Sunday, December 22, 2019

My favorite games of 2019 that aren't The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince or Lapis x Labyrinth

I may have declared Lapis x Labyrinth and The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince my favorite games of 2019, but that doesn't mean they're the only games I enjoyed this past year.

In fact, here are seven titles I also had a blast playing at some point in the past 12 months.

Dandy Dungeon (PC, Switch)--I named another Onion Games joint, the brilliantly bleak shmup, Black Bird, one of my favorite games of last year. I nearly did the same this year with the company's Dandy Dungeon. What stopped me? The main reason is that I failed to finish it--or, rather, that I walked away from it at one point and never returned to it.

Although I can tell you exactly why I dropped it (I went on vacation and didn't take my Switch), I can't tell you why I didn't pick it up again. Maybe it did the unthinkable and became too repetitive? I say that's unthinkable because I usually don't mind a bit of repetition in games. I mean, you're talking to a guy who happily spends hours grinding in pretty much every RPG he plays--even when it's not needed. But there's a forced grind to this one that perhaps wore on me a tad.

Still, I was full-on obsessed with Dandy Dungeon during the 22 hours I'd put into it before that point, as this post proves. Its gameplay loop, which adroitly combines dungeon-crawling and loot-gathering with time-sensitive puzzle-solving, is both exhilarating and amusing. Actually, amusing describes several other elements of Dandy Dungeon, too, including its graphics, soundtrack, and story. Wait, remind me why I'm not playing this brilliant game right this second?

Heroland (PC, PS4, Switch)--I'm still working my way through this one, an odd, mobile-game-esque RPG made by folks who previously worked on Fantasy Life, Magical Vacation, and Mother 3, but I've spent enough time with it (about 12 hours now) to know I like it a great deal.

My first impressions of Heroland weren't favorable, as the opening hour or two were filled with blather and early battles veered far too close to they-play-themselves territory for my liking. Both areas of complaint improved by leaps and bounds as I continued to plug away at the game, I'm happy to report. Especially the fights.

In case you haven't heard, you don't directly control your parties in Heroland. Instead, you guide them--by periodically giving orders either to the whole group or to an individual member. It's kind of a bummer at the start, but their tactical nature eventually makes itself obvious, and that's when my opinion of this FuRyu product turned toward the positive for good.

Helping matters along tremendously: the game's earworm-enducing soundtrack and appealingly unique look.

Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn (3DS)--I'm fully aware that both the original Kirby’s Epic Yarn and this barely enhanced 3DS port have their fair share of detractors. For me, though, they're the video game equivalent of comfort food. They're what I turn to when I want to relax, or when I'm longing for the "good old days."

The accessibly enjoyable gameplay of these titles is a big reason for that, of course, but their cozy graphics and whimsical soundtracks play major roles, too. I guess that's why I gobbled up Extra Epic Yarn when it came out this past spring, and it's also why I'm now naming it one of my favorite games of 2019.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (3DS, mobile, PS4, Switch)--I wish I could tell you why I waited until the release of Gyakuten Saiban 123: Naruhodo Selection (that's the Japanese title of the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy) to finally play my first Ace Attorney game. Whatever the case may be, I'm glad I got my act together and went through the long-running series' opening entry earlier this year.

Its brilliantly crafted characters and story as well as its eclectic soundtrack were the clear standouts for me, but I liked pretty much every other component of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, too. OK, so Capcom could've done a better job on the revamped visuals. And the game stumped me on several occasions. Neither of those things dampened my enjoyment of this visual novel, though. Hopefully they also won't keep me from digging its follow-ups when I tackle them in 2020.

Romancing SaGa 3 (mobile, PC, PS4, Switch, Vita, Xbox One)--There was a time not so long ago that I thought Romancing SaGa 3 might squeeze its way into the running for full-on favorite game of 2019. In the end, I put it here instead.

As for what prompted me to consider it a GOTY contender, that would be its tastefully updated graphics, its appropriately epic soundtrack, and its open-ended, quest-focused design. I also had a blast with its battles--or at least I did at first. The different formations, the odd party members, and especially the "sparking" of new abilities thrilled me for a good while, but at some point Romancing SaGa 3's fights lost a bit of their luster. I think it's because they happen a smidge too frequently (despite not being random, technically) and because the aforementioned sparking doesn't happen frequently enough.

Don't worry, I'm not giving up on it despite that disappointing turn of events. I'll definitely return to my playthrough, currently at the 26-hour mark, sometime next year.

Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe (GameBoy Color)--I may have stubbornly avoided giving this homebrew GameBoy game a go until several months after its initial, non-deluxe release, but once I broke the seal in that regard I quickly made up for lost time.

If you haven't read any of my other write-ups or interviews related to this Tangram Games-developed title, it's a glorious mix of Nintendo's Balloon Kid and Ferry Halim’s Winterbells, if that makes any sense whatsoever. The same can be said of Tobu Tobu Girl Deluxe, which came out in late October. It's basically a colorized and otherwise slightly tweaked version of the original, though it also tosses in a new infinite mode for good measure.

If I had my way, I'd be ably to play both iterations of Tobu Tobu Girl on my Switch (or even my trusty 3DS), but since that's unlikely to happen in an official capacity, I'll keep plugging away at it on my hacked Wii. It's not the optimal solution for me, but the alternative--not playing this classic-in-the-making at all--is just not an option.

World of Final Fantasy Maxima (PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One)--I started through this enhanced version of World of Final Fantasy early in the year with fairly low expectations. Though I'd heard good things about the original release from folks whose opinions I respect, I couldn't help but think it wasn't going to be my cup of tea. Without mincing words, the non-chibi character designs horrified me and the battles--featuring party members with captured enemies stacked perilously on their noggins--baffled me.

Well, neither of those niggles bothered me at all after I spent a couple hours with the game. Which isn't to suggest World of Final Fantasy Maxima is without issues, mind you. In fact, I've found it strangely rough around the edges for a Square Enix product so far.

Still, Maxima's many charms--including the baffling battles I mentioned a few sentences ago, curiously enough--have outweighed its handful of blemishes to this point (my playthrough is hovering at 26 hours), so I'm hopeful that will continue when I circle back to it in the new year.

See also: 'My favorite games of 2018 that aren't Black Bird or Sushi Striker'

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