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.

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