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End of the year lists are fun for me, mostly because it allows me to reflect on the things I loved about video games during the whole year. Typing these out and remembering "Oh yeah, that really was a good game" is like a wonderful trip down gaming memory lane. One that you, dear readers, can take with me! I had less trouble than I thought picking my 10; in fact I had a few fight just to get on. I guess that makes 2016 a pretty good year (in gaming at least... sheesh!) and as excited as I was for many of the games on my list, I know 2017 is going to be just as good. Until then though, I had lots of releases to keep me busy, the best of which (in my opinion, at least) are below. So read and enjoy, or fight me, whatever! 10. Pokemon Sun/Moon I“ve had my share of criticisms of the seventh generation Pokemon games Sun and Moon but that doesn“t mean I don“t like them. For one, they finally gave me the thing I“ve always wanted: a slow and public death for HMs. Sun/Moon even gave me things I never knew I wanted, like island trials, which even on their worst day are still more fun than gym leaders. Trials even allowed for better characterization of the trainers of their island, which lent to an already more intimate Pokemon journey than we“ve had in a very long time. Even catching the same Pokemon for the unpteenth time was more fun with the addition of regional variants. At the end of the day this game may come in last on my list, but it doesn“t come in last in my heart, for what that“s worth! 9. Animal Crossing: New Leaf ~Welcome Amiibo~ What? Didn“t this game come out like 4 years ago? It might have, but right when I think I“m finally done with it the Welcome Amiibo update hits, bringing features, improvements, and content for days. Seriously. How is a guy supposed to move on? Entirely new villagers to invite, vast improvements to the ease of filling your town with the villagers you want most, a much needed expanded storage system, two new minigames that are tied to two of a slew of new furnishings, even the ease of Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer“s interior designing UI are all now in the game you could have sworn you were done playing. The update is so hefty it really could have been called an expansion. I was already just shy of 400 hours, but I have no doubts I“ll hit the big four-oh-oh now. 8. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided It“s funny, that the largest criticism I“ve heard about Deus Ex: Mankind Divided was how similar it is to Human Revolution. It might have been a problem, I think, if it had been less than the five-year-long hiatus the series took between installments. Instead, the game expands the Deus Ex world, which has managed to become somehow even worse for Augmented citizens. It“s sad to say but the plot -- despite its solid Sci-Fi theme -- feels all too real in our current day and age. Even though the game kept some of the things I wish it hadn“t (*coughgridbasedinventorycough*) it still has fantastic level design and unparalleled freedom in how you approach the missions you are given. So yes, it“s more Adam Jensen. I definitely asked for this. 7. Odin Sphere Leifthrasir I“ll admit, I never played the original, but after both Muramasa Rebirth and Dragon“s Crown, there was no question in my mind I needed to. Leifthrasir, however unpronounceable the name is, proved to live up to my every expectation for a Vanillaware game. The artwork is absolutely gorgeous, with it“s hand drawn character animations and magnificent backgrounds. The entire game belongs on the side of some epic van mural. The action is no slouch either, with a combat system that keeps the action fast and fun, like a perfect mix of Muramasa and Dragon“s Crown. The high-fantasy Norse-inspired theme even gives it that little extra bit of charm. Really, there are really very few reasons not to check out this game. So what are you waiting for? 6. Kirby Planet Robobot Ok I“m really not the world“s biggest Kirby fan, in fact I suspect that might be Jon, but I digress. Kirby: Planet Robobot truly surprised me, mixing classic Kirby action with a new mechanic that didn“t focus the game too tightly around it, some fun new mini games, and of course you can“t go wrong with amiibo support. It even has a lot of call backs to Kirby“s long history, which I“m sure Jon already discussed to the point of beating a dead horse so I won“t touch it, but what I will say is that I enjoyed it even more than I did Triple Deluxe (which I did enjoy). Plus there“s a freaking mech suit, man. Come on, how do you top that? 5. Bravely Second I know I got a lot ofâ€¦ fiddle faddle for having the original Bravely Default on my GOTY list way back when. However, being the stubborn (and always correct) person that I am, I stand by that decision. What Bravely Default did right, it did in spades. A well thought out and nothing short of revolutionary combat system sold me that game in a big way and its sequel, Bravely Second continues that proud tradition, but fixes some of the more infuriating plot devices of the first. It even adds some cooler jobs (Catmancer, hello!). If you passed on Second because of Default, let me be the first (or perhaps only latest) person to tell you, you“ve made a huge mistake. 4. