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Game of the Year 2016: Justin's Picks


Hailinel

2016 was an eventful year for gaming. Well, truthfully, the same could really be said for any recent year, but this was the year that:

  • The Last Guardian finally shipped!
  • As did Mighty No. 9!
  • And I FINALLY got my Kickstarter-backer physical copy of Broken Age.

And none of the above made my list. (Although, I doubt many people will be offended by the omission of Mighty No. 9. Hoo boy, that was awkward.) But as we get ready for 2017, which also looks ready and waiting to be an eventful year in gaming, let“s take a look back at my ten favorite games of 2016!

 

 

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10. Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity

 

The Touhou series of bullet hell shooters has long had a fanbase of creators that have spawned numerous fanworks over the years. The games and their characters have inspired fanart and doujinshi comics, music, and even entirely separate games. Scarlet Curiosity is one such title; an action RPG focused on the vampire Remilia and her devoted maid Sayaka, the game is simple, but well-made and incredibly fun. Filled with charming character aided by a great English localization, it was easily the biggest surprise of the year for me.

 

 

 

 

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9. Style Savvy: Fashion Forward

 

The third Style Savvy game took a while to make it to North America, but the wait was worth it. Backed by an unapologetically fantastical premise involving a tiny magical door, Fashion Forward puts, well, fashion forward as it charges the player with running a fashion boutique while also making time to help out at the hair stylist and beauty salon. With a long list of entertaining and eccentric clients in a fashion-obsessed city, dressing, styling, and grooming them all is addicting, and the light-hearted banter just adds to the charm. It was easy for me to get pulled in, playing the video game equivalent of dress-up for hours at a time.

 

 

 

 

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8. Fire Emblem Fates

 

As a long-time fan of the Fire Emblem series, putting Fates on my list wasn“t a difficult decision. But what was difficult was deciding where to actually rank it. Fates was a divisive game for a variety of reasons, whether it be the release of three separate versions (with one being restricted to DLC) that all tell the same story from different angles, and with different focuses on challenge, at that. And for every innovation that felt like a positive direction (changes to the weapon triangle, the removal of weapon durability), other parts didn“t receive the attention that they should have deserved. (The narrative justification for the second-generation characters being able to fight alongside their parents is the most nakedly lazy writing the series has ever endured.)

 

Fire Emblem took steps forward and back with Fates, but at its core, it“s still Fire Emblem. While the game has a number of issues, it still manages to retain enough to be a challenging, entertaining entry. Hopefully an eventual Fire Emblem title on the Nintendo Switch is in the works.

 

 

 

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7. Pokkén Tournament

 

One of the unlikeliest of fighting games to see a release in recent memory, this Bandai Namco-developed Pokémon fighting game with its mix of Tekken and Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs.-inspired mechanics turned out to be really darn good! While the size of the roster in the Wii U version is limited, particularly compared to the arcade version that has seen continuous updates, the variety of Pokémon on the roster is well-picked. And the fighting mechanics, which emphasize a continuous shift between open arena battling and more traditional fighting on a 2D plane is fun in both single-player and online.

 

This is the sort of wild Pokémon spin-off that I would love to see more of!

 

 

 

 

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6. Nobunaga“s Ambition: Sphere of Influence – Ascension

 

Koei Tecmo has gotten back into a real groove with western releases of the company“s historical strategy titles, and Ascension really nailed it for me. Since its release just this past October, I“ve played through multiple campaigns, some more successful than others, and still have a desire to go back and try to conquer Japan again. It“s the sort of difficult strategy game where I constantly feel the pull of “just one more turn.” Ascension feels like a game I could easily play for years.

 

 

 

 

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5. Attack on Titan

 

Koei Tecmo“s Omega Force studio have become experts at the one-against-a-thousand action combat of the Musou franchise in all its forms. To see them take many aspects of that formula and apply them to a game with an entirely different focus, and do so successfully, is remarkable. Attack on Titan“s smooth, rhythmic flow of swinging through the air and cutting down Titans is a delight as it retells the story of the anime“s first season from start to finish. Hopefully we won“t have to wait for a sequel for as long as we“ve had to wait for the anime“s second season, which is due to start airing next year.

