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Number 2: Super Mario Odyssey


Copyright Nintendo

I guess this sort of spoils what my game of the year is.

Super Mario Odyssey looked like shit 11 months ago.  When it got announced, I remember comparing it to Sonic Adventure, in that awkward “Sonic is in the real world” sort of way.  Station Square is a weird place where cartoon Sonic interacts with more realistic (although it is an anime style “realistic”) humans than himself and Super Mario Odyssey’s debut trailer had Mario running around New Donk City with a bunch of realistic looking humans.  It was weird and incongruous and was definitely not representative of how fucking amazing the actual game turned out to be.

3D Mario games have always been these experiments in how to work with 3D platforming, even all the way back at the beginning with Super Mario 64, which pioneered things like camera controls and multidirectional jumping.  Sunshine and the Galaxy games pushed their own boundaries, and had their own successes and triumphs, but then there was silence on Nintendo’s front for seven and a half years, with the only Mario platformers being these sort of okay 2D throwbacks to the SNES era and a couple of cool, but plain, isometric platformers.  I guess when I saw that trailer all those months ago, I expected Nintendo to have lost the magic.  Even when people were saying the game was great, I didn’t expect anything.  A hat that possess things?  Why can’t I just play as Mario?

Then I played that first level.  There’s not much in that first level.  It’s a desolate, barren place that Bowser tore through on his rampage toward Mario and Peach and there isn’t much to see, but it’s also the first time in years that, as Mario, I got to run around and practice my jumps and moves, just like the courtyard of Peach’s castle in Super Mario 64.  Using Cappy was a breeze, and when I finally used him to possess a frog and jump super high, I got it.  Everything made sense.  By the time I finished the next level (which was only as far as I had gotten for a long time, because it was my brother’s copy), I had been a T-Rex, a goomba, even a chain chomp!  There was even a solid boss fight, with boss mechanics.  It wasn’t like it was Dark Souls or anything, but 3D Mario games have always had kind of crappy bosses, and that was not a problem with this one.

Odyssey has a depth to its gameplay that is completely unexpected.  One of the concerns I had about Cappy was that possession of different enemies and creatures would be gimmicky, maybe a means to get a moon or two, or for some sort of set piece.  I should have remembered I was dealing with Nintendo.  Each thing Cappy can possess gives Mario a different set of skills and mechanics to play with, each with their own advantages and weaknesses, even comparable to Mario himself.  A goomba might not have the strength of Mario or the ability to jump, but they’re sure footed and won’t slip and slide on ice, where as a hammer brother can jump really high and throw hammers, but isn’t quite as fast or maneuverable as vanilla Mario.

Each level, too, is unique and interesting.  None quite match New Donk City, though.  What looked like a strange, Station Square wannabe, which brought on Sonic’s still unending Dark, Dork Age, is in fact one of the best Mario levels ever.  Escaping from a rampaging T-Rex while on a motorscooter?  Confronting Bowser during a thunderstorm on the top of a skyscraper?  Precise platforming across a construction zone?  New Donk City has all of that in its setpieces and level sections, but it’s also just a really cool urban environment for Mario to play around in.  Each level makes a point of giving Mario enough room to do whatever a player wants without feeling too big, since it’s all stuffed with moons and things to do.

In truth, I haven’t seen everything this game has to offer.  I know a lot of moons are just sort of sitting there, out in the open, and the bosses can get sort of repetitive, but what I have played is some of the best Mario platforming in years.  Much like with Sonic Mania and my Game of the Year, it does so much right, taking stuff from games almost as old as me, that I almost forgot what it was I liked about these franchises.  Mario Odyssey pulls in so much from the old NES and SNES games in a way that the 3D games, and even the New Super Mario games have just failed to do.  Whatever sort of wizardry Nintendo pulled in to make all of this work, I don’t know, but I’m glad they did it.


