Inside Pulse 11 Celebrating 11 years of pop culture

Diehard GameFAN’s 2015 Video Game Awards

So here we are, at the end of 2015, looking back on the accomplishments, good and bad, in gaming for the year. It seems, to many, that 2014 was an uneven year for gaming, with some feeling the year was a terrible letdown and others feeling it was a triumph, and it’s not hard to see why this divide exists. With this being the second full year since the debut of the current console generation, there was a lot of expectation laid onto the current consoles to deliver the strong gaming experiences we’d been promised at launch, and overall they… weren’t super successful at that. While some top-tier indie titles made their way to the consoles, most found their homes on the PC, which gave the PC platform a great edge this year over the console market for gamers, and while Sony is still clearly the leader of the pack on the console front, Nintendo has comfortably settled into the pattern of releasing its own games to drive sales that it used on the Wii, and Microsoft has spent the year changing everything, from making the Kinect non-mandatory to announcing backwards compatibility to the Xbox 360, in hopes of driving sales up. The handheld side of the equation was equally awkward for both companies involved, as Nintendo released another new handheld in the New 3DS, featuring a right analog nub, a larger screen, and the ability to play even more technically advanced handheld games, while still working with original 3DS games, which is good, because New 3DS application adoption has (so far) been about nil. Sony, meanwhile, has all but given up on the Vita and Playstation TV, between not actively having a hand in developing any games for the platform since Freedom Wars last year and dropping the price of the PS TV to an absurd level while more or less ignoring its existence, while third parties have continued to push RPG’s, platformers, rhythm games and visual novels out onto the system to the point where it’s become something of a bastion for releases that would probably fizzle out on the console front.

On the release front, while some games, like Fallout 4 and The Witcher III came out and blew the doors off of gaming for the year, exclusives were a mixed bag; Halo 5 and Bloodborne were mostly successful, but The Order 1886 was a flop, and Rise of the Tomb Raider is only “exclusive” for a little longer before it launches on Steam. Those looking at big console and handheld releases were also likely frustrated by a not insignificant of remakes and re-releases (Gears of War, Resident Evil, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask) and releases that were either not what they were promised to be (Mad Max, Just Cause 3) or not great for one specific segment of the populace (Batman: Arkham Knight). However, for those looking toward the independent gaming movement, there was an absolute plethora of amazing games to pick from; games like Downwell, Her Story, Dropsy, Undertale, Axiom Verge and Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime were all over the place this year, and this year more than any other showed a trend toward indie development becoming a driving force in the gaming industry over AAA games.

When choosing our games to award this year, our thought process going in considers a few major points when doling out awards. Due to time and reviewer constraints, we’ve allowed some winners that were not reviewed this year (unlike prior years), so as to represent the field a bit more evenly. Further, while we love remade versions of our favorite games as much as the next person, remakes generally aren’t considered for “major” awards, as a category should be able to stand on its original releases, no matter how amazing a remake is. Like all awards, there are those that will most likely agree with us, those that will most likely disagree with us, and those that will display an amazing lack of maturity and respect for opinions other than their own. With that in mind, please remember that these are awards from the Diehard GameFAN staff. We discussed what were the best possible choices, and in the end, these are the games that won. This is in no way shape or form saying that our opinions or picks are better than the list you have in your head… but this is our site, this is our list, and these games will go down as the official winners. We do hope that reading this makes you want to go out and try the award-winners you have yet to play. With that in mind, we present to you what we at Diehard GameFAN feel are the best games of 2015.



BEST SONY CONSOLE EXCLUSIVE GAME

Bloodborne

Sony and From Software’s Bloodborne has got Soul. The collaboration is a spiritual successor to the Souls series, and while it changes things up just a little, it keeps the DNA intact. The game is faster and relies more on ranged combat instead of shield bashing, but you still gather the remnants of your slain enemies to empower yourself. It is not an easy task, with even the lowliest of scrubs being a challenge if you do not approach the fight wisely. It is a game that rewards patience and punishes mistakes, though rarely does it feel unfair in what it takes from you for failure. Bloodborne is not a game for everyone, far from it, but for those it clicks for there are few better experiences in video games, on Sony’s flagship console or elsewhere.

– Steven Kess


BEST SONY PORTABLE EXCLUSIVE GAME

Steins;Gate

Despite the multiple re-ports over in Japan, this is the first time the US has seen a Steins;Gate release on a handheld system. It shows that visual novels really belong on the Vita. Steins;Gate is very easy to navigate and play but don’t let the simplicity fool you. What makes this visual novel so unique is the phone trigger feature. Most text based games just require you to make a choice during some part of the story, either via dialogue or making the character perform an action. As the main protagonist, a self-proclaimed mad scientist named Rintaro Okabe, you use his cellphone to make decisions by answering or ignoring texts (just like real life! But damn how old is your cellphone Rintaro?!). Depending on your choices, he will ultimately change his fate and in turn, the fate of everyone else. So… no pressure.

This game can easily span over dozens of hours and while it may be just reading, it’s still quite engaging with beautiful music, character art, and an amazing cast of Japanese voice actors who bring this world to life. The character cast is small enough that you get to know everyone and how they fit into Rintaro’s life, either good or bad. Behind all the complex discussions of time travel, world chaos, and the general serious shit that Rintaro is part of, the game throws in some humor and culture references to keep things lighthearted when needed. If you are a fan of anime or visual novels and you haven’t had a change to play Steins;Gate yet, give it a go. This is time travel you don’t expect. El Psy Kongroo.

– DTN


BEST MICROSOFT CONSOLE EXCLUSIVE GAME

Rise of the Tomb Raider

It’s been an interesting year for exclusives in general and Microsoft exclusives specifically, as the company has ramped up its internal production quite a bit and started relying on third parties less, especially since paying for timed exclusivity is probably more expensive than its worth. That said, in this case it turned out to be a winning strategy, as Rise of the Tomb Raider is one of the very best games to appear on the console, and while it’ll only be exclusive for a little while longer, it’s a good way to draw eyes to the system when the game is so high quality. While the story’s a bit silly in places, the game looks and sounds exactly how a current generation game should, and it’s full of impressive setpieces and visual marvels that really make the game world shine. Not only that, but it also takes the core mechanics that worked so well the first time and cleans up the parts that didn’t, making the game feel as strong, structurally, as the first game while fixing the things that didn’t and adding in new tools and concepts to keep it feeling fresh. As such, even if Microsoft doesn’t aim to pull in any more big name timed releases, the big player they did land was worth the investment, as Rise of the Tomb Raider is a damn fine piece of work from top to bottom, and it’s easily the best exclusive release on the console in 2015.

