I generally feel like there is some level of pressure to have surprises on a GOTY list. I’m gonna be flat out with you, you won’t be finding any of those today (I imagine). The structure will be pretty simple, first I’m listing all the games I played this year. It’s not super diverse in 2016 but there are a fair number of games on this list that I really enjoyed. The ones I didn’t like I at least appreciated on some level. Which, who knows, maybe I’ll write about those games at a later date. These write ups are likely to be short and unfortunately I’m mums on screenshots/video. It turns out that Sony has an absolutely awful system for storing these on a HDD. It’s a long boring story that belongs elsewhere.
This whole list is just kind of me gushing very briefly about games. Throwing that out there now. In 2017 I'm hoping to take more precise notes of games I play so that I can have something more definitive and informative at year's end.
World of Final Fantasy
Dragon Quest Builders
Valkyria Chronicles Remastered
Dark Souls III
Far Cry Primal
Final Fantasy 15
Odin Sphere Leifthrasir
The Last Guardian
No Man’s Sky
World of Warcraft: Legion
Pokemon Sun and Moon
Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse
Fire Emblem Fates
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD
Not a massive list to say the least! I don't think we really have any indie titles in 2016. This isn't because I hate indie teams or anything. I'm really interested in a number of titles out there. Stardew Valley in particular keeps threatening to gobble me up. Maybe that will be part of my 2017, catching up on smaller titles that slipped under my radar or just somehow never got purchased.
Anyways I'll list out my favorite games of this year in no particular order with one major exception. My absolute favorite game of the year will be listed at the end. The rest are literally randomized with random.org. Keep in mind that this is just my list and isn't even necessarily a judgment of quality. I actually liked No Man's Sky (not on this list). It was boring to a fault but it came at a time when my life was falling apart a bit (moving and a wildfire evacuation). I needed boring, it was perfectly timed. But I probably would never recommend it to anyone.
It is becoming clear to me that I need to take notes when I play games. Over half a year later and I’m struggling to remember Valkyria Chronicles beyond the base feelings. But man, those feelings. This game left me just-happy. I’ve been buying it every time it is on sale for years and finally I actually played it. I’m not even joking either, I have sealed copies of this game. When that HD Remaster hit for the PS4 I finally decided that this would be the time. I was going to play Valkyria Chronicles. And I’m glad that I did. I instantly attached to the characters and the universe. The story sometimes lost me with characters having fun little lunch chats after murdering a few dozen people, but that’s more nitpicky than anything. The gameplay was exciting, this weird mix of turn based and real time movement that I don’t recall playing before.
My biggest and perhaps only gripe with the game is that there are mission rankings and these rankings care about little else but how fast you do the level. These fights are all so much fun and I don’t want to rush them! However, being a weak weak completionist, I needed to. I’m also a man trying to do too many things at once which means that playing a game over and over is just not in the cards (maybe in 2017). Still, even with that, Valkyria Chronicles is one of my favorite games of 2016 and one of the best looking games I played. I can easily recommend it to anyone. If all you are left with is that feeling that lingers in me, I think you’ll be pleased with your purchase.
I’ve been playing Pokemon since 1996. Something that I appreciate about it is that it is consistent. While other franchises might rise to greatness, “innovate”, and then crash to the earth. Pokemon remains something you can bank on and have a good time playing. That said, Pokemon Sun and Moon is the largest departure ever in the franchise’s history. You don’t have conventional Gym Battles, no more HMs, riding pokemon, and many more changes. Some of them are hits and others are pretty stark misses. Overall the game feels like it needed a bit more time in the oven and that’s strange to me. I’ve never before felt like a Pokemon game was iffy. It’s a strange feeling and a sad one. I’d like to think it is just my tastes changing but I still basically enjoy all the same things.
I think beyond all the little things that nag at me while playing, it is that Gamefreak is terrified of letting the player fail. It is almost impossible for me to lose a fight. I think it might actually be impossible as it hasn’t yet happened and I’m not even putting in any effort. I’m nearing the end of the main story proper and I’ve been using only my starter the entire time. Swapping on occasion to the event Greninja that I got only because I find his transformation to be fun. Do I like the game? Certainly! I think its another delightful entry in a series of games that has more backstory than most “serious” franchises.
All I need from Gamefreak is some courage. I need them to not hold my hand the entire time. I need them to let me get my ass handed to me by a bug trainer on the way to Lt. Surge. Seriously, screw you butterfree! And I don’t think this will only appease adults, kids want this too. I’m not so old that I’ve forgotten the thrill of beating a challenge. That, to me, is the essence of RPGs. You are provided with an insurmountable problem and then you overcome it. It’s a good lesson for life. We won’t always have someone there to hold our hand and we need to know that if we work hard we can still triumph.