Number 3: Persona 5


Copyright P-Studios and Atlus

There were a lot of JRPGs that came out this year.  I didn’t like most of them, so I mostly played Final Fantasy games, and this.  I’ve always liked Persona games, but they’re also really hard, in grand Atlus tradition, so I’ve never quite finished one.  Truth be told, this is also the one game on my list I haven’t beaten (okay, I don’t have all of the moons in Mario, nor am I level 70 in Stormblood, but still), but I have played a great deal of it and I think I have a pretty good idea, and already, not only is the best JRPG I’ve played all year, I think it’s my favorite Persona game of all time.

Persona games have always been known for making their specific style work for the systems within the game, but they’ve never done it quite as well as they’ve done it here.  Narrative, mechanics, character design and level design all come together to form a level of cohesion the video game industry doesn’t see very often.  Every piece of the game bleeds into every other part, creating a whole so much more than the sum of its parts, and its parts are some of the best I’ve seen.

This game has the best art design of the year.  It’s a hard won victory, too, since it’s got to compete with Stormblood and Breath of the Wild in its use of colors and design, but this time, P-Studios just knocked it out of the park in terms of visuals.  Persona games always have a sense of style, but it’s always been a kind of modern, high fashion casual style, with characters who look great, but all look like they kind of shop at the same store.  Persona 5 not only gives each character the most unique appearances in the series to date, they do so multiple times.  Everyone always has a few outfits in a Persona game, sure, but here, they have multiple types of casual and school clothes, and their casual clothes aren’t just a variant on their school outfits.  Even more, they’ve managed to make the “persona” element of the series even more prominent by giving each character their own super hero-esque alter ego, complete with a costume that fits their personality and the themes that character will explore.

They’re also just some of the best super hero costumes I’ve ever seen.  Marvel and DC ain’t got shit on how good these look, and how well they match their characters.  Joker, the main character, has a really awesome black trench coat, sweet jester boots and some awesome gloves, which do a great job of comparing him to Arsene Lupin, and other master thieves from literature.  It’s not just Joker, either, but all of the characters get some sort of reference to history or literature as a means of exploring their personal identities.  From Catwoman to Goemon to Sherlock friggin’ Holmes, each character ties in with their persona both through their in game powers and their abilities and through how their alter ego looks.

Also cool about this version of Persona is how it explores how society, specifically Japanese society, but it also takes aim at American and European society too, manages to exclude or oppress those who don’t quite fit in or do something that makes them easy targets.  Each main character has been screwed over in the past, whether directly or indirectly, by people in power, whether they have been sexually abused, criminally threatened, literally assaulted, stolen from, cheated or cut out from society simply due to the fact that society allows people with power to act as predators instead of protectors.  Sure, the game really stumbles (again) when it comes to LGBTQ+ themes (and the unfortunate sexual harassment angle with Ann), but for the most part, it really gives us as players a good look into what society can do to good people because of one mistake, or just because a bad person with a lot of power can decide to ruin someone’s life for no real reason.  It certainly wasn’t intended to correspond with Harvey Weinstein or Donald Trump, the game had been in development for 4 years before it finally came out, but both its successes and its failures really resonate this year, making the game much more relevant than it was ever intended to be.

Mechanically, this might be the smoothest Persona game ever made.  It’s well made, of course, and plays a lot like any other Persona game, but the game is much better with balance in terms of combat and difficulty, the exception being the first dungeon, which is ridiculously hard for some reason.  The game still has the series’s tactical depth and complex system of using Personas to maximize the use of skills and abilities, but it also makes sure that the player is more eased into the system, and probably does the best job of teaching the player how the system work of any game in the series.  Then, they went the extra mile and added a whole bunch of great subsystems to the game to reinforce the “phantom thief” angle, which are simple, sure, but I’m not expecting this to be Metal Gear Solid, either.  They service the idea that the PCs are thieves stealing the sins and darkness from within the hearts of predators and sociopaths, and it’s a lot of fun to get the drop on some monsters without having to run around them for six minutes (looking at you, Tales of Berseria).  The stealth reinforces the game’s focus on tactics and long term strategy.

Also, finally, one of the Personas in this game is a fucking motorcycle that shoots nukes ridden by a girl who fights for justice and dresses like a knight.  Much like with Thor Ragnarok, it’s like they wanted to make a game that appeals directly to me.