– Mark B.


BEST PC EXCLUSIVE GAME

Pillars of Eternity

A lot of us here at Diehard GameFAN have a love-hate relationship with Obsidian. We love the stories they tell, but hate the bugs. They’ve gotten a lot better over the years. South Park: The Stick of Truth was relatively unblemished and Dungeon Siege III never gave me any pause. Truly the greatest game Obsidian has given us though, is this year’s “PC Game of the Year” award winner: Pillars of Eternity. Pillars of Eternity is a tribute, homage and update to the golden age of PC RPGs aka the 1990s. Do you miss your Fallout games having a fixed isometic viewpoint? Pillars of Eternity has it. Do you miss the “real time with pause tactical gameplay” that combines the best of turn based, action and tactical RPG gameplay? Pillars of Eternity has it. Do you miss the glory days of D&D RPGs like Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale? Pillars of Eternity is pretty much that. Even without the license, it’s closer to a true RPG/DND experience than games like Sword Coast Legends or that terrible Freemium Angry Birds style game we won’t mention by name. Do you like extremely in-depth stories, where every companion or NPC has a detailed background? Where you can spend close to a hundred hours just EXPLORING the world without worrying about sidequests or the core story? You can do that in Pillars of Eternity. Do you miss being able to completely customize a single character, but an ENTIRE PARTY of characters, from their fantasy race to their character class? You can do that in Pillars of Eternity. Hell, you can completely customize your entire PARTY because there are so many hireable/obtainable companions that you can drastically change the way the game plays based on your team makeup. There are so many great things about Pillars of Eternity that most games have forgotten to include in RPGs. There are a metric ton of sidequests in the game and very few are what we call “fetch quests.” Those side quests actually have long-term effects on your game’s world and you’ll start to see your protagonists reputation and story shaped by all the actions you take. The story is a fantastic one, focusing on the philosophy of what a soul is and how one affects the body it inhabits. In some ways, the focus on what reincarnation can be reminds me of Planescape: Torment, a game often cited as one of, if not the best, CRPG ever made.

Pillars of Eternity is the game most RPG fans have wanted for years. It’s the type of game we kept whining about wanting on message boards or in blog articles. It’s the type of game we older crankier gamers fondly remembered and longes to have again. It’s the type of game that caused roughly 74 THOUSAND of us to unite and raise four million dollars for its existence on Kickstarter. Pillars of Eternity had a huge amount of hype to live up to as well as a lot of backers who did not want to be let down ala some other Kickstarter snafus. Thankfully Pillars of Eternity didn’t just meet those expectations -they surpassed them. Pillars of Eternity is one of the best games to come out in many years, holding true to everything people love about the best RPGs of all time, while still standing out from the pack on its own right. It’s the perfect blend of old and new and its impossible not to love this thing.

– Alex Lucard


BEST NINTENDO CONSOLE EXCLUSIVE GAME

Xenoblade Chronicles X

It’s been a light year for Wii U releases, but Xenoblade Chronicles X makes up for it in sheer scope. It’s like if you took all of the time you would have invested playing your Wii U in 2015 and invested all in one game. Taking place on a strange planet, the game tasks you with exploring every corner of it both on foot and in giant mechs called Skells. In doing so, you encounter alien races who would prefer to see humans wiped from existence and thus a fight for survival ensues.

The combat system is an advanced form of the one seen in its Wii predecessor, and works out very well here with players force to swap between ranged and melee weapons on the fly. Your main character is fully customizable, including gender, plus you can decorate your pad as you see fit. The wildlife you encounter on your travels are massive and you will be seeing plenty of them if you hope to complete the hundreds of quests the game has in store for you. Really, if you’re looking for a Japanese RPG with a western philosophy, this is your one stop shop.

– Sean Madson


BEST NINTENDO PORTABLE EXCLUSIVE GAME

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate

Monster Hunter games have always had a steep learning curve and tendency to be time sinks, so it might not always mesh well with everyone. For those who do get the allure, it’s easy to pour in many hours into taking down that monster that’s been a wall or trying to get that last rare part needed for an upgrade (curse you, desire sensor!). Donning parts of a monster that has been giving you a hard time (and sometimes beating them with weapons made from parts of their breathen) is a nice visible measure of progress. It introduced two new weapons types, one of which has become my new main weapon. A new mechanic, mounting, was added and while some might find it overused I like taking advantage of it (it probably helps that one of my main weapons makes it easy). It also has built-in multiplayer (earning it our Best Multiplayer award), something that was missing from the 3DS version of MH3U. Add in a bunch of free DLC and you have a game with almost infinite replayability.

– Aileen Coe


BEST MULTI-CONSOLE GAME

Fallout 4

In previous years, it’s been hard to nominate the Fallout games for this award. It’s mainly because Bethesda has had a hard time getting the game to work properly across all platforms. Generally Sony systems have received the short end of the stick while the PC versions have gotten tons of mod support and faster, better patches due to the red tape that comes with updating console games. This year however, Bethesda seems to have finally worked out how to properly make a multi-platform game without obviously favoring one system over the other. Whether you played Fallout 4 on the PS4, Xbox One or the PC, the game played smoother than any Bethesda game that came before it. Remember how Fallout 3 seems to freeze every 15 minutes after your save file became a few MB in size? All that’s gone. Compared to any other Bethesda game, Fallout 4 is about as bug-free as it gets. Best of all, for the first time ever, console gamers are going to get the chance to use and even make some mods for a Fallout game. Sure, they’ll be getting them in 2016 rather than right now like PC gamers, but the ability to mod a RPG on a console is a HUGE deal and it’s great that Fallout 4 is leading the way in this. Fallout 4 played incredibly well right out of the box, its patches have been timely compared to most AAA titles and they have improved the little bugs in the game. Add in one of the biggest open worlds in video game history, a fun story, a fantastic location and some wonderful visuals all connecting by a highly enjoyable soundtrack and you have a game that was a joy to experience regardless of your system preference.

