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Hey everyone, thought I'd try a new idea out for 2017 - hopefully it'll stick around as a new feature. Monday Musings is a feature where every Monday, I'll shoot the breeze about what I've been playing and what my thoughts are on various news and events in the game industry. It's a bit more informal than a lot of the stuff that goes up here, so hopefully it'll be different and at least entertaining to read. That said, let's kick things off with our first topic... The Star Wars cast voiced original lines in a LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens? So I've been playing quite a bit of LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens recently (which is pretty darn good btw), and noticed, well, a disturbance in the force, you could say. That is to say - apparently, somehow, some way, TT Games managed to get the main cast in The Force Awakens movie to voice some extra lines for the game. I haven't played LEGO Jurassic World yet, so I'm not sure if that it also did this, but man, this is wildly unheard of for a Lego game. Why? It might be one thing for up-and-comers like Daisy Ridley and John Boyega to do this, but it's entirely surprising for someone like Harrison Ford (y'know, only one of the biggest stars of the last half century?) to do it. "Why would the cast record lines for a lowly video game when it would normally be beneath a lot of other actors (both in prestige and pay)?" TT Games generally has been using the movie voice track for their movie adaptations of games ever since LEGO Lord of the Rings, and they do in this one as well, but my first cue that extra lines were recorded by the main cast when I started hearing Han Solo say things like... "Darn, the door is locked. If only we could access the panel to get into it," or "Hey, maybe we should press this button over there." Which is SUPER jarring when you realize Harrison Ford is actually voicing these generic hints. To TT Games' credit, they did give Ford some actual witty Han Solo-isms to say, which you'll hear interspersed throughout some of the other banter when you're playing, which was a nice touch. So how did this all happen? Why would the cast record lines for a lowly video game when it would normally be beneath a lot of other actors (both in prestige and pay)? My guess is that when they signed on to star in The Force Awakens film, there was a clause in their contract that obligated them to also do voices for a tie-in game -- in this case, LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens. ...Or maybe they really did just do it just for the money. Who knows. -------------------------------- Backlog is good, backlog is life Now that 2016 is finally over and the bulk of GP's Game of the Year event is over (we still need to put up our overall top 10 for the site), I'm actually excited to dive back in and start playing some of my backlog games again. Around last November, I had a weird hankering to finish up Lego Marvel Superheroes (so much talk about Lego games, I know), which I previously left off in the Spring of 2015. Needless to say, I beat it and was enthralled with it enough to want to 100% it, but I had to put aside once I realized I should be focusing on finishing games for that year for GOTY consideration. I still have Katamari Damacy to get back to as well which was pretty fun (and challenging), so hopefully that'll mark the beginning of me making a big dent in my digital PS2 game collection on PS3. But going back and playing these games really reminded me that it's good to intersperse backlog titles with newer ones because they kind of help give you some focus and make you realize that it's not all about keeping up with the Joneses and what they're playing. No doubt there's definitely something to playing a new game when everyone else is playing it (see: Splatoon, FFXV, Overwatch), but playing backlog games helps me realize that it's good to go at your own pace as well. Otherwise, sometimes I kind of get lost in the shuffle of just playing recently released games and -- even though I'm having fun a lot of the time while doing it -- I realize that I'm sort of forcing myself to play through stuff that I may not really want to play at that time just to justify the expense or to experience what everyone else is talking about, even if it doesn't click with me in the same way. It also shows me that I don't need to have every single game right when it releases. Given this, I'll try now more than ever to only buy the games I'm most excited about at release, and also try not to buy too many altogether at once as well. On the upside, however, I did notice that I ended up beating many of the games I bought in the latter half of 2016, especially those that I was playing in anticipation of writing up my game of the year list. This is in stark contrast to 2015 when I bought a bunch of games that I still haven't played or beaten to this day -- stuff like Tembo the Badass Elephant, Ori and the Blind Forest, Axiom Verge, Undertale (still need to beat), and others. Hoping to continue that upward swing this year! Really digging Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright right now So, to put things in context beforehand: I actually had a really hard time putting together my game of the year list this year, so much so that I actually wrote up most of it the night before it was published. It wasn't that I had a hard time thinking of games that I wanted on the list -- no, it was actually the opposite. There were too many games that I wanted to play and experience before I wrote up my list, and I just didn't know when to cut things off. I had actually only just played Abzu two days before, and Firewatch only the night before it went live. Yeah... Needless to say, I didn't truly get to let the whole experience of Firewatch set in on me after the credits rolled, and I found myself going with my gut reaction to keep Fire Emblem Awakening since I spent way more time with it. The next day, I found myself thinking about Firewatch all day long and wondering if I made the right choice. But after spending the weekend and yesterday really digging into Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright, it reconfirmed my faith in that game is well-placed. What really makes the experience for me is a rich blend of deep strategy combined with