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Sometimes it“s hard to imagine that a game like Tokyo Mirage Sessions exists. Nintendo collaborating with Atlus to produce an RPG for Wii U that combines the fundamental elements of the Fire Emblem series with that of Atlus“s Shin Megami Tensei games (including elements of Persona) -- well pinch me cause this year Christmas came in June! Aside from the multifaceted combat system and game“s rich Japanese idol culture premise (both of which are highly enjoyable by the way), the game manages to do the one thing few other games on Wii U ever doâ€¦ make the gamepad make sense. Aside from a functional map, the game uses the bottom screen like a cell phone, allowing you to receive (and occasionally send) text messages to your friends, all of which feel like message convos taken from my actual phone. TMS's cast of characters are as charming as they are genuine, hardly the typical JRPG tropes seen in other games. The side missions are incredibly worth it, and the designs for both mirages and main characters alike are unforgettable, especially when the game“s solo mechanic kicks in, treating you to a miniature concert as an impressive mirage attack occurs. Sure, it“s got tons of style, but TMS#FE has plenty of substance too! 3. Zero Escape Vol. 3: Zero Time Dilemma This is one of those video games in which I almost can“t say anything because SPOILERS. But the third game in Kotaro Uchikoshi“s Zero Escape series, for those of you who haven“t had the pleasure of playing them, is somewhere firmly between SAW and The Butterfly Effect (minus that goon Ashton Kutcher). The puzzles in this series are well thought out but seem to be harder in this installment, giving the most challenge I“ve encountered in this series to date. The game also hilariously has an ending you can earn in the very first minute -- if you“re lucky. But you probably aren“t so prepare to dieâ€¦ a lot! I honestly wouldn“t recommend playing this without playing the first two first, cause you“ll be more lost than the S.S. Minnow, but if you like a good survival horror/sci-fi-ish/VN/puzzle/psychological thriller loaded with fringe science theory and cat puns this is definitely your game. 2. Severed Imagine there“s this game system. PlayStation makes it, it“s a handheld. It has a gorgeous OLED screen, with touch capability and dual analog sticks. Now imagine the people who made other top tier games for this system that were fun, funny, and vibrant, they make a game that is about death, loss, and grief. You get to see what profound loss can turn you into if you aren“t careful. And it does all this with mostly images and very few words. And it plays like a grown up version of Infinity Blade mixed with an old school first person dungeon crawler. Well, you don“t have to imagine because all of this happened -- you probably just didn“t play it. The beauty and the pain portrayed in Severed is matched only by how simple and refined the combat is. It may not have the whimsy of their other games, but Severed is easily one of DrinkBox Studios“ best, and one of the best games overall on the Vita -- not just of this year, but of any year. 1. Overwatch It“s hard to quantify a single thing about Overwatch that pushed it to the top for me, because it isn“t a single thing, or even a few things. In truth what I liked about this game is everything. The characters are diverse and loads of personality, way more than they should considering there“s no actual story mode. Instead random character interactions and voice lines work well at giving you plenty of insight into their personalities, while additional material like the backstory and comics on Blizzard“s website fill in the gaps. The action itself is fun and frenetic, with enough updates, character and map additions, and special events to keep me playing all year. All of which were free, in fact. But at the end of the day I think the real deciding factor here is that the game is just fun, capitalizing on the things people loved about Splatoon and Team Fortress 2 and mashing them together for something that managed to stand out above just about every other game for me this year. And the best part is, I know I will still be playing this game around the time I begin to write next year“s GOTY list too.
Developer: Vanillaware Publisher: Atlus USA Platform: PS4, PS3, and PS Vita Release Date: June 7, 2016 ESRB: T for Teen This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game It was often prophesied that 2D pixel art in gaming was going to meet its end. With the rise of HD fidelity and photo-realistic 3D aesthetics becoming the norm, a negative stigma started to become attached to 2D. However, as stubborn as the Playstation 2 was to call it quits before the next gaming generation, the same was true for 2D art in gaming. A strong testament to both notions was Vanillaware's 2007 action-RPG release: Odin Sphere. Odin Sphere was beautiful, both aurally and visually. It enticed many fans and critics alike with its excellent art direction in addition to its engaging take on Norse mythology as well. Even more impressive is that it proved that it could achieve all this in the two-dimensional plane and on dated PS2 hardware. Still, for as much as I respected what Odin Sphere achieved, it was a title I failed to love despite however much I attempted to do so. Simply put, Odin Sphere's biggest issues were within its gameplay. Not only was the combat and level design very one-note, the US release also happened to be plagued with near-unforgivable gameplay slowdown throughout. As if to hear my complaints nine years later, Vanillaware decided to revisit the cult classic and improve upon it. Rather than opting for a shallow HD port like many titles this console generation, Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir is pretty much a complete remake of the original release. The least dramatic change Leifthrasir makes is in regards to the setup. Though the English script has been made to have a slightly more Middle English flair, and the narrative dialogue re-dubbed to complement it, the five character perspective switching tale remains almost identical to the PS2 incarnation. This is by no means bad as the Norse-themed narrative that unfolds is actually rather engaging despite some pacing problems. I personally grew to appreciate the storytelling more so my second time around as it it is dense with foreshadowing before reaching the rather satisfying, and quite intense, narrative conclusion. Leifthrasir even makes certain lore complexities within it more comprehensive with short historical-like excerpts after each chapter, which is appreciated. After a few familiar introduction story scenes, however, I was shocked at how quickly Leifthrasir exponentially refines the whole experience. There are so many quality of life improvements from combat, level design, character progression, to even user interface that I was continuously impressed by the smart changes throughout. I'll say