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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: Omega Force Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC Release Date: February 13, 2018 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game Change can be an odd thing. Video games, particularly those from long-running series, are often accused of not changing things enough from one game to the next. In the best-case scenarios, making a grand, sweeping change to an old formula can be just the shot in the arm a series needs. But there’s also the risk of a change backfiring, doing more to alienate established fans than expand the audience. Dynasty Warriors 9, Koei Tecmo’s latest entry in their core Musou franchise, is easily the boldest attempt at redefining what a Musou game is, but does that boldness equate success? Like its predecessors, Dynasty Warriors 9 is an action game adaptation of the classic Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms -- a romanticized retelling of a turbulent period of Chinese history that followed the fall of the Han Dynasty. The core narrative follows the individual factions of Wei, Wu, Shu, and Jin, with a few others from the period before the foundation of the three kingdoms or that exist outside of the tripartite conflict. Against this backdrop, there are over ninety playable characters, each with their own story mode and ending, though only a few characters are available from the start. What sets Dynasty Warriors 9 apart from the previous entries is its new open-world structure. While previous games featured contained maps as individual stages with sets of choreographed objectives, Dynasty Warriors 9 presents the player with the entirety of post-Han China to explore. The landscape is enormous, dotted with cities, fortresses, peasant villages, vast plains, steep mountains, thick forests and lush jungles. Coming to this game from previous entries, it’s astonishing to see just how large the map is. With the new open world and expansive map comes a significant change in the game’s basic flow and structure. In a traditional Musou title, the player begins a stage on an enclosed map and is given a series of objectives to perform, some optional, some not, until the final objective is reached and achieved; generally defeating a stage boss, reaching a specific point on the map, or escorting an ally character to safety. This basic flow is still present, in a sense, but it’s not immediately obvious. Each chapter in Dynasty Warriors 9 is structured such that the player is tasked with a primary objective, along with a series of secondary missions that are scattered around the map. It’s entirely possible to rush in and complete the primary objective, thus immediately leading to the next primary objective or ending the chapter, but in doing so, the player can miss out on story beats and mission rewards. Additionally, the core difficulty of the primary objective gradually lowers as more of the secondary missions are completed, representing the player’s efforts in either aiding their force’s advancement or stymying the enemy’s own plans. A side-effect of this new flow is that there’s more downtime between the larger battles, but this isn’t a negative. The game is open enough that it’s possible to advance from one mission to the next without delving off the beaten path. Even if the focus is kept on the missions, it’s not uncommon to end a chapter with an enemy KO count ranging between three to five thousand. After putting in the efforts to clear all of a major battle’s sub-missions, it’s rewarding to ride up to the final battle as enemy officers express panic over a lack of reinforcements, dwindling supplies, and malfunctioning siege weapons. And when it comes to the combat, Dynasty Warriors 9 isn’t afraid to make some significant, but welcome changes. The charge system of combat that was present in most prior entries has been replaced with a flow system that emphasizes the use of flowing state modifiers to stun an enemy, knock them in the air, or to the ground, as well as moves such as finishers that become available when an enemy officer’s health has been reduced enough. It dramatically alters the feel of combat, but unlike the much-maligned Renbu System that was introduced in Dynasty Warriors 6 and immediately abandoned, this new system feels like a change for the better. Dynasty Warriors 9 is most recognizably like past entries in the series during the larger battles, where the game is at its most frantic. Whether it’s avoiding elemental magic while making the final push to Zhang Jiao or choosing whether to pursue Lu Bu at Hu Lao Gate, the wild moments that have defined the series are still present. The open world structure simply offers more options in either approaching or avoiding them, just as the new combat system offers room to be more freeform in experimenting with attack combos. As for the open world itself, it’s fun to finally see China in a better context. While obviously not a scale representation of the nation, seeing how locations that were the settings or set pieces of enclosed stages in previous games now have a geographic relationship with the rest of the world is enlightening for someone like me that didn’t have that kind of understanding before. It also adds to that sense of progression, particularly for parts like the march from Si Shui Gate to Hu Lao Gate, and finally to the confrontation with Dong Zhuo in Luoyang. Other moments that were represented with fanciful scenarios in past games, such as the Battle of Chibi or the escape through the stone sentinel maze, are given a more realistic touch with their locales being defined parts of the large world. But the open world isn’t perfect. Like many games with such vast worlds to explore, Dynasty Warriors 9 has its share of odd glitches and bugs. The worst I came across prevented harvestable materials from spawning, which impeded the completion of a sidequest. Fortunately, the issue corrected itself when I saved, exited, and then reloaded the game. Some of the battles also simply aren’t as engaging in the open world