Friday, January 17, 2014

Top Pun 2013: Music

As with last year, this music list will be arranged with no particular care, including songs, albums, soundtracks, genres, and instruments. As such, the order will be largely arbitrary. There's not much else to say here, so let's get right to it.

Hatsune Miku

Favorite song: World is Mine

Despite this being the third time I've posted this image, I do believe this is the first time I've actually mentioned who this is. This is Hatsune Miku, first and most famous of the vocaloids. To reduce the matter to a gross oversimplification, a vocaloid is an autotuned text to speech synthesis program. I'm not familiar with the details of the program, but the gist of it is that you input syllables, pitches, and durations for notes, and it outputs a song sung by a computerized voice. Naturally, with Japan being Japan, this program was anthropomorphized into a schoolgirl with a short skirt, long twin-tails, and sleeves that don't seem to be attached to the rest of her clothing. Also a tie, just in case anyone's keeping score.

Miku is really more of an instrument than an artist, as any idiot with the software can produce a song that's exactly as legit as any other. I think that Miku represents an interesting philosophical Idea in the relationship between machines and art, redefining what it is that makes art truly human in the first place. But, dropping all pretense of me being interested in some high-minded philosophy debate, I will admit that I just really like several songs composed for her. I could discuss the implications of an immortal pop star who never ages, whose voice only gets better as technology improves, and who is immune to the embarrassing scandals that plague so many stars. But I would be lying out my ass if I implied that I had any idea what I was talking about, and I think there's been quite enough of that on this blog already (For instance, I actually do look like a robot-man in real life). Although, with regards to the whole "immune to scandal" angle, try googling "Hatsune Miku", in conjunction with a word that you'd be reluctant to use in front of your mother. I can all but guarantee that on the first page you'll find things that would make Miley Cyrus blush.

At this point, I'm including these references just so they'll seem outdated in the future.

The King is Dead, by The Decemberists

Favorite Song: Rox in the Box

OK, yes, this album is 3 years old by now, but I thought I'd include it as reparation for my earlier statement that I regretted buying it, which I now regret.

"Rox in the Box", despite the shoddy spelling, is just a damn good song. I can't really do it justice with words, but it has an all-encompassing realness to it. Listening to it is accompanied by an urge to just go out and do something, like chopping down a tree, or building a cabin, or... well, perhaps not mining granite, if the lyrics are meant to be taken seriously. Thankfully, I'm well practiced at resisting these urges, so nothing ever comes of them, but the reminder that music can make me feel something is appreciated.

"Down by the Water" also evokes a similar degree of realness, though not enough to inspire italicization, I'm afraid. As a whole, the album sounds considerably more "American" than most of the Decemberists' previous work, which had a decidedly British feel, with lyrics featuring muskets, nautical adventures, and bagmen, which I assume is something like a humanoid bagworm.

Artist's Interpretation

Fire Emblem Awakening Soundtrack

Best Song: Don't You Dare Speak Her Name!

I had originally considered making this entry solely about this one song, rather than the Fire Emblem soundtrack as a whole. And if you listen to it, I think you'll understand why. This song is powerful. It is at once mournful and majestic, as well as thundering and triumphant. It only appears once in the game, and like a wizard, it arrives neither early nor late, but exactly when it is meant to. In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I'll just leave it at that.

The rest of the soundtrack is pretty damn good, but only a few songs are notable enough to be mentioned alongside the aforementioned. Id~Purpose is one of those songs. Id is the name of the theme song for the tactician, your custom unit in the game. There are quite a few different arrangements of the song, and Purpose is easily the best. It's the song that plays on the last stage of the game, with all of the grandeur that the position entails. The way it mixes in the main theme of the Fire Emblem series later on is a nice touch, unless you're so good at Fire Emblem that you beat the last stage before the song even gets to that part, brother of mine.

Look at Mr. Fire Emblem Prodigy over here.

Finally, I'd like to mention the song that it plays when you initiate a carnal union between two of your units. (i.e. one proposes to the other) Because there was clearly someone from the "name first, ask questions later" school of naming aboard the development team for this game, it's called "Ha, ha! Yes, it will take some getting used to!" While it serves as a decent piece of listening music, the main reason I like this song is for its honesty. While you might expect a theme for a proposal to be cheerful, uplifting, and romantic, this one is pervaded by a sense of anxiety. A proposal is a stressful event, and this song reflects it, while still conveying a sense of romance. If I ever propose in real life, there's a good chance I'll start playing this song, so it might be a good idea to train yourself to run away from this song on reflex.

