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  1. Developer: Arc System Works Publisher: Aksys Games Platform: PS3 and PS4 Release Date: November 1, 2016 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game All things considered, 2016 was actually a solid year for fighting games. Sure, Street Fighter V is facing the consequences of its less than stellar approach to content at launch, but remains as a well-crafted fighter none the less. More or less the same is true for less popular, yet generally reputable, fighting game titles such as the surprisingly good King of Fighters XIV or Pokken Tournament to more safe yet solid iterations such as Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator or Killer Instinct Season 3. To top the year's end off was the most recent release of my own personal favorite fighting game series: Blazblue. Promising new characters, gameplay mechanics, as well as be the final narrative installment of the confusing tetralogy, Blazblue: Central Fiction will feel complete on its own. People tend to approach Blazblue for either the deep fighting gameplay or its robust visual novel story mode. As much as I love the series, Blazblue's storytelling borders on the level of Kingdom Hearts with its often convoluted approach by casually tossing out phrases like "Seithr", "Phenomenon Intervention", "Nox Nyctores", "The Boundary" and many more during the telling of it. With three previous games that had roughly twenty hour visual novel story modes each, it has become important for many series' fans and also likely indecipherable at this point for those that aren't by now. However, as someone who was expecting a narrative train wreck for the final installment, I was actually rather pleasantly surprised by how much is resolved in the main story in Central Fiction. It closes the book on most story threads and is paced noticeable better than previous games by pushing much of the excessive idle banter into optional chapters. I may have a qualm or two with cringe-worthy anime trope moments, and occasionally its pacing, but most fans should be pleased with much of the conclusion. Where Central Fiction gets most of its longevity is undoubtedly through its rich 2D fighting gameplay. The total character roster has jumped thirty-five total and most of which play vastly different from one another because of their unique character-specific "drive" mechanic (with the sole exceptions of probably Lambda and Nu-13). New additions to the playable list include light-novel spin-off protagonist Naoto, the powerful magician Nine: The Phantom, the ninja-like assassin Hibiki, Goddess of death Izanami, as well as a few others locked behind either DLC or the story mode. As strange of a composition as the new characters are, they are quite fun overall, like Nine whom crafts different spells mid-fight based on using different elemental attack combinations; Naoto, who uses powerful charge attacks that can break guards; and Susano, who unlocks skill seals to gain access to powered up abilities, and so on. Even if that sounded complicated (their story relevance even more so), Central Fiction does rather well with its gameplay tutorials. The tutorials are not quite as fun and free-flowing as Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator was, but there is a lot of positive reinforcement through them and they are willing to explain the most basic of the aspects of game or fighters in general, to far more complicated character-specific mechanics, which is welcome. This certainly helps as Central Fiction adds some new system mechanics like "Active Flow", which powers up "Distortion Drives" based on meeting certain battle conditions or the new meter-less special attack, Exceed Accel, that all characters can use during their Overdrive mode. Again, mechanics like these and plenty more you can learn through the many helpful tutorials if you care to do so. Which, for a very dense fighter that is more than four iterations in, can be invaluable for newcomers or those who want to brush up their understanding. Now -- other than those aspects -- not a whole lot new has been brought to the table specifically for Central Fiction. It has modes one would expect like arcade, an unlock based gallery mode, and online multiplayer. The least traditional mode it even has, but not actually new to Blazblue, is the RPG-like mode renamed "Grim of Abyss", which has seen a bit of an overhaul with its design and remains rather addictive despite being an occasional interface nightmare of menus. An incredibly crucial component for many fighters nowadays is, of course, the online multiplayer. The cute 2D sprites and arcade-like lobbies from Blazblue: Chrono Phantasma make a return and there are custom player and ranked matches for those who don't want to face just anymore for online multiplayer. The only aspect that is really new at all is basically the ability to create your own online room and add random furniture to it, which I honestly fail to see much of a point to, but whatever. More importantly than any of that is the quality of the netcode, however, which... is kind of iffy. Frankly, it does not seem quite as good as Arc System Work's own Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator (which is excellent) when I directly compared it side by side. I am not sure if this is something that will be patched down the line, and while the netcode is not bad by any means, I just wish