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As far as video games go, 2017 was one that was special in a way that’s next to impossible to replicate. The Switch launched with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and was followed throughout the year with a slew of high-quality releases ranging from Splatoon 2 to Super Mario Odyssey. The Yakuza series was reintroduced to the west with a bang in the form of Yakuza 0 and a high-quality remake of the original in Yakuza Kiwami. And there was plenty of RPG goodness across the board, from Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Persona 5 to my personal Game of the Year of 2017, Nier: Automata. The sheer quantity of incredible releases last year that may be remembered as generation-defining, if not some of the greatest video games ever made, would be hard for 2018 to top. And truthfully, this year never did hit the absolute highs of 2017 for me. That’s not to say that there weren’t plenty of great games this year, but none hit me with the impact of last year’s incredible slate. However, there were still a couple of incredible Yakuza games released this year, as well as a Fist of the North Star-themed Yakuza spin-off that’s still sitting in my backlog. So maybe some of last year’s magic still managed to rub off! Regardless of how quiet or not 2018’s march of releases was, I still had plenty to play, had plenty of fun, and on that subject, that’s all that really matters. 10) Fortnite Though Fortnite was released last year, I’m including it here at the tenth spot on my list because, like so many other people, there was a period of about two and a half months where it was literally the only game I played. Both on the PS4, and later the Switch, the Battle Royale game was one I just couldn’t put down, often ending late nights after just “one more game.” For the record, I was terrible. I only ever came in first place once, but it was through the semi-tactical fluke of managing to win a round without ever firing shot and letting the only remaining opponent get claimed by the encroaching storm. Truth be told, any experience I had with Fortnite after that oddity was a bonus. 9) Attack on Titan 2 Click here to read GP's official review The first of three Koei Tecmo games on this year’s list, Attack on Titan 2 really captured the feel of the anime, but with the twist of inserting the player into an original character slotted into the narrative’s existing events. In a year with an actual Spider-Man game (that I haven’t played yet), Attack on Titan 2 still satisfied that urge to swing through cities and forests with grace and ease. Now if Koei Tecmo would just consider localizing the Ruby Party Attack on Titan game. 8) Warriors Orochi 4 Warriors Orochi 4 was seen by a lot of Musou fans as something of a mea culpa from Koei Tecmo after the generally negative response to Dynasty Warriors 9. While it does introduce new mechanics involving magic and gave powered-up divine forms to select characters, the game doesn’t do much to rock the boat. And if you’re a Musou fan like I am, that’s fine, and it’s comforting, but it also left me with some mixed feelings for reasons that will become clear later down the list. That said, it’s a solid, fun continuation of one of the best Warriors series out there, even if it doesn’t feature the crazier crossover characters from last year’s Warriors All-Stars. 7) BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle Click here to read GP's official review Calling BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle a BlazBlue game is something of a misnomer. It is a BlazBlue game, but it’s also Persona 4 Arena, Under Night In-Birth, and… the Rooster Teeth animated series RWBY?! As crazy a mash-up as the game is in concept, it’s a frenetic fighting game of intense, fast-paced tag battle-style matches that can end in the blink of an eye. The game also holds a special place in my heart for serving as my introduction to competing at EVO. (I didn’t advance very far, but I didn’t go 0-2, either!) 6) Octopath Traveler Octopath Traveler is one of the more unique RPGs to come out of Square Enix in years. On the surface, it might strike people as a cousin to the divisive SaGa series, as it features eight playable characters, each with their own story and path through the game. Unlike the typical SaGa title, however, the gameplay is much easier to learn and understand, and all eight characters become part of the player’s party through natural play (but by no means is the game a cakewalk). Combine its gameplay and engaging characters with a visual style that feels like a pop-up book version of SNES-era RPGs, and it’s the sort of experience that’s right up my alley. 5) Soulcalibur VI Soulcalibur VI feels as much like a return to form as it does something new. After having so much fun and spending so many hours in Soulcalibur II, the third, fourth, and fifth games all had significant issues or gaps that left me wanting. It didn’t help that the guest characters the series brought in could never match the fun feeling of playing as Link from The Legend of Zelda, or even the goofy inclusion of Heihachi from the Tekken series. Soulcalibur VI in some ways takes a back to basics approach with its story, returning to the storyline of the first two titles and exploring it in depth with not one but two different story modes. The game mechanics feel sharp and polished, and the cast of classic characters has never looked better. Even the guest character, Geralt from the Witcher series, fits right in. And hey, 2B from Nier: Automata is joining the fray around the time that I’m writing this list up, so it’s only looking better as time goes on! 4) Dynasty Warriors 9 Click here to read GP's official review There’s no question that, to many, Dynasty Warriors 9 was a disappointment. The mechanical and systemic changes brought about by setting the game in an open world were bold experiments by Omega Force; the boldest shift taken by the series in many, many years. And the game launched with some technical flaws that required several patches to address, many of which were no doubt due to the game not getting enough time in the oven before it launched. And so I can understand where the disappointment comes from. But… I was never truly disappointed. While Dynasty Warriors 9 is flawed, I loved my time with it. I played it for over a hundred hours, and currently sit one trophy short of earning my first platinum trophy for any title I’ve played on a PlayStation console. I’m generally not a completionist by nature, but when I have more time, I’d like to go back and get that last one, because really and truly, I think Dynasty Warriors 9 is a lot of fun. In particular, the new combat system it introduces is a major step forward from the tried-and-true charge system that has existed in most Dynasty Warriors titles since the earliest entries. If anything, I would love to see more of this type of gameplay in a more refined entry, whether that be Dynasty Warriors 10, Samurai Warriors 5, or something else. But given the general response Dynasty Warriors 9 received, I won’t be surprised if Omega Force backtracks and makes more titles of the old form, like Warriors Orochi 4, for example. I’ll be disappointed, but not surprised. 