Operation Backlog Completion 2017

Dec 312016
 

2016 is almost over.

Earlier this year, I swore to complete at least 30 games from my backlog.

I did. In fact, I beat more than 30 games. Some were great, others were not-so-great. Let’s talk about the best of the best.

But first…

Honorable Mentions

I’d like to name three games as honorable mentions this year. First, Nelly Cootalot: The Fowl Fleet, which I reviewed for MonsterVine, is a hilarious adventure game I adored.

Second, Muv-Luv, which I just finished and will review soon, is an enjoyable visual novel that left me looking forward to the final (and, by all accounts, fantastic) part, Muv-Luv Alternative. Alternative is due out next year.

Finally, World of Final Fantasy deserves a mention because it would have won a spot on this list if I’d finished it yet. I thought I was nearing the end the other day, but it’s not over yet. I’m still loving every minute of it.

That’s it for the honorable mentions, so here we go: the best of the best, the top five games I played in 2016.

5. Xenoblade Chronicles X

Probably the most divisive of the games on this list, Xenoblade Chronicles X is exactly the sort of game I should consider lackluster: it has a fully open world and is driven more by exploration than its story. I dislike open worlds and play RPGs for their stories.

Yet Xenoblade Chronicles X won me over. As I explained in my review, it managed its open world in such away that I enjoyed it. After all the exploration was a key part of the plot.

And while the story might have been the strongest by RPG standards (not to mention that William Birkin bit), the worldbuilding was fantastic. I loved meeting different alien races and watching the city transform as they became our allies, and there were some really funny moments.

If you’ve avoided Xenoblade Chronicles X because of what people say about its story, but you like science fiction, you might want to reconsider. It’s really a fantastic game.

4. Kingdom Hearts 2

Kingdom Hearts won a spot on last year’s list, and when I moved on to the Kingdom Hearts 2.5 Remix, Kingdom Hearts 2 won itself a spot on the list as well.

Kingdom Hearts 2 did everything I loved from Kingdom Hearts and Re: Chain of Memories, but did it better. (Aside from the structure of the levels, since I preferred the less linear worlds in the first game.)

I love the original story content. It has original story content galore.

I loved Ansem. Xemnas is even better. (Sorry, Ansem.)

I loved Organization XIII. Turns out several of them were mad scientists.

You can check out my review for my full thoughts on Kingdom Hearts 2, but suffice it to say I would play it again in a heartbeat if not for my massive backlog.

(Except the Tron Light Cycle section. *shudder*)

3. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice

Not only is 2016 the year in which the first Ace Attorney takes place, it also saw the release of the fantastic sixth entry in the series, Spirit of Justice.

Available only from the Nintendo eShop, Spirit of Justice divides its time between Phoenix Wright in the distant Kingdom of Khura’in and Apollo Justice back at the home office. While jumping back and forth between protagonists could be tricky, it handles it well and delivers both a compelling story and several interesting cases.

For me, its story and humor fell short of Dual Destinies, but it had several welcome gameplay improvements. Take a look at my review, and then head to the eShop to buy Spirit of Justice.

(Come on, Capcom, let me have a localized Great Ace Attorney on my list next year! …Or Investigations 2.)

2. Steins;Gate

Steins;Gate is one of those games that makes it difficult to talk about how awesome it is without spoilers, but the praise I showered upon it in my review should have made its presence on this list a foregone conclusion.

I enjoyed it from the start. The protagonist was a nut who considered himself a mad scientist, the supporting cast was entertaining, and it was an enjoyable little story.

Then I reached that moment. If you’ve played, you know the moment I mean.

From then on, I remained glued to my Vita until I reached my first ending, and I immediately wanted to see the other endings after that. And when I finally reached the true ending, well… all I can say is that the pay-off was worth the work needed to get there.

Steins;Gate is brilliantly written. It’s emotional. Intense. Fantastic. It could easily have claimed the top spot on this list…

Except…

Here we go, the #1 game I played in 2016…

1. Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep

Basically, this guy stole the top spot from Steins;Gate.

Anyone who has spoken to me since I finished… or perhaps since I started Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep could probably have predicted this one.

It was the next step in my journey through the Kingdom Hearts 2.5 Remix, and it quickly became my favorite Kingdom Hearts game.

Everything about Birth By Sleep made it a delight to play: the story, the characters, the gameplay, the mini-games (and by that I really mean the Command Board; if Square Enix wants to turn mini-games into mobile games, why haven’t they released a standalone Command Board game?)…

And of all those things, the story stands out the most. I especially enjoyed Terra’s story. While I got my share of laughs out of Terra trusting Disney villains, I’ll also defend him for that. He’s not stupid, and he’s a good character.

…but of course, I love my villains, so the standout character of Birth By Sleep was Master Xehanort. It took me 75 hours to beat Birth By Sleep, and I would have happily played another 75 hours of Master Xehanort manipulating people and ranting about darkness.

If you’re a Kingdom Hearts fan, you need to play Birth By Sleep. (If you’ve only played the numbered titles and plan to go into Kingdom Hearts 3 without knowing who the sinister gentleman pictured above is, you really need to play Birth By Sleep.)

Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep was the most fun I’ve had with the Kingdom Hearts series so far, and it was the most fun I’ve had with any game in 2016.

Conclusion

Xenoblade Chronicles X, Kingdom Hearts 2, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice, Steins;Gate, and Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep are the five best games I played in 2016.

What are yours?

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Dec 292016
 

Dragon Quest XI, due out for the PS4 and 3DS (and the Switch, although we haven’t seen that version yet), looks like it will be a fantastic JRPG.