it ran as well as Revelator's when my connection claims to be at its peak. It is hard to believe that Blazblue as a series is more than eight years old at this point. And, for a series that is more than four iterations in it manages to mostly reaffirm those who already love it as a complex and rewarding fighter by adding more to it in addition to satisfying those who are into its storytelling with the surprisingly conclusive finale. Still, for those hoping to see a huge leap in gameplay changes, Central Fiction simply is not that. It is the most approachable and content-filled the series has ever been, thanks to many helpful tutorials, but is unlikely to change minds one way or another for those who have been already been exposed to its more recent releases. Pros + Huge and highly diverse playable character roster + Surprisingly conclusive main narrative + Tutorials are helpful and provide a lot of positive reinforcement for a very mechanically dense fighter + Fun online lobbies and many gameplay unlockables Cons - Netcode does not seem as good as Arc System Work's own Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator - No English dub whatsoever can be disappointing - Central Fiction's narrative is not approachable in the slightest for newcomers to the series Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10) Great Even if it does not bring huge gameplay changes for the series at large, Blazblue: Central Fiction is without a doubt the best iteration of the series to date with the smart additions to its rewarding gameplay that also provides a solid narrative resolution for fans as well Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.
  2. Never has my gaming backlog felt so insurmountable until 2016. I thought I did reasonably well keeping up with popular releases such as Uncharted 4 and Dark Souls III to several lesser known titles that I mostly played for the sake of review (and shall remain unnamed since many don't deserve to be). Well, until the second half of the year. I quickly learned that buying at least five new games a month does not lend itself to a manageable backlog. Despite wishing for more free time, and wishing certain things didn't happen with the world at large, 2016 was an impressive year for gaming even if many of the more noteworthy ones were at the tail end of it. I suppose I can pretend that The Last Guardian has not been released yet for just a while longer while I try and haphazardly present my top 10 games of 2016 without anymore regret. I0. Inside I have a real respect for games that just toss you in and know the player is smart enough to pick up the fundamentals. I have a bigger respect for games that continue to expand upon such ideas with an actual logical escalation of puzzles. A showpiece example of both is playdead's game Inside. Though the developer“s prior work, Limbo, bounced right off me; Inside does in a lot of ways feel like a much better constructed Limbo. With plenty of clever puzzles, an intriguing dark atmosphere, and… probably one of the most bizarre finales in terms of gameplay makes it more than worthy to note on my own personal list. 9. Titanfall 2 First-person shooters I rarely go out of my way to play, much less for their single player content. But, both this year“s Doom as well as Titanfall 2's campaign proved otherwise. I personally enjoyed Titanfall 2“s single player just a bit more than the resurrection of the cult-classic shooter in raw gameplay and the briskly paced level design. There is an immense satisfaction towards controlling the powerful and different mech loadouts, or speedily zipping around and wall-running on-foot, that is downright unrivaled in any other first-person shooter I“ve played. Not to mention that the campaign also has very neat gameplay moments that heightens its inherent strengths even more. 8. Shiren the Wanderer : The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate Official GP Review As devious as it is charming Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate climbs right up there to become one my all-time favorite RPG roguelikes. Alleviating many grievances I have with the subgenre with a tangible sense of progression, an insane amount of hidden content and depth, and plenty of old-school charm made it a bliss to play.... despite it occasionally kicking my teeth in. 7. Thumper Thumper is quite unlike any other rhythm game I“ve ever played. I may not quite latch onto its “rhythm violence game” tagline, but no doubt that there is strong brutal-like feeling with its intense rhythm gameplay even as you are just flinging beetles around. With F-Zero levels of gameplay momentum, and the finesse needed of compelling rhythm games (especially for the crazy bosses), creates a highly rewarding gameplay experience, if not a bit unrelenting at times. 