Number 4: Sonic Mania


Copyright Sega

2017 was a year of redemption and a year of best evers, but there was nothing that came out this year quite like Sonic Mania.  Despite what people say, there have been good Sonic games since Sonic 3 and Knuckles.  Sonic Adventure didn’t age well, but it was miles ahead of any non-Mario 3D platformer, and the Sonic stages are still pretty fun to play.  Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations are actually a lot of fun and decent games.  What is true, though, is that none of them lived up to the original four, 2D games.  Sonic Mania not only manages to bring the series back to its most glorious days, it’s also the best game in the series ever made.

Look, there is one major flaw in this game, that most of the games levels are remixes or remakes of levels from previous games.  However, that doesn’t really distract much from the greatness.  Each zone does something different, and plays to the strengths of a Sonic game.  It’s fast, but it knows when to slow down and let the speed build up.  It has some of the most inventive bosses in the series and some really complex and interesting levels.  Even the “remade” levels feel much more complex and interesting than their original counterparts, even when they steal sections from the original level wholesale.  Out of all 12 zones, only Chemical Plant Act 1 even feels like a retread in any sense of the word.  All of the others almost feel like completely new levels with old backgrounds stapled to them.

The game manages to make levels that I really didn’t like in their original games (Oil Ocean, Metallic Madness) work out really well.  I never thought, when I play the game, that I’d be really excited when I heard the old Oil Ocean music.  It gets even better with the second zone.  That’s impressive, because when I play Sonic 2, I tend to turn it off around then.

Gameplay wise, it’s the tightest the series has ever been.  Sonic and his friends move just as they did in the Genesis/Mega Drive era, with a few little extras.  Sonic has his new drop dash, probably the best ability he’s ever had, and that includes the insta-shield and homing attack, Tails can fly longer and faster and Knuckles finally has a decent climbing speed that isn’t too slow, but also manages to incorporate a sense of weight.  Plus, the level design works in a way to fix one of the biggest issues with the series, as it no longer punishes the player with spikes or death traps just for going fast and not having memorized the level.  Instead, the levels are set up in a way to make sure the players don’t careen into pits.  Even when there are traps, the level uses things like floors that collapse or enemies that show up with a delay, giving even unskilled or new players time to react instead of just hurling them into a pit.

Also, of course, the soundtrack is amazing, easily the best of the year.  I know, that’s unfair, since this is a Sonic game, and Tee Lopes is just fucking amazing, but this is also a year where we got a Persona game, a Zelda game, a Mario game, a Final Fantasy game (even if it is an expansion) and a hell of a lot of great games with crazy awesome music.  Even then, Sonic still kicks ass, and as good as the game is, the soundtrack, like any Sonic game, is the best in the series.

I can only hope that Sega allows Christian Whitehead and Simon Thomley continue to work on this series, because it’s the only way to revive Sonic.  Especially after how fucking awful Sonic Forces was.  3D Sonic can work, but until Sonic Team can pull its head out of its ass and actually make a decent game that works, we need games like this to make the series keep working.


Number 5: Horizon Zero Dawn


Copyright Guerrilla Games and Sony Interactive Entertainment

This kind of got spoiled yesterday when I talked about why this game got in the top 5 and Neir: Automata didn’t.  Part of the reason Horizon Zero Dawn got up in the Top 5 is because it’s a new IP, and that’s a big deal.  While this year has been great,  most of the major releases have been sequels or major parts of existing franchises.  Even Neir is the sequel to a game that Square Enix released in 2010, even if no one played it, and it’s sort of a part of the Drakengard series.  Horizon, though, is the biggest new IP in years.  Not only is it a great game with a somewhat unique premise, it also manages to be a complete game and doesn’t try to sell me a sequel just because I beat the game, so that helps.

