It’s the final countdown! These are the games I enjoyed the most, with a mixture of nostalgia, awe and pure fun driving them deep into my heart. Without further ado, here we go and all that.
A DISCLAIMER: I wrote this on half a bottle of prosecco.
#10 The Curse of Monkey Island (PC, 1997)
One of my favourite games of all time, it just makes sense that this would end up in the top 10. Third in the Monkey Island series, and just re-released on Steam and GOG, it’s a fantastic point-and-click adventure that will have you laughing out loud. Guaranteed. This is the game that made me fall in love with gaming, I’ll be honest with you. It taught me logic, it taught me humour and it taught me to never give my partner a cursed diamond ring.
While it follows on from the second game, Curse is pretty independent as a title in its own right. LeChuck is established as a villain and Elaine is established as a love interest who has already fallen in love with Guybrush, and this all happens in the opening cutscene, leaving players free to explore the game without worrying about any leftover plot threads (which don’t exist even if you did play the first two).
The characters populating the islands you explore are what make this game for me. From the ever mysterious Voodoo Lady to the dread demon skull Murray, to the vicious pirate barbers of the Barbery coast. The cast is wonderful. It even has Gary Coleman as a snot-nosed lemonade/cannon salesman. So there’s that. And we can’t forget lovable buffoon Guybrush himself, can we? Bumbling his way through Plunder and Blood Islands, you can’t help but fall for his sarcastic wit and puppy-like enthusiasm. He’s a brilliant protagonist, and Dominic Armato is the only voice I could ever imagine for him now.
The game is full of clever puzzles, solid references and top-class humour that will keep you plodding along. You’ll collect items from the most unlikely of places (such as from the inside of a snake) and do some awful things to some unsuspecting people in the name of logic, and it’s all just so incredibly fun. There’s even a ‘hard mode’ which adds some more puzzles in to the game, for fans of the genre.
Something I have to highlight is the music. It’s absolutely enthralling and there’s a solidly hilarious reference to how ear-wormy it is in some well-hidden dialogue. From the rousing climax of the theme song to the rhyming battle of Act 3, the sound design is amazing from start to finish. The OST is gorgeous. I can’t stress this enough.
I’d recommend The Curse of Monkey Island to anyone with a funny bone, as well as anyone who likes to think.
#9 Final Fantasy V (GameBoy Advance, 2006)
I have chosen the GameBoy Advance version of this game as it is what I would consider the most complete and most visually pleasing, but you can find it on basically anything these days, including mobile devices.
Final Fantasy V is the fifth entry of the Final Fantasy series, originally released on the Super Famicom in 1992 and not released in the west until 1999 (and not until 2002 for Europe!) it was part of the trilogy of games that turned Final Fantasy into the powerhouse of story-telling that it is today. With IV, V and VI, Square took more and more risks when it came to telling a story, and did it on grander scales each time. This title follows Bartz (Butz in the east, lol), a traveller who comes across a meteorite. There he saves a girl from being attacked by goblins and the story snowballs from there. With a party consisting of 3/4s royalty and 4/4s descendants of heroes there is definitely reasoning behind how tough you can get.
This is the game that did class-based character development correctly, and the is the standard to which all class-based character development should be held. As you progress through the game you gain access to new classes that your party can equip which give them specialities. Black Mages for example are experts in dealing elemental damage, Knights are good at dealing and taking damage, Geomancers use quirky magic skills that depend upon the environments they are in, and so on. It was a truly revolutionary gameplay aspect. The ability to mix and match skills from different classes and customise your party to your tastes made the game infinitely replayable and to this day you can find challenges online such as the Four Job Fiesta which give you new and exciting ways to play the game.
I’d genuinely consider the game a masterpiece and would recommend it to anyone, really. It’s a wonderful game for fans of RPGs and those new to the genre.
#8 The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo Switch, 2017)
I really love this game. This is what I think open-world gaming should be. A distinct, achievable goal and plenty of content that lets you ignore it completely. Eschewing the traditional structured style of most past 3D Zeldas, Breath of the Wild gives us a breath of fresh air with a vast, interesting world to traverse and explore. With countless secrets, mini games and varied enemies to slay the game has a hell of a lot to do.
It’s the standard “Link and friends vs. Ganon” fare with a twist which makes Ganon more of a concept than an evil pig-guy. It’s vaguely interesting, but the main draw of the game I have to say is the exploration of the world, completion of shrines (which give you the means to increase you health and stamina bars) and collection of different weapons and armour. The game is so vast that it takes many hours of gameplay before getting even relatively bored.
