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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.


Of all the pretentious…:NieR Automata Review


Copyright Platinum Games and Square Enix

I probably should wait a few days before writing this, but I am not happy.  Maybe in a week I’ll have a different review.

I thought the days of pretentious anime games were over.  I’m not sure why, there are always going to be pretentious artists who think that whatever vague, semi-philosophic garbage they can cram into their writing is the most important thing in the world, generally mangling some form of postmodernism into a twisted shape in order to say something stupid.  After all, we did have Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice come out last year.  NieR: Automata, the sequel to 2010’s NieR, which was a spin off of a secret ending of the Drakengard series, is also, once again, a bunch of pretentious crap, info dumped at the end of the game to make a point about a theme that didn’t really exist until the game decided to give it to the player 2/3s of the way into the game.  Combat is pretty fun, though.

NieR: Automata takes place some 9,000 years after the events of the original NieR, with machine lifeforms sent by an alien race having taken over the earth.  Artificially created people known as Androids (despite most of them being female…) fight against the machine lifeforms on Earth, while the last vestiges of humanity control them from a base on the moon.  The player takes on 2B, a combat Androids, and her scouting companion 9S, as they fight to protect mankind and destroy some sort of thing the machine lifeforms create.  The twists and turns on this will get stupid.

As a game, NieR is an interesting hybrid of high octane, Platinum style action games, bullet hell shoot ’em ups reminiscent of Capcom’s old 1940 series and more Western style open world RPGs.  The game manages to seamlessly switch between all of these types more or less on the fly, although being that this is a Platinum game, the high flying combat is the most prominent, and the most well developed.  The game plays a lot like Bayonetta, in that it’s heavily focused on offense, with dodging as the primary form of defense.  Dodge properly, and the player sets up a counter attack that punishes the enemy for massive damage.  Combat isn’t particularly deep, at least when compared to the kings of the stylish action genre, but it is engaging.  Mostly by throwing horde after horde of enemies at the player, and making them relatively easy to tear through, without taking away the challenge.  It’s easy to dodge out of the way of melee attacks, cut through the right particle attack with a katana or jump out of the way of giant laser beams, but because the battlefield can literally be covered with enemies, one dodge could mean falling into the trap of getting pinned up against the wall and murdered by robots.  However, once it’s all said and done, and 2B (or one of the lesser characters the game makes you play later in the game) stands above the corpses of machines, the game delivers on giving the player a feeling of victory in a way most games just can’t hope to pull off.

The other parts of the game are much less developed.  The bullet hell sections are common, and with the way the enemies use ranged attack, is somewhat incorporated into the melee combat.  However, it’s still just pretty standard Gradius or 1940 style shoot ’em up gameplay here, maybe getting as advanced as Einhander.  The bullet hell sections are more distractions to the normal gameplay, to add something when travelling from one story mission to another, or to allow for some bosses to be way outside what 2B and 9S would be able to take care of on their own, despite their own personal combat abilities.  This is cool, but it does make some parts drag at certain points of the game.  Ultimately, however, they are fun, if that’s the sort of gameplay someone likes.  I found it to be a welcome addition, but it’s also something that requires a completely different skill set from the rest of the game, so it’s something that could completely wreck another player’s enjoyment all together, especially when going for the final “True” ending of the game.  The worst part, and perhaps the most trying part of the game, is the attempt at making it more like an open world RPG, and combining both the stylish action and bullet hell elements into that Western style open world sort of gameplay.  Now, if the world was interesting or well laid out, this wouldn’t be a problem, but NieR runs into nearly every large problem that an open world has, without any of the good things.

The only real virtue of the world map of NieR is that it’s small.  This is a good thing, because one of the biggest problems with the game, especially early on before the fast travel locations open up, is that many of the missions, and not just side missions, require the player to navigate the entire map just to get anything done.  A lot of the game is set up as a bunch of fetch quests.  It’s really not until the third playthrough, which honestly is where the actual game kind of starts, before the game actually stops making most of the main story into fetch quests, until the end, when it goes back to having the characters run around the whole map again.  It’s an interesting attempt at an open world, and all of the sins committed are done more out of ignorance rather than any actual bad design, but making it where back tracking to the other side of the overworld map just to progress the story made me put my controller down and find something else to do on more than one occasion.  This was only caused by a side mission once.

Along the way, I also encountered several bugs and smaller technical issues.  Part of this was playing on the PC, where playing in fullscreen mode led to framerate drops during cutscenes and blurry, downscaled graphics.  Also, several times throughout A story, I had several side quests fail to work.  That was annoying.

The worst part, though, is the story.  Not only is it bleak and nihilistic, it’s done in a pretentious, bullshit sort of way, reminding me heavily of Neon Genesis Evangelion.  It tries to make a point about the future or life or something, but since so much is hidden from the player, including the things some of the characters actually know, it’s hard to make heads or tails of what is actually going on.  The game refers to things that the player should probably know, and while some of them are references to NieR or Drakengard, most of them are things that are only revealed during the final ending, if even then.  Several things I only know because I looked them up while I was writing this very thing, but it commits one of the biggest sins of storytelling by holding off until the end to give any revelations at all.  Nearly everything of importance is only revealed at the end, and while some of it is seeded throughout the B and C stories (there’s nothing in A story unless the player already knows what to look for, and even then, it’s not great at foreshadowing), most of it is just an endgame revelation, or it fails at foreshadowing what’s coming up.  There’s a certain amount of “importance” the game thinks it has, and I don’t want to dismiss it by saying it’s a game about sexy robots fighting each other, because importance can come from anywhere, including video games where you play as a sexy robot.  Here, there really is no importance.  It’s just a game about sexy robots that throws in some stuff from philosophy and a few Biblical and classic literature references, hoping that’s all it needs to be deep.  It doesn’t even fail in an interesting way, like Xenosaga did.  It just has these things, with a somewhat bleak and ambiguous story, and acts like that’s all it needs.

That said, the ambiguity of the story did push me to keep playing, but it also caused me to delete my game as soon as I got the final ending, so it’s hard to say if it was worth it.