January 3, 2020 | by Rose
Rose’s Top Video Games in The Year of Pandering to Her

Was it just me or did this year last like 10 years? Ignoring all the numerous hell things going on in the world, just remembering that Kingdom Hearts 3 and Sekiro both came out this year was like a shotgun to my brain. At least for games this is a good thing; after all 2019 might just be the most diverse year we’ve ever had across the medium. With a critical darling in nearly every genre, you’d have to really try to not be super stoked about something on offer.

For me, this was a year where I started with a clear assumption that gradually got torn away as time went on. While I expected certain games to be in my good graces, and they absolutely still are, so many hidden threats seeped out of the woodworks and weaseled their way into my heart. On top of all the new hits, I actually went back to play a bunch of older games for the first time, such as games I’ve meant to play for years and years but never really got around to doing it. To start off my list, I’m gonna write a few bits about those games, and why I think they hold up, and should be given a shot even today.

The Atelier Series

I’ve been meaning to play the Atelier series for like, what, five years or something? I’m huge on the Neptunia games and they’ve always been sold to me as those but with an extra bit of polish and a whole lot more gameplay direction. For once I actually feel like that selling point was right on the money, and boy does it rule. The Atelier games are all about cute girls doing alchemy and going on adventures with friends and family members while they solve generally laid back mysteries. While there are some entries that go more serious than others, I’ve found myself especially enjoying the Dusk Trilogy of games, which take place in a really grim post apocalyptic world, but almost entirely ignore this. Using a grim spooky setting as the backdrop for upbeat lesbian adventures is like my fucking ambrosia and if you’re the type of person who maybe is into that sort of thing then I highly recommend picking up Atelier Ayesha or Escha and Logy if you get the chance.

Final Fantasy VIII

So I haven’t gotten incredibly far into FF8, but I am absolutely in love with pretty much everything it has going on. This is a AAA juggernaut revolutionary game for the time where they make you spend like five minutes watching a man freak out and get a leg cramp falling over himself trying to ask a girl out on a date. For the time especially that’s incredible, and I found myself continuously impressed by more and more of the game’s presentation and ideas. People say a lot of games were ahead of their time, and that usually applies to complete failures or overlooked niche hits. I’d argue, however, that Final Fantasy VIII was the type of game that was absolutely appreciated for specific reasons back in 1999, and can be appreciated for even more twenty years later. Oh yeah the draw system by the way? Kicks ass. You know it’s a good FF game when everyone’s a Blue Mage.

Titanfall 2

You know I do a whole lot of talking about how Halo Reach is my favorite shooter of all time, and like, one of the best games ever made. In the time since Halo Reach, I’ve been increasingly disappointed both inside and outside the Halo series, as everyone tried desperately to either throw out any semblance of clever design and balance in favor of aping Call of Duty, or worse, Battle Royales. Titanfall 2 however, is one of the best damn shooters I have ever played and it is a CRIME that it didn’t get the staying power of any other big name shooter. With tons of options for traversal, a bunch of different mechs that all feel meaningfully different, and a co-op mode that’s a thousand times better than the suckfest that is Call of Duty Zombies, there’s just so much to do that it’s always a fun time. Sure the game is a little rough around the edges, with a very freemium style UI and an aesthetic that is simultaneously the best and worst, but it’s still a game I kept having a blast in no matter how many hours I threw in. I still haven’t even done the campaign which everyone hypes up so much, and I’m this in love with it! Please try it if you can because it’s a hell of a lot better, and has a much more cohesive design philosophy than any other FPS released in the last decade.

Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age

 

I like the Dragon Quest games now! As someone who actively avoided the franchise because I thought they would be incredibly boring and ugly, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed playing through the eleventh major installment. Though I still don’t care for the overall appearance of the game, something about seeing high fidelity Toriyama characters works surprisingly well, and the monster designs more than make up for whatever disgusting humanoids the game throws at you over the course of its 100+ hour campaign. Though the series did end up being as faithful to the core tenants of a JRPG as I expected, that never made it boring, and the characterization of even the most simplest of mechanics made things feel much more impactful than they actually would’ve seemed to be. I’m excited to dig into a bunch of the back catalog of this endless thousand game long series now that I know more about it, and maybe finally understand what’s going on with that crazy “Rocket Slime” guy everyone’s always talking about.