Paper Mario Sticker Star Soundtrack

Favorite Song: Kamek Battle

And now, I turn my attention to the other game made by Intelligent Systems that I played in the year of 2013. I had originally bought this game as a Christmas present for my brother, but because he never had the time, I ended up playing it before him. I then retconned my Christmas present to "Playing Paper Mario Sticker Star so you didn't have to". The game wasn't very good, but the music was very good, which is why I'm including it on this list. Picking a favorite song was difficult, because there isn't really one song that stands out above the rest. Almost every song in the game is great, but none really rise to the level of excellence set by Don't You Dare Speak Her Name! That said, I think it can be argued that, as a whole, Paper Mario's soundtrack is better than Fire Emblem's, as it has more great songs than Fire Emblem, though none that are as fantastic as the best in Fire Emblem.

Game Grump Remixes

Favorite Song: Jon Wins

Game Grumps was (or still is, if you're a casual) a Youtube show in which two friends played video games while cracking jokes. I believe it to be responsible, at least in part, for the trend of "Let's Play" videos on Youtube, where you can watch people play games, instead of playing them yourself. It's like being a younger brother, and having to wait for your older brother to finish playing a single-player game before you can play, except you're doing it to yourself on purpose.

Aside from being a chief exporter of 80% of my friends' inside jokes, The Game Grumps is also a decent source of music. Except they don't make the music; for whatever reason, some person once got it into their head that it would be a good idea to take words said by the Grumps, and autotune them into a song. For reasons lost to time, this caught on as a trend, and there are now hundreds of songs on Youtube consisting of remixes of things the Game Grumps have said on the air.

When questioned about possible involvement, Shenron declined to comment.

If that sounds like a recipe for terrible music, then, well, it kind of is. I won't deny that the majority of Game Grump Remixes are pretty bad. Garbage, even. But good stuff is out there, and some of it is pretty damn great, if you know where to look. xXJerryTerryXx is my favorite GGR composer, annoying naming conventions aside, and I also recommend Atpunk and liltommyj. Conveniently enough, the three have collaborated in the past, resulting in two Triforce Collaborations, though the second is a medley of a bunch of little bits of their previous songs, so it's probably bet to wait until you've heard those before you give it a listen. And while it may be a bit late to mention this now, a fair few of these songs contain crude language. So I don't want to hear complaints about the new words you learned when Jon described just which of his arms hurts.

Skullgirls Soundtrack

Favorite Song: In Just a Moment's Time (Credits)

Did you think it was over? Did you think I was done gushing over Skullgirls? (NO ECCHI) Well, that's too bad, because there's plenty more where that came from. I'm not sorry.

Obligatory image "borrowed" from Lou Tennant
First of all: That credits song. I admit, it's something of an acquired taste. But goddamn if it isn't one that I'm extremely glad I acquired. The singer's voice has an unusual quality to it that didn't really catch on with me until after I had heard it many times. But there is a chance that the song is being sung by a dread artifact through which the very threads of fate are spun by the Gods themselves, so I guess I'll give it a pass.

The second standout song of the soundtrack is the awesomely named "Skull Heart Arrhythmia", the battle theme of The Skullgirl. As a final boss song, it hits all the right notes, so to speak. The haunting chorus at the beginning sets up an appropriately climactic feel for the battle, and the jarring shift to a more frantic melody later on matches up well with The Skullgirl's more aggressive strategy as the fight wears on. If this fantastic song is meant to be an apology from Lab Zero games for making the final boss so unpleasant, then apology almost accepted. Almost.

I accept apologies the same way I beat Skullgirls. Almost

The whole soundtrack has more great songs than I could possibly link, but you can check it out on "music for poor people" app Spotify if you're interested.

Frozen Soundtrack

Favorite Song: Let it Go

While this list is full of things that were created before 2013, then discovered by me this past year, the opposite is true of Frozen. The movie hit theaters in 2013, but that wasn't the year I watched it. For the sake of simplicity, let's just say I watched it in 2014. The main reason I'm including it here is because it's the only noteworthy movie from 2013 that I watched, and I don't feel like writing an entire list on movies with just one entry, because that kind of behavior is strictly in the domain of classless assholes.