Holy cow, where did this come from? I genuinely only bought this because it came free with Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. A game, I will quickly add, would easily be on this list if it had come out in 2016. I don’t normally play Ubisoft Games. Assassin’s Creed 3 and Unity were both genuinely unpleasant experiences for me. I won’t say that they were outright bad but I couldn’t find that essence of appreciation in them that I do for other games that I don’t enjoy. Far Cry 3 was a game that I played a fair amount and I totally missed 4. This makes Far Cry Primal the second in the series that I’ve ever played.
I loved the environment. I loved the gameplay. I loved the characters. And I found myself feeling bad for a character that is by most accounts a monster. I had a stupidly good time nearly from start to finish, and then finish again. I did everything in this game. I finished every quest, skinned every critter, crafted every item, killed every baddy, and even completed every achievement. I was totally smitten by this silly game. You have a bird companion that is tantamount to a military drone in this game that can launch BEES at people! It’s great!
If they were to make a Far Cry Primal 2, I might just buy it. I don’t know what else they could do but for some reason this environment and the weapon list just worked for me. Once you’ve finished the game it is topped off with a final series of quests with a character known as Urki the Thinker. He had me literally laughing out loud throughout each of his quests. I know I’m a pushover but man…was that funny. If you find yourself standing in front of a 5 dollar copy of this game, pick it up. I think it is worth more but honestly for the more picky gaming enthusiasts this is definitely worth a peek.
I uh, I have a confession to make. I don’t really play Overwatch all that much anymore. The game is built so that you play people of “like skill” and apparently I am MLG 720 No Scope status. I get put up against some of the most insane people I’ve ever met in an online shooting game. The replays have me being in their frame of vision for a split second before I’m headshot. I think this is because I played a lot back when the game first released and I suppose at that time I was alright. But now? Now the game is kinda unplayable for me. That said, I still really like it! If they were to add a campaign to Overwatch I’d be all over that like butter on toast.
I love the entire cast of Overwatch. I love ever short they make. I love reading fan theories and reading fan comics. This game, this universe, and even the gameplay, all really appeal to me. The only problem I have is the god tier players that the algorithm thinks I can compete with. If you like FPS games this is something you shouldn’t miss. Overwatch will likely remain one of my favorite FPS experiences of my entire life. It doesn’t quite take the top spot in my heart, but as it stands I’m more likely to play it than anything else in the genre.
I originally picked up Bloodborne out of spite. I was tired of people telling me that the “souls” series were these exquisitely crafted games. I had played Demon Souls for a short while a long time ago and felt that a lot of the challenge was just padding. Making certain things take longer to give the illusion of difficulty. I wasn’t scared by the mobs, I was just annoyed. Fast forward many years later to Bloodborne and I wanted to confirm my suspicions. This game that internet persons bragged about beating? I ended up getting a Platinum on it. I would have completed the entire game in a couple weeks if not for the Chalice Dungeons.
Did I like Bloodborne? A fair bit, yeah. It has a great many wonderful things going for it. Maybe someday I’ll ramble about it more. But today we are talking about Dark Souls 3. How do I feel about DS3? It made it onto my Games of the Year List, I guess that gives it away. Sure, there is basically 0 reason to wear armor. Most of the weapons are bunk to me and I see no joy in PVP. But the actual gameplay is pretty solid. They’ve eased out a lot of the padding to put the focus on breakneck gameplay and lots of awe inducing moments. I don’t think this game is as solid as Bloodborne but it is likely my second favorite entry in the series. I’ve since gone back and tried to play the previous entries and I still don’t quite feel it. I’m enjoying them more because they remind me of BB and DS3 and not because of their own merits.
Doers that make them objectively bad? Of course not, I’m happy other people have found joy in them. And I will admit that DS3 might have been a bit too easy. Somehow From Software managed to make me long for this world. To see it potentially over just as they make an entry I like is pretty painful. I highly recommend you try it out. Don’t let the hyperbole of your buddies fool you. This game is approachable. If I can play it, I’m certain anyone can.