the relationships that build between different characters via support conversations (a mechanic where characters can build a relationship based on the amount of time they spend next to each other in battle). Eventually, male and female characters that reach a high enough level with each other will marry, producing a child that -- through really lazy writing -- has been raised to adolescence via an alternate realm (where time passes much faster) and will join you in your quest (after beating their paralogue chapter). If the reasoning behind that sounded dumb, it absolutely is, but the gameplay ramifications behind it are amazing because it essentially allows you to breed new units with the unique special abilities that parents have, similar in a sense to Pokemon breeding (sounds weird when I put it that way). Anyhow, I've been spending much of my time pairing up the characters to get their child characters, but also leveling up lower level characters on skirmish maps and doing the main story chapters in between as well. Some of the later chapters are challenging in a really refreshing way; like, you'll have to deeply think about where you're positioning your units before they strike whereas earlier maps you might have been mostly bulldozing through it without as much thought. You also have to make more use of pairing units together (and thus making use of stat bonuses), not only to take down tougher foes, but also to defend from them as well. Those two aspects of the game are what really makes it for me, and the main story is just the sprinkling on the top, really. I've heard complaints about the plot from others, and -- maybe it's just that I haven't gotten to the end where something happens but I think it's fine so far (I think I'm on Chapter 23?). In the meantime, if this is your first Fire Emblem experience, I'd probably recommend Awakening first, but you really can't go wrong with any version of Fire Emblem Fates. "You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain." I recently finished the Batman Telltale Series (yes, that was another game I didn't actually finish before I had to put up my GOTY list), and holy cow, that's a good game. They do some really unique things with the story, especially with Bruce Wayne's side of the story that keep things on the edge from beginning to end. Being Batman is great, but I'm thoroughly convinced that for a Batman story to be truly good, you need almost equal amounts of Bruce and Batman to really flesh things out. I'll save my full thoughts for a review, but I will say that you should definitely play, especially if you've been holding off of recent Telltale games. Hopefully Season 2 is a foregone conclusion at this point; we'll see! That wraps up this edition of Monday Musings! I don't know if they'll always be this long, but definitely let me know what you think below; I appreciate any and all feedback and will try to tailor future ones accordingly. Thanks for reading!
I'll skip the real-world comparisons and say that for the most part, 2016 was a pretty good year for video games overall. Two of the most long-awaited games finally came out (and not a moment too soon), and they were both surprisingly excellent. Many more great indie games made their debut, and I'm looking forward to catching up with a lot of them over the next year. And the 3DS had one of its best years yet in terms of RPGs for the handheld. Heck, we even got cool surprises like the NES Classic Edition. As usual, I want to acknowledge some of this year's runner-ups, such as Firewatch and Stories: The Path of Destinies; both of which nearly made my list. Coatsink's Shu also deserves a lot of credit for being one of the most original games I played this year as well. And last but not least, Overwatch is a game I wish I had spent more time with, but ultimately there just wasn't enough time to play everything. In any event, here are my top 10 games of 2016. 10. Fire Emblem Fates Fire Emblem Fates was far and away one of my most anticipated titles coming into 2016. Awakening was my game of the year for 2013, and now the series was plunging headfirst into a story that would see new protagonist Corrin split between two warring sides: his adopted family and the family of his birth. It was an interesting twist and a great setup for a potentially epic story and character-rich plot, even if the story gets away from itself a bit at certain points. The strategic gameplay is still as good as ever and I enjoyed pairing up various units to see how their relationships would unfold. 9. Abzu Confession: I was already completely biased in favor of Abzu from the start, especially since two of the three major creative people behind Journey (aka my game of the year in 2012) worked on it. Also, in light of that latter fact, it's also not surprising that Abzu is essentially Journey except under the water, in a sense. However, it does not out-Journey Journey, and that's okay. Abzu is a short but breathtaking experience, and Austin Wintory's woodwind-filled orchestrated soundtrack adds to the epic feel of swimming alongside majestic sea creatures and currents in exotic underwater locales. There's virtually no challenge to it, but I almost can't wait to dive back in and experience it all again. 8. Batman: The Telltale Series The last Telltale game I had played before this was The Wolf Among Us, which I really enjoyed, but for some reason I hadn't had the desire to play any more after that -- until Batman, that is. Unbeknownst to players at the outset, Batman: The Telltale Series exists in its own universe, meaning Telltale gets to tell Batman as they want to tell him. Everything you knew about Batman potentially gets thrown out the window, which is refreshing and exciting to me, and Telltale used this to their advantage to tell one of the best Batman stories of recent years. Also, it probably has the most exciting quick-time-event sections I've ever experienced. Season 2 can't come soon enough. 