– Alex Lucard



BEST SPORTS GAME

Out of the Park Baseball ’16

In 2001 I was living in Sacramento, California, attending law school and adjusting to life away from all my family and friends. The first few months were nothing but studying and learning my environment. Well, those endeavors and playing Out of the Park Baseball 3. You see, my Detroit Tigers were awful, terrible and not fun to watch. They were in the midst of their nearly two decades of baseball irrelevancy. They were two years away from one of the worst seasons in baseball history (spared having the worst record ever by a miracle series at home).

Needless to say, baseball wasn’t very much fun for me, but I still loved it. The way I indulged in that love was through Out of the Park Baseball. With Out of the Park Baseball (from here out abbreviate to OOTP), I could build whole baseball universes – entire worlds where baseball was the major attraction or alternate Earths were baseball was the one true sport (well, it is to me) and have teams from all over the world compete in a baseball league. You could also recreate historical seasons to see if the Pacific Coast League could survive as an actual third Major League or have the Federal League actually take off. The ways of arranging the game allowed for quite a bit of freedom.

Fast forward to OOTP 16. Out of the Park Productions now has the Major League Baseball license and has created their best effort yet. From financial models that include former type A and B free agents, qualifying offers, the reserve clause. A way to add minor leagues and competing international leagues to your baseball world. Advanced baseball metrics easily readable on each player’s bio. Facegen technology giving your players a visual to match their numbers. The ability to use the included climate data for areas or to add more info – I could go on but the layers of depth added to how the game simulates things has taken a long, but fast, road to be as inclusive as possible (though there are still no lady players without some finagling but hopefully we’ll see that soon enough).

The thing is – that’s not what keeps bringing me back year in and year out. OOTP 16, like its siblings, keeps me hooked because you begin to connect with the game. Your version of Magglio Ordonez leads his 2006 Tigers to a World Series. Your 1994 Montreal Expos save baseball in Quebec right alongside the 1994 Mariners with 62 home run hitter, league MVP Ken Griffey, Jr. – which helps assure stadium funding for the M’s a year before our time line. You can smile seeing Tony Gwynn hitting .400.

Or you can create your own baseball world filled with fictional teams and players. At first they may be just numbers, but when that fifth round draft pick you have been nurturing in the minors becomes an All-Star, you get attached. You may take the reins as a GM, enjoying the robust financial system as well as all the financial data and development reports or you could just like tactically managing a game – deciding when to squeeze or double steal. Thing is, it’ll grab you and you’ll find yourself smiling or, if you let yourself go, fist pumping when you finally get over that hump and win a championship or throw a perfect game. You may wistfully think back to players of your made up franchise’s past, those important pieces that may not be Hall of Famers but were beloved and important. OOTP 16 added better Hall of Fame presentation and a way to retire player numbers for teams. So you can look and see those ghosts of yesteryear, long after they’ve hung up their spikes.

OOTP 16 allows you to bring leagues and worlds from earlier editions – so your league that you’ve carried over for 14 years keeps on living (yes, I have a fictional league that has ten real life years under its belt and about 100 or so years of game time). Even if you’re not a baseball fanatic, OOTP can offer you a simulation experience that is unlike any other. The fact it was started by one man and remains a tiny operation is amazing.

I am trying to keep this brief, as I could go on for hours about what I feel for the series. I’ve played many games; many, many games. The OOTP franchise is really one of the only ones I can name that has such a high bar and consistently finds a way to improve. The game knows its audience, knows how to please them, and wants to share the love of the subject matter. Markus Heinsohn, a German man who by the fortune of a friend bringing back a bat and glove from Miami, ended up finding a love of the sport of baseball. The dividend that other baseball management fans gained is that he set out to create a baseball management game he liked – and that’s what he did.

OOTP 16 doesn’t always get much spotlight; it’s a niche title. However, this may be changing and OOTP 16 shows just why the series is so well loved. It improves on its precedessor but keeps what was enjoyed beforehand as well. This is no yearly roster update. This is what a sports franchise should look like – one that gives much more than it takes from its fans.

– Dave Olivera


BEST FIGHTING GAME

Mortal Kombat X

MK9 was the fancy reboot that brought a dying franchise back into greatness. MKX couldn’t simply throw a new coat of paint on that game and garner nearly the same sort of praise. Thankfully, Netherrealm Studios realized this and evolved the series in a number of positive ways.

Firstly, the roster was made up of equal parts classic characters and new ones. Many of those classics saw tweaks to their character to represent the passage of time. For example, Sonya Blade moved up to a commanding role, which let her shine as someone who could lead instead of just as someone who could follow. The new cast, for the most part, was pretty awesome. They represented a philosophical change for the series in that we saw an incredibly diverse cast. I’m not even talking just about skin tones either. Body shapes, sizes, and fighting styles were fundamentally different here, yet still meshed will with the old. Ferra/Tor is probably the best example, as they worked as a combined unit that had a number of interesting special attacks and combos.

That’s not all. Perhaps the most interesting change for this game was the inclusion of three different fighting styles for each character. I’m not talking about the awkward days when you would press a button to switch from a martial art to a weapon. Instead, you would pick a fighting style when you selected your character. Most moves would carry over between styles, but there were specials, combos, and even brutalities unique to each. This made it easier to pick a favorite character, as they likely had at least one style that matched you preferred play style.

Finally, the game added some unique online offerings to keep players coming back for more. There were daily quests, special towers that reset at various timed intervals, and clans that rewarded you for helping out your fellow members. This revolving door of unique content gave the game legs long after players cleared the story mode and fought a few online battles.

For all of the above reasons (not to mention the gameplay is still kickass), MKX is the clear choice for fighting game of the year.

