Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Top Fourteen of the 14 in '14

Here's another annual tradition for this blog, in which I make some messy rankings of my favorite games I played in the previous year.  In 2014 (plus a few days) I finished ten target games, which works out quite nicely into a top ten list. 

I had fun moving through my 2014 backlog.  Many of the games on my list were genuinely new experiences for me, and I was on track to finish all of them before getting sidetracked by a variety of distractions in the latter half of the year.  Anyhow, especially when you compare it to my 54% completion of my targets in 2013, it was a pretty good  year for eliminating my backlog.  I bought more games than I finished - that's definitely a problem - but nobody's perfect. 

So anyway, I took the ten of my targets I did finish, organized them into a general list in order of personal preference, added some other big games from my 2014 menu that weren't targets, and then wrote too much about them.  Sounds like something I'd do, right?  So let's get to it:

Sollosi's Top Fourteen of the 14 in '14

Unplayed, Unfortunately:
BioShock Infinite
Kirby's Return to Dreamland
Vagrant Story
XenoSaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht

Nope, never even touched these.  I fully intended to get to them when I wrote them down on my 2014 list way back in December of 2013, but ran out of calendar before I felt like picking them up.  BioShock is on my 2015 list, but I don't know if / when I'll ever get to the other three.  Too many games, man. 

These 3DS Games Fucking Rock:
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Bravely Default
Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth

My biggest gaming investment in 2014 was the purchase of a 3DS and eight games, and these were the three that I put more than a few hours into.  And when I say "more than a few hours" I mean around fifteen hours into Zelda, around fifty in Persona, and around seventy into Bravely Default.  Those are three excellent pickups.  My 3DS is already worth its purchase price.  Zelda and BD are both finished, and I'll probably beat Persona Q some time in the next month or so.  My three favorite games on the system thus far; definitely worthy investments. 

The Dragon Age Award for Most Dragon Age
Dragon Age: Inquisition

Neck and neck for my personal 2014 Game of the Year with Bravely Default.  Great game.  Huge, beautifully-realized world to explore, some really cool stage design, pretty cool customization, awesome characters, and great dialog.  Awesome big-budget RPG.  I'll probably replay it in the distant future, but by then maybe I'll get a GOTY version on the PS4.  That sounds like a fun time in 2017.  So without further ado, here's the ten games that are the real subjects of this list:

10. Batman: Arkham City

Man.  I feel bad putting this one so low, but it's disappointing as a follow-up for Arkham Asylum, it's disappointing as a big open world game, and it's even disappointing as a Batman game.  It has some really good parts - the fight against Mr. Freeze, some of the Predator segments, and a lot of the voice work and dialog are all pretty great.  But when I compare it to its cohorts, the world seems small, the combat is samey, the major encounters are underwhelming, and the amount of filler (collectibles, puzzles, and sidequests) are all substance and no style.  Collecting that amount of stuff is unthinkable and a chore.  Definitely the biggest disappointment on the list.  But hey, if Batman's your jam, don't make me talk you out of it.  Arkham City isn't a bad game, but it didn't resonate with me. 

9.  Mortal Kombat (2011)

The fighting in Mortal Kombat is sound.  The story mode is an impressive romp through the heyday of the series (covering the events of MK I, II, and III), and its cast of characters is diverse and interesting.  For the first time ever, I'm interested and maybe even a little invested in the Mortal Kombat mythos.  That's impressive.  Still, MK is just a fighting game and it didn't have enough alternate modes or overall staying power to keep me interested beyond the week I was playing its story mode.  I'll definitely keep this one around if I ever feel like a Netherrealm Studios jam in the future, which is a thing that might happen.  Really solid fighting game engine. 

8.  Assassin's Creed 2

Well, Assassin's Creed 2 wins 2014's GTA award for me thinking it was okay, but being more impressed than enamored.  Assassin's Creed 2 is pretty huge.  Its cityscapes are neat.  The stealth mechanics are okay, with the crowd stuff being particularly impressive.  The running around is great when it works, frustrating when it doesn't.  Same thing goes for the platforming.  Combat's a bit disappointing.  The "lore" and details of the world - everything from architectural data to the Assassins vs. Templars science fiction goofiness - are really impressive.  Some of the missions were really well-designed, but damn the game is something like sixteen chapters when it should be ten.  I see where Assassin's Creed fans are coming from when they express real appreciation for the series, but it wasn't an experience that got me hungry for more.  My Assassin's Creed playing career is probably over. 

7.  Persona 2: Innocent Sin

Here's the point where I'm done talking about games that were just pretty good and get into the games that really spoke to me.  Persona 2: Innocent Sin isn't nearly as strong an overall package as Assassin's Creed 2 or even Arkham City, but goddamn I loved the story.  Going deep into Sumaru City and its cast of characters, exploring the concept of the Jungian shadow, and experiencing P2IS's entertaining plot is a blast.  P2IS succeeds where the first Persona fails: it's a fascinating RPG with a unique aesthetic in an urban setting.  It's held back by the limitations of the PS1 and by some obtuse and slow mechanics, but I definitely don't regret my time playing it. 

