(Disclaimer: At the time of writing this post, I may have completed a few of the games listed below prior to writing my thoughts for 2018’s game of the year. Some of these titles may show-up on my GOTY list at the end of the month).

Coulda Woulda Shoulda

One could say I’ve had an eclectic taste in games for the majority of my life. Trying to keep up with new releases, both mainstream, independent and all of the in-between, each year is nearly an impossible task. With other responsibilities, interests and the like, there’s just not enough time in a single day, week or month to play everything that’s even remotely interesting or worth playing (I also partially blame Destiny 2). With that said, as someone who’s been playing games for nearly 30 years, I feel like we’ve been experiencing some of the best years in gaming. 2017 was a fantastic year with a few games I now consider some of my all-time favorites (Super Mario Odyssey, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and NieR: Automata, just to name a few), but even then, I still haven’t played certain games from last year. 2018 has been no different and here’s why.

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2018 was a good year.

PlayStation 4 in 2018

Now that we’re nearing the end of 2018, PlayStation 4’s (PS4) library, in particular, is both wonderful and voluptuous yet burdensome in all the best ways. While I don’t think we’ve quite hit PlayStation 2’s (PS2) legacy in terms of software, if we consider all of the digital games that flood the PSN Store each week, it’s hard to argue that by the end of the system’s life cycle, PS4 may just very well compete with the PS2 in terms of the breadth of its library. Not only has Sony had a great year in terms of 1st-party titles (God of War, Astro Bot: Rescue Mission and Spider-Man, anyone?) they’ve made great strides in their streaming service, PlayStation Now, (which now allows players to download their games to their console) and the PlayStation VR (PSVR), which has seen amazing bundles at reduced prices during the holiday season.

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These fake hardware mock-ups are always so aesthetically lame.

All’s not well in the public eye with Sony, however, as the company has seemingly stepped away from their public appearances and promotional events post-Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) 2018. Not only has Sony announced that they will not be attending E3 next year, but they’ve also canceled their annual PlayStation Experience, a live holiday showcase that historically has brought about new trailers for upcoming releases and surprise announcements. They’ve since stated that they have plans to celebrate their content with fans at a later date, but at the moment, the specifics are a mystery to all. With rumors of PlayStation 5 making its rounds on numerous sites from industry know-it-alls, we’re not too far from seeing the first details on Sony’s next platform, too. One can only hope Sony takes note from Microsoft and ensures that the PS5 is backwards compatible, but we shall see.

The Year of RPGs (…but isn’t that every year?)

As a huge role-playing game (RPG) fan, 2018 has been a stellar year for both home consoles and portables alike. I’m someone who considers Valkyria Chronicles one of their favorite strategy RPGs of all time, so the release of Sega’s Valkyria Chronicles 4 back in September had me brimming with anticipation. Not only was the game supposed to be a return-to-form, it also meant I was getting a new soundtrack from one of my favorite composers, Hitoshi Sakimoto. I’ve only managed to complete a chapter or two, but from what I’ve played, I’ve really enjoyed my time with the game and I can’t wait to sit-down and experience a proper play-through. Some have criticized the game for being too similar to the original, which depending on the individual, might be a good or bad thing. I haven’t played enough of the game to say otherwise, so the jury is out on that one.

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It’s as “anime” as you get, but the art style is undeniably beautiful.

Square-Enix’s Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age launched in September and aside from its apparent mediocre/disappointing soundtrack, the game has been receiving nothing but high praise. Dragon Quest (DQ) is another franchise I am sorely behind on. I’ve only ever completed Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen on the Nintendo DS, but I’ve dipped my toes, so to speak, with other titles over the years. I typically prefer to start with the first entry in a franchise before moving onto its sequels, but for a series that is as storied/expansive as DQ, it’s not always the most realistic approach. I did, however, begin playing the original DQ on my phone, which you can read about here!

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I want to play this sooo badly, but I’m already in the middle of too many RPGs.

Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom, developed by Level-5, also released earlier this year to divisive results. I liked the original Ni no Kuni, but I did not love it. I played a good 10+ hours of the sequel, but I quickly lost interest due to its lack of difficulty and other ongoing engagements. Eventually, the developer released a patch or two which included a new difficulty level for those who didn’t feel challenged at launch. I decided to start over from scratch on the highest difficulty available, but I’ve yet to play beyond the first chapter. I do want to see this game through to its conclusion, but for now, it’s going to be another game that shall unfortunately fall by the wayside.

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Cute artwork, okay game?

Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons creator, Yasuhiro Wada, launched Little Dragons Café, a dragon raising/cooking simulator game over the summer to little-to-no fanfare. As someone who’s casually enjoyed Harvest Moon games in the past, I was interested in playing this game as it reminded me of Little King’s Story, an action-adventure sim-of-sorts first released back on the Nintendo Wii from the same director. From my understanding, based on the few people who have played the game to completion, Little Dragons Café leaves much to be desired despite its charming visuals. I want to sit-down with the game proper before I pass judgment, but I can’t deny that its negative reception has shelved my eagerness to cook recipes and raise dragons.

Life is Exhausting

The first episode of Life is Strange 2 released back in an extremely crowded third quarter. September was a busy month with games like Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Destiny 2’s Forsaken expansion and Marvel’s Spider-Man. Many fans of the original game, including myself, presumably slept on its humble launch. Like the original game, the sequel is yet again another narrative-driven adventure game, but instead of being set in small-town USA, DONTNOD Entertainment promised to take its fans on a road-trip across the west coast. Although I wrote about this in a previous post, the first game released back in 2015 when episodic gaming was coming into its own.

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Life’s just gonna have to wait.

Many have argued that Valve’s Half-Life Episode 1 & 2 were some of the first episodic/seasonal games to launch a new way for developers/publishers to distribute their games. Telltale’s (R.I.P) The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us and Game of Thrones released to varying degrees of success. Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls found an audience among the more casual fan-base on Sony’s platform, which ultimately led us to Detroit: Become Human (another game I’ve been meaning to play). Needless to say, these were games for newcomers to the genre, but the more hardcore/PC-style adventure game fans have had their fair share of new experiences as well.

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I can’t believe this exists.

On a similar note, 428: Shibuya Scramble, a cult-classic visual novel/adventure game first released back on the Wii in 2008, finally made its way to the PS4. Although it’s been ported to various platforms over the years, as far as I know, the game has never left Japan, until now. Nearly 10 years later and the game has finally been localized/translated for the PS4 by famed English-Japanese translator, Alexander o’ Smith and his team of localization experts. I’ve only played the game for about an hour or so, but I’m dying to see more. I just have to really, really be in the mood to read, because that’s all there is and you’re gonna like it!

Ready Player One

Over the past year or so, PSVR has been sort of a revelatory experience for me as well. What started at a dear friend’s house playing Japan Studio’s Playroom VR has led me to such wonderful games such as last year’s Rez: Infinite and this year’s Moss and Astro Bot: Rescue Mission (more on Astro Bot in a future post…). From Software’s Deracine (which apparently has ties to Bloodborne) launched towards the end of the year with mixed reception. As a fan of the developer since their early King’s Field days (and as someone who’s played both the original Echo Night and its PS2 sequel, Echo Night: Beyond), I feel morally obligated to try this game out. Due to its reliance on PS Move, however, I’ve had to shelf the game until I procure a pair of controllers.

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You need to play this game.

Tetris Effect, developed by the legendary Tetsuya Mizuguchi (known for Rez, Lumines and Child of Eden) and his teams at Monstars Inc., Resonair and Enhance, Inc. have quite possibly released one of 2018’s surprise hits. At the end of the day, it’s just regular-ass Tetris of all things, too! I’ve completed the game on Normal difficulty in Journey mode, but I’m looking forward to diving further as time allows. Finally, there’s Gungrave VR… yes, a new Gungrave game in 2018 and it’s also in VR. I played both Gungrave and its sequel, Overdose, back on the original PS2 to completion and they were really fun 3rd-person arcade-like action games. I’m curious how the new game will play, but I can’t imagine it being anything other than an on-rail shooter (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), so we shall see.

