Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Top Thirteen of the 13 in '13

Well hey, look at that.  I totally bailed on my 2013 gaming goals, but I'm going to compound my shame in having done so by making a list about it.  Here goes nothing.

I thought my 2013 goals would be slightly easier than my 2012 goals, since there were roughly the same number of super-long games, but I was slightly more pumped to play them and there were a few platformers and handheld titles in the mix, making it a little easier and less time-consuming than my RPG-heavy 2012 list.  I figured that 2013 goal was in the bag.

Well, I was wrong.  I got bored early on in a few of those games as early as February and March, and really had to engage in some self-discipline to get started on a few of the bigger endeavors (looking at you, Skyrim).  There were also new things taking over my brain in 2013; I ended up playing three-and-a-half full games of Persona 3 or 4 over the course of 2013, and new obsessions with Ys and professional wrestling didn't help either.  Maybe I should make a list ranking my obsessions?  That would be interesting... to zero people other than me.  Well, whatever.  Let's rank the games I played in 2013:

Sollosi's Top Thirteen of the 13 in '13

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Demon's Souls
God Eater: Burst
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
Vagrant Story
Xenoblade Chronicles

OK, so this is actually a top seven.  I only finished six of my thirteen targets, and reached the halfway point of a seventh.  The six above games are ones I failed to put significant time into, playing the first few hours of Castlevania and God Eater without really getting deep into either of those. The other four went untouched.  Maybe this year, fellas. 

Honorable Mention: Donkey Kong Country Returns

What game outside of my thirteen planned targets was my favorite, or perhaps had the biggest impact on me?  My first instinct was to go for one of my recently-played Ys games; my second instinct was to write down Persona 3 again.  However, I'm going with DKCR, which became one of my favorite platformers of the past decade, stunned me with its variety and depth (which I barely explored - didn't even get 40% of the Kong letters), and gave me several fun evenings with one of my old friends, Diane (and I guess Donkey Kong counts too).  Thanks to DKCR, I will be playing a few more platformers this year (I'm terrible at platformers, but I have a weakness for them) and also will be sort of tempted to get a Wii U.  No small feat. 

Unranked: Metroid Prime

Look, I'm right in the middle of Metroid Prime (a few hours past beating the giant ice-rock-monster guy) and I regret not finishing it before the new year.  I will get to that soon, before the end of the month.  If it ramps up its variety, shows off some new environments, and keeps a reasonable difficulty curve through to the end - all of which I suspect are true - then it would have finished right near the middle of the this top seven, probably right at the #4 spot.  Alas, since it's unfinished, I can only rank it thus.  Sorry, Retro. 

6. Pokemon White 2

Pokemon White 2 was a very good Pokemon game.  Some of the new Pokemon were really cool, I enjoyed the setup of Gym Leaders and Elite Four, and the endgame content was excellent, especially the Pokemon World Tournament.  However, it's still a Pokemon game with almost the exact same basic gameplay as Diamond or Heart Gold, both of which I've sunk many hours into. Pokemon White 2 is good and I enjoyed it, but it feels less like a great standalone game and more like an iteration, standing on the shoulders of giants. 

5. Psychonauts

Psychonauts is a good platformer most of the time, with good dialog, good variety, and tremendously imaginative stages and gimmicks.  However, its audio and visuals are below par for a PS2 game, its controls are uneven and floaty at times (very lacking when you compare it to a PS2 Jak or Ratchet game, let alone a tight platformer like DKCR), and the quest design was at times a little too obtuse.  I had fun with Psychonauts and I'm glad I played it, but it's better in concept (story, characters, stage themes) than in execution (the game part of the game). 

4. Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis

I expected Tactics Ogre to be a dumbed-down, simplified strategy RPG lacking sophistication compared to its predecessors, kind of like FF Tactics Advance.  Well, Knight of Lodis surprised me with its challenging maps, intriguing story, solid class system, and robust optional content surrounding that somewhat simplified system.  It immediately jumps to the near-top of my mental list of favorite GBA games, and also has me interested in the rest of the series.  I bought Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together for the PSP less than a month after finishing Knight of Lodis.  Not a coincidence. Very, very solid strategy RPG. 

3. Tales of Vesperia

Here's the only part of this list that was challenging to order.  I switched the #2 and #3 games a bunch of times before settling here.  Tales of Vesperia is probably my second-favorite Tales Of game I've played, narrowly finishing behind Tales of Phantasia, one of my all-time favorite SNES games. Tales of Vesperia has superb combat and character customization, an appealing cast with strong character arcs and multiple plot threads, and a visual style that is a noticeable step forward from its predecessors.  Vesperia is one of the better games in a storied series of RPGs, and I couldn't have picked a better first game to finish on my borrowed Xbox 360. 

2. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Now, to be perfectly honest I'm not sure whether I liked Vesperia or Skyrim more, because they are two wildly different RPGs.  I enjoyed Vesperia for its action, characters, dialog, and JRPG traditionalism.  I liked Skyrim for its scale, freedom, customization, and (occasionally) its story and set pieces.  Skyrim is just goddamn impressive.  While I enjoyed several of the plot-driven quests that Bethesda provided, the real joy in Skyrim comes from its organic, emergent stories.  Like how you slewa dragon by shooting it with your bow while stumbling down a mountain, then accidentally shot a giant's mammoth herd and had to run away for 20 minutes trying to shake him.  I thought that Skyrim eventually devolved into tedium and I finished the main quest and called it a day once I got bored, but that was 60 hours in.  Skyrim is a hell of a game. 

1. Persona 4

Persona 4 was the first big game I played in 2013, and every other game I experienced that year just made me want to replay it.  I did end up doing a second Persona 4 run in the spring, after trying a second playthrough of Persona 3 in February.  Look, thanks to Persona 4, I ended up beating Persona 3 or 4 roughly 4.5 times in 12 months as well as buying Persona 1 and Persona 2: Innocent Sin on the PSP.  Persona (but not SMT in general) is my biggest gaming obsession since the late 2000s when I set out to beat 10 Dragon Quest games over three years.  I love Persona's turn-based, weakness-hunting combat, its richly detailed, dialog-heavy, character-driven plots, its shadow-killing, myth-fusing character customization, and it's trippy, poppy, eclectic music.  There's a lot to love about Persona 4, and I fully intend to play more Persona over the next several years.  Persona 4 was my favorite game I played in 2013, and it wasn't close. 


2013 wasn't my best game-playing year, especially when you compare it to my ridiculous 2011 or my rock-solid 2012.  Time to get started on making 2014 better than its predecessor.  I have a decent start thus far to my 2014 goals, with Ys Seven completed and Rayman Origins about half-done (goddammit Rayman has gotten tough).  I'd also like to finish Metroid Prime before I run out of January.  Lots of gaming up ahead, plus a new (third?) post about my 2014 gaming plans. 

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