Perchance to dream
One year ago, before 2016 became a hackneyed punchline (“2016? More like 2000-sucks-teen!!!” the peanut gallery offered when Johnny Depp tragically fell into an active volcano while doing the “Mannequin Challenge” on its rim), we had hope.
Not a lot of it, and we all carry it in individual amounts, some more overburdened with it than others; but, at the very least, there were some video games we were looking forward to playing in 2016. Well, 2016 is over. So how’d that turn out for us, being hopeful for a thing, in the bad joke year of all years? Let’s hold ourselves accountable — even for our optimism.
Last year I picked then-just-a-month-away XCOM 2 because the prior two years I picked Gravity Rush 2 and Persona 5, in that order. Neither of the latter are out yet, still, as of January 9, 2017.
And XCOM 2 ended up being a good “safe” choice, like that actuary from Connecticut who’s really into SoulCycle, you know? It was more of the rebooted XCOM, which was good. It ran like dogshit, which was bad. Ultimately it gave me another excuse to drop another 50 hours into XCOM (no, this is a new one!) and do it while slicing upright cobra people with cyber katanas. It was great to have the Ranger class automatically turn any reptile that wrapped them up into sashimi (anything for a kill on an enemy turn!). It was also cool to have your Ranger trapped in the “I’m being constricted by a snake” animation for the remainder of the level.
This was a game where people found out if you press Caps Lock during the agonizing loading screens it would load instantly, but potentially at the risk of your save file/game stability. That’s XCOM as hell, baby! Same with the entire conceit: an alternate future where you lose the first game, basically, no matter how many hundreds of hours you devoted to saving the earth from aliens. I love it. I hope XCOM 3 is you playing as the occupying force of snake aliens et al, all humans having been ground up into a fine paste years ago, defending your earth colony from a different whole new civilization of space imperialists.
Darks Souls III turned out more than fine, though it was clear to me that after multiple runs, it didn’t match up to its predecessors. While the magic is still there a lot of the surprises of been spent, and outside of just several boss fights I was comparing them to existing material.
You’ll never be able to fight Wolf Sif again for the first time in the initial Dark Souls, but every time I step up to him, it feels that way. There were very few “I need to tell people about this” moments in III, and that goes double for the DLC that’s come out so far.
My most anticipated game for 2015 was The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but then it was delayed until 2016. Technically, it was still by most anticipated game by the time 2016 rolled around, but I didn’t want to write about it twice, so I wrote about Rhythm Heaven Megamix, my second most anticipated of that year. After seeing Breath of the Wild in action at E3, I’m all the more glad that I made that decision. The game looks great, but after seeing hours and hours of footage of it, I feel like I’ve already played it, and may wait until my son is at college to actually pick it up. I probably won’t have time to play it until then anyway.
Speaking of my son, he loves Rhythm Heaven Megamix so much! Every morning at around 6am, he waddles over to my side of the bed, grabs the 3DS and say “Gay!” He’s only one year old, so two syllable words aren’t generally his thing at the moment, but I know what he means. He wants to watch me play the game, with his favorite for stages being Flock Step, Blue Birds, LumBEARjack and Double Date. He jumps up and down with excitment when the soccer balls bounce, and chuckles hard when the birds make funny sounds.
He’s been in this daily Rhythm Heaven watching routine for about six months now, which has led me to enjoy a game that I already loved in a whole new way. It also led me to get perfects on every stage, which is neat. It will be fun to see if my kid ends up being a Rhythm Heaven fan for life, or if he’ll end up thinking of them as “games for babies” once he’s a teenager.
I’ll let you know as soon as Jools Watsham finishes making Treasurenauts.
After two years of ticking them on my Most Anticipated lists, I finally got to play Persona 5 and No Man’s Sky. And both were pretty dope! Persona 5 puts the lie to the notion I had that Persona needs some kind of sea change in structure to be interesting again, putting a new spin on virtually everything that I thought it had done to death by Persona 4 Golden. That said, I’m not above thinking that some more radical measures are needed to put a potential Persona 6 on my map, especially now that key P-Studio staff are working on Atlus’ next big thing. The one thing that sucks, though, is Atlus choosing to pretty much strangle convenient streaming for the game by almost completely locking out the PS4’s recording features for the Japanese release. It’s a frankly medieval attitude that I hope will be corrected when the English version rolls around this summer.
