Diehard GameFAN 2014 Year in Review Staff Commentaries

So here we are, a few days before the end of 2014. As usual, several of the Diehard GameFAN staff have sat down and written up their own personal “Top Ten Games of the Year” list. This gives you, the reader, a chance to see each of our own specific tastes and preferences. It also lets us touch on our own personal favorites that might not have earned a 2014 Gaming Award Nomination, due to only having been played by a few individuals, or perhaps they were the only one that actually liked it. Join us as we look back at the best of 2014, be they highly marketed games from large corporations or smaller easily missed independent excellence.

Aaron Sirois’ Top Ten
Staff Writer

1.) Dangan Ronpa 1/2 (Vita)
2.) Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F 2nd (Vita)
3.) Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft (PC)
4.) Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth (3DS)
5.) Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney (3DS)
6.) The Fall (PC)
7.) Kirby: Triple Deluxe (3DS)
8.) Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Remix (PS3)
9.) Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS (3DS)
10.) Destiny (PS3)

This year I grabbed both a Vita and a 3DS, and rarely was I without one or the other. Sure, I played the odd game or two on my trusty old PS3 or on my spiffy new laptop, but it was the handhelds that managed to absorb my time more than anything. Being able to take top shelf gaming with you to the bathroom is always a plus. While more games on this list are from the 3DS, I have to say I love my Vita just a bit more. You’d have to add my top four or five most played 3DS games in order to reach the time I have on my most played Vita game. I could have easily put Dangan Ronpa 1 and 2 in the top two spots, but I chose not to in order to include more stuff. I also decided against including the first Project Diva game, even though it only reached the Vita this year. I was being nice to other games. People say that Sony’s little handheld is a wash, but I beg to differ.

We here at DHGF have spent no small amount of time complaining about and/or bashing Destiny. That includes me. So why does it make my top ten? It’s because, for a time, it was all I wanted to play. Look, for all its oddities and problems, the gunplay in the game is simply fun. Once I found a clan to play with, the social aspects of the game started clicking and I ended up having more fun with an FPS than I have in a couple of years. Sure, the expansion made me hate it to the point where I don’t want to look at it anymore, but for a time, I loved this game. It would be an great injustice to that ever so brief time to not at least give the game some credit in my year end thoughts. It would have been higher if not for the expansion though.

Confession time: I’m not that big a fan of Super Smash Bros. In many ways, the franchise represents everything that is wrong with Nintendo. The fact that they’re still asking people to pay for a Gamecube controller adapter proves as much. However, the game is still a lot of fun. It’s hard to deny the satisfaction of using Little Mac to punch the Duck Hunt dog out of the ring. I had the most fun simply putting everything on random. With the dozens of characters in the game, each battle was different, and I even learned that I kind of liked the Wii Fit Trainer once I got to know her. I still think the box art looks fake though.

I barely even had time to play KH2.5, but it made the list. That’s because the time I did spend with it reminded me of how awesome both KH2 and BBS are. I have them both now in HD on one disc. It’s like heaven. It’s the two best games in one of my favorite franchises in one package. I’m not even mad that my pre-order copy didn’t come with the promised Disney pin anymore, because at least I have this collection.

Oh Kirby, is there anything you can’t do? The little pink puffball starred in one of his best ever games this year, and he made the 3D tech look better than ever. It’s a shame more people don’t realize how freaking great this series is. I had kind of put a moratorium on buying new 3DS games before this came out. The price of the games is always a bit tough to swallow for a game I know will be oh so like the previous games in the franchise. I’m looking at you, Mario. Kirby, however, continues to prove he can evolve to perfectly fit whatever platform he’s on. Kudos little dude.

Each year, there is at least one game I don’t see coming that takes my breath away. This year, it was The Fall. Combining side scrolling platforming with cover based shooting and devious puzzles, this kickstarted game was well worth the price of admission. I became completely engrossed with the game, to the point where my only complaint is that it wasn’t longer. I can’t wait for the next part to come out. I have a feeling it too will make my top ten someday.

laytonvwright2We kick off my top five with a game I knew was going to be great from the minute it was announced. Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney blended two of my favorite DS franchises into one fantastic story. It may not have broken the mold in terms of what a crossover could be, but the game was all heart. It even managed to get me to like Luke a little bit. I devoured the twenty plus hour game in a matter of a weekend, and still found myself wishing for more. Though at times it looked like the game was never going to be brought over to the states, it was well worth the wait.

I caved hard. I told myself that the Persona series just wasn’t my cup of tea. I wouldn’t like the anime characters, I wouldn’t like the dungeon crawling aspects, and I just didn’t have the sheer amount of time needed to properly sink into these games. Thanks to Mark, however, I ended up falling in love with Persona 4. When I bought my Vita, P4G was the only game I bought. Once that was devoured (twice), I turned my attention to Persona Q. Despite being a mish-mash of things I hate, I love the game to pieces. I found myself dutifully drawing my map and checking every square inch of every floor. I don’t know how this happened. I assume Mark is a Sith lord or something.

I’ve always loved Warcraft. My hatred for MMOs is the only reason I haven’t played WoW to death. Hearthstone gave me a chance to immerse myself in the lore while playing a wickedly good card game. Needless to say, I threw my money at it with abandon. While I love your more typical TCGs, the RNG that Hearthstone uses creates some of the craziest combos I’ve ever seen. When you pull something off, you just feel damned good about. There’s nothing like throwing down a card and watching your opponent concede immediately in defeat. I avoid this game at times for fear it will envelop my soul.

So I thought there was no way a sequel could make me love it as much as I love the first Project Diva. That game made my top ten last year, and I even bought the Vita version when it came over earlier this year. This is despite the fact that the game was digital only and I HATE that. I loved PDF 1 so much I nearly bought both versions of PDF 2 just because. It turns out not doing so may have been a mistake. Thanks to some tweaks and a steeper curve, PDF 2 is even more addicting than the first game! I thought it wasn’t at first, but then I just kept coming back to it. The game has inhabited my Vita uninterrupted for over a month now. I just can’t see myself putting something else in it’s place. I may only play for ten minutes here or twenty minutes there, but that time is quickly adding up. I can’t wait for the next game.

My top spot has to go to the pair of Dangan Ronpa games that hit the Vita this year. One alone might not have topped the list, but both together? It’s just too much awesome to deny. If you twisted my arm, I would probably say the second game is my favorite. I think the first game was more novel and had more interesting characters towards the end, but no game affected me on an emotional level this year as DR2. I’ve played lots of detective games, but none of them has ever made me feel bad about figuring out who the killer was before. Both of these games became an obsession. I earned the platinum trophy for both in about a week each, with some small breaks to sleep and/or go to work. If there had been any regret in my decision to purchase a Vita, these games removed it completely.

Ashe Collins’ Top Ten
Staff Writer

1.) Velocity 2X (PS4/Vita)
2.) Shadowrun Dragonfall Director’s Cut (PC)
3.) Dragon Age Inquisition (PS4)
4.) Wolf Among Us (PC)
5.) Walking Dead Season Two (PC)
6.) Another Star (PC)
7.) Samurai Warriors 4 (PS4)
8.) Secrets of Rætikon (PC)
9.) Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms (PC)
10.) Destiny (PS4)

This year saw some major upheaval in my game playing time. I changed shifts and hours so many times I can’t give you an accurate count. I got saddled with a bunch of weekends I wasn’t anticipating, and my tabletop gaming actually took a rather pleasant upswing, which ate into my video game playing time… but game time is game time. That meant less time to play this year, so I was pickier about what I bought and had to volunteer for fewer review copies. I did end up getting a PS4 before my work’s busy season set in, so I managed to play a few of these on my new system along with my older standbys, the trusty laptop, the Vita and my PS3. There were a few games released this year that didn’t place in my top ten, either because I haven’t gotten enough play time or because I’ve played the others more. Madden NFL 15 surprised the hell out of me. Figuring it’d be a pretty roster update for the PS4 I held off on it. I like that stats seem to actually matter, and they went in trying to teach people how to actually play the game, which is fantastic. I’ve only gotten a few hours with it here and there, so I can’t say how well it holds up long term, and I’ve seen some gameplay bugs in it that bug the crap out of me. Pokemon Omega Ruby would make the list if it was an original title. They took out options I really liked in X/Y for character customization to make it more like its namesake, though, and that bugged me right off the bat. It is still fun and I’m getting back into it to try and catch up to my wife at least a little bit, but that’s going to be awhile. Lastly was the PS3 title that shocked the hell out of me, Witch and the Hundred Knight. It’s a great action RPG and a lot of fun, and I’ll definitely be going back to it. So what was my top ten?

Let’s start with Bungie’s first foray into a multi-console release with Destiny at number ten. The gameplay is pretty much the only reason I keep going back to this one, along with running with a bunch of friends from work when our schedules mesh up. The game really isn’t nearly as much fun on your own, and the lackluster story doesn’t help matters with that, especially when you have to look up a bunch of the lore outside of the game. I did play the hell out of this though for a long while when I first got it, and it was the first must have for my new PS4. I have stopped playing it though, because I picked up my number three, but more on that later.