6. Rayman Origins

Goddamn delightful.  Rayman has a beautiful, unique look, really solid platforming and stage gimmicks, excellent music, and a naughty, playful tone.  I have a weakness for colorful platformer titles, and Rayman Origins delivered exactly what I wanted, plus a pretty good challenge level with more collectibles than I could handle.  Yes, I'm bad at platformers, but I still enjoy them a great deal, and Rayman Origins had me so hooked that I ended up downloading the first two Rayman games on the PSN.  No, I have no idea if I'll ever play them.  Yes, Rayman Origins is that good.  This part of the list was the hardest to arrange; spots 3, 4, 5, and 6 all switched around at different times. 

5. Ys Seven

Ys Seven scratches that itch I've been missing for years - a fast-paced action RPG with character synergy and customization.  Basically it's my replacement for Secret of Mana or Marvel: Ultimate Alliance.  Combat is snappy and fun, the dungeons and boss battles are awesome, and the game has a classic quality to its map layouts and world design that reminds me of the best linear Japanese RPGs.  Ys Seven feels more like a Seiken Densetsu game and less like a Dragon Age game, and at some level that's refreshing.  The later Ys games (Memories of Celceta and the untitled 2015 Ys game) are also in this model, and I can't wait to play them.  New Ys is a lot of fun, and if I had a Vita then Memories of Celceta would be one of the first games I sought out.

4. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance

I'm still weird about the Fire Emblem games.  I play them with an exploitative attitude (hey, I play Disgaea), but I usually enjoy the combat maps, the character ensembles, and the general layout of the game.  Path of Radiance sets up a pretty awesome conflict, and pushes the sorta-antiquated Fire Emblem formula into the future with some fancy animations, interesting new features, and smart integration of classic Fire Emblem concepts.  Fire Emblem is a series with some weird barriers to entry, but if you can get in deep it's quite rewarding.  Path of Radiance is immediately one of my top two favorites in the series, alongside the GBA Fire Emblem starring Eliwood, Hector, and Lyn.  Strong words. 

3. Digital Devil Saga

Digital Devil Saga is an RPG of the old school, with turn-based combat, a near-excess of random battles, a somewhat rough difficulty curve, and a class system that is limited to attacks with funny names, without the character, variety, or charm of a Bravely Default, Disgaea, or even a Fire Emblem class system.  But holy hell is it a satisfying RPG.  Digital Devil Saga's dystopian setting, unsettling premise, bleak visuals, and Buddhist and Hindu themes really worked for me, and it delivered a more satisfying grind than any game anywhere on this list except for Bravely Default and the game in the #1 spot.  I'll probably be replaying DDS in a New Game Plus later this year before I move on to the sequel.  Not a joke. 

2. Telltale's The Walking Dead

This feels like a new evolution of the traditional adventure game.  Telltale's business is adventure games, and The Walking Dead is the best graphic adventure game, western or Japanese, that I've played in years.  TWD sheds many of the old trappings of its genre - pixel-hunting to find clickables, complicated and convoluted puzzles - to focus on character interactions, dramatic storytelling, and heartbreaking decisions.  It does a marvelous job of conveying the fear, paranoia, and despair that are the hallmark emotional responses in zombie fiction, and over the course of its five episodes creates a beautiful player attachment to the struggles of Lee and Clementine.  Strongly recommended.  And most of the time I don't even like zombie stuff. 

1. XenoBlade Chronicles

There's a reason I extended the completion date of my 2014 quest to the first weekend of 2015.  Recency bias may be affecting me, but holy fuck XenoBlade Chronicles is astounding.  Its story, characters, mythology, party organization, skill customization, and art style scream Japanese RPG, but its quest design, environments, and cooldown-driven combat borrow heavily from western RPGs.  Its characters each have a clear arc, a well-defined personality, and a unique fighting style that makes controlling each one feel distinctly different.  Even Riki, the comic relief mascot, has surprising layers to him.  That's uncommon, interesting, and much-appreciated in a Japanese RPG. 

XenoBlade feels like a fuller realization of what Final Fantasy XII wanted to be - an epic JRPG with action-based combat in massive environments with vast and detailed quest systems.  The combat is similar to MMO combat, but it's fast-moving and strategic.  The visuals are gorgeous at both the aesthetic and technical level, and XB's soundtrack is positively great.  There is so much depth and breadth to XenoBlade Chronicles that it's intimidating at times, and I sure as hell didn't explore the full extent of what the game had to offer.  I might still have a completion high from beating it so recently, but I feel that XenoBlade is one of the best RPGs in recent years. It's definitely my all-time favorite Wii game. 


I still have Dragon Age: Inquisition and XenoBlade Chronicles reviews to write, and both of those should be done in the next two weeks.  After that, I dunno.  I have a variety of blog posts in the works, and I honestly don't know what game I'll finish for the next review after XenoBlade.  Could be Persona Q, could be Paper Mario, could be Fire Emblem: Awakening.  Until next time, happy gaming! 

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