 

 

 

 

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4. Samurai Warriors 4: Empires

 

The third and final Koei Tecmo game on the list, Samurai Warriors 4: Empires continues the Empires spin-off tradition of taking the core hack-and-slash Musou action and giving it the backbone of a strategy game. This year“s Empires title is an excellent refinement of that formula, offering challenges not usually seen in standard Musou titles. Playing defense with an underpowered officer and managing to hold off a much larger and more powerful invasion force is always satisfying.

 

Of all of the Musou series, Samurai Warriors has long been my favorite, and Samurai Warriors 4: Empires helps keep it on top.

 

 

 

 

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3. Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X

 

At first glance, Project Diva X might seem disappointing. The game has a relatively small track list, and the more cinematic music videos of past games aren“t present, as all of them are set as concert stage performances. But Project Diva X“s new story mode, which adds a thin but entertaining premise to the proceedings, is surprisingly endearing. The song selection is also top-notch, with some personal favorites of mine making the cut. And the game“s original medleys, which blend songs from past games together into themed performances like Cute, Cool, and Quirky, are some of the best and most elaborate in the game.

 

And it“s a Hatsune Miku game. I just can“t say no to Miku!

 

 

 

 

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2. Final Fantasy XV

 

Oh, what a long and winding road it“s been this past decade.

 

There“s a part of me that says that Final Fantasy XV has no reason to be as good as it is. Pulled out of stagnant development from its years under Tetsuya Nomura as Final Fantasy Versus XIII, Hajime Tabata and his team rebuilt Nomura“s concept into a complete game worthy of being a mainline Final Fantasy title.

 

Though it“s rough around the edges, Noctis“s road trip tale of brotherhood and a desire to find his betrothed after his kingdom has fallen under imperial rule shines through where it counts, wearing its inspirations from past Final Fantasy games on its sleeve while standing well on its own. And the game“s ending is not only rewarding, but one of the very best that the series has delivered yet, nailing the game“s themes one after another.

 

 

 

 

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1. Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE

 

Several years ago, Nintendo surprised everyone with the announcement of Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem, an Atlus-developed crossover title that would match Fire Emblem“s medieval fantasy strategy role-playing series with Shin Megami Tensei“s demon-infested, apocalypse-happy, modern Tokyo-set JRPG franchise. But there was little meat to the announcement beyond a placeholder title and some old character art from past games. Many assumed that the game would be a standard crossover of franchise casts, possibly involving fights between Marth and the Demi-Fiend before everyone comes together to fight the true, common enemy.

 

Because that“s how these crossover games tend to go.

 

And so it was surprising, to say the least, when Nintendo unveiled Tokyo Mirage Sessions for the first time last year. Bright colors! J-Pop! A bizarre title with a sharp symbol in it! And no sign of the Demi-Fiend!

 

I was on board with this unabashed goofiness from day one. Of course, not everyone was. Some were annoyed, or more bizarrely felt betrayed. Where was the Shin Megami Tensei? Where was the Fire Emblem?

 

While traditional franchise crossover games are all well and good, Atlus and Nintendo chose to take Tokyo Mirage Sessions in the more novel direction of a thematic crossover. With the gameplay design and structure of a MegaTen RPG with Fire Emblem influences, and a modern-day Tokyo set against a world of Fire Emblem characters largely reimagined in the vein of MegaTen demons, well, here we are! The entertainment industry backdrop and the game“s bright, beautiful color palette give TMS an identity all its own, with plenty of nodding references and Easter eggs related to both franchises for good measure.

 

The professionally produced musical performances as sung by the cast are some of the many highlights in a game that isn“t afraid to be goofy with characters that range from an enka-singing elementary schooler to a pitch-perfect parody of a western otaku. And yet, it never feels too silly for its own good, easing between lighter and darker moments with ease.

 

As a fan of both franchises, I can certainly understand the disappointment some felt when Tokyo Mirage Sessions turned out to be a game that in no way matched what they had envisioned Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem would be. But the heart of both franchises shines through in ways expected and not, with a top-notch presentation and a warm heart that in my mind turned out to be the Wii U“s last and greatest hurrah.

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