A Year in Gaming: 70-61

More reviews for ya to have a look at. Nothing exceedingly popular here, it’s one for the casual gamers.


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#70 Final Fantasy Brave Exvius (Android, 2015)

The second Final Fantasy gacha game on the list as a whole, this game wins out over Record Keeper for its more complex, deep battle system. It doesn’t feature as many nostalgia-bait characters as Record Keeper, and some of its choices are questionable (ever wanted to have Anastasis from Final Fantasy XII in your party? Me neither!), but it has a more robust story, a wide cast of original characters who range from awful to decent, and it’s a visually appealing game.

Gacha-wise, it’s criminal. Horrible rates, and in this game you pull for entire characters, not equipment. So you may not even GET your favourite character. And if you get involved in the game’s online community, you’ll soon come to know that the developer doesn’t really care.


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#69 Seiken Densetsu 3 (Super Famicom, 1995)

As you may be able to tell from the title, this is the second game on the list that was never released in English. It is the sequel to the game that you may know as Secret of Mana, and is a pretty fun game, I’ll admit. Its draw is that you can pick from a pool of six characters to build up the party with which you play your game, and each character can be developed in very unique ways. It’s a game that is meant to be played multiple times.

The problem with this game, however, is that is shows its age. It’s slow-paced, the idiosyncratic level-up system is frustrating, the menus are clunky and ugly, and the game itself is, to me, graphically unappealing. It’s fun, but a chore.


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#68 Cat Quest (Nintendo Switch, 2017)

Totally cute, pun-tastic Cat Quest. Masquerading as an RPG, Cat Quest is a pretty basic action game with magic and dodge-rolls and not much else. Hit enemies with your weapon, gain mana, use magic. Repeat until all enemies dead. The quests are all “go here, do something, return” and there are random rewards that never feel rewarding. Despite all this, the gameplay is genuinely fun. Battles are fast-paced, if monotonous and repetitive, and the spells feel fun to use because they’re so powerful.

The story is somehow a rip-off of The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, and it’s pretty inconsequential. The dialogue is mostly cat puns, which range from groan-worthy to catch-you-off-guard hilarious and the quests are inoffensive enough and usually short enough to be fun to spend a few hours doing. The whole game is played on a single map, with short jaunts into small dungeons, and I have to praise the way they’ve handled the world map, as a large battlefield with writing on the ground, as if you’re walking across a map. It’s fantastically cartoon-y.

It’s fun, but shallow.


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#67 DOOM (PS4, 2016)

First-person shooters are never my first port of call when it comes to spending a few hours gaming, but DOOM was on offer for a fiver on the PS4 at one point this year and it’s one of the best fivers I’ve spent. Most everyone knows what DOOM is – shooting demons, and more shooting demons. With a surprisingly engaging story and really high-energy gameplay, you can’t really fault it much. It’s a visually stunning game, with tons of red, orange and black in its palette, as you’d expect, and it really puts you in mind of hell. Collecting the little action figures is a fun diversion, and the range of guns you can collect and upgrade are all very fun to use.

The reason it’s so far down the list is that as I said, I’m not really one for shooters. As far as they go, it’s one of the best I’ve played, but I don’t feel the itch to pick it up again soon.


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#66 Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom (PC, 2018)

Probably one of the biggest disappointments for me this year. The original Ni No Kuni was something I’d consider a masterpiece when it comes to gaming as an art form. It was a beautiful game with a compelling storyline, interesting and believable characters and a world crafted so well I could walk you around it even now. It had art from Studio Ghibli and a fantastic voice cast.

Ni No Kuni II has none of that. Compared to the originals it has bland environments, a party of forgettable characters and an annoying town-building system that pales in comparison to games the developers made back in the PS2 era (such as Dark Chronicle).

What saves Ni No Kuni II is the battle system it graces us with. Far more enjoyable and flexible than the original’s (something I attribute to the original’s origins as a handheld game), Ni No Kuni II thrives when you’re in one of its fast-paced battles, running circles around your foes and using ‘Higgledies’ (little elemental fairy things that aid you in battle, like Djinni from Golden Sun) to turn the tides. There’s a fair amount of things to do in the game also, with a large amount of side-quests and Higgledy collecting to get on with, so it’s not like it fails at being a game. It’s just that with such a strong first entry, Ni No Kuni II was a let-down. And it’s a shame because Level-5 are known, by me at least, for churning out really top quality games.


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#65 Digimon World: Next Order (PS4, 2016)

I have mixed feelings towards the Digimon games as a franchise. I look back on Digimon World 2 fondly, and I found Digimon World 3 to be an utter chore to slog through, and the recent Cyber Sleuth games are fantastic examples on how to do a Mons game. Digimon World: Next Order is something I can’t really put my finger on. It’s a reimagining of the original Digimon World for the PS1, a buggy mess that I can’t help but look back on fondly.

What it does right, it does very well. The Digimon themselves look fantastic, the environments are diverse enough to be interesting, you get more help than you would have 20 years ago in deciding what to do and how to train. You have two now, which helps the variety of gameplay. I hated nothing more in the original Digimon World then watching my adorable Rookie-level Mon digivolve into yet another stupid Bakemon. This entry in the franchise makes it more obvious how to get the Digimon you want, and that is something I endorse fully.

