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2019 was a rather strange year in the gaming space. With the inevitable release of new consoles in the near future it also feels like many developers have been hesitant to put their best gaming foot forward as if bracing themselves for the new generation of systems instead. It is also clear that the enthusiasm for the current consoles is finally dying down in regards to big-budget releases in particular. Thankfully, I have odd taste in video games, so I never personally faced a shortage in releases I wanted to play in 2019 and instead combated with the existential dread that comes from not having nearly enough time to play them instead. Either way, while I definitely did not get get anywhere close to playing everything I wanted to for the year (...with some titles still in shrink wrap like AI: The Somnium Files and Persona Q2), I did at least play enough impressive games to find an excuse to awkwardly organize a personal top ten Game of the Year list of 2019. 10) Luigi's Mansion 3 Nintendo's iconic green mascot and I have a checkered history. By that I mean I have always thought Luigi was the Scrappy Doo of the Nintendo world in which I legitimately could not find any nice words to say about most of his video game appearances, let alone his own personalized video game spin-offs. ...it has more than enough attention to detail and clever level design to have me finally accept that not all Luigi games are bad, just most of them. However, that multiple decade resentment finally started to dissipate with the charming title that is Luigi's Mansion 3. While by no means a flawless title, it has more than enough attention to detail and clever level design to have me finally accept that not all Luigi games are bad, just most of them. 9) Judgment Judgment straddles the line between being among the most impressive games that the Ryu Ga Gotoku studio has developed and also one of the most clumsy. One moment I would find myself fighting with some questionable-at-best mandatory mini-games and glacial gameplay pacing, and in the next instance witness a main narrative as well as heartwarming side quest stories that more than rivals the best moments in mainline Yakuza games. So, while I am still conflicted about the title as a whole, there is no doubt in my mind that the high points in Judgment alone make it a worthy addition to my 2019 list. 8 ) Astral Chain Of all the my favorite games of this year, Astral Chain took the longest to finally "click" with me gameplay-wise. I kept trying to approach it like Bayonetta in particular and Astral Chain very much does not want to be played like a traditional character action game. With a heavy emphasis on an action-RPG-like character progression, copious side quests, and, if played well, the level of micromanaging with the player-shackled" legion" that it almost starts to resemble complex fighting game "puppet" characters which helps make Astral Chain one of Platinum's most unique in terms of action gameplay. Astral Chain is a very promising debut that seems absolutely primed for a potentially excellent sequel. And with its successful launch sales (and an obvious campaign cliffhanger ending) a sequel only seems like a matter of time. 7) Resident Evil 2 My appreciation for Resident Evil is remarkably different than that of most people. Despite having played most of the mainline games, prior to even the various remakes, I would still say the strongest affinity I have for the series actually comes from the least scary and most action-y titles in its repertoire such as Resident 4 & 5 (5 being the most outright fun co-op experience I have had in any game). Resident Evil 2 it does a wonderful job or marrying both old and new for a series that thought to have lost its horror game roots... However, with the recent remake of Resident Evil 2 it does a wonderful job or marrying both old and new for a series that thought to have lost its horror game roots, while also, uh, having a gameplay control scheme and camera angles that are intended for humans. And players will more than need that sense of control when dealing with the ingenious implementation of Mr.X that will immediately terrify most upon hearing a familiar set of loud footsteps headed their way. 6) The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III I usually attempt to avoid adding games that I have not beaten to any game of the year list. Buuuut, I want to make an exception purely because the main reason I have not played more of Trails of Cold Steel III, aside from obvious finite time constraints and it being a massive RPG, is so I can have the portable convenience of the recently announced Switch release instead in the very near future. Still, in the time I have played has been delightful in spite of my lizard brain apprehension of playing a Cold Steel game on PS4. With a surprisingly likable new cast of characters, plenty of fascinating world-building, tuned up turn-based combat mechanics, and addictive social elements, Trails of Cold Steel III will almost certainly be my favorite 2019 game... that I will finally finish in 2020 (and desperately hope for its sequel localization afterwards). 