Diehard GameFAN’s 2015 Year in Review Staff Commentaries

So here we are, a few days before the end of 2015, and 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.) Persona 4: Dancing All Night (Vita)
2.) Lost Dimension (Vita)
3.) Mortal Kombat X (PS4)
4.) Batman: Arkham Knight (PS4)
5.) Chroma Squad (PC)
6.) Life is Strange (PS4)
7.) Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DS (3DS)
8.) Call of Duty: Black Ops III (PS4)
9.) Tales From the Borderlands (PS3)
10.) Lego Jurassic World (PS4)

From where I stand, 2015 just plain sucked. I had a hard time putting this list together because most of this stuff wouldn’t qualify for even last year’s list. This list is perhaps notable for the stuff that didn’t make it in. Games like The Order, Fossil Fighters 3 and Dangan Ronpa: Another Episode were all games that I was incredibly psyched for at the beginning of the year. All three were objectively terrible, with the latter being a soul crushing experience. Even the games I did like had major issues that held them back. MKX had a sloppy story, Batman had that disastrous PC launch, and P4D was just underwhelming in its content offerings. It was just a depressing year for me.

I’m a big Jurassic Park fan, so Lego Jurassic World was a given for me. It’s the first time in seven years that I’ve bought a Lego game on day one. It still had all the major problems of a Lego game, but damn it was fun at times. Pretty much any time that John Williams score would swell up, I’d get lost in the moment. I even played through the game a second time on Vita. It was a case where the right license managed to get me to bite.

Telltale’s Game of Thrones was a godawful piece of shit that no one should ever play. Despite having technical issues galore, Telltale’s “other” episodic series this year, Tales From the Borderlands, stood out in a positive light because of this. The story was whimsical, funny, and fairly well put together. It even managed to have an ending that allowed for a second season without making want to hurl something through a window. I actually looked forward to new releases in Borderlands, which is enough (this year) to get it on the list.

Blops 3 was a bitter disappointment. Treyarch didn’t move the series forward like they did with the prior game. Instead, they played it safe. Gone were the branching story paths, gone where the innovative mission types, and gone was the focus on making the game into a more evolved experience. However, the game is still a blast to play online, so there’s that. Hell, I was in desperate need for a competitive online FPS that I actually enjoyed playing.

Miku performed the hat trick. This is the third year she’s put out a winner, and on a new system to boot! Project Mirai isn’t my favorite of her games, but it offers a vast amount of content, especially compared with other rhythm games released this year. The catchy songs were upbeat and worth revisiting. I think the only reason the game doesn’t rank higher on my list is because I’m not particularly fond of the art style.

Life is Strange faltered at the end with an overly abstract final episode. However, it still easily makes my list. That’s because it packed real emotional depth with well written characters. The time powers were fun to mess around with, and it let you make the decisions with which you were most comfortable. I looked forward to each episode, and I hope the series continues in some fashion down the road.

laytonvwright2One of the games I played the most this year was Chroma Squad. I was a big Power Rangers fan as a kid, so the subject matter spoke to me. It also helped that the combat was well thought out and awarded players for using tactfully sound decisions. I was even a fan of the pixel art style, as it recalled a simpler time in my video game life. Mostly, it was a good strategy game in a year where there weren’t too many to be found.

Batman was a disaster on PC. There’s no getting around that. However, I played the game on PS4, and I loved it. The controversial Batmobile sections didn’t bother me one bit, although I would have preferred some more traditional boss fights. The game was yet another love letter to the Dark Knight, and I feel it offered the complete experience. If the series is truly over, it couldn’t have ended on a much better note.

MKX played great, had a fun roster chock full of new characters, and let me use Jason Voorhees to rip people apart. Because of that, I will gladly forgive the lackluster story.

Lost Dimension combined the best elements of a tactical RPG with the old board game Mastermind. The combat allowed you to create a vastly different party make up each battle, and you were encouraged to use different people as you tried to suss out the traitor. It also had a fun mechanic that allowed you to use one character to power up another, which would often let you use a unique skill. It was worth playing more than once for this reason alone, although it also offered bonus story content and trophies as well. That catchy final boss theme was the cherry on top.

My favorite game of the year is easily P4D. Sure, it had a low number of included tracks. Sure, it had an excess of DLC. Sure, each song was attached to specific character. Those things do matter, I just don’t care. In the end, the gameplay was some of the most fun I’ve had with a rhythm game since I first played Guitar Hero. It just seemed to fit with my style. I play the game exclusively on the hardest difficulty, where I’ve gotten good enough to earn a good number of King Crazy scores. I bought every DLC song simply because I wanted even more options. Mark gave me an import copy, and I earned the Platinum for that. I bought the collector’s edition of the American release, and I also earned the platinum for that. I still play the game regularly, and it has barely left my Vita since it came out. You don’t keep playing a game for dozens of hours after you’ve done all there is to do unless you really love it. Here’s hoping 2016 goes better for me, but at least I can end on a high note.

Sean Madson’s Top Ten
Staff Writer

1.) The Witcher III (XBO)
2.) Yakuza 5 (PS3)
3.) Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (3DS)
4.) Dragon Quest Heroes (PS4)
5.) The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC (PC)
6.) Tales of Zestiria (PS4)
7.) Final Fantasy Type-0 HD (PS4)
8.) Bloodborne (PS4)
9.) Xenoblade Chronicles X (Wii U)
10.) J-Stars Victory Vs+ (PS4)

Every year someone says it’s the worst year in gaming, and I’ve usually kept out of that mindset. I’ve always had little trouble putting together ten games for this list, and move on with my day. This year though, it was a real struggle, as a few of my selections wouldn’t have been considered otherwise. I think much of it has to do with some of the more high profile stuff getting pushed into 2016 (such as Persona 5), but short of remakes/remasters there wasn’t a ton of new stuff to get excited for. It does mean that next year will be a grand slam with all of the games slated to release, but I wish a few of them I could have been playing already. Ah well.

As a little self-imposed rule from previous years, I’ve excluded any remakes or remasters, so you won’t find The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D on this list. With that out of the way, let’s start at the bottom:

J-Stars Victory Vs+ was a real guilty pleasure if there ever was one. Featuring characters from dozens of Shonen Jump properties, it allows you put together a dream tag team from such series as Dragon Ball Z, Naruto and One Piece, and square them off to see who comes out on top. For a non fan though, it’s an extremely repetitive game with a story mode that’s not worth writing home about. But the sheer fan service dwarfed all else in my eyes, which is why I had to include it in my list.

When I first starting brainstorming ideas for this list, it was before playing Xenoblade Chronicles X, and I was sure that it would’ve made it to the top. The thing about a title being the sequel to one of your favorite games ever is that every detail that is not perfect erodes your enthusiasm for it little by little, and I think that’s what happened here. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic game and definitely better than anything else that came out on the Wii U this year. But when your game has so many systems to it that are so inadequately explained that I feel I need to take a college course to understand it all, I get a little annoyed. It doesn’t help that the menu text is so small that you need a magnifying glass to read it. Exploration is a ton of fun, but the narrative is most certainly not worth the MMO style grind you have to endure in order to complete it. At least the combat is still great.

Somehow, Dark Souls-esque games continue to make my top ten, and Bloodborne is no exception. The setting and the atmosphere felt very fresh, and the transforming weapon system is interesting to say the least. I also liked that you can setup private games much more easily than in the past. It’s still tough as nails and the new focus on offensiveness got me off on a slow start in trying to adjust. But it just wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t grueling, would it?

I still can’t believe Final Fantasy Type-0 made it out this year. This is a title I’ve had my eye on since its release on Japanese PSP’s several years ago. To be honestly, it’s a pretty ugly game to be making the leap onto the PS4 and would’ve been better suited for the Vita, though at least remote play is a thing. I loved the combat system and although the story is about as nonsense as your average Kingdom Hearts game, having a large cast of characters to swap between was at least enjoyable as a game mechanic. I probably would’ve been more impressed had it actually released in the west on the PSP, but I still had a great time.