Where this game is let down is the battle system. They seem to have opted for some weird variation of all three systems they explored in the original trilogy. Your Mons have free will, and will automatically attack their foes using their skills. What you can do however is shout commands at them, and utilise timed hits to collect ‘Order Power’ with which you can activate useful skills. The thing is, getting the hang of attack timing, Order Power conservation and basically hoping that your Digimon is able to dodge the next attack lest it be steamrolled is what I would call Not Fun. The battle system is more complex than is worth dealing with, and it made this game something I couldn’t really deal with for more than a few hours at a time, and eventually I gave up entirely. I really, really wanted to love this game, but it didn’t happen. Perhaps one day.


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#64 Final Fantasy Dissidia Opera Omnia (Android, 2017)

The third and final Final Fantasy gacha game on this list. This game is the one I would say has the fairest gacha system, a very generous regime of handing out premium currency, and the prettiest graphics. Along with the genuinely fun battle system, DDFOO is a robust addition to the mobile gaming platform, believe it or not.

While I still dislike the game for being a cash-grabber with gambling features, if you can ignore the fact that there are elements of the game designed to drain your cash it is a very fun experience. There is no stamina bar for a lot of the game, unlike most free mobile games, you can collect and conceivably use every character in the game without random chance getting in the way, the story is actually decent and it’s a very portable game. It’s easy to pick up, get used to and storm through.

The developers keep the game young with constant events and new characters, most of which you’ll be familiar with, and I would recommend it before either of the other two gacha games for any Final Fantasy fan looking for a dose of nostalgia.


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#63 Surviving Mars (PC, 2018)

Surviving Mars is a game that I was very excited for this year, I thought it looked extremely complex and deep, and I was right. Brought to you by Paradox, one of the leaders in strategy games, it’s a very robust colony simulator in which you must balance conventional settlement building needs (energy utilisation, mineral mining) with unique ones (water extraction) that befit life on mars.

One thing I didn’t expect is that the game is really calming. It has a lush soundtrack and it’s mostly intuitive. It tutorialises you well enough that you always have some sort of inkling on how to deal with your issues (nebulous rules about rover control aside) so you can sit back and relax while you manage your colony. Once you start building living spaces for humans and start shipping them to the red planet on big rockets you start developing a real sense of pride and achievement. You settled people on mars!

If I had to criticise the game, I’d say that the parts of the game that aren’t explained well are really not explained well and this can be quite frustrating when many of your choices are semi-permanent, or difficult to adjust, leading to somewhat ugly first attempts at colonies when you’re not as savvy in how you should be constructing your base.


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#62 Northgard (PC, 2018)

Another quite relaxing strategy game, Northgard takes you to a low-fantasy, Scandinavian land. Playing as a tribe, you will expand your lands, exploit natural resources, make trade and war with other humans and magical creatures alike, and proclaim dominance over the realm.

Firstly, I have to say that the art style of this game is really striking, in a very good way. Everything is soft and pleasant to look at. Secondly, the gameplay is very robust and enjoyable. You have to deal with a few different things at all times, but they’re never unfair. The game works on a summer-winter cycle and if a winter arrives and you don’t have enough food stockpiled, well that’s on you. You’ve probably expanded too quickly or not kept your residents happy. The strategy comes in when choosing which buildings to place in your land, as each parcel of land can only sustain so many buildings. You have to choose between maximising your food growth, wood stockpiling, research rate, happiness boosting, and militarisation. The combat itself is pretty basic and easy. As a rule of thumb: have more soldiers than the enemy. The game is easy, in concept. Hard to master.

Before finishing, I’ll say that the game has an entertaining story mode featuring a cool cast of viking characters. I know some people abhor story in their RTS games, but I’d say it’s worth paying attention to the cutscenes in this one.


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#61 Dungeons 3 (PC, 2017)

Third strategy game in a row! This game combines both RTS combat gameplay with base construction gameplay. In fact, that latter half of the game is the spiritual sequel to Dungeon Keeper I’ve been craving ever since Dungeon Keeper 3 was cancelled and War For the Overworld turned out to be a flop. Dungeons 3 has a naughty sense of humour that I love in my games, with some fourth-wall breaking, some childishness and a whole lotta darkness. In that respect it’s fantastic.

Gameplay-wise, Dungeons 3 is extremely solid. It has a very friendly difficulty curve that lets you explore the RTS and base construction halves of the game with relative safety, reminding you every so often that you should be splitting your time in both lest you get overrun one way or the other. Eventually the game ramps up in difficulty, providing you with a very fun challenge with which to use your many skills accrued over the early levels. It’s a fair game.

Story-wise, the game is full of clichés and overused set-pieces, but Dungeons 3 revels in this and uses them to the best of its ability. I really enjoyed the snarky narrator and the evil bitch protagonist. You never really expect much when playing a strategy game, so I was pleasantly surprised.

Featuring many different creatures to hire and utilise, spells to cast and traps to place, it’s a really enthralling game to explore, and I’d recommend it to anyone who played and enjoyed its predecessors in the genre.


 

Next: 60-51


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