Horizon Zero Dawn takes place way into the future in the ruins of the United States after a robotic apocalypse.  The player plays Aloy, a girl exiled from her tribe at birth for an unknown reason, who goes on an adventure to solve the mystery of what caused civilization to collapse and to save her tribe, as well as others, from another potential apocalypse.  Even though it’s a pretty standard hero’s journey, it’s well told and does a good job of utilizing the medium.  Horizon Zero Dawn is a game that really tries to solve the major issues with storytelling in open world RPGs by trying to tie all of the side quests, and the main story quests, either into the overall narrative or into the themes of the game, which is a really good thing games like this have problems with.

I liked Witcher 3 and Skyrim and a bunch of other open world RPGs, but none of them had the writing that Horizon Zero Dawn has.  There’s a certain focus on character and theme that most games in this genre don’t have.  Aloy is a fully realized character, as are her allies and many of her enemies.  Sure, the bad guys are a bit one note, but they do feel like real people grasping desperately for power.  The game takes place in a near Renaissance-level society (with some Roman trappings for flavor), so the bad guys, even those that aren’t very well developed do feel like they fit within the setting.  That’s good, but the game does much better with the heroes, which feel like real people.  They have flaws and foibles, make bad decisions and sometimes even piss each other off in ways that real friends can wind up doing.  It’s not a thing we see in most RPGs.  The interaction between the characters isn’t quite on the level of the boys from Final Fantasy XV, but the friendships and relationships in this are written as if they were real.

Writing isn’t the only thing it does well, of course.  It’s a great game to play.  One of the biggest issues I’ve had with open world games is that they tend to be too big.  Tons and tons of things to do, sure, but very little of it is interesting.  That’s not the case here.  Outside of the requisite Assassin’s Creed style pointless colectibles and one series of sidequests (which were good, I just didn’t like them) I did literally everything I could in the game.  There were some things I did just because they were challenging and sort of felt like I was making the world a better place.

The gameplay takes a little bit to get used to, which is probably the biggest flaw of the game.  It’s hard to aim, at first, and Aloy feels somewhat underpowered despite what the cutscenes after the tutorial seem to indicate.  It’s because there is a lot of depth to how combat works, with different weapons doing different things, and contributing to encounters in different ways, but the game doesn’t have the best conveyence in explaining that a sharpshot bow is different from a war bow which is different from a hunting bow and why all three of them are kind of needed to be equipped at the same time.  Once I got that, though, the game felt great.  There was so much to do, each type of machine was unique and had a different approach to combat, and the story and sidequests were compelling enough to keep me playing, once I got over the hump.  Once I did get over that hump, I found there was a lot to see and a lot of ways to approach each type of machine.  The game is sold as a sort of Monster Hunter with Robots, where I can shoot weapons off of the robots and use those weapons to kill robots, and once I got that, everything clicked.  I felt like an unstoppable goddess of war when I played, taking down machines several stories tall with nothing but a bow and some weird arrows.

Ultimately, it sort of pales in a world where Breath of the Wild came out a month later.  It has its advantages over the new Zelda title, but the fact I can’t climb everywhere or explore as much as I can in the new Zelda does knock it down a few pegs, as well.  On the other hand, it has much better writing and characterization than anything else in the genre, giving it a serious leg up.  There need to be more new IPs like this,  more RPGs that focus on character over plot and more games that are willing to experiment and go in depth with combat.


Top 10: The Bottom Five

2011 was the last year I was able to do a full compliment of 10 games that would qualify as “the best of the year.”  Granted, I took a couple of years off from doing this, but the only year that came close to getting all 10 might have been 2013.  This year, as has been said many times throughout the year, has been a hell of a year when it comes to video games.  There are so many games that could have made it, I actually had a hard time coming up with a definitive list of games.  Hell, there were so many games that I forgot to put two of them on my Honorable Mentions.


Copyright Motion Twin

Dead Cells is a roguelike Metroidvania like every other indie game that came out this year.  Unlike the others, however, it’s fucking great with gorgeous graphics, great systems and some really kick ass bosses.  However, because it’s still in Early Access, I can’t give it a nod.  It would have made the Top 10 had it done so.


Copyright Team Cherry

Possibly one of the best games of the year, Hollow Knight is a complex, challenging Metroidvania with some deep platforming and excellent combat.  Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to play more than a few minutes this year, so I can’t in good conscience put it on my list.  I still loved what I have played of it, though.