Tales of Zestiria is a safe option as far as JRPG’s go. It doesn’t really innovate in terms of game mechanics nor does it really chart new territory in its narrative. Yet, there’s something comforting about a game like this. In an industry obsessed with giving high marks only to innovation, it’s nice to sit down and play something familiar, a game well enough made within its own genre that can just enjoy the things you like without having “innovative” touch or motion controls shoved down your throat.

I was greatly anticipating the conclusion to Estelle’s story arc along with the rest of the western world, and I’m happy to say that The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC delivered in a satisfying way. It shares in its predecessor’s pacing issues, but the writing and the character development more than make up for it. The combat holds up incredibly well too, and there’s so much to do if you take the time to explore. Not to mention the game remembers the decisions you made from the prior entry. It was absolutely worth the wait.

I’d have never thought in a million years that Dragon Quest and Dynasty Warriors would’ve made for a natural pairing, yet here we are. Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below combines RPG mechanics and monster collecting with the thrill of battering hundreds of monsters simultaneously. You can even control a four person party that you can switch between on the fly. Really, the only thing knocking this down a peg is the lack of any sort of co-op play. Still, it’s a real nostalgia trip for fans of the RPG series, especially if you’re familiar with the music and the Akira Toriyama drawn visuals.

Though a Wii U release would’ve been preferably, it’s hard to deny that having Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate on the 3DS made it more accessible to people, not to mention made for a larger pool of friends for which I could play with. Slaying unsuspecting critters in the wild is just as addicting as it has ever been, plus the ability to climb onto monsters Dragon’s Dogma style really put it over the edge. The fact that I can sing its praises like this without even having finished the game should speak to its quality.

Speaking of games I haven’t even finished yet, let’s talk about Yakuza 5. This is a game that I didn’t expect to play localized at all much less this year. I was a little concerned when the release date kept getting pushed back and although having it release right before Christmas is less than ideal, I still played enough of it to know that yes, this is everything I had been waiting for and more. I got to drive taxi while obeying traffic laws, fist fight a bear, roll a bunch of thugs up in snow and make a snowman out of them, and participated in dance battles. And I’m only halfway through the game. I know sequelitis is a real concern among modern video game franchises, but seriously, if the other games are as entertaining as this one I say give me more.

It was actually tough to decide if The Witcher III: Wild Hunt should take the top spot over the prior entry, but I ultimately made the decision that since I hadn’t finished Yakuza 5 yet, there is a slight chance something could happen in the second half to disappoint me (even though I doubt it). Not to knock Geralt’s adventure in any way. On the contrary, it too checked all the boxes of things I want to see in a game like this. It had a narrative that kept me invested, fleshed out side quests that didn’t feel like a chore to complete, and an open world that didn’t feel like an empty MMO wasteland. And like Yakuza 5, I got to fist fight a bear in this game too! Perhaps most worth of mention though, it has real time beard growth, and if that isn’t an important innovation in gaming, then I don’t know what is.

And that concludes my top ten games of 2015. Despite its high points, I suspect with next year’s heavy hitters like Persona 5, Final Fantasy XV, and maybe even the new Zelda, it will make 2015 one forgettable year. I look forward to struggling with finding time for it all.

Alex Lucard’s Top Ten

1.) Fallout 4 (PC)
2.) Pokémon Shuffle (3DS/iOS)
3.) Tales From the Borderlands (PS3)
4.) Supercharged Robot VULKAISER (PC)
5.) Mortal Kombat X (PC)
6.) Mercenaries Saga 2 (3DS)
7.) Pillars of Eternity (PC)
8.) Catlatteral Damage (PC)
9.) Pokemon Rumble World (3DS)
10.) Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax (PS3)

Honorable Mentions: Warhammer: The End Times – Vermintide, Victor Vran, The Last Crown: Midnight Horror

One thing that you’ll notice is a running trend with this year’s Top Ten lists is disappointment. Disappointment in the quality of this year’s games overall. Disappointment that some of the games that made each respective top ten list wouldn’t have in prior years. Hell, some wouldn’t have made the top twenty if they were released in previous years. That’s a sign that 2015 was far from being a good year for gaming. Hell, I played over 80 new releases this year and I STRUGGLED with a top ten that didn’t include re-releases from previous years like Pokémon Pinball R/S or Armed Seven. This was not a year that made me want to return to writing about or reviewing video games at all. If anything, the lackluster options of 2015 merely helped me to spend more time painting and doing tabletop stuff. Hopefully 2016 will be better but honestly, aside from a few first party Nintendo releases, I don’t see anything to excite me. I’m sure the other DHGF staffers will be more (or possibly less) passionate about their disillusionment with 2015’s gaming releases but the bottom line is that if you are looking for fanboys wearing rose tinted glasses talking about how they got new Halo AND Tomb Raiders games this year so this was easily the greatest year in the history of video games…go to some other website. You with not find that here.

So let’s give a quick shout out to three games that didn’t make the list this year. The Last Crown: Midnight Horror was a fun short teaser from Jonathan Boakes for his upcoming game, The Last Crown. The atmosphere and ambience was fantastic, but it was only three hours long and was probably inaccessible if you hadn’t played The Lost Crown or the Dark Fall games. It was a fine present to longtime fans, but nothing more. VIctor Vran was a decent Diablo style clone that I sunk 30 hours into. It was a entertaining crap with a threadbare story, but I enjoyed it for what it was. Finally, there is Warhammer: The End Times-Vermintide which I went back and forth as my #10 game, which is telling considering I hate both games that are pure co-op and first person shooter titles. It’s was beautifully done and essentially a superior version to the Left 4 Dead games in every way. My problem was that progress didn’t save, the levels were far too long and drawn out for my liking and I was generally stuck with complete idiots as my partners. People who were more Leeroy Jenkins than gamers that wanted to survive. So. had this been a solo player experience, this would have made my top ten easily. Unfortunately, it just barely missed the list. All three are fine PC games and worth picking up though.

So let’s do the list. In the tale end position was Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax. This was my second favorite fighting game of the year and I didn’t expect to spend much time with that, But I found myself really enjoying it. It was a very well balanced fighter even if the story was pretty freaking terrible (and exactly the same for each character!). It helped that I was a hug fan of ToradoraValkyrie Profile and was also pretty familiar with The Devil is a Part-Timer, Sword Art Online, A Certain Magical Index, Boogiepop Phantom, Black Bullet and more. It was a fine collection of anime and manga goodness and I pretty much tore the game apart for a few days until I had unlocked everything, beaten every mode with every character and exhausted the game. It took me less than a week and I haven’t touched it since, but it was very fun while it lasted. Yes, that’s 2015 – the year where an otherwise forgettable game is a memorable experience compared to things like htol#NiQ, Yo-Kai Watch, Dark Dreams Don’t Die, Pokemon Picross, Dungeon Travelers 2 and other lackluster releases I sat through. My only real regret is that I haven’t gotten to play Shadowrun: Hong Kong, which I know would have made my top ten easily if I had.

I’m nor surprised I liked Pokémon Rumble World as much as I did. I love the series, but I was very hesitant in trying a freemium Pokémon game. The good news was that you could beat the game without spending any money at all. I know this because I did just that. I did eventually throw five-ten bucks at the game for some diamonds to catch some crazy rare Pokémon, but five-ten bucks for a game I played for well over thirty hours is a fantastic deal. The game is a lot of fun, goes out of its way to give you the in-game currency so you don’t have to spend money and is by far the best version of the Pokémon Rumble series since its inception. The only two negative things I could think about the game (besides it being freemium) was that it didn’t work with the Pokémon Rumble Amiibo precursor figures and that there was nothing to do once you unlocked all the worlds and beat Story mode. It was just “catching them all” and I have long since grown bored with that concept. Still, it was easily the second best freemium game I’ve ever experienced and it does indeed deserve to make my list this year.