As for No Man’s Sky…what hasn’t been said about it at this point? No one deserves the kind of flak Hello Games took in wake of that game’s release, but the death threats and subreddit insanity surrounding No Man’s Sky is derailing a legitimate conversation about developer transparency, gamer expectations, and the real need to rein in unfettered hype. That’s all external to the game, of course, which largely delivered on what was promised, in my opinion. I saw planets, got to land on them, and it was chill and fun. Every so often I still boot it up and fly to a new planet, trying to check out what weird stuff turns up.
My other runners-up were also wins, as well. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and XCOM 2 were really cool, though my graphics card starts to run hot when I load them, meaning I haven’t been able to play too much of either. Summer Lesson delivered the goods, though it was blurrier than I thought it would be, and Final Fantasy XV was the boy-band road trip we all need and want.
Prompto is best girl.
Did I make this happen? Did I summon another act of Kentucky Route Zero by putting it on my list last year? Is this website like some kind of reverse Death Note, and can I use that power to make Heat Signature release faster? I would have bet on every other game listed before a new act of Kentucky Route Zero, and yet Act IV — the most implausible release of the bunch! — dropped before a new Legend of Zelda or Persona 5. I also hedged my bets on the hypothetical winner of Destructoid’s site-wide Game of the Year, which turned out to be Overwatch; a game I’ve spent over a hundred hours playing over the course of the year. That worked out, I suppose!
So, how did Kentucky Route Zero Act IV turn out? I guess you could read my 10/10 review, or my GOTY write-up where the game took my #1 spot. KRZ is a peerless narrative experience, one that seems to be examining itself behind the scenes at all times, constantly upending expectations without losing sight of its thematic core. It makes me want to sit on a country porch with two fingers of bourbon & one piece of ice, peering up at a starless night sky, hoping the alcohol dulls my senses before I start thinking too much. It is very very very good.
I can’t wait to give the finished product my GOTY…in 2020, or whenever the final act drops.
So last year my anticipated games were a bunch of Kickstarter games scheduled for 2015 and before that had been delayed into 2016. I half-joked at the end that maybe a couple would actually release in 2016. The thing about half-joking is that it’s half-telling-the-truth. I listed eight games I was looking forward to (Ghost Song: a Journey of Hope, Heart Forth Alicia, Hyper Light Drifter, Night in the Woods, Paradise Lost: First Contact, Scale, Timespinner, and Yooka-Laylee) and only one of them (Hyper Light Drifter) actually came out. I’m batting .125.
But news isn’t all bad for this list! Yooka-Laylee is close enough to being done it has a solid release date set for April. Night in the Woods should easily make 2017. Paradise Lost just got a demo out to backers. As recent as November 2016, Heart Forth, Alicia was shooting for release by the end of the year, so it can’t be too far off now.
As for Hyper Light Drifter, Nic Rowen gave it a 9/10 in our review here. It turned out great… or so I’m told! I didn’t actually play it. I’m terrible.
Shin Megami Tensei IV Apocalypse was my most anticipated game of 2016. I was pretty pleased with it overall, but then, Atlus always has a knack for improving on the games they released and this “what if” sequel’s scenario is no different
2013’s SMT IV was a fine outing, but not without some rough edges. Allied AI characters brought back some the more frustrating aspects of Persona 3 (i.e. here’s a spell that won’t help), the world map was a chore to navigate and while the method of landing on the Neutral path wasn’t unfair the criteria was arguably a bit too narrow.
And so Apocalypse posits that Flynn chose the Neutral ending of SMT IV and new protagonist Nanashi ends up unwittingly interrupting that ending. That and his actions bring an unwanted third party threat to muck with the war between Law and Chaos.