– Aaron Sirois


BEST ACTION ROLE-PLAYING GAME

Fallout 4

Although some detractors might call Fallout 4 a first person shooter with minimal RPG elements, those people would be incorrect. For me, Fallout 4 was very similar to those classic real time first person RPGs put out by SSI. A lot of what I loved about those games can be found in Fallout 4 but modern graphics, voice acting, and more options. As well, in some ways, it’s very similar to another classic PC RPG, Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines. Both games had less “role-playing” options than their predecessors, but were incredibly rich in terms of story, well developed NPCs and exploration. As a person who has worked in both the tabletop and video game RPG industries, Fallout 4 reminds me of so many classic games in terms of execution. The Fighting Fantasy games in terms of being a mostly one-on-one straight forward story with the occasional decision or branching path. The old 8-bit and 16-bit RPGs where you played for the story you watched unfold around you (and often times the gameplay to boot). Fallout 4 steps away from the usual Bethesda Western RPG clichés the company helped to create, but it embraces the best bits of other RPGs. It keeps the ambience, mood and setting from the previous Fallout games, while being the first truly action based game in the series since Brotherhood of Steel. Sure I’m more of a tactical/SRPG gamer and that fact VATS merely slowed time down instead of stopping things altogether took some time to get used to, but once I did, I had no problems with the gameplay at all. Fallout 4 embraced everything I enjoy about FPS titles while jettisoning everything I hate. At the same time, it kept everything that was truly important about the Fallout series, while utterly changing the gameplay. THis isn’t a bad thing people. If you want a post-apocalyptic isometric RPG, there’s always Wasteland 2 and Underrail. If you want a more pure FPS style experience, you can sit down with the Borderlands series. Only Fallout 4 gives you that perfect Hybrid of RPG and FPS. Sure some things are lost like specific options based on your character stats, but new things are opened up as well. Look at the sheer amount of character customization options in this game! The fact it never truly ends. That there is no level cap. That you can play for hundreds of hours and still find new things to do, monsters to eviscerate and items to create. With an interesting story, fantastic characters to meet and the least amount of bugs I’ve ever seen in a Western RPG in the post Sir-Tech/SSI era (doubly shocking since this is a Bethesda game after all). It’s hard to think of anything Fallout 4 truly does that is wrong. Most of the complaints when I first started playing were simply because I had preconceived notions from the previous six Fallout games. Once I started viewing the game on its own as a stand-alone piece, it easily became my favorite game of the year and even now, after having put 125 hours into the game, I feel like I should be going back and doing more with it. I’ve gone through Fallout 4 withdrawal basically.

Look – it’s very exceedingly rare when a AAA game actually lives up to the hype and marketing blitz that accompanies it. Fallout 4 is one of those games. Every aspect about it is incredibly fun, it’s about as bug free as a Western RPG is these days and it’s extremely hard to stop playing. No other action RPG even remotely came close to challenging Fallout 4 this year. If you somehow haven’t played it yet, it’s time to see why.

– Alex Lucard


BEST TURN BASED ROLE-PLAYING GAME

Pillars of Eternity

Turn Based RPG grow harder to appreciate every year. Combat generally consists of picking your attack from a menu and then watching one of your characters (often limited to three or four characters ta the max) taking a few steps, swinging a weapon and then stepping back. Repeat for 40 hours and you have a game. It’s those turn based games that do something different with the combat that stand out from the pack, especially in 2015 when RPG MAKER titles litter the digital countryside. Pillars of Eternity is one of those games and by far the best of the pack this year. Pillars of Eternity is party-based real-time-with-pause tactical gameplay. That’s the official definition. What it means outside of gaming jargon is that you have a larger playable party than in most turn based RPGs coupled with combat similar to games like Grandia. You actually get to position your characters like a tactical/strategic RPG, then watch them move and perform their actions. It’s a much more immersive experience and its so much more satisfying that your usual turn based RPG combat. The real time parts means after you make your choices, everyone goes into action at the same time, including enemies. So you get a little bit of the best of RTS games like Total War. The end result is a truly fantastic combat experience in a genre that often times fall short of enjoyable. Add in an amazing character customization system and a top-notch story and you have a game that is terrific in every way possible.

– Alex Lucard


BEST STRATEGY ROLE-PLAYING GAME

Lost Dimension

Who knew combining a tactical RPG with the old board game Mastermind would work out so well?

That’s pretty much the premise of Lost Dimension. You control a group of thirteen gifted soldiers as they ascend a tower in order to defeat a madman known as The End. However, there are traitors in the midst. At the end of each floor, you have to vote for who you think the traitor is. Whoever gets the most votes isn’t simply booted off the island. They’re erased. On top of that, the game will in fact continue if you vote the wrong person. That means you could find your entire party turning against you in the final battle. This made it imperative not only to make sure you voted for the right person, but that everyone else did so as well. It was such a cool mechanic.

However, the game is pretty darn interesting in just it’s more traditional mechanics to boot. It eschewed the typical grid based movement system in favor of open area conflict. Think something like Valkyria Chronicles. Also, each character had a unique power such as telekinesis, pyrokinesis, or even just super strength. When characters were erased, some of their power remained, allowing you to slot in abilities to character that otherwise wouldn’t have them. This allowed for some truly unique character builds, and was incredibly fun to experiment with. It also gave the game fantastic replay value, especially since the traitors changed with each play through.

Basically, the game is pretty darn awesome.

– Aaron Sirois


BEST FIRST PERSON GAME

Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide

Tackling a straight up Warhammer game and not doing it based off the tactical battles that makes the tabletop game endure takes some guts. Making it a first person game seems like it’d be even crazier. Making that work, making it feel like Warhammer, and then adding some decent matchmaking along with some RPG elements along with a crazy ride of a story and getting all the pieces to work just right is even harder, but Fatshark pulled it off. Vermintide‘s tale of one part of the end of the world for Warhammer weaves an interesting and fun game around the Skaven invasion of Ubersreik with several character classes to choose from, a brutal and fast combat set-up that’s reminiscent of Left 4 Dead but still manages to be its own thing. Add on to that a surprisingly good looking game and you’re on to something.

Vermintide also manages to make it engaging for players who’ve never stepped foot near a Warhammer gaming table. The Skaven invasion is over-whelming but still somewhat manageable if the players work together through each mission. Along with that, they’ve managed to throw in some great party banter between the characters who couldn’t be more different from one another. One of the better pick up and go titles I’d played this year, Vermintide manages to get you in and out of a session quickly and doesn’t leave you hanging for a match for long.

– Ashe Collins


BEST TRADITIONAL SHOOTER

Supercharged Robot Vulkaiser

Traditional Shoot ‘Em Ups are one of the oldest genres in video gaming. Space Invaders, River Raid and Ozma Wars have been around about as long as Pac-Man and Pong, so it’s understandable that by 2015, many of the releases in this genre have started to ape each other and blend together. Sure there are occasional standouts like Gradius V and practically every shooter Treasure has ever put out, but most of the shoot ’em ups these days get lost in the shuffle, especially since they are so easy to make compared to other titles and Steam is flooded with them. Every so often though, a game in this genre rises to the occasion and you can’t help but notice it because it’s quirky and turns the genre a bit on its head. Best of all, the entire experience is fantastic and you find yourself struggling to put the game down. For 2015, that shoot ’em up was Supercharged Robot VULKAISER.