After I scratched that first-person shooter itch the demo for Destiny created, I had a serious need for RPGs this year. Enter my pick for number nine, Shadows: Heretic Kingdoms on the PC. While people may have referred to this as a Diablo clone, and it does have a few similarities in controls, that’s where they end. They put in some great mechanics in character swapping and changed up the story line depending on which of three main characters you picked at the start. It’s a great visual isometric action RPG with more coming to it next year. Good stuff.

Paper games are starting to make the rounds, and I found myself really enjoying the platforming and side-scrolling action in Secrets of Rætikon for the PC. They did some neat things with puzzles, trying to get around different map obstacles, fighting off other animals, all while trying to stay afloat as you played a bird solving a mystery. There was a lot to like here.

My number seven I happened upon by accident. I hadn’t really played any of the games in the series or its side series at all, but Samurai Warriors 4 for the PS4 sucked me in, in a big way. Being able to play through the various story sections so they told more personal stories set in this fictionalized period of history in Japan was a nice touch, as it made it feel a bit more personal while retaining that epic battle feel. Also, the character creator and being able to make your own history was a nice touch that has had me coming back to keep trying to get my own creation up to the same level as the main characters.

The next one is a little more personal, as I know the guy who created it through Twitter of all things. That doesn’t mean this doesn’t deserve to but on my list; it so very much does, and the fact it’s not yet greenlit on Steam is a travesty. Another Star is a brilliant throwback PC RPG done in the visual style of the NES days. Done up as a minimalist creation, he managed to create a well built RPG that has some neat effects, an engaging storyline and a kick ass soundtrack. The characters are fun, it has enough tweaks to the formula to fit more in with other modern RPGs and there’s a great filter to make it look like you’re playing on an old TV instead of your HD computer monitor just for fun. You really need to get Another Star. So very much worth every penny if you’re into old school RPGs but want a little bit of modern flair to it.

This leads me to my number five, the Walking Dead Season Two, which would have ranked higher if it hadn’t gotten so set in railroading players in several episodes before opening it up again. They did do a really decent job of making us believe in a pre-teen girl, namely Clementine, surviving in this world almost on her own as the adults around her really couldn’t hold it together. The story fits with the comics well, it just needed a little more of that in there and less of the TV show. They did give us a great villain this season, along with the group conflicts that always seem to arise at the end of the world.

The other big one for me from Telltale (no I haven’t gotten around to Game of Thrones or Tales from the Borderlands yet) is my number four, The Wolf Among Us. Bigby won me over with his charm, but Snow, Beauty, Toad and the rest of the cast of characters sucked me into the world of the Fables. It’s a great adaptation from what I’d seen of the comics and works as a prequel to them. While some of the story has a few moments where I was scratching my head, it flowed a bit better and kept up that illusion of cause and effect that got side-lined with Walking Dead Season Two.

My last three choices were very hard to rate. They might even be re-ordered with me still feeling satisfied with it, but here we go.

My number three this year is the third big entry into the Dragon Age series, Dragon Age: Inquisition. BioWare took the fan input from the last game, re-fitted the game engine used in Battlefield 4 to make an excellent action RPG third person engine out of it, threw in some great cutsenes, open world elements, a sprawling and engaging story, a huge cast of characters that never feel irrelevant to what’s going on, and restored a lot of faith in the Dragon Age series all over again. While I still have some misgivings over the multiplayer being too much like the system I hated with Mass Effect 3, there’s enough different to get me involved in the weekend events and keep me coming back to it while I hop back over to play through my various single player characters. This is one of those RPGs I’ll be playing for a long while, just like the Mass Effect series, which is more my speed. I’m loving every minute of this, and glad I got it on PS4 as it looks great on my big TV as opposed to my laptop PC.

My last RPG on the list is one that made me fall in love with cyberpunk all over again with its initial release last year. This one came out as an expansion which had an even better storyline than the game it was an expansion for. Well, then Harebrained Schemes decided that just an expansion wasn’t enough and went and turned that expansion into its own standalone release titled Shadowrun: Dragonfall Director’s Cut. Offering up several improvements over the base game, they went and topped that off by expanding the Dragonfall story options, added in side story content, several new areas, and really brought the Berlin setting to life all over again. While I loved the expansion, the stand-alone release of Dragonfall made it even better and got me contemplating picking up my own copy of the tabletop RPG, or at the very least diving into those creation tools for the game to make my own storyline to share. Definitely a worthy successor to the original console versions of Shadowrun, but more importantly, a great recent addition to bring the world to life as an RPG instead of a shooter.

The last entry on my list shouldn’t come as a surprise if you follow me on Twitter. I loved this game and how it played. They went and included everything they put into the first game, then not only added to it, but slapped in another genre so seamlessly that it felt like the two belonged together anyway. That game launched this year as a PS Plus title on both the Vita and the PS4, and Futurlab did an amazing job with it. Velocity 2X is my number one on my list. It’s a great scrolling shooter, bringing in the portal mechanics from the first game, throwing in a few monkey-wrenches towards the end of the game, and then on top of that, combining a seamless transition over to a side-scrolling platformer with great shooting mechanics and incorporating the portal mechanics of the ship to give the levels some interesting puzzles to move through. The whole game is fast paced, challenging and more importantly a blast. One of the other bigger changes is in how the story is told. Far more involved than before, we get to know our pilot a lot more, and not only that, but she has a great sense of humor to go along with that kick ass attitude.

Sean Madson’s Top Ten
Staff Writer

1) Super Smash Bros. For Wii U (Wii U)
2) Bravely Default (3DS)
3) Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call (3DS)
4) Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)
5) Hyrule Warriors (Wii U)
6) DanganRonpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (Vita)
7) Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth (3DS)
8) Dark Souls II (360)
9) Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U)
10) Sunset Overdrive (XBO)

My top ten list turned out way different than I had envisioned it, mostly because much of what I thought would be on it has been pushed into next year. It’s just as well, seeing as how many of 2014’s biggest titles have launched broken, and I’d hate to see the kind of issues Assassin’s Creed Unity is suffering from spill over into games like The Witcher III. Still, there was a lot to love, especially for the Wii U, which makes the most appearances this year. This is taking into account that there are games I hadn’t gotten to, including Bayonetta 2.

As a little self-imposed rule from previous years, I’ve excluded any remakes or remasters, so you won’t find Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster on this list. Plus I limited it to one game per series (sorry DanganRonpa 2). With that out of the way, let’s start at the bottom:

I got a late start with the Xbox One this year, but the first game I got to play on the system was none other than Sunset Overdrive, and what a treat it was. Fusing a number of gameplay elements from Jet Grind Radio, Ratchet & Clank, and numerous open world/superhero games with a storyline that played out like it belonged in Borderlands, and you have a recipe for success. It wasn’t a perfect experience by any means, as it often did many of the things it mocks other games for doing, plus the multiplayer could’ve used some tweaking. But as it stands, I can think of no better introduction to the console than this.

Meanwhile, a new game from the developer Retro Studios was a nice way to start off the year in the form of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. I don’t like platformers as much as I used to, but I adore the DKC games enough to give this one a go. It is as ruthless as its Wii predecessor, but it’s still loads of fun, the level design is tight, and you can play as Cranky Kong! Having simultaneous two player co-op is also a nice bonus, even if it doesn’t necessarily make the experience a whole lot easier.

While we’re on the topic of ruthless games, Dark Souls II brings up the number eight slot. It makes a few changes to the formula that I didn’t necessarily agree with, such as being invaded even when not in human form, but the game wound up being just as fun as its predecessor. Even now, the fact that it’s so enjoyable to me is still an anomaly as the way it does things would normally push me away from games like it. I lose health each time I die? I lose all of my experience (souls) when I die? There’s huge gaps between checkpoints? What is this crap? Yet, the combat and thrill of exploration is so strong that it eclipses these things. That is powerful game design.

Since I’m already discussing things that are outside my comfort zone, allow me to bring up Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth. I’ve dabbled in dungeon crawlers, but they’ve never reached the height of being one of my favorite RPG sub-genres. Hell, I’ve never even touched the Etrian Odyssey games which this game’s formula is based upon. However, I do really enjoy the cast of the various Persona games, so I thought I’d give this one a spin. The end result is an experience that feels more like a Shin Megami Tensei game than even the later Persona games, but with a character roster more people are familiar with. It could have done more with Social Links, as the Stroll function isn’t a proper replacement, but otherwise it’s an enjoyable romp with a huge selection of characters and a catchy soundtrack. Can’t go wrong there.

I might as well have slotted both DanganRonpa games here, as they feel like one fluid experience, but if I could only pick one, it would have to be DanganRonpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. The premise about students who must kill each other to escape captivity without getting caught feels more fresh the first time around, plus the added mechanics of the sequel don’t do much (if anything) to improve upon the formula. Visual novels have been climbing my list of preferred genres for awhile, but these titles really turned me into a believer. High five to NIS America for localizing such awesome Vita games.

