I spent the whole time editing this podcast on a yoga ball. So Gabe, I get you.
2016’s been one for the books in just about a hundred ways, but one of the more positive things it’s wrought is a slew of really unique and fun games. If there was one word I’d use to describe the type of games that have been most popular this year, it’s “cozy.” Nearly every game on this list was an invaluable asset in helping myself and others cope with the weight of the world that only ever grows. Whether it was engaging stories, simple mechanics, or just plain fun, every game included on this list is one that you’ve probably already heard me recommend at least a half dozen times.
2017 might not look as promising as we’d like, but hopefully for those of us who need it, it’ll provide us with just as many cozy and merry experiences as the year before. Happy Holidays everyone~
Though they’re not quite list-worthy, it’d feel wrong to leave out a few of my more personal highlights from this year. I’ve talked for days and days about the amazing level design of Bloodborne, the fantastic bosses, and the enthralling atmosphere Yharnam gives to its players, but it still bears mentioning here. Stardew Valley is a game I know I’ll love, but unfortunately was kept off from playing because of poor controller support and chronic illness. I’d also like to give my last kudos to World of Final Fantasy, which is adorable, clever and fun, but a little too by the numbers to consider one of my top 10.
10. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The battle between this and Bloodborne for my “2015 games I played in 2016” slot was tough and hard, but you just can’t beat old Gerry.
I remember picking up The Witcher from Good Old Games in the winter of 2010 on school break. I had just moved schools so I didn’t have many people around to really hang with during holiday break. Choosing to spend the latter half of that break, and a good chunk of January, on that game is the type of experience I can instantly call to mind. I remember wandering through this strange world, engrossed in this complex and branching narrative, and despite the game’s horrible rhythm-based combat, I was enamored. Seeing that game turn into The Witcher 2 was incredible enough on its own, so you can only imagine how I felt when I finally got to try my hand at Wild Hunt earlier this year.
Video game trilogies always seem to be cursed, trapped balancing a several years-old list of story threads and expectations, but The Witcher 3 makes this act seem effortless. I’m trying not to gush, but at every turn I was dazzled by sharp dialogue, intricate side quests, and the first open world I’d explored where tracking down every symbol on the map actually meant something to me. If you haven’t already played it I don’t think I could recommend it enough, this is one of The Greats™.
I didn’t know what to expect out of Oxenfree. For a while I thought it was just another “Gone Home“: an experience focused on casual exploration and investigation. After playing Firewatch earlier in the year, I figured I’d give myself a breather from that type of game for a good while- I had plenty of other games on my plate anyways. Then Niall played it and after hearing more of what he had to say about the game, I took a dive and man…am I glad I did.
Oxenfree strives to emulate a recently re-popularized genre; where mystery, intrigue, and enough teen angst to make even John Hughes shed a tear all meld together into one. I’ve always been a sucker for mysteries, and Oxenfree masterfully delivers not only through its characters, each with their own problems and relationships, but also through one of the most impressive demonstrations of sound design in any form of media.
When you tune the radio in Oxenfree (which you’ll be doing a lot), it feels impactful. It feels like you’re really reaching into something dark, something powerful, something… dangerous. If you’ve got a few hours to kill and can cover the easily justifiable price of entry, Oxenfree is a fantastic experience that will hook itself into you ’till the end.
8. World of Warcraft: Legion
I played WoW again! That’s pretty fucked up!
I was never the type of crazed World of Warcraft player, whispered about in hushed circles as THAT girl. I used to play quite a bit during the Wrath of the Lich King days, but that time was mostly used as a means to talk to and meet new people, or the occasional embarrassing teen role-play. Any time that I’ve tried to go back after my 2010 Halo obsession took over was met with little to no success.
Being the horrible mess I am, when I saw a new class with horns and wings, and my favorite edgy idiot Illidan in all the promo art, I cautiously jumped back in. It surprisingly turned out much better than I thought. Legion isn’t the magic panacea for Warcraft‘s woes, but it tries and treads enough new ground that competitors like Final Fantasy XIV don’t feel as many miles ahead. The dungeons are still a mess, class balance is a continuing nightmare, but there’s just something about the freedom you have in exploring The Broken Isles that really sets Legion apart.