And now we reach the saddest entry in the entire series for me. The open world portion of Final Fantasy 15 is an absolute joy for me. I put dozens upon dozens of hours into it. Not because there is necessarily that much content but because I was taking it real slow. I loved Prompto, I loved Ignis, I loved Gladio, and even really like (perhaps loved) Prince Noctis. These four guys were an absolute blast to bromance about with in the wilderness. The world around them was falling apart but their loyalty to one another kept me going. A lot of this game reminded me of Final Fantasy XII, which is my favorite entry in the Final Fantasy Universe (albeit I’ve yet to play 6, I’m rectifying this in 2017).
The supporting cast is equally delightful in every way. And FF15 probably has the best villain in all of FF (that I’ve played). The more you think about the villain the more you relate and the more you hurt for them. Their backstory is one of the most well fleshed out that I can remember. Everything they do makes sense upon reflection and their goals are understandable. I found myself feeling more for the antagonist by the end than the protagonist. This isn’t because of weak writing, far from it. Even now I want to write a long long rant about how fantastic the villain for FF15 is and why. Maybe I will.
So why, then, do I say this is the saddest entry? It’s not because of the Antagonist, but instead because of missed opportunity. FF15 is this years MGSV. A game that lingers on the edge of being a masterpiece but was ultimately shipped too early. Final Fantasy 13 got three entries when I think ultimately it should have stuck with one. Final Fantasy 15 immediately demands that it be split up into multiple fully realized entries. There are a handful of points where they could have hard stop the game like Lord of the Rings and I think people would have been rock hard for more. Some great reveals that would have left you thinking “Holy shit.”
But instead what we get is a handful of chapters that feel like they were fleshed out and finished and then this strange final section where it races through some of the best ideas I’ve ever seen, squandered. Almost every branch opened is never closed. A plot twist that is so bonkers rad I’m almost furious is hidden on three completely missable pieces of paper right before the final boss. I’ve explained the twist to Gamemaniac and a few other people. It’s the kind of “oh shit” moment that gets your heart pumping. The moment I read it my whole body was tingling. And then, nothing. It’s never mentioned again, you beat the final boss, and it’s over. I finished the last chapter of the game doing nothing but interacting with objects and holding the O button on my PS4 controller.
I mean that absolutely literally.
And yet, I still went on to Platinum the game. A part of me feels melancholy for it. To be hurt two years in a row by games on the cusp of being masterpieces. It is a shame. I wonder if we’ll ever see a fully realized major release ever again. I think we’ll play lots of great games but I don’t know if any of these master strokes will ever actually get completed before the big bosses kick them out the door.
I’ve been going to Blizzcon every year for a few years now. The staff at Blizzard are incredibly passionate people. This has been my experience in the industry at this point overall. It’s surprising how much developers and designers care. Mostly because you’d be hard pressed to know it judging by the user feedback on forums or social networks. But even with that, experiencing Blizzcon is just something else. Sadly this year marked the first year that Chris Metzen wasn’t there, I don’t think he realizes just how much his cheerleading pumps people up. But retiring at 42 is pretty cool and I won’t fault him.
Every panel you sit in you get this sense that they really really care. They are talking with people who are already sold on them. These folks dropped a fat stack of cash to come hang out, there is no need to pander. And sometimes their reasonings don’t work for me, or the audience, but they explain it and in my experiences they’ve listened. For the past few expansions the problem with Warcraft was that there just wasn’t enough content. I could stumble onto my keyboard and complete it all.
Legion amusingly takes that problem in reverse. This expansion is dripping with things to do. I don’t know if any one human can really finish this unless they are unemployed. The raids this time around are pretty good. Halls of Valor is bonkers hard in (almost) all the right ways. The story has been an absolute hoot to go through. I find myself invigorated for the game again in a way that I haven’t been in a while. And if you’ve ever heard me gush about this game that’s saying something. Legion marks one of the, if not the, most well crafted additions to the game in its entire history. If they can continue to pull this off I think this game has a long and bright future ahead of it still.
Maybe just um, tone back the content a little? I’ve got 12 (technically 24 counting horde) characters. I’d like to be able to keep up with more than one.
I just kind of want to make a thrashing warbling sound here. I really like Dragon Quest Builders. Holy Frijoles, people. DQB was a game that I bought strictly because I liked the art style. And then, well, I started playing it. What is this feeling?! I’m having fun! Oh no! Someone send help! On the surface Dragon Quest Builders is Minecraft mixed with Dragon Quest. The quality of life changes in the game, like instantly changing dirt into different kinds of blocks, are almost entirely perfect in their execution. This is your standard fairy tale story and I mean that in the best way. The narrator repeatedly tells you that you are not the hero of this story.
You are the builder.