But that's not to say that the music doesn't stand alone as worthy of this list. Frozen is a musical, (something that I didn't know going in) as well as a damn good movie. (something else that I didn't know going in) The film is a perfect mix of heartwarming, heartwrenching, and genuinely funny; it really stands up to the standard of children's movies established by Wreck-it Ralph. It has enough dumb jokes to keep kids entertained without being annoying, as well as real substantive humor, with a smattering of adult humor that's subtle enough to leave you legitimately questioning whether or not it was intentional. That said, if you don't crack a smile at a line like "Why have a ballroom with no balls?" being dropped in a children's movie, then either your heart is so Frozen that not even a kiss from your true love can thaw it, (SPOILER: This is a movie about princesses) or you possess some sense of decency. Either way, you make me sick.

But this is a list about music, not my repressed desire to be a pretty, pretty princess. That post is still in the works. So I guess I should say something about the music. It's... uh... super good? Sorry, this entry is a bit of a fixer-upper. For instance, those spoilers I just linked to.


As before, this post is (mostly) about music that I discovered and enjoyed during the year of 2013, rather than music actually released in 2013. And with that disclaimer, my Top Pun lists for 2013 are officially concluded. I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I loathed writing them. And on that note, I'd just like to state that there is a good chance that it'll be awhile until my next post. My workload for college has gotten yet more intense, and I can't say I've many ideas on what to write about. Until next time, this is Havoc Mantis, signing off.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Top Pun 2013: Interactive Fiction

Visual novels and adventure games. With a single exception, this list is all those things. For those of you who don't know what a visual novel is, and are too wise to click that link to tvtropes, it's basically a computerized choose your own adventure book with branching paths, images, music, and, invariably, cute anime girls.

This post may have provided more respite from such wanton weeabooism, had I not found The Stanley Parable so disappointing. But I did, so it doesn't. Because I actually very much dislike rating things, I'm going to start with the ones with the most gameplay, then ease my way into the ones that focus more on reading.

Dangan Ronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (Mantis)

You know that one book you read before it got really big and they made a movie based on it? And then everyone else watched the movie, but you knew that you were better than them, because you got the REAL experience, while they only know a mere shadow of its greatness. That is what I have going on with Dangan Ronpa. An anime based on it was made shortly after I played it, and whenever I hear anyone talking about Dangan Ronpa, (when I'm attending anime parties) I imagine they're probably talking about the anime, and that I have therefore lived a fuller life than them.

Dangan Ronpa was first described to me as a cross between Ace Attorney, Virtue's Last Reward, and Persona, which to me is like telling a stereotypical man that something is a cross between tits, bacon, and more tits.

Two out of three ain't bad, though.
The story strongly resembles that of Virtue's Last Reward; several people are locked up in a sealed environment, and forced to play a deadly game of trust and betrayal in order to escape. Dangan Ronpa ups the ante with 67% more characters, (after rounding) all high school students with incredible talents in such wide-ranging fields as baseball, swimming, gambling, fortune-telling, being an otaku(?), and being lucky. Naturally, the last one is the main character, who must compete against living national treasures while being painfully mediocre.

The gameplay is similar to Ace Attorney, in that you gather evidence and hold trials to find people guilty, except it is done through the metaphor of gunslinging. You have to investigate crime scenes to gather ammo (evidence) so that at the sundown showdown (class trial) you can shoot other gunslingers (classmates) in the dick (weak points in their argument). The actual game's gunslinging isn't quite so extreme or vulgar, but you do present contradictions in arguments by shooting your words at their words, which really ups the intensity.

Between class trials, you can spend time with your classmates, developing bonds with them in a manner similar to the social link system from the Persona games. This serves a dual purpose: if you build a strong enough bond with someone, you get special power-ups that can be used during class trials, in addition to making your despair all the more exquisite when that character inevitably dies.

All-in-all, Dangan Ronpa is a fantastic game with compelling characters, intriguing mysteries, spectacular twists, and breathtaking betrayals. It hasn't officially released in the US yet, but it's on it's way to the PSP Vita. Don't ask me how I played it; I know a guy.