Catlateral Damage is one of two first person titles making my list this year which surprised me. This was a Kickstarter funded budget PC game where you are nothing more than a cat swatting stuff onto the floor. It sounds like such a simple stupid concept that no one would actually want to play it, but as we have seen with games like Goat Simulator, sometimes the simplest and weirdest concepts actually make for a very fun game. I mean, Imagine the pitch of Dig Dug back in the day. How do you verbally sell that game and make it sound fun? It is however, and so it Catlateral Damage. I found myself enraptured with this game, playing as different cats and either trying to meet certain objectives in a timed mode, or just enjoying “litter box mode” where you play at your own pace just knocking stuff off whenever you want on whatever level you want. There’s something very Zen about the game that I can’t put into words, but I really enjoyed my time with it. Considering how positive the reviews are for Catlateral Damage are over at Steam, I am far from the only one who had fun with this game.

In truth, my #7 game probably should be higher on my list than it is and is arguably a GOTY contendor. Alas, I’m the only person on staff who played Pillars of Eternity despite a lot of the staffers having this on their wish list of games to buy (hey, it’s Obsidian; it’ll be cheap in a year or two). It’s easily one of the best made games of the year, with the most character customization out of any RPG released this year, the biggest and most developed world out of any game released this year and it’s the best isometric RPG released since the glory days of Interplay and the Baldur’s Gate series. So why it is only #7 on my list when I love it as much as I do? Well, most of my time spent playing PoE was with the Beta (I was a Kickstarter backer) in 2014. This year, I didn’t really have much of a chance to play the final product because I had already been through much of the game and decided even though I was very interested in playing the final version, that I wanted to try things I haven’t already beaten to death this year. Rest assured 2016 will be me playing PoE’s end product and the first expansion for the game. I just didn’t feel comfortable ranking PoE any higher than this when I primarily played it LAST year before its official release and that I have only spent a few hours with the final release build. That said, the fact I could comfortably say the Beta of this game was better than nearly everything released this year should tell you how pretty terrific PoE is and if this goes on sale pretty cheap during the next Steam sale, a lot of DHGF staffers are going to find this gifted to them.

Mercenaries Saga was not a game I expected to enjoy as much as I did. It’s a short 20 hour Ogre Tactics clone, but holy crap, is it a good one. The story is as political oriented as the ones in Quest made games and there are more swerves that a “Best of Vince Russo” compilation. However the gameplay is tight, the character customization is top notch, the character classes are a lot of fun and I had a hard time putting this game down. There’s even a New Game+ mode – all for about five bucks. For a 3DS game, that’s pretty terrific. It’s not perfect mind you, but it was one of the best 3DS releases this year AND one of the best SRPG games. If you’re a fan of the genre IN THE SLIGHTEST, you need to pick this up. You will more than get your money’s worth out of it.

Mortal Kombat X was my favorite fighting game of the year and I put a lot of time into the PC version – unlocking everything, seeing everyone’s Arcade ending and beating the story mode. I really enjoyed the story in MKX, although not as much as MK9’s. Netherrealm Studios is blowing every other fighting game company away in that department. Character development is surprisingly good and there were several “OH SHIT” moments in the game. There was far less of a body count in MKX and because so many characters were completely new, it was hard to care for them as much as with the previous rosters, but it still felt like a wonderful moment in which the dev team actually let its game and characters age gracefully. I’m extremely excited to see where MK11 goes storywise. Besides that, the gameplay was fantastic. I loved playing the game online and off, and Netherrealms really went out of its way to keep gamers coming back for more while also building a solid community that will keep coming until the servers are finally turned off. Bring on Injustice 2 I guess.

I love my Shoot ’em Ups but over the past few years, thanks to an onslaught of indie PC games, the genre has become very derivative. It’s great to have a lot of options, but when they all look/feel/play the same, it’s easy for the truly great out of the box ones to get lost in the shuffle. Thankfully this fate did not occur to Supercharged Robot VULKAISER. Not only is the game especially fun to play, but it’s a wonderful send-up/homage of 1970s Japanese animation. If you’ve ever watched an episode of Tatsunoko cartoons, you’ll instantly get the joke and fall in love with the game. The story is really cute and, depending on which teammate you merged VULKAISER with, you get a different conversation at the end of a level. The mechanics are fantastic as well which each version of VULKAISER playing very different. Each merge form has their own strength and weakness. It’s an incredibly fun game that feels like it is from the era of the golden age of shooters. Do you like Gunbird, R-Type, Raiden or Gradius? Then you’ll most assuredly have a lot of fun with Supercharged Robot VULKAISER. I spent way to much time with different versions of the game (Steam, Desura, Etc) and it never got old.

It’s interesting to note that Telltale released two games at the same time. Game of Thrones was perhaps the worst Telltale release ever, with a terrible story, incredibly glitchy gameplay (in a point and click adventure game???) and it added nothing to the franchise. The Atlus game was better. Then there was Tales From the Borderlands which took a First Person Shooter and turned it into a fantastic adventure game series that I liked better than some of the actual 2K releases. The visuals were completely true to the original series, the characters were highly entraining, which really developed personalities that made you care about them. The voice actors were top notch and only helped to make the characters come alive. The story was terrific, making you laugh and even quite sad. There were even some “HOLY SH!T!” moments when a few characters bit the dust. Hell, the game even managed to make a fun version of a racing game into a point and click/visual novel hybrid. I still don’t know how they pulled that off. I loved everything about Tales From the Borderlands and it’s the first time I’ve truly been wowed by a Telltale game outside of the Sam & Max or Strong Bad series. Even if you’re not an adventure game fan, or you’ve never picked up a Borderlands title before, you can sit down and have a lot of fun with this episodic series. For pure story, this was the best game of the year and I haven’t laughed this hard at a video game in some time. Great job Telltale. Now don’t screw up the Batman license.

I feel a little dirty having Pokémon Shuffle as my #2 game of the year. It’s a match 3 puzzle game and a freemium title to boot. However, between the iOS and 3DS versions of the game, I’ve put in over 200 hours this year, making it my most played game of 2015. I play it for a few minutes every day, but that time adds up over the course of the year. It’s an incredibly fun and sometimes challenging puzzle game where you catch Pokémon via a match 3 puzzle game. You get to then use your captured Pokémon as the match 3 pieces and each one gives you a different bonus when you make a match. Some Pokémon Mega Evolve and in addition to the hundreds of normal levels in the game, you can unlock expert levels giving you chances to catch Legendary Pokémon. There are also weekly contests ranging from the Safari Zone (where you are randomly pitted against a Pokémon) to community contests where you are ranked amongst all the other players in the world in an attempt to earn Mega Stones and new Pokémon. There is always something new and it never gets old. I find this game really jump starts my brain in the morning when I get up, especially the timed puzzles. Nothing says “WAKE THE HELL UP” like trying to make as many matches as you can in under a minute to try and catch a rare Pokémon. Best of all, I have yet to spend a cent on the 3DS version of the game and I’m still consistently ranked in the top 1-10% (depending on the contest) in the world on both versions of the game. I have spent five dollars on the iOS version but that’s because the pay to win aspect is a little more noticeable there. items cost more in-game currency in that one and you have less of a chance to catch Pokémon in it. Yet somehow, even though the iOS version has the decked stacked against you more, I seem to be better at catching Pokémon and scoring in that one. There have been several times with that version where I’ve 100% the game and had to wait for new content. Not so with the 3DS version where I sometimes get stuck with a few puzzles because I refuse to spend money to roid up my Pokémon team for that battle. I just wait until I have enough in-game currency. Slow and steady wins the race. Anyway, Pokémon Shuffle is fantastic. it’s by far the best Match 3 game I’ve experience and that includes everything from Hunie Pop to Puzzle Quest. It’s a fantastic game even WITH the Freemium aspect, but like most Nintendo pay to win titles, you really don’t have to pay a thing to get through the thing. If you haven’t picked up Pokémon Shuffle yet, you are really missing out.

