A Year in Gaming: 60-51

In this batch I review a fairly diverse group of games. Those who have read the other reviews will notice that more RPGs are appearing in the list as I progress down it. This is a trend you can definitely expect to continue. I love a lot of RP in my G.

Image result for Mercenaries Saga Chronicles

#60 Mercenaries Saga Chronicles (Nintendo Switch, 2018)

From the screenshot above it’s painfully obvious what kind of game this is, and it’s one of my favourite genres, the isometric strategy role playing game. This is a port and compilation of three games which were released for, I believe, the Nintendo 3DS. They’re pretty much all the same, but that’s not going to disappoint a fan of the genre, as there aren’t that many titles.

The story is nothing to write home about. It’s a saga about mercenaries. It’s self-explanatory. Where it has strength is in its gameplay, which emulates the most successful games of its kind (read: Tactics Ogre, Disgaea and Final Fantasy Tactics). You progress through story battles which require you to command your troop of mercenaries in ways that are surprisingly complex. You have to keep in mind movement, placement, directionality and the strengths and weaknesses of each soldier. It’s a deep game with some degree of replayability thanks to the robust class system which features split choices.

Overall, I’d recommend this game to fans of the genre, but to newcomers I’d recommend something like Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, a title I would consider a perfect entrypoint to the genre.

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#59 Kingdom Hearts Final Mix (PS4, 2017)

I am a big fan of Kingdom Hearts as a franchise, don’t get me wrong, but the first entry in the series just does not hold up to scrutiny these days. Even with the fantastic polish of the various compilations out for the PS4 now, and with the excitement of Kingdom Hearts 3 coming out in a month, this game is a chore to slog through. With combat that pales in comparison to later titles in terms of both controls and difficulty, the somewhat cringe-worthy cutscenes (though that’s a franchise-wide criticism) and AI allies who might as well not be there, the game is… meh.

That said, with this being the Final Mix version that the western world never got for the PS2, there are some additions to the game that make it at least partly new and exciting. You have the stronger enemy colour palettes which feel more suitable, more keyblades to collect and even extra bosses to face.

Furthermore, the game is still quite fun, just not as much as its successors. As a game on its own it’s very strong and is great to spend a few hours with. But I got to Neverland, decided it wasn’t worth the effort and booted up Birth By Sleep instead, what I would consider to be the best Kingdom Hearts game by far.

Samurai Warriors 4-II_special attack

#58 Samurai Warriors 4-II (PS4, 2015)

The Samurai Warriors franchise is a very fun one, with a very interesting cast of characters taken from the Sengoku Jidai, a period of history where Japan was thrust into turmoil as many different clans vied for control. If you’ve heard of Oda Nobunaga, a pretty famous name in popular media, you’ll know something about this time in history.

Samurai Warriors, like its Dynastic cousin, features a large cast of characters who during gameplay are extremely powerful. They can mow through reams of enemy soldiers, summon horses from the ether and can use ‘Musou’ powers, which are like limit breaks and look super cool. It’s quite difficult to wrap up in words, I’d recommend looking for a gameplay video because the fast-paced, super fun action of the game is something to behold.

If you want a very cathartic experience playing super-powered characters from history as they fight through battles that actually happened in the past, pick up this game. Everyone looks so cool too.

#57 Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada (PS4, 2016)

Okay, so this game is basically the same gameplay as the one I just reviewed. This is a spin-off game in the franchise with a fun storyline that focuses on the exploits of the quite important Sanada clan throughout the Sengoku Jidai. It has pretty much the same combat, which is the important part, but also some more typical gaming features such as maps you can explore and a town in which you can interact with important characters.

It’s pretty much an upgrade to 4-II, but in a way that makes 4-II still an option.

#56 Xenoblade Chronicles (New 3DS, 2015)

Xenoblade Chronicles was a landmark title for the Nintendo Wii, featuring a gigantic world, compelling storyline and inspired gameplay. It was quite difficult to find in the UK at the time, and sold on eBay and such for many times what it should have. It quickly became a classic.

Xenoblade Chronicles follows the story of Shulk, who you may know from Smash Brothers. He becomes the wielder of a special sword called the Monado, which allows him to fight against the evil machines. At face value, it’s a pretty paint-by-numbers storyline you’ll have played in RPGs for over a decade, but the characterisation in this game saves it completely. Without even mentioning the fantastic British voice cast, the characters feel very realistic and fun to explore the world with. There are fun quests to complete, a gorgeous world to poke around in, and a huge variety of entertaining monsters to slay.

The battle system is another highlight, where positioning is key and you can quickly rack up the damage by using your abilities and your allies in a smart way. The ally AI is one of the best I’ve seen in a long while, and without utilising them to cripple your enemies as the game instructs you, you’ll quickly succumb to your enemies. Proper use of skills to stun enemies and make them take more damage is key in this game, and there’s more strategy involved than the average ARPG.

All in all, it’s a very fantastic game. It’s so far down the list because the 3DS port was poorly thought out. Playing on such a small screen, even the XL, isn’t as grand. Portability is a plus but compared to the sequel… meh.

#55 Diablo 3 (PS4, 2012)

Diablo is an extremely well-known series in the PC market, and something that has spawned a plethora of games like it which make use of its hallmark features, such as fast-paced hack’n’slash gameplay and floods of loot with random stats. You will see its influence in games such as Torchlight and the Borderlands series.