Okay, that’s all of the Honorable Mentions.  The rest of the rules work like this.  I’m going to count down my bottom 5, starting with the 10th best and working my way down to the 6th.  I’ll do a short write up of each one, then move on.  Meanwhile, numbers 5-1 are going to get full write ups in the upcoming days.  I can’t promise I’ll have a new one each day, since I’m pretty deep into novel writing right now, and this school year is a long and arduous one.  That said, we’ll start with number 10


Copyright Nintendo

10.  Metroid: Samus Returns

Metroid II: Return of Samus was the only Metroid game I’ve never played, except for Other M.  I’ve pretty much beaten every single one of them, and all of them had been pretty good.  The remake of Metroid II, Samus Returns, lives up to the rest of the series, and marks a return to form for the series after Other M nearly destroyed seven years ago.  Gone is the shrinking violet from Other M, and instead we get the stoic bad ass that Samus has always been.

Like any other Metroid game, there are plenty of environments to see and explore, matched up with some of the most mood appropriate music in gaming.  Once again, Metroid feels like being stranded on an alien world with a mission to complete.  Samus gets her upgrades at a good pace, and each of the eight environments don’t leave the player in there for too long.  Since it’s a mobile game, the developers did a good job of keeping everything easy to pick up and put down, placing save points at regular intervals.

The only major issues the game has is that the over all mission of finding all the metroids and killing them is really repetitive, but Nintendo has mitigated this by mixing up the metroid types, giving us five major variants, not to mention the Metroid Queen, and each of those variants have subvariants.  The only real issue is that some of the bosses hit too hard, with one boss taking a full Sub tank and a half for each hit.


Copyright Square Enix

9. Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood

I’m always sort of wary putting an expansion to an MMORPG on this list, since I’ve done it twice before and both times I would quit the game not soon after, but I’ve had a great year with Final Fantasy XIV, and it’s been better than anything World of Warcraft has ever given to me.  I feel like I can play the game at my own pace and I can pursue the game, and everything in it, at my leisure.  I took two months off to play a whole bunch of games at the end of summer and came back like I didn’t miss a beat.  The new expansion, so far, is a bit less of a compelling narrative than Heavensward, but that’s also an extremely high bar to clear, since Heavensward might be one of the better fantasy RPGs I’ve played in a long time, as far as story and character is concerned.

Stormblood also brought the Red Mage, one of my favorite Jobs, back and it’s so much fun to play.  Casting, healing, stabbing monsters with a rapier and my character gets to look damn awesome while doing it.  It also gave us the Samurai Job, which is okay, I guess, but it’s not nearly as enjoyable a time to backflip while summoning spectral swords to kill giant monsters.

To be fair, part of the reason this got on the list is because of how good the rest of the game is, but it deserved recognition.  It’s the game I played the most this year, it put out a great expansion and it’s an excellent way to show what MMORPGs can be when they’re not super competitive grinds.


Copyright id Software and Bethesda Softworks

8. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

At the start of the year, I really thought this would make my top five.  In its defense, it’s a fantastic game, but a few short comings hold it back.  Mostly, it’s really hard to tell when I’m getting shot, and from where.  Also the story gets weird and it’s less “rah rah let’s kill Nazis” when I want it to be, and a little too weird when I don’t want it to be.  Still, it’s follows with id Software’s seemingly recent commitment to start making first person shooters that are more than hallways with targets to shoot.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved Call of Duty 4 and Modern Warfare 2, but so many FPS games lately have been multiplayer shooters or shooting galleries, and until Wolfenstein: the New Order, it had been years since we saw real first person shooters, with maps and health pick ups and weapon lists.  Or at least games like that that weren’t trying to ape Halo, without the charm and development of Halo.

The New Colossus also boasts some of the best gamefeel I’ve had in a game this year, because the shooting is top notch.  Mission design is great and when the game hits the right notes in the right order, it feels sublime to kick down a door and blast a bunch of Nazis to death with dual assault rifles.


