Figured I’d make one of these and here I am getting it out in the literal last hours of the year. Keep in mind I can only include stuff I played, so some games that might easily have belonged here (like Fire Emblem, probably) aren’t around – I also am going based on US release dates. I did play a lot of games this year, but almost every game released by a western dev was a huge disappointment or just straight up bad, so don’t be surprised that almost everything here is from Japan.
5. Project Diva F
No, not because of Miku and pals; while they are a nice part of it the main reason this is here is because it is a legitimately solid game that I loved the hell out of. I played it for weeks straight throughout most of every single day and I still don’t feel like I’ve gotten enough of it and even plan on getting the US release (I only had the JP version to play) just to 100% it all over again as an excuse to keep playing. I’m not even a fan of rhythm games, but something about this really hooked me in and never let go. Great music and videos (which are both important for this type of game), very well put together gameplay, a lot of fun side stuff to do in each character’s rooms and through the great and varied customization options and so on. I can (and do) sit there playing World’s End Umbrella and that crazy shamisen song all damn day and never get tired of them at all. Not only that, but it’s actually very challenging on Extreme and even some of the tracks on Hard can be a bit much to get higher scores on. This is especially true with the shitty songs – which there are a few (I’m talking to you, Sadistic Music Factory) but luckily after beating them you really do feel that sense of accomplishment.
The full package that makes up Project Diva F is a fun, challenging, and solidly put together game that’s worth far more than people give it the chance for simply due to the fact it’s got ‘anime girls’ in it.
4. Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag
This is a game I had zero expectations for and was certain I’d never try, let alone buy. AC3 was a fucking mess – it shat on the series and was truly one of the worst and most unenjoyable sack of shit games of the past console generation. AC2 was where I got my first ever platinum trophy and I’ve thoroughly played all the rest as well, so it’s a series I was very fond of until 3. I was sure my love for the creed had died, and maybe it did because Edward doesn’t follow it and he sure as hell is a great protagonist. The ship travel and combat, the camaraderie even with your unnamed random NPC crew that grows as they sing shanties and cheer whenever you walk on board your ship, and most of all Edward’s Ezio-esque personality all come together to make this a truly great and addictive game. There’s so much to do and almost all of it is extremely fun to waste your time doing, you can spend a whole day just plundering ships and it never loses it’s excitement and fun.
The game suffers only from being an AC title and thus having the same somewhat clunky controls; it’s a problem when getting to the cabin on your ship (just below you) can’t be done without you hopping and climbing all over by mistake. Overall though, the few issues aren’t a huge detriment and are only even something you think about when they happen or when playing multiplayer (which is pretty fun, by the way).
A great game and a very big step in the right direction for the series, with just a few little bumps. I imagine I’ll be sinking as many hours into this game as I have ships, and I’ve already taken down quite a few convoys worth.
3. Etrian Odyssey IV Legends of the Titan
This is a strange game in that it has no established characters aside some NPCs, only a tiny bit of story, and focuses on creating an adventure that heavily relies on you to craft it along the way. There is no main character, even the ones you create are all equally just part of your guild which is all anyone refers to you as; “Guild Judgment” in my case. You aren’t anyone, you are your whole party, and your whole party is one made entirely by you. Want 5 archers and nothing else? Alright. Want 5 healers? Sure. This freedom also comes with the added aspect of you having to think entirely on your own.
EOIV excels very well in making you truly feel like you’re on an adventure, nothing more, nothing less: you are just another group of explorers doing the same things everyone else is. This makes it feel so much better and both more sandboxy than an actual sandbox game and more immersive than your typical story-driven title.
My very favorite thing about this game is the cartography. This is a feature I’d love to see in more games and actually always wanted somehow implemented into games for ages now – imagine an MMO where you could run a legitimate map-selling business or something, that’d be awesome. I’m sure for some this gets tiring, but for me it’s a big reason I want to keep progressing in the game. For one, I simply enjoy doing it – every step forward in the game is a step toward another floor or area to map out, and I always look forward to it. Secondly, having to draw out the maps yourself really helps with the immersion and the natural feeling of being out on an adventure – a feeling almost no games get right, but this one did.
Etrian Odyssey IV is essentially a dungeon diving game with a little bit of narrative thrown in to keep the pacing from feeling like shit. It rarely feels like you’re grinding due to the amount of side quests available and side-dungeons or paths in labyrinths to map out that keep you feeling progress. The entire game is solidly put together and always fun, gives a unique and very immersive experience, has challenging combat that you have to actually think about to win, and it all comes together with really great art and an outstanding orchestral OST. Easily one of the most enjoyable titles of the year, and my first purchase on the 3DS. If you have one, I strongly suggest trying out the demo – it even carries over into the real game.