3) Yakuza Kiwami 2 Click here to read GP's official review Like last year’s Yakuza Kiwami, Yakuza Kiwami 2 is another remake, this time of the second and last entry to grace the PlayStation 2. Built on the Dragon Engine originally developed for Yakuza 6, Kiwami 2 takes an already wild adventure and makes it even better. Punching man-eating tigers in the face has never looked so beautiful! While Yakuza 2 is often credited as the game where the series truly found its voice, Kiwami 2 refines the experience, adding more of what works, taking away a few things that don’t really work anymore, and as a bonus, tying in new sidestory elements to act as a direct sequel to Yakuza 0. Fans of the 80s-era prequel will absolutely love the callbacks, both goofy and heartfelt. 2) Yakuza 6: The Song of Life Click here to read GP's official review Billed as the game that ends the long and melodramatic tale of Kazuma Kiryu, Yakuza 6 contains everything that Yakuza fans love, from the action and drama to the more absurdist and comedic set pieces. If it truly lacks anything, such as meatier or more meaningful appearances from several fan-favorite characters, it’s only because the game’s plot is written with Kazuma and the now grown Haruka front and center. As the series has progressed, both star characters have grown older, and their arcs have taken them in some unexpected directions. But good things deserve to come to a proper end, and the Yakuza team elected to do just that. The game tells a story that ties a fitting bow around what has been a long journey for Haruka, and particularly for the lead character Kiryu. And that’s something that very, very few game series that have gone on for as long as Yakuza has can claim to have done as well. 1) Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Super Smash Bros. Ultimate really does feel in many ways like the ultimate Smash Bros. title. With a roster featuring every playable character that ever appeared across the previous entries, including third-parties, in addition to a few brand-new characters, the roster has something for most everyone. And though the size of that roster is the likely reason for why some traditional features aren’t present in Ultimate, like Home Run Contest or trophy collecting, the game has a host of deep, quality features that doesn’t make it feel slimmed down in any way. As someone that’s played Smash Bros. since the original N64 title, it’s fair for me to say that Ultimate may end up being my favorite entry. Not just due to the breadth of its gigantic roster that’s due to grow even further with coming DLC, but with the dev team’s reverence for the source materials that the roster comes from. Even the Spirit Battles, challenges themed after hundreds of characters from Nintendo’s past, as well as some special guests, are as creative and humorous as they are challenging. One battle I found particularly amusing cast three female Corrins with jetpacks as the Elite Beat Divas from Elite Beat Agents. The surprise in how these depictions are crafted, and how they translate specific references, make the battles as enticing as the actual challenge of fighting them. That the game’s Adventure Mode, World of Light, is entirely based around these Spirit Battles, makes for some of the best single-player content in any Smash Bros. game. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has everything it needs to keep me playing it well into the foreseeable future, both alone and with friends and strangers. And being packed with such quantity and quality, it’s easily my personal Game of the Year.
Developer: Arc System Works Publisher: Arc System Works Platform: PS4, Nintendo Switch, and PC Release Date: May 31, 2018 ESRB: T for Teen Arc System Works has been quick to fill in the crossover team fighter void left by Capcom's extremely disappointing Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom. By seemingly invoking the power of Shenron (through Dragon Ball FighterZ) Arc System Works has rapidly jumped in power level in both sales and status among hyperactive team-based fighters. This year, Arc System Works has decided to follow up with another team-based fighter, Blazblue Cross Tag Battle, but this time it leans far more heavily into its crossover nature. Featuring characters from Blazblue, Persona 4, Under Night In-Birth, and the most surprising addition of all -- Rooster Teeth Production's popular action web series RWBY -- one can only hope Blazblue: Cross Tag Battle is as satisfying to actually play as it is inherently bizarre as a crossover game. With such a broad selection of characters, the immediate concern is how daunting it is mechanically. Weirdly enough, Blazblue Cross Tag Battle may be Arc System Works' most approachable fighter to date, even with the strides in accessibility that Dragon Ball FighterZ made earlier this year and Persona 4 Arena before it. Everything from button mash-friendly auto-combos to extremely simple button inputs being no more complex than a quarter circle motion, as well as two button reversals like in P4A more than considerably help lower the execution barrier. Blazblue Cross Tag Battle goes a few steps further than that, however, including little details such as your character automatically trying to close the distance themselves when you input a grab command, leading to far less missed throws. If anything, anyone who has played Blazblue, Persona 4 Arena, or Under Night In-Birth may feel like they have a larger