Thursday, December 22, 2016

My favorite games of 2016 that weren't actually released in 2016

Well, this is the last of my "favorite games of 2016" posts.

I'm sorry the previous pair--here's one, and here's the other, if you've yet to read them--were so 3DS-centric, by the way. The fact is, other than the couple of hours I put into the Chrono Trigger DS port early this year, most of my "gaming time" in the last 12 months was devoted to 3DS titles.

Aside from the occasional "old" game, I mean.

Speaking of which, the titles discussed below, all of which were released before 2016 (most were released years, if not decades, before), are the ones I enjoyed the most this year.

Dragon Buster II (Famicom)--No one's ever going to call this one of the Famicom's best games. Hell, only a handful of folks are likely to call it one of the system's many overlooked gems. Still, there's no denying it's an intriguing title that's worth exploring if you've had your fill with that 8-bit console's "classics."

Just make sure you don't go into Dragon Buster II thinking the experience is going to be on par with, say, The Legend of Zelda or Faxandu or Crystalis. This cart has nothing on that trio in pretty much any area--music, graphics or gameplay. I spent a good number of hours with it in 2016 anyway, though, because I find its stark, dungeon-crawling action strangely captivating.

You see, Dragon Buster II is one of those games that offers players very little information. You're plopped into labyrinthine stage after labyrinthine stage with no map and no direction or assistance other than "find the key that'll allow you to leave." Said key is hidden inside a random enemy, which means you have to stalk each cavernous locale until it appears.

That Dragon Buster II compels despite its barebones premise, and despite its low-rent visuals and utter lack of backing music, goes a long way toward explaining why I devoted so much time to it this past fall.

Great Greed (GameBoy)--I've been meaning to play this Namco-made RPG (known as Bitamina Oukoku Monogatari in Japan) ever since some kind soul brought it to my attention in the comments of an earlier post--or maybe it was on Twitter or Facebook?--a number of years back.

Why did I wait until 2016 to bite the bullet and give it a go? I honestly don't know, although I have a feeling I dragged my feet for a good, long while because I was turned off by Great Greed's one-on-one, Dragon Quest-esque battles.

I'm now kicking myself for being so foolish, as the enemy encounters here are both snappy--and not just because there are so few participants--and a lot of fun. On top of that, the game's soundtrack is shockingly good and its many environments are wonderfully atypical for the genre. (My favorite is an old record factory--complete with spinning disks that have to be strategically traversed.)

Admittedly, the text in the North American version is rough--to the point of being nonsensical most of the time--but even that generally adds to Great Greed's charm. Sadly, I've yet to beat the game, but I'm planning to do just that early in 2017.

Monster Manor (3DS)--My 3DS Activity Log says I've put more than 35 hours into StreetPass Mii Plaza games so far this year. Almost all of that time was spent with the Prope-made Monster Manor, I can assure you.

Although it's not a game you can play for long, all of my five- and 10-minute stints with it apparently added up over the course of the last 12 months.

Monster Manor's the only StreetPass Mii Plaza title I still return to with any regularity, by the way. (Well, other than Puzzle Swap.) Why? I love its part Tetris, part RPG gameplay, for starters. I also love its wacky assortment of guns (the weapon of choice in Monster Manor). Its colorful cast of ghoulish baddies is a plus, too.

Sigh, I'm going to be so sad if this kind of experience isn't replicated on the Nintendo Switch.

SaGa Frontier (PlayStation)--It's been years since I last played SaGa Frontier. Which is a shame, as this weird, non-linear RPG is one of my all-time favorite games. As for why I returned to it earlier this year, that would be the fault of a guy named finchiekins. He approached me a few months ago about playing SaGa Frontier concurrently, with the goal being to record a podcast about it in 2017.

Sadly, I'm nowhere close to completing my playthrough of Lute's story. Still, I'm getting a kick out of revisiting some of my favorite locations in the game, like Koorong, Manhattan and Shrike. I'm also having a blast reacquainting myself with Kenji Ito's rocking soundtrack. More than anything, though, I'm loving SaGa Frontier's mind-blowing battles, which to this day make me giddier than those found in pretty much any other RPG.

Honestly, if I could play this on my Vita, I'd probably plunk more hours into it than any other game in 2017.

Which games--old or new--did you enjoy the most this past year? Share your thoughts and feelings on them in the comments section that follows.

Monday, December 19, 2016

My favorite 3DS games of 2016 that aren't Pocket Card Jockey

A couple of days ago, I declared Game Freak's Pocket Card Jockey, the weird 3DS eShop title that bravely combines horse racing (and breeding!) with golf solitaire, my favorite game of 2016.

That endearingly odd 3DS game isn't the only one released in the last 12 months I thoroughly enjoyed, of course. Here are three others that fit the same bill:

Dragon Quest VII--Including this recently released remake of Square Enix's classic PlayStation RPG from the early 2000s probably strikes some of you as odd. After all, it's just as often annoyed me as thrilled me in the 50-plus hours I've put into it so far. (Examples of both reactions to the game can be found in this post and in this follow-up.) Still, I like its island-hopping (not to mention time-traveling) adventure more than I hate it, so I think mentioning it here is warranted. Plus, the only game I've played more in 2016 than Dragon Quest VII is Pocket Card Jockey, so it actually would be kind of weird if I ignored it in this post. I mean, you don't devote nearly 60 hours to a game that's irredeemably terrible, right?

Witch & Hero II--Although I prefer the more straightforward gameplay of the first Witch & Hero to the more convoluted gameplay of the second, that doesn't mean Witch & Hero II is a dud. On the contrary, it's sure to be a blast for anyone who enjoys retro-tinged titles that don't require a ton of time or attention. Both Witch & Hero games were inspired by the tower-defense genre, by the way, with the first title slipping players into the shoes of a knight who has to protect a petrified (as in turned to stone, not paralyzed by fear) witch, and the second one allowing players to control both adorably pixelated characters as they do their darndest to fight off swarms of similarly eye-catching baddies. (Additional musings on the sequel can be found in my "five thoughts on Witch & Hero II" write-up from March.)

Yo-Kai Watch--As has been the case with Dragon Quest VII, my mid-2016 playthrough of Yo-Kai Watch was not entirely pleasant. For the most part, though, I found myself both charmed and captivated by the latter, Pokémon-esque RPG. That's mainly due to the game's setting, yo-kai (the game's catchable characters) and battles. I grew especially fond of Yo-Kai Watch's amusingly interactive enemy encounters in the 40 or so hours I plopped into my cartridge earlier in the year--even if they did a number on my 3DS' lower screen. (For more of my thoughts on this Level-5 product, read my "three things I like and dislike about Yo-Kai Watch" post.)

Honorable mentions: The Battle Cats POP!, Final Fantasy Explorers, Kingdom's Item Shop, Return To PoploCrois: A Story Of Seasons Fairytale and Unholy Heights