5) Fire Emblem: Three Houses It took a really long time but finally, FINALLY someone did it. Somebody that is not Atlus (or Falcom) has at last made a good Persona game! ...Wait. Three Houses is the newest mainline Fire Emblem? Who are you are attempting to trick? You are trying to tell me that a game in which you spend like fifty percent of the time roaming around a school campus, constantly raising one's relationship with various students/teachers and indirectly raising combat prowess through school activities ISN'T a Persona game? Fine, I'll humor you. But in all seriousness, I am pretty easy to please with turn-based tactical-RPGs. Make a good one and it will probably sneak onto a GOTY list of mine. Ironically, I do sort of wish Three Houses had a bigger emphasis on the actual combat portions like most traditional entries, but I would be lying if I did not say the title had an absolute dominate grip on my free time regardless upon release. So much so that I have been actually afraid of doing another playthrough, but... who am I kidding? When the rest of the upcoming DLC finally gets released I plan to graduate from staring into Claude's dreamy eyes into eventually watching Dimitri lose one of his. 4) Sekiro Sekiro is odd in that it has nearly the complete opposite appeal of most of its spiritual predecessors before it. Whereas most Souls games primary strength rely on their robust RPG-like character building options within an intriguing, yet incredibly vague world-building. Sekiro has like, uh, none of that. Sure, the borderline masochistic level of difficulty is there (if not more so), but its main appeal is almost singularly focused on tight gameplay design that seamlessly blends Tenchu-esque stealth assassination elements and also highly offensive close-combat as well. ...I still get giddy thinking about the final boss of Sekiro which is a both figurative, and somewhat literal, culmination of everything the player has learned throughout its very challenging adventure. More important than any of that for me personally, though, is that Sekiro has an extremely satisfying perfect-timed parry mechanic that I loved trying to master throughout the game. So much so that while I could not tell you much about its incredibly forgettable storytelling and characters, I can tell you how I still get giddy thinking about the final boss of Sekiro which is a both figurative, and somewhat literal, culmination of everything the player has learned throughout its very challenging adventure. 3) Devil May Cry 5 Capcom has been absolutely killing it in what seems like most big-budget console games the last couple years (...that are not fighting games). I was pretty sure Platinum Games would more or less be the sole source for my deep character action game fix in a modern context. But, sure enough, after a decade long hiatus, old Dante is back and I would argue this is the best the series has ever been. Devil May Cry 5 is simply a blast to play, be it the incredibly stylish action or highly robust character moveset that has an extremely high skill ceiling when it comes to mastery. But, really, who cares about any of that, because it also blessed us with the most catchy song of 2019 Devil Trigger: "GOTTA LET IT OUT! GOTTA LET IT OUT!" 2) The House in Fata Morgana I honestly still feel guilty that I waited so long to play The House in Fata Morgana. In spite of a strong recommendation I received several years ago, and even going as far as buying a PC copy, I still waited until I re-bought the title on PS4 in 2019 to finally play it and I could not be more than glad that I finally did. This will almost certainly sound like hyperbole, but I will mean every word of it. To be blunt, I think The House in Fata Morgana is the most brilliantly written story I have ever seen in a video game -- and I absolutely do not say that lightly. Whether it be its master-class approach to foreshadowing, or the incredibly tragic yet deeply-human tales the narrative weaves it is in a league of its own for not only visual novels but video game storytelling in general. The House in Fata Morgana is the most brilliantly written story I have ever seen in a video game -- and I absolutely do not say that lightly. Now, I could easily ramble about why the narrative is so powerful, and how it does not shy away from delving into deeply unsettling subject matter to tell it, buuuut it is an easy game to spoil narrative details. So, I will just save everyone time and say if you have any sort of appreciation for visual novels, heck, amazing storytelling in general, then The House in Fata Morgana comes highly recommended and I still am pacing back and forth in my mind on whether or not I should just make it my actual GOTY. 1) Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers Over the years, and little by little, Final Fantasy XIV is a game that not only got better over time but also wormed its way into my all-time favorite mainline Final Fantasy titles. As of 2019, however, there is zero doubt in my mind that Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers is easily my favorite mainline title to bear the series namesake. Now, weirdly enough, Shadowbringers does not necessarily have the best intrinsic gameplay I have witnessed in 2019 nor is it even the best story (as stated by the game just before this). But saying that would greatly belittle at how excellent it is at both. As of 2019, however, there is zero doubt in my mind that Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers is easily my favorite mainline title to bear the series namesake. Shadowbringers does a ton to freshen up the already beloved MMO, be it the gripping main campaign that stands far above even most Final Fantasy games to the immensely enjoyable boss fights, dungeons, and exciting new playable classes such as Dancer and Gunbreaker (or might as well be new like Machinist). Shadowbringers is not only my favorite game of 2019 it is also the one I find myself itching the most to go back to at any time. ...That said, I am still bitter about the Astrologian class changes compared to other healers. So maybe I will just put The House in Fata Morgana in this slot until Yoshi P makes me love the class again.
