Getting down to brass tacks now guys. I hope you don’t judge me too harshly for what I consider the better games I’ve played this year.
#40 West of Loathing (Nintendo Switch, 2018)
First up is West of Loathing, a game that can be safely described as unique. It is a followup to Kingdom of Loathing, a game that I understand is an MMO in the same style.
After the very obvious artistic choice, the thing that stands out about West of Loathing is its humour. It has a very absurdist, irreverent sense humour that permeates the game thickly. It’s so good though, that even after being barraged by jokes constantly you’ll still be caught unawares by some jokes. I laughed out loud a lot playing this game, which is something I don’t often do because while a lot of the jokes are clever, many of them are just wacky.
At its core, West of Loathing plays as an RPG, but I must say the gameplay itself takes a secondary role to the humour and story elements. You have plenty of stats to buff and skills to collect, but the game recognises that this may not be the game’s main focal point for many players and offers a streamlined ‘auto-allocation’ system for skill points. This allows players to forego the effortful process of min-maxing their character.
Something I love about the game is that you have many ways to tackle each problem. With enough charisma you could talk your way out of a problem, or you could just beat everyone up. And that’s just the start of it. Furthermore, there are three character classes which roughly equate to ‘Fighter, Mage, Thief’ but are styled completely in the game’s unique world, being Cow Puncher, Beanslinger, and Snake Oiler. Each class plays quite differently and it’s worth playing through the game a few times to get a feel for each one.
I’d really recommend this game.
#39 Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth + Gyakuten Kenji 2 (Nintendo DS, 2010, 2011)
Just like the Phoenix Wright trilogy and some other pairs of games will end up taking one place in the list, I felt it necessary to group both Investigations games together because they play so differently and even take place over a very short amount of time together.
These spinoffs of the Ace Attorney series give Miles Edgeworth a day in the limelight and feature an interesting change of gameplay. Instead of taking on cases for people accused of murder, Miles finds himself at the scene of more than a few murders, and takes it upon himself as a prosecutor to investigate them either with or without the help or permission of the police. He does this with his assistant, the Great Thief Yatagarasu (also known as Kay Faraday, this game’s #QuirkyGirl). You still have what appears to be classic cross-examination segments disguised as debates, but you also have to collect and analyse evidence and deduce your own connections between them to progress the story.
I find the games’ stories to be very compelling, not least because I find Miles to be a far more interesting character than Phoenix. He’s more snarky and sceptical, and I find these characters more fun to play as. The actual storylines are also quite involved, with Edgeworth finding himself wrapped up in global conspiracies, which are very satisfying to break open. Add to that the fantastic Fransika von Karma and the lovable Dick Gumshoe, and you have a great game full of fantastic personalities.
#38 Valkyria Chronicles (Nintendo Switch, 2018)
Valkyria Chronicles takes place in ‘Almost Fantasy Europe’ during a very obvious First World War parallel. As a pretty unique take on the strategy genre, it works. Gameplay is tense, forcing players to make quick decisions as even though it is a turn-based game, your enemies will keep firing at you as you run across the field. Quickly finding your place on the map and firing as soon as you can is the only way to play the game safely, rewarding forward thinking and thorough planning. It’s a design decision that you can appreciate a lot more when you think about the nature of the game’s setting and of war itself.
As a warped retelling of WWI, it succeeds on the storyline front. Switching often between the macro and micro of the war, following the exploits of a handful of young militia, the game gets you involved with the day to day of war and all the turmoil it brings. The game’s menus and basic structure take the form of a history book, which further reinforces the historical parallels and serves as a very effective artistic choice. I really do like this game.
Fuckin’ hard, though.
#37 Ty the Tasmanian Tiger (PC, 2016)
One of the underrated gems of the PS2/XBOX era, Ty is back on the PC and it looks gorgeous. For those not in the know, Ty the Tasmanian Tiger is a really fun, really charming 3D platformer set in the Australian outback where you play as the eponymous marsupial, dual-wielding mystical boomerangs and collecting opals, eggs and friends. It’s a successful attempt at re-branding the magic of the old collectathons, like the Spyro games and Banjo Kazooie. The main character is likeable, the script is quite funny, the villain is threatening and the gameplay is tight.
The boomerangs are what make this game the classic it is, honestly. You can equip a wide range of them, with each of them adding new elements to the gameplay. Flamerangs can set enemies on fire, Frostrangs can freeze them, and the made-of-explodium Kaboomerangs are high-powered ‘rangs that explode upon contact, making them extremely fun to use. Of note is the Doomerang which you can control upon launching, guiding it to its destination, not unlike the Visibomb launcher of Ratchet & Clank fame.
