The End of 2017!

The obligatory year end post!

2017 started off as one of the most promising years in gaming.  With a jam packed first quarter filled with interesting and quality titles that brought for a deluge of new experiences that appealed to the core audience of games.  It was a wave of quality that I honestly consider to be the best concise quarter for releases in the medium’s history, even if there were one or two titles that underwhelmed.  Such as Mass Effect Andromeda, a mismanaged title that ended the Mass Effect series.

The very same quarter also saw the release of the Switch, Nintendo’s hybrid console and handheld that delivers high powered graphically intensive games both portable and in the comfort of one’s home.  A wildly successful title that routinely sells out, sold 10 million units in the past year despite some part shortages, and has become the home to some of Nintendo’s most praised titles in the past decade.  It still is a bit bare bones, lacking a virtual console and the expected repertoire of apps, but it is nothing that Nintendo cannot build upon as they hopefully go to re-establish the affection of the core audience that has been wavering since the days of the Wii.

An innocuous little game by the overly obtuse name of Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds proved to be among the most successful games in history, reaching record highs for active players and selling well beyond 30 million units before it left early access.  Clearly, it’s tense and fundamentally balanced gameplay and clever pacing clearly struck a chord with some people.  A true testament to how success in games truly works, compared to the flawed focus test driven approach adopted by most AAA publishers.  

Sega allowed a group of hardcore fans to create their own Sonic game, Sonic Mania, which proved to be a far more praised title than their own efforts with the surprisingly unsatisfactory Sonic Forces.  Effectively proving the long standing fact that modern Sonic Team, and to a lesser extent Sega, don’t really know how to make Sonic games anymore.  Probably because many staff members left to work at Nintendo and make games like Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.  But also Sega’s management seems pretty bad.  

The big western AAA game publishers pulled the lever by ushering in a glutton of microtransaction riddled full-price $60 titles that made use of a glorified gambling system that has been statistically balanced to maximize the company’s revenues and transform their games into lasting services.  A move that effectively ruined numerous AAA games and painted these companies are entities that follow the toxic American business mentality of putting shareholders above all else, and care little about the actual products they produce.  It all ballooned up so much that there are now multiple nations that are looking into regulating these aggressive practices, and I say let them!

Steam really went to the toilet after the introduction of Steam Direct further transformed the once beloved game storefront into one cluttered with near worthless titles.  They have become so prevalent that it is now almost impossible for promising independent titles to gain much, if any, traction on the site as it is being bombarded with barely functional games created by amateurs within a few measly hours.  Myself and many others have said how Valve should simply employ a handful of people to certify games before they are released on the storefront, and get rid of the nazi groups that have populated it.  Oh, but I guess such a venture is too outlandish for a multibillion dollar company to pursue.

It was a year of extremes both high and low with regards for the industry, with excellent games coming out regularly and company practices reaching all time lows.  As for myself, I continued regularly reviewing games at the rate of about one per week.  I continued to maintain my relationship with my dear significant other Alex.  I completely and utterly failed to finish my next novella, Psycho Bullet Festival: The Odyssey of Abigale Quinlan.  I continued my education and employment, while also making great strides in my gender transition.  My legal name is now Natalie Abigail Neumann, I have a steady amount of estrogen gradually shaping my body, and I recently underwent facial feminization surgery to start living my life as a woman full time.  In fact, I am still recovering from surgery, and actually prepared this post in advance as such.

With that little preamble out of the way, time to talk about my favorite games from the past year, in the order I reviewed them.  And yes, I am fully aware that most of my favorite games from this year were visual novels.

Higurashi: When They Cry Chapter 3 – Tatarigoroshi: The Higurashi series has slowly become a personal favorite of mine, offering a dark and engaging story that is delightfully juxtaposed against a silly and cheery backdrop to offer a unique, intriguing, and really suite suspenseful series of games.  Tatarigoroshi is my favorite entry in the series thus far, as the extreme nature of its storyline, additional character development, and wild plot progression all amount to a story that can be heartwarming, disturbing, and incredibly tense.

Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King: While I do not play a lot of lengthy Japanese RPGs these days, mostly due to their lengthy playtime, when I do get around to them, I hope for games like Dragon Quest VIII.  A formulaic RPG in both set up and mechanics that is home to a charismatic and likeable cast of characters, and a level of creativity and splendor that have come to define a good JRPG experience in my mind.  It does have some minor hang ups, mostly with the latter portions of the story, but the game’s personality still resonates brightly in my mind.

