Operation Backlog Completion 2017
Dec 312015
 

Best-games-I-played-in-2015

My video game backlog is a black hole where games go to die.

Okay, not really, but I have a lot of old games to catch up on, and sometimes I focus on them more than the new games. So in 2013, I decided that instead of a “best games of the year” sort of list, I would discuss the best games I played that year.

Last year’s was even better, with several 2014 games making the list.

Now it’s 2015’s turn, but first…

Honorable Mentions

Like in previous years, I’d like to give a couple shout-outs to games that didn’t quite make the list.

Hatoful Boyfriend: Holiday Star, for example, was perfect for the season and contained great moments, as my review shows. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was an unusual experience, and I’m glad I finally played this classic Zelda game. And for all my criticisms, I really did enjoy Dragon Age Inquisition.

For one reason or another, none of those games made it onto my final list. While enjoyable, they are not among the top 5. Which games made it? Well…

The Top 5 Games I Played in 2015

5. Mario & Luigi: Dream Team

Mario-and-Luigi-Dream-TeamMario & Luigi: Dream Team has a bad reputation because of its numerous tutorials, but it’s not a bad game at all.

In my review of Dream Team, I said it had great writing, but bad pacing, and I stand by that statement. There’s nothing wrong with the way the story, characters, and humor is written in Dream Team. They even try to liven up the tutorials.

Dream Team isn’t a perfect game, but if you enjoyed previous entries in the series, you should endure the tutorials and bad early pacing. You’ll be rewarded with fun writing and a game that deserves its spot on this list.

If the upcoming Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam has to emulate one of them, it should lean more toward Dream Team than Sticker Star.

4. Alien: Isolation

Alien-IsolationI started Alien: Isolation in 2014 (so maybe it doesn’t fully qualify for my list), but then I had a horror meltdown and took a long, long break.

When I finally returned to it this year, I enjoyed every tense, dread-filled moment.

Unlike developers who have shied away from true survival horror (such as Capcom, which still hasn’t figured out that a third-person shooter in dark, bloody settings isn’t the natural evolution of a methodical series filled with puzzles, under-powered protagonists, and resource management), The Creative Assembly embraced it.

Yet Alien: Isolation doesn’t feel like a retro throwback to classic games. To me, it took those classic gameplay elements and put them in a modern form. And that’s awesome.

Whether I was hiding from the deadly alien, using my meager resources to defeat politely murderous robots, or reading computer logs about the last days of Sevastopol Station, Alien: Isolation was the survival horror game I was waiting for. All survival horror fans should check it out.

3. Kingdom Hearts

Kingdom-HeartsIn 2015, I finally tried Kingdom Hearts for the first time.

This wasn’t a series I missed or overlooked before. No, I blatantly ignored it for many years. And you know what? I shouldn’t have.

Kingdom Hearts, though it still seems like a ridiculous concept on the surface, turned out to be a fun action RPG with entertaining gameplay, a good story, and one of the best… what do I even call it? A reveal? Foreshadowing?

Whatever it was (and I have a spoiler-tagged discussion about this particular aspect in my Kingdom Hearts review, if you want to know what I’m making vague allusions to), it’s one of the best I’ve seen, and I loved it.

It took me a long time to get into the Kingdom Hearts series, but I’m not turning back anytime soon. I’ve already played Re: Chain of Memories, which I enjoyed, though its combat prevented it from even getting an honorable mention. Up next, Kingdom Hearts 2!

Next year, will there be another Kingdom Hearts entry on this list?

2.Undertale

Undertale-introRaise your hand if you saw this one coming.

If you’ve spoken to me at all over the past few months, chances are good I mentioned Undertale.

Undertale is an RPG about a human child who falls into an underground realm of monsters, and I really can’t say much more on the matter, because it’s a game best left as unspoiled as possible.

I will say one more thing, though. You might have heard people talking about this game in relation to morality, emotional moments, friendship, RPG genre subversions, and lots of other deep, meaningful topics. Okay, sure. That’s fine. But aside from all that, there’s one thing I want you to know: Undertale is one of the funniest games I’ve played in a long time.

With how much I love Undertale, what game could bump it to #2?

What game stood out to me the most this year?

What is the #1 game I played in 2015?

1. Tales of Symphonia

Tales-of-SymphoniaAnd no one is surprised.

Not only did I make Tales of Symphonia the winner of my personal take on the “Best Game Ever” tournament, I also declared it “perfect” when I reviewed it.

And let’s not forget I cosplayed Martel.

I really loved Tales of Symphonia. Its story, characters, and gameplay were all top-notch. Especially its story and characters. Especially its villain.

Oh man, Symphonia’s villain (whom I’ve finally admitted is my favorite character from the game) just won’t leave me alone! He lurks in the back of my mind, waiting for me to write fanfiction about him.