this here and now, there is literally no reason to play the original release because Leithrasir is better in every conceivable way. The most immediate example of improvement is in regards to combat. Each of the diverse five characters have been entirely revamped for the better. I could break down how obnoxious aspects like managing stamina used to be in the original release, but the end result is that the immense amount of changes to gameplay makes Leifthrasir feel far more fast-paced, mobile, and varied overall. It is extra cool to see combat flourishes like the witch Velvet basically weaving her psypher chains about like Spider-Man to the dark knight Oswald skewering his enemies and draining their life force to fill his berserk gauge. Vanillaware has learned a lot from their more recent Action-RPG efforts such as Muramasa: The Demon Blade and Dragon's Crown, going as far as to homage both them with many new and useful skills, and it certainly shows. The leveling progression has also been changed quite a bit to give players control over the abilities and magic that they would prefer to power up to give it a more proper Action-RPG feel. Odin Sphere veterans themselves will likely just be happy to be hear that leveling itself is far less tedious now. Gone are the days where standing still mid-battle to absorb phozons was required level up attack power. Just the same, gone are also the unfortunate times of having to backtrack to the pooka village to level up health because of a new traveling chef and mid-dungeon teleporters. Another aspect that needed much-fixing in original Odin Sphere was the level design for dungeons. To be honest, the dungeon design in the original is best described as a series of monotonous circular battle arenas until hitting a boss room. Much worse, both dungeons and bosses were entirely recycled between the playable leads and they did almost zero to differentiate them for the lengthy adventure. Now, admittedly, Odin Sphere Leifthrasir is not entirely immune to the sins of its former self. Like the original, Leifthrasir still unfortunately has you fight certain bosses a few too many times because of the main story. What it does do, however, is vary up the trek through areas considerably. Concepts that seem minor on paper like several new mini-bosses, the new sense of verticality/platforming to stages, and also adding Metroidvania gameplay elements truly enhance the game's overall flow in a way I really can not stress properly. They even go as far as to personalize even familiar locales based on the playable character. I remember being totally bewildered by the pleasant surprise that was when the flying fairy princess, Mercedes, had an entertaining side-scrolling shmup segment mid-dungeon specific to her, just because. Much of the other additions are of the quality of life variety: easier to understand tutorials, better interface (especially with item management), quick travel options to significantly cut down on backtracking, and plenty more. I think the biggest surprise, beyond the sheer quantity of enhancements, is how all these combined didn't just make me dramatically enjoy the title more, but... it even cut my total play time by almost ten hours on the normal difficulty. Though I did find Leifthrasir noticeably easier -- because characters are that much more capable (and I didn't have to grind at all) -- the option to challenge myself is certainly there during regular and New Game + playthroughs. If that wasn't enough content, there is also a toggle at the title screen to switch the original release (as if to remind you how Leifthrasir is so much better), though saves are incompatible between the two versions. Last, but certainly not least to mention, is the near timeless 2D art direction and excellent soundtrack. George Kamitani's 2D art style holds phenomenally well even nine years later. While the added backdrops to levels in Leifthrasir do not quite have that standard Kamitani visual polish, like most of the game they are treat to see in motion. And yes, for those wondering about the awful gameplay slowdown and load times that plagued the original PS2 release, they are basically entirely gone now. That said, the Vita version does have some minor technical hiccups in some spots. Also more than worthy to note, Hitoshi Sakamoto's classical music score is still a treat to listen to. Cooler than that, however, Sakamoto reprises his musical role to noticeably add more musical variety during Leifthrasir's gameplay as well as crafting a few arrangements of the memorable main theme. I had thought that Odin Sphere was simply one of those games I was never going to change my mind on. A title that, despite appreciating the storytelling and the eye candy of a presentation, it would ultimately leave me with the bitter taste of disappointment in nearly every other respect for years to come. However, the deceptively big remake Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir does not simply improve upon its former composition, it dramatically sweetens its severely flawed former gameplay composition to an unimaginable degree. Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir awakens the dormant potential of the original and now proves itself as a worthy classic among many of the best action-RPGs. Pros + Entirely overhauled combat that is significantly faster and more fun to play + Goes a very long way towards refining the moment to moment gameplay with the hugely altered level design, interface, and character progression + Engaging storytelling + Both the captivating 2D art and impressive soundtrack more than stand the test of time Cons: - Main story remains exactly the same, which makes it not immune to noticeable pacing and boss repetition problems - Some minor technical hiccups on Vita in busier fights Overall Score: 9 (out of 10) Fantastic Going far above and beyond the call of typical enhanced releases, Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir manages to not only become one of the best gaming remakes ever but it also truly turn its source material into a worthy RPG classic. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.