7. Star Fox Zero If you haven't played Star Fox Zero yet, you might be surprised to see it on this list. Aren't the controls terrible? Isn't it a bad game? And to that I say no, it's not a bad game. At all. The controls aren't 100% ideal, but they're fine once you get used to them for 30 minutes or so (with occasional spottiness). But underneath the stigma of its motion controls, Star Fox Zero contains one of the best Star Fox games, bar none. Platinum's signature is definitely felt in this game especially with certain levels that feature over-the-top action (especially some of the latter ones), and it was a joy to hear the new songs as well as new renditions of old classics. It may not be exactly what everyone wanted, but as a reimagining of Star Fox 64, it definitely achieves what it sets out to do (with a few twists) and be incredibly entertaining at the same time. 6. Paper Mario: Color Splash Paper Mario: Color Splash may continue the same direction that the much criticized Paper Mario: Sticker Star started, but I'll defend it to the death as one of this year's great titles. While the plot is still rather thin (pun not intended, I swear) compared to the first three Paper Mario games, Intelligent Systems gives Mario and friends more to work with in this game as he investigates why the color is seemingly disappearing from Prism Island. The new color system doesn't add a ton of depth to the card-based battle system, but it's used surprisingly well in various puzzles throughout the game. Also, Color Splash has a fantastic soundtrack and arguably the best/funniest writing in the entire series (The Thousand Year Door included), where each level is essentially a brand new scenario to work through (mini story arcs and all). What it lacks in the main plot, it more than makes up for in its witty writing and zany characters, making for a memorable Paper Mario experience. 5. Song of the Deep In many ways, Song of the Deep is this year's Child of Light. It's a fairytale/storybook plot featuring a little girl who goes on a journey, except this time it's under the sea. It's a shame that this game never got much more recognition than it did because it features some outstanding atmosphere and environments throughout. Insomniac Games managed to tell a touching story about Merryn's journey through the sea but also make a compelling, underwater Metroidvania world to explore at the same time. 4. The Witness As someone who enjoyed Braid (and especially its big twist at the end) years back, I knew I had to experience The Witness when it finally released (being from the same creator and all). While the decision to have no music is definitely strange at first, there is something really interesting about just having ambient rustling of leaves, the wind, and your footsteps as all you hear. The island you explore is incredibly beautiful thanks to the unique low-polygon style used but also hauntingly lonely. More than anything else, the combination of exploration and puzzles is what truly makes this a unique experience. The game teaches you organically how to think about the solutions to each puzzle, and the way that each area is divided into different types of puzzles is extremely well done. It is, without a doubt, the smartest game of the year. 3. Final Fantasy XV What a long, strange journey it's been for Final Fantasy XV. While it's definitely not the game that was originally presented to us at Final Fantasy Versus XIII, I'm thrilled to say that it turned out to be a good game in the end anyhow. It's not perfect by any means, with much of its world suffering from an identity crisis (is this a Final Fantasy world or is this Middle America with some fantasy elements?) and its main plot being a jumbled mess at points. Yet, Noctis and the bond between his three friends form the core of what makes Final Fantasy XV one of the best games this year. They go through quite a bit throughout the game, but none of their interactions ever feel forced, instead feeling like four good friends going a bachelor road trip before one of them (Noctis) gets married. Even though the broader spectrum of the plot (such as the invasion behind Insomnia) is somewhat lost in translation over the course of the game, Hajime Tabata and his team got the most important aspects right by honing on the relationship between Noctis and his friends, making the open world feel alive and worth exploring, and creating a fairly memorable villain that keeps you guessing as to what his motivations are. Also, the ending is definitely one of the more interesting finales in the series and will have fans talking about it for a while. 2. Dragon Quest Builders Minecraft is a game that has only ever vaguely intrigued me, but I still haven't had the urge to play it even in the midst of its insane popularity today. Dragon Quest Builders made me a believer in the concept by taking Minecraft's building and crafting elements and pairing it with objectives and an RPG plot that's surprisingly more compelling than it should be. Exploring each area of its rich world and gathering materials is just as much fun as building towns from the ground up, block by block. It could easily be a dull, grating experience but DQB makes the experience fun by giving you a wide array of building materials as well as objects and rooms to build. While the simplistic combat is perhaps the game's weakest point, Dragon Quest Builders is by far one of the deepest experiences I've played this year, and nearly everything about it from its addicting gameplay to its fantastic soundtrack make it an outstanding experience and one of this year's biggest surprises. 1. The Last Guardian Hoo boy -- where do I even start. The Last Guardian is, by all accounts, a game that very possibly could have come out and completely underwhelmed; after all, it was in development for some eight years (and more often than not, those types of deals tend to be disasters in the end). But somehow, some way, Fumito Ueda and his team at GenDesign pulled it off. By no means is it perfect; playing the game can be challenging at times due to some awkward controls and stubborness on Trico's part to obey at times, but the journey is worth it at the end and incredibly compelling. The Last Guardian has some of the most stunning environments and architecture I've ever seen in a video game. The visuals are breathtaking, especially when you're in the outdoors areas and see Trico's feathers glistening in the light and ruffling in the wind. The Last Guardian is triumphant, its story possibly exceeding what Team Ico had accomplished in its two previous games thanks to a touching narrative that is built on the relationship between the boy and Trico throughout their journey. I can't imagine how Ueda plans to top this, but I can't wait to find out.