The Legend of Zelda and Dynasty Warriors are not two things I could’ve possibly dreamed of combining together. Yet, Hyrule Warriors does this very thing and the result is far better than I could have possibly imagined. Several iconic characters from series history are playable, such as Midna and Zelda herself, and they do battle in locales fashioned after the very games they are pulled from. Two player co-op works well with one person on the gamepad and another on the TV, plus the various modes grant a ton of activities to do. And the game gets bigger with every DLC pack that gets released. I rarely saw the value in downloadable content prior to this release, but Hyrule Warriors made me a believer.

Actually, let me revise that statement slightly. Hyrule Warriors AND Mario Kart 8 made me a believer. Both released DLC packs around the same time, though it was the latter that got me to actually pre-order downloadable content for the first time which is something that I never thought I’d ever do. But even without add-on content, MK8 makes for a competent experience. It fixes all of the things I didn’t enjoy about its Wii predecessor, such as the inability to play Grand Prix with friends, item balance, and track design. Throw in F-Zero style anti-gravity segments and you have one of the best Mario Kart games since Double Dash!! Now if only they brought back the two person kart scheme and it would be my perfect game.

Even though it’s largely the same game as it was in 2012, that doesn’t stop Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call from nearing the top of my list. The soundtrack has expanded to include not only all of the songs from the original game, but all of the DLC, plus more tracks on top of that. And while the selection is still not perfect (though short of including every single song, what would be?), it’s a fantastic look at all of the incredible music that has been featured throughout the series. The fact that spinoffs such as Tactics and Crystal Chronicles were included is icing on the cake. And let us not forget the magic words: Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, and Bravely Default DLC!

Which leads us into my number two pick, which happens to be Bravely Default. This game encompasses everything I miss about old Final Fantasy games, such as the job system and a slew of abilities that can be abused when put together in the right combinations. In fact, it’s fair to say that it’s the second coming of Final Fantasy V but with several modern tweaks, such as adjustable encounter difficulty and encounter rates. It didn’t hurt that I thoroughly enjoyed the game’s major plot twist as well. I was legitimately afraid that this would never be localized, but now that it is, I’m pumped for its sequel to make its way west as well.

Topping my list for 2014 is the highly anticipated (for me, anyway) Super Smash Bros. For Wii U which blew everything else I spent time with this year completely out of the water. It’s hard to believe it has been six years since Brawl, but in that time, they expanded the roster even more, re-balanced the characters, and made Eight Player Smash into a thing. And this is on top of more modes, more stages, more trophies, more everything. The console is still young, but this will probably go down as being one of my favorite games on the system for not only having the largest roster of characters I enjoy, but also one of the best soundtracks. This is probably the only game that could put Theatrhythm‘s offerings to shame. Oh, and it lets me use my Gamecube Wavebird controllers again. Nintendo, give Sakurai whatever he wants for the rest of his life, this game has made my year. My only disappointment is how long I will have to wait for the next one.

That’s all for my top ten games of 2014. I’m hoping that 2015 will make it even more difficult to decide what to include than it already was, though with games like Final Fantasy XV and Persona 5 on the horizon, I have no doubt that it will be.

Matt Yaeger’s Top Ten Eight
Staff Writer

1.) OlliOlli (PC)
2.) Far Cry 4 (Xbox 360)
3.) Smash Bros 3DS (3DS)
4.) EDF 2025 (Xbox 360)
5.) Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate (PS3)
6.) LocoCycle (Xbox 360)
7.) The Last Tinker: City of Color (PC)
8.) Deception IV (PS3)

Apparently I’ve been just kicking games out of my backlog. It feels like I’ve been beating games left and right, but looking back, very few of them were from this year, probably because I’ve stubbornly refused to adopt one of the newer systems until I clear some of the stacks of games I have lying around. I couldn’t even get a proper top ten, so here’s my Excellent Eight of 2014. Of my eight, several were from 2013 and either were re-releases or ultimate versions of their respective games. I feel so out of touch. While the urge to upgrade is still there, I’m still enjoying so many games from 2013 and before that I don’t see that changing anytime soon. That’s not to say anything disparaging about the games of 2014, only that video games are flooded with so many quality titles from indie to AAA that I’m taking the time to catch up with all those games I’ve wanted to play but never found the time to. In 2015 I hope to be caught up with some of the best of 2012.

Deception IV Was a new entry in a game series I assumed was dead and buried. The game challenges you to make Rube Goldberg like traps and then lead your enemies into them. For example, you can set up a banana peel for them to slip on, taking them into the path of a swinging bladed pendulum, which will rag doll them into a wall, then you can make the wall push them into a nearby cannon and shoot them into a hanging cage. Essentially Mouse Trap, but with people and spinning blades and weird fan service. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a niche I enjoy and never expected to see more of, and an entry I enjoyed.

I have love for The Last Tinker: City of Colors because the game allowed me to briefly relive the nostalgia I feel towards colorful 3D platform games, which are now few and far between. It certainly tries to do things a little differently and there are arguments abound about if the traversal system really counts as a 3D platform game, but I highly enjoyed it.

It only came out to the 360 this year, so this is kind of cheating to list LocoCycle. This was a weird game that switched between animated cutscenes and footage of real actors, about sentient vehicles and the friendships that they formed. I went in expected to hate it because I’d heard bad things about the game, but I ended up having a great time with the game. Some of the different game mechanics felt either too simple or not well thought out, but it was a goofy fun adventure that left me cracking up on several occasions.

I went into Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate expecting a button mashing game and ended up with a new respect for Musou games in general. There’s a lot going on, and there’s something just weirdly satisfying about chopping down hundreds of guys and then clashing with another general and performing a over the top special move. The game is packed with content as well.

Earth Defense Force 2025 combined some of the new ideas brought forth in Insect Armageddon and combined them with some of what works best with the previous titles. Sure, it doesn’t look that good. There are some wonky parts where you’ll get attacked through objects and other stuff, but it’s destruction on a level that you can’t find anywhere else. One of my favorite gaming moments all year was playing with Mark, Joel and Sean (not DHGF Sean), where right at the end of a hard fought level the physics went weird and a spider hit with a rocket got launched into fucking orbit.

I don’t count myself as much of a Smash Brothers fan; I like them okay enough but never got what the big deal about the series was. Yet somehow I was hooked into Smash Bros 3DS from the moment I started playing it. Sometimes handheld games feel like pared down versions of console titles, but not this one. This is a full experience with a large roster, several game modes and unlockables around every corner. Every time I play it I’m again amazed how they managed to pack in all that content onto a cart.

Even though I’m playing Far Cry 4 on arguably last gen systems, and therefore probably not getting the full experience of Kyrat that PC/Xbox One/PS4 owners are getting, it’s still one of my favorite games of the year. While playing I’m often thinking ‘Can I do this?’, like ‘Can I take over an outpost with just a grenade launcher and the gyrocopter?’. The game is just this huge playground with a lot of violent toys to play with in whatever way you choose to do so.

The best game of the year that I’ve played is the PC release of OlliOlli. The game just has a laser focused design that, once you get the hang of it, has a fantastic risk/reward loop of trying to decide what trick to do in a millisecond knowing that failure will screw up your whole run but success is such a sweet feeling. I found myself on the edge of my seat and holding my breath at the end of a difficult level trying not to miss a single input and then either swearing and immediately restarting the whole level over or wiping the sweat from my hands and shouting ‘Yes!’ when I put up a big score. The game planted its hooks deep into my brain to the point that even when my hands started to hurt I’d still do one more level, and one more after that. Nothing else I’ve played this year has inspired that sort of frenzied addictiveness.

Alex Lucard’s Top Ten

1.) Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall (PC)
2.) Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark (3DS)
3.) The Last Door: Collector’s Edition (PC)
4.) Procyon (PC)
5.) Dreamfall Chapters: Book One (PC)
6.) Neo XYX (Sega Dreamcast)
7.) South Park: The Stick of Truth (PS3)
8.) Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball (3DS)
9.) Warhammer 40,000: Armageddon (PC)
10.) Broken Sword V (Vita)

This was an odd year for me. Not reviewing games meant more time to play them. I cleared several hundred games out of my backlog built up over the twelve years writing for this site, yet I still have hundreds more to go. Thank god they’re mostly digital. I played 101 new releases in 2014, and to be honest, most of them were terrible to mediocre. Games I was really looking forward to, like Lego Batman 3, Broken Age, Thief, Shadowrun Online, Dragon Age; Inquisition, The Witch and the Hundred Knight, Costume Quest 2, the Vanishing of Ethan Carter and more just ended up disappointing me. The PS4 and Xbox One still lack titles to make me want to pick either one up (although the PS4 is getting The Order and Disgaea 5 so maybe that will change) and the Wii U was mostly relegated to Castlevania GBA ports and Hyrule Warriors… which was a gift. I’d say out of the 101 games, there were only thirty-three I really can say I enjoyed on some level. That’s not good. There are also a lot of new releases I wanted to play and didn’t get to – if you can imagine that. Fairy Fencer F, Persona Q, Moebius, Gabriel Knight 20AE, Space Hulk Ascension, and so many others there just were not time to play. So I know I missed out on some quality games in addition to the ones I played. The list below consists only of new games released in 2014 – not remakes or The Last Crown and Aria of Sorrow would be on the list. So here now is my Top Ten (of what I have played) for 2014.

