Welcome back to the final week of Gaming Month 2016. If you’ve missed the previous lists, (Top Ten Soundtracks, Top Ten Characters, and Top Ten Gaming Moments) you can check those out in the links at the bottom of this list.
Last but not least, these are my Top Ten Games of 2016. This list will include games released that I’ve played between December 2015 and now. Most of these games I’ve reviewed. Some were either late bloomers or games I hadn’t been able to set the time aside to properly review.
I won’t be including HD Remasters in this list since these are essentially the same game in prettier packaging. Twilight Princess HD and Gravity Rush Remastered are great games not originally from 2016. That qualifier aside, let’s get crackin’!
10) Hyper Light Drifter
Post-Apocalyptic is a bit overdone as a setting. A lot of media tends to portray these as either nuclear fallout a la Fallout or wastelands a la Mad Max. There are other games coming that seem to be playing with the idea a bit more for some creative world building (Horizon: Zero Dawn springs to mind). There was one game that I wasn’t expecting much of in this genre, much less from an indie developer.
Hyper Light Drifter’s cryptic tone meshes very well with its world. With no dialogue and the only means of communication reserved for pictures and runes, much is left up to your own interpretation. Granted, some of these are pretty unmistakeable. That tone is also elevated by how violent it is. I did not jump in expecting this level of blood and brutality in a 16-bit art style, but it does a great job of showing how dilapidated this world is.
It would be hard to tell from visuals alone, as the use of color and environment design makes for stunning levels. Your suite of tools and abilities also makes these fun to traverse. Exploration is a huge part of the gameplay and while the ‘map’ is needlessly complicated, you could get a feel for the area eventually. Boss fights were also unexpectedly hard, to the point of even feeling unfair sometimes. However, later patches did improve this with a higher framerate on PC. Hyper Light Drifter is still an easy game to just pick up and play for a bit or two, and that continued play helps to leave an impression. A Top Ten Games impression.
9) Bravely Second
Bravely Default clearly had a huge effect on Square Enix’s approach to classic RPG design. With its success, it only makes sense to do a follow up. A sequel has the chance to not only fix its problems but build on its strengths. For all intents and purposes, Bravely Second does just that.
The core game remains the same with your party of four setting out on their quest to save Pope Agnès. The only change seen to the core gameplay in this regard are new jobs. I appreciate the developer’s desire to take job concepts up a notch. While ones like Catmancer are kinda meh, others like Fencer, Wizard, and Exorcist bring interesting mechanics to the formula.
With how heavily the Four Crystals and the Pillar of Light played into the looping gameplay of the first game, I was uncertain of if I’d enjoy another stab at it. Thankfully (as I brought out in last week’s list) this game does a much better job. Localization goofs and bad puns aside, Bravely Second is a great sequel on top of being a great game.
8) I am Setsuna
Looking back a few years ago, Square Enix was the last company I’d expect to go back to making traditional RPGs. With the Final Fantasy XIII saga in full swing, it was seeming like ATB systems and Action RPGs were the way of the future. Then there was Bravely Default; a classic RPG-style game that gave it a refresh with its Brave/Default system. With that success, it was clear that there was a hunger for classic designs of old. Square Enix formed a company solely responsible for classic-style games; Tokyo RPG Factory.
Their first release, I am Setsuna, is a welcome return. It does’t just stand out as a faithful successor to Chrono Trigger, it’s also excellent on its own. Your typical skills are here with the addition of dual and triple skills that work in tandem with other party members. Timing and enemy positioning are just as important to make the most out of your attacks. Even the unique Momentum mechanic adds a lot of strategy to your game plan.
Though simple, the story flows naturally and does a great job at world-building. The party members are all likeable (eventually) and go through quite a bit of growth both in gameplay and narrative. It doesn’t do anything revolutionary, but I am Setsuna is perfectly fine as it is; a wonderful RPG and one of my favorite games of 2016.
7) Azure Striker Gunvolt 2
A sequel or successor doesn’t have to be a game-changer. Sometimes, evolving the design is the best route. There are a few of these on this list, but Azure Striker Gunvolt 2 feels the most “sequel-y”.
Pretty much all of the core design remains the same. You’re still running through corridors, tagging enemies and zapping them. Boss fights are still as fun and remain the game’s strength. It still even has the Bad Ending and Good Ending setup from the first (granted it’s much easier to get this time around). What makes Gunvolt 2 different?
For starters, the new characters are all welcome additions to the cast. Their characterizations and backstories are interesting, and the boss designs are some of the most original and outlandish ones yet. Still, the biggest change has to be Copen as the second playable character. His inclusion means that everything (gameplay, characters, story, even music) improves significantly. That is why this game is in my Top Ten Games of 2016.
6) Xenoblade Chronicles X
It’s always nice to get game that you can really sink your teeth into. For the longest time, the games I spent the most time with were Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock and Persona 4 (two very different games, mind you) at a little over 100 hours. Xenoblade Chronicles X easily eclipsed that.
The first 20-30 hours you spend before getting your first Skell may be a bit slow, but the game is by no means a grind. In fact, that helps with the gameplay flow. Scale is the biggest factor in the gameplay loop. You start out in small skirmishes, then take on bigger bosses, then get your first Skell to fight even bigger enemies, then get a full party of Skells to take on massive Tyrants. All of this flows naturally and makes for a moving goalpost with satisfying milestones.
My focus on the gameplay over the story may have to do with the fact that Xenoblade X’s story isn’t very good. It defenitely has its moments and pays off in the long run, but it’s hardly Oscar-nominee material. That said, the story wasn’t the reason I sunk 100+ hours into the game. The drive to find what’s new or something bigger around the corner is the real motivator. Stick around long enough, and Xenoblade Chronicles X is an easy pick for Top Ten Games of 2016.
5) Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE
Saying that Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is a niche title is a bit of an understatement. A Wii U-exclusive, SMT/Fire Emblem crossover centered around Japan’s entertainment industry? It was obvious from the get-go that this game wouldn’t have wide-spread appeal. It’s a shame, because anyone with a passing interest in RPGs needs to play this!
The setting is probably the hardest barrier to break through, but the characters help to amend its shortcomings. Development is superb, growing from trope-heavy to believably motivated and flawed. The overall plot may be basic, but it helps to hold the setting together.
Still, the best part of Tokyo Mirage Sessions has to be its battle system. Designed around exploits, you can deal some major damage (and take some if you’re not careful). Lining up Session attacks, pulling out Ad-Lib and Special Performances, and breaking the limits with Duo Arts feels viseral and satisfying. The insane ammount of customization you can do with your skills and stats lets you play how you like without punishing you for not making the absolute perfect setup. Even if this game isn’t on the top of my list, I can’t recommended it enough. If you have a Wii U and haven’t tried it yet, I urge you to pick up one of the best games of 2016.
4) Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth
Growing up, I was always more a fan of Pokémon than Digimon. Therefore, I could never really get into their games like I did with Pokémon. In recent years, as my enjoyment of Pokémon games decreased and my enjoyment of other kinds of RPGs increased, It seemed a prime time to try out a Digimon RPG.
Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth is easily a great game. It’s also a fun monster-catching experience. Once you get past its spin on typing and evolving/devolving, maxing out your Digimon’s potential is so much fun. The game feel is snappy and smooth, especially on the PS4 version.
The story was probably what surprised me the most. Going from a simple detective shenanigans to the end of the world gives me Persona 4 vibes in the best way possible. Granted, characterization isn’t nearly as strong for anyone besides the main cast. In fact, quite a few characters are easily forgotten about once their part in the plot is finished. I feel that the strongest characters do more than enough to balance this out, and the stellar gameplay mentioned before completes the package. Fittingly, Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth is a surprisingly easy inclusion for the best games of 2016.
3) Pokémon Sun/Moon
Pokémon’s seventh generation was shaping up to bring a lot of changes to the frankly tired formula. Leading up to release, major changes like removing Gyms entirely and going to back to gangster-style villains were surprising. I worried that Pokémon Sun and Moon would lose its heart in the shuffle.
Safe to say that’s definitely not the case! As a Pokémon game through and through, virtually everything in it is done so well. Not only is it the best Pokémon game in years, it’s also the most refreshingly different one. Changes like Trials and Kahunas replacing Gyms and the Elite Four and the mysterious Ultra Beasts are worth mentioning, but the game really takes its presentation a step up from the previous generation.
The simple addition of camera pans and expressions adds so much to these characters. If I hadn’t already finished my Top Ten Characters list, Lillie would have been an easy contender for how well she’s portrayed. It still suffers from being a kid’s game as far as story goes with glacial pacing in the beginning and some twists that were a bit predictable. Still, Sun and Moon feel like love letters to Pokémon, even more so than X and Y did. On their own, though, these games are stellar and deserve their place in my Top Ten Games of 2016.
2) Fire Emblem Fates
I can understand the initial reactions of people thinking that Fire Emblem was pulling a Pokémon with its latest installment. “Splitting a traditional singular game into two with a supplementary third DLC campaign? Sounds like a money-grabbing gimmick to me!” While I was cynical at first, it became clear that Fire Emblem Fates was something special.
Each campaign has its strengths. Birthright does a great job of establishing the new weapon triangle, as well as new classes and factional weapons. Once you’ve got the mechanics, you equipped to handle Conquest’s more strict gameplay progression with limited gold and experience earning. Once you’ve overcome this, Revelation is there to tone the difficulty down a bit while offering the best of both worlds. By this point, it all comes together.
Having to play all three games is Fire Emblem Fate’s biggest flaw. Playing any of the three on their own will get you a full campaign. However, Fates was clearly designed to be played a certain way through all three games. While that makes the game a hefty investment at $80 minimum, it was well worth it to me. My favorite game of 2016 should have been this one, but one other title bested it.
1) Hatsune Miku: Project Diva X
If you had told me a couple years ago that I’d consider a Project Diva game to be one of my favorite games in any year, I would laugh my way out of the room. I was pretty ignorant in my dismissal before, but Persona 4: Dancing All Night managed to break through. The praise I gave that game was overblown in the end, though, as Project Diva X is a much better game.
The gameplay loop is almost perfect with regards to the music aspect. First, you start by playing the Classic Cloud songs on normal difficulty, complete the Medley, then move to the next one. This means you have to play each song at least once. After that, events and harder difficulties unlock, as well as point thresholds for each Cloud to unlock more events. These in turn open up challenges and access to the Ending Medley.
With the heavy emphasis on replaying and perfecting songs, Diva X is leaps and bounds over the arcade port Future Tone. I think that giving each song an incentive to play works better than throwing hundreds at you. Diva X isn’t perfect, as its gift mechanic and the load times for songs (especially when compared to Future Tone) can wear you down. Nevertheless, this game is a satisfying romp to indulge in. This guilty pleasure is my favorite game of 2016.
And with that, my Gaming Month 2016 Top Tens have come to a close. Did some of these surprise you? Were there other games you felt were more deserving? Let me know, as well as catch up on any of these Top Tens you missed below. With that wrapped up, all that’s left is to look forward to what 2017 has to offer!Top Ten Soundtracks of 2016Top Ten Characters of 2016Top Ten Gaming Moments of 2016