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  1. 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 Official GP Review 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... 7. Splatoon 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 Official GP Review 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 Official GP Review 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!". 3. Undertale 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 Official GP Review 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. 1. Bloodborne 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.
  2. gaiages

    Game of the Year 2015: Liz's Picks

    Editor's Note: In case you missed it, this list was authored by Liz "Gaiages" Henges; not Elizabeth "Liz" Atkins (aka TheLiztress), who has contributed in years' past. This is the first year we're using her real name, so hopefully there won't be any confusion going forward! ___________________________________________________________________ Man, it's December already? Where did 2015 go? Then again, I can't say I'm not excited for 2016... it's the 'Year In Which Every Gamer's Dreams Come True,' after all. But then again, that's doing a bit of a disservice to this year -- it was a pretty good year, after all! Lots of ups and downs in terms of releases, but overall there were a lot of great video games. Let's get right into my somewhat unorthodox list of the best games of 2015, shall we? 10. Bloodborne Consider this the 'honorable mention' position for me. It's not that I think Bloodborne is better or worse that any of the other games on this list, but I've simply not been able to really to dig deep into what Bloodborne has to offer this year, so it's hard to properly grade it... but even with the little I played, I could see why the fanbase loves it so much. Bloodborne, like the Dark Souls games that came before it, is hard. Very hard. But it's also fair. The game forces you to really learn how to fight, when to push the advantage and when to fall back, when to parry and when to dodge. It's frustrating at times, but it's also so rewarding when you finally take down a boss or get through an area. If nothing else, Bloodborne makes you 'git gud.' 9. You Must Build a Boat Putting a mobile game on the list?! Obviously I'm a filthy causal gamer now. But honestly, You Must Build a Boat is the perfect example of what a mobile game should be. It's simple to learn but requires skill to see the end; it can easily be played in short bursts while idling on your phone for whatever reason; and there are no microtransactions, just the cheap entry fee of $3 to jump in and enjoy. You Must Build a Boat is a puzzle game, with light RPG elements. Kinda like Puzzle Quest, but better. It's one of those 'easy to learn, hard to master'-type games, but you'll always be making decent progress, and always unlocking new features and stuff. It's absolutely perfect for the mobile environment, though it's also available on Steam. 8. Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ Official GP Review I didn't really think I'd be throwing a visual novel on my GOTY list this year, but here I am, prepared for any minor controversies this will bring. But you can throw all the accusations of 'this isn't a real game' and 'all you do is romance men' all you want; I don't care, because Code: Realize is a legitimately good game. Code: Realize follows a young woman named Cardia, who has a mysterious power (or possibly curse) that melts everything she touches . She is one resigned to her fate of isolation, but events lead her to hold the company of famous fictional characters in a steampunk version of London. Despite all the oddities, though, this is a compelling story that is worth spending the 30 or so odd hours to read through. 7. Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree's Woe and the Blight Below Dragon Quest Heroes is one nostalgia-laden trip. While the Action RPG with Dynasty Warriors flavor can technically be played by any gamer interested, without the Dragon Quest memories, this doesn't amount to much. Of course, I'm a huge Dragon Quest fan, and to me, this game was an absolute blast. The musical and character throwbacks are great, the gameplay is solid if a bit repetitive, and everything about it simply oozes the series' style. It is by no means perfect, but it warmed my cold, jaded game reviewer heart, and I can only hope that the sequel can improve on some of this title's weaker points. 6. Westernado: Double Barreled The Red Dead series is more or less runs the Wild Wild West, but I wish it really wasn't that way. There's a dearth of Western titles available, and there's plenty of content there for developers to work with. Thankfully, Westernado is there to help fill that gap. In Westernado, your family is murdered by a wandering psychopath, and it's up to you to get revenge. By helping the townspeople and exploring, you'll learn clues of the murderer, which is randomized each time. There's multiple solutions and choices to each quest, too -- including the choice to pull your gun on anyone and everyone (of course, they all have guns too). It's a short adventure, but quite fun and worth the entry fee. 5. Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows What is this, DLC on a GOTY list? Madness! But even though it's the same stages as the original Shovel Knight, there's enough new stuff in Plague of Shadows to justify it getting recognized in its own way. And Plague of Shadows is all about the little touches, like the new 'town' and story, and all the cute little changes that happen from the original Shovel Knight campaign to keep Plague of Shadows' continuity in check. Of course, Plague Knight's control scheme allows for a new play style too, making the old levels feel new again. It's amazing how much work went into this free update, and it's well worth booting that copy of last year's beloved indie games again. 