Thursday, December 26, 2019

My favorite games of 2019 that weren't actually released in 2019

Although the number of old games I play often competes with the number of new games I play in any given year, I'm pretty sure the scales tipped in favor of the former in 2019.

As such, I thought I should write up a post about my favorite games of the last year that, you know, weren't actually released during the last year.

A Witch’s Tale (DS)--Truth be told, I bought this Nippon Ichi-made RPG simply because I liked how it looked. I'd heard the rest of it wasn't very good, though, so dragged my feet on playing it. Now that I've not only started but finished it, I'm here to say all the folks who suggested I'd hate A Witch's Tale were wrong. It's no Mother or Undertale or, um, Bravely Default, as you might expect, but I still found it both fun and unique. Regarding the latter, A Witch's Tale is completely touch-based--you don't use your system's directional pad or buttons for anything. Also, there's no overworld to explore here. Instead, you jump between a small hub town and six larger areas that sport curious themes. Oh, and you fill your party with an assortment of odd-looking dolls rather than with other humans, which I found to be a particularly interesting change of pace.

Cave Noire (GameBoy)--Although I've played this Japan-only GameBoy game before, none of those experiences lasted more than an hour at most. I'm not sure why that is, as I usually love roguelikes. At any rate, I stuck with it quite a while longer than that this year. My thoughts on the four or so hours I devoted to Cave Noire in 2019? I adored them. They allowed me to discover just how much it differs from your typical example of the genre. For starters, the dungeons you explore here are delightfully bite-sized and perfect for brief bouts of gaming. Also, conquering them requires you to meet various goals, like collecting a certain amount of money or saving a specific number of caged fairies. Speaking of which, I have yet to beat all of Cave Noire's challenges, but I hope to do so in 2020--with the game's exceptional soundtrack egging me on all the way.

Crimson Shroud (3DS)--If I were to tag a theme to my last year with video games, it'd be something like "playing games I stupidly ignored in the past." Actually, though, I haven't ignored Crimson Shroud. In fact, I bought it upon release--only to play it in fits and spurts until earlier this year. Once again, I'm not sure why I failed to stick with it up to now. Its dice-centric battles, inspired by tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons, are right up my alley. As are Crimson Shroud's gritty aesthetic and cinematic soundtrack. Some of its late-game tussles grated on my nerves, I have to admit, but they barely put a dent in my enjoyment of this novel adventure.

Ever Oasis (3DS)--Unless something drastic happens between now and midnight on Jan. 1, this GREZZO-developed RPG will end up second among my most-played games of 2019. That's pretty cool, and surprising, considering I bought Ever Oasis expecting it to disappoint me (at least a bit). Obviously it didn't. Although it wasn't as Secret of Mana-esque as I was told it would be, I thought its real-time battles were even better than those of Squaresoft's 16-bit classic. I also appreciated Ever Oasis' enormous selection of whimsical weapons--its humungous hammers shaped like cacti and pinecones and other odd objects, in particular. The main complaint I can aim at this 3DS cart: its town-building component wore out its welcome well in advance of the finish line.

Final Fantasy Tactics A2 (DS)--Despite the fact that I love the original Final Fantasy Tactics dearly, I've never played its portable spinoffs. Or I hadn't played them before I stubbornly set out to beat Final Fantasy Tactics A2 this summer. Over 65 hours later, I met that objective--and then promptly returned the cartridge to its blue-sleeved case. Did I do so happily, or grouchily? It's hard to say. Only one aspect of A2 made me grouchy, but it was a doozy: the final battle. I loved pretty much everything else about it, though--from the graphics, to the music, to the focus on quests over story. Speaking of that last point, I know a lot of people wish Final Fantasy Tactics A2 had a better story. I'm not one of them. Most RPG stories are bloated, boring messes, in my opinion, so I'm fine with the one in Final Fantasy Tactics A2 doing the bare minimum to move things along.

Ghost Trick (DS)--I feel like I've said this a lot over the last few weeks, but I have a bad habit of avoiding games that garner too much hype from the masses. Capcom's Ghost Trick is but one example of a title that's met this sad fate. My loss, right? I'd certainly say so after playing through it on a tear this autumn. I had no idea the core gameplay in Ghost Trick was so ... puzzle game-ish. That alone increased my interest in it tenfold, though I found its art style, animation, dialogue, and music more than a tad captivating, too. I guess what I'm trying to say here is that, while it took me a while to play Ghost Trick for the first time, it won't take me quite so long to play it a second or even third time.

Last Window: The Secret of Cape West (DS)--I loved Hotel Dusk: Room 215 when I played through it a number of years ago. I expected to play through this follow-up shortly after, but you know how it often goes with best-laid plans. Oh, well, all that matters is I finally tackled it. And that I enjoyed nearly every minute of my time with Last Window. I especially liked that the setting was so different from that of Hotel Dusk. I'm unable to say the same about the new cast of characters, but you can't have everything, right? At least Last Window's soundtrack lived up to my sky-high expectations after the brilliant Hotel Dusk OST knocked me off my feet.

See also: my favorite games of 2019 and, uh, my other favorite games of 2019, too

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'