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Game of the Year 2014: Barrel's Picks


It always feels like my opinion of certain years in gaming tends to go against the general consensus. I found myself with bittersweet impressions of 2013 when Grand Theft Auto 5 and The Last of Us weren't my favorite games ever, and I could not earnestly come up with ten games to put on my 2013 GOTY list. I eventually pondered if 2014 would be any different when I heard constant woes of games being delayed, disappointing, or just plain broken.


Granted, most of that seemed to happen to games that I didn't care about in the slightest. Now that the year is over, I have come to realize that I was actually not disappointed by 2014 (game-wise) at all since I put my attention towards everything but the new and shiny PS4 and Xbox One systems.


As with personal GOTY deliberations, I have decided to play with my format this year as an excuse to highlight certain games. These primary personal rules include not allowing enhanced ports or certain games that I did not like significantly more than their predecessors. So, regardless of how much I may enjoy certain titles, if I feel like they play it a bit too safe they probably won't be on my list. Or will they? I guess you'll just have to scroll down to find out, because if there is one thing that I am not, it is consistent.





10. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker


Toad is the worst. His grating voice generally makes me want to claw out my ears, and seriously—who wants to listen to his crap about telling you that the princess is in another castle? Captain Toad, however, is far more respectable. He is a man with ambition, and has a level head on shoulders as he undergoes in various trials to help his friend in need and claiming his rightful cash monies.


But, for real, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is a very charming and clever puzzle game that has a certain sheen to its design that feels like only Nintendo would even consider putting in the level of polish that it has.






9. Guilty Gear Xrd-SIGN-


2014 was actually a solid year for fighting games. We finally got the highly anticipated new Super Smash Bros for Wii U/3DS to more iterative releases like Ultra Street Fighter IV and Skullgirls: Encore. However, Arc System Works probably had the most impressive output of any developer in quantity alone.


I admit that Blazblue is more of my kind of game in terms of character mechanics (also because I'm terrible at Guilty Gear), but Guilty Gear Xrd-SIGN- manages to hit a fighting game sweet spot for me that feels both very fresh and also oddly nostalgic with its overhauled engine. It isn't quite at the level that I want it to be for its character roster (JOHNNY? BAIKEN? WHERE U AT?!) or modes, but Xrd -SIGN- is a really strong start.






8. The Banner Saga


"If Oregon Trail was good..." No, saying that will probably anger people. How about, "If Oregon Trail had substance as a game and a real story"? No, too much to the point. Actually, The Banner Saga is fairly interesting beyond its homage to Oregon Trail. It probably has my favorite unique soundtrack by Austin Wintory (yes, even if Journey's is REALLY good), an extremely cohesive art direction, very ambiguous design for both gameplay and narrative structure, and solid SRPG mechanics to boot. I am definitely looking forward to getting my hands on its sequel in 2015.






7. DanganRonpa 2: Goodbye Despair


I liked Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc a fair amount, but I feel like DanganRonpa 2: Goodbye Despair is just a smarter game overall than its predecessor. The characters are a lot less tropey, murder mysteries far more involved, and the narrative twists underneath are far more surprising and intriguing in DanganRonpa 2. Some spotty minigames and point-and-click segments were neither here nor there for me (same with the original), but the sharp, generally hilarious, dialogue and engaging, dark storytelling more than made up for such shortcomings.






6. Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord


To be honest, I originally played Tears to Tiara II on the basis of it being a SRPG. No real rhyme or reason beyond that; I seriously like SRPGs that much and I will like the average SRPG more than the average RPG on a base level. To my surprise, however, my primary drive while playing though Tears to Tiara II was not actually the SRPG gameplay, while pretty solid, but it was actually the very well-written storytelling. It is a rough game in a lot of ways, especially with its pacing and presentation, but I feel like there is a lot of heart hidden in Tears to Tiara II's fleshed-out cast of characters and storytelling that had me quite engrossed the further I delved into it.






5. Ao no Kiseki Evolution


Leave it to me to try to play pretty much the least import-friendly series possible, and also one with several incredibly text-heavy RPGs as mandatory prerequisites. Still, it has been a while since I have been so excited to immediately play an RPG sequel after I had—extremely slowly, but surely—finished Zero no Kiseki Evolution earlier this year. Guys, you don't understand: You can make a totally pimp SUV, play a totally legit Bejeweled clone, and... oh, I guess I could say the music is awesome, the characters/storytelling are great (so far), and there is a stupid amount of things to do too.


The only reason it is not higher on my list is because I had to stop playing it since I've reached a point where I run the risk of hugely spoiling Trails in the Sky: Second Chapter for myself, which is being officially localized in English for release in 2015 (...hopefully).






4. Shovel Knight


Usually throwback games do nothing for me. They tend to be so obsessed with capturing the aesthetic that the actual game itself feels uninspired. Shovel Knight is certainly not that and gets what those older titles did well and then some. I feel like there is very little that I can say that others among the staff haven't already said more eloquently, so I'll only just say that Shovel Knight has a certain purity to its action-platforming gameplay that I have not seen in a good while.






3. Dark Souls II


It is strange to see a series in the modern era where dying is not a sign of failure but it is an outright expectation. Not even in a strict trial-and-error way like most difficult games tend to be, but rather the Souls games highly reward those who play smart, thorough, and most importantly—patiently. I may be a bit odd in how this game clicked with me far more than its predecessors with its tighter gameplay and general structure primarily, but that can't be helped. Still, Dark Souls II had me downright hooked with its challenging, flexible action-RPG design while it unapologetically consumed my entire spring break—and I don't regret it at all.






2. Bayonetta 2


Best game on Wii U; it's just science, guys. In all seriousness, 2014 was a quite a strong year for the Wii U. Even if certain critically-acclaimed Nintendo releases resonated with me less than the average folk (perhaps a certain kart racer in particular), I nonetheless respect Nintendo's output on the console during 2014. Still, no other game has validated my purchase of the system more than Bayonetta 2 has.


I already had high expectations for the title and to see them surpassed is downright astounding. I could gush on all day about how the combat is constantly exhilarating, bosses are amazing, controls are nearly flawless, and the soundtrack is catchy—even if the story is... ok (we don't talk about the story). Even now, I still find myself chipping away at its crazy amount of unlocks and playing the higher difficulties just because it plays so friggin' good and is just so much fun to play.






1. Steins;Gate


I may have liked the Steins;Gate anime a fair amount, but I had several complaints with certain plot holes and underutilized characters. Little did I know that those complaints were remedied in the much more in-depth and far superior visual novel. Steins;Gate is far and away my favorite visual novel ever—period. The characters are fantastic, the dynamic approach to the story is incredibly fascinating, and it features the most well-thought-out time-travel scenario that I have ever seen in any medium. It is a master class among visual novels and I could not be happier that more people will soon be able experience it in 2015 on Vita, PS3, and even iOS. Ok, you caught me, I just want an excuse to play it again on my Vita.


And, to end this write-up properly, I shall leave you all with a deep and meaningful proverb—"El Psy Congroo".

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