A personal resume and portfolio site
2016 has been a big year for me. New outlets to write for, new adventures, new people, and a year spent doing what I love. There’s been a lot of up’s and down’s, but through it all, I’ve been grateful for the editors that honed my words, the friends who bolstered my confidence, and the opportunities I’ve been given.
I’m also grateful for all the games I’ve had the pleasure to play these last twelve months. Despite an otherwise rough year, the output of games has been incredible. Below, I’ve listed my ten favorites, as well as my honorable mentions and my list of shame (the games I’ve yet to get through from this year that I still intend to). Go out, support these brilliant developers, and spend the holidays enjoying the kind of joy only games can bring.
10. Fire Emblem: Fates
Though Fates struggled to pull me in, the smart changes to the tried-and-true Fire Emblem formula kept me interested enough to see it through. The story was messy; splitting it between three full games meant beats were sparse, and the whole thing felt less climactic or focused than its predecessor Awakening, which still serves as the better entry point to the series (and my personal favorite). This is simply a massive amount of Fire Emblem, with more importance on the execution, style and social links than the Fates was enough to keep me coming back over and over, and still enjoy it enough to see most of it through.
9. Odin Sphere: Leifthrasir
What first caught my eye with Odin Sphere was its striking visual style, somewhere between anime and hand-painted, soft pastel portraits. Every frame of this remake is gorgeous and wallpaper-worthy, and the combat is some of Vanillaware’s best. I missed Odin Sphere when it first came around on PlayStation 2, a cult classic buried under a sea of imports an RPGs. I’m incredibly happy that I not only got a chance to finally play this game, but that so much love and care went into its remake. Leifthrasir is much more than a facelift and tune-up, and it’s easily one of the best RPGs of the year.
8. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice
While Dual Destinies established newcomer Athena Cykes and kicked off a new saga for the Wright Anything Agency, Spirit of Justice was where the series found its footing. The addition of seances to the proceedings was interesting, but the case material and narrative was spectacular. A particular highlight was a civil case, not the norm for Phoenix Wright games, that pit mentor against protege, and set the tone for an excellent finale. Spirit of Justice proved that Ace Attorney‘s best days weren’t lost to the original DS trilogy, and that there were still plenty of turnabouts to tell with the cast yet.
7. Dragon Quest Builders
I didn’t expect to like Builders as much as I did, but here we are: two years in a row, surprised by a Dragon Quest game. Builders finds a cadence that Minecraft never gave to me, fluidly mixing in quests, dungeons, bosses and Dark Cloud-esque city-building into a block-based survival game. By the end of Chapter 1, I had constructed a fortress, impenetrable to even the golems of old, and then the game asked me to toss it away. Leave it all behind, and start anew, in a land with new dangers and tasks, with just the clothes on your back. It’s a testament to the game’s process and systems that I said yes, and so Builders became the first open-world builder that captured my attention since the earliest days of Minecraft.
6. Final Fantasy XV
There is so much wrong with Final Fantasy XV, that has been documented time and again, in reviews, social media and forums alike. I can’t deny any of its issues, but still, XV stands apart by running into its walls headfirst. Even in areas where design gets messy, where pacing falls apart and story exposition runs slim, there’s a heart and earnest attempt at everything it does. Taking on the Pitioss dungeon and some of the endgame bosses in XV are among my favorite moments this year, and when XV is batting for your emotions, it swings for the fences. Even looking at the thumbnail above, I can hear the piano interlude, and get a little emotional, thinking of how this bizarre road-trip managed to, against all odds, get me to care about these four boys and their journey. It’s far from perfect, and there’s so much that could have made it better, but I still adore XV for what it is.
5. Titanfall 2
After years of Call of Duty de-iteration made me think I’d never find something quite like Modern Warfare again, Titanfall 2 became one of my favorite multiplayer games of the year. Tight controls, crisp feedback on shots, guns that have a weighty, mechanical feel but still act as extension rather than armament; Titanfall 2 understands that to be a good shooter, you have to feel like a good shooter. Add in the spectacular sidekick of BT, and one of the best shooter campaigns in recent memory, and Titanfall 2 might be one of the best multiplayer FPS games in recent memory, not just 2016.
I struggled with placing Firewatch on this list. I knew it was one of my favorite experiences of the year, but I tend to get caught up in the gameplay aspect. How much did I enjoy the act of playing, versus the act of experiencing? But in Firewatch, these two are synonymous. To play is to immerse yourself in the world, see through Henry’s eyes, to gaze at the beautiful vistas and lose yourself in the woods. It’s escapism, just like Henry escapes to the comforts of Delilah, and when an invader threatens to wake the dreamer, so both you and Henry must confront the evils of your escapism. Firewatch doesn’t demand mechanical prowess, and won’t test your might against bosses to see whether you’ve earned the next bit of gameplay. It asks a few hours of your time and an open mind, and with that, it can work wonders.
3. The Witness
Unraveling The Witness was one of my first gaming obsessions in 2016. Every area was a new puzzle, a line of logic or reasoning I had to suss out in order to understand what was happening. Aural cues, shadowplay, colored lenses and logic puzzles frustrated me at every turn, but I could feel the results. I was learning. The game was trying to speak to me, and like Amy Adams in this year’s Arrival, I was soon learning to speak back to it. Finding the reasons why, to begin to see in a way I hadn’t before, to complete the final test and return, only to see what only the enlightened could see after my first steps, was its own treasure. The Witness was a puzzle game unlike any other, and learning to draw its lines and see its world in the truest light was worth the hours I lost, toiling away at pad after pad of lights and shapes.
The first new IP for Blizzard in ages, Overwatch came out swinging. Filled with diverse, eccentric characters, each endearing and memorable after only a few moments, Overwatch followed in the footsteps of previous Blizzard efforts by mastering what others had already established. This is not the first team-based shooter, nor class-based hero shooter, but Overwatch capitalizes on simplicity and brilliant design to rise above the fold. If for no other reason, look to Overwatch‘s post-game, where it highlights a top play of the game, followed by a row of accolades for those who contribute. There is no top-three kills lineup or K/D/A flaunting. The message is clear: Overwatch is a team effort, and anyone is welcome to fight alongside you, contributing in whatever manner they can. Overwatch made competitive games approachable, and welcomed a new generation into a genre classically defined by egotistical statistics and skill exclusivity, and is easily the most significant release of the year.
1. Hitman (2016)
Episodic. Piecemeal. One by one, the levels of Hitman trickled out over the year, flying Agent 47 from locale to locale, with a thin thread of a narrative to spur him forward. The clockwork levels of Hitman are beautifully designed, from the layered fashion show in Paris to the hostile hornet’s nest of Colorado, and of course, the streets and mansions of Sapienza. Every new challenge forced a new approach, and in many episodes, it felt like the designers were responding to your play, crafting situations that would require you to innovate and improvise. Those who were skeptical of an episodic Hitman have been converted, myself included. The new era of Hitman doesn’t just look to usurp its predecessors, but to install the series atop the upper-crust of games as it moves into season two. Through impeccable design, effective controls, gorgeous locales, endless improvisation and countless challenges to overcome, Hitman is my game of the year.
Dishonored 2, Street Fighter V, Inside, Oxenfree, Masquerada: Songs & Shadows, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, Stories: The Path of Destinies, Batman: A Telltale Series, Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel
Backlog of Shame: (games I have yet to play that could have made my list)
Stardew Valley, Doom (2016), Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Blood and Wine