I’ve always enjoyed the Broken Sword series for what it is, but I refused to take part in the Kickstarter. It was way too well established and shouldn’t have needed one. I’m glad it was successful though because the end result was a fantastic game broken up into two parts – each one the length of a regular point and click RPG. The Vita version was released in May and December of this year and each one was a joy to play through. The puzzles, the graphics and the voice acting. This is by far the best adventure game for the Vita right now, and yes… there are actually several to choose from. Even if you’re new to the Broken Sword franchise, you can play through this one without feeling like you are missing anything. Better yet, you might enjoy this one so much it tempts you to download the first four from a website like GOG.com. Broken Sword V is a classic point and click adventure game highlighting the best aspects of the genre. It’s a fun, funny and intriguing mystery and any adventure game fan worth their salt already knows this.

I’m not a big Warhammer 40K player. I prefer fantasy, but I do enjoy a good game of Space Hulk, Dawn of War and Space Marine. I also have two 40K armies for the tabletop game, but they are mainly to paint. So I was surprised how much I fell in love with Warhammer 40,000: Armageddon. This was easily one of the best turn based strategy games that I have played in years, and definitely the best 40K game I’ve ever experienced. It captures the actual feel of the tabletop game, right down to letting you customize your army however you want and oh my god are there hundreds and hundreds of choices. You can spend hours just looking at the choices you’ve unlocked and decided what you want to go with. Alas, the only thing missing were my beloved Guardians of the Covenant, but hey, they’re just a color swap for the Dark Angels anyway. With the ability to choose from an EXTENSIVE campaign mode, complete with a story and voice acting, single missions to play through and even competitive play, Armageddon has it all. If you like Panzer Corps or Advance Wars, you will absolutely love Warhammer 40K: Armageddon because it’s bigger and better in every way. Add in the fact your units can gain experience and suffer permadeath, and you have something that will appeal to SRPG fans ranging the gauntlet from Brigandine and Master of Monsters to Shining Force and Fire Emblem.

I love baseball video games, but modern versions leave me cold. The Show looks great but it has no soul. 2K’s MLB series was so reviled that it was finally discontinued. Out of the Park is great, but it’s all data management. I don’t get the feel of an actual baseball game. So these days I tend to stick to SNK’s Baseball stars and Konami’s Power Pros. Enter perhaps the oddest baseball game ever made: Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball. My god, what a breath of fresh air. The story is very funny and the actual game itself is terrific to play through. You don’t actually play a traditional game of Baseball but instead play ten different mini games similar to arcade baseball titles like RBI Baseball and Bases Loaded. You have two games devoted to hitting exercises, two to fielding, two to catching/reflexes, one to vision, one of just mini games, one for crafting your own bat and my personal favorite, one for UMPIRING. Each game then has ten different modes (five to start, five to unlock) that are very different from each other and an additional two high score challenges to unlock. It’s crazy how much content there is in this game. All of the options are extremely fun and hard to put down. They can also be quite challenging. It’s the most fun I’ve had with a baseball game in several generations of video games, and I still keep coming back to it at least once a week. It’s also worth noting that all ten games are essentially DLC. You have to purchase each choice separately, but even then you can haggle and bribe the storekeeper to give you discounts. It’s a really novel and amusing way of doing the piecemeal content. The whole game will run you $20 or so if you’re good at haggling, but honestly, it’s worth that and more. Most people will only buy half the options to get through story mode, but I have to say, I really have gotten my money’s worth out of this odd little title and then some. Even if you’re not a baseball fan, give this a try. You’ll be surprised at how terrific it actually is… even when you have a lot of weird ugly dog people running around in it.

South Park: The Stick of Truth was a surprisingly great game. Usually South Park games are TERRIBLE, yet this year we got two fine pinball games using the brand along with this excellent RPG. Obsidian has put out some stinkers like Alpha Protocol, but I really enjoyed Neverwinter Nights 2 and Dungeon Siege III. While the mechanics of The Stick of Truth were a bit unusual for an RPG, the game itself was incredibly hilarious. I laughed from beginning to end and my wife had me play it when she was exceptionally sick from the flu to cheer her up. The game was a perfect homage to the South Park TV series, with every cast member appearing in some way, shape or form. The game was a great parody of RPGs in general, had bizarre trophies and I was constantly laughing from doing things like farting on fetuses or summoning Mr. Slave while INSIDE Mr. Slave. In this day and age of role-playing games that are 80+ hours long with most of it being boring padding and grinding, South Park: The Stick of Truth made every moment worth experiencing and story-filled. I laughed so much, and it’s great to see that comedy games aren’t just for Sam & Max anymore. Seriously, The Stick of Truth is heavily discounted right now. Just go buy it already. Also, play as the Jew for your character class. You can be a fighter or wizard in other RPGs. I mean, we already control Hollywood and the Media too – why not RPGs as well? MUAHAHAHAHA!

Yes, it probably wouldn’t be a year in review for me without extolling the greatness of this year’s Sega Dreamcast releases. Yes, they still make exclusive games for the Sega Dreamcast. More than the Wii or Xbox 360, in fact. Sure they are a bit pricey, but they tend to be well worth the cost. This year we had things like Dux 1.5 and Redux: Dark Matters and next year we’re getting two RPGs in Pier Solar and Elysian Shadows, shooters like Ghost Blade, an FPS in Hypertension: Harmony of Darkness and other possibles like Dynamite Dreams, Scourge, and the remake of Snatcher! Yes, Snatcher for the Dreamcast in 2015 – and people wonder why I support the system still. Anyway, this year’s highlight for the Dreamcast was definitely Neo XYX. Not only was it the best Dreamcast game of the year, but it was one of the best shooters of the year, which says something, because 2015 actually had a lot of good ones – just all for the PC or Dreamcast. Now XYX was gorgeous, to the point where even though it was a Dreamcast/Neo*Geo release, it looked better than a lot of other 2014 titles this year. At times I forgot I was playing on a system from 1999. The score was fabulous. Playing Neo XYX though – oh man, what a dream. It’s one of the best, most fluid shooters I’ve played in a long time, and I just couldn’t put either the Dreamcast Controller or the Arcade stick down. Yes, it’s designed to work with both. God bless you NG.DEV.Team. Keep games like this coming.

I feel a bit weird putting Dreamfall Chapters in my top ten, when only the first episode of the game has been released, but it was that good. Visually it was the best game released this year – IF you have a computer that can process the thing properly. A lot of people were used to adventure games being very low key on the graphics, but not Dreamfall Chapters. Every frame is stunning, and there were times I just stopped playing and gawked at the world the game takes place in. Worlds I guess I should say, but that might be a spoiler. The story is fantastic (although very much geared to those who have played the previous games in the series) and it is driving me crazy that the other chapters aren’t out yet. The game was as funny as it was gorgeous, but that doesn’t mean the game was a outright comedy like Stick of Truth. No, Dreamfall was deadly serious in a lot of ways and I love how the game was able to balance out the heaviness with the lightheartedness. If the other parts of the game are even a fraction as good as this chapter, Dreamfall Chapters will end up being my #1 game of 2015. Unfortunately, I don’t actually see them getting the whole thing out next year. TOO MUCH WAITING.

Procyon is my year’s biggest disappointment. Not that the game is bad; it’s the exact opposite. No, I was disappointed so few people purchased it. It’s a truly wonderful shooter in every way, and it’s also extremely FUNNY. I wasn’t expecting this to be a comedy. I thought this was going to be a regular shoot ’em up that was high on gameplay and low on story and/or characterization. No, I laughed my way through this game. Not as much as The Stick of Truth, but I knew that was going to be a comedy… plus that game was an RPG and so was a lot longer. More laughs to be had. I enjoyed every second of Procyon. It reminded me a lot of Gradius and R-Type at the peak of those franchises, with some excellent visuals, top-notch gameplay and the best story I’ve seen in a shoot ’em up in a long time. Best of all, it’s only $1.99! So how on earth has the best shooter of the year not been picked up by every gamer with a Steam account? Procyon is everything I love about traditional side-scrolling shooters and indie gaming rolled into one.

The Last Door was originally released in 2013 as a free web based game thanks to a small crowdfunding effort. It 2014, it was expanded into a commercial release version with a lot more content, extra bonus chapter, reworked graphics, a remastered soundtrack and more. The end result is by far the best horror game (and the best adventure game) I played in 2014 – and this was a year that included some fantastic releases like Neverending Nightmares and Five Nights at Freddy’s. The story was phenomenal and it featured some of the creepiest moments I’ve ever seen in a video game. The visuals though… oh my god. The visuals are what make the game. The Last Door is not some next gen masterpiece with graphics that strain my PC with each frame of the game. No, The Last Door has graphics the quality of the Atari 2600 or Colecovision. You would think that would make the game less horrific – BUT YOU WOULD BE WRONG. It makes the game even creepier. The occult symbols, the cities of fog, the horrific things, a person committing suicide via hanging, a man hammering a bird’s skull in. All of these scenes we’d take for granted with modern visuals. We’ve used to that. In a game with such shockingly outdated graphics though – it’s sublime. The horror of these deeds is somehow all the more striking. Perhaps even more impressive because they are able to convey with so few pixels what some big budget horror games can’t do with the most sophisticated renderings. No, The Last Door is a reminder of why I loved horror games like Clock Tower, Hell Night Dark Fall and many others. You need to experience this thing for a wonderful Victorian style horror game in the same vein as writers like Sheridan Le Fanu, M.R. James and others. So fantastic.