Fire Emblem Heroes: I was not overwhelmingly positive about this mobile entry in the Fire Emblem series when I initially reviewed it, but after playing it on a daily basis since launch, my thoughts have changed quite a bit.  In that time, I have seen the developers improve, iterate, and alter things in a way to make the experience more enjoyable, and turn what initially seemed like a simply well done gasha game into something with a fair amount of mechanic depth and an engaging gameplay loop that does not by any means requires players to invest money to have an enjoyable experience.  I have some more complicated thoughts on this one, but I will be saving those for a review I have scheduled to celebrate the game’s one year anniversary.

Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends: The two UbiArt Rayman titles are pair of pristinely crafted platformers that to me represent amount the best the genre has to offer.  With rock solid controls, variety rich levels with exceptional designs, gorgeously drawn environments, squishy and well animated characters, and an applaudable approach to difficulty that never punishes the player for making a mistake or error, it is easy for me to heap copious amounts of praise onto these titles.  They both have a share of minor nuisances, but they still remain some of my favorite titles to go back to periodically and replay a few levels of.

Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony:  The first two Danganronpa games are among some of my favorite titles of all time, and seeing them followed up with an underwhelming spin-off and an anime sequel that… I don’t even want to talk about was quite disconcerting.  However, Spike Chunsoft ultimately pulled the series together with what may be the final mainline entry and a genuinely satisfying conclusion to the story.  Yet even beyond the relationship to the games that came before it, V3 still manages to tell a compelling story with some truly remarkable and enjoyable characters, and innovate upon the series both with regards to its gameplay and presentation.

Doki Doki Literature Club:  I am regularly surprised by the offerings that small concentrated teams can pull off when they have a good idea.  The idea behind Doki Doki Literature Club is not necessarily groundbreaking, but the game is still an interesting meta narrative that deconstructs the nature of dating sims while retaining its own personality and share of surprises.  One that severed as quite an interesting footnote throughout the year, and best of all, is completely free.

Muv-Luv Extra: I genuinely do not think that any single title I played this year impressed me more than Muv-Luv Extra, which is quite odd for a 14-year-old visual novel.  The game’s rousing rollercoaster ride of a story, compelling and thought out characters, and generally high quality writing all served to create a truly great romantic comedy visual novel, or comedic dating sim.  However, the presentation of it all stands far and above anything else I have ever seen from a traditional visual novel, boasting a level of polish and care that brings the whole experience to a level of excellence that I truly could not have predicted.

Saya No Uta ~ The Song of Saya:  It is no secret that I enjoy myself some darker subject matter, and it does not get much darker than a story about a man living in a flesh world surrounded by flesh monsters that stink of decaying meat.  Yet, rather than simply dwelling in its premise, Saya No Uta uses it to deliver a compelling storyline with two characters who, while being morally repugnant, still manage to be likeable.  I described the game as being beautifully morbid, and I think that is one of the most apt ways I can describe it.  An elegantly constructed yet notably depraved title that I can only recommend to people who would be willing to play a game wherein what looks like a prepubescent girl gets raped by what looks like a flesh demon.  

Those are my favorite games of the year, but there are a few other noteworthy titles that I feel like bringing up once more.  

Student Transfer 2.0 built up the promising, if a bit sparse, foundation of the original release, and delivered a far more expanded, captivating, and engaging experience that explored the narrative concepts it brought up thoroughly.  The writers clearly understand the appeal of the subject matter, and managed to deliver an impressive title that will continue to be built upon, and has been expanded through the use of a very expansive series of fan-created scenarios… which I really should get around to at some point.

Cosmic Star Heroine proved to be a very quality title that once again showed the capabilities of the game developer Zeboyd by offering a great JRPG experience that offered a series of unique mechanics, characters, and a compelling story.  Yet a general lack of polish in certain spots and a lack of side activities prevented the game from being one of my favorites throughout the year.  Although, it should be sufficiently improved by now.

Metroid: Samus Returns has a lot going for it by being a very well made 2D Metroid game that does a lot right and scratches an itch that I have not had scratched in many, many years.  The game play foundation is rock solid, the improvements made to the game are welcome, and the game is a very quality expansion on the title it is loosely based off of.  But its platform of choice, unremarkable environments, and a shockingly high base difficulty all made for a game that I honestly do not see myself ever really wanting to return to.  Perhaps if it was ported to the Switch with some gameplay balances, or a new easy mode.

Press Switch version 0.4a: Press-Switch is an exceedingly excellent visual novel that I have wanted to review for 3 years now, but found myself waiting for an update that did not come until the end of the year, only for that update to block out a lot of older content that the developer wishes to revise.  While I could review the existing game, I feel an obligation to wait until the next major release, which thankfully should be sometime next year.  Then after that, expect to see me review each new major build of Press-Switch.

That is all for this year.  Reviews will resume on Wednesday, January 17th, with my review of Pokemon Ultra Moon, and will continue on a weekly schedule for the foreseeable future.  

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