Ace Attorney

If you found my omission of Ace Attorney from my games list objectionable, then fret not. I will now silence any doubts that I found Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies unworthy of making a top something list for 2013. I can testify that this game was pretty great, and you can take that as the honest truth. Since I can't really shoehorn any more exclamations into this, and I don't really have anything to actually say about Ace Attorney, I'll end this entry here.

The Walking Dead

Since this is the one entry that isn't a visual novel, I'm contracting the task of opinion-writing to a colleague of mine, without his knowledge or permission.

I've actually talked about The Walking Dead before. And I even linked to the same blog in that post, because writing is easiest when someone else is doing it. There isn't much more to say, except that the game isn't really about story, in that there's a cohesive narrative with a climax and a resolution and all that, but instead a bunch of things happening to people in a zombie apocalypse. As tremendously unflattering as that sounds, it's still a great game. It's just that it's sort of a slice-of-life drama with zombies. Or perhaps "slice-of-death" would be more appropriate. And now that I've made that joke, it's time to move on to...

Analogue: A Hate Story (As well as Hate Plus, to a somewhat lesser extent)

Analogue: A Hate Story is a visual novel about going through the records of an abandoned spaceship to learn about the Neo-Confucian society that developed on it, and what happened that killed everyone aboard. It is a great read if you wish to "get mad at the patriarchy", as a friend of mine, Stylin' Franklin, once said. The title "Analogue", as far as I can tell, serves only to contrast with "Digital: A Love Story"*, a previous work by the same author, Christine Love, whose title contains a clever double entendre that I only recently realized. The "Hate Story" part of the title, though, is spot on. The society's exaggerated focus on institutionalized sexism under the guise of "filiality" is sure to illicit blue shell levels of anger, but uncomfortable parallels between it and reality hit close to home. Also, cute girls with ties.

Albeit a different, more developed kind of cute

At this point in the list, gameplay is minimal. The closest thing Analogue has to gameplay is the visceral satisfaction of using a command prompt, straight-up ordering a computer what to do from on high, with the power of the gods themselves. I think that my favorite part of this visual novel was when it called me a dumb bitch, and I believed it, because I am a deep person with complicated emotions. That was the reason I liked it, not the reason I believed it when I was called a dumb bitch. I believed it because, well, I was kind of being a dumb bitch. It also has a sequel, Hate Plus, which focuses on how a colonizing spaceship devolved into a sexist hellhole in the first place. It doesn't have as much weighty subject matter as the first, in my opinion, but I still found it enjoyable, and would definitely recommend picking it up if you're already getting the first one. Though they're both pretty short, so you'd probably be better off waiting until they're on sale. Rereading this entry, I noticed that every single sentence has a comma in it, but I swear that wasn't on purpose.

don't take it personally babe, it just ain't your story

This is the first visual novel by Christine Love that I read, as well as my favorite. "don't take it personally, babe..." tells the story of a high school English teacher in a distant future where high school English teachers are permitted unrestricted access their students' social networking profiles, able to read all status updates, wall posts, and even private messages.

The entire thing was written in a single month, as part of NaNoRenO, which is like NaNoWriMo, (National Novel Writing Month) but with Visual Novels. And I'd be lying if I said it didn't show. There are a few parts where it seems a bit rushed, and it altogether isn't too long. But I don't think it would be too farfetched to say that this visual novel has caused me to feel harder than any other fiction. It is responsible for the first documented case of me crying, and I read it after I watched Ano Hana.

This song alone has been known to cause more crying than an onion cutting its wrists.*
But it's not just sadness that I felt. As a social media junkie who feels a little high every time I see a Facebook notification, this Visual Novel to me was basically like heroin to Obi-wan Kenobi. And to watch high schoolers play out their petty, adolescent dramas, and just feel so above it evokes a sense of... power? I can't quite put it into words, but there was a sense of mad glee in overseeing the social lives of teenagers. Naturally, these emotions led to fear and confusion in the few remaining sane parts of my brain, as I wondered why I was taking such delight in this perverse voyeurism. When coupled with the incredibly brilliant use of a particular literary technique that I am not at liberty to divulge, (spoilers) "don't take it personally, babe..." is one of my favorite visual novels. Then again, no one else I know seems to feel as strongly about it as I do, so perhaps my words are to be taken with a grain of salt. But you can download it for free and make your own judgement, if you so choose.