Copyright Larian Studios

7. Divinity: Original Sin II

I’m not a big fan of isometric RPGs.  Actually, that’s a lie.  I hate them.  I didn’t like Fallout in the 90s, I never got very far into Baldur’s Gate II and even the much vaunted Pillars of Eternity was just a slog to play.  This, however, was a hell of a lot of fun.  The mechanics were great, the combat was complex with plenty of variation and the encounters were set up in ways that required me to actually think about my next move.  The fact the game embraced that it was turn based, like a table top RPG is one of the best things about it, making it one of the best tactical RPGs I’ve played in a very long time.

Plus, it has a really well done quest system.  A lot of people talk big about the quest systems in other games, but they’re still mostly just fetch quests with some extra cutscenes added to them.  This gives quests with multiple pathways, rewards and outcomes, and they’re generally multitiered, so in one game I might start one quest the same way as a previous one, but have a totally different outcome because I went a different way later down the line.

What kept this from nabbing the top 5 spot, though, was that Act IV is where everything falls apart.  Bad encounters, really stupid quests and a lot of really badly designed map work makes it just not feel like a complete experience.  I’ll give them a bonus for attempting to set an entire chapter in an urban environment, but that doesn’t make up for the stupid and unfair final boss fight.


Copyright Platinum Games and Square Enix

6. Nier: Automata

I need a smaller picture.

Surprised?  Some people might be after the somewhat scathing review I  gave it, but I also wrote that review about thirty minutes after the final ending, so I was pretty mad at the time.  I actually loved Nier: Automata almost the whole way through, and the only reason it didn’t get number five is because Horizon Zero Dawn is a brand new IP, and that gets an extra point.  Also, Horizon does the open world a little better.

Sure, Nier was pretentious, and it had 9S in it, but other than that, it was still a solid title.  There was so much to do and see and the combat made for some very awesome combat encounters.  Plus, it would interweave in some bullet hell sections to add in the variety.  Plus, the game would grow more complex with each playthrough.  Plus, it was a Platinum game, it played better than almost anything I touched this year that wasn’t made by Nintendo.

Look, I had a few issues with Nier, but it’s a game that stuck with me, and I really loved playing.  It’s a game I can’t recommend enough, especially for the beautiful soundtrack and great monochrome graphics.  Hell, the fact the game made me as mad as it did has less to do with the pretentiousness of the message and more to do with the fact that I loved the game a whole lot.  It’s rare for a game to make me that emotional, and that’s worth the money I paid.  I just wish they would patch the PC version.


Top 10 2017

It’s that time of the year again.  Well, actually, it’s not February, so I’m actually on time this time around.  The point is, it’s time for this year’s top games of the past year, and unlike previous years, I’m actually able to round things out with a definitive top 10.  The past few years, I’ve only been able to do a top 5, whether due to economic restraints, or due to the fact that the year was kind of not very good.  I don’t know what happened to game developers in 2014 or most of 2015.

Normally, I do an entry on each of the games, which is as long and detailed as a regular review, but since I haven’t done a full line up of ten games since 2011, I’m going to change up my format just a little bit.  The top 5, which are in order this time, will have their own entries.  Numbers 6-10 will be in their own entry some time later in this week, which will be somewhat shorter.  A few of the games on the list, while excellent in my opinion, don’t have a lot to write about, so that’s part of the reason, but also because of time on my part.  It will take several days to get out all of the write ups on the top 5, so adding five more would be a nightmare.

2017 was an interesting year.  Not only did it give us the best collection of video games in a decade, revived genres and gave us games in venerable franchises that were the best in decades, if not ever, it was also one of the worst years in terms of how players were treated by publishers.  Not to mention scams online, more and more shovelware being heaped upon Steam, the elimination of Net Neutrality laws and lootboxes.  It’s hard to say which of those are actually the worst things to happen to gaming this year, although if I’d have to pick, it might be that legislators are coming back to regulate video games.  Weirdly, I think I’m actually on their side this time, as strange as it is to say.  I remember Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, Jack Thompson and Joe Lieberman, so even though the proposed legislation is different and not about censorship or trying to classify video games as children’s toys, it still makes me feel odd to say that I think I might be in favor of legislation regulating video games to protect children.