It’s a bold thing to commit another lengthy RPG to what is a “what if” scenario rather than simply declare all the endings were true like Deus Ex tends to. As a bonus, many of those gameplay warts of its predecessor (like said party AI and maps) were resolved and we got a few more questions answered about the SMT IV saga.
I like to tell people the difference between SMT and Persona is that in Persona you kill time with your friends and with SMT, in time, you kill your friends. While I do take some issue with this iteration edging closer to Persona, the fact I can slay all my besties makes up for it. The critical path also seeks to punish those that make a choice contrary to all that came before. Even when Atlus makes a path easier to obtain, it’s not afraid to sucker punch you.
I have very little recollection of wishing for a second season to close out D4: Dark Dreams Must Die, but that sure sounds like something I’d root for above all else in a most-anticipated article.
Sadly but unsurprisingly, 2016 wasn’t the year to wrap up D4‘s wild cliffhanger, and 2017 won’t be either. Writer-director Swery has retired from Access Games. As disappointed as I am that this story will remain unresolved probably forever, I find solace every day in Swery’s life-affirming Instagram antics.
The fact that D4 exists, even in an unfinished state, still brings me joy.
CORY ARNOLD: Somehow, I really didn’t get to play a lot of games this last year. I had so much going on that I could barely touch the two games I’ve been waiting over a decade for. I don’t like to talk about games I haven’t played a significant amount of, but to give my impressions thus far…
Final Fantasy XV has been hard to even get to. Since it started out as Final Fantasy XIII Versus, I kept wondering if any of the mythos or happenings of the XIII series or Agito/Type-0 would be referenced. Since I like to play everything in order and haven’t played Lightning Returns nor Type-0, I figured I’d have to wait. Turns out you don’t need to. Fair enough, but there were still several oddly-named demos, an anime series that is six, nay, five, nay six episodes, and a CG movie. I watched the anime Brotherhood first and absolutely adored it. The simple plot structure and character focus gave me high hopes, but then I watched the absolute train wreck that was Kingslaive and it put me off for a while.
Finally around Christmas or so I got to play some, and I got all the way up the first gas station and my first mission. So yeah, I haven’t even really started. It was around this time Square started making all these announcements about future content and story updates, and I more or less decided to wait.
Meanwhile, I put more time in The Last Guardian though still not a lot. I’ve gotten just up to the point where you encounter the robots for the first time, and I can’t say I’ve had any emotional connection like the previous games quite yet. So far I’m not super excited, but I didn’t care much for Ico a couple hours in either, which this game resembles more than it does Shadow of the Colossus. I’m not a fan of climby platform games like Tomb Raider or Uncharted, and animals in games always feel too contrived and fake to me. In hindsight I don’t think I would’ve minded saving $60 and watching this on Youtube, but I’m committed now.
My 2016 most anticipated games picks turned out to be some monkey paw bullshit. Both of my picks came out this year and were in many ways excellent games. But, they were also hobbled in some crucial way that prevented either of them from being the bangers they should have been.
XCOM 2 was a fine game. But “fine” seems like a let-down coming on the heels of one of the most successful franchise reboots in recent memory. The added soldier customization options and plethora of new tactical abilities and equipment choices should have made it a slam dunk. But, for every moment of tactical bliss I had with the game, I had an equally soul-shattering moment of frustration or exasperation. I’d just get into a good groove with the game when some bug, glitch, or dubious design choice (marathon sprinting stun-rod soldiers, I’m looking at you) would pop up just to make sure I wasn’t enjoying myself too much. The constant highs and lows were enough to give me the bends.
My other choice, Street Fighter V, was released in a state I can only describe as ghastly. Can you believe they put out a Street Fighter without an Arcade mode? Missing basic features, suffering from prolonged server issues, and mired in discontent, SFV didn’t just trip out of the gate, it snapped both legs and somehow manged to gouge an eye out on one of the bloodied bone fragments. Yes, the core fighting in the game was splendid, but it’s hard to muster up the enthusiasm a fighting game demands when it seems like you paid full price for half of a game that barely works. Patches and updates would later solve many of the issues that kept it from winning my heart, but I just couldn’t be bothered by the time they rolled around.