Localize My Heart

Sega’s Yakuza franchise has finally found its audience in the west and I couldn’t be happier. While Shenmue III is slated for next year (and the HD remakes of Shenmue I & II released over the summer, which I’ve also yet to play…), I’ve always preferred Yakuza to Sega’s other melodramatic street-brawl affair. As someone who’s also been there since the first game back on the PS2, I’ve always held the series in high regard. I just never expected there to be a time where not one, but two new Yakuza games were localized and released during a single year! In 2017, we saw both Yakuza 0 (a brand new game/prequel to the franchise) and Yakuza Kiwami (an HD remake of the first game). Now is the perfect time to become a Yakuza fan because both new releases and localization of such titles aren’t stopping anytime soon.

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*sigh* It’ll be awhile before I get to this one.

This year, we’ve received both Yakuza 6: Song of Life and Yakuza Kiwami 2, which is a brand new entry in the franchise and a remake of the second game, respectively. Since Yakuza 3, I’ve put nearly 100+ hours into each entry leading up to the fifth installment. I used to be able to keep-up with the franchise, but with how quickly Sega has been releasing them in the west, I’ve fallen behind since the games are quite the investment. Alongside the new Yakuza games, the same studio responsible for everyone’s favorite Japanese mafia released Fist of the North Star: Lost Paradise. Big surprise, the game’s still sealed on my shelf! I’ve heard decent things about the game, considering it’s based on a Japanese anime, the license was a prefect fit for a developer that clearly knows how to put the beat-down on its fans!

Franchise Favorites

There are many other sequels to long-running, established franchises I just haven’t made time for yet. I’ve always been a casual fighting game fan and I’ve been meaning to devote more of my time to the genre, so I bought Dragon Ball FighterZ and Dissidia: Final Fantasy NT this year. Of course, just like nearly everything else on this list, I’ve yet to play them beyond and hour or two, so I can’t speak of their quality (they do both look nice visually, though). SoulCalibur VI is probably the most recent fighting game I’m most interested in playing. Although I missed out on Soul Edge on the original PlayStation, I owned a Dreamcast back in the day and played the first SoulCalibur to completion. I’ve always enjoyed the quest/adventure modes in these games, so I’m looking forward to picking-up the latest entry down the road.

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Fury’s on fire!

Finally, THQ Nordic’s weird, but welcoming resurrection has brought us Darksiders III in 2018. Back when the first game released, Darksiders was framed to be a “more “mature The Legend of Zelda”. I played the original game to completion on PS3 back in the day and enjoyed it for what it was worth. I recently replayed and finished the Warmastered Edition on PS4, too. I’m currently playing through Darksiders II, so I’m in no hurry to play the third game anytime soon. Hitman 2 is another game I’m super late to the party on. I’ve played a Hitman game or two in the past, but I believe I’ve only completed Blood Money. The more recent Hitman games, however, are more approachable due to their open world structure and quick pick-up & play nature. I just started playing the 2016 Hitman game this year (which is said to be included in the sequel in its entirety), so time will tell when I find my way to Agent 47’s more recent shenanigans.

Reality Check

I’m probably forgetting to mention a game or two… or three, but you can’t play everything! I didn’t even get a chance to talk about Return of the Obra Dinn and Florence, two indie games that have received nothing but high praise on their respective platforms. Then there were the dozen or so “Metroidvania” games released this year (Chasm, Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom, Iconoclasts and Timespinner, for example) that I bought, downloaded and dabbled with (which I will write about in a future post) as well as a few other games I’ve failed to mention. As one can see, 2018 has been quite the year. I’m not one to usually fall into the zeitgeist nor do I usually have fear of missing out, but as someone who has a broad range of taste in games, I have to admit that this year has been quite the struggle. Needless to say, I’m never not going to have something to play and that’s always a great feeling to have. I just can’t say it enough. There. Are. Too. Many. Good. Games.

-Matty

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