Man. 2016 was an awful year for a lot of life, but video games were actually the best they've been in years and this was perhaps the hardest Game of the Year list I have put together to date since starting in 2012. Easily the hardest choice for number one. Anyways, there are some supplemental awards to give out first before the top ten. Oh and SPOILER WARNING as there might be spoilers here and there.
Best Old Game of 2016 - Shadow Hearts (2): Covenant
This year’s Best Old Game was far tougher than last year due to the fact that I played a lot of great games not released in 2016. From the surprising Final Fantasy VII, the much better than its predecessor Final Fantasy X-2, the really good in Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney. That right there is a list of greatness, but one game stood out above all of those, Shadow Hearts: Covenant. I also played the original Shadow Hearts this year and while the story is great, some of the mechanics are hard to go back to. The sequel fixes some of these problems to make it the better playing game of the two. The first might have the better story of the two, but I had more fun with Shadow Hearts: Covenant as a whole. An alternate history World War I is the setting where you can summon demons and letting out a bunch of malice is the cause for chemical weapons in the war. Some of it feels a little goofy, but both games tie everything in so cohesively that none of the story beats ever seem too out of place. These are two JRPGs that have been lost to the annuls of time, but are great games for the PS2. I cannot recommend these games enough, if you have the means to play them. Plus, what other game lets you beat all the bosses, including the final boss, by just throwing a mechanical egg to get the final hit with a Russian princess?
Best Moment - Titanfall 2 Robot Thumbs Up
If I went past ten games in my list, this would be number eleven. Titanfall 2 is a game that separates itself in a murky pool of other first person shooters by being fast paced, fun, and having cool giant robots. Titanfall 2’s single player campaign was a good first attempt for the series, but perhaps its biggest achievement was making your Titan, BT-7274 into a likable and endearing character. About two-thirds of the way through the campaign the player character and BT survive another enemy encounter and you give BT a thumbs up. As the gif shows, BT then looks at you, contemplates what you just did, and then returns the gesture to you. It was right then and there that I knew it would win Best Moment and nothing would come close as my heart just swelled in a way I never thought was possible from the game.
Game I Hope Does Not Change How Developers Look At Marketing - Final Fantasy XV
Final Fantasy XV has been well documented on this site in its pre-release coverage (Seasonal Anime Checkup Episodes 10 & 11, Seasonal Anime Checkup OVA Episode 3). Kingsglaive was gorgeous to look at, but had a terrible plot. The anime made the characters seem worse than intended. Each subsequent demo was worse than the last. Having a ten year development cycle will do that to a game. There was a time when Square Enix was a pillar in video games with how they made stories. Now, they are becoming an embarrassment. Perhaps the next entry in the series will be a fresh start, but as long as people like Tetsuya Nomura are hanging around the company, I highly doubt it.
Best Surprise - Root Letter
Sometimes, finding random demos off of the Japanese PSN store pays off. Root Letter is a mystery revolving around a pen pal that takes the sometimes asshole protagonist to his pen pal’s hometown to find out what exactly happened to her. The game mixes in some Ace Attorney/Danganronpa elements to make it not a straight visual novel. Going in, I figured it would be alright, but was pleasantly surprised by how much the game held my interest as I tried to figure out the mystery of what happened. Some of the endings are completely out there, including the game’s fake Mulder and Scully from the X-Files. Root Letter is a game that will hook you if you like visual novels or adventure games and should be on more people’s radars than it is.
Best Anime Game I Played in 2016 - Tetris with Cardcaptor Sakura: Eternal Heart
Until a few months ago, I had no idea this game even existed. Who would even imagine that there would be an anime licensed Tetris game and for it to be actually good? Tetris with Cardcaptor Sakura: Eternal Heart features a single player campaign that is more in line with a puzzle mode that follows the series’ story while incorporating production elements from the anime and also features competitive multiplayer that is similar to Tetris Battle Gaiden. That might be the biggest part of why the game is fun, the multiplayer. Featuring a wide array of characters from the series, each one has different skills that can be used to mess up your opponent, whether that is a friend or an AI. Of course, with Ubisoft now owning the Tetris license, it is unlikely we will ever see something as strange as this game, but this is at least here to provide fun.