Supercharged Robot VULKAISER is a wonderful send up of 70s anime and live action Kaiju shows. You’ll see references to everything from Gatchaman to Manzinger Z in this game. The graphics capture the look, feel and mode of these 70s shows perfectly and you can’t help but love what the dev team was going for, even if you find the actual shows Supercharged Robot VULKAISER based itself off to be cheesy and out of date. The whole point of Supercharged Robot VULKAISER is to be cheesy after all, and it does a wonderful job of it.

Best of all, the game is extremely fun. Because of the different ways you can customize your VULKAISER, the game can play radically different. You’ll also get different level end story bits depending on who you merged with. There are multiple difficulty levels so you can play for just the story or really challenge yourself. Supercharged Robot VULKAISER is one of those rare traditional shooters where the story progression actually exists and is as fun as the game is to play. Every second I spent with Supercharged Robot VULKAISER plastered a big grin to my face and it was one of the most fun experiences I had with a video game in 2015. By all means, if you like anime, shooters, or games that are designed to make you laugh as well as challenge your hand-to-eye coordination, there are few games out there you’ll enjoy more than Supercharged Robot VULKAISER.

– Alex Lucard


BEST ACTION GAME

Dragon Quest Heroes

Combine the slow party and turn-based gameplay of the Dragon Quest franchise along with the fast and frenetic Dynasty Warriors series and you should have a pretty good idea of how Dragon Quest Heroes turned out. You pick a team of four fighters out of a selection of several that have been pulled from other Dragon Quest games and then rush out to the battlefield to lay waste to hundreds of familiar DQ staples like slimes, dragons and golems. Each character has a unique fighting style and a talent tree full of abilities that bring something new to the party. It doesn’t hurt that the combat feels incredibly satisfying, such that repeat visits to the various maps don’t feel like a slog.

The presentation also screams Dragon Quest, as the familiar art of Akira Toriyama is ever present, plus much of the soundtrack is pulled from other entries of the DQ series. Really, the only thing missing is co-op play which will be coming in the next entry anyway (so long as it too sees localization). If you’re a fan of either DQ or DW it’s an experience worth checking out.

– Sean Madson


BEST ADVENTURE GAME

City Quest

In an age where some of the better selling titles in the genre are games that are less exploration and problem solving and more of the ‘choose your own adventure thought your choices don’t really matter’ variety it’s great to play a game like City Quest that has the nostalgic feel of older adventure titles, along with the humor many of those titles had, while also managing to streamline the interface in a way that is more user friendly. It’s rare for a game to manage to feel both nostalgic and fresh at the same time, which is why when people keep asking me what game I liked the most this year it remains at the top of my mind. Well that and when I asked my wife what the best game I played was she immediately said ‘City Quest, duh.’.

Aside from that the game features not just one but 4 different story lines that are all fun in different and depraved ways. In City Quest you can be a bum, lady of the night, a mobster and dirties of all, a politician. You can lick everything. I ate a baby as one of my first couple of acts in the game. While others games have come and gone this year, the music, humor and all out fun I had while playing City Quest remains fresh in my brain.

– Matt Yaeger


BEST RE-MAKE/RE-RELEASE

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was always a fan favorite for those who liked darker Legend of Zelda storylines, and with the success of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, it made sense that we would eventually see this game made. Nintendo did not disappoint, either. The game aged well in general, but benefited from the updated graphics and a few gameplay changes. The result is a smoother, even better experience, and one worthy of a spot in this year’s awards.

– Crystal Steltenpohl


BEST PLATFORMER

Mario Maker

Super Mario Maker is like the song that never ends; as long as there are people out there using the easy, intuitive tools to create new levels, it can go on and on my friends. While there are a good handful of levels preinstalled, the real legs come from the joy of discovery. When you hop online you can search the creations of other players, and people have been busy. You can find levels that hold true the spirit of the Mario games, levels that literally play themselves, and you can find nightmarish landscapes that require near perfection and a keen mind to solve. The creativity of the users has been staggering to this point. Even better is that Nintendo has provided fantastic post release support, adding to the game with new design elements, making things more robust and giving level designs a chance to come up with new challenges. None of this would matter if the platforming didn’t live up to the task; but this is 2D Super Mario, the hoppin’ and boppin’ is exquisite, as you’d expect. The game is even a blast to watch others play with a lot of videos on the internet of people designing or playing some truly fiendish courses. Super Mario Maker is a joy and could have legs for a very long time, it just depends on the creativity of the community, and so far they have been up to the task.

– Steven Kess


BEST HORROR GAME

Until Dawn

Until Dawn is not a great game. It might not even be a good one. It suffers from a generic and predictable plot, a lack of interactivity, and it offers far less replayability than it first suggests. However, it’s still a damn good horror game. Confused? I’ll explain.

UD puts you in the shoes of the typical group of young adults in the typical horror setup. That means, when the bad guy shows up, you get to choose whether to run or try and stay and fight. Instead of simply yelling at the screen, all of the bad moves are yours, and there are generally consequences to those actions. Every “hero” in the game can live or die depending on what you’ve chosen, even if some are harder to kill. That’s just nifty, and makes for a unique experience for each player.

Going in blind is definitely the best way to play the game. You don’t know which actions are right and which are wrong. Seemingly insignificant decisions will play out with large consequences later on in some regards. A fight with a character in one scene can mean death in another. Reacting too quickly to a prompt can leave you just as dead as not reacting fast enough. It’s incredibly absorbing as you try your hardest to keep everyone alive. Even Emily.

Sure, the game doesn’t hold up past that first play through. Sure, it probably isn’t worth the asking price. It’s the kind of game that you’ll only play once. However, that first time allows you to live out a slasher flick in a way that no game has offered before. It’s well worth going through, and incredibly fun to talk about. That allows it to sneak away with this award.