G-Senjou No Maou

Hey, remember in the middle of last year when I was talking about classical music, and then started transparently lying about how it wasn't because of something I read? Well, as it turns out, my interest was brought about by G-Senjou No Maou.

I confess, officer. I have seen that penguin before.

G-Senjou no Maou is widely considered the Ocarina of Time of Visual Novels, in that I didn't like it quite as much as I thought I should, but still liked it a lot nonetheless. The title translates to "Devil on G-string", a reference to Bach's "Air on the G-string" and Schubert's "Erlkonig" (German for Devil, as well as a demon in SMT. This was cause for much squeeing), as well as my stripper name. It tells the story of Kyousuke, a young man who was adopted by a ruthless Yakuza boss in order to pay off his father's debt. At school, Kyousuke maintains the facade of an oblivious rich kid, while at night, he makes a name for himself as a ruthless mob negotiator, like an anti-Batman of sorts. When a mysterious criminal known only as Maou rises to power, Kyousuke is tasked with putting a stop to his nefarious plans, reluctantly accepting the help of a brilliant and mysterious transfer student with more hair than social skills. Unless Kyousuke decides to settle down with one of three other girls, in which case Maou sportingly agrees to abandon his schemes and take up a hobby instead. Speaking of other girls, this is an eroge, so there are H scenes. The H stands for, uh, "Hugs".

As one might expect from the title, classical music plays a large role, with almost all of the soundtrack based on famous tunes from classical composers, resulting in some unsurprisingly bitchin' music. (Though, ironically, the few original songs are perhaps my favorite) For its gripping story, likable characters, fantastic music, and shocking twists easy enough to be predicted by me, I can see why it's considered by many to be the greatest visual novel of all time.


As with before, this list is by no means meant to represent the best of 2013, only my favorites. In fact, rather few of these works were actually finished in 2013; that's just the year that I got around to reading/playing them. Expect the next list to be about music, and then stop expecting for there to be any lists after that, because games and music from games are all that I experienced last year. And here's hoping that this year is much the same.

*I devised this joke about onions cutting themselves independently of Bo Burnham. I had never even heard him say it before, I just happened to give someone a sneak preview of this joke, and they said it was from Bo Burnham, and I had an Episode. I did not steal this joke. I'm being so sincere right now.

*Special Bonus Message from the future!
Since writing this blog post, I actually discovered the true meaning behind the title "Analogue". One might expect that it refers to the opposite of digital, as in an "analogue" clock, since its title has the same structure as "Digital", but this is not the case. When referring to electricity, it's spelled "analog". "Analogue" with a ue refers to a literary device related to analogy. So the title, in fact, refers to how the Hate story is analogous to the previous love story, and is also analogous because "Analog" is the opposite of Digital. When I figured this out, it's an understatement to say that it blew my mind.

And the best part about all of this? I made it all up. None of it was intended by the author. When I proudly proclaimed all of this on Twitter, she responded with confusion. Apparently, "Analogue" is just how it's spelled in Canada, where all the cool internet people live. Furthermore, the double entendre I mentioned, the fact that it's a "Love" story written by Christine "Love", seems to have been entirely coincidental. In any case, I can't wait for her next work, Ladykiller in a Bind, which will surely have me ascribing deep, imaginary significance to what is in actuality just girls tying up other girls.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Top Pun 2013: Games

As you can probably glean from most of my posts from the second half of this year, I've done a lot more gaming this year than I did last year. This year was a curiously good year for JRPGs on the 3DS, as well as the year that Steam came in like a wrecking ball.

All I wanted was to make a joke.

Because this year had a lot more games to choose from, it won't be half made up of games I didn't like or didn't even play, like last year. This time around, I will only mention games that I truly enjoyed, and Pokemon X. Also, because there are more games that I really like, ranking them is more difficult. Just because one game has a lower number than another doesn't mean that I think it was absolutely better.

7. Pokemon X

On the other hand, Pokemon X was absolutely given the highest number because it is worse than the others. There is no doubt that I've discussed this game more extensively than anything else on this blog, so there's not much more to say. One of us has changed, Pokemon. I don't know whether it's you or me, but I'm afraid it doesn't matter at this point. I think it would be for the best if we saw other people.