2. Tales of Xillia
Xillia is not only one of the best games of 2013 but it’s easily the current peak of the Tales franchise as far as I’m concerned. This title has an awesome cast that meshes extremely well together and comes off as very likable to the player, almost on-par with Graces F though sadly lacking Pascal (they should just make her a DLC character in every Tales from now on), great voice acting for both the dub and the original Japanese audio, possibly the very best combat in the franchise, and easily the best story in the line of Tales games to date. Even for a veteran of the franchise there were twists and turns that in a first playthrough as Jude (which I recommend, as Milla’s story was written as a secondary playthrough, it spoils and ruins almost every big moment) I simply did not see coming or came when I least expected them to. Xillia is also much more focused in its story and much more serious in the execution of it compared to the prior titles in the franchise. Along with that the characters themselves are much more mature and aware of basic shit than you expect from JRPGs – let alone one that is made purposefully to cling to old cliches – yet the dirty jokes, romance, and many very serious and unexpected issues flow naturally instead of unbelievably or cluelessly.
The story is focused and full of huge very well handled twists, the cast acts their age and is a lot more than a ragtag group of non-fighters who join up and save the world, the combat is perfect, and I never felt bored for a single second with any aspect of the game. With so much going on in the story, so many funny or interesting skits to view, and so many side quests, there was never a single dull moment. While I managed to play Graces F four times within a couple months, it had a lot of downsides – while Xillia felt perfect the whole way through without any lulls or “why does this exist” (childhood arc) moments. This was a very close competitor for my top spot as game of the year, but got just barely beaten.
As an aside – I also have to say I love the fact that this game keeps track within the game of EVERYTHING. If you’re someone who wants to 100% it, get all the trophies, or simply want high grade (grade is used for NG+ to get things like double xp, carry weapons over, etc) at the end – it tracks all of that for you and even tells you how much grade each thing is worth or if you get a trophy for this or that. This is something EVERY game should have, not just Tales of Xillia.
Game of the Year
I always intended on doing a full review on this and may in the future – however, I did make a post pointing out a lot of great aspects of this game: HERE. This doesn’t sum up all of why it’s my game of the year nor why it’s one of my favorite games ever, but it does hit some key points of a few elements that make it stand out. Atelier Ayesha took the Atelier franchise to a whole new level in every aspect, and being a series I rank up there as one of my top favorites, that’s a big deal. Everything about this game is above and beyond anything I expected from this beloved series of games, and even all this time later since release I’m still amazed at how high this stands over the Arland trilogy (which I really enjoyed) and how well made of a JRPG in general that it is. Everything in it is perfectly crafted and polished and there’s pretty much nothing bad I can say aside a very cliched “I wish it was longer because I didn’t want it to end”. Luckily that wish is coming true with its direct sequel coming out soon, but even within the story that’s covered directly in Ayesha it is very good, charming, touching, and something that helps make you want to continue on in your journey to save your sister, even if it means destroying the one thing keeping the world alive.
Ayesha gave me a real feeling of adventure, yet at the same time immersed me so deeply into the incredible story and lives of the characters that I felt truly connected to what was going on. I didn’t 100% this game out of being a completionist (I’m not), for the platinum trophy, or for self gratification – I did it because I wanted to know every single last thing this game had to offer because all of it was so great. I needed to know what happened to every character. I needed to know every possible ending. I needed to see every scene.
The Atelier franchise has long stood as the one and only perfect example of how a franchise should evolve, and Ayesha is yet another prime example of that. Instead of focusing on innovation, they focus on taking what they’ve got and raising the bar miles above what they achieved with it prior. Ayesha is a beautiful game with a vast world to explore, incredibly deep – yet not right-in-the-open lore, a touching and very well handled story (a very dark and serious one compared to previous titles in the franchise as well), a perfectly created cast, an OST that gets everything spot on from the touching to the powerful, a great combat system, and of course the trademark synthing which got a huge level up this time around.
This is a game I can easily say is my top of 2013 and one of my favorites of all time, the only thing keeping me from playing it over again even more times is that I don’t want to spoil my feelings of a new Atelier game when Escha & Logy releases.
This year had a few games that got one thing very right; adventure and the feeling of actually being on one rather than just being told you ‘should’ feel that way. I hope this sort of thing continues, but at least we already have some really great titles that have definitely accomplished that much. With new consoles out in the west, and the release of the PS4 in Japan incoming, I can’t help but be excited to see what we’ll be playing by this time next year.
Feel free to let me know your own games of the year in the comments, I don’t like ‘begging for comments’ and never do it, I’m just genuinely interested. The same goes for how you feel about mine, I’d love to hear some feedback because these types of things are always fun to see other people’s views on.
Thanks for reading, see you in 2014.