Several games were ruined this year by lootboxes and other forms of attempted extortion by game publishers.  I understand that game development is an expensive, time consuming endeavor, and that game publishers are businesses before they’re art houses, but this time around, it’s so much worse than it’s ever been in terms of publishers trying to monetize gaming, simply for the sake of improving the salary of the publisher’s board and pumping up their stock prices.  Games had their guts ripped out, mechanics altered and, in some cases, outright destroyed in order to have lootboxes or other prize systems shoved into them for no reason.  Destiny 2, Star Wars: Battlefront 2 and Middle-earth: Shadow of War, a game which would have managed to be offensive all on its own, but the lootboxes make it a particularly nasty stab in the eye.  How bad things will be is to be seen, because while Star Wars didn’t sell as expected thanks to its lootbox shenanigans, we’ve got Electronic Arts writing scientific papers about messing with matchmaking to get players to spend more on microtransactions and Activision-Blizzard patenting ways to use matchmaking systems to pair up players with better weapons or items so they’ll spend more money in the cash shop.  It’s a disgusting play.

That said, we had some great games this year.  So, without further ado, here are this year’s honorable mentions.


Copyright PUBG Corporation

I didn’t get a chance to player PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds this year, but I did watch some friends stream it and I’ve caught a few Let’s Plays of it.  Because of the huge impact it’s had on the gaming community, I have to, at the very least, give it a nod.  This isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but it is fun, and while it’s not the first game to do a battle royale style game, it’s the first to do it as well as this.

There are some issues with the X-Box One, apparently, and cheating is rampant though.  Even if I had played it, those alone might actually disqualify it from my top 10.  Still, it’s already beginning to push online multiplayer shooters beyond the basic FPS deathmatch or CoD style multiplayer, so that’s a good thing in my mind.


Copyright Studio MDHR

This one I did get to play, and I have very mixed feelings on it.  On one hand, I appreciate its difficult, how smooth the gameplay is, how deep the gameplay is and, or course, the absolutely gorgeous hand drawn animation.  Just from the beautiful graphics alone does this deserve some recognition.  Development of nearly five years to get something this beautiful definitely deserves praise.

On the other hand, the game is hard in a way that is more reminiscent of old arcade games than utilizes any real difficulty.  It feels great to play, and it’s a wonder to control and the bosses are some of the most imaginative and complex out there, but there’s too much RNG to really make the game feel like it’s fighting fair.  Bosses don’t need to have a pattern or anything, but the lack of predictability on some of them is just unfair.  Also, a lot of the Run and Gun levels kind of suck.  Sorry.


Copyright Team Ninja, Koei Tecmo and Sony Interactive Entertainment

Nioh seemed like a great game, but I only got a chance to play the first level.  It’s sort of like a samurai infused Dark Souls that’s well made and has a lot of interesting bosses, but isn’t quite as deep or challenging as Dark Souls.  Fitting, since it’s made by Team Ninja, it felt very much like Ninja Gaiden to Dark Souls’s Castlevania.  Similar in scope, nearly as difficult, definitely worth praise, but not quite at the same levels.

On the other hand, I only played through the first boss, then died after the first checkpoint once I got to Japan.  Maybe I missed some of the cool stuff.  It’s possible my to 10 will have to be revised at a later date.  However, since I played so little, I am remiss to put it on my top ten, even if I do have one incomplete game on there, but I did more than beat one level and stop playing back in January.


Copyright Capcom

Another one I really wanted to play, but I watched a bit of it being played by a few people on YouTube, and I was impressed.  It looked really cool, and more importantly, long time fans seem to have really enjoyed it.  I’m not big into horror games, but I feel like I should give it some sort of recognition for doing it really well.  What I saw was really well made, and actually made me interested in playing it, and I don’t even like Resident Evil games at all.  That should say something.

Much like with Nioh, if I get a chance to play and finish it, I may have to update my top 10 list.  This is a game that I definitely want to check out, but I haven’t yet.  Hopefully, it lives up to the reputation it’s built over the past several months.