It feels a little off putting The Rise of the Dark Spark as my number two game of the year. That’s because the console version was god awful. It deserves the disdain served up by critics and gamers alike. Then there is the 3DS version, for whom the only negative comments I have seen are that it’s a tactical turn based strategy and not an action game. Which says something about the people who didn’t like it simply because it was a genre shift from the usual third person console drek. In many ways, the 3DS version of Rise of the Dark Spark reminded me of some fantastic games from years previous. Slayers Royal. X-Com. Advance Wars. So on and so forth. It was the classic tactical gameplay where your characters don’t get more powerful with each battlefield and experience ala an SRPG. Rather, the opponents do, and so you have to rely on strategy and tactical placement to win the day. The switch from action shooter to quasi-SRPG was a brilliant choice, and not only allowed the game to not be held down by the weaknesses of the 3DS, it let Wayforward make a far superior game to the console version. How often does that happen? Throw in a fun story, appearances from all your favorite Fall/War of and Bey-verse transformers, a nice soundtrack and a lot of optional achievements/goals with each mission and you have a tactical fan’s portable dream come true, with missions you can play several times over without getting bored. The core experience is only about a dozen hours, but it’s worth every minute. Rise of the Dark Spark was unexpectedly awesome and every person I’ve recommended it to has loved it just as much. Like a lot of games on my list, this is an under the radar gem most people don’t know exist. You do know though, and if you’re looking for an excellent (and dirt cheap) turn based strategy for your 3DS – this is one of the best options for the system. Also, there’s Grimlock. Everyone loves Grimlock.

We finally come to my #1 game of the year. Shadowrun: Dragonfall started off as an expansion for last year’s “Game of the Year” winner: Shadowrun Returns. The story was as good as the precursor to Bug City plot of SR:R. The battles were harder, the options were greater, the game was longer, and it was simply bigger and better in every way. Not bad for an expansion pack. Then Harebrained Studios released the director’s cut as a full stand-alone game, and made it free to anyone who had the expansion. AWESOME. The DC added a deeper storyline, side quests for the members of your crew, the ability to customize the other runners in your party other than your homemade protagonist (you’re still best off making a mage in this one though – especially one with healing spells) and by far some of the finest tactical gameplay released this year. I’m a big fan of the classic Shadowrun video games and the tabletop game, but Shadowrun: Dragonfall reminded me of the glory days of 2e, which is what Shadowrun was it its peak. I put thirty hours into each version of Dragonfall and I’ll probably play it again in 2015 (Steam version this time). Best of all, in January, the crowdfunding for Shadowrun: Hong Kong gets underway meaning that we have a lot more cyberpunk SRPG greatness coming out away. I know I can hardly wait.

Aileen Coe’s Top Ten
Staff Writer/Editor

1) Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright (3DS)
2) Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall (PC)
3) The Banner Saga (PC)
4) Astebreed (PC)
5) Divinity: Original Sin (PC)
6) Another Star (PC)
7) Child of Light (PS3)
8) The Wolf Among Us (PC)
9) Dreamfall Chapters: Book One (PC)
10) Detective Grimoire (iOS)

This year was strange: while I ended up with a list of games that I had a hard time narrowing down, I had no clear personal GOTY going into writing up this list, unlike last year. Then again, it’s kinda hard to beat a game (Fire Emblem Awakening) that make me crack and shell out for a 3DS. The lack of a Vita means I missed out on the likes of Dangan Ronpa 1&2. There’s not really enough games on the PS4 or Xbox One to compel me to get one (and if I were picking up another game system I’d want a Vita first). Hakuoki: Stories of the Shinsengumi is the most definitive version of the game and has good amount of extras the other two versions don’t, but given this is its third release I needed to reserve the top 10 spots for other games. Suikoden II finally came out on PSN, letting more people play it without paying an arm and a leg on Ebay. This turned out to be a heavy PC gaming year for me. I really struggled with whether to put the PC version of Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky in my list. As much as it pained me to cut it, I ultimately wanted to leave spots for games that came out for the first time this year (it really is worth a buy either on PC or PSP/Vita, though). Broken Age was enjoyable enough, but the wait for a conclusion has started to chafe. Boot Hill Heroes was a pleasant surprise, with a strong Earthbound vibe and humor, an engaging battle system that kept you on your toes, and a cool soundtrack. More visual novels have been making their way onto Steam, much to my rejoicing because I tend to eat those right up. Planetarian was short but tugged mightily at my heart strings (seriously, have tissues handy if you play this). I’d been anticipating fault milestone one since I played the initial demo, and I’ve really enjoyed the final product. But enough talk, have at thee – I mean, here’s my list, starting from the bottom:

The phrase “Ace Attorney on Steam” was enough to get me to snag Detective Grimoire when it went free for a day on iOS. After playing through it, I can say I would’ve happily paid money for it. I definitely saw the Ace Attorney vibes in questioning people, presenting evidence, and unlocking challenge topics (a bit like the psyche-locks). However, I also saw some Professor Layton in the puzzle solving (even if the puzzles were easier than you’d find in a Layton game) and poking through all the environments. The art style and voice acting added to the overall charm of the game. I always like having more Ace Attorney/Professor Layton style games in my life, and while this is shorter than an installment of the aforementioned, it still made for a nice time filler and a way to fill some of the void that the lack of any more main series Layton games left behind.

While Dreamfall Chapters only has one episode out so far, it’s clear that a lot of love and effort was poured into it. The last Dreamfall game ended on a cliffhanger, so finally getting some headway towards tying up the loose ends left behind and being able to revisit that universe is a good thing. The story got off to a good start, though the episodic nature means having to wait to see how the rest unfolds. The environments were rendered with so much detail that it was easy to get immersed while wandering around in them. However, with all those details came a price: the game’s intensive on system requirements, which proved too taxing for some people’s computers (though I got lucky with mine). RedThread Games seem to be trying to mitigate those issues so more people can run the game, so hopefully more can experience it as well.

While I’d never encountered the original Fables comic, The Wolf Among Us served as a good introduction into that universe. The use of fairy tale characters and mythos and adaption into a modern setting was done well. I also tend to be drawn in by anything involving solving mysteries (who wants to talk about murders – oh hello Ace Attorney). Bigby is an interesting and well-rounded protagonist, with enough personality to stand on his own and some flexibility inherent to a game driven by choices. The story hit the ground running and I wanted to keep playing until the end. Fortunately I’ve gotten the game after all the episodes were released, so I didn’t have to wait to see how everything resolved.

The first thing that struck me about Child of Light was the overall whimsical dreamy feel, complemented by the watercolored graphics. Once you gain the ability to fly (which occurs pretty early in the game), the game really opens up, and being able to explore the world by flying around is fun. The use of Igniculus and the light he emits in puzzles and battles was clever, with such effect as slowing down enemies, healing people in your party, and shining light in certain places to open things. It also allowed for another person to participate, but also worked well if you played solo. The battle system is reminiscent of Grandia with being able to mess with turn orders by interrupting attacks and delay enemies with Igniculus. The writing being entirely in rhyme added to the fairy tale feel and read naturally rather than forced.

Like Ashe and Crystal, I also know the developer of Another Star, but I didn’t decide to include it on my list for that reason, but rather after really sitting down with the game and letting it stand or fall on its own merits. The whole retro game trend that’s popular among indies (partly to play on nostalgia, partly because sprites are less expensive to render than HD 3D graphics) might seem overused. While Another Star does have some retro trapping, from the sprite work to the first person battle reminiscent of early Dragon Quest games, it still added some variations to the formula and modern conveniences. While there’s no enemies visible on the map, you have some control over whether you get into fights. You could mostly ignore the indicator that appeared over your character’s head and go along your merry way. The exception is when it’s red, in which case you’ll get ambushed unless you initiate the fight yourself. Even if you lose a battle you can begin where you left off. All of this accompanies an interesting plot and characters and a nice soundtrack.

I had to spend a while reading up on starter tips/guides and the game manual before I felt like I could fully dive into Divinity: Original Sin. As someone who usually made it a point to read manuals before starting up a game (more so back when there weren’t built in tutorials that covered the same things), that wasn’t too intimidating, though the amount of choices available initially were. As someone who usually takes forever to finish customizing one character, having to do two of them at the onset proved even more of a time sap. Once I finally did get into the game proper, however, I found a meaty game. The whole picking dialogue for both main characters was kind of odd at first, but I can see what the developers were going for. The freedom to branch out from initial preset classes and mix in different skills and talents was a nice degree of flexibility to have because I tend to like building characters that can cover more than one role, even if I keep wallowing in indecisiveness before picking a starting point for my main characters.