4. Splatoon So, I only got Splatoon on Black Friday. It was one of those titles I've always meant to pick up, but never had time to play, so I didn't. Eventually though, I bought it and finally put it in my Wii U, and... quite frankly, I was blown away by how great it was. After I learned to turn off gyro controls, that is. Splatoon isn't a typical shooter -- instead of sheer kill counts, gaining turf is name of the game here, and you do so by spreading your ink everywhere. I'm not particularly great at shooters because I'm bad at aiming, so running around and shooting with little care in the world while still doing something productive is a lot of fun to me. And, there's a lot to do that really gives you a sense of progression, from weapon unlocks to other neat things. Oh, I guess there's a single player mode, but that's not really important. 3. Shin Megami Tensei Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker Official GP Review In my few years of reviewing games, I've only given a perfect score to a single game, and that game would be Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker. That might lead you to wonder why it's only number three on this list, but GOTY lists are inherently subjective things that shouldn't take review scores into account. Anyway... Devil Survivor 2 on the DS was a pretty great game, but there were a few problems that plagued the original version of the title, the most notably of which was the unreasonably hard difficulty. Record Breaker takes complaints into account and offers an easier difficulty, as well as a whole other 30 hour story to play on top the lengthy main game... not to mention that the SRPG gameplay, plot, and music itself are all fantastic. Record Breaker is certainly worth the 'Atlus tax' price of entry 2. Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengence Official GP Review Disgaea 5 surprised me. I had really loved Disgaea 4, but I knew the fifth entry was going to be handled by a different team, and I loved Disgaea 4 because of the twists it pulled on the regular Disgaea formula. Imagine my surprise by how downright good Disgaea 5 is. First off, Disgaea 5 actually has a good plot, which I haven't been able to say since I've played the original title. On top of that, Disgaea 5 takes all the good from the many previous entries to the series and gets rid of (most) of the bad, leading to tons of stuff to do without most of the tedious work to go along with it. It certainly has a few downsides (that song that plays in the Netherworld is horrid), but Disgaea 5 is just a ton of fun and probably the best game in the series yet. 1. Undertale My favorite games aren't always the objectively the best; instead, they are the ones that affect me, stay with me after the credit roll. Last year, that title was Danganronpa 2, and this year, that title is of course Undertale. It's such an unassuming little game. It looks like some kind of Earthbound mod -- a bit bland and low key. The game kicks RPG tropes to the curb and encourages you to not fight -- something that won't appeal to everyone. Everyone that plays the game seems to clam up whenever the game's story is mentioned... that is, aside from a big boned jokester skeleton. But Undertale is so much more than what's on the surface. The plot is an emotional ride, one that's best to go into unsullied. It's also a programming marvel, with so many Easter eggs and tricks that even though it can 'run on a toaster', no console could handle it. Oh, and the humor is great, and I hate most humor in games. Undertale is an experience. It's not perfect, of course, but something every gamer should at least try. I haven't played such a charming video game in years. That about wraps up my Game of the Year list, which is completely objective and no one can disagree about. But, if you just want to go into the comments below and gush about my infinite wisdom, you are free to do so.
  3. Developer: Nippon Ichi Software Publisher: NIS America Platform: PS4 Release Date: October 6, 2015 ESRB: T for Teen After more than ten years since its initial debut it is very likely that most people know where they stand with Nippon Ichi Software's Disgaea series. The bizarre over-the-top antics of their main characters, near-endless item world grind, and 9999 level caps (with even higher damage counts) have helped cultivate its strong strategy-RPG following. That said, it is also apparent that the series has lost its vigor in many eyes as well. It has had its up and downs, from storytelling to gameplay mechanics, and most fans would probably have difficulty articulating why one entry is truly better than another beyond their first impressions. Generally speaking, however, 2013's very safe retread that was Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness was not the answer to renew interest for many despite the return of fan-favorite characters. But with new PS4 hardware it seems like NIS has to taken confidence in a proper numbered installment once more with Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance. Does its less safe rebellion prove fruitful or should its misplaced ambition be quelled? Rather than dealing with the life of “honor students” or an eccentric prinny instructor, Disgaea 5 has a more typical Japanese-RPG setup at the start with a universe enveloping threat. This threat, known the Demon Emperor Void Dark, is rapidly conquering netherworlds and increasing The Lost army along with it. The less typical motivations occur by mere happenstance when the temptress overlord, Seraphina, is saved by a mysterious blue-haired demon Killia whom single-handedly takes down a battalion of The Lost. Instead of feeling indebted to Killia, however, Seraphina decides to follow him with the intention to manipulating his power for her revenge against Void Dark. Revenge is hardly a subtle theme in Disgaea 5 if the title didn“t already give that away. Narrative-wise it will seem like the only driving force for most of the cast making the first half of it honestly quite slow, in addition to its early story