Then there’s my #1 game of the year – Fallout 4. As you may recall, I went for The Pip-Boy Edition of the game and I haven’t regretted a second of it. I have put 122+ hours into the game. I’ve nearly 100%’d it. All I have left is to get a 100% approval rating in one of my communities and to do the Brotherhood of Steel ending. I have played the hell out of this game and even now I’m going through withdrawal. I feel like I should STILL be playing it. I want that season pass to come out today. I want to keep exploring the commonwealth doing the same repeatable radiant quests. I want to find new stuff, I want to meet new people. I want to nuke some more Mirelurk Queens. I want to grind grind grind simply because I don’t want to stop playing the game. I love it. The odd thing though? It’s my least favorite Fallout game. I preferred Fallout 3 and New Vegas version of VATS. I preferred the story in nearly every game. The actual roleplaying in the other games was superior. The previous games were all actual RPGs instead of a FPS. I preferred the isometric games, the BoS action game and the BoS tactics game gameplay-wise.

So what did I love about Fallout 4 so much? Well a lot of things. The location, Boston, is my second favorite in all of Fallout (D.C. was first for obvious reasons). I really enjoyed the core story even though I saw the plot twist with the Institute coming a mile away. What I really loved were the sidequests and companions. They were the best out of any Fallout game so far. There was a lot of detail, backstory, nuances and more. The world was HUGE and I spent dozens of hours just exploring the gamer without giving a crap about any storylines or quests. I just wanted to see what was out there and what, if anything I recognized from all my trips to Boston and Salem. I loved so many of my companions. Curie, Nick Valentine, Piper, Dogmeat, Deacon and Codsworth. It was hard to choose between them all. I did want to murder Preston repeatedly for all the times I was sneaking around and he just ran right into a swarm of Super Mutants shooting his musket before getting blown up by a suicider. Perhaps what I liked best is that this was the least buggy Bethesda game I have ever played. I encountered a whopping two bugs in my playfest. One was that I sat at a terminal for a really long time and the second was slowdown in heabily urban parts of Boston. That’s it. This game ran like butter, especially compared to Fallout 3 where your save file grew to be so big your game would freeze up every 5-15 minutes. The game was gorgeous to look had, had a truly awesome soundtrack and even though my protagonist was no longer silent and Ron Perlman wasn’t narrating, there was so game that I enjoyed more than Fallout 4. Every minute of playing it was pure joy and even now when I need to finish Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon, which is the best in the series since Red Rescue and start Summon Knight 5, all I want to do is go back and play Fallout 4 when I’m not painting. Which is utterly nonsensical because I have nothing really to do in the game except walk around and shoot things. That’s how good Fallout 4 is. There is no doubt in my mind this was the best release of the year. Nothing even remotely came close to it.

Jonathan Widro’s Top Ten

1.) Yoshi’s Wooly World (Wii U)
2.) Mortal Kombat X (PS4)
3.) Tembo The Badass Elephant (PS4)
4.) Rocket League (PS4)
5.) Ori & The Blind Forest (PC)
6.) Splatoon (Wii U)
7.) Onechanbara Z2: Chaos (PS4)
8.) Transformers Devastation (PS4)
9.) Submerged (PS4)
10.) Until Dawn (PS4)

While there were a few games I enjoyed in 2015, I wasn’t into most of the AAA games released and there weren’t as many artistic indies as there seemed to be in the last few years.

I’m normally not a fan of cinematic games, but Until Dawn drew me in with some well known actors, and kept me glued with simple gameplay but compelling storytelling.

Submerged is an interesting game, as it presented a beautiful (but small) open world where there was no combat, but only simple puzzle solving.

There were fewer third person melee/action games in 2015 than in any other year in recent memory. Platinum Games had Transformers Devastation which was solid but unspectacular fun. Onechanbara Z2: Chaos was also really fun but it is hard to recommend to most gamers.

Nintendo hit one out of the park with Splatoon, as it got me to play a shooter (a genre I generally never touch). I hope we see more from Splatoon both in this core gameplay and maybe other types (2D!).

As a series-long fan, Mortal Kombat X was a great followup to the MK9 reboot, but I was disappointed in some of the character selection, both in the core roster and in the DLC.

Yoshi’s Wooly World was my favorite game of the year, as it is a direct sequel to my favorite game Yoshi’s Story. The gameplay is fun and the use of yarn is innovative. There were a couple of other great platformers this year too, including the underrated Tembo The Badass Elephant as well as the beautiful, but surprisingly hard Ori & The Blind Forest. I also enjoyed Chibi Robo: Zip Lash which just missed the list.

Steven Kess
Staff Writer

1.) Metal Gear Solid 5 (PS4)
2.) Mario Maker (Wii U)
3.) Dying Light (PS4)
4.) Just Cause 3 (PS4)
5.) Bloodborne (PS4)
6.) Downwell (PC)
7.) Axiom Verge (PS4)
8.) Rocket League (PS4)
9.) Rainbow Six Siege (PS4)
10.) Toy Soliders: War Chest (PS4)

I know a lot of my friends were really let down by the games released this year, but for me it was one of the best years I can recall. Picking a top ten was difficult, and I could have easily gone fifteen. That doesn’t even include the games I haven’t had a chance to play. Having to leave out The Witcher 3, The Jackbox, Helldivers, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, The Swindle, and Roundabout was heart breaking, as they all deserve recognition. Destiny: The Taken King took a game I was disappointed in last year, and made it addictive and fun this year, making good on the promise of Destiny. When I get to the games I did play, well, it was a damn fine year to be AAA, open world games. Smaller downloadable games also had a great year. I only had two real let downs all year: Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, which pretty much borrowed from tons of shooters I love and created something that was less than the sum of its parts, and Star Wars Battlefront, which wins the Destiny award for not living up to its potential upon release. I hope it gets its own redemption like Destiny did. When your two let downs have great mechanics, though, that is a pretty good year. After this year, I am really looking forward to next.

Toy Soldiers: War Chest made this list for one reason; local co-op is an absolute blast. The game is a nostalgia trip, letting you use G.I. Joe, Cobra, and Masters of the Universe armies to take down various other toy armies. On its own the game can be frustratingly difficult on later stages, but with a partner it becomes a bit of a puzzle. It is all about The Art of War; know your resources and manage them well, only then shall you achieve victory.

I have a soft spot for Tom Clancy games, Rainbow Six in particular. While this year’s Rainbow Six Siege isn’t everything I want in the franchise, as it is missing a true single player mode and has some gross transactions, the moment to moment game play is so good that I can forgive a lot of sins. I just cannot forgive them at full price. It is a great multiplayer shooter with some fun hooks. One team defends a location while the other invades. The defenders can build up walls and set traps, the invaders have to find the best way to infiltrate and accomplish their goal. Rounds can be a blitz, over in what feels like seconds, or they can hang on for a long time as team members get picked off one by one and the methodical pace sets in. It is a shooter for the tactical player and after a year of what felt like games based around more speed. It was a welcome experience.

Rocket League came out of nowhere for me; a free game on PlayStation Plus on the day of its release turned out to be the most fun I have had playing sports games in a long time. Zipping around in remote controlled cars that have jet boosters and can climb walls is pretty awesome, adding soccer to the mix just made things bonzo gonzo. Rocket League was a great game from the start, but developer Psyonix has kept up with post release support and added some awesome stuff, the main one being mutators, allowing you to change the rules of the game and physics. It adds longevity to an already imminently replayable game. If my old man hands didn’t get sore playing it, I may never have stopped.

My favorite type of game is the “Metroidvania” style 2-d exploration games, with the awful name being taken from a portmanteau of Metroid and Castlevania, the games that popularized the style. Axiom Verge is a lovingly crafted tribute to 8-bit Metroidvanias with the work done by one man, Tom Happ. Tom spent 5 years working on Axiom Verge. What came to be is a game that feels like it has been infused with the DNA of many NES games I love. Most importantly, it reminds me a great deal of Blaster Master, my favorite game of all time. Unlike a lot of modern takes on the genre, Axiom Verge feels right. The game play and controls are dialed into the old days. It makes the game a nostalgia trip and a sublime experience for me.

