The year is slowly coming to a close, which means it's time for me to talk about the games I really liked this year. At first glance, I thought this year was pretty weak when it came to releases overall. But when I went through and compiled my list, I realized there were a lot of nice experiences that I almost forgot I enjoyed in the first place. This is probably because time feels like an exhausting, compressed orb that is crushing us all and leaving no hope for the future.
Regardless, there was quite a bit to enjoy this year, so without further ado, let's get started! Oh but two addendums: First, know that this list does include games that didn't actually come out this year specifically. This is a list of games that I played this year and enjoyed, regardless of release date. This list is also unranked, because ranked lists are weird to me in a medium that provides so many varied experiences. And finally, shout out to @rainfruit on Mastodon for doing this year's GOTY and MOTY art!
Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition
Vesperia was always a bit of a white whale for me, having released on a console I was never interested in. I had always heard of its quality, but never got a chance to experience it myself. Luckily, Bandai Namco agreed that more people should be able to enjoy the game, and released it on the PS4 and Switch. And I'm glad they did — Tales of Vesperia is every bit as good as people made it out to be, and has aged gracefully since its original release. The cast is entertaining, and the questions the game asks about following authority in the face of desperate situations are interesting. Yuri is the type of person that would rather feed a fascist to giant scorpions than try and use the power of friendship to defeat him, which feels especially prescient in 2019. A weaker final-third isn't enough to stop Vesperia from being one of the best games I played this year.
Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown
I've been waiting for this game for so long, and wow did Team Aces deliver. After a series of middling-to-downright-disappointing releases, Ace Combat 7 looked to be a return to form, going back to its focus on weird military plots and giant fantasy-sci fi weapons. The game deals it in spades. If you've never played it before, Ace Combat is basically Metal Gear Solid in jets, with an incredible soundtrack to match. In fact, it fills in the hole where Metal Gear Solid used to be, now that Hideo Kojima is too busy with his current Postman simulator. Definitely check it out.
Slay the Spire
There's a beauty to "just one more run" types of games. I'm usually deeply addicted to at least one of them every year, and this year's culprit is Slay the Spire. It took forever to release to the Switch, but boy if the wait wasn't worth it — my playtime can attest to that. I was surprised that no one had thought to combine the standard rougelike structure into a card game before, because it fits the genre like a glove. Crafting the perfect deck is a combination of skill and luck that almost never feels unfair, and there are always new strategies to experiment with. Despite coming out months ago, I still play Slay the Spire at least once every day, which is pretty much the most ringing endorsement I can give it.
Devil May Cry V
I was tempted to just type "Pull My Devil Trigger" in this spot and moving on, but I promised I was going to put more effort into this post this year, so here we are. Like Ace Combat 7, Devil May Cry V is a return to form, long-awaited after the edgy, sniper-abortion-filled mess that was DmC: Devil May Cry. And like Ace Combat 7, it was worth the wait: DMCV is the most accessible game in the series, with tight character-action that has a huge skill-ceiling, but can still be enjoyed by casual players who just want to do cool shit and look cool doing it. The soundtrack slaps, the story is nonsensical hype, and there's at least one scene where the main characters do a silly dance — there's really no more to it.
Now it's time to stare at Platinum expectantly until it gives us Bayonetta 3 so we can keep this genre-train going.
Now I know what you're thinking: "Really Mint? A gacha phone game?" But hear me out: Dragalia Lost is really good. It is! It's just a competently made game. The gacha is there, but really only necessary for the most hardcore endgame content, which I'm personally not that interested in. I and a few friends have played the game for a while now without spending a single cent, and get along just fine. It's polished in a way that I never would have expected from a mobile game — a genre that I actually didn't have much experience with before Dragalia Lost, but which I now appreciate given my busy lifestyle. So yeah. It's on the list! This is my blog, what are you gonna do about it??