– Aaron Sirois


BEST ALL-AGES GAME

Undertale

Undertale is another game that manages to be somehow retro and fresh at the same time. With a weird art style and more heart than anything else out there it manages to be one of the best video game experiences of 2015. The game managed to make me laugh out loud just in sheer joy about every ten minutes. You can play the game completely non-violently and there’s nothing about it that can’t be enjoyed whether you are an adult or a child. It’s easy to pick up and play, though the shoot-em-up style of turn based combat might be more difficult for some younger players. This is a game where you can think your way through most encounters and interact with the monsters in a non-violent way, and does it so well that you sort of think about how games where violence is the only answer are kind of lazy by comparison.

I’ve heard the game described as delightful, genre-defying, memorable, clever, innovative, fantastic, and heartfelt. I’ve never heard it described as boring. This is a game that takes your expectations and completely messes with them, even when you know it’s going to do so it still manages to surprised and impress. It’s one of those things can only exist as a video game and shows why the medium in general is such a unique form of entertainment. Play it.

– Matt Yaeger


BEST RHYTHM GAME

Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX

At last Miku has finally made her debut on the 3DS! In Nendoroid style no less. Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX introduces the Vocaloid gang with a new style of 3D chibi character models, which are based off of a type of toy figurine called Nendoroids. And they are super adorable! There are forty-eight tracks total to play and even more if you want to count the songs that let you switch the vocals. You are also allowed to change the costume of the main Vocaloid before you start a song or use the 3DS coins to pay for play options to help you out during a song. Each song is around three minutes, as the music video plays on the top screen, a ring will appear which scrolls along a track. On the track will be circles you need to hit and you tap along using the bottom screen or press a button. The more accurate you hit, the better the score. The timer on the bottom screen also serves as a life bar so if you run out of health, you fail the song. Completing songs earn you MP which you then use to purchase costumes, snacks, and decorations for Miku and her friends.

If you just need a break from scratching your 3DS screen to an oblivion, you can hang out with the Vocaloids themselves. Like in the Project DIVA titles, you can play minigames to gain more MP, feed them, or design their rooms. One of the minigames in the Hangout mode is Othello, the other is Puyo Puyo 39! which can be played along against several Vocaloid in a row or with others via Local Play. Puyo Puyo 39! is like Tetris, you have to up four of the same color Puyo, it’s a bubble like slime with eyes… I guess, to clear the screen as groups of Puyo fall down. The more of the screen you clear, your opponent will be hit with random non-colored Puyo. I can’t speak much for that minigame because I suck at it (surprise, said no one).

For those new to the Vocaloid franchise, Project Mirai DX is an excellent game to start with but also a fine challenge for those who want to be ended by button smashing or willing to try the stylus mode. It’s cute, colorful, and just nice to watch if you want to watch the music videos. With all the various collectibles and different difficulty levels to unlock this game can keep you busy for quite some time.

– DTN


BEST DIGITAL/DOWNLOADABLE GAME

Mercenaries Saga 2

Mercenaries Saga 2 is one of those rare games where we a) never got the first game in a series in the US, b) costs under five dollars and c) is pretty amazing from beginning to end. While it is only twenty hours long (half the length of most SRPGS), you not only get your money’s worth out of the game easily, the gameplay, story and graphics make you feel like you’ve ripped off poor Circle because you picked this game up for next to nothing. Best of all, the game is an obvious Ogre Tactics tribute from beginning to end. The visuals, the character classes and even some story bits make you feel like this was a Quest created title, which is about as big a compliment as you can give to a SRPG game.

Mercenaries Saga 2 really doesn’t have any mercenaries. It’s a group of warriors loyal to a price who get caught up in a huge political upheaval and then behind the scenes machinations which lead you to believe you’re watched late 90s WCW because there are face/heel turns constantly and you never know who to trust or what will happen next. In the end, it is safe to say that like in the real world, there’s no such thing as a good politician and Mercenaries Saga 2 really drives this point home. By the time you’re done with the game you’ll have received an excellent story and you’ll have felt like you finished a full length tactical RPG. Best of all, once you’re done there is a New Game+ option, ensuring you can go back and try different character classes, decisions and teammates. It’s hard to think any other SRPGS for the 3DS that are this good and for this low a price. The demo is free, so you can try that and let yourself see why so many DHGF staffers really enjoyed this game. It’s hard to think of a purely digital release in 2015 that gave you this much bang for your buck. If you’re remotely interested in grid-based RPGs, tactical combat and a story reminiscent of The Knight of Lodis or Final Fantasy Tactics, you owe it to yourself AND your 3DS to download this game ASAP.

– Alex Lucard


BEST MULTIPLAYER GAME

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate

Taking down a gigantic, powerful monster alone in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is satisfying, but doing so with a group is even better (not to mention it can make part grinding go faster). While the in-game communication is lacking (only an on-screen keyboard in the lobby and preset shoutouts during hunts), if you can get a bunch of friends on Skype or Steam or somewhere else, it’s loads of fun. I know I certainly kept coming back due to a friend who’d hop on with me. I even braved the murky waters of playing with randoms when I really wanted to grind for certain gear, and while playing with people you know is still more enjoyable,I was pleasantly surprised. Of course, it does depend on who you get matched up with, and I stuck with just hosting my own rooms, but I did meet some people who were pleasant to hunt with (one stuck around until I got all the parts I needed for an armor set I was working on at the time, which was really cool). It’s dangerous to hunt alone, take (up to) three fellow hunters with you.

– Aileen Coe


BEST PUZZLE GAME

Pokemon Shuffle

Nintendo surprised and worried a lot of people by releasing a few free-to-play Pokémon games this year. Pokémon Shuffle was the strongest of these games, providing an easy way for people to waste time on their 3DSes and smartphones. While you can make in-game purchases, and some have spent money that way, the game is friendly enough that it’s not remotely close to a requirement. With several game modes and an ever-changing lineup of special levels, Pokémon Shuffle kept several staff members’ attention. Gotta catch ’em all, indeed.