RPG Villains

You know who was an awesome villain?  Van Grants.  Most people probably thought I was going to say Kefka, and he really is a good villain, but he’s also sort of Emperor Joker, but six years earlier.  No, Van is the bad guy in Tales of the Abyss, and I guess that’s spoilers for the first ten hours of a 12-year-old game that stretches for nearly ninety hours, but whatever, it’s my column, I can write whatever the Hell I want.  What makes Van really cool is that he’s a guy.  He’s a really strong guy, but he’s just sort of a guy, with hopes and dreams and aspirations.  He’s not a demon lord, he’s not some genetically engineered super soldier who wants to become a god, he’s not an emperor and he’s not just crazy.  He’s an asshole.  Worse, he’s got a damn good reason to be an asshole.

Like, aside for a paragraph?  Luke’s dad is like the worst person in video games.  Dude is an actual rapist and he gets off scott free.  Like, fuck that guy.

Characters like Van aren’t actually uncommon in video games, because they’re a pretty common character archetype.  A hero wronged, turns to evil.  It’s a good villain, and a good tool in the toolbelt of a writer, because such a villain can be used to act as a foil for the hero, can explore more dynamic themes and can tie in for stronger plot details.  It’s why you see so many fallen heroes as the main bad guy.  Find a noble character, give them a terrible flaw and make them evil.  It’s great.  Shakespeare made a career out of making plays about these guys, and as a player, it’s sometimes fun to be on the other side of a tragedy for once.  In RPGs, though, it’s rarely the case.  I mean, it makes sense, if the players were cutting down giant robotsancient planetary defense mechanisms or just giant goddamn dragons, it sort of makes sense that the only thing that can challenge the PCs at that point is a god.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t exactly lead to a very compelling villain.  Sure, it’s pretty cool to cut down a god, but it’s not the same if the characters aren’t attached to them.  There are exceptions, of course, Kefka becomes a god, but he’s still just a man who stole incredible power (which is why he goes from giggling, power obsessed mad man to a bored nihilist when he gets what he wants), he’s not a god to begin with.  Van never becomes a god.  Van is literally just a guy, and that’s what makes him work.  Because Van is a guy, he can show up, harry the players, talk with them, try to reason with them and become a part of their lives.  The characters get to become attached to him, and not just because his goal is vengeance and this is all personal for him (or that he’s Tear’s brother), but because he gets to interact with him.  From the first scene of the game to the final battle, the players get a chance to talk with, argue against, curse at, fight and get tricked by and lied to by Van.  This isn’t something you really get a chance to do if you fight a god or demon lord.  Even an emperor makes it difficult, because of the difference in social standing.

Consider Vayne Solidor as a contrast.  Vayne is one of my favorite villains in Final Fantasy because he’s right, but he’s also a Lawful Evil totalitarian who needs to be stopped yesterday.  He does get to interact with the PCs a little bit, and even then, much of that is couched through the interactions the PCs have with his younger brother Larsa.  Most of what we know about Vayne being compelling is through scenes the player sees that the PCs never know about.  There is a level of dramatic irony the game plays up a little bit, not as much as it could, which is interesting, but it does lessen the personal stakes.  Granted, Vayne’s lieutenant Gabranth gets to have a lot of the interactions with the PCs, and is very similar to Van in a lot of ways (although much less reason to be an asshole.  Seriously, Luke’s dad is the WORST you guys), but he’s not the one who gets a three stage boss fight before the credits, so he doesn’t get to count as the main bad guy.

I’m not saying the villain shouldn’t be powerful.  Magneto or Doctor Doom fit as the kind of characters I’m talking about, and they’re both incredibly powerful.  Also, Doom was God for awhile, and he still managed to be this while being actually God.  Kefka, too, is a great example and he was almost who I wrote about before I remembered Van, and there’s also Seymour and, kind of, Adyn.  All of them are compelling characters who have a connection to the party in a direct way, who interact with the PCs on a regular basis.  This is important.  The villain needs to be a part of the hero’s lives.