Also!

So yeah! Go play those games! I also highly recommend Radiant Historia, specifically for the 3DS. It’s a great game that uses time travel in an actually clever and well considered way, and I really enjoyed it for its unique tone and feeling. Crosscode is a pretty good banger from last year too, taking the atmosphere and concepts of an MMO and popping them into a puzzle-filled RPG. Anyways, 2019.

10: Indivisible

Indivisible is by no means a perfect game, but it’s also one that I genuinely had a blast playing for almost the entire time I spent with it. Sure the backtracking got a little annoying, and there was a lot left to be desired in the story department, but I found myself completely unable to put this game down until I beat it which is something that has become increasingly rarer as the years have gone on. Hopefully with future updates inbound, Lab Zero can clean up any of the lingering issues with the game because there really is a lot to like. With a colorful cast, satisfying thwacks, and a whole bunch of womens for me to go “wahow!” at, I think Indivisible was well worth the time I gave it.

9: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

I might not be the wildest Castlevania head out there but god damn do I love me Symphony of the Night. With the rough history of Kickstarter-backed spiritual successors, everyone was afraid that Bloodstained might just sputter out and die at release but luckily this wasn’t even close to a Mighty No. 9. There’s so many systems in this game that it sometimes gets overwhelming, but interacting with them and fooling around with exploration and different character builds is still fun in a way that pretty much no other game in the Metroidvania genre has done in years. It was pretty easy to cheese most of the game, but you get to do so by turning into a bunny girl demon so who can possibly say if it’s bad or not? There’s still lots of content coming to this game down the line, and I’ll totes dive back in for some more hoppin’ and choppin’.

8: Kingdom Hearts III

Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever thought that a Kingdom Hearts game could end up this low on a top ten list, but Kingdom Hearts III really gutted me in a lot of bummerific ways. It was still fun, and it was an outrageous spectacle in the way that I expect Kingdom Hearts to be, but there was just something…off about the whole thing. I don’t know if it was an overfocus on the Disney side of things, a mostly sterile interpretation of those properties from a series that once pit Cloud Strife against Hercules with complete and utter sincerity, but after waiting over ten years for a true blockbuster follow up to Kingdom Hearts II, we got what feels like yet another side game. 

There are moments where Kingdom Hearts III shines, where it delivers on years and years of plot build up and emotionally resonates with the deepest most innocent parts of our brains. Unfortunately for each time of triumph, there’s a handful of “what could have been”s and “what should have been”s. Throw into that the series’ worst handling of female characters to date and damn, I just couldn’t help but shake my head. I still love Kingdom Hearts, and I’m excited to play the DLC, but Kingdom Hearts III deserved better than this.

7: Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

When Sekiro is good? It’s easily one of the best games you could ever play in your entire life. Full of blistering high speed high stakes combat- the natural progression of FromSoftware’s design ethos after Bloodborne– this is a game that rewards your mastery of its mechanics more than almost any you or I could name. The fight against Genichiro on the top of the castle towards the middle of the game is one of the best vibe checks in gaming; one that’s patient but demanding. Gradually unraveling the ways you can use your sword to fuck shit up feels sooo satisfying, and the adrenaline you get from slamming your sword into any of the game’s bosses after a long battle feels amazing.

When Sekiro is bad though? It really just bums you all the way out. For a game that succeeds at 1v1 battles, it has a propensity to increase the difficulty by just…tossing in an identical second enemy that you have to contend with. This wouldn’t be a problem if you could use your tools more but all of your tools use up /the same/ currency that doesn’t even regenerate upon death so you always feel like you have to save them rather than actually experiment with them. Sometimes fights go on just a little too long (looking at you final boss), and sometimes they’re just way too short! While I appreciate FromSoft branching out and getting a little wild with their game format, and I think that they mostly pulled it off, I wish they had the courage to not rely on a lot of the trappings people have come to expect from Souls games to complete their package.

6: Death Stranding

Speaking of games I wish weren’t held back by something hey when the hell is Kojima going to let himself have a proper invested editor again? I’m of the mind that when it comes to designing and executing on unique game mechanics Kojima is almost second to none. The man has an incredible way of nailing not only a consistent atmosphere that keeps you engrossed but incredibly wacky and imaginative things to do that no one else would even dream of trying. It’s just a shame he has to hold himself back with his weird hyper specific tastes and mediocre script writing! Why!