– Crystal Steltenpohl


BEST DLC

Bloodborne: The Old Hunters

At the beginning of the year, on playing Bloodborne, three of the major things I lamented about the game at that point were the dearth of weapons and gear afforded to players at the time, the general lack of overall content provided in the game proper, and the limitations imposed on playstyle relative to the Souls series that Bloodborne was clearly spun off from. Well, leave it to From Software to basically correct all of that in a single DLC package, The Old Hunters, in such a way that makes it almost a must-have for anyone who loved the game but found themselves wanting more from the experience. The game adds in a treasure trove of additional content, including several new zones to explore, five new bosses to put down for good, and a metric ton of challenge thanks to the new enemies and their powerful attacks and patterns. There’s also a ton of new gear to find, including several new armor sets and sixteen new weapons to utilize, including some truly crazy concepts (the Whirligig Saw, AKA the Pizza Cutter), weapons that make an Arcane Build much more interesting than ever before (the Kos Parasite) and even the Moonlight Greatsword, continuing the King’s Field tradition once again. Few developers can release content that can potentially make an entire game feel fresh and new again, but From has managed it with The Old Hunters, and it’s easily a must-have for anyone who still owns and loves the game as a result.

– Mark B.



WORST GAMING EVENT OF THE YEAR

Konami. Just, Konami.

At the beginning of 2015, Konami seemed like they were getting ready to rocket back up to the top of the world. They definitively had a top-shelf, can’t-miss prospect debuting this year in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, they had one of the most hotly anticipated titles (and a reinvigoration of a once hot franchise), Silent Hills on the docket, they’d just released Suikoden II onto PSN to a wave of positive press, and they still had Pro Evolution Soccer and Yu-Gi-Oh in hand, so things were definitely looking bright for the company. The company had been a hot publisher, years earlier, with games like Dance Dance Revolution and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night inspiring the creation of entire sub-genres of gaming around them, and while they’d made some questionable decisions in recent years, 2015 was looking like the year where the company could get back on the upswing and bring themselves back into the forefront of gaming so long as they managed to not screw up at all during the year.

Somehow, in the span of a single calendar year, they managed to screw that up so badly that an entire unflattering hashtag was invented to proclaim it.

Where does one begin when discussing the failures of the company during the calendar year? You could start with Tak Fujii and Koji Igarashi leaving the company (though both left in 2014), costing them two of their most public, and experienced, staff members. You could highlight Igarashi announcing a Kickstarter for his own take on the Metroidvania genre he’d created, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, which was funded within hours, thus proving that Konami hadn’t been entirely correct to drop that particular genre from its wheelhouse. You could point to the dissolution of Silent Hills that was revealed by members of the project before Konami themselves, or even the fact that Konami somehow had a survival horror game with Guillermo del Toro, Norman Reedus, Hideo Kojima AND Junji Ito involved in it AND THEY CANCELLED IT for some God awful reason. There’s also the horror stories that have been coming out of the company this year, regarding working conditions, treatment by senior management and others that would be horrifying for any company to have written about them. You could even point to the sad, depressing saga with Kojima himself, featuring the company more or less lying about his employment status for months, shuttering Kojima Productions silently, and blocking Kojima from attending The Game Awards 2015, an act that host Geoff Keighley called out publicly which not only got the company more heat than X-Pac, but also caused the aforementioned hashtag to explode on social media for hours after the fact. This year has been so bad for Konami that Wikipedia editors had to add a “Criticism and Controversy” section to the company’s article, which it had apparently never had before, because the only two entries in it both happened in 2015. Oh, and there’s the Castlevania and Silent Hill pachinko machines, the former of which is so utterly embarrassing (EROTIC VIOLENCE) that it’s become a massive joke amongst some sections of the gaming community.

In reality, it’s never fun to watch a company you grew up with and loved go down this fast and this hard, but when people in the industry are flat-out saying that contacting Konami is the most wasted, useless thing you can say you’ve done, it’s not hard to see how the company has gotten to where it is. Konami is, entering into 2016, a company with three major franchises no one is doing anything with, a large handful of fan favorite franchises no one is doing anything with, and the only thing on the docket being a soccer series that, good or not, is the only thing they have up their sleeve at this point. Two of their most prominent employees have gone on to high-profile projects in the wake of leaving the company, their reputation has been extensively tarnished in a single calendar year, and at the end of the day, it’s just a sad state of affairs for a company who’s made so many important and impressive games to end 2015 in such a state. There’s still a chance to make it right, but given Konami’s current model of aiming toward the mobile and pachinko markets over anything else (though they’ve denied leaving console development behind entirely, in much the same way they denied Kojima had left the company), they may simply not care to do so, and more’s the pity.

– Mark B.


CHARACTER OF THE YEAR

Dropsy

Say whatever you like about Dropsy, but there’s a reason he’s such a compelling character, and it is this: regardless of what you think of him based on the accompanying image, regardless of how you feel about clowns, and regardless of how you feel about the idea of a clown named after a slang term for Edema who looks like he’s suffering from said disease, by the end of the game, chances are high you’ll love him, because everyone I’ve shown the game to has, and I’ve shown it to a lot of people. Don’t get me wrong, I completely get how someone could be turned off by Dropsy; he’s a lumpy, squishy clown with three teeth who looks like a child’s nightmares made manifest, and really, American Horror Story JUST had a season featuring Twisty the Clown, on top of all of the other normal clown phobias people have already. On the other hand though, Dropsy as a character, divorced from his appearance, is one of the most adorable, respectful characters in gaming, as weird as that sounds. His entire core motivation in the game, outside of the point-to-point main goals in the storyline, is that he just wants people to like him, and he goes out of his way to do good things to help people just so that they’ll think he’s a good guy (though to be fair, they think he’s a murderous pyromaniac, so really anything would be an improvement). He’s a clown who just wants to be liked, and he thinks hugs are the greatest thing ever to the point that he actively celebrates getting them, even when they’re from a garden gnome or a tree, but he’s also the kind of character who’ll work hard to get them, because he respects that some people don’t want to be hugged. Dropsy is a goofy, adorable stand-up guy, in other words, and in 2015, he was the character with the most personality to spare, by a lot, which earned him this award handily.

– Mark B.