6. Rogue Legacy

Rogue Legacy is a game about jumping and slashing monsters in a spooky castle. The gameplay could be compared to that of Megaman, so long as you don't mind a swift and vicious reprimand from someone who's actually played Megaman. In reality, I'm told it's more along the lines of a “Metriodvania” kind of game, so if you know what that means, bully for you.

The gist of the game is that you have to defeat the four bosses of a mysterious castle to find the prize inside. Naturally, the castle is filled with incredibly dangerous monsters; it is inevitable that you will die. When this happens, you legacy is inherited by one of your children, who can have various traits, like dwarfism, ADHD, Glaucoma, Peripheral Artery Disease, and many more, which affect how they fight. This mechanic is the crux of Rogue Legacy, and really all there is to say about it. Otherwise, it's just a damn fun game.

5. Bastion

There seems to be a trend among indie games of favoring style above substance. If you focus too much on making your video game art, it might cease to be a video game, instead becoming a work of art in the medium of pretension. And while some games eschew gameplay to focus on a story about how monumentally clever the author thinks he is, Bastion shows that a game with solid gameplay can tell a simple, powerful story. There isn't really much else to it. Bastion is a masterpiece, combining excellent music, gorgeous visuals, a compelling world, and a nifty narrative, delivered by the best narrator this side of Stephen Fry, of LittleBigPlanet fame. And all for the affordable price of $15, or all the way down to $2.24 if you catch it on a daily sale like I did. Bastion is likely the best value of any game I've ever bought on Steam, and has perhaps the highest benefit-to-cost ratio of any purchasing decision I've made in my life.

4. Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale

As a game, Bastion is clearly superior to Recettear. The shopkeeping aspect of Recettear is pretty simplistic: Buy things when the prices are low, sell when the prices are high, profile your customers to determine how much to charge them. The combat is similar to Bastion's, but without all of the complexity or customization. The story lacks Bastion's depth, and the music isn't nearly as sophisticated.

While Bastion is without a doubt a better game than Recettear, I cannot say for certain that it is more fun. While simplistic, the cycle of buying, looting, and selling is insanely addictive. The story isn't as likely to win a Fields Medal in literature, but the characters are all lovable, and the dialogue is both clever and heartwarming. The music is catchy as all hell, and just like Bastion, it does a great job of creating a world that you want to learn more about. Get used to seeing words to that effect, because I've learned while writing this that setting is apparently something really important to me. It's also terribly cute, which is also apparently something that appeals to me now. If you see my masculinity, please contact me in the comments about returning it. In one of my previous posts, I prematurely declared Recettear the MVP of the Steam Summer Sale, but I think it managed to hold its throne.

3. Shin Megami Tensei IV

Shin Megami Tensei IV is an RPG (a JRPG, in case you hadn't guessed from the title) where you recruit demons so that you can fight other demons to decide the fate of the world. It's kind of like Pokemon, except you, the trainer, get to mix it up alongside your Pokemon.


When describing Shin Megami Tensei, the one word that keeps circling back to my mind is "superlative", because I'm a snob for words. SMT has everything you could want from an RPG, and it does it all better than any other JRPG I've ever played. Granted, my experience with JRPGs is mostly limited to those starring Mario, but I imagine that's a pretty good cross-section of the genre as a whole.

How does he expect to get any critical hits with a 'stache like that?

The story, music, combat, are all superb. The demon fusion system makes evolving and customizing your demons fun and... well, I wouldn't necessarily say “easy”, but you'll want to do it anyway. All the demons are based on real world mythological figures, as I've mentioned before, and there's really no describing the feelings that are felt when one finds a demon they recognize. Conversely, similar feelings are felt when hearing of some mythological creature in the real world that you recognize as a demon from SMT. It also does a fantastic job of teaching you the different districts of Tokyo, so prepare to feel a jolt of recognition any time you hear about Ueno. If you're willing to subject your friends to your own endless blathering about how you totally already knew that Odin had an 8-legged horse named Sleipnir, I highly recommend you pick up this game.