Game of the Year
#10 Zero Time Dilemma (Vita, 3DS, PC)
It helped that I played through all of the Zero Escape series this year, but while Zero Time Dilemma is the worst of the trilogy, it is still a very solid outing that attempts to wrap up all of the games’ stories. The same puzzle action the series is known for is still here, albeit perhaps easier as I was able to get through most of them without a lot of problems. Zero Time Dilemma also boldly ditches the visual novel style to go more cinematic which actually works to the game’s benefit rather than hinders it. The ending is not the best, but 95% of the writing and character interactions are great and for some of the characters, there are happy endings. For others, there are just complex motives. (Review)
#9 Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth (PS4, Vita)
I was not expecting much out of this game. Mostly, I anticipated to be hit with nostalgia for Digimon and that would be it. Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth far exceeded my expectations. Sure, the good feelings I had of nostalgia for a series I watched as a kid were there, but everything surrounding it made the experience that much better. The combat was reminiscent to Persona and does everything you’d want World of Final Fantasy to do and does it better. Being able to catch various Digimon and then have them independently level up and grow on their own while not in your party is the best. The story is nowhere near the best on this list, but it was fun and who doesn’t want to be a cyber sleuth? There is just a charm to this game that is hard to find in a lot of games, especially licensed anime games. Which also brings up the point that who would think an anime game would be this good?! Sure, most are getting better, but usually it is just the brand appeal that attracts players, not being actually good. Digimon Story Cyber Sleuth is the Digimon game I always wanted when I was a child, I just had to wait 16 years for it. (Review)
#8 Pokémon Moon (3DS)
As much as I liked Pokémon Y and its nostalgia grab to bring back old players of the series, I don’t think it will be remembered fondly as one of the best Pokémon games. Pokémon Moon is quite the opposite. There are still various aspects of nostalgia you will see in the game, but there is so much overhauling that was much needed for the series here that makes playing the game infinitely better than previous games. Taking out various confirmation questions, adding a Shin Megami Tensei move effectiveness to battles, removing gyms entirely, removing HMs, and making Nebby get in the bag all make Pokémon Moon a welcome addition to the franchise and one of the best Pokémon games I’ve played. There is also a significant amount of content even after you are declared champion, including hanging out with fake Kyouko Kirigiri and finding some strange Pokémon. This is not only a great game for series veterans, but newcomers alike.
#7 Firewatch (PS4, XBONE, PC)
What is Firewatch? Similar to my 2013 Game of the Year, Gone Home, Firewatch is another narrative focused game, but instead of a house, you are watching out for fires in a forest. Despite having some technical hiccups at launch, Firewatch is gorgeous in terms of its art direction and the story is also very good. Of course, some people will label the game as another “walking simulator”, but you probably shouldn’t listen to people who say that. The relationship between Henry and Delilah is a delight and is emphasized with good voice acting that really gives the dialogue that added boost. The story goes in places that I certainly was not expecting and gives intrigue as well as an excuse to throw a boom box around a forest. Fans of storytelling in video games would be doing themselves a disservice if they miss out on Firewatch.
#6 DOOM (PS4, XBONE, PC)
Given how the original pitch for Doom 4 had it becoming more of a Call of Duty-esque shooter and the less than stellar multiplayer beta, there was a lot of trepidation about whether Doom would end up being a huge flop. Thankfully, everyone was wrong. Doom (2016) is a fast paced FPS that is not really seen in modern video games and harkens back to original Doom with its combat and brutality. There is just a level of fun of the way game just drops you in and is like, ‘Alright, go kill some fucking demons’ that most shooters today do not have. Doom (2016) is the ultimate power fantasy as the player just feels like they can pretty much be invincible and are going to kill every demon that is out there, which you pretty much do. The game still does multiplayer and Snap Map which are there, but not really why you would want the game. It is all about that single player campaign. With how strong it is, the campaign can stand by itself knowing it is a cut above from most FPS campaigns.
#5 Hitman (PS4, XBONE, PC)
Looking back at reactions from very early in the year when Hitman went fully episodic, people were very skeptical about whether this would be any good. Boy was that skepticism wrong as Hitman is not only great and perhaps the best playing Hitman game to date; it might be one of the best episodic games ever done. Each episode brought a new map and a ton of challenges to complete, along with new equipment. Every level just has such a different feel from all of the others to where they are unique and fun. Hitman also might have some of the best NPC dialogue in a game this year as a lot of the writing on that is just fantastic. Even with Season 1 being complete, IO Interactive is still supporting the game with more Elusive Targets and the recent holiday mission where you have to take out the villains from Home Alone. As someone who casually enjoyed the Hitman series from afar, I’m glad this game is just a ton of fun and cannot wait for the next season to hit.