BEST STORY

The Fruit of Grisaia

Generally speaking, visual novels are focused on telling their story above and beyond anything else, so (in theory) you’re going to see the most complex stories from them (if nothing else), but even with that conceit, The Fruit of Grisaia manages to excel such that it not only features one of the best stories in its genre, but also tells one of the best stories in a game to come out this year. I probably don’t even need to explain that observation, honestly; the game was a fairly big deal in Japan, convinced a whole lot of people to fund its translation on Kickstarter, and even managed to justify its conversion into an anime series, so it has more than proven itself regardless of anything I can say about it. For those who haven’t played it, though, you really should, as it’s unlike most every game of its type on the market. The characters are complex and dynamic, and the game puts a great deal of effort into developing their personalities as a group and the world they live in without getting too bogged down in minutiae or overly complex concepts. The narrative also segments itself well, giving the player both an extended comedic character building introduction and single character focused stories that are dramatic, interesting and powerful, even amongst the few that perhaps outstay their welcome. I can remember more about the characters and the world of The Fruit of Grisaia than I can any other game this year fondly, both because of the likable and realized characters and because of how engaging the story surrounding those characters was, and if that’s not a sign of a winning story, I don’t know what is.

– Mark B.


BEST GRAPHICS

Bloodborne

Bloodborne’s impressive visual stem not from raw horsepower, but rather from inspired designs from twisted minds. The game just oozes with dark personality; the world is incredible with its huge, gothic cathedrals to its deep, dank, dungeons. What really stands out though is creature design. The brains that come up with these ideas cannot be healthy. The bosses run the gamut from large deformed beasts, to small and gnarled forms. From the Vicar Amelia to the Darkbeast Paarl and all points in between, rarely will you find such lurid horrors living is such a well-defined, tenebrous world.

– Steven Kess


BEST AUDIO

Persona 4: Dancing All Night

It’s easy to prattle on for hours about what songs should have been in Persona 4: Dancing All Night but weren’t. I’ve been there. It’s also easy to get despondent at the fact that Rise’s voice actress changed. I’ve been there too. However, it’s impossible to deny the quality of this game’s soundtrack. I even had to stop writing this a second to put it on in the background.

P4D combines several classic Persona 4 tracks with remixes of other to create a catchy and fun dance mix. Stand outs include remixes of “Best Friends,” “Signs of Love,” and “Pursuing My True Self,” although the latter is represented by three different versions, so it kind of cheated. Even if you don’t like them all, you will like most. The biggest complaint that any of us had was that we simply wanted MORE.

Whether you played the English version or the Japanese version (or both, in my case), the voice acting was more than up to par. Even with the change to Rise, it was like coming home again after an extended break. I’ll just never get sick of them. Normally, characters chatting during a tough rhythm game is an absolute no no. This time, however, you just won’t be able to bring yourself to turn them off.

The scratching noises the game makes when you flick the stick is pretty nifty too. When something so minor is deserving of praise, you know the game packs an aural punch.

– Aaron Sirois


BEST GAMEPLAY

Splatoon

With games like Gears of War spawning many sequels and clones, it’s easy to think that third-person shooters are creatively bankrupt. Yet, along comes Splatoon to not only to prove that notion wrong, but also opens it up so that everyone can enjoy it and not just adults. Featuring paint instead of bullets, the game challenges you to cover the entirely landscape with ink before your opponents do. The Inklings are also capable of morphing between the forms of a kid and a squid to suit their purposes, as same colored ink allows you to swim quickly to your destination.

Splatoon also makes good use of the gamepad. A map is displayed that shows how ink is dispersed thus far in the match and you can use it to warp to your comrades to lend assistance. Your performance earns you experience which in turn leads to new equipment such as paint rollers and ink bombs to make victory even easier. And amiibo compatibility means a whole slew of new challenges in addition to the already existing single player content if you need a break from painting strangers online. Who knew that such an addicting online competitive experience could come from Nintendo?

– Sean Madson


SYSTEM OF THE YEAR

PC

Let’s face it: the PC had a pretty great year. Sure, there were some really bad ports that somehow saw the light of day (looking at you, Batman: Arkham Knight), but the release of great games like The Fruit of Grisaia, Dropsy, Pillars of Eternity, and others made up for that. Additionally, we saw the release of Steam Link, which, in Robert’s words, is an “impressive little device that does a pretty good job of streaming your Steam collection to any TV in your house.” Between these two factors and the fact that there were very few console exclusives that the staff as a whole felt were “must haves,” the PC was a clear choice for this year’s System of the Year award.

– Crystal Steltenpohl


GAME OF THE YEAR

Fallout 4

Normally, in a calendar year, an extensive number of games come out that actively feel like they are the “best” games released, such that it’s hard to really sit down and figure out which game truly deserves the title of Game of the Year at any given point. This year, though, for many of us it was an odd case where there were one or two horses we were backing all year, but none of them merited high enthusiasm for anyone until Fallout 4 came around. I’ll be the first to admit I wasn’t enthused for the game when it was announced, or for most of this year, but somewhere toward the end of the year I ended up getting on board with the game, and I’m not even a little bit disappointed. It’s fair to not be thrilled with the game due to its complete lack of adherence to the mechanics of the original, but while the original games are masterpieces, the modern Fallout games have their own special charm that makes them enjoyable in their own right, and in a lot of respects, Fallout 4 does a lot to make itself an experience that’s great for playing, if not roleplaying.

It’s not hard to pinpoint what the game does that makes it so endearing, either; it takes the mechanics of the Bethesda framework, expands them in new and interesting ways, and gives you an experience that’s truly engaging from beginning to end. The game world is dynamic and vibrant, and you’ll find that a lot of the joy in the game comes from just wandering around and trying to find whatever you can in the hulked out ruins of Boston. Want to find that cannery that’s making everyone sick? Just walk there! Want to find Cheers (or a reasonable facsimile)? It’s there for you if you want to look for it. Want to wander around the city and see how much things have changed post-war? Go nuts. Honestly, the most fun I’ve had with the game personally has come from just doing whatever struck my fancy and seeing what happened, whether it was wandering into the dead center of a nuclear fallout zone, following a runaway hippie robot across half the game world, or even wandering into an entire town run by Mister Handy robots while trying to complete something completely different. It doesn’t hurt that the game has also improved the combat a good bit, allowing the V.A.T.S. system to exist in sync with normal gunplay such that action and tactical planning can come together into a useful and well-designed combat system.

In the end, while there weren’t a large amount of games that we could hold up proudly as pinnacles of the gaming experience this year, there were a few, and each of those games would’ve deserved the award had they taken it, so no matter what your chosen favorite game was this year, rest assured it was probably deserving of it. Ultimately, though, Fallout 4 ended up being that game here at Diehard GameFAN for the year of 2015, and it’s a win that’s well-deserved.

– Mark B.