I wasn't expecting to like Katana Zero as much as I did. I finished it in a day, which is less a testament to the game's length and more to the fact that I literally could not put it down until I was finished with it. After the semi-disappointment that was Hotline Miami 2, Katana Zero tagged itself in to offer the same fast-paced, instant respawn gameplay. The Swordsman begins and ends the game with the same skillset, with each room he cuts his way through turning into a puzzle that forces you to use the kit to its fullest potential. There's also an extremely unique and interesting dialogue system that I wasn't expecting, where your protagonist has time to interrupt or ignore conversations as they happen. It doesn't have much of an effect on the plot itself, but I appreciated the personalization it added. Honestly the only thing I didn't like about Katana Zero was that it ended with some questions left unanswered. I want more, which says a lot about the game.
Final Fantasy: Lightning Returns
Bet you weren't expecting to find a weirder choice for a GOTY pick than Dragalia Lost, were you? Listen: I finally got around to playing the Final Fantasy XIII Trilogy this year. I liked FFXIII, and I wasn't very fond of FFXIII-2. But Lightning Returns hit me in a way I wasn't expecting. Everything about it, from its action-y combat system to the meloncholy-yet-hopeful atmosphere to the fact that I got to play dress-up with Lightning, made it stick out to me as a memorable Final Fantasy experience. Those are few and far between, so I have to give credit where credit where it's due. And I also have to give credit to the fact that the XIII trilogy really wasn't that bad — hindsight is 20/20 and all that, but I'm going to be a bit more wary of ruthless gamer criticism from now on.
Collection of Mana
Going to give it to you straight: the only real reason that this game is on the list is because Seiken Densetsu 3, now officially known in the west as Trials of Mana, finally got a true, localized released in the states. After Chrono Trigger, Trials of Mana is one of my favorite SNES games ever, and one of my favorite games of all time, so I'm extremely happy that it's easier for people to enjoy it. This game was truly ahead of its time, with multiple story paths based on a chosen character, cool job upgrades, and a natural evolution to Secret of Mana's combat that makes it even more engaging...honestly the only caveat I can give towards this game is maybe waiting until next year to play the remake, which will without a doubt also be on next year's GOTY list.
Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers
This was a tough one for me to put on the list, to be honest. Do expansions count enough to be their own game? Sure, why not. The real issue for me, though, is that to enjoy Shadowbringers you have to run the MMO gauntlet in Final Fantasy XIV's A Realm Reborn questline, and that's such a big caveat that until it gets fixed by Yoshi-P and Co., I can't recommend FFXIV wholeheartedly. All that said, Shadowbringers is simply the best Final Fantasy experience in years, if not a full decade. It captures the sprit of the series that I haven't felt so strongly since FFX. The story is beautifully woven, filled to the brim with callbacks to the years-long journey our Warrior of Light has been on that it makes the whole thing feel personal in a way that's only possible in a well-written MMO. Its finale is one of the most exciting things I've experienced this year. And it has a Nier crossover! I mean, come on! Do I really have to explain further?
Grandia HD Collection
I'm so happy this pair of games hasn't been entirely forgotten. Yeah, the port is a bit rough around the edges, but it doesn't dull the shine these games give off. The first game is so endearing and earnest in its pursuit for adventure that it feels like a relic from happier times. The latter is what happens when you get the entire cast of Metal Gear Solid and have them dub a JRPG. And both games have a battle system that still hasn't been topped by most of the competition in its genre. I always appreciate a JRPG that turns standard encounters that are usually a "Mash X to win" affair into something engaging, and I'm surprised more games haven't gone the route of Child of Light and tried to imitate the style. Regardless, the Grandia HD Collection is a classic experience that shouldn't be overlooked.
I feel bad for the people who thought Astral Chain was going to have a plot like Nier Automata's. That was a Yoko Taro endeavor, and while Astral Chain plays very similarly, it doesn't deliver nearly as much on the narrative front. That's fine though because Astral Chain whips so much ass. Very rarely do I anticipate something as much as I did this game and end up being satisfied on every level, but that's how I felt playing this one. The combat takes a few hours to get used to, but eventually it turns into an acrobatic dance of death, with you and your (Chaos) Legion cutting through the battlefield in a synchronized display. It is, for lack of a better word, hype, and I was whooping with excitement more times than I can count. PlatinumGames rarely disappoint, and Astral Chain was no exception.