2. Skullgirls


Déjà Vu

Despite being an entirely different genre than Bastion, I find that it is actually quite similar, in that it is also a masterpiece. Generally, they both embody my ideal vision of an "indie" game: a game that has style, but doesn't sacrifice excellent gameplay in the process. And let me tell you: Skullgirls is a game that exists at the intersection of substance and style. It's hard to explain the ephemeral concept of style, but I cannot think of a single game with more of it than Skullgirls, save perhaps Trauma Center.

Surgeon General's Warning: This joke requires intimate knowledge of the full name of the protagonist of Trauma Center

 More specifically, Skullgirls and  both tout hand-drawn graphics, fantastic music, laudable voice acting, engaging settings, and great stories. The hand-drawn animations really are beautiful, (no ecchi) and the jazzy soundtrack, combined with a creepy opera opening theme contributes greatly to the aforementioned style. The voice acting is pretty solid all around, and there are plenty of puns and interesting dialogue between characters to keep you paying attention. The star-studded cast includes a curious number of voice actors from the magical girl anime "Puella Magi Madoka Magica", which fits, given the similarities between Skullgirls and magical girls. To give away the reasons would be a spoiler, but I'll give you a hint: Orthodox Judaism.

You should become a Magical Girl!

The world of Skullgirls is a strange and confusing one, so my readers should feel right at home there; the details given are few, but each one only fuels your desire to know more. The story is the perfect embodiment of what a fighting game story should be. Each character's story has some relation to that of the eponymous Skullgirl, and some are related to one another, but they are at the same time self-contained. The overarching story is simple enough to be easily understood, and each personal story does an excellent job of portraying the characters' personality and motivations. And, like any good story, there are feelings to be had. Viewer discretion is advised.

The best part of Skullgirls is the fact that every part of Skullgirls is the best part of Skullgirls. The worst part of Skullgirls is the part where you have to stop playing. I was initially wary of Skullgirls, as I was more or less coerced into playing it by Dr. Lou Tennant. Fighting games aren't really my cup of genre, so I figured it would be a waste of money (During a Steam Sale, I consider $10 to be a monumental purchase). But now that I've tried it out, I could not have been more wrong. Skullgirls might just be my favorite game on Steam so far. I think I might literally be in love with this game.

1. Fire Emblem Awakening

At this point, you may be wondering where else there is to go. I've already covered a masterpiece, a game that's more fun than a masterpiece, and then another masterpiece. And while I love all those games greatly, the title of Havoc Mantis's Game of the Year could only ever go to Fire Emblem Awakening.

If you asked me what my favorite game of all time was, I would probably kick you square in the face. Maybe even pentagon in the face. I don't like being asked personal questions. But if I had to answer, I would probably say that I have three favorite games: Super Smash Bros. Brawl, because it's just the funnest damn game I've ever played, Virtue's Last Reward, for its incredible plot and characters, and finally, Fire Emblem Awakening, for existing somewhere between these too extremes on the spectrum of fun and story.

My last post on Fire Emblem reads like a war of attrition, so I'll try to keep things more concise this time around. Fire Emblem Awakening is by far my favorite entry in one of my favorites series of games. It's a top notch strategy game and RPG, with a variety of different classes to utilize, plenty of difficulty levels for players of all skills, and plenty of customization available with the skill system. Your welcome, by the way, for the realization that “plenty” is an absurd word.

The story is good – probably the best of any Fire Emblem game, but it doesn't quite stand up to heavyweights like Virtue's Last Reward and Shin Megami Tensei IV. Where Fire Emblem really shines, though, is in its characters. With very few exceptions, the characters are all incredible. While they all have their zany quirks, they don't feel like caricatures. Support conversations between them can be funny, thought-provoking, heartwarming, heart wrenching, heartburning, or even all at once. Strengthening the bonds of love and friendship between your units is extremely satisfying. But that's enough about creepily overseeing peoples' relationships. More on that later.

I've run out of adjectives to describe Fire Emblem Awakening, so I'll just say that it's doubleplus good and leave it at that. Every time I play it, there's a civil war in my brain between the part devoted to playing Fire Emblem, and the part devoted to doing everything else. And every time, the former wins. 

DISCLAIMER: This is not necessarily meant to be list of the best games of 2013 – just my favorites of the ones I played, not necessarily ones that were released in 2013. All opinions expressed in this post do indeed reflect the opinions of Havoc Mantis, LLC, and all of his affiliates.