Dark and gothic, the storyline in Diablo is actually pretty decent and you don’t really need to have played the predecessors, which is good, because by now they are quite dated. Like many games on this list, the game really shines in its gameplay.

To begin with, you play as a single character which will conform to one of a few different class archetypes. Necromancer, witch doctor, crusader, the choices are pretty fun and well-developed. As you level up by killing monsters and completing quests, you’ll get access to a large range of skills which will expand the ways you can fight in a huge amount of ways. To put it simply, customisation is the go-to word for Diablo, and it has this in spades. Replayability is key, with more difficulty modes than you can shake a stick at.

Co-op is hugely fun. If I lived with a man who could be bothered to play this game with me more, it would be higher up on the list.

Image result for thimbleweed park

#54 Thimbleweed Park (Nintendo Switch, 2017)

From the creator of Monkey Island, one of my absolute favourite series of all times, comes the really fantastic Thimbleweed Park. A point-and-click adventure (as you may be able to see) following the story of two FBI agents, Ray and Reyes, who are investigating a murder in the eponymous town. As you play on, you will pick up more characters to play as with their own motives, their own obstacles and their own quirks. A game chock full of mysteries, it’s certainly something you are compelled to play to the end.

Like any Ron Gilbert game, this title has an extremely witty script which breaks the fourth wall in fantastic ways, has you laughing out loud and actually engrossed in the story. It’s really where the game’s strength lies. Another positive is the art, which is a very pretty throwback to the older games in Gilbert’s repertoire.

One thing I found to be a bit grating with the game was the sheer number of characters. By the end of the game you’ve been switching from two FBI agents, a clown, a ghost and a programmer. Keeping track of everything is a chore (though each character does have a handy notepad item which lets them track their objectives), especially when their inventories are totally unique to them, but I can see why it had to be like that.

I played this game with my parents. It was an amazing, nostalgic time, as they were the ones who got me into point-and-click adventures in the first place. Having three people all coming up with potential solutions to the puzzles in the game was really fun. Collaboration is something underrated when it comes to this type of game, and I’d recommend it. I really do love this game.

#53 Minecraft (PC, 2009)

I know, I know. Who still plays Minecraft in this day and age? Well, me. And my fiancé.

It’s really only on here at this point because building things with another person is so much fun. I won’t lie, I find the game utterly boring on my own. Exploring mines and building a home with Rob was extremely fun though.

I won’t bother extolling its virtues as a game though. Everyone knows what Minecraft is about.

#52 XCOM 2 (PC, 2016)

The XCOM series is something quite close to my heart. The original games for the MS-DOS caused me much gnashing of teeth. The difficulty is brutal, and something I find even challenging with tens of hours in the series as a whole. XCOM: Enemy Unknown was a satisfying reboot to the series, featuring many of the old aliens, except updated and still able to strike fear into my heart. I had nightmares about Chryssalids as a child.

XCOM 2 does not, in my opinion, hold up the same level of quality and commitment to the lore as the first in the rebooted series does. I was expecting a Terror from the Deep sequel, not an entirely new, futuristic setting that doesn’t even have classic Sectoids.

That said, it’s still a very fun, punishing game. Tactics and strategy matter more in this game than many others, and newcomers to the series will be put down beautifully. Reading reviews for these games written by people who weren’t familiar with the series is hilarious. It simulates the sinking feeling of fighting against the odds very well, and every single action matters. Playing on ironman is a genuinely tense moment as you cannot just save and load away your mistakes, and when a soldier dies, they’re gone for good.

The difficulty is fun, the environments are new, and pretty to look at I guess. The soundtrack keeps your heart rate up, and it feels fan-fucking-tastic when you clear a mission.

#51 Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories (PS4, 2017)

Another Kingdom Hearts title, Chain of Memories beats the original because it has such a unique and fun battle system. Following Sora and co.’s journey through Castle Oblivion, a magic castle which erases the occupants’ memories, Chain of Memories introduces Kingdom Hearts’ most flamboyant villains. Organisation XIII. They manage to be effective, fun villains to fight against.

The gameplay is based on cards: instead of conventional weapons, accessories and skills, you need to collect cards and sort them into decks to fight. Each card represents one card, spell or item, and you use them against your foes in battle who also have decks of attacks. If you have higher value cards, you’ll beat theirs, stunning them. The same rule can be used against you. There is some strategy to the game, if you want there to be, but a good rule of thumb is ‘get high-value cards and beat down‘.

The game has been criticised as being repetitive, and it is. Progression through levels you’ll be familiar with from the first game in the series is locked behind quite boring cutscenes and sometimes frustrating fights. Despite this, you have a lot of control over the pacing of the game, being able to construct the floors of Castle Oblivion mostly at your own taste. Do you want to encounter a ton of heartless? You can do so. Do you want your physical attacks boosted for a time? You can do that too. Of course, this is all luck-based depending on what cards you can collect, but that’s a feature of almost every card-based game in history. It remains, however, an interesting feature to play around with.

Next time you can expect a very diverse bunch of titles, including one mentioned in this article and the first mainline Pokémon game on the list.

Next: 50-41.

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