One Dtoid commentator (forgot his name) said this was the best story he doesn’t want to experience ever again.
So, without the biggest detracting elements that are usual for the Tales franchise, we have a game with an excellent battle system with a huge level of depth (increasing the difficulty will force you to learn every intricate detail in the system) and variety (I enjoyed using all characters almost equally). It may be 10 hours longer than it should be, but at least that 10 hours will be with Velvet rather than Sorei.
Yakuza 0: (PS4, 2017)
My cousin (the same one from above) is not your biggest gamer, but after playing Yakuza 0, he immediately became a huge fan of the series. After playing Yakuza Kiwami, he immediately stopped being a fan.
That experience is a small example of how different Yakuza 0 is from the rest of the franchise in regards to its story. At least compared to the earlier games. Freed from the need to expand on Kiriyu’s earlier exploits, Yakuza 0 manages to tell a more grounded story, while sharing the limelight with a Goro Majima character that is yet to go off the rails.
Then, due to the advances made in the franchise’s systems, the gameplay for both mini-games and main combat is superior to the earlier games. In fact, it is now difficult for me to go back and play the remakes since Yakuza 0 does it so much better.
Note that its position in this list is not simply due to the game being (possibly) the best in the series. This game, in absolute terms, is a really great game which is why it managed to reach beyond the fans of the series for the first time.
Zero Time Dilemma: (3DS, 2016)
I will be honest and say that even after finishing Zero Time Dilemma, the supposed conclusion to the Zero Escape that first started with Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors on the Nintendo DS, I still don’t understand half of the story. At least, I remember understanding it at the time, but I forgot what that understanding was maybe a month after finishing the game.
Still, the game’s unique story, with its take on quantum physics, time travel, the multiverse theory, and other popular sci-fi theories, all presented through the classic And Then There Were None setting of multiple characters with a possible murder within then is memorable enough (man is this a run-on sentence).
I remember being excited as I uncovered each plot point, and tense as I solved several of the “escape the room” puzzles. This conclusion may be weaker than the two games that preceded it, but I am thankful for the miracle that ensured its release, as it is still a solid story that is worth visiting.