However, it’s prompted many questions about whether the PS4 version will take the path of many modern JRPG series and favor action combat over turn-based.

The 3DS version of Dragon Quest XI is definitely turn-based. There’s no doubt about that. The PS4 version, however, leaves some room for doubt.

When I see the above screenshot, I see turn-based combat. The enemies are lined up, the party members are lined up, and there’s a menu.

However, some fans have said the UI present in the PS4 combat screenshot is identical to that of Dragon Quest X, the MMORPG. Dragon Quest X’s combat system is a mix of turn-based and action: you take turns, but you can move freely during your turn and turns are determined by a variation of the ATB system.

Today, Square Enix showed a tiny glimpse of Dragon Quest XI PS4 combat… but it didn’t clear anything up.

Note the sharp cut to the battle footage. We don’t get to see the transition from the protagonist running through the field to attacking the monsters.

Support for turn-based combat:

  • The protagonist runs forward and performs a single attack.
  • The second enemy immediately jumps forward before it flees, as though it’s your next target and it uses its turn to run.
  • The enemy disappears when it flees, suggesting that it isn’t a seamless encounter out on the field.

Support for action combat:

  • There is no visible menu. (Note, since we’ve already seen a combat menu for the PS4, the UI might just be removed from this specific footage.)
  • The protagonist doesn’t move back to his original position after attacking.

So both sides have good arguments to make.

It’s also possible that we’re seeing a turn-based combat system where your position matters, like in I Am Setsuna or Trails of Cold Steel (from what I’ve heard).

What do you think? Will Dragon Quest XI on the PS4 have turn-based combat, action combat, or a blend like in Dragon Quest X? Whatever the answer is, I hope Square Enix presents a clear explanation soon.

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Dec 262016
 

Although I’d already watched the movie included in the Kingdom Hearts 1.5 Remix, I decided to play through the actual Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days myself.

I’m glad I did. Although the movie covers all the major plot points, it skips some important scenes, as well as a lot of character interactions that helped me connect more to the plot.

In fact, although the movie got me a little teary-eyed, the emotional impact was much stronger when I played the game myself.

358/2 Days tells the story of Roxas’s time in Organization XIII and his friendship with Axel, and the fourteenth member, Xion.

Its gameplay is similar to that of Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II, with one major difference. Your weapon, spells, items, skills, and even levels and inventory space all must be equipped through a panel system. As you progress, you unlock more panel slots.

Panels come in different shapes, and more powerful ones take up more room, which forces you to manage your panels carefully to take what you want into battle. It’s similar to the inventory system in Resident Evil 4 or the way you equip powers in Kid Icarus: Uprising.

I actually really liked the panel system! It’s the sort of inventory management I find fun, unlike what another certain game did.

The other major difference from the rest of the series is that the passage of time is measured through days, and you take on a new mission each day. Sometimes you only have one, while other days give you a list of missions to pick from. Some advance the story, but others are optional.

You can do all of them if you want, but you can skip the optional ones and continue the story if you prefer. All missions can be replayed at any time.

Unfortunately, the missions can get a little repetitive and tedious. A handful of gameplay quirks bugged me, as well:

  • Most missions let you choose whether to RTC (return to the castle) after you complete your objective, so you can continue to search for treasure chests and such. A few do not, and don’t warn you beforehand.
  • Some Heartless disappear once they get too far from their starting point. Very annoying if you almost defeated them, because they have full health when they reappear.
  • There are a few annoying stealth sections. (This might not count, since I just dislike stealth.)

But I mainly play these games for their stories and characters, and that’s where 358/2 Days won me over. Although I would have liked to see more of certain Organization members, the game is filled with entertaining character interactions and funny moments.

On second thought, is this funny or terrifying?

The plot itself is divisive. Some fans love it. Others hate it. I enjoyed it. It’s very different from other Kingdom Hearts plots, but I like its sense of mystery… and the foreboding atmosphere as the story draws closer to its inescapable conclusion.

One of the best parts is being able to talk to members of the Organization each day in the Grey Area before you get your missions. Not only does this provide opportunities for funny dialogue and help with characterization, it also builds up the atmosphere.

(On a side note, if 358/2 Days ever gets a remake, I want to be able to explore the castle as a full hub area.)

Talking to the other members in the Grey Area gives the castle a homey feeling… which makes it that much more uncomfortable when things go bad.

And that brings me to a common criticism I’d like to address.

Click for major 358/2 Days spoilers

Thanks to the character interactions, I felt the transformation, and that made it much easier to empathize with Roxas’s motivations than from the movie alone.

The Disney worlds also contribute to the plot in thematic ways, particularly as Roxas learns more about friendship. And of course, there’s the conversation between him and Xion about how the Beast defends his own castle, but if someone attacked the Castle That Never Was, they’d be the ones to fight, not Xemnas.

(Also, it’s impressive that although DiZ only has a handful of lines in the entire game, he uses each of those lines to make himself as unlikable as possible.)

And although most fans say Birth By Sleep is the darkest Kingdom Hearts game, I think 358/2 Days is. Sure, the early parts are lighthearted… but it takes the disturbing themes from Roxas’s prologue in Kingdom Hearts 2 and makes them ten times stronger.

Now, I haven’t said much about Mission Mode, where you can play as any Organization member, and that’s because I played only a little of it. It was fun trying out the different characters, but I didn’t enjoy it enough to keep playing through missions as them.

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days isn’t a perfect game, but it was enjoyable. I had fun with it, and I’m glad I decided to play through it myself.


Buy Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days from Amazon
Buy Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days from Play-Asia

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