Characters do that, you know.

I began Tales of Symphonia near the start of the year, and I’m still thinking about it at the end. That’s the mark of a great game! If you love JRPGs and haven’t tried this one yet, you really should.

In 2016, I intend to try its much-maligned sequel, among other Tales games, and continue hoping for a prequel. And when Tales of Symphonia comes out for the PC in February… maybe I’ll dive into it again.

There you have it, the Top 5 Games I Played in 2015.

This list has two notable omissions. First, the Witcher series. Last year, I vowed to catch up on the entire series before Wild Hunt came out. Well, I read all the books, but I didn’t even play the first game yet. Next year!

Second, Ace Attorney. Ace Attorney won a spot on my 2013 and 2014 lists, but Capcom refused to localize The Great Ace Attorney and I didn’t have one to play in time. Next year…?

What do you think of my list? Have you played Tales of Symphonia yet? And finally, what are the best games you played in 2015?

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Dec 282015
 

Holiday-StarLast year, Hatoful Boyfriend amazed me by being actually a really good game instead of the joke it appeared to be on the surface.

After that, I bought the tie-in manga set in Anghel’s AU, backed the Kickstarter project for character plushies, and waited patiently for the sequel, Holiday Star, to come out on Steam.

I’ve now played Holiday Star. Does it live up to the original?

First, Holiday Star both is and is not a sequel. It’s set during the same time period as the first game, and BBL hasn’t happened. Think of how the routes in Hatoful Boyfriend worked. If you followed Ryouta’s path, it was a different story than Nageki’s path. The two routes can’t both occur in one timeline. This is also true of BBL… and Holiday Star.

At the same time, Holiday Star is written as a sequel. It expects the player to know the events of the first game. In particular, if you don’t know the story from the BBL route, much of Holiday Star’s most significant moments will be lost on you. It also spoils details from the first game.

In short, consider Holiday Star a game-length additional route that should only be played after the Hatoful Boyfriend routes, as a perfect companion to the BBL route.

Also, it isn’t a dating sim like Hatoful Boyfriend was. It is a visual novel, split across multiple episodes. So think more BBL in terms of structure. The main story is split across 4 episodes.

Holiday-Star-Ace-AttorneyThe first two episodes have very silly tones, with so much fourth-wall-breaking and ridiculousness it feels weird even for the sequel to a game in which you dated birds.

On the other hand, there are numerous shout-outs and references, including one to Ace Attorney that becomes a running gag. The protagonist occasionally shouts, “I object!” and “Hold on!” (with inferred finger-pointing) much to the alarm of her classmates.

Amid the absurdity of these incidents, you’ll catch a few darker glimpses into the characters’ backstories, especially if you’re familiar with BBL. Still, these first two episodes might feel a little too jokey and bland (though appropriate for this time of year, as they are set around Christmas and New Year’s), without enough to set the game apart.

In the third and fourth episodes, however, Holiday Star truly shines.

Not only does the third episode truly kick the game’s main plot into action, it also changes the art style.

Holiday-Star-The-KingFrom there on, the game incorporates a more surreal, storybook-like art style that really works well with the change in setting (the “Holiday Star” itself) and its storytelling.

Holiday Star doesn’t have an abrupt shift like the BBL route, but instead follows a more gradual path. Its humor remains, but becomes tempered by a stronger story. More serious elements emerge.

It’s hard to say more without spoilers, but let’s just say Holiday Star doesn’t lack the emotional impact of its predecessor.

What I really love about the story, though, is its subtlety. Some aspects are presented directly, but others aren’t. They’re left to implication. Holiday Star’s darkest, most twisted revelation is never said outright, but when all the pieces are put together… wow.

The game also has several mini-episodes. Some are funny, some are set in an alternate universe where the Hatoful House incident never occurred, and one even lets you see each bird’s human form if you choose.

Human or partridge, Shuu is as twisted as ever.

Human or partridge, Shuu is as twisted as ever.

A gallery unlocks pictures as you play through the story, including some not used in the game, and finally there are 6 “radio” segments where the characters answer questions from fans. All are worth checking out.

Holiday Star is a shorter game than Hatoful Boyfriend, taking me 6 hours compared to the original’s 8. However, since it is a visual novel rather than a dating sim, there is much less repetitiveness. (Sadly, it is also buggier than the original, though it should be straightened out soon.)

Holiday Star was very special. It doesn’t carry the shock and impact of Hatoful Boyfriend, but it’s enjoyable and intriguing. I can’t recommend it to someone who hasn’t played the original, but if you have? Then absolutely get Holiday Star.

Have any questions about Hatoful Boyfriend or Holiday Star? Let me know in the comments and I’ll answer to the best of my ability!