Downwell is old school. It harkens back to the days of the Atari 2600 and NES; a time when the very best games had simple, well-polished mechanics. Downwell joins games like Tetris, Pac-man and Super Mario Bros. as one of those games that just feel right. Everything is tuned perfectly. The only thing that keeps this game from the top of my list is that I am pretty horrible at it.

Bloodborne reeks of old school game design philosophy and harkens back to the quarter crunching arcade days. Luckily, you don’t have to “insert coin” every time the game brutally murders you. It is a game about learning from your mistakes and getting better from that experience. You need to pay attention and focus if you want to succeed. In days when I often listen to a podcast while playing games, I cannot divide my attention with Bloodborne or I shall feel its wrath, and that is a very welcome experience.

Just Cause 3 was the game for me this year, the one I was hyped for and had full faith in. Where I was tentative with Metal Gear due to all the behind the scenes shenanigans, I was ready for JC3 to blow me away. It did a fine job meeting my expectations, only missing a higher ranking thanks to some technical snafus, most notably load times than can take 8 minutes, and that is after the previous load was 40 seconds, there is no consistency at all. Fortunately, the game play is so insane that I can forgive the waiting. You use a grappling hook, parachute, and wingsuit to travel across a world that is humongous. The sheer amount of nonsense I have gotten myself into is ludicrous. This game wins my “Far Cry 4” award for most screen shots and video captures from a game in a single year. So may pretty explosions and pure chaotic joy can be had in Just Cause 3’s world, and I will continue to visit it for months to come.

I had low expectations heading into Dying Light; developer Techland often has grand ideas and poor execution and the game just wasn’t getting much buzz. Shortly before it came out I got to watch some let’s plays and was intrigued. The movement looked good, the action frantic, and I decided to give it a shot when I found a good deal on it. I am glad I did. It starts kind of slow, but as you build up your character’s abilities it takes on new life. You are given tons of options for locomotion making getting around a ton of fun. Early in the games you fear the night, there are more and strong zombies about, and you can get wrecked in a hurry. As you become stronger, you relish the night so you can play with your tools of destruction. Few games handle the build up from weakling to badass quite as well as Dying Light. Techland continues to update the game and have made it something more than it was when it launched. It was the most pleasant surprise for me this year.

Super Mario Maker was one of the most memorable games of the year for me, and I wouldn’t even have had to play it to take joy from it. While it is a fantastic game, the real fun for me was the feud it created between video game journalists/personalities. Dan Ryckert of Giant Bomb, along with the Giant Bomb community, took great joy in creating fiendish levels. Giant Bomb alum and Kotaku writer Patrick Klepek took on their death traps, often taking many hours to complete a single level. The highlight being “The Ryckoning,” a level where they raised the stakes with a wager and a GoFundMe page. The wager was simple, Patrick had 72 hours to complete the Ryckoning; if he failed, Dan won. The loser would back a charity of the winner’s choice to the tune of $100, and the GoFundMe pledges would also go to the charity. Their goal was $500, and they raised $12,905 dollars. Patrick won the challenge, but due the overwhelming support of the community they split the funds between The Brain and Behavior Research Foundation (Dan’s choice) and The American Heart Association (Patrick). A game creating this much nonsense, but also this much support for good causes, is really something magical and something I hope we see more of.

Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain should have been a disaster. So much going on behind the scenes that leaked to the public that the narrative of the development of the game ended up a more engrossing story than the final product. The Phantom Pain’s tale never quite feels like a true Metal Gear story. I really felt let down by the game when I first started playing it, it just didn’t feel like Snake. The game play was impeccable however, and kept me going. After a while I realized I was having an insane amount of fun, turns out the true spirit of Metal Gear was there. It just wasn’t in the narrative it was in the story you made playing the game using its robust mechanics. There is just so much stupid in the game. It makes no sense, it is bonkers, who thinks of this stuff? All of the little stuff adds up to make a game that is more Metal Gear than I could have hoped for.

Aileen Coe’s Top Ten
Staff Writer/Editor

1.) Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (3DS)
2.) Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ (Vita)
3.) The Fruit of Grisaia (PC)
4.) Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC (PC)
5.) Read Only Memories (PC)
6.) Norn9: Var Commons (Vita)
7.) Mercenaries Saga 2 (3DS)
8.) Amnesia: Memories (PC)
9.) Shadowrun Hong Kong (PC)
10.) Life is Strange (PC)

This is the year I finally caved and got a Vita. Since I only got it relatively recently, I haven’t had much time to build up a library of games from this year. This year also saw the release of three otomes and two Trails games (including the long awaited SC, though sadly I couldn’t acquire Cold Steel at launch). As a purveyor of otomes and JRPGs, seeing those games get official releases made me a very happy panda. I can see where people would find this year’s releases lacking, but my tastes tend to run very niche, so I can find some satisfaction in some of this year’s releases here under my little niche rock.

Life is Strange seems like just a high school teen melodrama, but it turns out to have a lot more to it than that. Things like seeing text messages and Max’s diary entries added plenty of perspective to the events that unfolded. The ability to revert time – and the effects of being able to undo something or be able to go back and say exactly the right things – was an interesting one to see in play. It was also interesting to see the effects of that ability going away at the worst times. I hope to see more of this series at some point.

Shadowrun: Hong Kong is a solid followup to last year’s Dragonfall. Basic mechanics are mostly the same, though some things like the ability to switch to combat mode manually were added. The matrix received a huge revamp so that it didn’t feel as much like just a blue version of regular battles. It’s technically possible to just try to brute force your way in, but that carries a larger risk of being detected. Some semi-animated scenes and voice acting were added, which was a nice touch. You can even use feng shui by messing with/breaking various things to either try to fix or disrupt things in some places, and it also has effects during battle. All in all another solid entry in the series.

Amnesia: Memories played with the amnesiac protagonist trope by using it in a somewhat different way. You essentially try to gather clues concerning your identity from what’s in your apartment and cell phone and through talking to the people around you while trying not to let on you don’t actually remember anything. There is a particularly problematic guy (HE WHO MUST NOT BE NAMED – no not Voldemort) whose issues bleed into other routes. I felt the other characters’ routes were worth playing through to compensate. It also helps that the visuals provide plenty of (SFW) eye candy. There’s a ton of endings, so it’ll last you a while.

Mercenaries Saga 2 is essentially a budget version of Final Fantasy Tactics/Tactics Ogre, and it still provides a good bang for its buck. I gave the demo a whirl and wanted to keep playing so much I shelled out for the full game as soon as I hit the end of the demo. It’s got political intrigue akin to the aforementioned FFT/TO. While the class system isn’t quite as deep, there’s still plenty of room for character customization. It doesn’t try to reinvent the SRPG wheel, but it does make one that’s fun to roll with.

Who wouldn’t want to play as a super powered protagonist and romance super powered pretty boys? In Norn 9: Var Commons you had a choice of THREE protagonists, each with their own personalities and voices (unlike a lot of otomes which mostly have a bland unvoiced protagonist). You find out different things depending on whose routes and with protagonist you’re playing as, and it takes playing through with everyone to see the full plot picture. The romance scenes were cute (with a couple going into fade-to-black territory). It was plagued with more typos than it should’ve been, which sadly marred what was otherwise a enjoyable otome (and I did keep playing until I got the platinum). I still wish this and Code Realize had had more time to stand on their own instead of being released virtually back-to-back, but I am very glad we got them.

Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC has been a long time coming. FC introduced many plot threads, including a major one left dangling at the end. Likes its predecessor, there’s a ton of world building and lore to immerse yourself in. There’s even a whole book to read within the game, which is worth the time to collect all its parts. Even the NPCs have their own lives outside of standing in one spot and spouting one line over and over. They travel to other places and even remember if you helped them in the first game. Like its predecessor, it is a long slow burn and takes a while to really pick up (though once it does you’re in for quite a ride), but if you don’t mind that, both Trails in the Sky games (do NOT play SC without playing FC first) provide a nice meaty JRPG experience.

