On the back of this list by Andy Hodgetts I decided I want to list three of my favourite games of this year. It's not even December yet, but frankly I don't care. I may end up getting a Switch before years end to check out Zelda and Mario which could end up on this list. For the time being though, here is my top three games from least to most favourite.
This is a game I would consider flawed but still worth a play. I haven't taken a peek at Japanese games before (unless we count Metal Gear Solid) that honestly, it's a surpirse that two of my favourite games from this year comes from the country. This game is just fantastic, from it's art, music and characters and design that frankly makes me jealous. Goddamn, I didn't know a store screen could get me jamming along to the music, digging the flow of the menus quite like this game. It takes all the mundanity of modern games that you don't think about too often and then goes "Hey, this stuff doesn't need to be boring how about we jazz it up!"
Even going through the dungeons, the combat, the enemy designs and the little victory tune all come together to make for a terrific time. With characters that are fun to be around and fun to find out more about, their pasts, their hopes and what they want to see from the future. Not every character is flawless but even the weak ones still have an interesting personality that can keep you engaged for the time.
All that being said though, the game. Is. Just. Too. Damn. Long. I am clocking in at around 70 hours and I still have not completed the game and frankly I don't think I will. I still enjoy my time in the overworld and interacting with the characters, but the dungeons and combat have taken their toll. It has become more slog than fun, which is a shame because part of me really does want to see how the story ultimately shakes out, but even my attempts at lowering the difficulty could not revitalise my enjoyment of the game. This game deserves a spot on my list, simply through the cohesiveness of it's design of all aspects of the game, even if that design doesn't stand up to 70+ hours of gameplay.
God. I wrestled, I really did. I honestly wasn't sure whether this would be number one or number two, but after some soul searching and conversations earlier in the year, I realised the truth. This would be my number two game. Don't let that seem like a knock against it though! This is still a phenomenal game that I'm insanely jealous of. You see once upon a time, I had an idea for a game much like Prey, not first person certainly but the location, the grander story were all things that were in my mind. I want to make games, because my ideas are games I want to see in the world and with Prey, I realised my idea could never be any more perfectly executed than it was here. Frankly, Prey was so much better than what ever version of my game I could come up with, it's created such an impact on me has made such a bond that I don't think I will forget about for a long time.
Here is a game, that gives you not a level, not an environment but a real breathing location that you could almost imagine existing in our world. A game where the stations size and complexity is not only expressed in the interiors but also from the space walks in the game. This is a game, that is able to build a world, a place where people work, relax, drink, socialise, play D&D or some other games in their spare time. A place with inter-department and work politics, of people wanting to earn a paycheque and those wanting to change the world. I remember playing Bioshock and I think that maybe I was too young to appreciate the grander nuances that were present in that game. Everyone remembers the shocking twist of the ending in that game, but rarely do I think about the world that was built. That is very much not the case here, I think a lot about the place and how everything fits together. I think about, how in a time where "Walking Simulators" creates worlds for a players to explore, here comes a game that not only shows you "THIS is how you make a world, THIS is how you do environmental storytelling, THIS is how you make compelling gameplay all in one package" that it makes me wish for more.
An ending, that if done differently in any other game would be a trope, something to groan at and ignore, here it recontextualises the course of the game in ways that stick in my mind to this day. Voice acting that is often understated but still captivating (Benedict Wong is an actor I would love to see more from incidentally) with a nice foreboding soundtrack that I like to listen to every once in a while.
Yet, it kills me. To see the performance of this game, it really, really, fucking sucks. Steam spy puts ownership at around 500,000 and that's ignoring the fact the game was heavily discounted not long after release. Wolfenstein II is suffering the same fate, as did Dishonored II it would seem. These are games that have absoloutely killed it as singleplayer experiences all from Bethesda that I hope we don't see them reshift their focus on what games get made going forward. It saddens me that one of the companies most successful game, is also one of it's blandest, tedious and unfocused mess that is Fallout 4.
I'm happy Prey exists and god I hope we get another game in this style from Arkhane in the future.
That was quite a love letter to Prey and yet it still only sits at number two. So then what on earth did Yakuza 0 do?
Yakuza 0 and Persona 5 are two games that have made me sit up and decide to take notice of more games coming from the east, games that are able to forge such an identity and able to do much more with less. A game where you could be getting teary eyed over the exposition of a character one moment, to promoting a chicken to a manager in your realty minigame the next, and yet does not feel jarring in the slightest. When discussing this game, I see it as essentially what it must be like to be Jackie Chan in one of his movies that often blends the absurd with the serious, Project A, Drunken Master, Police Story etc. Yet even as a comparison, that is weak, it's a game that is able to forge it's own identity, that has frankly I believe the most "Oh shit!" or "Aww man check out that guy getting smacked in the mouth" gutteral reaction of any video game I've played. I have never winced as much as I have in a game with fighting, nor have I ever giggled as much as I have here at the sheer awesomeness of some of these moves.
You have a cast of characters that from top to bottom are all loveable (in their own sort of way) and some of funniest and heartfelt writing that I have seen in a game (though I wonder how much of that I should thank the localisation team for.) and while Kiryu can be a bit of a stiff when it comes to Main Characters, Majima is on an entirely different level and just feels awesome to play as and go through his tragic story. If Prey sticks with me, because of how I have grown as an individual who can enjoy the nuances of a well crafted story, then Yakuza 0 is the game that reminds me what it was like to play games when I was younger and just be overjoyed/giddy every step of the way. Again, as with all my other games in this list the music sounds fantastic, well suited to the game and it's fights.
Let me show you one thing that should make you go "Awesome"
Now imagine a game filled with nothing but that. God I love this game and I should really get around to playing Yakuza Kawami.
This has actually been a great year for games, yet ironically these are probably the three that will stick with me the most. I could have made this a list of five or even ten, but I just don't feel strongly about other games that I do these three. I implore you to seek out these games and give them a play, because frankly this is what we need to see more of.