Gaming-wise, 2015 encapsulated a wide range of emotions from myself. Whether or not it came from reviewing lesser known games... that should remain lesser known, witnessing shocking announcements (I can no longer say the FFVII: Remake and Shenmue 3 are impossible?!), or just the generally consistent great heavy-hitters that sprouted in 2015.
More than anything else, however, 2015 was a strong reminder of my own mortality in that I could not even come close to playing/finishing everything I wanted to this year. I made an effort to play quite a bit, but alas, my efforts were not nearly enough.
Even so, here are my top 10 games of the year.
10. Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward
Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn did the impossible. It made me play an MMO... and like it. Not only like it, but be invested in it enough to expedite a PS4 purchase in order to play it on much stronger hardware (Playing late-game content on PS3 = bad times.).
Then came along the first full-fledged expansion pack to the title with Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward. Heavensward added fun new dungeons, abnormally cool boss fights, a few new classes (Astrologian ftw), a soundtrack to brag about, but the most pleasant surprise is probably its intriguing storytelling. The narrative that takes place across Ishgard from its Ivalice-styled political intrigue, or themes like the damaging effects of unchallenged traditions, with the fairly sharp writing to accompany it more than convinced me that the world of FFXIV is the best thing to bear the name in a very long time, some MMO-jankiness aside.
9. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
For the longest time, following Metal Gear Solid V felt like an unobtainable myth. A white whale if you will. It seemed like a fever dream until... BOOM, we wake up with shrapnel lodged into our forehead and the realization that Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is actually a real thing. Now, I could make fun of the storytelling, and it noticeably missing an entire third act all day, but for what it sacrifices in storytelling it more than makes up with incredibly rock-solid gameplay. The huge open world, smooth controls, and many buried gameplay nuances that allow one to tackle seemingly simple missions in a multitude of ways makes it easily far surpass its predecessors in gameplay alone. Also, D-Dog 4 lyfe.
8. Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance
Even after five main entries, Disgaea feels anything but normal. Sure, they have a similar appeal game by game but their inherent absurdity and gameplay depth keeps rising to the point where their 9999 level caps and a damage counts that reaches past a trillion seems normal in contrast. In spite of it, Disgaea 5 finds a common ground in being a great SRPG. Disgaea 5 boasts many smart refinements of gameplay systems as well as entirely new ones outright that I enjoyed uncovering even as it betrayed my free time. I only wish that an enhanced version formed an alliance with my Vita one day...
I made a fairly big 180 on Splatoon in general. I was rather annoyed by excessive fandom and was pretty unimpressed by the early "testfire" beta as well. After a couple months of actively ignoring it, and an impulse purchase later, I completely turned around on it. Frankly, Splatoon is a whole lot of fun in multiplayer, more so with a steady group of online victims friends to play with (thanks, GP). The title has only gotten better over time from fixing key criticisms at launch to regularly adding new weapons and maps -- all for free.
6. Divinity: Original Sin: Enhanced Edition
I usually avoid adding games to GOTY lists that technically debuted last year (or earlier) but... the Enhanced Edition itself (plus my hypocrisy of adding FFXIV prior to this) gives me just enough of an excuse to include Divinity: Original Sin to forego any such thinking. While I found this year's Pillars of Eternity more on the safer side of a classic feeling computer-RPG in the modern era, Divinity: Original Sin felt both progressive and oddly nostalgic for my former PC gaming self. It forced my creativity to go into overdrive with its fantastic, and flexible, gameplay systems and also had an unapologetic depth to it that can easily run the risk of drowning most people that I highly enjoyed... well, after several early hours of immense confusion about character builds.
5. Atelier Shallie: Alchemists of the Dusk Sea
I feel like I have gradually been associated with the Atelier series. Now, I have no idea why people would get that idea. I mean, it's not like I've reviewed at least five games in the series or have a fascination with barrels or anything.
False accusations aside, it has been several years since I've even considered an Atelier game to be anywhere near a GOTY list. That said, even after being disappointed by the prior two entries of the Dusk trilogy I definitely was not disappointed with the gameplay of Atelier Shallie (story/characters is another matter...). As someone who tends to judge how much I like a game by how absorbed I am while playing it I'll just say that I was pretty addicted to Atelier Shallie's deceptively addictive and actively rewarding gameplay structure to say the least. Also, I'm easily impressed by "Barrel!" shouts. (Editor's note: Yep... *looks at article image*)
4. Xenoblade Chronicles X
With the original Xenoblade Chronicles, I liked the setting despite my contention with the so-so gameplay. In Xenoblade Chronicles X, I really enjoy the gameplay despite my contention with its so-so main story.
What I mean to say is that even though it is a surprisingly significant departure from the well-respected original Wii title it manages to carve out its own distinctly different appeal. The art direction for its massive open-world is top-class, new online features oddly immersive, but, most importantly, its compelling and fairly deep moment to moment gameplay makes me want to keep going back for more. Plus, the mecha Skells are pretty dang cool and anybody who says otherwise I'll just quote the hub theme by saying: "I CAN'T HEAR YOU! I CAN'T SEE YOU!".
Undertale is very clearly the indie darling of this year. You are either swept alongside the fandom hype or find it quite obnoxious for possibly ruining the holy integrity of Gamefaqs polls. Usually I brush off such indie fanfare *cough* Gone Home *cough* but I was actually quite charmed by Undertale. I can certainly nitpick several facets, most from a gameplay standpoint, but what Undertale has in spades are moments. Moments that are only very memorable, from characters to clever gameplay gimmicks, but also show an incredible amount of foresight and heartfelt touches from the modest indie developer Toby Fox.
Passionate fandom may have blown it out of proportion by this point, yet it is also telling that Undertale manages to be so memorable and charming in a time where so many games can easily blur together.
2. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
I honestly anticipated The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt to be my game of the year before it even started, and I'm surprised it's not. I mean, I know why. The Witcher 3 played quite poorly at launch and I stick by my criticisms of it at the time. However, CD Projekt Red has more than gone the extra mile supporting it with their incredibly respectable work ethic by adding hugely significant patches (granted, many of which should've been implemented day 1) and great DLC in addition (most free). Plus, the game that is there is more than excellent. The incredibly sharp writing and well-developed characters alone outclasses most in the medium but the attention with its world-building and divergent, and unpredictable, quest design sets it head and shoulders above any other RPG this generation.
Compared to most other titles on this list, I probably could not tell you much about the setting or story of Bloodborne. I mean, there is an obsession with hunters, dreams, and most obviously blood but... like hell if I can tell you many nuances beyond its powerful and basically nightmare fuel imagery for its enemy designs -- even after two playthroughs. What I can say is that I was very utterly engrossed during both runs by playing and seeing content very differently each time, which was more apparent after playing the downright fantastic and shockingly worth it The Older Hunters expansion pack.
People tend to be fixated on the difficulty Bloodborne and prior -Souls games have, which is obviously there, but I care far more about its immensely satisfying gameplay, disturbingly imaginative world design, awesome and versatile weapons, and very creative online features integrated within Bloodborne. Prior -Souls titles rewarded much more passive play and Bloodborne tells you to get over such habits in favor of a much faster and more aggressive, but smart, playstyle that makes it far more fun to play because of it. If you are patient enough to stick with it even as you are learning the ropes, Bloodborne showcases its rightful place as the PS4's best exclusive title.
But seriously, I can't tell you much about the convoluted story. Awesome game, though.