The setting is also pretty beautiful. The game delves into Australia and makes use of it fantastically. Stunning reefs and murky billabongs are filled with frill lizards in the employment of an evil cassowary. It’s very Australian. Which is so rare in games I think it’s worth highlighting as a big plus.
#36 Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo Switch, 2017)
This was a game that really surprised me in a positive way. I never played Super Mario 64 and I got frustrated quickly with Mario In Space so I was sceptical when it came to this game, but every single review of the game I’d read was a glowing one, so I took the plunge. And I ended up beating the game in two sessions. It’s a really great, huge game with so much to do and so much to explore.
The controls are tight and easy to get used to. They introduce new things gradually, giving you time to get used to everything before they throw new stuff at you. If there is one thing Nintendo knows how to do, it’s tutorialising. I never felt like I was without the tool to proceed. When the game is quick paced, it really shines. Hardcore platforming sequences like the rush at the end of the game and some of the 2D sections are highlights for me, as they feel like tests of all the skill and precision you have been cultivating throughout the rest of the game.
The gameplay feature of demonic possession is something I didn’t expect to be in a Mario game, but they make it work. Finding new creatures to inhabit is fun and gives the developers quick and easy ways to vary the gameplay from time to time. It’s a really clever move on their behalf which only makes the game more fun. Variety is the spice of life after all.
The game is mindblowingly stunning, and the soundtrack is gorgeous. One of the best soundtracks not composed for Square-Enix I’ve heard in a long while. The game is artistically amazing. Definitely a must-buy for a Switch owner.
#35 Final Fantasy Type-0 HD (PS4, 2015)
A somewhat controversial entry in the Final Fantasy canon, Type-0 is one of my favourite games in the franchise for multiple reasons. Firstly, it has a huge cast of playable characters, which tickles all the right spots for me. All in all, you can play as 14 different characters who have vastly different playstyles. Secondly, the gameplay is fast-paced and unforgiving. It’s not uncommon to go into a mission a little unprepared and get struck down in a single hit if you haven’t learned how to dodge or utilise the useful quirks of the battle system to eviscerate enemies in a few hits. Thirdly, it has a beautiful and dark storyline. Type-0 is set in a world characterised by war and a weird mystic intervention that means that the fallen are erased from the memories of all who still live, creating a harrowing dichotomy between the living and the dead.
Type-0 is a departure from the typical Final Fantasy structure. There isn’t much character development as there is world development. The story pushes on like a historical documentary, and features many grainy-footage cut-scenes in that very style (mirroring the history book style of Valkyria Chronicles above). With its realistic depictions of war, Type-0 is also one of the darkest Final Fantasies I’ve ever played, with its bloody battles and grim presentation of child soldiers, almost unfeeling and totally brutal in the field of battle.
And it’s hard. The game is unforgiving if you don’t learn how the battle system works and don’t find your niche with your best characters soon. If you try and spread your experience around all 14 characters, you’ll be under-levelled soon, if you don’t use your limited time efficiently, you’ll have less resources. If you don’t learn how to dodge attacks and exploit the kill-sight system (which gives you quick visual indicators of when to strike enemies for massive damage) you will lose the war of attrition against even basic enemies. If you don’t get a sense of the characters you’ll work best with soon, you’ll waste time on the ones you can’t use well. If you can avoid these pitfalls though you have a game on your hands that will provide you with an extremely satisfying, fun experience.
I recommend playing with a walkthrough, preferably the highest rated one on Gamefaqs, to get the full experience. There’s a lot of missable shit.
#34 Dragon Quest Monsters Joker 3 (Nintendo 3DS, 2016)
Disclaimer: This game is only released in Japanese at this point in time, but there is a mostly complete and robust fan translation out there.
I’m a big fan of Mons games as you may know, and Dragon Quest Monsters is a franchise that has done well in my heart. This game is the most recent entry in the series and hasn’t been released in the west yet, but that didn’t stop me playing it. And I’m glad I found a way, because it’s utterly fantastic.
The plot is pretty standard, and has you exploring very unique environments on floating worlds that you pull together with some sort of magic magnetic power at the end of each ‘level’. It does feel like the sort of excuse plot that is ubiquitous in this genre, serving as a way to get to new and deeper explorations of the combat. Which is, I must stress, amazing. The sheer variety of monsters you can recruit and breed for yourself is huge, and like most of these games you can have yourself some really overpowered monsters within a few hours of playing. Most of the fun of this game comes from the breeding system for me, combining monsters and playing around with their potential, seeing what monstrosities of power they can become.