But hey, Blizzard, maybe next time you could make a more alt-friendly expansion, I sure wouldn’t complain.
7. Dark Souls III
This is easily the weakest Souls game I’ve played, but that’s like judging the quality of the third $100 bill in my wallet. While it’s clear series director Hidetaka Miyazaki was wearing a “I’d rather be developing Bloodborne” t-shirt, Dark Souls 3 still managed to exhale enough minty freshness with its dying breath to keep me enthralled from start to finish. Lothric doesn’t have the depth of Lordran or the intrigue of Drangelic, but it’s still filled with beautiful locales, and easily the best bosses and presentation in the entire series.
The new additions are underwhelming, the amount of fanservice is overwhelming, and the odd neutering of certain features and elements can feel baffling. It may be more of a greatest hits album than a new record, but in the end Dark Souls 3 still reminds you why those hits were so great in the first place.
I used to make fun of this game! I used to joke to my highschool friends about how cheesy the original Game Jolt version of this game was. Back then it was a tenth of the game it is now, and while the sequence that used to be the butt of so many jokes still isn’t very good, Imscared manages to execute its concept, a meta horror game, amazingly well.
Even when Imscared is at its worst, it never feels frustrating. Every puzzle, every new sequence, hell, even some of the scares left me spellbound. Imscared knows restraint: where other games would pop out a jump scare, it waits deliberately. It knows what it’s trying to do, it knows when to show its hand, and it’s going to be when you least expect it.
I can’t stress enough the amusement i had from the lock on a gate breaking after I deleted a file on my desktop; or from trying to figure out the source of a mysterious voice, only to look at my taskbar and see chrome opened up with a mysterious let’s play. Imscared is short but sweet, and I’ll definitely be holding it high on my pedestal of horror for many years to come.
What can I say about Doom that hasn’t been said? It’s not a crazy reimagining, it’s not a hot new reboot that moves past the tried and true for greener pastures. Doom provides you the same visceral and fast-paced world that the series is known for. While most modern games strive for a blend of narrative complexity and interesting gameplay, Doom makes its protagonist’s canonical name “Doomguy,” and provides you with enough guns and demons to keep you entertained for as long as you want.
As a series veteran, the type of kid who downloaded Doom “legally” from internet forums in the early 2000’s, this was the type of shooter I’ve spent these CoD-filled years longing for. It’s fast, it’s gory, it’s fun, it’s Doom, and I don’t know what more I could’ve asked for.
I was left depressed and fearful after the last generation of Pokémon, where progress and innovation took a backseat to fanservice and simplicity. For me, Pokémon Sun and Moon have been the equivalent of seeing a sickly old family cat who had been taking a turn for the worse start running around faster and climbing further than it ever had before. Sun and Moon take risks, they try new things, and they actually innovate on the type of series evolution X and Y had all but abandoned.
From Z-moves, Totem Battles, and a deeper story that could give even generation 5’s games a run for their money, everything about Sun and Moon feels new. The characters are charming, the music is catchy, and the Pokémon are somehow cuter than ever before. I’m very thankful to the recently successful Yokai Watch, for actually making Game Freak push itself to to try, twenty years later. If you’ve been on the fence, Sun and Moon are a fresh tropical breeze that fans of Pokémon would be remiss to not soak in.
I never liked Team Fortress 2. It always felt like a hodge podge of half finished ideas wrapped around some of my least favorite game modes in Halo. When Blizzard announced Overwatch I was, like most, immediately skeptical. Between Widowmaker’s inflating boobs in the reveal trailer, and a complete disinterest in that type of multiplayer experience, I figured this was just another esports style game that I’d read about on Twitter and never play. That was, until I got into the closed beta and fell in love.
Overwatch takes the ideas of TF2, expands upon them, and tightens them up into an unrivaled multiplayer game. Nearly every character in the 23 member cast plays both exceptionally well, and completely different from any other. It’s a game where you can get bored of one role, and immediately jump to a new one at will. Of course there are the classic balancing woes that plague any game with a large cast, but the balancing has at least been good enough to the point where one character typically doesn’t exceedingly outshine any other.
