What ho, and all that. 2018 has been quite a year, and while it is not over yet, if I don’t start this project now I simply won’t finish it before 2019. What will come over the next few days is my personal ranking of all 90 games that I have played over the last 12 months. For me to count it on the list, it has to be a full game, played for at least a few hours – enough for me to form a proper opinion of it. At my final count, tracked in my handwritten diary, I have 90 games and 90 corresponding mini-reviews to shout at you.
This is my personal opinion and a game’s ranking on the list is not a statement of quality. However, I do think that the overall quality of a game contributes to its enjoyment. So make of that what you will.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the games I least enjoyed this year.
#90 – Zoo Tycoon: Ultimate Animal Collection (PC, 2017)
The original Zoo Tycoon, released for PC in 2001 with two successful and original expansion packs released in the following years was a fantastic game which really tested the limits of the player’s imagination. In the wake of the success of other business management sims at the height of the genre, it piqued the curiosity of many children and adults alike, and sparked many an interest in animals. The game was deep, strategic and even informative, containing many facts about the animals within, which included more exotic and original choices, such as the Californian sea lions, panthers and giant anteaters.
Zoo Tycoon: Ultimate Animal Collection is a bastardisation of the franchise’s good name. A port of the Xbox original, this game is marked with poor, clunky controls that have been picked up and dropped into the PC environment with little effort to adapt to mouse and keyboard controls, a shoddy selection of animals, severely limited customisation of animal exhibits and gimmicky gameplay that goes against what makes business sims fun to play. No, I don’t want to wait for the elephant to trundle over to me so I can see it eat a banana from my hand, I want to customise his exhibit down to within an inch of its life.
Add to this the unfortunate inclusion of the always-on Windows Live DRM, and it’s an extremely disappointing, bland game with no redeeming features.
#89 Pokkén Tournament DX (Nintendo Switch, 2017)
I’ll preface this by saying I by no means think that this is a bad game. I’m just not a fan of the fighting game genre.
Another port, but this time from the Wii U to the Nintendo Switch, Pokkén Tournament DX is a very colourful, deep game with a pretty varied range of characters. It’s got the obvious few, like Charizard, Lucario and Greninja, along with some questionable additions, such as the quadruped Suicune and the lighting fixture, Chandelure. There is varied gameplay, with short-range and long-range variations of the fighters’ movesets, which does make for exciting gameplay.
I played it for a few hours, switched the cartridge out and then pretty much forgot about it. I don’t dislike it, I just have no feelings towards it whatsoever. It’s the epitome of ‘meh’ to me, which is sad. Because I really like Pokémon.
#88 Stardew Valley (Nintendo Switch, 2017)
This game was hailed as one of the greats when it released in 2016 for the PC, and it largely passed me by as I was never a fan of its predecessors, such as Harvest Moon and Rune Factory. Made by a single man, Eric Barone, Stardew Valley is a farming simulator with some RPG and sort-of visual novel elements. You can build relationships with the residents of the nearby town and be as rich as you like, eventually, with a lot of work. The world is colourful, large and full of secrets. The characters are interesting from the off, and seem to be very well written.
And yet the game didn’t grip me. It is certainly a game I wish to try again, but as of right now, it’s so far down on the list because I can’t say I enjoyed my few hours with it. Perhaps the port’s controls are weak, perhaps I just didn’t get to a certain aha moment in the game where I’d fall in love with it. I know I could enjoy it, but just not yet.
#87 Romancing SaGa 2 (Nintendo Switch, 2017)
Now anyone who knows me well, knows I love JRPGs, even the obscure ones. Romancing Saga 2 for the Switch is an updated rerelease of the game which was originally for the Super Famicom, released in 1993. Before I was even born. It has some hallmarks from the JRPGs of the time, namely playing over multiple generations, incredibly hard difficulty, randomised character selection and to reiterate, very stupendously difficult gameplay.
Romancing SaGa 2 is very hard to play mostly because it gives you precious little information about anything. Learning new skills is a crapshoot, increasing your stats is a chore and may not even happen for many, many battles. Enemies will hit you like trucks and you won’t be able to counter with as much force, and if your party dies the game speeds on, forcing you to get even better at the game before you can make real progress.
The game is pretty unfair in this respect, and while it rewards the type of curious, try-and-see gameplay that the era was known for, I just don’t have the patience for it these days.
#86 Nine Parchments (Nintendo Switch, 2017)
Four Switch games in a row, Jesus.
Imagine the game Magicka. Fantastic, tight gameplay surrounded by a pretty entertaining story filled with hilarious jokes that sometimes make you laugh so hard you have to pause the game.
Take away the story and the jokes. That’s Nine Parchments. The game is really fun, don’t get me wrong, but with it focusing so much on its admittedly repetitive gameplay which really only shines when you’re playing Co-Op, it falls down my list quite a bit. Not least because I live with a man who doesn’t want to play it with me. Boo. Maybe if I found out what it was like to play with another human it would be higher up, but solo play is a chore.
#85 Tokyo Xanadu eX+ (PC, 2015)
Fast-paced action RPG, with emphasis on the action. It plays like any other hack ‘n’ slash with some moderate strategy elements which manifests as an extra button to press which amounts to ‘switch to the character who does more damage against this foe’ which is all well and good.
