Monday, January 16, 2017

My Favorite Games of 2016

My gaming backlog is something impressive, as I typically buy a few more than I can play in any given year, and then those extras build up. The result is that I rarely play any game in its year of release unless it's a part of a favorite series, and even then, depending on how busy I am, a much anticipated game might get postponed.

But I'm not adverse to playing older games. As long as the gameplay is still there I generally don't care. Maybe that's the same for you?

These are the nine games I liked enough to finish for the first time in 2016, in the order I played them.

Virtue's Last Reward *

I enjoyed 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors for the Nintendo DS, so I intended to pick up the sequel, but took a while due to a bugged 3DS version (now patched) and not having a Vita at the time.

Virtue's Last Reward is quite simply the strongest entry in the Zero Escape series. Science, pseudo-science, multiple universes, time travel, non-linear gameplay, and an incredible cast of characters made this a joy to play. I was up at 3am with tears in my eyes (on a work night!) because I had to see a particularly bittersweet sequence through. Fair warning there is a lot of reading, and the gameplay is all making choices and escape room mechanics, but if that's even remotely your bag it's worth playing.

It'll mean more if you play 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors first, but the good news is that both games are coming to Steam in a remastered edition.

Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest

I was looking forward to Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest, and despite the child problems I blogged about, I enjoyed it. It was refreshing to have a game so focused on family and divided loyalties. I really liked the moral gray area that Corrin and her siblings occupied and as mentioned in my RPG Talk entry, I like that the final confrontation features Corrin standing together with her siblings rather than Corrin plus love interest and motley band of heroes. Familial relationships are usually set behind the romantic ones in games, so having family placed before everything else makes this unique.

Zero Time Dilemma

Zero Time Dilemma had a hell of a lot of hype to live up to, and at the end of the day I don't think it's going to be anyone's favorite out of the Zero Escape series, but it's still an enjoyable game. It keeps a lot of the same mechanics from Virtue's Last Reward, but suffers from a less satisfying mastermind than the other two. There's also a plot twist that people tend to either love or hate. But that said, it does a decent job of wrapping up the series, the escape rooms are still fun, and offers a lot of emotional rewards for fans of the previous two.

Code Realize: Guardian of Rebirth

This is the best otome game I've played to date. I would have liked to include it in my top three games of the year, and it was a narrow miss. Otome games are usually given lackluster, passive protagonists to serve as the female player insert, but not Cardia. That girl is amazing, whether she's piloting an airship, busting herself out of confinement, or being a supportive girlfriend, because why can't one person do all of that. The boyfriends are more interesting than average, with only one route that really bored me. If there's any fault to this game I'd say it's locking Lupin's route behind everyone else's and making it so clearly the "real" route.

Danganronpa: Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls

Ultra Despair Girls is a little strange in that I don't think it's a particular good game, though I still finished it. It's a third person shooter, which is a strange genre jump for what had been a visual novel series. I only played it when I did because the Danganronpa 3 anime had Monaca, who originated in this game. The story isn't bad, it asks good questions and even clears up some others (like where did Junko Enoshima get all those crazy robots), but I'm not a shooter fan and I can't imagine the overlap between visual novels, shooters, and Danganronpa is enough to justify this game's existence. If you suck at shooters though, there's no story penalty for playing on easy. You can still see the whole thing.

Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice

I still haven't posted my VN Talk for this, but the sixth entry in the Ace Attorney series was a bumpy ride. It was good, but it wasn't great, and I think this is mostly due to character bloat. Dual Destinies had three lawyer protagonists so by golly Spirit of Justice has to too, even when the game can't quite figure out what to do with them. Unlike Dual Destinies, where the story honestly belongs to all of them, when it comes down to it, Spirit of Justice is really about Apollo, but the writing tries to showcase everyone, including several supporting characters, which results in a lack of focus. But if you like Apollo, this is the game to play as he has his best moments.

This War of Mine *

I waffled a lot on whether to buy This War of Mine because the vertical cut-away view of the buildings made me think of old platformers I was terrible at, but This War of Mine needs very little in the way of reflexes. I bought it for the for miserable experience of surviving as a civilian in an urban warzone and I was not disappointed. There's no tutorial, but the basics can be picked up by point and click, which feels oddly immersive, as the characters you're tasked with caring for have no idea how they're going to make ends meet either.

Chances are, a first playthrough is going to be unsuccessful. People will die along the way, and you'll feel awful, which is the point. You get to put down the game and go home whereas the people who really lived this life could not. It was a sobering realization. (This War of Mine was inspired by the real world Siege of Sarajevo.)

The Room

This was a purchase based on a friend's recommendation because we both like escape rooms. While you're not escaping anything in The Room, the type of puzzle solving is familiar to anyone who has done escape rooms, and it's a affordable fix that can be done in an afternoon or two. The story is minimal and the atmosphere creepy, though it's manageable for those who scare easily (with one possible exception during the ending, but you've solved everything by then). I'm skipping the sequel because I react poorly to jump scares, even the ones that are so mild that most people wouldn't even consider them jump scares.

Civilization V *

When Civilization VI came out, I realized I wanted to play a Civ game again, but rather than getting the latest and greatest at full price, I decided to pick up Civilization V during a Steam sale, which netted me the base game and all the expansions and DLC for under $14. This turned out to be $14 well spent as I've now logged an embarrassing amount of hours on it. It's a lot of strategy and management to bring my chosen civilization to victory, but fun since the AI leaders of other civilizations have their own personalities. I had a really good tussle with Caesar in my Carthage campaign, which felt appropriate.

My only complaint is that Europe feels over-represented in the number of civilizations available. There are multiple options for a continent like Africa, with Carthage, Morocco, Ethiopia, Egypt, Songhai, and Zulu available, which show that the game designers did put effort into avoiding a Eurocentric world, but it feels like it's not enough when 15 of the 43 civilizations are European (17 if one counts Byzantium and Ottoman, which I'm not since they're partially in the mideast), making them slightly more than a third of what's available.

As I did with my book roundup, the three games I tagged with an asterisk (*) were my favorites of the year and definitely worth playing.

I'd also like to mention the four games I replayed this year since it's rare that I replay anything, and four is unprecedented.

Fire Emblem: Awakening (second time)
Dragon Age II (third time)
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (third time)
Danganronpa 2: Good-bye Despair (second time)

The Danganronpa games were mostly because of the anime and wanting to relive the experience, but Fire Emblem: Awakening and Dragon Age II were purely unprompted, with the former having happened before the release of Fire Emblem Fates.