It’s always a pleasure to contribute to Game Podunk’s Game of the Year list and this year is no exception. While my picks may not be as wild as usual, they all have one thing in common: They aren’t Dragon Quest! Sorry, Barrel. With that out of the way I am pleased to introduce the seven games that made the cut. Each one has impressed me in some way, be it their graphics, originality, humor, innovation, or just how plain addictive they are, because in a year like 2019 what I really needed was some good old fashioned fun. I suppose that means I lied back there. They all have another thing in common. They were all a blast! 7. Pokémon Sword and Shield Imagine a world where you can fight weird animals against other weird animals in televised matches for the adoring masses from sold-out arenas. No, this isn’t Michael Vick’s dream come true, it’s a new Pokémon game! If we’re being completely honest I almost didn’t buy this game but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t pleasantly surprised at how it injected new life into the franchise. ...there are few things more fun than a 50-foot cake beating the snot out of a large fiery tapeworm! The “Gym Challenge” is a fun and fresh new take on gyms and Dynamax battles bring an electricity that Z-moves and Mega Evolutions never had. Raids are great too, when they work, and I can see this game having a lot of shelf life because of them. So yeah, the game is not perfect, but I’m glad I caved because there are few things more fun a 50-foot cake beating the snot out of a large fiery tapeworm! 6. Final Fantasy VIII Remastered I feel about Final Fantasy VIII the way most people feel about VII. Not because it was my first Final Fantasy game, not even because of how much I love GFs and junctioning, but because I love how weird it is. Bulbous blue aliens? Check. Humanoid cat people? Check. Hot dog envy? Check. Flinging an actual dog at your enemies? Check. How can you not love this game? Pair that with gorgeously updated character renders and a handful of quality of life improvements, I’m glad that I (and many others) have the ability to once again experience the majesty of this vastly underrated game! Suck it, @Barrel! 5. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order If I’m being honest, I’m pretty sick of Avengers and Spider-Man games. We’ve got, what, like a million of them? Our Marvel and Disney overlords have a knack for cross promotion, so it’s no wonder that the last several Marvel games have focused almost entirely on Marvel’s most lucrative film franchises. But where does that leave fans of the X-Men? Or Blade and Elsa Bloodstone? Or the Fantastic Four? Or the Inhumans (wait, the Inhumans still have fans? Ha, kidding. Mostly.)? Granted, you have to pay a little extra for some of those characters but leave it to an Ultimate Alliance game to finally bring a majority of fan-favorite yet oft-unused characters to the Nintendo Switch. Though the gameplay itself hasn’t changed much, the 10-year gap between games makes it seem like less of an issue, especially when it looks as good as it does. 4. SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech (check out GP's full review of the game here) Ever wonder what you get when you throw a bunch of steampunk cosplayers into a ren fair? Well I imagine it’d be something like Image & Form’s latest SteamWorld game: SteamWorld Quest. Mixing the hilarity of their world populated by crazy robots with the antiquity of a turn-based RPG, The Hand of Gilgamech does something I never thought could ever be done: make punch cards cool! Yessiree, those shoeboxes full of hole-punched index cards in your great grand-pappy’s attic just became useful again. Well, not really, but in spirit they are. ...way more fun than that time I made my roomba joust my google home mini. Using these randomly dealt punch cards to initiate attacks and other classic RPG actions, all while guiding a bunch of wise cracking robots through an epic quest? Well let’s just say it’s way more fun than that time I made my roomba joust my google home mini. 3. AI: The Somnium Files Remember the Zero Escape guy? The one who discussed the canonical length of Sigma Klim’s package? Well he’s back, with a game about A.I. (Artificial intelligence), ai (love in Japanese), eyes (duh), and idols? Yup, only Kentaro Ukioshi could cram this many double entendres, bad puns, and fairly inappropriate characters into a game with horrific serial murders. This time around though, the puzzle rooms give you a bit of a break as they are slimmed down to focus more on character interactions and investigations instead of obscure puzzle solving and testing the player’s math skills. Thank God too, because I suck at math. 2. Astral Chain Apparently I’m downright stupid for Platinum action games, but don’t let my borderline annoying fandom underscore how great this game is. Astral Chain has all the sexiness of Platinum’s Bayonetta games (seriously, how is every Neuron division police officer stupidly hot?), along with all the action Platinum Games is known for. All of this alone would be worth the price of admission but Astral Chain does something different. Now you get to collect cans, rescue cats, and clean up a bunch of broken red jolly ranchers! Seriously though, the side quests were such a great addition in my opinion since spreading out the highly stylized combat missions with short investigation segments not only gives you a better sense of the overall world, but makes the action bits even more intense. Kinda like orgasm denial! 1. Fire Emblem: Three Houses If you took everything that made the Persona games successful, but found a better balance between daily life and battles, sprinkled in some green hair and highly inappropriate teacher outfits, you’d have Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Not yet sold? Well this game basically takes everything the series has been known for in recent times and dials it up to eleven. You even get to take better control over unit progression. Battles feature diverse elements too, making each battle feel different from the last. But things aren’t all about fighting at Gerreg Mach Monastery. You can also pick one of three houses to represent, fish, cook, participate in dance contests, sing beautiful songs of worship, and murder your friends! What’s not to love?