It’s a pretty fun game. There’s a pretty standard ‘demon underworld’ story that die-hard fans of the genre will be quite familiar with. It seems to take notes from the Persona series particularly. It’s not bad, it’s just done. One thing I feel fit to mention is that this game is a port of a PSP game, and it does not feel like it. It feels like a PC game in its own right, unlike say, Final Fantasy Type-0. It’s very pretty, and has well-designed characters.
I just didn’t find it that enthralling. A story full of clichés, Mary Sue deuteragonists and repetitive gameplay make it less attractive than alternative gaming experiences.
#84 Fallout 3 (PC, 2008)
Crucify me all you want, but Fallout 3 has succumbed heavily to the nostalgia bug. Compared to New Vegas and even 4, Fallout 3 is a buggy mess even when heavily patched and modded.
Whilst open-world gameplay is almost always fun, the only thing I thought whilst playing Fallout 3 was “I could be playing Fallout: New Vegas”. What we can take away from this is that Obsidian constructed a far better world for Bethesda than Bethesda did for itself.
Didn’t give a shit about my dad, either.
#83 Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (3DS, 2013)
The Monster Hunter series is one I enjoy tremendously. It gets me excited, it makes me frustrated, and it brings me no end of enjoyment when I finally get to stomp that fucking thunder unicorn into the ground. The problem with Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, just like Fallout 3, is that it is outdated. It is a port of a game that came out originally for the Wii. And here in 2018 we also have, on the 3DS itself, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, Monster Hunter Generations, and Monster Hunter XX (for those with custom firmware and some time on their hands).
The game itself is pretty faultless, for a fan of the series. Varied environments and really thrilling, difficult gameplay that rewards caution, strategy and farming. Building up armour sets and upgrading your weapons gradually feels very rewarding, and you can’t help but smile and get a big hit of dopamine every time that QUEST COMPLETE sign comes up. It’s a fab game. I just, like Fallout 3, couldn’t help but want to play the games that came out later. They are just direct upgrades.
#82 Final Fantasy Record Keeper (Android, 2014)
First of the three Final Fantasy gacha games on the list. For those of you not in the know, ‘gacha’ refers to gacha machines in Japan. You put money in, you get something random out. Often referred to as lootboxes in the western world thanks to the likes of EA and Overwatch, this business phenomenon started in the east. There are many controversies surrounding this practice, and I for one would denounce it as a purely predatory practice that leaves an awful taste in my mouth.
That said, I played Final Fantasy Record Keeper religiously for about two years, from 2015 to 2017, and revisited it for a while this year. The basis of the game is this: you collect heroes from every Final Fantasy game and use them in fun recreations of classic battles against classic enemies. It is the height of nostalgia. You can create 5-man teams of any five Final Fantasy characters you can think of. Cloud, Vivi, Yuna, Lightning and even flipping Gordon from FFII can all clash together against Exdeath, for example. That part of the game I’ll defend.
What I cannot defend is the gacha element. As you go through the game you pick up Mythril, at a rate of 1 per dungeon, more than that per weekly event. You can also buy this currency with real-world money. You can use this to refill your stamina (which you use to actually play the game), revive your characters at the end of a failed quest, or to buy equipment. This last one is the main use, and where my distaste comes. You can spend 5 Mythril to get one random piece of equipment, or 50 to get eleven. Each character has a certain amount of ‘5-star’ or ‘6-star’ equipment that give them special abilities, in the form of limit breaks, permanent stat buffs and conditional abilities. Without these, characters are limited to using the same old abilities that everyone else can use. These unique equips make them stand out.
Naturally, everyone saves up for the big spends to get that extra chance at a good piece of equipment. The chance of getting a good piece of equipment however, is slim. And you can spend hundreds of this premium currency without getting a single useful piece of equipment. Sure, you’ll have plenty of consolation prizes but when a game preys on your nostalgia and makes getting something that makes your favourite characters useful a game of chance, it detracts from the overall experience. It’s designed to make you buy the premium currency. It’s gambling, and I hate it.
#81 Warriors Orochi 3 (PS3, 2012)
I’m a big fan of Koei’s hack-and-slash games. I’m primarily a Dynasty Warriors fan but you’ll find some Samurai Warriors games on this list too. Warriors Orochi is a spin-off series that combines characters from the two, so you have the legends of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms fighting alongside the principle players of the Sengoku Jidai.
As ever, the gameplay is tight and the sheer number of characters is impressive. Recruiting characters is fun, completing special missions to unlock more powerful weapons is a rewarding challenge, and the story is fair to decent. When all is said and done though, I played this game in preparation for Warriors Orochi 4, and in retrospect it pales in comparison to basically any game that came after it. It suffers as Fallout 3 and Monster Hunter 3 before it does. Huh, maybe I have something against 3s.
#80 The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 (PS4, 2015)
A sequel to the intensely entertaining Book of Unwritten Tales, this game is another entry in the ‘point-and-click adventure with self-referential and irreverent comedy’ genre which I adore oh so much. However, when comparing it to its predecessor, it lost me a little. While its references are strong and its humour mostly hits the mark, the puzzles are somewhat egregious in that they are either too simple for words, or too obscure to figure out without using every object on every available set piece.
Graphics-wise, it’s a pretty game that sometimes falls into that old Zork-lite uncanny-valley. Which is by no means a total negative, but I feel it’s now what they were going for. However, I can’t bring myself to hate a game that has a cute Welsh gnome as one of the protagonists.
Overall, it’s just Not As Good As The Original.
Next up, another Koei game, a Japanese game translated by fans, and a game about being a ninja!