context. Naval battles, while very few and far between, involve taking a small boat out into a body of water to meet up with other boats, and then jumping from one boat to another to take on a handful of enemies that can easily be knocked into the water, only to respawn on the deck over and over until they’re defeated. Thankfully, these battles aren’t very long, but they just aren’t a good fit for the combat of a Dynasty Warriors game. The basic exploration of the open world is very similar in structure to other games. Points of interest become highlighted on the map on approach, making them viable points for fast travel, waymarks on roadsides point out locations on the map that haven’t been found yet, and watchtowers can be climbed to uncover large swaths of land in addition to new locations and material item spawn points. Many of the villages and cities are home to various facilities such as blacksmiths and shops where new items can be bought or crafted, and some of these facilities have even appeared in previous Musou titles that featured explorable hub zones dating back to Dynasty Warriors 7. Out in the wilderness, the number of activities to engage in is sparse. Wildlife can be stalked and hunted with a bow (Dynasty Warriors 9 is, in fact, the first game in the series to give everyone a secondary bow weapon since the PS2 era), and it’s possible to fish in any body of water so long as you possess bait. Both activities net material resources useful for cooking or crafting. There are also roving bands of bandits with powerful leaders that can be similarly encountered, and both townsfolk and captains in the smaller forts that dot the roadways offer optional sidequests that mostly boil down to defeating a certain enemy at a certain location for a small reward. These activities can be fun in spurts, but unless you’re intent on getting materials for a specific item or weapon, they can be safely ignored. The side activity I’ve found most engaging is the use of the hideaways. Scattered around the map, hideaways are homes that the player can purchase, use as fast travel points, and decorate how they see fit. Certain furniture when acquired also gives the player ready access to cooking and crafting, changing the player’s costume, and the ability to receive gifts from friendly officers. It’s even possible to invite other officers in for a visit to raise the player’s relationship with them. In a way, it’s a little like having a slice of Animal Crossing in Dynasty Warriors. Regarding the game’s story, Dynasty Warriors 9 is one of the best interpretations of Romance of the Three Kingdoms that the series has yet produced, possibly only second to Dynasty Warriors 7. The length of each character’s story differs, with some being significantly longer than others, but the range of characters offer differing perspectives on the same periods of time, and each character has their own unique story ending. If there’s a hindrance to the storytelling, it's in the game’s English voice acting (and all new English voice cast), with many performances that range from bland to poor. However, the game does come with the Japanese language voices, and in a first for the series, full voice acting in Chinese. The general presentation is solid as well, highlighted by the detailed character models of the core roster. However, the game shipped with noticeable performance issues on all platforms, and Koei Tecmo has been working to iron these out. Playing the game on my standard launch PS4 with a performance patch in place, I’ve felt that the game’s performance is more than acceptable, though if you’re the sort that demands anything akin to a consistent 60fps at all times, you won’t find that here. Graphic pop-in is also common, the most extreme cases involving the smaller, destructible wooden roadside forts that dot the landscape. Riding up to them on a high-level horse at full speed, I frequently met soldiers engaging in a small skirmish before the fortifications had time to appear. It should be noted that the game has received additional support since its launch beyond performance adjustments. Quality-of-life touches have been made to rebalance certain aspects, ease exploration of the map, and even unlock characters at a faster rate. These fixes are certainly welcome, and I hope that more are coming, as the game was certainly in need of polish at its release. Dynasty Warriors 9 is a fun game; one that I’ve put dozens of hours into and expect to put in dozens more. Its open world is destined to be divisive, and not everyone that loves Dynasty Warriors games or Musou titles for what they are may be willing or able to adapt to the new format, which even for a series veteran like me required time to understand. The game has both incredible highs and annoying lows, and I could easily go on measuring aspects of both against each other. But with the new combat system, quality storytelling, and willingness to experiment with a new gameplay format, I’d tell any veteran fan of the series to at least give it a shot. It’s not what we’re used to, but it is still Dynasty Warriors, if only through a different lens. Pros + New combat system offers a new an interesting flow to battle + A vast open world based on Three Kingdoms-era China +90+ characters to play as + The soundtrack offers a mix of beautiful orchestral and rocking battle music + An engaging and entertaining retelling of Romance of the Three Kingdoms with Japanese and Chinese language options Cons - Performance issues and glitches - Poor English voice acting quality - A lack of depth to open world activities - Some characters are missing their signature weapons from previous entries - Select missions don’t mesh well with the open world structure Overall Score: 7 (out of 10) Good Dynasty Warriors 9 is a fun game that has both incredible highs and annoying lows, and with the new combat system, quality storytelling, and willingness to experiment with a new gameplay format, I’d tell any veteran fan of the series to at least give it a shot. Disclosure: This review is based on retail product that was paid for by the reviewer