6. Blazblue: Central Fiction I make no bones about it that I generally prefer Arc System Works“s fighting game efforts to most others. While I had a lot of fun with Guilty Gear Xrd: Revelator, and even enjoyed the likes of non-Arc System Works titles like King of Fighters XIV and Street Fighter V as well, the one fighter that I most felt at home with during 2016 is Blazblue: Central Fiction. The incredibly complex and dense playable character roster, stylish music and 2D visuals, and various smart refinements makes it one of the outright best fighters on the market. Even the huge story mode, which been utter nonsense that almost rivals Kingdom Hearts over the years, also impressed me with the surprising amount of narrative resolution that it had. 5. Final Fantasy XV For a while I have been really unsure as to what my stance is on current Final Fantasy releases. Add an absurd amount of wait time towards Final Fantasy Versus XIII, which as everyone knows became Final Fantasy XV, only added to my increasing doubt with the series going forward. And, while it is certainly easy to nitpick many aspects about it, from disjointed storytelling to gameplay quirks, Final Fantasy XV manages to be much better than the sum of its parts through sheer charisma and heart. There is a wonderful dynamic between the goofball main characters and the journey they have along the way that helps weave it into one the very best games in the series. 4. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE It“s weird that we got official entries of both Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem in 2016, and my favorite of them was the fanfare spin-off of both. I originally had a strong knee-jerk reaction to Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE with its saccharine approach to anime tropes, especially of the J-pop variety. Quickly enough, however, I warmed up to the game underneath once getting acquainted to the final release. Chock full of lighthearted personality, Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei gameplay fanservice, and probably some of the most insane mechanical feature creep I“ve seen in an RPG in a long while (in a really good way, I think), makes for a whimsical RPG that I never knew that I wanted. Though I may ponder what Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem might've been like, I'm willing to contend with my dislike of J-pop culture in order to play the highly enjoyable RPG that is Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE. 3. Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir Official GP Review I was struggling quite a bit to justify putting this on my GOTY list. In my brain, Odin Sphere came out almost 10 years. It was also a game that deeply disappointed me and I would go as far as to say that the actual gameplay of it was just plain bad. At the same time, an excellent remake named Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir magically fixes the game in a way I never thought possible. So lovingly refined was it made, by entirely revamping gameplay mechanics and level design in the best ways possible, and then some, that it has retroactively altered my entire opinion of a game. Which is still near unfathomable to me, because man do I dislike original Odin Sphere and most Vanillaware games but dote upon Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir. 2. Overwatch I won“t tell you my exact hour count, but I“ve put a disgusting amount of time into Overwatch. You know how I complained about not having enough time to play games in my backlog? Well, I'm pretty sure I could've finished a couple of RPGs with the amount of time I have thrown at Overwatch. But anyway, Overwatch is a total blast to play. Rich with personality/polish, an incredibly varied playable cast, rewarding team-based gameplay, and plenty of positive reinforcement built right within the game makes the consistent fun I've had with it far outweigh the criticisms I could level against it. And from someone who pretty much never plays first-person shooter multiplayer is incredibly high praise. 1. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II My adoration of The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II is somewhat rather specific to me. I would not go out of my way to really recommend going through one entire lengthy previous game to truly appreciate an equally long sequel. The dialogue-heavy nature and dated presentation alone I'm sure would push many people away from the series. Plus, I was not that enchanted with the original Trails of Cold Steel to hammer down that point even more. That said, because I have developed quite a history with the Trails of- series, it has made me that much more impressed with it being hearkened back in Trails of Cold Steel II. Not only is it an excellent follow-up to the prior game with much better storytelling, fantastic character development, and smart (if not a bit too familiar with recycled assets) gameplay enhancements, but it is also astoundingly meticulous with its consistent world-building. This is complemented further by the superb localization. To be blunt, there were so many moments throughout that made me downright giddy during Trails of Cold Steel II's massive main narrative. From references to very serious cameos, some as deep as featuring characters from entirely separate trilogies like Trails in the Sky, that had me on the edge of my seat as the narrative unfolded. It was also the first RPG in a really long time that totally fooled on what I thought was the ending, only to continue for a third longer. Not because I wanted it to end, but because just that much happens throughout. And surprisingly, it was totally warranted despite jamming in so much character development, narrative resolution, as well as fiendish twists prior to it. Oh, and there are like hype mecha fights, and tons of things to do like a Final Fantasy VII-ish snowboarding mini game, and that's pretty cool. But seriously, guys. You don't know how excited I am for Trails of Cold Steel III on PS4. YOU. HAVE. NO. IDEA.