Who doesn’t like flying mechs in space dodging brightly colored bullets and firing your own or even getting in close and slashing enemies apart with a sword? And recharging your special attack by slashing certain kinds of bullets? Astebreed provides all those in spades. I was impressed by how nice the game looked, especially given it’s a doujin. Camera angles shifted at times, but it never does in a way that disoriented you, but rather emphasized just how large the stage and bosses are. The story has some typical anime tropes (which is to be expected), but the way it’s presented adds to the overall atmosphere of the game, with it flying by you as you play and also through nicely drawn cutscenes. The soundtrack suited the game really well, and this track in particular made the boss battle it played in all the more epic.

The Banner Saga is probably one of the biggest early Kickstarter success stories. It combined turn based SRPG battles with resource management akin to that in Oregon Trail. The presentation, both visually and aurally, was sublime and conveyed the atmosphere and story quite well. The hand drawn animations throughout every part of the game looked amazing, and the orchestral music by Austin Wintory enhanced the mood of the contexts each track played in. Battles were challenging and in some cases could result in losing a unit permanently if they fall (a la Fire Emblem). It was also possible to lose characters in your party from certain decisions you made, so careful consideration and balancing the pros and cons of each decision. I look forward to playing future installments and seeing how decisions made in this part factor into the next ones.

While I enjoyed the original Shadowrun Returns campaign, I agree with the general consensus that Dragonfall was a vast improvement over the Dead Man’s Switch campaign, and I was happy to see it get a standalone edition with further improvements. Better yet, those who bought the original DLC version got the standalone version for free, which was a very nice gesture. The addition of story missions for each character was an especially big boon, as they further fleshed each of them out and provided some measure of closure to their character arcs (as well as unlocking things upon completion). Having some input into how they develop (within the scope of their individual roles and abilities) added more flexibility in how to use them and structure your party to complement your character’s and each other’s capabilities.

Finally we come to the number one game on my list. I had a very hard time picking any one game to be my personal GOTY. I finally picked Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright because the Professor Layton and Ace Attorney series are both among my favorite, so a crossover between the two was basically a dream come true. It’s friendly to newcomers of either (or both) series, yet it’s also quite enjoyable to veterans as well. There were quirky characters both are known for, and character interactions felt natural. It even introduced tweaks to the usual formulas, like being able to question multiple witnesses at once. While you’d think the two art styles would clash when put side by side, they actually meshed well together. The plot likewise incorporated elements from both series and felt believable rather than just something thrown together to justify putting them together. The animated cutscenes were a joy to watch, and more of them would’ve been nice. It was a really well done crossover, and there’s even downloadable story episodes and puzzles that unlock after you beat the game, giving it further longevity.

Crystal Steltenpohl’s Top Ten
Staff Writer

1.) Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth (3DS)
2.) The Wolf Among Us(Xbox 360)
3.) Fantasy Life (3DS)
4.) Bravely Default (3DS)
5.) Loren the Amazon Princess (PC)
6.) Another Star (PC)
7.) Persona 4 Arena Ultimax (Xbox 360)
8.) Tomodachi Life (3DS)
9.) Pokémon Battle Trozei (3DS)
10.) Inazuma Eleven (3DS)

I thought having a full Top Ten list would be difficult for me because of graduate school and because, like so many on our staff, my focus this year has been on clearing out my backlog. Still, whether it was through review copies or the generosity of my friends and family, I still managed to get over ten games that came out this year. It was a bit harder than in years past to narrow it down to ten games, but here’s my best attempt at making that list. Most of my games are for the 3DS this year, mostly because a) I spend a lot of my time in transit, so it’s easier to get a 3DS game, b) I wasn’t able to get a hold of a next-gen console, and c) not much came out on my 360 or PC that I was super excited about, but I still think this year was a decent year for me. This year was weird for gaming, I think, in that there wasn’t a game on my list that to me clearly deserved the number one spot, but there were quite a few gems when I actually sat down and thought about it. I expected to be fairly unenthused but in the end was pleasantly surprised. It seems like it was a good year for my 3DS library, but in reading my coworkers’ write-ups, it looks like I need to get my hands on, at the very least, a Vita and more PC games this coming year.

Inazuma Eleven was technically a re-release of a DS game, but since the DS game never actually made it stateside, I decided to keep it on this year’s Top Ten. As I said in my review, I was excited when it was leaked that this game was coming to the US. As a fan of both soccer and RPGs, Inazuma Eleven fills a rather niche void in my gaming library, and I’m happy that Level-5 was able to help us Americans get our hands on it, especially since the 3DS is region locked. With its themes of friendship and competition, it fits right in with many of my favorite JRPGs.

I hadn’t ever played Pokémon Trozei!, which is the prequel to Pokémon Battle Trozei, and I’m kind of surprised that I missed this title when it initially came out. I picked it up on the eShop and immediately became addicted to collecting all the Pokémon in each level. While some of the requirements for getting some of the Pokémon are a bit obnoxious, I enjoyed the fast gameplay and the amount of content I got for my money. This game convinced me that eventually I’ll have to go back and play Pokémon Trozei!, which is always a win for Nintendo.

I reviewed Tomodachi Life this summer, praising it for its lighthearted silliness while lamenting the fact the game didn’t live up to its full potential for customization. The game is zany enough to encourage plenty of screenshots, and believe me, I have plenty of screenshots. While the charm didn’t hold out as long as I initially expected it to, I still pick it up a couple times a month, especially after I get notifications of new items that have been delivered to my 3DS, and I find that I am still occasionally surprised by what the game has to offer me.

As I’ve said numerous times, I’m not much of a fighting games person, at all, but ATLUS’s Persona 4 Arena Ultimax was a must on my (rather short) preorder list because of the tarot cards and Teddie bopper. I know a lot of people hate Marie but I was excited for her inclusion in the game, as well as Rise, who rarely gets a combat role of any type due to her support Persona. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is a great sequel for Persona 4 Arena and has added all the right things, including Shadow versions of most of the cast, a Persona 3 and Persona 4 Story Mode, and a kickin’ soundtrack that rivals most of the other soundtracks that came out this year. Even for people who suck at fighting games (like myself), Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is worth picking up.

I’m probably a little biased when it comes to Another Star because I know the developer, but considering others have called it the “most authentic retro indie JRPG you’ll find” and our own Ashe says it’s “worth every penny,” I think it’s safe to say this title deserves to be on my list. Like I said on indiedb, Another Star mixes all the things we loved about Sega Master System-era games with some of the more modern touches we appreciate about RPGs. What started out as an project inspired by a Ludum Dare theme evolved into much more, with a rich soundtrack, multiple difficulties, interesting and well-developed characters, and compelling story. Another Star is well deserving of being on my Top Ten list this year.

Loren the Amazon PrincessMicah Solusod was a major reason for me wanting to pick up and review Loren the Amazon Princess, though the game definitely stands on its own merits. As I said in my review, the game is aesthetically pleasing and worth a few playthroughs. I ended up putting 17 hours into the game and recently started to go back to get the rest of the 40 achievements. Even if it can’t decide whether it has homages to other fantasy franchises or is pulling directly from them, they’re done well enough that you can invest yourself in your party members’ decisions and their responses to you, and the variety in the type of relationships you can engage in make it worth picking up.

If any game this year deserves the title Game I Hate to Love, it’s Bravely Default. Bravely Default is a better Final Fantasy game than a lot of Final Fantasy titles we’ve seen lately, and though I wanted to strangle the game by chapter 6 or 7, I couldn’t bring myself to skip anything. In the end, the twist ending made it worth it, and though I haven’t been back to torture myself with a New Game+, I know its in my future. The characters are well-developed and their interactions perfect, their costumes fashionaaabluh, and the story is emotionally manipulative. In a good way! (…)

Fantasy Life was one of those games I was looking forward to and then somehow managed to not pick it up when it came out. My boyfriend actually picked it up, liked it, and then got me the game. 50+ hours later, here I am, and here it is on my Top Ten list. As I said in my review, Fantasy Life doesn’t do any one thing spectacularly well, but manages to do everything well enough, and as a full package, it still manages to be a good game. Everything from the story to the combat is distilled to its most basic elements, and aside from the ability to change Lives, the game doesn’t add much new to the genre. The sum was more than the whole of its parts, and the game turned out to be addictive, fun, and charming, and I find myself unable to put it down, even with a backlog that’s growing by the day.

I know that season one of The Wolf Among Us technically came out last year with an initial release date of October 11, but since the majority of the chapters for this chapter-driven game came out this year, I’m putting it on my 2014 list. I’m not that fond of The Walking Dead, so I’d had no real desire to pick that up, and I wasn’t sure I really had a reason to pick up The Wolf Among Us either, but I’m glad I did after playing it at a friend’s house. I hadn’t heard of the Fables series before this game, but since then, I’ve gotten caught up in the lore that surrounds the game. The Wolf Among Us managed to make me not only feel good or bad about my decisions, but also to feel like they mattered to some extent, which is rare even for games that claim that your choices affect the game. I couldn’t wait for Chapter 5 to come out, and now that it has, I can’t wait for season two. Hopefully Telltale continues to knock it out of the park with this series.