There’s just nothing else really like it right now, and I can’t remember the last time I had so many people to play a multiplayer game with since the peak of Halo: Reach. The sheer amount of times in the first few months of its release where I would just pick up and play as long as I wanted, even just a couple matches is larger than I’d have ever expected. Plus, it’s a game where my two mains are over the age of 60 and the fact that I can say that about a multiplayer shooter is more than enough to award Overwatch this high of a slot.
2. VA-11 HALL-A
If you’ve known me for a long time then you definitely know I’m more than a bit of a cyberpunk fiend. The atmosphere, the feelings, the sounds, everything about the cyberpunk aesthetic has always been near and dear to my (unfortunately) unaugmented heart. I first heard about VA-11 HALL-A from a build released during a cyberpunk game jam a couple years back. Back then, I was really into the idea of acting as the background character that fills so many cyberpunk stories. Flash forward to this year, and yeah, It’s a damn good idea.
VA-11 HALL-A on its surface looks like just another one of those anime-style games that ultimately comprise of nothing but a cavalcade of tropes. However, within the first twenty minutes of playing, you quickly realize there’s much more to it than that. From the subtle information picked up from a sleazy reporter, to the war stories of a sweet and kind enforcer, it becomes obvious the game isn’t going to wear its setting as a superficial dress. Even when the character’s stories get personal, they all end up feeling like a product of this dark world, where despite it all, people are still people.
That’s what makes VA-11 HALL-A work; behind every trope, behind every crass joke or odd tangent, is a person who becomes more and more relatable with every conversation. While it may not be the most in-depth, or the most dynamic, VA-11 HALL-A won me over with its fantastic presentation, engaging characters, rich soundtrack, and ever breathing world. In fact, I’d go as far as to call it the best game this year, except for one late snag…
1. Final Fantasy XV
— ❄️????Cinnamom????❄️ (@horngal) December 4, 2016
Final Fantasy XV is the fulfillment of a promise, with all the implications that phrase brings with it. It’s a mess of clashing narratives, conflicting gameplay, and varying character motivations. It’s a story about living life with your friends and what that means; it’s a story about being destined to die. After ten years of development, Square Enix somehow managed to pull the dying Versus XIII together into it’s own cohesive experience. A Final Fantasy for fans: full of references and familiarity – but at the same time, a Final Fantasy for first timers: fresh and new, lacking any of the baggage expected from similar long-running series. I’ve never quite played something like Final Fantasy XV, and that’s exactly what I wanted to feel.
I’ve been waiting for Final Fantasy XV for over ten years, and a lot has changed in that time. I’ve grown up, I’m no longer that teen playing Kingdom Hearts and old PSX Final Fantasys: I’m an adult playing…alright maybe this analogy isn’t as good as I thought. My point is, even though I’ve changed in inumerous ways since the reveal of Versus XIII, I’m still into Final Fantasy because of what it sets out to do. No Final Fantasy game is ever the same as the last: each new entry always strives to do something different, and Final Fantasy XV might be the biggest departure yet.
By finally stepping away from the classic turn-based battle system of all Final Fantasys before it, XV is allowed to breathe. You’ll still plan strategies and use your party members, but you’re not just tabbing through a menu to assign orders before the enemy gets to attack – you’re living the fight. Your party members aren’t just “classes”, known primarily for what they are than who they are, they’re your bros. Your bros will always do their own thing, but as soon as you need them they’ll run to your side at the drop of a dime. Even aside from them, every character in the world of Eos is oozing a personality. Regardless of how ultimately deep they may be, they each represent a type of person you’d run into in your real life.
Few games have enraptured me the way XV has. I played over 60 hours of the game in its launch week, not because I felt I had to, but because it kept me wanting all that time. There is a lot wrong with Final Fantasy XV, but even what’s wrong ends up adding to the charm. In a world where games often end up a sum of their pros, or a sum of their cons, Final Fantasy XV is a bizarre hybrid. It’s successes often depend on its shortcomings, and its shortcomings often can come because of its successes. I’ve never really seen anything like it, and that’s why I can’t help but latch onto it as my favorite game of 2016.