Other than that, the supporting cast is pretty strong too. You have this mysterious rebel alliance force that you have flashbacks of, which seem quite interesting. That’s all well and good, but let me tell you about the frog things. You can see one in the screenshot above. Little heads with long legs. They’re an adorable, quirky, fun race of monsters who serve as your main allies for most of the game. And I love them.
Any fan of the Dragon Quest Monsters games should find a way to play this if they can.
#33 Final Fantasy VII (Playstation, 1997)
A potentially contentious placement for this game, Final Fantasy VII is next up on this list. Most everyone knows this game so I won’t bore you with the intricacies of the battle system or the deep lore. But I will say that most of all, I love the music of the game. It’s one of the strongest soundtracks composed by Uematsu (not the best though, that honour resides purely with IX) and each track is effective in triggering those emotions it wants you to feel. Cosmo Canyon has you feeling emotional, One-Winged Angel is a BOSS of a final boss theme that hits all the right notes for a tense battle, Don of the Slums feels cheesy and intimidating at the same time, and Hurry! gets your heart rate up like nothing else. And more. And more.
For the game itself, I do feel that it’s a little dated. Visually, it could be better, as VIII and IX proved, but it’s not offensive in that regard. The materia system is a fun feature to play around with, but is something that I feel is too basic. Every character feels the same if you take their Limit Breaks out of the equation. Difficulty mods like New Threat sort this out by making each character more unique in their stat bonuses and playstyle, and is something I heavily recommend when playing the PC port.
Overall, the game is fun to play and interesting to get into. You don’t need me extolling the virtues of the game really, every RPG fan since 1997 has been doing that for me. If you haven’t played it, what the hell are you doing?
#32 Crusader Kings 2 (PC, 2012)
Oh CK2, a game that has eaten up countless nights with its wiles. In this grand strategy game you don’t play as a country as you normally would, but a dynasty. You control each head of the dynasty and your goal is… well whatever you want it to be. Mechanically all you need to keep playing is to have an heir of your bloodline when you die, but after that the world is your oyster.
If you want to take over the world by force you can do so. Just set your diplomats to fabricating claims on your neighbouring provinces and make war on your neighbours to take over. Or invite people with claims on swathes of land to your court and promise to go to war on their behalf, making them into your loyal vassals when you grant them the spoils of war. Or do this all diplomatically, curating a tree of marriages so complex that when four specific people die (in ‘accidents’ orchestrated by your spymaster) you gain the entirety of Aquitaine, for example. The possibilities are almost limitless.
You can cause chaos in the courts of your liege, you can become a satanist, a herbalist or even a bloodthirsty crusader. Raid the European coasts as a viking, install a holy man in your region as an anti-pope, become a secret Muslim, seduce everyone, make a horse your diplomatic adviser.
CK2 is hard to get to grips with, but so, so, so fun once you know what to do to stay alive.
#31 The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Special Edition + VR (PC, 2016, 2018)
If you have an object that can connect to the internet, Todd Howard has probably tried to sell you Skyrim on it.
It’s an easy joke, but it really is quite telling how popular and successful the game is that it’s been sold on so many consoles and in so many editions that it is now a meme. Hailed as one of the most versatile and expansive open world games of all time, Skyrim carries on the prestigious name of The Elder Scrolls and does it quite well. Coming off the huge success of Oblivion, Skyrim was an instant hit. I remember reading all the leaks on Gamefaqs back in the day, frothing at the mouth with excitement at this new part of the world I was going to be able to explore.
For a while, it lived up to the hype. With fun (for the time) combat, so much world to explore (if repetitive) and the then-revolutionary radiant quest system, the game was almost infinite. Then you looked at the bugs that mounted up over time, the deja vu, the clunky scaling of strong enemies, the boring magic, and it got somewhat… meh. Still a great game but not the masterpiece people wanted. People were angry at the removal of complex stats and classes (I was one of them). People wanted the great quest writing of Oblivion back, favouring that over the boring radiant quests of this title. People wanted depth.
And then mods came and satisfied everyone at once. Mods make this game the playable entity that it is today. There’s a mod for almost everything, from bug fixing to more magic to simulated sex to pets and marriage candidates and new worlds and new quests and player homes and armour and weapons and more. It’s ridiculous, and it’s fantastic. If it weren’t for mods I feel confident in saying it wouldn’t be played that much at all today. I recently played through the game as a cleric-turned-necromancer and had a whale of a time with modded necromancy spells, offensive restoration spells and big huge maces and… I’ll admit it, pretty clothes.
As a footnote: Skyrim VR is extremely fun and magical, but very ugly and hurts my head after a while.
Some of gaming’s biggest titles here, and there will be more to come next time where I visit roller coasters, Ivalice, and disneyland.