It was difficult for me to decide between The Wolf Among Us and Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth for the Number 1 spot on my Top Ten, but in the end the charm of Persona Q won out. With awesome dungeon designs, an amazing soundtrack, and fantastic voice acting, this game knocked me out with its aesthetics and fanservice (think nostalgia, not bikinis). The characters feel a bit one-note (and in some cases, a bit out of character, like in Teddie’s case) to me, but that’s almost to be expected of a cast of nearly twenty characters. I miss a lot of the bonding that seems to be missing from the game (despite the stroll function), but to me there’s just enough blending of Etrian Odyssey and Persona to keep things interesting and new. Whether the game was playing off inside jokes from their own games or adding in new ones, the game kept you laughing and wanting more. It’s certainly worth picking up for any fans of Etrian Odyssey and/or Persona, and it’s enough to hold us over until ATLUS finally gets us Persona 5 (…you know, after we get Persona 4: Dancing All Night).

Jonathan Widro’s Top Ten

1) Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)
2) Infamous: Second Son (PS4)
3) Strider (PS4)
4) Shantae and the Pirates Curse (3DS/Wii U)
5) Guilty Gear Xrd Sign (PS4)
6) Captain Toads Treasure Tracker (Wii U)
7) Kirby Triple Double (3DS)
8) Hyrule Warriors (Wii U)
9) Bayonetta 2 (Wii U)
10) Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U)

I thought 2014 was a great year for video games, with dozens of games I enjoyed across multiple genres. There were just so many small games that were either the type of platformer I like, or a cool artistic game that was worth my time.

The strong lineup of Nintendo first and second party games dominated my favorite games. While I tend to use PS3/PS4 for my every day and week to week gaming, the tentpole Nintendo Wii U games were my favorites all year. Starting off with Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze in February, Mario Kart 8 in May and then Hyrule Warriors (September), Bayonetta 2 (October) and Captain Toad (December), there were bursts of Nintendo goodness throughout the year.

In between, Sony kept the games coming on PS4 and Vita, with tons of great indies. The major Sony first party game – Infamous Second Son – was the first game I defeated 100% in a while, and I just loved the graphics and gameplay. It could definitely have been longer, and in general there need to be more third person action games in the new generation.

The Strider reboot was epic – a huge Metroid-vania adventure with slick graphics and a really polished, easy to control Strider character. I even enjoyed this more than Strider 2 which got a PS1 classic re-release on PS3/vita this year as well.

Finally at the end of the year, I became addicted to Guilty Gear Xrd Sign for its amazing graphics, and spent the day after Christmas playing through Shantae 3 which was really good, but not quite as good as Risky’s Revenge.

J. Rose’s Top 10
Staff Artist

1.) Dark Souls 2 (360)
2.) Hyrule Warriors (Wii U)
3.) Valiant Hearts: The Great War (PS4)
4.) The Evil Within (XBO)
5.) Fantasy Life (3DS)
6.) Dragon Age: Inquisition (XBO)
7.) Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth (3DS)
8.) Child of Light (360)
9.) JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle (PS3)
10.) Earth Defense Force 2025 (360)

2014 wasn’t a bad year for gaming, and while I spent a lot of time cleaning out my backlog, I also spent a lot of time with some pretty good games that came out this year as well. Earth Defense Force 2025 was exactly what I was hoping for from the series: more bugs and more bullets. Not much more is required to have a good time with an EDF game, and 2025 was no exception. JoJo’s Bizzare Adventure: All Star Battle was an instant-buy for me because I’ve always loved the weirdness of the series, and the game has a pitch perfect atheistic and an interesting story mode that almost got me back into a genre I’ve long given up on: fighting games. Child of Light was an artistic marvel, featuring somber storytelling, rich visuals, a delicate soundtrack, and an intuitive battle system, all of which made it a sadly short, but unforgettable RPG experience.

Persona Q: Shadow of The Labyrinth ended up being one of my favorite entries in a series I’m not too impressed with; competent dungeon drawling combined with the Persona series’ trademark quirkiness and vivid presentation made Shadow of The Labyrinth an enjoyable take on the traditional grindfest the genre is known for. Though Dragon Age: Inquisition is not without its faults and shortcomings, it provides a detailed and lengthy quest that never leaves one without something different to do. In my opinion, it’s the finest of Bioware’s Dragon Age games thus far, and it even motivated me to finally take the plunge and try out Mass Effect for the first time, God help me.

Fantasy LifeFantasy Life offers almost limitless customization and replayability, and can easily keep you busy mastering various jobs and fulfilling the tasks of the realm’s inhabitants for quite a long time, if you’re interested in what it does and how it does it. Despite the maddening difficulty that more than once almost motivated me to stop playing, The Evil Within paints an almost perfect picture of the titular survival horror game. Meticulously detailed, absurdly macabre, and brutally violent, The Evil Within‘s nightmarish world is one you’ll struggle to survive in, but love every minute of your time spent within it. Valiant Hearts: The Great War was a surprise for me; equal parts sweet and tragic, it manages to completely engross the player with simple logic and physic puzzles, and tell an amazing story from start to finish without so much as a peep from any of the main characters.

When Hyrule Warriors was announced, after checking to make sure no one spiked my food, I was all in. Combining Koei’s Warriors series with Ninteno’s quite legendary Zelda franchise couldn’t have yielded better possible results than those found in Hyrule Warriors. Featuring several exciting game modes, and all the modblins and octoroks you can lay waste to, Omega Force produced something really special, which is personal no surprise, given their track record with other third party mash ups. Finally, as a big fan of From Software’s Souls series, I’ll be the first to say that there were a number of things that kept Dark Souls 2 from being as great of an experience as its predecessor. That said, Dark Souls 2 still provided me enough to make it my favorite game experience of the year. It will be some time until I’m tired of the Souls formula, and while I’d give my left testicle for a current gen King’s Field game, I’ll take what I can get.

Mark B.’s Top Ten
Senior Editor

1.) Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth (3DS)
2.) Dangan Ronpa 1&2 (Vita)
3.) Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed (PS3)
4.) Valiant Hearts: The Great War (PS4)
5.) South Park: The Stick of Truth (PC/360)
6.) Demon Gaze (Vita)
7.) Goat Simulator (PC)
8.) Dragon Age: Inquisition (XBO)
9.) Persona 4 Arena Ultimax (360/PS3)
10.) Five Nights at Freddy’s (PC)

Whenever a new console cycle starts, it can be weird at first for developers, as projects transition to the new current gen systems and audiences slowly leave behind their older consoles in favor of the hot new releases. This cycle in particular was brutal, though; the first year of the Xbox One and Playstation 4 has seen a bunch of flawed releases, overhyped disappointments and otherwise problematic games amidst a sea of “fine” games. It’s not this was a BAD year; it was certainly fine enough, don’t get me wrong. It’s more that the current-gen releases were all underwhelming, and the last-gen releases were where all of the meat really was, meaning that a lot of early last-gen releases impressed until the projects started to taper off, and the current-gen projects were either quality rereleases (Diablo III), “fine” but nothing earth shattering (Sunset Overdrive) or simply not very good (Watch Dogs). In other words, my list has a lot of handheld and PC games on it, basically, as well as a couple of multi-platform games or last-gen games that were always going to come out for their respective consoles and weren’t impacted by the change to the current-gen… oh, and Dragon Age. I had a few other games I was considering slotting in here somewhere, like Dark Souls II and the aforementioned Diablo III, but in the end, the ten games in my list represent the games I had the most fun with this year or remembered most powerfully as experiences, and as such, they took the top spots in my list.

Five Nights at Freddy’s was one of those games that snuck up on me; one day everything was normal, and the next, Youtube was absolutely FILLED with videos of people playing the damn thing. Turns out there was a pretty good reason for it: the game is ambient as all hell, calling back to games like Night Trap in execution, while also going in a vastly different direction with its execution that gaming hasn’t really seen yet. The game is hardly a technical marvel; it uses a framework that uses animated GIFs rather than actual graphics in the strictest sense, but at a five dollar asking price it doesn’t really need to do anything else. It’s creepy as hell, does just the right things to get the correct reaction out of the player, and is honestly one of the scariest experiences I can recall having in years. While I’m not on board with the sequel yet (too soon of a release date for my tastes, and it seems needlessly complicated), the first game is definitely well worth its asking price and then some, and you’re missing out if you haven’t tried it yet.

The fighting game market has… kind of gone into a stagnant state in the last few years, to be blunt about it. While 2015 looks to be a killer year (har har) with the pending releases of Mortal Kombat X, Tekken 7, Street Fighter V and (most interestingly to me) Under Night In-Birth Exe: Late (a French Bread fighter, AKA the developers of Melty Blood), 2014 was kind of slow. Outside of Smash Bros or Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax for importers (also French Bread), this year was a lot of expansions, with variable amounts of actual “new” content to be found… oh, and more Killer Instinct, I guess. One fighting game that impressed beyond its station, though, was Persona 4 Arena Ultimax. Arc System Works doesn’t have the greatest reputation when it comes to sequels, but they absolutely delivered here: aside from adding in a whole lot of new characters, there’s also a whole new mechanic system in choosing normal or “Shadow” characters, a new storyline, a lot of held over content from the first game for those who missed out, free DLC, and modes that make the game a must have for fans of the genre or Persona 4 alike. Hell, you can even set the game to play itself if you just want to see the storyline, which is great for the more visual novel inclined players out there. There are still some issues, of course (ASW loves their DLC, the balance needs some tweaking), but the game is basically awesome otherwise, and was one of the few I spent a LOT of time with this year, which makes it an easy inclusion to the list.