The first thing that comes to most people’s minds when it comes to Read Only Memories is Snatcher, which is a rather apt comparison. However, ROM manages to capture the spirit of Snatcher while having its own charms to set it apart so that it doesn’t seem like just a carbon copy. It has a diverse cast of characters with their own quirks and personalities. It even lets you set your own pronouns and dietary preferences (the latter doesn’t seem to really come into play, but it was an interesting bit of flavor text). The puzzles are challenging but manageable, and you can’t get stuck permanently even if you have trouble with one (though sometimes things turn out differently depending on how you do on them, like the cab puzzle). It also has multiple endings, providing some incentive to replay it.

The Fruit of Grisaia is a rather long visual novel, and it’s worth sitting through it all. There’s plenty of comedic moments and more serious ones that showcase different facets of every character’s personalities. Yuuji himself is an interesting protagonist (and again, not a generic blank slate), which added all the most to character banter. Each character has a lot more than what shows on the surface, and revelations that come in each route tug at the heartstrings (and at some points slash at them). I’m eagerly looking forward to the other Grisaia games.

Code: Realize ~Guardians of Rebirth~ provided an interesting premise with a protagonist who could not touch anything due to the poison in her blood (quite an obstacle for romancing anyone, to say the least). There’s plenty of plot to go with the romance, and each route is long and provides plenty of character and relationship development as various mysteries and conspiracies come to light. The gorgeous steampunk art was a treat to look at, and I would keep marveling at how pretty it was. Also there’s a dog with a gold leg. Dogs make everything better.

I easily spent more time with Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate than any other game this year. A lot of that is due to the built-in multiplayer. I actually skipped MH3U because of the lack of multiplayer without owning a Wii U. The sense of progression that comes with hunting down increasingly tougher monsters and wearing their skin as armor and wielding their teeth and claws as weapons is addicting. Being able to show off that progress provides further motivation to face down that monster and contend with the desire sensor time after time. Facing down monsters with other people can not only make the grind faster, but the camaraderie that comes with successful hunts makes them all the more fun. It introduced two new weapon types, one of which has become my new main weapon. While I’ve slowed down on playing this since reaching the ending in story mode and making G-Crown, I do hop on from time to time if a friend is available to play with me.

Staff Writer

1.) Steins;Gate (Vita)
2.) Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ (Vita)
3.) Dragon Ball Xenoverse (360)
4.) The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel (Vita)
5.) Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX (3DS)
6.) Tokyo Xanadu (Vita, Import)
7.) Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer (3DS)
8.) Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden (3DS)
9.) Amnesia: Memories (Vita)
10.) Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax (Vita)

This year was a really bizarre year for games and my backlog. I started off the year playing Japanese visual novels released the year before, I was told NOT to buy a number of games that came out this year, anything I care about isn’t out until next year, and I wasted my entire summer trying to get a platinum trophy for a game that was released back in 2012 after losing the 100+ hour save (no, I’m not letting this go). Surprisingly I managed to play ten games released this year but even I think this lineup in on the weak side compared to previous years. Most of my time was generally spent on the Vita and I think it shows. Don’t worry 3DS, next year will be yours.

You know what’s a great idea? Throwing a bunch of characters from Japanese light novels into a 2D fighting game. (What?) Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax is a fighting game by SEGA featuring light novel characters such as Durarara!!, Toradora and Black Bullet. It plays a lot like BlazBlue and Guilty Gear but it certainly doesn’t have the stories like those two. The story in this game… well it’s not that great. It’s pretty generic for all the characters no matter who you choose. It’s low of the list because of the linearity and lack of any real plot. The only reason why it’s crawled into my Top Ten is because I could actually GET somewhere in the game and I could win the fights. In general it’s kind of hilarious to see these unlikely characters team up, fight against, and interact with each other. Also Shizuo Heiwajima was in it. Shizuo’s never been in a game in the US. Good for you buddy.

I honestly think if I didn’t hate two out of the five routes and the mini games in Amnesia: Memories, it would have been higher on the list. When everyone warned me that “hey air hockey sucks” I knew I was in trouble. This was the third otome I would play this year and I guess I had my expectations set too high. Some of the shit the poor heroine has to go through was just plain terrible that it made certain routes and characters unbearable. Each route is a different world, not everyone behaved the same. Depending on the route, a girl named Mine, could be either a nice friend or a terrible human being. Ikki, one of the main love interests for the heroine, had a fanclub with really horrible girls and somehow they got away with the things they pulled off. You could tell they were horrible because they had no eyes in their character portrait. I played two routes that went downhill so fast I was in agony. But I was reassured that Kent (a guy with glasses, what a surprise said no one) was the best route so I did keep playing. The game had way too many choices for my liking but still was easy to play and had a fine amount of content. I may have questioned the character and costume designs a bit.

The West finally got a handheld Dragon Ball Z game, we finally have seen the light! Japan has already released several 3DS games already, Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden is the first 3DS to come out for the US. It’s developed Arc System Works and has some of the most amazing sprite work I have ever seen. It plays a lot like Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax with the 2D fighting field (you can fly into the air, that’s still 2D yeah?) and being able to choose multiple partners, called Z-assists. There’s a typical Story Mode as you play through the main plot and an Adventure Mode with its own original story (Future Trunks was in it therefore it was acceptable). While visually and musically this game was great, the character roaster is not that impressive. There’s over a hundred characters to choose from, yes. But over ninety of them are Z-assists only. The playable list has twenty-five characters but only eighteen are unique characters. And this is if you can unlock everyone. Mission rewards that unlock characters require you to obtain an S ranking after battle, and that is a chore right there. There was a lot of lost opportunity to have some characters such as Android 17, Tenshinhan, or Videl playable and instead they are just assists. However for a $30 game at launch, it was fun. If you had preordered from Amazon, you got a Japanese download of Dragon Ball Z: Super Butoden 2, originally for the SNES as a bonus. Talk about old school.

Sometimes more than I would like to admit, I really enjoy games that require nothing of me. Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer is all the house decorating minus the horrors of unwanted flowers and bamboo running over your town, looking for fish (DAMN YOU SEA BASS) and all the responsibilities of being Mayor. Instead you have all the responsibilities of designing a new home for our little animal friends. Happy Home Designer didn’t run on a real time which was a huge relief for me because that meant I didn’t mean to constantly worry about, well everything that I had to worry about in Animal Crossing: New Leaf. Decorating my home was always my favorite part in New Leaf so having that be the main focus of Happy Home Designer was right up my alley and kind of relaxing. However I do miss having my own house and interacting with my friends in the game, hell I missed interacting with the villagers. While it’s nice to design the homes for villagers, Happy Home Designer doesn’t have as much to do compared to New Leaf but it definitely is less stressful. Also if you really hated any villagers or hold grudges (really only applies to me), make a shitty house for them. They honestly won’t care. It’s a win/win really.

Boy I was disappointed to not have played a Persona (okay I may have beaten Persona Q…) or Ys game this season. But wait, is that true. Tokyo Xanadu is an action role-playing game that plays a lot like both Persona 3/4 and Ys. Kou as the protagonist has character traits that can be raised, like Wisdom which can be gained by reading books or answering questions. You take on quests for your friends for rewards or on certain days (it runs on a calendar time, it’s the year 2015!) Kou can spend time with people to unlock side stories. In battle you control one person but can switch out other party members who all have different skills and weapons. Dungeon runs require you to finish quickly in order to get good ranks but after you clear a dungeon, you can always go back during your free time (periods in between dungeons and the story). Right off the bat I can say that this game is gorgeous, from the character models to city layouts. Tokyo Xanadu would have been higher if I understood what was going on but game progression and navigation are easy to follow.

Earlier in the year I did play Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA F 2nd but dropped it after unlocking all the songs because I just can’t beat the songs on Normal mode. That’s right, NORMAL mode I couldn’t beat. So I’m baffled that a rhythm game is this high on the list but it’s not Project DIVA that made my list, it’s Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX! This game is much more forgiving and plays much like Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call (without the battles of course). The game uses 3D Nendoroid models and has a fair amount of costumes to choose from as long as you have the MP to spare. You can play with the stylus on the bottom screen or the buttons in the same way the Project DIVA games has. Also I hear there’s a really difficult mode but I’m not going to even try.