River City Girls
I love cute stuff. It's an aspect of myself that I have fully embraced this past year and a half, and I've been a lot happier for it. Shedding toxic masculinity and embracing pastels is something I recommend to everyone. River City Girls is about cute girls in pastels that kick ass — of course it was going to be on this list. It's an entertaining beat-em-up experience from beginning to end, with a lot of combo potential and some great dialogue. Kyoko is one of my favorite characters of the year, too. The ending leaves a lot to be desired, and it's probably not nearly as fun if you're playing it by yourself unless you're a major River City fan, but you're always one dab away from forgetting all that and enjoying yourself.
I'm not, like, the biggest Dark Souls fan. I like Bloodborne, but that's about it. A good way to get me to like Dark Souls is to let me make a hot anime girl, with multiple coffins strapped to her outfit like a walking Hot Topic advertisement. It also helps to make the game approachable and accessible in a way that Dark Souls isn't (more on that later). Code Vein is probably "too easy" for Dark Souls purists. Its story leaves much to be desired — hell, I started skipping some of the cutscenes if they were repetitive or dragged on for too long. But dammit if it wasn't fun to play! It was edgy and faux-heavy metal in a way only anime can be, and watching my hot vampire girl and her hot vampire friends kill monsters never stopped being entertaining.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
Oh hey, speaking of approachable Dark Souls! I've always been a fan of Respawn, so I was confident that Fallen Order would be a good experience. What I didn't expect was that it was going to be Dark Souls with difficulty levels, sprinkled with some Metroid and a dash of Tomb Raider platforming. It's a chimeric little game, and while it's derivative in most senses of the word, it does all of the things it copies very well. The combat is fast and fun, and the exploration is fulfilling outside of some tedious backtracking at times. I wasn't expecting a Star Wars game, a genre known for its explosive set-pieces, to be so meditative. Sifting through beautiful locals alone with my thoughts as I traveled from one place to the next was a relaxing experience. It ends on a strong note, and while I don't feel inclined to ever really go back to it, that's fine — I enjoyed the time I spent with it.
Groove Coaster: Wai Wai Party
I'm glad I waited a bit to write this list, or I would have missed adding Groove Coaster to it. Groove Coaster is one of my favorite games ever, and definitely my favorite rhythm game. I've been playing the series since 2011, if you'd believe it! This game is most similar to the Arcade Cabinets you'd find at a Round 1 or similar, with lots of tracks from Vocaloid, Virtual Youtubers, and Touhou. It feels like a game built specifically for me in many ways, and even has songs from anime like Neon Genesis Evangalion and Gurren Lagann! My favorite part of the game are the "ad-lib" notes, secret notes that you can press along to the rest of a track's beat-map to increase your score. It's very intuitive, and it's always satisfying to go that extra mile and feel like you've solved a little puzzle by paying attention to the song's route.
This section feels a little less restrained, sorry about that. I just really like Groove Coaster! I think everyone should play it. The only negative is that the DLC is pricey, and of course that includes the Undertale tracks.
I want to open with saying that I would literally die for Ajna. This is barely a joke. The cast of Indivisible is fantastic, and the writing amongst the party members never stops being entertaining. Some of the designs for them are a bit cheesecake-y, but that's made up for with its diversity. There are tons of different cultures on display in this game, and it's great to see. Indivisible isn't a perfect game by any means, and I'd argue it's not nearly as polished as Lab Zero's only release before it, Skullgirls. But it's filled with a lot of heart and passion you can feel in every part of the game. It's not a challenging experience by any means, but it's relaxing and comfy in that rental-PS2 game sort of way. I'll definitely be going back to it when some QOL features are added, but even then, it deserves a spot on this list.
If you're a Patreon subscriber you may notice a particular omission from the first version of this list – Kingdom Hearts 3. As I understand it that game comes out January 23rd, 2020, so I'll see if I add it then, but as of this point I'm annoyed enough with the product that we got that I can't add it to this list without feeling like I'm lying to myself/banking on my own fandom as a reason to keep it on. Which sucks! I liked KH3 at first but my opinion has just completely soured on it, and as someone who's been into this series since I was like, 7, that's pretty disappointing to think about.
And that's it!!! All in all, a surprisingly solid year for games. What were your faves? Tell me here, or @eightbitsamurai on Mastodon! And if you like any of the stuff I write, please consider hitting up my Patreon or Ko-Fi! :)