learning curve here than those who have not. The reasoning for this is that most of the characters in this game originally come from four-button fighters while Blazblue Cross Tag Battle primarily relies on two for most attack strings (before getting into tag commands and the "Clash" button, at least). So, in addition to potentially unlearning years of muscle memory, it can lead to many characters feeling quite foreign due to their much more limited movesets. Personally speaking, I found myself gravitating towards characters I had very little experience with before, or outright new ones like members of RWBY, because of how odd it felt playing once familiar 2D spites. Of course, at the end of the day, Blazblue Cross Tag Battle is a team-based fighter and the synergy between character pairs is arguably more important than being decent with any one fighter. A good assist, for instance, can give slow/short-ranged characters like Azrael the opportunity to easily close the distance. To put this into practice even more, Blazblue Cross Tag Battle clearly borrows many mechanics from Marvel vs Capcom like its own version of push blocking, DHC cancels (changing characters mid-super), and its equivalent of X-Factor to dramatically power up a character when their own ally is knocked out. However, there are a few extra tools in Cross Tag Battle that allow much more combo creativity due to its distinct tagging options. Players can switch characters during normal ally assists or the craziest tag feature of all which involves the "Cross Combo" mechanic that has one's second character on-screen at the same time and perpetually attacking, allowing for some truly devious pressure and combo potential for a brief moment. It is truly impressive just how much free reign players are given with the tag mechanics, both offensively and defensively, making the initially easy-to-approach mechanics for newcomers also appetizing for far more seasoned players with its potential depth and enjoyable yet frenetic combat. Those that do not necessarily want to overload their brains with systems can veer into a much more straightforward environment, like the game's visual novel-style story mode. The story by itself is hardly special as it basically revolves around the many characters being taken from their world and the mastermind behind it forcing them to battle others in hopes to return to their own. In spite of this simple setup, Cross Tag Battle does a great job at being fully aware that it is a crossover game and never takes itself too seriously. There is a lot of fun, self-referential writing regarding each respective franchise and it is entertaining to see unlikely character interactions with one another, such as Ruby fangirling over the bizarre weapons of much of the cast, for example. From an English localization perspective, they go the extra mile for quality, such as having nearly every Persona 4 and Blazblue voice actor reprise their former roles, which is a nice nostalgic touch. Unfortunately, the story mode does frequently serve as an unpleasant reminder about the game's tacky approach to DLC as well. Many characters that appear in the story are outright unplayable in the base game, and with nearly half of the roster locked behind a paid DLC pass, it makes what is supposed to be a discounted fifty dollar game on paper closer to seventy dollars in actual practice. And frankly, it is especially hard to ignore when Persona 4, Under Night In-Birth, and RWBY characters have four characters or less to play as in the initial twenty roster. Though, in fairness, Arc System Works has made an effort to make sure at least the two extra RWBY characters Yang and Blake are free, and I'd be lying if I did not say that Blake Belladonna is probably my current favorite character to play in the entire game... despite me knowing next to nothing about RWBY as a series. The rest of the gameplay feature set is quite standard when compared to Arc System Work's most recent titles. There is the typical training, VS mode, survival, as well as a fairly insightful tutorial that teaches the gameplay systems in addition to character specific nuances, which are incredibly welcome. The same applies to the online lobbies that allow players to roam around in cutesy character avatars and challenge other in sixty-four player rooms, and it is still as endearing as ever. Plus, a fairly solid netcode (without the obnoxious rollback in various Capcom titles) helps its case too. Blazblue Cross Tag Battle successfully delivers in crossover fanservice and as a hyperactive tag team fighter. A very low execution barrier, incredibly fast-paced action, and surprising depth to its many gameplay systems makes this truly bizarre mashup an entertaining time, regardless of one's inherent fighting game skill level. Yet, for everything it does right as a game, it becomes that much harder to shake the feeling of Blazblue Cross Tag Battle coming off as an incomplete package, especially regarding its character roster with so many playable characters clearly locked behind DLC. If one can accept the distinct fine print required for the full package then Blazblue Cross Tag Battle should make for an enjoyable fighter despite how it "Can't Escape From Crossing Fate" with its intended audience through its questionable DLC business practices. Pros + Very low execution barrier for basic controls makes both high and low level play frantic and enjoyable + Lighthearted story mode that is fully aware it is a crossover game and never takes itself too seriously + Immense potential for combo creativity thanks to really flexible tag mechanics Cons - Most of the cast play extremely different than they do in their original games which can be rather off-putting initially - Nearly half the potential playable cast are paid DLC and having them frequently teased in the story mode makes them feel less than optional for the full package - Clearly recycled assets from entirely separate games lead to the visuals not being exactly cohesive Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good Blazblue Cross Tag Battle does quite a bit to provide a very accessible, yet deep fighter that is chock full of crossover fanservice but the stigma of its poorly handled playable character DLC unfortunately severely hampers it as a complete package. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.