Something that I have to stress is how complex and adaptable the physics engine of the game is. When you throw a bomb, most things will react realistically, you can pull off some fantastic tricks when it comes to launching yourself from great distances, and gliding from great heights is a fun pastime too. Similarly, the enemy AI is something to behold too. Monsters can catch thrown weapons, pick up dropped weapons, will investigate stray arrows and dropped bombs and the like. Playing around with a group of moblins is genuinely fun thing to do of an evening.
With all of Link’s new skills, new partners in crime and new range of duds, I really must recommend this game to anyone who owns a Switch. There’s so much I haven’t said but would love to expand on, but I don’t have all year.
#7 Spyro Reignited Trilogy (PS4, 2018)
Now this game is nostalgia working its rosy way around my heart. The original Spyro trilogy is something that I revisit almost each and every year, being a collection of games that I can navigate almost without thinking, they’re very dear to me. Now that this game has been released, I may not need to revisit them. This game is a fantastic, polished remake of those titles, with great care and effort put into them.
For the uninitiated, Spyro is a dragon who solves a few big problems by charging around a huge variety of levels with his flame breath and ability to fly (a bit), collecting gems, talismans and dragon eggs as he goes. The first game plays as a straight 3D platformer, while the second and third game incorporate many collectathon elements such as varied minigames and secondary things to collect, relegating gemstones to being simply currency.
Toys for Bob have done a fantastic job recreating the classic levels in their image. Some artistic choices have been quite controversial (such as Sheila now having a full head of hair) but I’m of the opinion that this new compilation plays to the strengths of the originals with mostly very tight controls, fantastic visuals and both the original score as well as a very decent re-imagining of the soundtrack.
This game will appeal heavily to any fans of the original trilogy, but I would also recommend it to anyone who never got the chance to play the originals. It’s a very strong entry in the Spyro canon and I’m excited to see what its popularity may bring.
#6 Octopath Traveler (Nintendo Switch, 2018)
A game so fantastic I’ve already written about it. I have a lot of positive feelings towards this game, and barely any negative. Check out the link for a full review.
Octopath Traveler is a throwback to the old RPGs of yore which enthralled me as a child. And judging by the popularity of this game, it had the same effect on many others. I’d recommend it to anyone who liked the old RPGs. It’s a wonderful love letter.
#5 Final Fantasy XV (PS4, 2016)
This year was the year I finally sat down and got through the deep and complex Final Fantasy XV story and completed the game. I think it’s wonderful, and a fantastic addition to the canon. While many saw the game as a disappointment, and many resented the many years it spent in Development Hell, I genuinely think this title was worth the wait.
With a very complicated backstory which is expanded on in a series of OVAs and an entire-ass movie, this world has a rich lore that is genuinely satisfying to learn about over the many hours you’ll be engrossed in this series. But even without that you can get an easy grasp on the story with a little bit of attention. You play as Noctis, a prince with some dedicated companions. He is the subject of a pretty important prophecy, which will come to play pretty soon in the game.
The game plays as an open-world game and it does that pretty well. You get a few methods of transportation (I’m fond of the car, but chocobos are just too fun) and combat is seamless. Speaking of combat, I’ll admit it’s pretty easy. Once you learn how to play defensively it’s quite difficult to lose, and you’re given so many healing items that it’s difficult to ever really die (until you end up in a dungeon which removes the ability to use them). With that in mind, the combat is so hectic and quick-paced that it remains fun to the end of the game, and the game does make a bold effort to switch things up towards the end of the game when you might be getting bored (with the Leviathan fight, the solo portion and the final bosses).
The game is objectively gorgeous, and Square-Enix totally outdid themselves this time. The music is not as notable as other entries in the series, but is still a highlight. Artistically, I love the game. The characters look amazing, the environments are lush and believable, with city design rooted in real-life which works well for immersion (Altissia being an absolute pleasure to explore).
I’d recommend this game to anyone. It has something for everyone.
#4 Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (PS4, 2017)
The highest Final Fantasy on the list. I have, over the years, easily put over a thousand hours into the Ivalice Alliance (this game, its sequel and the Tactics games) and this is where the side-series really hit the top spot. A remake of the PS2 title with a large amount of previously Japan-only improvements, The Zodiac Age feels like a whole new way to play FF12.
Adding in a class system which gives each character a powerful specialisation makes the game more interesting to play. In the original PS2 title you would often end up with six characters who played in pretty much exactly the same way, being able to use any spell, all of your equipment, and having all the same bonuses with only personal choice and some innate variation in stats distinguishing them. With this game, you can tailor each character to your specific tastes, as long as they fit in with one of the 12 class options the game provides you with. And with each character gaining 2 class options, you can freely explore every single class in a single game. It’s super adaptable and flexible, and is the most fun way to play with classes since Final Fantasy V.