I haven’t played a single Legend of Heroes game in my life so it looks like The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is my introduction into the series. It has the same menu interface and overworld as Tokyo Xanadu. The graphics aren’t as smooth as Tokyo Xanadu and it seems weird to me when their weapons just magically disappear but that doesn’t take away from much because the game is still really beautiful along with awesome music. Combat is a lot of fun and interesting compared to what I have played lately. It may because I prefer the tactical turn by turn style compared to the real time battles. Or maybe because I just don’t know how to freaking dodge. Bonus points because it’s well, in English.

This year was a golden (HAHAHFREEZA) year to be a Dragon Ball fan. The West saw three game releases, we got a new movie, and there’s a brand new anime airing in Japan right now. I’m a huge Dragon Ball fan, but I don’t play the games much, in fact I’m pretty sure I suck. It wasn’t until last year when I picked up Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z and while it’s a decent game, it’s nothing more than missions and the known story. This is where Dragon Ball Xenoverse comes in. Presenting the create your own character! Previous titles have included some sort of character creation but this creation goes beyond just appearance. There are some factors in the creation that will effect you in battle such as choosing between a female Saiyan, a male human or a Majin. Not only that you have a full range of abilities and techniques to choose from and obtain! Character creation aside, Xenoverse is the closest we are getting to having anything related to Dragon Ball Online, a MMORPG developed in Japan and South Korea. So this time, the story is not just replaying the Dragon Ball Z story all over again like in Battle of Z. You are a warrior of the Time Patrol summoned by Shenlong to fight along aside Future Trunks in order to keep history intact. It’s refreshing to see some original story, unlikely dialogue between the characters, and a fine time to make that Dragon Ball Z original character you wanted to create as a child (because you know you did). Xenoverse even manages to make the impossible possible, make a GT story tolerable. DRAGON BALL GT.

Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~ ranks at number two because it was the first new game I played after smashing Tales of Innocence R to death. I already talked about this game extensively on about how much I love that it’s simple and easy to play through, visually amazing, the wacky cast of characters, and the interesting tale it had to offer. As long as you don’t get too emotionally involved, you’re in for a serious trip. Also senpai with glasses noticed me.

Finally, sneaking into my top game for this year is the visual novel Steins;Gate. To be honest, Code: Realize and Steins;Gate were really hard to decide for me. Steins;Gate only edged out on top slightly because of a fair amount of… well reasons. Not good ones but reasons nonetheless. First is the music, this game’s soundtrack and theme songs are all amazing. Kanako Ito is one of my favorite Japanese singers so I have a slight bias. Next, which is ridiculously shallow, my preferred and favorite ending is the true end, hence canon. There were multiple endings in terms of who Rintaro ended up with but they were not the true ending to the actual game. Third, there’s an anime and stage play, uh that’s it. And lastly because the aspect of time travel and the pop culture references appeal to me more than the history lessons and alchemy. I’m also really surprised that I managed to avoid any spoilers despite the game being out on PC for so long already. Steins;Gate was an intense roller coaster of emotions along with my need to want to save both Kurisu and Mayuri for the sake of keeping Rintaro sane.

Mark B.’s Top Ten
Senior Editor

1.) The Fruit of Grisaia (PC)
2.) Fallout 4 (PS4)
3.) Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (3DS)
4.) Dropsy (PC)
5.) Lost Dimension (Vita)
6.) Steins;Gate (Vita)
7.) Her Story (PC)
8.) Bloodborne (PS4)
9.) Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker (3DS)
10.) God Eater 2: Rage Burst (Vita)

Most years tend to see me filtering my list down from twenty or thirty games and saying, “Oh, so and so (usually Alex if we’re being honest) thought this was a bad year but it was okay for me,” but 2015 was the first year where, up until December, I was actively struggling to put ten games into my list, and it’s also the first year where I’ve really said “Holy shit, what a bad year for games,” in… well, ever. It doesn’t help that two of the (presumably) better games to come out this year, Trails of Cold Steel and Yakuza 5, came out really late in the year when I had practically no time to devote to them, or that some of the games people were extremely excited about, like Undertale, never grabbed me at all. The bigger problem, though, is that, honestly, all of the games I was looking forward to just… weren’t great, or in some cases, at all good; I don’t want to throw any one game under the bus, but I’ve reviewed most of the games I was heavily anticipating, so if you go through my backlog you’ll probably find them, and my disappointment, fairly easily. Thanks to a late release and a late import, however, I was eventually able to get the list into a condition that was agreeable, but man, this year. In the spirit of positivity, I really hope most of the promising games in 2016 pay off their potential, because there’s a lot of promise in next year’s announced list of games, but only time will tell. Either way, though, these were the ten best games, for better or worse, that I played in 2015.

God Eater 2: Rage Burst came out in Japan back in February of this year, and after ten months of nothing from Bandai Namco I decided to take the plunge on importing it, so of course they announced they’re bringing it to the US less than a week later. Still, what’s done is done, and while I haven’t had an extensive amount of time to spend with it, I’m mostly pleased that I imported it anyway, because God Eater 2: Rage Burst is everything I loved about the first game combined with enough changes to the systems to correct many of the things I was critical of. While I have absolutely no idea what’s going on in the plot (and the characters so far make me miss Lindow and Sakuya), the game looks amazing on the Vita and the gameplay is very much “Monster Hunter for people who think Monster Hunter is kind of annoying,” which I can appreciate. There are all new weapon types to play with (including a scythe, which is basically my favorite thing) and combat feels a bit more robust than in the prior game, however, so this feels like a true evolution of the product than an also-ran sequel, and I feel like this should be the game that makes the game something special in the US, if nothing else. It also doesn’t hurt that there are all kinds of interesting systems behind the scenes, like the ability to drop multiple boost effects onto weapons (and combine these boosts into other boosts if you don’t like what you have), or the ability to bring a full party into battle against some truly amazing monsters. Either way, this should definitely be on your radar for 2016 if it isn’t already, whether you have a PS4 or a Vita, because it’s just a well-designed game, and I’m positive it’ll be on my list again for 2016 once I have a better idea of what’s going on in the plot.

I never really got into Devil Survivor 2 on its first release, mostly because it was a bit annoying structurally and, honestly, Overclocked had spoiled me a bit by the time I played the sequel with its voice acting and extra content. Well, after a good number of delays, Record Breaker put that right, as it’s not only a much improved version of Devil Survivor 2, it’s also a product that can make a good argument for owning it even if you owned the original. If you’ve never played either version, it’s a solid turn-based RPG with a lot of interesting mechanics to back it up, including the demon summoning and fusion aspects of the Megaten franchise we all know and love, and the cast (while not quite as interesting as that of the first game) is more than capable of carrying along the plot here as well. If you have played the original, however, this game not only adds in some voice work, but also adds in an entirely new scenario to play through as a sort of “What If” session that’s nearly as robust and engaging as the original game, and this nearly doubles the playtime of the game overall. Put simply, it was a joy to play through in comparison to the original release, and Record Breaker ended up being something that, despite all of the discussions on its price point, I was happy to have purchased in the end, and this year, that was enough.

Bloodborne, as I’ve said on the site in the past, isn’t my favorite Souls game, but while I can safely say there are things I’d do differently (add in actual content instead of Chalice Dungeons, for instance), I can also say that, for the most part, it was still an experience that I enjoyed more than many this year, and as such, it makes the list. Part of that comes from the aesthetics of the game world, as the combination of Victorian-era environments, steampunk elements and Lovecraftian concepts makes for an engaging backdrop when one is attempting to murder werewolves and tentacle beasts. Part of it comes from the mechanics, which (while a bit reductionist in scope) are still quite interesting and make for some tense battles once you’ve learned how they work correctly. At the end of the day, though, the biggest selling point is that, frankly, it’s a Souls game, and while the risk/reward setup isn’t as successful here as it’s been in the past, it’s still a great feeling to defeat a boss after beating your head against the wall for an hour, or to realize you’ve learned a boss so well you can beat it with half the investment you made the first time around. With Dark Souls 3 being the last kick at the Souls can for a while, it’ll be interesting to see what mechanics from Bloodborne inform that experience, but even taken on its own merits, it’s a good experience, and one that’s worth highlighting, even if it’s not perfect.