And so you trudge along through the four hearty chapters of this game completing challenges, building things, and fighting bosses. Obviously I’m not one to spoil any of the story proper if I can help it. And I can help it. If you like building things out of blocks, if you love colorful characters both literally and figuratively, if you love having fun, this game is for you. It’s not perfect but if they released another Dragon Quest Builders in 2017 I’d buy it. Especially if it had CO-OP. That was the only thing missing from this entry that was almost painful, much like Dragon Quest Heroes (another excellent game).
Builders made me happy. It helped take off the edge when life was getting a bit rough. It is jam packed with great jokes, absolutely tons of things to build, and lots of wonderful monsters. If you are a fan of Toriyama’s art style (which I am) you’ll be in for a treat here. Maybe I’ll post my final “cribs” sometime to show folks the conclusion of my DQB adventure.
Civilization 6 is my favorite Civilization game since 2 or 3. If not my absolute favorite. Civilization 6 takes the formula we’ve all been accustomed to and improves it. Firaxis apparently understands that the word “innovate” doesn’t just mean to change but to improve. And man did they do so. The new city building mechanics have you building districts that sprawl out from your city’s nexus. Everything about this game just feels bigger and bolder. The music (apparently) is different depending on what faction you play. Why you aren’t playing Teddy Roosevelt though, we’ll talk about that later. The nuclear explosion is really worth a look. I got a bit too into nuclear weapons after I saw the first explosion.
I haven’t played since the AI update which might make my next complaint a little moot. But the AI is the only place where this game is a bit weird. They seem impossible to please in a way that might be realistic but isn’t ultimately all that fun. Even with that aside though, I’ve played this for 61 hours and I could happily play it another few hundred. I really like Civilization 6 and I think they’ve got something special on their hands. If you enjoy turn based strategy games I don’t know if you’ll find a better one out in recent memory.
Ah! Sweet Marmalade Grandpa! I’m going to first get my only complaint out of the way and then probably gush for a little bit here. Basically the twins are a bit badly written. If you want to see a really really good implementation of the “smart sister, dumb brother” twin dynamic, check out Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. I’m totally smitten for those two dorks, and that game in general. Man…why couldn’t that come out in 2016? It really deserves the highest rating since the Ezio games. Wait, sorry, talking about the wrong thing here. Back to World of Final Fantasy! Outside of that one complaint I just can barely keep myself together about this game.
It is like someone took happiness and just made that their gameplan for a game. The design team behind WoFF really nailed it with World of Final Fantasy. The character designs from the cutest chocobo to the even cuter marlboro, just eat away at all the hate that lingers in your heart. The character personalities are all exaggerated and with the exception of the twins these were all hits for me. I especially enjoyed the silly banter between Snow and Gilgamesh. The main story is absolutely great. I pretty much loved it from start to finish. All of the side content is great. The quality of life tweaks to the creature catching formula are all welcome and well done. You have “reserve” monsters that level up slightly slower than your main teams. You can switch between evolutions of your monsters with relative ease which drastically reduces clutter. You can even swap between sizes to get new beneficial perk combinations. The bosses both hidden and mandatory are all varying levels of rad.
This was another game this year that I platinumed. Not to brag, I only generally do this with games I’m loving (or games I hate, long story). And World of Final Fantasy was an absolute breeze to complete in every sense of the word. I never once wanted to play something else. About halfway through the game I thought “If this was the only entry in the series I’d be ok with that.” Not because I was done but because I felt it was such a strong entry that they weren’t likely to top it. Better to go out a hero than to live long enough to see yourself the villain. And yet, the more I played the more I relented on this belief.
I want more. I am happy with the notion that getting more means that someday I might be disappointed. Because this game absolutely bowled me over. I wasn’t expecting it to be good, let alone this good. Like Dragon Quest Builders I bought this strictly because of how it looked. I thought that even a bad game with adorable critters would be enough to tide me over until Pokemon. And then, here comes WoFF crushing it. I like this game more than Pokemon Sun and Moon and more than anything I’ve played this year. It was a welcome spark of happiness in a world that was (and is) becoming far too cynical.
To me, World of Final Fantasy is a barometer of sorts. How you react to it really measures how much your body accepts pure joy. That isn’t to say that people who dislike this game are wrong. I just suspect that if you read most of their content online you’ll find it to be bitter. (For what it is worth, I could feel it bubbling in me for the first hour of the game.)
So that’s that. I’ve been a genuinely lucky person in the last year. I got to play some games that really revived my love of video games.
[Originally written for absolutechill. But I'm being very lax on updating there, so I figured it would be nice to post here too.]