The story is a pretty standard Hero’s Journey with many direct parallels to the Star Wars original trilogy, which is fun. The game has a few protagonists who are argued to this day to be the ‘main’ character, but I’d pluck for Princess Ashe, a royal forced into hiding who ends up leading a resistance against the empire (seeing the parallels?). Joining her are some pirates, some orphans and a knight thought to be a kingslayer. Add in some people from the empire who aren’t all that bad, nobles who actually help, demi-gods and mystical creatures who lend you their power after you kill them and you have yourself a top-tier Final Fantasy. With a unique combat system based on old MMOs where you can customise the priorities of each of your characters and their behaviours, gameplay is super varied and fun, despite what people who only take a superficial look at the game may say.
The game looks very beautiful, as it always did, but now in HD. Square-Enix knows how to do that. Music too, with some beautiful pieces that are reminiscent of both Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. The game is fun. I’d recommend it to anyone with many hours to spare and a love of compelling storytelling.
#3 Two Point Hospital (PC, 2018)
Another game I loved enough to write about, Two Point Hospital was an absolute highlight of the games released this year. Two Point Studios delivered on their promise to give us a successor to Theme Hospital and more. Read the review to see why.
I’d recommend Two Point Hospital to anyone with a sense of humour and a love for tycoon simulation games.
#2 Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate (Nintendo Switch, 2018)
A game so good I played it in Japanese before I could play it in English. On the success of Monster Hunter: World, Capcom saw fit to give this game a port to the west, something nobody really expected. Probably the biggest Monster Hunter game to date, this game features thousands of pieces of equipment to craft and I think over a hundred different monsters to learn about, track, and hunt. You have many weapons to pick up, each with different ‘styles’ to learn (whether you want the classic Guild style, the flighty Aerial style or others, you’ll have to get to grips with them fast to use them to their best ability) and thus so, so many things to do. With hundreds of quests and stable, fun online options the game is packed with things to do. You will never run out of things to collect and things to hunt.
The game is just fun. Learning how to dodge each monster’s arsenal of attacks, learning what items to bring to each fight, honing your skills and cutting monsters down quicker and quicker every time is a purely satisfying thing to do. Training up a horde of kitty buddies and even playing as one is fun also. Exploring villages and areas from old Monster Hunter games, and meeting old and new monsters alike: the game is a love letter to the series and it’s a fantastic title for any fan.
I’d seriously recommend this game for anyone who has played a Monster Hunter game, especially if they’ve only played World. Additionally, anyone who likes difficult combat (in the vein of Dark Souls especially), grinding and equipment crafting.
#1 Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (Nintendo Switch, 2017)
And here we are, finally at the end of the road. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is a game I cannot help but adore. It has likeable characters, and a lot of them, a huge range of side-quests, a complex and interesting development system for your party members, and so much Welsh representation. Well, okay, not Welsh, but cat-people with Welsh accents and colloquialisms. In fact, the voice-acting and culture-setting in general is pretty fantastic in this game.
In this game you play as Rex, who is a diver. Who dives in thick clouds, searching for salvage. And lives on a creature. Who he calls grandpa. It’s a weird, unique world these characters live in, but it’s one that is fun to explore and becomes a normality soon enough. The story hooks you in pretty soon with a cast of likeable and varied characters, interesting and beautiful locations and some twists and turns right out the gate. The game itself is very good at making you want to play it. And I’ve played it for… a few hundred hours? It’s very good.
Combat is good. You can switch between a number of ‘support characters’ who dictate what weapons you use, and your party members can do the same. And you get these support characters through a sort of ‘gacha system’ whereby you collect cores that contain them. When you open a core, a random character pops out, with the more unique, powerful characters with personalities being far rarer then the common, bland ones. What this means is that you’ll be cracking cores open a lot to find the best characters in the game and it feels exciting, and sometimes frustrating, and then satisfying. It’s a pretty gimmicky system that I only sort of enjoy. But once you have enough good characters, you’re done with it if you want to be.
This game is a long one, requiring a lot of effort and some learning. Becoming good at the combat is sometimes an uphill struggle, with many tricks to learn (as with its predecessor) to disable and destroy your enemies. With threatening and complex villains, you’ll want to learn them quickly to take them out. And with side-quests that are both highly difficult and highly rewarding, you’ll want to master the combat system.
I’d recommend this game to anyone who likes RPGs and has a taste for good stories and likeable characters, and twists and turns.
Well there we go. I hope you liked this list: it was a year in the making!