Her Story is a surprisingly short affair; you can complete it in a single sitting if you’re so inclined (and your ability to parse out dialogue clues is strong), and there’s honestly nothing to draw you back into it in terms of inherent replay value (a common theme in adventure-style games). Still, it was honestly a really interesting experimental piece, I thought, mostly because it took the long-retired concept of the FMV game and repurposed it in a way that was fresh and interesting, while also presenting an interesting tale for the player to chew on. It’s not a game that’s carried by its plot per say, as the plot is a little goofy in places, but between the interesting presentation of your character sifting through evidence records on a crap OS and the borderline transcendent performance of Viva Seifert as Hannah, it managed to be something that defied all possible expectations and did a lot with very little. If you’ve not played it, it’s worth checking out (especially since it’s on sale on Steam), and if nothing else, it’s something that’ll probably be influential in the long run.

While 2015 was far less impressive a year for the Vita than 2014 was, that’s not to say that the handheld didn’t see its share of awesome experiences, and one of the most affecting for me was that of Steins;Gate. It’s a hard game to get into at first, to be sure; the first few hours are based around some incredibly ridiculous characters spending their time waxing poetic about time travel and how much of a loon the main character is, and if the game lost a player at this point, I could honestly say I wouldn’t be surprised. However, once the game gets into its main plot hook, you’ll be hard-pressed to put it down, as the game rapidly transitions from telling a tale of friends (after a fashion) inventing a strange device into a taut sci-fi thriller that can end in several different ways, and characters that start off as borderline absurd become rounded and well imagined in a flash. The game is also complimented by its partially unfinished art style that gives the game and its characters a unique and almost ethereal look, and it’s a game that just stays with you long after you’ve completed it because of what it does and how it’s presented. If you love visual novels, you’ll love Steins;Gate, in other words, and it’s a game I knew was going to be on my list eventually, even if it wouldn’t be at the top.

Atlus has had a busy few years, due in large part to the explosion of Persona 4 as a media property in the West, and while most folks have (rightfully) been focused on the upcoming release of Persona 5 and the oddity of Persona 4: Dancing All Night, I found that the best thing to come out of the US branch this year wasn’t based in the Megaten universe at all. Lost Dimension is a strategy experience unlike any other, as it combines the core mechanics of a gridless turn-based strategy RPG with Mafia, and the results are special in the best way possible. The game does a good job of challenging the player to figure out just who might be the traitor in their group while also potentially making the player care about at least some of the team, and the end result is an experience that makes late-game betrayals frustrating not just mechanically, but also emotionally. The plot also makes a strong case for multiple playthroughs, as you really need to play the story through twice to figure out how and why everything happens the way it does, and while certain points didn’t impress, on the whole the game was just a wonderful time, one that I was happy to play through nearly three times all told, and am still easily willing to recommend to basically anyone.

Dropsy is one of the most bizarre yet conventional adventure games I’ve played… ever, honestly, but that’s not to disparage it in any way; make no mistake, this game, for all its oddity, is a game I absolutely fell in love with, because it’s just an amazing experience all around. The game goes out of its way to be an oddity across the board, between the surreal visual style that mixes crazy psychedelic sequences with an incredibly varied game world, characters that run from stoners to jacked-up cops to vampire hunting survivalists and beyond, a complete lack of spoken or written dialogue to drive the game and a protagonist who is literally a lumpy clown, and it works, somehow. The plot’s use of pictographic conversations as both a simplistic plot driver and a puzzle system is engaging, as is the weird world Dropsy lives in and the strange people he meets, but perhaps the most interesting part of the experience is Dropsy’s motivation to succeed; in the end, all Dropsy wants is to be liked, and really, that’s a character motivation that’s really easy to empathize with. Also, for a weird looking clown with a lumpy everything, he’s a pretty good dude, and it’s hard not to like him by the end of the game, even if you think ill of him in the beginning. Honestly, Dropsy is just a game that stays with you, and it’s one that I knew I’d be into when I first saw it, but never anticipated how much until I played it directly, and if you haven’t played it yet, you really should.

If we’re talking about the game I put the most hours into this year, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate almost certainly takes that honor, as between the single player and online play with friends I’ve probably put in nearly two hundred hours all told, so from that perspective it was definitely going to end up in the list if nothing else. Beyond that, though, the game is actually a really good experience all around, and it’s a strong return to form for the Monster Hunter franchise after Tri was kind of an odd experience and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate had such a wonky online setup. MH4U mostly puts everything right, though, as it takes the parts of the prior game that worked well, excises the parts that were a little questionable, and integrates online play into a handheld version of the game without a proxy for the first time ever, making it easily worth the asking price for fans alone. The improvements to movement, expanded gameplay options and weapons, elements borrowed from Dragon’s Dogma and options for acquiring components from monsters that couldn’t fit into the game only make a good game better, and this is easily one of the best releases in the entire series because of it. I’m still hoping that we’ll still see another non-Nintendo console (or PC?) release in the series sooner rather than later, but at this point, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate is arguably the best game in the series, and it’s one of my absolute favorites, so it’s an easy game to fit into the list.

There was a point, sometime in November, where I went from saying “I don’t really care about the fact that Fallout 4 is coming out,” to “Man, I’m going to have to play Fallout 4 because it’ll probably be the best game I play this year,” and while I’m not quite certain why it happened (except for general malaise), in retrospect, I’m glad it did. Fallout as a franchise has long since stopped being the RPG series we knew at launch and has become something of an action/first person shooter with RPG elements affair, and I’m as depressed about that as anyone, but honestly, since games like Wasteland 2 have taken up that banner, I’m happy to enjoy what we have rather than be upset with what we don’t. What we have, fortunately, is a game world that’s just fun to explore and search through, a SPECIAL system that feels (to me anyway) like it’s got much less of a “dump stat” spread, and a game where I can honestly just run around and be a post-apocalyptic peace-keeper-cum-ubermensch, and it’s pretty great. It’s also, save corruption aside, probably the least broken Bethesda game in a while; that is, while save corruption is bad, it’s not as hard to work around as “having to wear a specific hat to not crash the game at a set point,” so I’ll take it at this point. Even with that, though, the simple fact is, nuking supermutants with a football-sized bomb, or following a robot on a cross-country trek to an unexplored location, or exploring the actual fallout zone of a bomb drop are all fun things to do, and while Fallout 4 might not have the best narrative, literally every other part of the game works well enough to make it an experience that I’m still enjoying a month later, and that’s not nothing.

Still, in the end, plot is king for me as often as not, and when I was thinking about the very best game I played this year, it all came back to the one game that had the best plot, in The Fruit of Grisaia. That might seem weird at first, especially if you know the game’s history (or have a negative view of visual novels/anime inspired games in general), but honestly, if you give the game a chance, it’s not at all hard to understand. The artwork is beautiful, sure, and the game’s incredibly easy to navigate, as it has all sorts of visual novel friendly mechanics like fast-forward and skipping functions, as well as neat extras like PC sound packs for those who like to get odd novelties from their games. The plot is the biggest seller for the game, though, as it’s basically the story of seven people in a high school meant to cater to the fact that six of them are very messed up, and the further you play into the game the more you’ll come to appreciate each of the characters and understand just why they are the way they are. Some of the sequences ran a bit long for my tastes, but that in no way diminishes the overall strong narrative the game is running on, and I’d be lying if I said the game didn’t get a couple tears out of me at points, which isn’t something I can say about many games. If any game was my favorite this year, it was The Fruit of Grisaia, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next chapter in the series.



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