#4 Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE (Wii U)
As much of a disappointment it is that Persona 5 got delayed to 2017 and then delayed again, this is the game you should absolutely play if you are saddened by that. Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is an absolute blast with its surprising story and great battle mechanics. It plays similarly to Shin Megami Tensei/Persona games, but with added touches such as comboing attacks together, random special attacks, duo attacks, and the ability to hot swap party members mid-battle. While Fire Emblem fans will not be happy with the style of the game, the representation it gives these characters is fine and gives a real goofy song near the end of the game. TMS also addresses problems like social anxiety and a foreigner feeling uncomfortable in Japan due to being looked at differently which is not at all what I was expecting from the game. The protagonist, Itsuki, as well is not your typical protagonist. He is good at fighting, but when outside of Idolaspheres, he is just there to help boost up his friends and coworkers as he is nowhere near as talented in the entertainment industry as them. While there are some slightly gross parts and considering it is a Wii U exclusive, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE is a game that Atlus RPG fans should not sleep on and is easily the best JRPG of the year. (Review)
#3 Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Spirit of Justice (3DS)
Let me be straight up with you guys. The only reason this game still has Phoenix’s name on the title is that Capcom knows it might help sales. Spirit of Justice is an Apollo Justice focused game and shows by being the second best Ace Attorney game yet. The new setting and characters are all very good with the new trial mechanic of seeing what a dead person saw before they died being a fun new way to acquire evidence. The story is much stronger than the previous entry in the series, Dual Destinies and is helped by Phoenix kind of becoming the elder statesman he should have been in that game. This game should have been the shift that Apollo Justice was supposed to be years ago and make Apollo the new main protagonist, but with how the game ends, it is unlikely if that will be the case. There just really isn’t much more to Phoenix’s story that has not already been told and there is still a lot that we do not know or need to know about Apollo. If the next mainline Ace Attorney game is once again headlined by Phoenix, it is going to be incredibly disappointing. Until then though, Spirit of Justice is a phenomenal entry to the series and should be the direction Capcom goes with writing and storytelling as it all harkens back to both Apollo Justice and Trials and Tribulations, the third and best games of the series respectively. Especially if you were someone who disliked Dual Destinies, Spirit of Justice is the game that gets the series back on track. (Also despite the title, no, Apollo is not a ghost.)
#2 Overwatch (PS4, XBONE, PC)
I’ve never been one for hero based games. MOBAs, Team Fortress 2, none of that. The fact that I like Overwatch as much as I do and have put over 50 hours into it is a surprise to me. Especially with how I am not the biggest fan of competitive multiplayer games, but I have played competitive Overwatch. The game is just fun. It never really overstays its welcome either as you can just play one game which can last up to ten minutes and get your fill or spend a few hours playing and have the same fun. The constant free updates of maps, new modes, and content also help, but that also leads to the game utilizing loot boxes to make money. It’s not the worst, but it can be very tempting and easy to just buy a bunch of boxes and get new skins, emotes, sprays, or intros even with the game giving you a new box after each level and now for every three victories in Arcade mode. One of Overwatch’s biggest strengths is that not only is it fun with friends, it is still fun even when playing by yourself. That can lead to some frustrations, but for me personally, that has been rare as usually I am more frustrated with myself than my teammates or the other team’s hero makeup. If there is a reason though why this isn’t in the number one spot, it would be that simple frustration that can come from playing online games. It is about the only knock I can give against Overwatch as other than that, Blizzard has done an excellent job creating one of the better experiences with an online competitive game that I have had in years.
#1 Stardew Valley (PC, PS4, XBONE)
Like Overwatch, Stardew Valley falls into a genre that I usually do not play. Part dating sim, part mining and exploration, and part farming, Stardew Valley is one of the most relaxing games I have ever let consume me for hours on end. Stardew Valley is a game that lets the player essentially pick and choose how they want to play the game. Want to focus on farming and building your farm up to be extravagant? You can strictly go with that. Want to go around and fish? That’s totally possible. Want to scavenge for supplies and go into the mines? Go for it! What made Stardew Valley great for me was that it is so easy to make goals for yourself and then get a great sense of accomplishment when you complete those. Early on the game gives you a quest to build a coop, but you don’t have to do that right away if you can’t afford it or just want to see other parts of the game. By the time you decide you want to focus on buying buildings for the farm, it becomes managing your supplies and seeking out that as your new goal. When you eventually have everything you need and build what you want, it makes you feel good and accomplished. Of course, then, it is on to the next goal, whether that is expanding your house, working on relationships, buying or upgrading equipment, or anything else the game throws your way. I constantly lost hours over the summer just playing through in-game days making my way through my own goals and the quests the game gave me. The soundtrack is phenomenal and really adds to the relaxing nature that the game provides. Despite the “story” only going for three in-game years, there is just so much to uncover in that time that it can just fly by. Stardew Valley, like all the games on the top ten is fun, but is the most fun I had with any video game this year and is exactly what was needed after such a god awful year.