Buy Holiday Star from Steam

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Dec 232015
 

Kingdom-Hearts-Re-Chain-of-MemoriesAfter the first Kingdom Hearts got me hooked on the series, the next step in my journey was Chain of Memories. To be more specific, Re: Chain of Memories.

Or, to be even more specific, Re: Chain of Memories from the Kingdom Hearts 1.5 Remix, just like how I played the first game.

Since the game is split into two sections, let’s talk about each separately.

Sora’s Story

The core storyline follows Sora, immediately after the events of Kingdom Hearts. He, Donald, and Goofy are looking for Riku and King Mickey, and their search takes them to Castle Oblivion.

Guided by people in black cloaks, Sora ascends Castle Oblivion in search of the truth, though he loses his memories along the way.

And to progress, he must use cards.

Oh, cards…

Chain of Memories uses cards for both its maps and combat. I liked the way the map cards work. You sort of build your own dungeons, picking which room goes where as long as they’re a high enough value to get past the door. I enjoyed that, although it took away most of the exploration.

For combat, cards are used for everything: attacks, magic (even cure), summonses, and items. Cards with higher numbers “break” cards with lower numbers (stopping your action), except for 0. 0 cards can break any number, but also can be broken by any number. In theory, I love the strategic thinking this system requires.

In practice, I hated it.

Ironically, the combat system inspired the combat in The World Ends With You, which I love. There’s no nice way to say it, though. I despised Chain of Memories’ combat system. Trying to manage my deck, pick the best cards, set up sleights (special attacks formed from multiple cards), and react to my opponent’s cards, all while running and dodging like a traditional action RPG drove me crazy.

Organization-XIII-CloakFortunately, Chain of Memories knew how to handle me. Every time it forced me to endure a battle so terrible I wanted to abandon the whole game, it introduced another character in a black cloak from the “Organization.”

These people, and the story, is what really kept me interested in Chain of Memories.

Of course, Disney was still involved, beyond just Donald and Goofy. Each floor of the castle is a Disney world… the same worlds from the first game, in fact. The repetition didn’t bother me, because I felt Chain of Memories actually used them really effectively.

The Disney stories fit in thematically with the main plot of Chain of Memories so well, it’s admirable. The problems faced by the Disney characters, and the slight alterations of their stories, all work to complement Sora’s story.

Even though the Disney stories are integrated well, the real story in Chain of Memories is Sora’s journey through Castle Oblivion, and his interactions with the aforementioned cloak-wearing weirdos. The plot takes some nice twists and turns, and it intrigued me with its larger universe and world-building. (It also makes me wonder again why Kingdom Hearts includes Disney and Final Fantasy when it obviously has its own original story it wants to tell… but never mind.)

I enjoyed the characters, the questions raised about memory and identity, and the vague hints dropped about Nobodies.

And when I finally made it to the end, after an admittedly awesome final battle, it unlocked a second story.

Reverse/Rebirth (aka Riku’s Story)

The second part of Chain of Memories follows Riku. It’s technically known as Reverse/Rebirth according to the title screen, which means I was playing Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories – Reverse/Rebirth as part of the 1.5 Remix. I love Kingdom Hearts titles.

Dark-RikuRiku’s story plays a little differently. While the card system is more or less the same, his decks are locked and the cards changed automatically during the course of the story. He can also engage in “duels” when you and your opponent use a card with the same number. Breaking enough cards in a battle triggers Dark Mode, where he has access to powerful sleights.

In general, I enjoyed Riku’s combat slightly more, except for two things: 1) I was so bad at duels, the duel tutorial boss almost killed me, and 2) the lack of a “cure” card really hurt.

Unfortunately, Reverse/Rebirth has even less exploration than the main game. Remember how well I said the Disney worlds integrate with Sora’s story? They don’t even try in Riku’s. The Disney worlds are there solely to give Riku things to fight in between more cutscenes about the Organization.

Again, those cutscenes were interesting enough that I kept playing. I really enjoyed the story. And if there’s one good thing I can say about the lack of a heal card, it gave me a greater appreciation for Mickey.

Riku’s story is significantly shorter than Sora’s, and culminates in a boss fight so terrible, I thought I might not actually beat the game after all.

After two hours of agony, I beat the final boss and officially completed Chain of Memories!

Overall… I liked it. It’s given me more reason to be glad I picked up the Kingdom Hearts 1.5 Remix. I like the Organization and the overall plot, and I can’t wait to see where Kingdom Hearts 2 goes. (Despite having 1.5, I’m not watching the Days cutscenes until after I play KH2. I’ve been told it’s better that way.) The gameplay had some unique ideas, some of which was pretty fun.

But I hope I never have to break another card ever again.


Buy Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories (original) from Amazon
Buy Kingdom Hearts 1.5 Remix from Amazon
Buy Kingdom Hearts 1.5 Remix from Play-Asia

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