parallels to Disgaea 4. What is surprising is how it actually breaks past its plodding start significantly with a more engaging second-half. The overall character development -- specifically for its lead cast -- ends up being surprisingly heartfelt, especially when compared to previous Disgaea games. For instance, the giant yellow prinny riding Usalia -- whom seems little more than mascot fodder at first glance -- ends up having a surprisingly grim backstory, and seeing her grow past that is done well. Though the game develops its characters better than you would expect, the main story does ends up being rather predictable as a whole. Where the most enthusiasm comes across is undoubtedly through its dense strategy-RPG gameplay. The mayhem of exponentially leveling up, diving into the item world, tossing allies across terrain, and smartly using geo panels are certainly all there and then some. However, the upfront new additions to the series come in the form of new classes, revenge mechanic, quest system, and several more quirky unlocks buried for more studious players. The most substantial to combat is probably the aptly named "revenge" gauge that increases when ally characters get hurt or killed and applies to enemies as well. When the gauge is maxed characters get a big combat advantage with a 100% critical rate, drastically lower skill cost, and lessened overall damage. In addition to this bonus, "overlord" characters in the story get access to unique skills called "Overloads". For example, Seraphina can charm all men characters to attack their own allies for a turn or Zeroken can create four duplicates of himself to use for several turns with the use of Overload. It is a cool new mechanic that can easily turn the tide of battle... or make certain boss characters quite menacing. Disgaea 5 does more than add a few mechanics and calls it a day. Sure, many appreciated refinements come from Disgaea D2 like cheat shop which allows you to drastically manipulate experience progression or class mechanics that makes strengthening a character's base stats far less grindy. Not only that, though, as Disgaea 5 also cherry-picks many of the previous entries best mechanics and then improves upon them with its own flair to it. Similar to Disgaea 3's classroom system, you can create different groups of characters to wildly different perks in Disgaea 5's. Squads require for less micromanaging than previous games despite their perks being great. You can recruit new characters through "interrogations", get significant experience/stat perks, use of unique squad only skills in combat. or the more absurd quirks in the hub world like assigning a curry cook or being able to punch characters... because, why not? The depth to Disgaea 5 is just crazy even for the most minute concepts. Probably the only real slight against the new additions is the necessity of quests. In the matter of fairness, they are generally inoffensive with the tasks and the rewards they unlock. The problem with quests is when it comes to unlocking specific characters. Though getting new human classes is more comprehensive (and actually explained) compared to previous games it is obtaining certain monster classes can be feel more restrictive than previous games since they require specific items that may be more luck based to obtain than they should be. Another issue is that Disgaea 5 goes overzealous with the DLC. It is not surprising because it is standard practice for the past few Disgaea console releases but after playing so much Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited on Vita last year one can't help but feel short changed when it comes to post-game stuff to work towards due to DLC segmentation. Despite its shortcomings, a lot of the Disgaea charm is certainly still intact with its presentation with the fifth. Questionable English dub quality not withstanding, Tenpei Saito's brings his goofy but whimsical music style and jazzy melodies to complement much of the game's setting. The music does unfortunately lack an insanely catchy hub theme like Extreme Outlaw King or Arcadian Vampire even though it has a good opening theme. Visually, Disgaea 5 has not seen much of an upgrade over Disgaea 4 but the 3D sprite-work is still quite a treat. The many extremely cool-looking attacks are still as crazy but fun to watch as ever, even if the blocky 3D backgrounds serve as a noticeable contrast at times. With the transition to new hardware one can certainly be weary if formally loved franchises can make it safely. Admittedly, Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance does absolutely nothing to push PS4 hardware in the slightest, but what it does is make pretty much unquestionably the best actual game in the series. There is an insane of gameplay depth, smart additions, and retains most of the charm of the series. Fans will certainly stake their own claim on its story aspects, especially for how plodding and predictable it is at times, but -- like a lot of Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeace -- it has a lot more heart than you'd expect for a series that should be all too familiar by now. Pros + Cherry picks most of the series best gameplay mechanics and adds cool new ones + Charming sprite work and soundtrack + Develops its main characters better than previous Disgaea games + Tons of strategy-RPG depth Cons - New quest and character recruiting structure can feel limiting compared to previous games - Story is rather slow for the first half and quite predictable overall Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10) Great Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance undoubtedly bests its predecessors as a strategy-RPG but its quirks can bring contention to its storytelling and endgame content. Regardless, there is little doubt is my mind that Disgaea fans or even curious strategy-RPG fans should more than keep their eye on what is one of the very best RPGs on PS4. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.