Let it be known right now, Dragon Age: Inquisition is a broken game. I have at least one quest I cannot complete in my current playthrough, at least one collectible that’s missing a piece visually that the game says I collected, I’ve gotten stuck in the environment twice and had the game crash once, none of which has been fixed with the December 9th patch, since eighty percent of the above happened after the fact. That said, for a broken game, it’s a damn amazing one, and if it’d actually shipped in something approaching a “final build” condition it probably would have won a bunch of awards from us. Even with the bugs, it’s still the kind of game that just invites you to play it; it’s incredibly involved, quite lengthy, and does a lot of good with its plot and character interactions that make the game easy to lose hours at a time playing. A lot of people were disappointed with Mass Effect 3 (of which I was one) and Dragon Age 2 (of which I was not one), so you’d be forgiven for being concerned about this release given that track record, but worry not: Dragon Age: Inquisition is presently one of the better games to come out this year in general, and once it’s patched up a bit more, it’ll certainly be one of the best.

There’s become something of a trend in PC gaming as of late, especially in the indie market, where releasing a well-crafted, polished game isn’t really necessary so long as your game is the stupidest thing ever conceived of by God and man. Games like Surgeon Simulator and I Am Bread are key beneficiaries of this thought process, but perhaps the best possible example I’ve ever played is Goat Simulator, a game so messed up the developer basically promises that the game is broken in its advertising, and that’s part of the fun. I mean, real talk here: Goat Simulator is not, in the traditional sense of the term, “good”. It’s visually poor, and broken technically, and hard to play effectively at times. It’s also the only game I’ve ever played where I headbutted a gas truck until it exploded, or turned into a whale and rolled around for an hour, or turned into a satanic goat by dragging people off to be sacrificed in the wilderness. Goat Simulator is stupid as hell, and it’s something I can absolutely assure you I’ll never forget, so, it makes the list.

I had absolutely no expectations going into Demon Gaze: while I love some dungeon-crawling goodness, the game was absolutely crammed full of pictures of ladies with their goodies hanging out all over the place, and the vast majority of games from Japan that feature this as a part of the art style tend to be… a raging disappointment, shall we say. Well, turns out Demon Gaze was mostly a good experience after all, as it stuck to the roots of the genre while adding in enough neat concepts and mechanics to make the game really feel like it was something different. Combine that with a plot that actually felt like it was more complex than “here’s a dungeon, kill everything in it,” and a difficulty curve that leaned toward being friendly to newcomers, and Demon Gaze mostly ended up being one of the better games to hit the Vita this year. The difficulty curve spiked a bit at the end, but even so it was still a fun time while it lasted, and it’s worth checking out if you’re up for a bit of a challenge, and don’t mind that there are a lot of half naked ladies everywhere.

South Park: The Stick of Truth, it can be plainly said, had virtually nothing going for it, save one critical element. The game was being developed by Obsidian, a company known for developing RPG’s that are broken at best and broken AND bad at worst, and its status after its parent company, THQ, went belly up was not so great at the time. Licensed games tend to be a whole lot of “meh” these days, and even when a good licensed title finds its way into the market, it’s few and far between, and rest assured someone will find a way to screw that up eventually. The Stick of Truth had one major positive in its favor, however: Trey Parker and Matt Stone were totally on-board for the development of the game, so if absolutely nothing else, as an RPG, it promised to have a good story at least. Well, Obsidian managed to turn out an experience that was mechanically fine enough (if a bit too collectible heavy), and the game was just short enough to avoid overstaying its welcome but just long enough to give the player the feeling of getting their money’s worth. The star, though, was the plot: this game is, without question or exception, the flat-out funniest game released this year, and if you disagree you’re just wrong. Whether you’re fighting Khloe Kardashian’s gigantic Nazi aborted fetus, circumcising enemies to cause bleeding damage, or crawling inside Mister Slave’s asshole to stop a nuke from killing all of South Park, the game is complete and utter nonsense, and it’s a riot. Also, I swear I didn’t just make any of that up.

Valiant Hearts was one of those rare “games as art” experiences that actually managed to exist beyond its artistry and “point,” and was capable of getting its point across while also being a fun experience. People generally don’t make games based around World War I, for a lot of good reasons; World War II is the “memorable” war, and more importantly, it’s the one that lets us (generally) feel more “right” since, well, Hitler. World War I deserves some consideration, however, because it wasn’t an easily understood war, and it’s important for people to understand that. Telling the story from different sides, using different protagonists to show that war really is hell, was a big part of what made Valiant Hearts such a joy to play through, as was the method of play that was simple enough to follow along with but complicated enough to give anyone pause to think of how to best make progress. Also, the dog is adorable, and his existence, in a lot of ways, helps to work as an offset for a lot of the horrible stuff that goes on, as does the colorful presentation and visual style. It’s not a perfect game, but it is a complex, well designed one, and Valiant Hearts was, frankly, probably the best thing Ubisoft put out this year.

Akiba’s Trip is not the most technically proficient game in the market today, but it’s an assault on the senses that few games try to be, and hey, it’s fun to punch people until their underwear explodes into light. I feel like a lot of games try to be these overly technical masterpieces a lot of the time, rendering lush landscapes with high texture characters and monsters, and while that’s fine, sometimes some strong artistic direction will do more for your game than anything else. Akiba’s Trip is a good example of that thought process put into practice, as it’s not a game that does the most with its technology from an aesthetic standpoint, but instead uses it for technical purposes to ensure that the most people possible can be on screen at one time. Instead, it uses colorful landscapes, goofy enemies, ridiculous special attacks and absurd combat mechanics to sell the experience, and the end result is a game that’s memorable without being the biggest next-gen experience of a lifetime. Not every game has to be Mass Effect or Halo, and everyone needs a good Katamari Damacy sometimes to cleanse the palette; Akiba’s Trip might not be that game exactly, but it’s certainly as irreverent and memorable, and that helps a lot.

Make no mistake, for the vast majority of the year, I was pretty much convinced that the Dangan Ronpa games released this year were pretty much always, always going to be my number one pick for favorite game this year, and if you’ve played them, it’s not hard to see why. It’s hard to pick which of the two is the “better” game; the first game is more impressive conceptually due to being “first” and has a stronger ending with stronger characters, while the second game is better paced for maximum chapter impact and has some better mechanics in various points, so they’re both great in their own ways. “Great” is easily the key point, there; the Vita had an absolutely killer year, relatively speaking, full of several titles that made the console worth owning for the first time in a while, and the Dangan Ronpa games easily, EASILY stood head and shoulders above all of them. The trial gameplay wasn’t always perfect and I won’t even try to pretend that some of the minigames weren’t crap, but both games hit constantly on all cylinders otherwise, and the end result was, frankly, a great experience all around.

That said, a game came out late this year and more or less took that top spot by combining a thing I love and two things I could care less about into one big thing I found I loved a lot, and that was Persona Q. Let’s get this out of the way up front: while it didn’t sell me on the other games in their respective franchises, Persona Q did more to make me like Etrian Odyssey AND Persona 3 than any entries in the respective franchises did, due entirely to the fact that it took the parts that worked, tossed out the parts that didn’t, and combined them all together into a game that’s fun to play where everyone generally seems to like being there. The game also does a lot to make itself all things for all people. For the player who just wants everyone to shut up and get into the dungeon, you’ve got nearly twenty characters to pick from with their own unique spell sets and skills, as well as the ability to avoid all that talking crap and just get into slaughtering dudes. For those who love the franchise and the stories it tells, you’ve got lots of points where interaction is key, as well as two separate side stories depending on which plot path you choose in the beginning of the game. Everything is meticulously detailed and stuffed full of content, from the various dungeons you play through to the wide variety of gear you can craft for the party to the two different remixes of the battle theme depending on your story path, and I cannot stress enough how awesome that is, and it all generally works. Even little things, like being able to play through the plot a second time as the other team with a New Game Plus leveled party or the comments friendly party members will make to one another in battle, give the game far more personality than the Etrian Odyssey series ever had, and that helps make the experience something special. Basically, if you own a 3DS and you don’t own Persona Q you’re committing a hate crime against your 3DS, and you should probably buy it before the cops show up. Seriously, don’t take the chance.



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2 responses to “Diehard GameFAN 2014 Year in Review Staff Commentaries”

  1. Sean Madson Avatar

    “Being able to take top shelf gaming with you to the bathroom is always a plus.” lol

    It’s funny because it’s TRUE

  2. […] Q was on five of the ten staff members who submitted staff commentaries this year. It has won a few of our other categories, namely Best Turn-Based RPG and Best Sound, and […]

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