MGS V, while being one of my favorite Metal Gear games, already painted a troubling picture for what Kojima considered to be “a good story,” and Death Stranding pretty much followed its exact blueprint. While I loved the core gameplay loop of Death Stranding, the social narrative of creating easier ways for others to play the game alongside you, and the overwhelming and oppressive atmosphere the world cultivates, the core narrative was kind of just a bummer. More than anything it made me feel disappointed in the game as a whole, a cohesive whole brought down by some of the worst D grade TV writing has to offer. 

That said though the gameplay was truly incredible stuff that one would never have expected from a major AAA release. Walking is a big deal that actually matters, combat is a tertiary system you want to mostly avoid, and you spend most of the game building roads and other random structures out in the middle of the wilderness so that you get “likes” which don’t actually do anything! It’s great! When people call Kojima a visionary it’s because of stuff like this, these are really great, unique, and well implemented ideas that make Death Stranding a game like no other. I just hope that for Kojima’s next project he can maybe get someone else to proof his work, that way we can get a whole lot less of Die-Hardman telling us how to recharge a motorcycle’s battery over and over, and more of Die-Hardman telling us how stacking pizza correctly is real important shit.

5: Fire Emblem: Three Houses

There’s not much I can say other than I love Fire Emblem so of course this is here, here are some miscellaneous thoughts. 

  • Some of this game’s writing sucks ass but almost all of the character writing is top notch stuff. It relies heavily on tropes, but the way that each member of your house plays off each other means you’re gonna have a hard time not falling in love with all of your rowdy students/soldiers/killing machine. 
  • It’s not Fire Emblem Fates: The Incest Olympics
  • Edelgard is my wife.

    4: Disco Elysium

Man we never get any fuckin’ real RPGs anymore! Ever since Mass Effect and the Bioware format in general took to the scene we’ve had to sit by and watch as voiced protagonists and bombastic set pieces limited what could happen in experiences meant to be molded out of various options. While there’s been plenty of stuff going on in the CRPG scene between hits like Pillars of Eternity and Divinity: Original Sin, the combat in those games has always been a huge hill I could never overcome due to various issues and personal sentiments. Thankfully Disco Elysium came, kicked ass as a completely original Role Playing Game, and didn’t make me do a million clickings or strategizings to experience what it had to offer.

I feel like everyone’s said what makes Disco Elysium good by now, but I’m just gonna reiterate that, it’s very good. Kim is one of the best partners in video games, and gradually seeing what kind of person he is over the course of your interactions humanizes him in a way that most writers could only dream. The character building is incredibly unique with a huge slew of unique personality options that most games would never consider “something you spec into.” I don’t want to spoil anymore of this game than what you might’ve seen online but if you love to read and enjoy leftist politics I cannot recommend Disco Elysium enough.

3: Control 

I am the hardcore Alan Wake head. I think at Video Game Choo Choo, more than any other website, you will find a lot of Alan Wake heads. With good reason too! Remedy has this incredible style and direction that they put into all of their games that few can even dream of matching. Wearing their influences on their sleeves, Remedy has the courage to do what no one else in the business is even trying to do: Incorporate both musical sequences, and Full Motion Video to full effect in a 2019 big budget title. 

Seeing an SCP game brought to life outside of the clunky vaporware that is Containment Breach is the best shit ever, and having it all be delivered in a similar format to the best television show of all time, Twin Peaks: The Return? Incomparable stuff. Add in a strong female lead who doesn’t rely on any tropes to be sick as hell, a ton of easter eggs about Alan Wake, and some of the most thought out and realistic environmental design that actually encourages you to read signs to figure out where to go next (!!!) and you have a recipe for yet another Remedy classic.

2: Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers

1: Devil May Cry V

Pullin’ shots – aimin’ dots – Yeah I don’t miss

Branded by Fire – Born in the abyss

Red hot temper – I just can’t resist

All this vengeance inside me

All of these thoughts runnin’ through my head

Arm on fire, veins burnin’ red

Frustration is gettin’ bigger

Bang Bang Bang – Pull my Devil Trigger!

 

 

Rose

Rose is a video games player, video games writer, and video games thinker from MA. She has a lot of opinions.

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